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Vietnamese Red Cabbage Salad

Introduction:

I recall being sat in the middle of steamy kitchen in a small town in Thailand; the two women speaking melodically in their native tongue. There was giggling, laughter and the percussion like sound of the wooden pestle pounding against the hardwood mortar. It was 7 in the morning and breakfast was being prepared.

I was here on a stopover prior to an adventure in the sub-continent, but it was here, in this kitchen, with these two ladies that my adventure began. I sat mesmerised at the high energy these ladies exerted whilst pounding the ingredients, especially in the humid heat. And yet they made it look easy, whilst smiling and maintaining a high octane conversation. Momentarily they would look up at me, look at each other, and then giggle before continuing the grind, as it were.

The next part is what I distinctly remember; moreover as it was something I had never seen before. One of the ladies showed me a large fruit item – which a few days after I learnt to be green papaya – and then began to fervently lacerate it with a large old looking chopping knife, more akin to a bone cleaver. Then she delicately shaved it and away peeled hundreds of finely formed ribbons. I noted this down in my mind’s journal, and years later I recall it as I am preparing a Vietnamese salad in the confines of a Melbourne kitchen; although this time with a carrot.

Given its close proximity to Vietnam there are many similarities in the flavour profile of the food from Thailand; the enchanting mix of the sweet, salt and sourness underpinned with garlic and chilli. And a great Vietnamese salad is very much about shredding and tearing, much like that which occurred those years ago in the steamy Thai kitchen.

Green papaya can be difficult to find and so I have substituted it for red cabbage which with carrot makes a visually stunning salad. I am very fortunate to be living very close to ‘Little Vietnam’ here in Melbourne so have great access to most of the herbs that I found and tasted when in Thailand and Vietnam. This salad has been carefully developed on and off over a few months, mainly to get a great balance of flavour; but there is everything right in you trying to find your perfect blend of herbs and flavours, using this as a base.

 

Serves: 2 to 4   |   Preparation: 30 minutes   |   Cooking: at least 30 minutes resting

 

Ingredients:

150g Red cabbage | finely shredded, known as chiffonade.
24 leaves Asian (Thai) basil |
24 leaves Vietnamese mint |
24 leaves Mint |
24 small sprigs Coriander | a small sprig is about 3 leaves.
24 leaves Perilla |
1 Carrot | peeled and shredded/ finely julienned.
1 serving Nuoc Cham | click here for recipe.

 

 

How To:

Prepare the nuoc cham at least half an hour before serving the salad in order for the ingredients to become intimately acquainted.

Place the Asian basil, Vietnamese mint, mint, coriander and perilla leaves in a bowl of iced water for about 5 minutes, to freshen and crisp. Remove the leaves from the water and roughly tear in to a large bowl. Add the shredded red cabbage and carrot. Mix with your hands.

A minute before serving add the nuoc cham to the salad and thoroughly, but carefully, mix with your hands so the herbs, cabbage and carrot are coated in the dressing. Leave the salad to marinade for one minute and then serve.

I find plating this salad using a hand has two benefits: firstly, most of excess liquid is drained and therefore there are no large ‘puddles’ on the plate; and secondly, it is easier to shape the salad on the plate.

 

Notes:

  • This is an incredibly versatile salad and goes particularly well with a medium rib-eye steak fillet, an extremely good quality pork sausage or even pan-fried snapper.

Citrus-Cured Salmon, Squid Ink Fettucine and a Lime and Dill Crème Fraiche

So to the first Personal Creation; citrus cured salmon, bok choi and dill on squid ink fettuccine with a lime and dill crème fraiche. It’s one that started off as a much simpler version, and over time I have adapted it to the point that I am really happy with it. Its inspiration derived from colour (black, pink and green looked stunning), the love of home-made pasta and the delight of cured salmon.

The dish started as the fusion of Asian ingredients with the classic smoked salmon and Italian pasta. However, as I played around with salt-curing fresh salmon fillet with citrus, coriander seed and star anise I found it provided a more complete balance of flavours. The crème fraiche with lime and dill was the last addition, one that provided some real acidity in the dish and for me tops it off really nicely. Try it out and let me know what you think.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation:  1 hour + 10 hours for salmon   |   Cooking: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the salmon
300g  Citrus cured salmon | Recipe here. Slice the salmon into thin slices and then break into smaller pieces with your fingers.

For the Fettuccine
About 500g  Squid ink fettuccine | Recipe here.

