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Pickled Sea Trout with Soy and Lime Dressing, and Rocket, Fennel and Asparagus Salad

Introduction:

I think medical science has a lot answer for. Before the proliferation of ‘advice’ such as you should not eat this or that, and if you are to drink coffee then it must be decaffeinated, skinny, soy, de-leaded, de-flavoured and de-coffeed or else you will only live for the next 12 seconds, people had no guilt about eating things like butter, cheese, lard, dripping, eggs etc.. Now we have diets of flaxseed infused quinoa with water reduction, and have been convinced that aspartame (that sweet stuff) is ‘better’ for us than natural sugar. Balderdash, I say. In moderation we should enjoy the food that nature has supplied and not live in guilt. But you know what? You can still eat healthily and have food that packs bags and bags of flavour.

So, today at the fishmongers two beautiful looking sea trout were conversing about the pros and cons of quantum marine physics when one caught my eye, winked and said “come over here me old china plate (mate) – we’re healthy and tasty me and Fred (sic) and we fancy being bedazzled with some crazily great ingredients and then consumed by your lovely wife and yourself”.  Not one to look a gift fish in the mouth, I quickly snapped them up and tootled off home, seriously disturbed at the notion of talking fish. It is only when I go them home did I realise that they had been divulging too much in the old seaweed wine and were pickled before I had even reached for the cider vinegar.

Uttering not another word it was time to see what Fred and his mate (never did catch his name) were all about, and thus came in to existence pickled sea trout with soy, lime and ginger dressing, served with rocket, fennel and asparagus salad – with a bit of a bang.

 

Serves: 2 as a main meal  |   Preparation:  1 hour marinade + 30 minutes preparation   |   Cooking: 10 minutes

 

Ingredients:

2 medium Trout/ sea trout | When filleted gives about 300g each of flesh. Rainbow Trout or Mackerel are excellent substitutes.

For the Pickle Marinade    
250ml Cider vinegar |  
250ml Water |
1 medium Red onion | Sliced.
4 slices Lemon |
6 stalks Coriander | A nice intense flavour in the stalks makes them great for marinating.
40g Caster sugar |
1 tsp. Juniper berries | Fragrant berries that are a distant relative of pine.
½ tsp. Szechuan peppercorns | These impart a magical tingling sensation on the tongue.
1 tbsp. Olive oil |

For the dressing  
1 tbsp. Soy sauce | I use a medium soy sauce – e.g. Kikkoman.
1 tbsp. Water |
1 lime Lime juice |
1 tsp. Fresh ginger | Finely julienned (matchsticks).
½ tsp. Dark Muscovado sugar | A soft brown sugar is good as a substitute.

For the salad
A bunch Rocket | A bunch is a good handful.
2 Baby fennel | Finely sliced.
About 9 or 10 Asparagus tips | Blanched for 1 minute in boiling water and then immediately immersed in iced water to stop them cooking further.
½ lime Lime juice |  
1 tsp. Sea salt |
1 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns |
1 tbsp. Olive oil | Extra virgin for its light and fruity flavour.

 

 

How To:

Start by filleting the trout if you have bought them whole. Ensure that you pin bone the fillets by running your finger along the flesh a few times to feel for them.

To prepare the pickle, add to a pan the cider vinegar, water, sliced red onion, lemon slices, coriander stalks, Szechuan peppercorns, juniper berries and olive oil. Over heat, bring the temperature of the pickle to about 60 deg C (140 deg F) and then pour in to wide rectangular dish, such as a lasagne dish. Place the trout fillets in the pickle flesh side down, and leave to marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for the dressing add to a small bowl the soy sauce, water, lime juice, ginger and sugar and then mix well until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

For the salad, place the finely sliced baby fennel in a bowl of iced water for 20 minutes and then drain and pat dry. This will ensure the fennel is beautifully crunchy. To a mortar add the sea salt and Szechuan peppercorns and grind with the pestle until powdered. This is a variation on what is known as Chinese gunpowder – a salty spicy tingle.

To a large bowl add the blanched asparagus tips, rocket, baby fennel, lime juice, Chinese gunpowder and olive oil. Mix well by hand – it’s the best way.

After an hour is up carefully remove the trout fillets from the pickle, pat dry with paper towel and then score the skin diagonally – about 3 or 4 scores per fillet. Place the fish on a well-oiled baking sheet, skin side up. Under a medium to hot grill, grill the fish for 5-7 minutes until the skin is crispy and the fish is cooked.  Personally, I have the grill on high and then place the baking sheet about 5 inches (12.5cm) from the grill. This ensures that I don’t burn the skin and that the balance of cooking the fish and crisping the skin is just about perfect.

