I’ve decided that panini-making is a lot of fun in a social setting. Everyone gathering around the grill, assembling made-to-order sandwiches (or, in many cases, watching me assemble their sandwiches to order), anxiously waiting to see those grill marks and melted cheese. I had a little bit of a crowd in the kitchen this past weekend, with my husband Mike, my sister Angela, my sister Julie and her husband Jay in town. They were all game for my latest Panini Happy Classics foray – a new twist on bagels and lox. Want to skip ahead? Click here for the final recipe.
Smoked Salmon Bagel Panini – Attempt #1
- Bread: Bagel (everything)
- Meat: Smoked salmon
- Cheese: Whipped cream cheese
- Condiments: None
- “Goodies”: Tomatoes, red onions, dill-watercress salad with balsamic vinaigrette
THE INSPIRATION: When I want to make something for Mike that I know he’ll really enjoy, I can never go wrong with bagels and smoked salmon. It’s his “desert island” meal. And when it comes to this meal, he’s pretty much a purist – sesame bagel, not toasted, (a lot of) whipped cream cheese from the tub and a good layer of salmon. Never capers. On occasion he’ll ask me to blend up a salmon-cream cheese schmear. So I thought he might appreciate a panini version of his fave. Plus, I’m still on a round panini kick.
THE PREPARATION: I envisioned these bagel panini with nice dark grill marks, and I knew that to achieve them I’d have to have flat surfaces…which do not come naturally with puffy, tubular bagels. So my first task was to create some flat surfaces. First, I split an “everything” bagel – freshly procured from Einstein Bros. that morning – down the middle lengthwise, as I normally do, and then I went to cut off the top and bottom edges. Problem! The bagel was so soft and malleable that it was rather difficult to cut off the edges off the bagel halves without endangering my fingertips. I managed, but I wouldn’t advise this method. Note for the final recipe: cut off the edges first and then split the bagel in half.
As I mentioned, my husband foregos any accoutrements when it comes to prepping his bagels, but when he orders them in restaurants I’ve noticed they’re often served with rings of red onion and tomato. So I thought I’d include those on this sandwich as well. For the tomatoes, I removed the seeds to minimize the chance of wet bread, per Tip #4.
Next was the dill-watercress salad. I actually was inspired to include a salad after reading this post on the Cookthink blog – what a great way to incorporate greens on a sandwich with a little acidic kick! I pictured something with a small leaf and watercress seemed to fit the bill. The suggestion for adding dill came from my mother-in-law and I concurred – salmon and dill go so well together. So I washed a bunch of watercress and loaded it into a large salad bowl. Judging from the quantity of leaves, I thought 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill ought to be enough to disperse throughout the salad.
Then came the dressing – I wanted to do a balsamic vinaigrette. I did a little research and found out that the typical ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar. Looking at my greens in the bowl, I thought I might need about 1/2 cup of dressing. I had to talk this one aloud at length with Angela to get the proportions right: to break 1/2 cup down into a 3:1 ratio translated to 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (my head really spun on that one – I was a liberal arts major!). Additionally, I wanted a little garlic in there as well as capers – even though my husband doesn’t really like them, they’re pretty traditional companions to bagels and lox so in they went. I seasoned the vinegar mixture with salt and pepper and then whisked in my olive oil to finish the vinaigrette. Zesty!
THE CONSTRUCTION: As I often do, I brushed the outer sides of the bagel halves with a little melted butter – not a lot, just enough to ensure a little color and crispness upon grilling. I spread a generous amount of whipped cream cheese inside both halves of the sandwich. On the bottom half, I added several rings of red onion, then about an ounce of smoked salmon (basically enough to cover the bagel) and a few slices of tomato. I closed up the sandwich and loaded it onto the grill at medium-high heat (375 degrees).
The beauty of this type of sandwich is that since the cream cheese is already in a soft state, all I needed to do was get a nice toast on the bread. Two minutes and thirty seconds was all it took. I removed the sandwich from the grill and prepared it for the final step – inserting the dill-watercress salad. I turned the sandwich upside down, removed the bottom bagel half, piled on some salad and closed it back up.
THE RESULTS: Happy faces (and mouths) all around! I served the smoked salmon bagel panini with a little fruit salad and some OJ. My panini-testing guinea pigs loved how the bagel came out nice and toasty on the outside while still soft on the inside. Julie mentioned that she actually appreciated that I’d cut off the top and bottom edges as it made the sandwich less “bready” than others she’s had. Angela commented that the salad “made the sandwich”. And even my purist husband appreciated my somewhat embellished version and gave it his stamp of approval. What more could I ask for?
Check out more from the Panini Happy Classics Series:
- An Ode (or Two!) to California (BLT)
- The Taste of Childhood (Peanut Butter & Jelly)
- This Panini is “In Da Club” (Club Sandwich)
- In Search of M. Croque (Croque-Monsieur)