Thursday 25 November 2010

Delicate Double-Salmon Fish Cakes

I was going to describe these fish cakes as 'dainty', but it's a word I don't much like, so I've settled for 'delicate'.  The word 'double' in the title of this recipe refers to the fact that these cakes contain fresh salmon and smoked salmon (actually, smoked salmon-trout, but more about that later).

Double Salmon Fish Cakes
Bowl by David Walters
This recipe is my attempt to reproduce some little fish cakes - not only dainty and delicate, but also quite divine  - that I tasted recently at The Common Room, a newish restaurant in Franschhoek operated by Susan Huxter of Franschhoek's esteemed Le Quartier Francais group, with a menu designed by the talented Margot Janse.

I've seen this restaurant described in reviews as a 'tapas' restaurant, but this term really doesn't do justice to the swooningly delicious dishes on The Common Room's ever-changing menu. Okay, the menu format is similar to that of a tapas bar ( in that the portions are snack-sized appetizers) but the quality of the ingredients, the refined presentation and the deliciousness of the food are several stratospheres above what you might expect in the average tapas bar.

Double Salmon Fish Cakes
Delicate Double-Salmon Fish Cakes

My mother, who took me out for this meal, warned me that the food was good, but I didn't expect my socks to be thoroughly knocked off (and I'm still hunting for them in the vicinity of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo, so far were they blasted). Every dish was a little gem; every mouthful a sensation.  As a person who is sent into agonies of indecision when choosing from a menu (I always choose something that isn't as nice as everyone else's, and have severe attacks of menu envy) I loved the fact that I could order a whole range of dishes and taste a bit of everything.

My mum and I shared six dishes, which filled us to the brim. I won't describe them to you - this isn't a restaurant blog - but if you ever go to The Common Room, please try the confit duck (served in a small jar, with apricot mebos 'marmalade').

The food is pleasingly affordable, with the average price of each dish hovering between R20 and R35.

But back to the fish cakes. What I loved about The Common Room's cakes is that they tasted of pure salmon. Not dill, not parsley, not chives, not onion, not potato, nor any of the delicious ingredients you'd commonly expect to find in a good fishcake. I asked the waiter what was in them, and he came back to report that they contained onion, potato, fresh salmon and smoked salmon. I think - although I can't be sure - that the 'smoked salmon' used in the cakes was a superlative locally produced smoked salmon trout from Three Streams Smokehouse.

These fish cakes were served with a 'deconstructed' tartar sauce - all the usual ingredients, but left in bigger pieces and attractively strewn on the plate, with dabs of olive oil and mayo - but I think they're good enough  on their own, perhaps with with a squeeze of lemon juice. And were mine as good as the originals? Of course not. But close.

Delicate Double-Salmon Fish Cakes

300 g fillet of fresh salmon, skinned and boned
½ cup (125 ml) white wine
two small sprigs of thyme
a bay leaf
a thumb-length strip of lemon peel
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper
water to cover
200 g smoked salmon or salmon trout
1 cup (250 ml) very finely chopped fresh leeks, white parts only (about three medium leeks)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated fresh lemon zest
one large free-range egg, lightly beaten
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
sunflower oil for frying

For the mashed potatoes:
3 large potatoes (enough to make a cup and a half of mash)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
a little hot milk

To coat:
½ cup (125 ml) flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (250 ml) fresh breadcrumbs

First make the mashed potatoes. Halve the potatoes and put them in a pot of cold water, with a big pinch of salt. Turn on the heat, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, or until they are quite tender. Drain in a colander until cool enough to handle. Slip the peels off the potatoes and place them back in the pan. Add the butter and hot milk and mash until smooth and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Put the salmon in a pan just wide enough to contain the whole piece. Add the white wine, one thyme sprig, the bay leaf, lemon peel and a generous pinch of sea salt. Now add just enough water to cover the salmon. Set the timer on your stove to 9 minutes, turn the heat on under the pan and bring gently up to just below boiling point. Now cover the pot and simmer for 9 minutes.  Remove the lid and, using the tip of a knife, poke a small hole through the salmon. If it's still raw on the inside, poach it for another few minutes, or until it is just done.   (How long this takes will depend on the thickness of your salmon piece; the important thing is that you don't allow the water to boil.)

