Toni in 2005 (Courtesy of Ena Haines)
After our memorial party for the late Florette Zuelke, Florette’s niece Sue Stone requested that I post the recipe for one specific food that was served that day. She had fallen love with the rich, velvety salmon mousse provided by Betsy Kovacs.
I asked Betsy for the recipe–and she revealed that, appropriately, it came from one of Florette’s cohorts in the glory days of Singing Brook Farm, our summer community in Hawley, Massachusetts.
Betsy’s late mother Toni Leitner was charming, energetic (she worked well into her late 80s), bright, and a terrific cook. She gleaned her kitchen skills in one of the legendary culinary capitals of the world, interwar Vienna.
In 1965 Toni put together a recipe binder for Betsy. This is one of the binder’s cherished formulas. According to Betsy, Toni would have used the old-fashioned term and called it a receipt.
I helped Betsy make the mousse this past weekend–and it couldn’t have been easier. It’s a particularly useful recipe at this time of year because if you use canned salmon (and she generally does) the only cooking involved is boiling a little water.
You end up with a cool kitchen–and a dish that evokes the flavor of another remarkable member of a remarkable generation.
Betsy gets ready to add gelatin to the mousse.
1/2 cup boiling water
1 envelope gelatin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tiny onion, sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon dill
1 can (1 pound, or the closest approximation) salmon, well drained
1 cup cream (Toni preferred light, but use whatever you have)
2 or more drops red food coloring
for the sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
lots of chopped dill
The day before you wish to serve the mousse, prepare it. Place the boiling water in a blender. Add the gelatin, lemon juice, and sliced onion. Blend for 40 seconds.
Add the mayonnaise, paprika, dill, and salmon. Replace the top of the blender, leaving the removable center piece off. Blend the mixture while gradually adding the cream. Add the food coloring and blend for 5 to 30 seconds more, until the color is dispersed and the mixture has turned a pale salmon color.
Pour the mixture into an ungreased 4-cup mold. Cover gently and chill overnight.
While the mold is chilling prepare the sauce by whisking together its ingredients. Chill until needed.
The next day, gently dip the outside of the mold in hot water to loosen the mousse. Turn it out onto a platter.
If you are using a ring mold, place 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce in the middle of the mousse. (If you put too much sauce in the middle, it will overwhelm the mousse and make it collapse.) Place the remainder of the sauce in a bowl.
Serve with small pieces of bread, toast rounds, or crackers. Makes about 2-1/2 cups mousse.