Roasted Salmon with Black Pepper and Ginger on Celery Root Puree

roasted salmon black pepper ginger

On the night we wandered in to the original Spago restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, we were told the wait could be three hours. But it was Spago for crying out loud – we’d wait!

By the time we set foot in the place, Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago was well known for outstanding food, but even more famous for its celebrity clientele and the annual Oscar party the restaurant hosted. (On any given evening, a handful of paparazzi waited in the parking lot in the hopes of getting a shot of Meryl or Harrison or Demi. Imagine their disappointment when we walked in!)

We were crazy to try and get a table. But we loitered behind some folks at the bar until two stools were available, and figured we’d wait it out there. About an hour and a half later, we were seated, and on a night that went by far too quickly, enjoyed a spectacular meal. The waiter stopped by and asked if we were interested in dessert. Everything he described sounded fabulous.

That was the point where Husband interrupted him and said “I have a challenge for you.” Wait, WHAT? We’re at Spago and you’re CHALLENGING the waiter?! {Truth be told, while part of me was mortified, a larger part was so touched that Husband wanted to make this evening even more special!}

I knew what was coming. I’d been going through a dessert-phase and there was a wacky concoction at the top of my list. So Husband proceeds to say: “Here’s what she wants: A moat of hot fudge. Floating in the moat is a hot brownie. On top of that, a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Oh, and on the side, a big blob of peanut butter.”

Silence.

The waiter’s facial expression didn’t change – save a quick lift of the eyebrow, a slight smirk and a barely detectable twinkle in his eyes.

Shortly thereafter, a gorgeous interpretation of the requested dessert appeared, and I inhaled it like there was no tomorrow.

I think I was licking the plate when Wolfgang Puck himself came over to make sure I’d enjoyed my dessert. And THAT was when he sat down with a big glass of red wine and began an amiable chat.

That’s when we learned “the rest of the story” about my dessert. Husband’s request was all well and good, except for one little detail. Spago had no peanut butter on hand that night. I’m not sure who had to make an emergency trip to the closest grocery, but they did it. And why? Because I was a customer. Not a “celebrity customer,” but simply a customer.

In the years since, Wolfgang Puck has launched lines of cookware, numerous grocery products and a bunch of restaurants and franchises. In other words, he’s become even more of a household name.

The original Spago on Sunset is long gone, but he opened another on a beautiful corner spot in Beverly Hills.

A few years ago, we were enjoying a late lunch in the courtyard of the {then} new location on a beautiful spring day. Midway through our salads, guess who stopped by our table to see how we liked our meal?

Puck certainly didn’t recognize us – we were just some of that day’s customers. But he spent as much time checking on us as he did Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver at the next table. {This was obviously prior to the “housekeeper incident.”}

Years later, we still remember both of those meals, and a few precious others at Spago. In addition to great food, we were always made to feel special – even if, by “Hollywood standards” we were nobodies.

One of my favorite dishes – that Puck later published in “Adventures in the Kitchen,” was a Roasted Salmon with Black Pepper and Ginger on Celery Root Puree. It always brings back fond memories of great meals in the City of Angels. The recipe isn’t hard, but it does take some time. You can make the puree and sauce ahead of time, then gently reheat them while roasting the salmon.

I think I recreated the dish pretty well – the flavor was good enough to trigger memories of that first Spago night. And Husband loved it. It’s a joy to have a happy customer.

Wolfgang Puck would agree…

Roasted Salmon with Black Pepper and Ginger on Celery Root Puree
 
Wolfgang Puck "Adventures in the Kitchen"
Ingredients
Salmon
  • 4 salmon fillets {6-7 oz each}
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter melted
  • 1½ Tbs black peppercorns , crushed
  • 1½ Tbs fresh ginger chopped and peeled
Celery Root Puree
  • 1½ pounds celery root peeled, trimmed and cubed
  • 1 baking potato peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp fresh ground white pepper
Sauce
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 3 shallots chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1 Italian plum tomato seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups wine
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • olive oil for coating baking sheet
Instructions
SALMON
  1. Season the salmon fillets lightly with salt, brush the tops with a little melted butter and immediately sprinkle evenly with the crushed pepper and chopped ginger. Drizzle the remaining butter over the fillets; if you wait too long, the butter will harden and the mixture won't stick. Cover the salmon and refrigerate until needed.
CELERY ROOT PUREE
  1. Place the celery root and potato in medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Season with salt and cook until soft, 15-20 minutes.
  2. Drain the water and return the celery root and potato to the pan. Pour in the cream and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until most of the cream has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Puree the celery root and potato and any liquid in a food mill or food processor, return to the pan and keep warm over simmering water until serving time.
SAUCE
  1. In a small sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter until foaming. Over medium heat, sauté the shallots and garlic until the shallots are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Pour in the wine and vinegar, turn up the heat a little and reduce until ½ cup remains. Pour in the water and reduce by half. Puree the sauce in a blender, or use an immersion blender. Whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and season to taste with salt and pepper; keep warm.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500º
  3. Brush some olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the salmon fillets on the sheet. Roast until medium, about 10 minutes; the salmon should be cooked on the outside, but still slightly underdone inside.
  4. Spoon the celery root puree in the center of 4 warmed dinner plates, set a salmon fillet on top and spoon sauce over top. Serve immediately.
Notes
MAKE AHEAD:
The salmon can be seasoned, covered and refrigerated up to 3 hours before roasting.
Both the sauce and pureé can be made the day before, refrigerated then gently heated before serving. {Heat puree in a pan set over simmering water so that it doesn't dry out or brown while reheating.}

The original Spago on Sunset Strip. Everyone who was “anyone” in Hollywood had a table by those windows at some point in their career.

spago

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5 Responses to Roasted Salmon with Black Pepper and Ginger on Celery Root Puree

  1. Coco in the Kitchen September 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    I was @ a loss for what to do about dinner tonight.
    This looks like just the ticket!

    • Morgan Wood September 11, 2014 at 11:24 am #

      Hope you liked it!

  2. Bob N. September 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    What a great story, Morgan. Spago is our absolute favorite restaurant on the planet. Other restaurants may have as good of food as Spago, but few can match the service. We too have had Wolfgang visit our table more than once to check on our experience. Here is another Spago story. Your hubby and I had made a presentation at an LA TV station, and if memory serves, they booked us a reservation at Spago on Sunset. So John and I pull into the valet parking area in our rented Dodge Dart. As we were both getting out of the car, I inexplicably hit the lock button on my door, both doors slam, and whoops the engine is running. I felt such a fool, especially since I was a relatively new business traveler. John said don’t worry about it, tipped the valet parker and we went into the restaurant for dinner. We came out after eating there was our car waiting for us with both doors open. It was then I learned the virtues of the “slim jim”. I think I still own John $20 for that experience.

    • Morgan Wood September 11, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      We both laughed out loud at that story… we need to get together to share many more… perhaps at Spago!?

      • Bob N. September 11, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

        Any time! Just name it. I will buy too. Interest on the valet tip adds up.

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