Double Salmon Fish Cakes
Form the fish mixture into little cakes.
While the salmon is poaching, cut the smoked salmon crossways into shreds about 3 mm wide, and set aside. Remove the fish from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool slightly. Discard the cooking liquor (or save for a fish stock).

Rinse and dry the pan in which you cooked the salmon. Turn on the heat and add the butter. When the butter has stopped foaming, tip in the chopped leeks and the remaining thyme sprig. Turn the heat right down to its lowest setting and cover the leeks with a circle of greaseproof paper (or cover with the lid of the pot). Gently stew the leeks and butter, without allowing the leeks to brown, for about 10 minutes, or until the leeks are soft. Discard the thyme sprig.

Pull the cooked salmon into flakes the size of your thumbnail and place in a large mixing bowl. Measure out a cup and a half of mashed potato, and add this to the mixing bowl, along with the smoked salmon shreds, the leek/butter mixture, the lemon zest and the beaten egg. Stir thoroughly to combine. Season the mixture with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Place the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, so it can firm up.

Now prepare the coating. Place the flour on one large plate, the beaten eggs on another, and the breadcrumbs on the third plate. Remove the fish mixture from the fridge. Pinch off pieces of the mixture (each about the size of a large litchi) and roll them between your palms to create little balls. Flatten each ball into a disk about 10 mm thick. Coat each disk in the flour and shake to remove the excess. Dip the disks in egg yolk, then in the bread crumbs, patting down gently so that the breadcrumbs stick. Arrange the fish cakes on a large platter or tray.

At this point, you can put the fishcakes aside, or refrigerate them for up to 8 hours. (If you are going to put them in the fridge, keep them uncovered, as this will allow the crumbs to dry out).

To cook the fish cakes, pour enough sunflower oil into a large non-stick frying pan to coat it to a depth of 1 mm. Heat the oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the fishcakes and fry them on both sides until golden brown and crispy. These cakes brown very quickly, so don't allow the oil to overheat: if the oil is too hot, you'll end up with a dark-brown crumb coating and a cold centre.

Drain the fishcakes on a paper towel. Serve immediatley, with lemon wedges and salt.

Serves 4-6 as a snack

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 20 November 2010

Apricot Ripple Ice Cream

A scandalously rich ice cream made with eggs, cream and some fresh lightly stewed apricots. It's easy to make, if you can get your head around making a proper custard, and freezes to a lovely velvetiness, even if you don't have an ice-cream maker.

Apricot Ripple Ice Cream
Apricot Ripple Ice Cream

I came up with this ice cream recipe after I bought some beautiful fresh apricots, the very first of the season. I love the taste of apricots, but I can't eat them raw because I have an aversion to the feel of their skin. A mild aversion, actually, compared to the way I feel about peach skin. I don't know if I'm the only person in the world with this affliction, but I cannot tolerate touching - or biting into - peach skin. Even writing about it brings up goosebumps on my arms and sends spiders skittering down the back of my neck. My hatred of the feel of peach skin (and, oddly enough, of the cone of raw wood just below the tip of a sharpened pencil) is so intense that I can't even watch someone else peeling or eating this most delicious fruit.

Naturally, anyone who knows this about me goes out of their way to sneak up behind me and rub a furry peach against my upper arm.

But back to the apricots. It's just as well that I don't eat them raw, because I do think that apricots are one of those fruits that just taste better lightly cooked, or dried, both of which processes bring out their beautiful astringency and perfume.

If you don't have an ice-cream maker, you can use the freeze-and-beat method.

Apricot Ripple Ice Cream

16 whole fresh apricots
½ cup (125 ml) white sugar
an 8-cm-long strip of fresh lemon zest
1½ cups (375 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice

For the custard (crème anglaise):
1 cup (250 ml) cream
1 cup (250 ml) full-cream milk
½ cup (125 ml) caster sugar
6 large egg yolks
½ tsp (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract

Put the whole apricots, sugar, lemon zest and water into a large saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring now and then to turn the apricots over. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the apricots have collapsed. Set aside and allow to cool. Stir in the lemon juice.

