The Fourth of July is one of those days that most people associate with food. But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would consider the solstice the same way.
The newspaper account, which originally ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was written by Gemma Tarlach, who is a chef at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
One of 153 Americans living at McMurdo, Tarlach helped prepare what workers there call the Midwinter Dinner, which is traditionally held on the Saturday closest to the austral winter solstice and marks the halfway point of the long months of darkness and isolation.
Here’s what Tarlach had to say about it:
“Midwinter Dinner is arguably the only holiday in the world celebrated by everyone on a given continent, and planning begins weeks beforehand. Stations representing the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and several other nations exchange email greetings with each other while their decorating committees work hard to transform the utilitarian galleys — a throwback term to when most stations were military-run — into festive eateries.”
Tarlach’s contribution to the meal was something called Salmon Wellington, which has the Dijon mustard-slathered seafood along with spinach and shallots tucked away in savory puff pastry pies.
2 pounds salmon fillets, skin removed
4 shallot bulbs, broken into individual, unpeeled cloves
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed very dry
1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup good-quality Dijon mustard
2 pounds store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed but kept cold in refrigerator
2 large eggs, beaten (divided)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss unpeeled shallot cloves with oil, salt and black pepper on baking tray. Roast in preheated oven about 20 minutes, until soft. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Squeeze cloves onto cutting board; the roasted flesh of the shallot should separate easily from the papery skin. Chop and add shallots to spinach in a bowl. Add dill and taste, adding salt and black pepper as desired.
Remove salmon from refrigerator and lay pieces out on a pan or cutting board. Using a pastry brush, brush tops of fillets generously with Dijon mustard. On a work table or separate cutting board, roll out thawed puff pastry to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into eight rectangles. Brush edges of pastry pieces with pastry brush dipped into beaten egg. Divide spinach and shallot filling into 8 equal portions and place 1portion in center of each piece of puff pastry. Place 1 piece of salmon, mustard side down, on top of each mound of filling.
Lift lengthwise sides of pastry up to meet over the salmon, taking care not to pull too tightly, which will cause pastry to rip open when baking. Pinch or crimp edges of dough together and press flat against salmon, creating a seam.
Place Wellingtons seam side down on parchment-lined baking sheet, tucking ends of pastry underneath each Wellington. Refrigerate at least an hour, preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush tops and sides of Wellingtons with remaining beaten egg. Using a paring knife, make 3 small slashes to vent the top of each Wellington. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 40 minutes, rotating sheet tray after 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately.
Notes If using frozen salmon, at least 6 hours before assembling, cut salmon into 8 roughly equal pieces and allow any excess liquid to drain in a strainer set in a bowl, covered and refrigerated. Fresh spinach works well in this recipe. Steam the fresh spinach lightly to soften, chop and squeeze out all excess water before using.
Yield: Serves 8.