For the Crème Fraiche Sauce
300ml  Crème Fraiche |  
From 1 lime  Lime juice | Freshly squeezed.
½  bunch  Fresh dill | Finely chopped.
To taste  Black pepper | Freshly cracked.
To taste  Sea salt  

For the dish    
2 tbsp.  Grapeseed oil |  
1 bunch  Fresh dill | Roughly chopped.
Bok Choi | Roughly chopped – Pak Choi or similar can be used instead.
1 clove  Garlic | Finely chopped.
Red Chilli | I like a little bit of bite in this dish so use a birdseye chilli deseeded and finely chopped.
2 tbsp.   Fish sauce (nam pla) | Adds a great flavour and saltiness.
A squeeze  Lime juice |

 

 

How To:

Heat a wok until it starts breathing – that means hot – and add the grapeseed oil. Mince the garlic and chilli together with a little sea salt. Do this by using the flat side of a knife and crushing the chilli, garlic and salt until a paste forms. Add this paste to the hot wok and stir fry for 10-15 seconds. Then add the bok choi, dill and fish sauce and stir fry for about 4-5 minutes until the bok choi has wilted.

In the meantime prepare the crème fraiche sauce. Mix the crème fraiche, lime juice, dill and cracked pepper in a bowl. Add salt to taste.

To cook the pasta takes care and attention. It is vital that the pasta is cooked perfectly or else if it is slightly overcooked the dish doesn’t work. Into salted boiling water add the squid ink fettuccine ensuring that it is gently loosened in the water so that strands don’t stick together. Cooking takes about 2-3 minutes. Every time I make this I just keep checking the firmness of the pasta during cooking. When it has that al dente feel – slightly firm but cooked – then remove from the pan, drain and then wash gently with cold water to remove any stickiness and to stop the cooking process. As I am not using a wet sauce to coat the pasta, and therefore want the strands to be ‘loose’, the pasta is rinsed with cold water.

Add the fettuccine to the wok, and toss the pasta in the bok choi mixture for about 20 seconds on high heat. Then turn off the heat and keep tossing the pasta till well coated. The pasta should have heated up again. Add a squeeze of lime.

Add half of the salmon to the pasta, gently mix, and then repeat with the rest. Serve immediately and then garnish with the crème fraiche sauce.

Notes:

  • It’s crucial that the pasta is the right texture, as if it is overcooked the dish will become too mushy, and even though it will still taste great, the feeling is all wrong
  • Ensure you serve this dish straight after adding the salmon – then you’ll have a combination of cooked and semi-cooked salmon which is delightful, even if I say so myself.

Citrus Cured Salmon

Introduction:

I love smoke cured salmon – there’s no two ways about it. I love the creamy oily texture, the smoky and salty punch and how it combines so wonderfully with capers, dill and cream cheese on a warmed bagel.But me being me I wanted to be able to create a cured salmon at home. The difficulty with home smoking is that most foods end up cooked. When smoking in an enclosed smoking box, for example, the heat used to produce the smoke is enough to cook the food. Smoked salmon is cold smoked, so unless you have specialised equipment or indeed a smokehouse hanging around the back garden – maybe one day – the next best thing is to cure the salmon with salt.

Curing fish with salt and sugar has been practised in Scandanavia for many centuries, and today is known as gravlax, gravadlax or lox in English speaking countries. The purpose of curing with salt and sugar is to preserve the salmon as well as impart a lightly salted taste. The salt also causes the salmon to lose some of its moisture as well as a breakdown of some of the salmon proteins which in turn tenderises the fish. So using the historical base of salmon fillet, salt and sugar I have played around with curing salmon by adding various additional flavours and varying curing times to get a lightly salted salmon with a fragrant nuance. This following recipe is one that I now use regularly for home-cured citrus salmon.

Serves: 2-4 depending on usage  |   Preparation:  20 minutes   |   Cooking: Curing time – 10 hours

 

Ingredients:

300g Salmon fillet piece | I use fresh Tasmanian salmon fillet, ensuring that it is trimmed of any sinew and has been skinned.
1 Lemon zest | Finely grated.
1 Navel orange zest | Finely grated.
1 Lime zest | Finely grated.
100g Sea Salt | I use Maldon sea salt flakes.
75g Raw sugar | This is the large brown granular sugar. Sometimes I use an organic sugar called Rapadura from Colombia which has an intensely caramelised flavour.
2 Star anise pods |
½ tsp. Coriander seeds |

 

 

How To:

Take all the ingredients, apart from the salmon fillet, and blitz in a miniature blender or with a hand blender for about 30 seconds. The key here is to get a uniform mixture where the spices have been broken down and the zests, sugar and salt are well mixed.