To make the custard, put the cream, milk and 2 T (30 ml) of the sugar into a saucepan and bring gently to just below the boil (watch the mixture like a hawk). In the meantime, using a whisk, beat the remaining sugar and the egg yolks in a large bowl until pale and creamy. Stir in the vanilla. Put the hot cream/milk mixture into a jug and pour it, in a steady stream, over the eggs, stirring vigorously as you do so. Strain the mixture back into the pan, turn the temperature right down, and reheat it very gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The mixture will begin to thicken slightly within a few minutes. To check whether it is done, coat the back of your wooden spoon with the custard and draw your finger across it. If the channel created by your fingertip remains open, or closes reluctantly, the custard is ready.

Do not, whatever you do, allow the custard to come anywhere near boiling point, as it will curdle and you'll have to turf out the lot.

Remove the custard from the heat, cover its surface with a piece of clingfilm to prevent a skin forming, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Place a metal or glass dish in the freezer. Set a large sieve over another bowl and into it tip the apricot mixture. Using the back of a soup ladle, stir and press down on the mixture, until all you have left in the sieve is the pips and bits of skin. (This is a little laborious, so turn on the music and take your time about it!).

Measure out half a cup (125 ml) of the apricot purée and set aside. Stir the remaining purée into the cooled custard and mix well. Place in the fridge to chill.

If you're using an ice cream maker, churn the mixture until firm and creamy. Tip into the bowl you placed in the freezer earlier and swirl the purée you set aside over the surface. Now gently 'ripple' it into the icecream, using a metal spoon, so it forms little seams of apricot. Cover and freeze until quite firm.

If you're using the freeze-and-beat method, ripple the reserved purée into the ice cream, as described above, about two-thirds of the way through the freezing process, or before the mixture becomes too stiff to stir easily.

Serves 6-8 as a dessert

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 18 November 2010

Book Review: Ramsay's Best Menus, plus I make Gordon's Italian Meatballs

When Aletta Lintvelt, Food24's new food editor, asked me to review a cookbook from, it took a split second for me to choose the new Ramsay book. I'm a great fan of Gordon Ramsay's, you see, and I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to cook a dish from his latest book.
Gordon Ramsay's Italian Meatballs
I had the chance to see the world's most famous chef in action last year at the Cape Town Good Food and Wine Show (read about this event here, and about why am a Ramsay admirer) and thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. I recall him cooking a sticky chicken dish of some sort at the demo, and that's the first recipe in the book I tried. I didn't like it at all. But more about that later.

Click here to read my review on Food24 and to find out what I thought about Gordon Ramsay's meatballs.
   Gordon Ramsay's Italian Meatballs

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Breakfast Eggs Baked with Tomato, Red Pepper, Smoked Sausage and Feta

In the style of Mexican baked eggs, this versatile breakfast dish is splendid for serving a hungry crowd. This is a great make-ahead dish, because you can prepare the sauce several hours in advance, pop the eggs in at the last minute and sling the lot into a hot oven.  Even better, make the sauce the day before, because, like most stew-like mixtures and curries, it improves upon standing.

Breakfast Eggs Baked with Tomato, Red Pepper and Smoked Sausage
Bowl by David Walters
The only tricky part of the dish is getting the eggs just right. How long it will take for the eggs to bake depends on your oven and the size of the dish, so the cooking time I've given in the recipe below is a rough guide. I suggest you check the eggs after ten minutes, and give them longer if the whites are not cooked through. You will need to cover the dish with a lid, or foil if you're using individual serving dishes, to prevent the yolks from drying out and turning a nasty colour as they cook.

This dish is good with a peppery chouriço sausage, but you can use any spicy, smoked sausage. Skin the tomatoes if you want to -  by steeping them in boiling water for a few minutes -  but I honestly can't be bothered to peel tomatoes.

I like to add cold feta cheese to the hot dish - I love the contrast -  but you can bake it along with the eggs, if you like.