To serve, place the salad on a plate and then carefully place a fillet on top of the salad. Spoon some of the soy, lime and ginger dressing over the fish. Just to be ‘chefy’ I only serve one fillet to start with, and then tuck into the second one once the niceties of plating are over.

 

Notes

  • Want something fantastic to add to sandwiches? Once you have removed the trout from the pickle, leave the pickle for another 12 hours, drain and discard the lemon, coriander stalks, peppercorns and juniper berries. You’ll be left with an amazing pickled red onion that still has a little bite. Absolutely fantastic with roast beef sandwiches.

The Thrill of the Chase

It’s 6am on Saturday morning, the alarm is playing, and guess what? bizarrely I am eager to get up. You see it is the fortnightly sojourn to the food markets here in Melbourne, and that means seafood, fish, meat and an infinite option of cheeses, charcuterie meats, breads, wines and anything else you can throw your hungry stick at. If someone had have told me in the past that I would be excited about getting up early and going food shopping, I would have said in my best cockney accent ‘you’rrrre ‘avin a larf me old china plate’, or something of that nature. But times have changed, mindsets have changed, and I am indeed chomping at the bit.

This last Saturday was a little special as we were having guests to dinner, which meant shopping early for fresh produce at the markets, cooking all day in the kitchen and then eating great food (one hopes on one’s ability) and downing a few glasses of the old  jumping grape. I had already planned an outline of the dinner, and this did include a magnificent charcuterie starter from my other half. I had always wanted to cook fish with vanilla butter, and a great way (according to H. Blumenthal) is with sea bass. However, sea bass is not available (well I’ve not found it yet) here in Melbourne, so that was going to be the first chase of the day – a great tasting fish that would be complemented by the butter. And it is for things like this that I am so excited to get to the markets so early in the morning – it’s the thrill of the chase, to find that thing that you have never had before, the thing that if you arrived too late you would not see again for some time. Usually at the markets you can tell exactly what has been caught in ample supply that morning, as all mongers are displaying the same fish or seafood – Atlantic salmon, Queensland banana prawns, barramundi, Coffin Bay oysters – magnificent produce, but usually in abundance every week. No, what I go for is to find out which fishmonger has managed to get that little gem, that something that everyone else didn’t get. And this Saturday I found it – Red Emperor. According to the wily old fishmonger “this is one of Australia’s greatest eating fish and is caught amongst the coral reefs”.

That sold me. Also, I had never eaten or filleted it before, so it looked and sounded ideal – and there were only 4 of them in the whole market. About 6 weeks ago I had a similar experience, but this time with sea urchins – they do not look like they are meant for human (or any other living thing) consumption – black spikes on the exterior and an orange coloured mushy mousse-like interior. They were for me the discovery of the year – I adore oysters, and this urchin was like a concentrated and intensely creamy oyster. Only one purveyor had them and they haven’t been seen since (the urchins not the purveyor).

So back to the dinner – I had the fish. I then procured some beautiful little quail and quail’s eggs, some lean and tender kangaroo, a bitey cheese from England –Gloucestershire Blue, some fantastic rhubarb, huge red Fuji apples, prosciutto, Spanish sopressa and a few other essential ingredients. A happy boy I was, indeed. As I said in the blog post Taking the PTH, the thrill of the chase is then accentuated with creatively working out what to do with this marvellous food. That’s what the next two weeks are for. But I highly recommend going and buying something that you’ve never eaten or bought before and go home and cook, eat and indulge yourself. As they say, variety is the spice of life.

 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

 

The dinner by the way was a roaring success. I made chicken liver pate and nashi pear chutney to accompany the charcuterie plate of prosciutto, Spanish sopressa, the tenderest buffalo mozzarella, large caper berries and a selection of bread. This was then followed by the Red Emperor (I second the fishmongers astuteness in saying it was a great eating fish) with vanilla butter, duck fat chips (in disc shapes) and chilli broccoli. For desert I embarked on a Raymond Blanc classic, which was process heavy but truly wonderful, even if I say so myself; a vanilla soufflé presented in a carved out baked apple, caramelised apple balls and rhubarb sorbet, all on a calvados sabayon. Magic.

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.