Lay out a sheet of cling film (about 40 cm in length) and to the middle spoon about half of the salt mix. Spread and shape the mix in to a rectangle, slight larger than the base of the salmon fillet. Place the fillet on top of the salt mix and then spoon the rest of the mix on top of the salmon, again spreading so this time the top of the fillet is completely covered. Now tightly wrap the cling film around the salmon and salt mix, ensuring that there are no gaps that leave the salmon exposed. Take another piece of cling film the same size as the first and wrap it tightly around the salmon. Repeat this with a third piece of cling film. Put the salmon in a fridge for 10 hours to cure – I recommend putting a plate or kitchen paper under the salmon as sugary salty liquid is sure to seep out. After 10 hours, unwrap the salmon and wash away the salt mixture with cold water, until completely removed, and then wash the salmon again for good measure. Pat the salmon dry and then wrap in a piece of cling film, unless you are using straight away. I keep this in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or freeze it for up to a month.

 

Notes:

  • This salmon is lightly salted, which is my preference. For a more intense saltiness and flavour you can weigh the salmon down whilst it is curing with a baking tray with a couple of tins of beans on it, for example. The weight encourages more of the moisture to be removed from the salmon. Also you can cure the salmon for longer, say up to 24 hours. Experimentation is the best part.

Citrus Fresh Barramundi Tartare

Introduction:

Originally the term tartare described dishes that were covered in breadcrumbs, grilled and then served with a rich and seasoned sauce. More recently tartare has lended itself to describe a sauce or a raw meat dish, such as beef tartare. I have used the term to describe this raw fish dish.

This dish was inspired by the produce first, and the harmony and technique second. The lure of the glistening barramundi at the fish market was too much to resist. Barramundi has a very earthy taste and therefore I wanted an opposing yet harmonious flavour with it. The bite of the citrus counteracts the earthiness of the fish, but also has the freshness that compliments it.

Ultimately, by creating a tartare I have kept the wonderful flavour of the fish whilst (hopefully!) bringing through the other flavours without overpowering the fish itself.

I love to buy the fish whole and clean it at home. For Barramundi I go in at the top by slicing down either side of the backbone, snip out the backbone and then gut it, remove the gills and eyes, and then pin-bone. Then I can stuff the fish and cook it whole, or cut out the individual fillets, as for this recipe.

 

Serves: 2 as a starter   |   Preparation:  30-45 minutes   |   Cooking: None

 

Ingredients:

About 800g 1 baby Barramundi | Fillet and skin the fillets. This yields about 200g of white flesh.
½ peeled Granny Smith apple | Finely diced.
½ tsp. Dijon mustard | A quality French Dijon required here.
3 tsp. White onion | Very finely diced – white onion is sweet and less intrusive than red or brown.
1 tsp. Ginger | Fresh ginger minced to a paste.
1 Lime | Squeezed juice from fresh lime.
A pinch Smoked sea salt | I love the smoky subtlety – I use Maldon.
2 tsp. Fresh dill | Finely chopped.
1 tbsp. Olive oil | Light virgin olive oil that’s not too overpowering.
To taste Black pepper | Freshly cracked.
6 Sorrel leaves | A beautiful intense citrus burst when chewed – more than just a garnish.
A few Baby fennel fronds | Separate in to smaller fronds – use as a garnish.
Pinch Smoked paprika | A nice finish to the dish.

 

 

How To:

Ensure that there is no bone or cartilage in the Barramundi fillet. As we are using raw fish any cartilage will have a chewy texture which will not bode well – and as for bones… Cut the Barramundi fillet in to small cubes making sure that they are not too fine such as to end up as fish paste.

Add to the fish the apple, mustard, white onion, ginger, smoked sea salt and dill. Mix well, but with care, until the mixture is homogenous. Then add the olive oil and black pepper, and stir till mixed in. The ingredients should stick together, but also break away easily. This is really important for the textural feel in the mouth and the look on the plate.

Put the tartare in a food stacker, and compress lightly. Turn out on to a plate and garnish with the sorrel, fennel fronds and smoked paprika.

Notes:

  • The technique in this dish is all about the preparation – I find it’s so important to treat every dice or cut with care and precision, as it will have a profound influence on the texture and overall enjoyment.