Breakfast Eggs Baked with Tomato, Red Pepper and Smoked Sausage

Breakfast Eggs Baked with Tomato, Red Pepper, Smoked Sausage and Feta

2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower oil
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
2 large red peppers, cored and sliced [bell peppers]
a large chouriço sausage, or similar, cubed
a large sprig of thyme
flaky sea salt
12 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 Tbsp  (15 ml) Balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
1 Tbsp  (15 ml) sweet paprika
freshly milled black pepper
a handful of chopped fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley
6 free-range eggs
250 g feta cheese, or creamy goat's milk cheese

Turn the oven on to 180ºC. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, red pepper, sausage, thyme and a pinch of salt and fry, over a medium heat, for five minutes, or until the vegetables are softened, but not browned.  Drain off any excess fat. Add the tomatoes, chilli and vinegar, turn up the heat, and cook, uncovered, at a brisk bubble for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are beginning to collapse. Now add the garlic, Tabasco, cumin, coriander and paprika. Season with plenty of milled black pepper, and more salt if necessary. Cover the pan and turn it down to its lowest heat. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, very gently, until slightly thickened.

Pour the mixture into a large dish with a lid (or one that can be covered with tin foil). If you prefer, you can use individual dishes.  Make six 'wells' in the mixture.  Break an egg into each well. Cover the dish with lid or foil and bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs done. Remove from the oven and crumble the feta cheese around the eggs. Scatter over the coriander or parsley and serve hot, with buttered toast or hunks of bread.

Serves 6

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 14 November 2010

A food bloggers' master class in Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
You meet a lot of interesting people on Twitter, but you don't always have the chance to meet them in real life. When I 'met' Neill Anthony recently and learned that this talented young chef, who trained in kitchens of Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and others, was making waves as a personal chef Cape Town, I wasted no time in putting him in an elbow-lock (virtually speaking, of course) and tweaking his ears until he agreed to present a master class for local food bloggers.

Not that he needed much tweaking.  Neill was enthusiastic about the idea from the beginning, and together we planned a class that would challenge and inspire people who were keen to pick up top tips from some of England's finest kitchens. I didn't want any ordinary cooking demo - most of the best food bloggers and home cooks have long since mastered the basics, and beyond - but rather a class that would help already-competent cooks hone their skills and sharpen their recipes.

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
We were not disappointed. What I found so fascinating about watching Neill at work was his precision, his concentration, and his razor-sharp attention to detail.  He has the lightest, nimblest fingers, and his work space is as clean and shining as an operating table.  (A bit of an eye-opener for me, the world's messiest cook.)

And the food? Well, it was heavenly. What really opened my eyes was how Neill created such beautiful, clean-flavoured dishes using so few ingredients.  And I mean really few ingredients: I shopped for the event, and I kept having to check and recheck my shopping list because the trolley seemed so empty.

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
After the demo, we all sat down to enjoy a beautiful three-course meal, with wines that Neill had bought along from Silverhurst. He also bought a big bottle of award-winning Willow Creek olive oil for each attendee (thanks, Willow Creek and Silverhurst!).

On the menu, hand-made ravioli and tortellini with a baby spinach, ricotta and liquid egg-yolk filling, served with a butternut purée and an onion and milk froth; Norwegian salmon with baby beetroot, and whole white beans and puréed beans with tarragon; and a boozy prune and brandy soufflé.

But I'll let the images tell the story. Below, you'll find some lovely pictures from the demo, taken by Barry White, a professional photographer, who - following instructions from his wife and boss, my dear friend Judy Levy - kindly tolerated us invading the White/Levy household.  Judy and Barry have agreed to host future master classes at their beautiful home in Oranjezicht over the coming months. (Watch this space for details, or send me an email if you'd like to be on my mailing list: hobray at

We're planning to hold similar master classes once a month, featuring Cape Town's top chefs. We'll also be inviting artisanal  food producers to showcase their wares and demonstrate their recipes. (And another thank you to Verlaque Fine Foods, who gave us some beautiful bottles of their brilliantly flavoursome 'Splashes', balsamic reductions and preserves, and Sam Linsell of The Smoking Shed, who handed out samples of her fantastic smoked wares, which include an ethereal cold-smoked tuna; deliciously crunchy cashews and macadamias;  and - for everyone to take home -  blocks of cold-smoked butter and little packets of smoked sea salt.)

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony

Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony
Master Class Cape Town, with chef Neill Anthony

Disclosure: Verlaque Fine Foods, who provided product give-aways for this demo, is one of of my clients. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 5 November 2010

Hot Garlicky New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna Sauce

I am an ardent fan of new potatoes, especially if they're dug fresh and tender from the earth (or, at least, if I can buy them within two or three days of Farmer X digging them up all fresh and tender).  With their lovely waxen flesh and squeaky little skins, baby potatoes are, to my mind, a prince among vegetables. What a shame, then, that new potatoes are so often treated as Cinderellas, and edged to the side of the plate, where they become a supporting act to the main meaty event. This recipe - a revamp of one of the earliest dishes I devised for this blog - celebrates new potatoes, and elevates them to what I hope is a starring role.
Hot garlicky new potatoes with a tuna sauceThis beautiful salad/soup bowl was made by master potter David Walters of Franschhoek.

This recipe is inspired by the sublime Italian dish Vitello Tonnato - thin slices of cold poached veal coated in a silken sauce of mayonnaise, tuna, capers, lemon juice and olive oil. I'd tasted pale imitations of this dish once or twice, but it was only when I went to Italy for the first time in 1991 that I experienced (in a small, nondescript B&B in the Aoste region) the full glory of this dish. We were exhausted, my husband and I, having driven and argued all day, heading in our rented car for the Swiss border, with a shrieking and wet-nappied toddler strapped to the back seat. We checked grumpily into the first B&B we found en route, and to our fortune, Mama - a genuine, muttering, black-stockinged genius of a grandmother - was in the kitchen that night, weaving her particular Italian magic.

I can't remember many details of that meal, but I do remember Mama's Vitello Tonnato, and how my eyes rolled dreamily back in my head as I ate it.

I made the dish a couple of times in the years after our trip, using veal, but as this ingredient is not easy to find in South Africa, and scandalously expensive, I came up with a recipe with the same - or as close as I could get to Mama's original - sauce, but using,  instead of veal,  boiled baby spuds, which are briefly tossed in hot olive oil and garlic.

In my earlier recipe, I insisted on peeled potatoes. I've changed my mind about this since. Half the fun of eating a new potato is enjoying the earthy taste of its pale, papery skin. Peel the potatoes if you must, and good luck to you.

Three other changes to my earlier recipe: I've added snipped chives for a little oniony bite, and also lightened up the heavily mayonnaised dressing with some natural yoghurt. As a final improvement, and to add a little texture, I've deep-fried some capers so they open up into little crunchy flowers.

I suggest you serve this as a starter.

Hot New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna SauceThe sauce little dish, on the right, by master potter David Walters of Franschhoek, has a handy indented rim, designed so that you can rest a spoon on it.

Hot New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna Sauce

For the potatoes:
1.2 kg baby potatoes (or enough for six)
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
30 ml (2 T) olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, peeled

For the dressing:
1 tin tuna in oil, drained
2 large, good-quality anchovy fillets
3 T (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml)  good mayonnaise (Hellman's, or home-made, but not salad cream)
½ cup (125 ml) thick natural yoghurt
50 ml olive oil
14 capers, drained of their brine
a pinch of salt (but taste the sauce first; the anchovy fillets may be salty enough)
freshly milled black pepper
a little hot water

To garnish:
36 capers, drained of their brine
2 T (30 ml) sunflower oil
finely snipped fresh chives

First make the dressing. Put all the ingredients, except the hot water, into the goblet of a blender and whizz at high speed, adding a teaspoonful of hot water at a time, until you have a smooth, silky sauce. The dressing should have the consistency of thick cream, or a thin custard. Process the dressing until it's absolutely smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill for two to three hours.

Put the new potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water to which you have added a teaspoon of salt, and bring quickly to the boil. Turn down the heat slightly, and boil the potatoes briskly for 10-15 minutes, or until they are tender and cooked right through, but not falling apart.

While they are cooking, crush the garlic to a fine paste. Heat the olive oil gently in a pan and stir in the crushed garlic. Fry gently for a minute or two, but don't allow the garlic to brown. Drain the potatoes thoroughly and cut each one in half.  Tip them into the saucepan containing the oil and garlic, and toss well to coat.

Pile the potatoes into a warmed dish, cover loosely with a tea towel and keep hot.

Now make the fried capers. Using a piece of kitchen paper, pat the capers quite dry.  Heat the oil in a small sauce pan until very hot, but not smoking. Drop the dried capers into the oil and fry  for a minute or so, or until they open up like flowers, and become very crispy. Remove the capers from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain well on kitchen paper, and pile into a little dish.

Using a pair of scissors, finely snip the chives and place them in a separate small dish.

Divide the hot potatoes between six warmed plates (or pile them on a big platter). Remove the cold tuna sauce from the fridge, decant into a small  jug, and pass it around the table, along with the fried capers and snipped chives..

Serves six. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 4 November 2010

Halloumi and Beef Carpaccio Salad with Crisp-Fried Capers

Halloumi and Beef Carpaccio Salad with Fried Capers
Halloumi & Beef Carpaccio Salad with Crisp-Fried Capers
There are two things my teenage sons adore: halloumi cheese and beef fillet. They are their mother's sons, they are, because I too could eat both every day, with abandon, and for breakfast if necessary. But times are tight, and we don't have that sort of budget, so here's a simple recipe that uses a modest amount of both these wonderful ingredients, stretching them into a filling salad with lots of fresh green leaves, and - for those of you not on a low-carb regime - crusty bread on the side.

The first time I made this salad (and photographed it) I coated the outside of the halloumi with black pepper. The second time, I peppered the beef, but you can do either, or leave the pepper out altogether.

To avoid the halloumi turning limp or leathery, it needs to be fried at the very last minute. Please see this post for tips about buying and frying halloumi, which is a temperamental cheese.

Halloumi and Carpaccio Salad with Fried Capers

600 g beef fillet
freshly milled black pepper
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil or sunflower oil
40 capers, drained of their brine
fresh rocket, or similar green leaves; enough for six
one 300 g block of halloumi cheese, patted dry and cut into large cubes
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cornflour [cornstarch]

For the dressing:
4 Tbsp (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 Tbsp (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and light vegetable oil
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
salt and freshly milled black pepper
a pinch of caster sugar

Trim the beef fillet, cutting away the silver membrane. Rub a little olive oil over the surface of the meat. Grind plenty of black pepper onto a chopping board, and roll the fillet back and forth over the pepper, so all sides are well coated. Heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of the oil in a frying pan. When the oil is very hot, but not quite smoking, add the fillet and brown it quickly on all sides. This should take just a few minutes, and the beef should remain quite raw on the inside. Remove the beef from the pan and set aside to cool.

Now make the dressing: combine all the ingredients in a small jug and whisk well. Don't add too much salt, as the halloumi cheese is quite salty in its own right.

Wipe out the frying pan with a piece of kitchen paper and add the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Pat the capers quite dry. When the oil is hot, add the capers and fry for a minute or so, or until they open into crisp little flowers. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the salad leaves on a large platter. Finely slice the beef fillet into slim leaves or strips, and arrange them over the salad. (It isn't easy to produce wafer-thin slices, but do your best with a very sharp knife. Or, flatten them between two pieces of clingfilm using a rolling pin. Alternatively, you can place the beef in the freezer for half an hour, which will make it easier to slice.)

Just before you're going to serve the salad, lightly dust the halloumi cubes with cornflour. Reheat the oil in a pan and, when it is hot, fry the cheese cubes, in batches, until golden brown and crusty. You may need to add more oil as you go along. (For tips on frying halloumi cheese, click here)

Drain the cubes on kitchen paper and scatter them over the top of the salad, along with the fried capers. Pour the dressing over the salad, or pass it round in a separate jug.

Serve with plenty of bread.

Serves 6 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Redemption Salad

Redemption Salad, for a party
This beautiful black platter was made by my uncle, master potter David Walters.
This salad of smoky roast peppers is named in honour of 'Redemption Song', written by the late Bob Marley in 1979, and considered his seminal work. My husband suggested this title when I made my usual roast-pepper salad for lunch last weekend: 'Those are the colours of the Rastafarian flag,' he said. 'Why don't you make the salad again, and arrange the peppers in stripes, so the dish looks like a flag?'

I'm not usually tempted by food gimmickry, but this suggestion put a sparkle in my heart and sent me racing to the kitchen. Well, to be accurate, it sent me racing to the supermarket, where I found red, yellow and green peppers (in season now) heaped in glorious shining piles.

I met the man who was to become my husband when I was fifteen, the year before I matriculated in 1979, and Bob Marley's music is so deeply entwined in our friendship (and subsequent courtship) that I could write several chapters on the subject.  I won't bore you; suffice to say that 'Redemption Song' is very dear to my heart, and still raises the hairs on my arms whenever I hear it.  As it does, I guess, to many people of our generation.

Bob MarleyAnd, besides, 'redemption' is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful words in the English language.  It rolls like warm butter from my lips, and is so suffused with goodness, mercy and sunshine that just saying it fills me with the warmest ole feelings.

I hope this recipe will fill your tummy with warm feelings. I've refined it somewhat by dressing each 'stripe' of pepper with its own flavoured vinaigrette. If you don't have time to footle about, omit the flavourings that are stuffed into the peppers before they're baked, and use the basic vinaigrette to dress all three stripes.

This salad needs to be made and dressed a few hours in advance, so that the flavours have a chance to mingle.  This is quite a large quantity, suitable for feeding a crowd, but the recipe is easily halved.

Serve the salad with plenty of fresh crusty bread (or slices of toasted ciabatta bread). It's good on its own, but  even better with a selection of cool Mediterranean toppings: ricotta, feta, mozzarella or goats' milk cheese, brined capers, bottled anchovies, salty little olives, basil pesto, and so on.

Redemption Salad 

4 large red peppers [bell peppers]
4 large yellow peppers
4 large green peppers
4 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
4 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
a large bunch of fresh basil

For the three dressings:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) white wine vinegar
6 Tbsp (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
a clove of fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
a small sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped
10 fresh basil leaves
fresh lemon juice

Redemption Salad, for a partyPreheat the oven to 200 ºC.  Cut a 4-cm vertical slit in the side of each pepper. Push a whole clove of peeled garlic through the slit of each red pepper. Push a large sprig of fresh basil into each green pepper, and a sprig of fresh rosemary into each of the yellow peppers.

Put the green peppers into a big, deep roasting pan, place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. (These need to bake for longer than the red and yellow peppers). Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the red and yellow peppers, stalk-side up, in the pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the peppers have just collapsed, and are lightly browned and blistered. Turn the peppers now and then to help them cook evenly.

Redemption Salad, for a party
Remove the pan from the oven and cover with tin foil, clingwrap or a lid. Set aside and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature.

Uncover the pan and, using your fingers, remove the stalks, cores and seeds of the peppers, allowing the juices that have pooled inside the peppers to run back into the roasting pan. Discard the rosemary and basil sprigs, but retrieve the four garlic cloves that were inside the red peppers, and set aside.

Peel the skins off the peppers and discard. (You will find that the green peppers, being the least ripe, are quite difficult to peel; remove as much of the skin as you can, and leave the rest on.)

Place the flesh of the peppers, in three separate piles, in a large colander set over the sink, and drain for a few minutes.

Slice the pieces of pepper into little ribbons (or leave them in big leaves, if you like), and arrange them in stripes on a big salad platter: green at the top, yellow in the middle, and red on the bottom.

Now make the dressing. Strain the juices left in the pan, and measure out 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of this liquid. Place in a clean bowl and whisk in the vinegar and olive oil. Mash the four baked garlic cloves you set aside earlier, and stir them into the dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Now divide this basic vinaigrette into three small bowls (each bowl will contain 3 tablespoons of dressing). To the first bowl, add the crushed fresh garlic clove. Pulverise the fresh rosemary spring using a mortar and pestle (or a rolling pin), and stir this paste into the second bowl. Do the same with the fresh basil leaves, and stir the paste into the third dressing. Add a few drops of fresh lemon juice to each of the three dressings, and check the seasoning.

Drizzle the garlic dressing over the red peppers, the rosemary dressing over the yellow peppers, and the basil dressing over the green peppers.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 12, as a snack or starter

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 1 November 2010

Rosemary and Parmesan Chicken Strips with a Lemon Dipping Sauce

I'm not the sort of person who has the patience to stand around frying things, but I do like crumbed chicken, and so I've come up with this recipe for oven-baked crispy strips. Fresh rosemary needles and grated Parmesan add a lovely savoury flavour to the crumb crust, and the chicken strips are marinated for an hour or two in yoghurt to ensure perfect tenderness.

These are great for serving as a snack with drinks because you can make them in advance, keep them in the fridge, and then sling them into a very hot oven to bake.  Or do what my mum does: she marinates a batch of chicken strips in a lidded plastic box in the fridge, and then takes out a few to crumb and bake when she needs them (you can safely store these, in their marinade, in the fridge for up to four days).

A challenge is getting the crust to turn golden during a short baking time, which is why I've specified bread rolls for the crumbs (they have a higher proportion of crust to inner than do slices of bread). If you want really golden crumbs, use only the crusts of your bread rolls.

Take care not to overcook the strips; they dry out quickly. The exact cooking time will depend on the nature of your oven: I suggest you blast them for 10 minutes, then cut one open to see if it's done. If there's only a slight pinkness in the middle, give the strips another two to five minutes.

If you're watching calories, use natural yoghurt instead of crème fraîche in the dipping sauce.

Rosemary and Parmesan Chicken Strips with a Lemon Dipping Sauce

12 skinless, deboned free-range chicken breasts

For the marinade:
¾ cup (180 ml) plain natural yoghurt
the juice of a lemon
a pinch of white pepper

For the crust:
3 large day-old bread rolls, or enough to make 2½ cups (625 ml) crumbs
a 12-cm stalk of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped
200 ml finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp (45 ml) good olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dip:
½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche
3 Tbsp (45 ml) good mayonnaise (home made or Hellmann's)
the finely grated zest and juice of a small lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the chicken breasts into slender strips, each about the length of your index finger. Here's how: first remove the little 'fillet' piece on the underside of the breast. Then cut the breast in half horizontally so you have two 'leaves'. Cut each leaf into three or four strips.

Put the yoghurt, lemon juice and pepper into a plastic or glass bowl and add the chicken strips. Mix well, using your hands. Set aside to marinate two or so hours (but not longer than three).

Now make the crumb mixture (do this immediately, so the crumbs can dry out a little while the chicken marinates). Tear the bread into pieces and place in the goblet of a liquidiser or the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the rosemary leaves. Whizz until you have a fairly fine crumb (but don't over-process the crumbs, or you'll end up with green dust). Tip the crumbs into a large shallow platter and add the grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Place the platter, uncovered, in the fridge, which will help dry out the crumbs.

To make the dip, combine the creme fraiche, yoghurt and mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Set aside.

Remove the crumbs from the fridge and sprinkle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Using your fingertips, gently rub the olive oil into the crumbs, as you would if you were making a pastry. Season with salt and pepper.

Tip the chicken strips into a colander set over the sink and allow to drain for a few minutes. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Add a few chicken strips - six or so at a time - to the bread crumbs and turn them over a few times, patting down firmly so that the crumbs stick. Repeat with the remaining chicken strips.

If you're going to cook these immediately, preheat the oven to 210ºC. Place a large non-stick baking sheet in the oven to heat through for ten minutes. If you're making these in advance, arrange the crumbed strips on a baking sheet or platter, and place, uncovered, in the fridge for up to three hours.

To cook, place the strips on the preheated baking sheet. Bake, in the middle of the oven, for 12-15 minutes, or until the strips are golden brown and sizzling, and just cooked through. Serve piping hot, with the dip.

Serves 8 as a snack. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly