SUPA DUPA SUMMER EATS
Chef Jean-Pierre has some surprises up his sleeve during the build-up to Christmas. After all, good food is the ticket to sublime summer living
Looking back, I remember riding the S-train into summer horizons and I just want us to absorb the energy of summer and get our serotonin, and dopamine levels up there to the heights of the beautiful blue skies, giving us the perfect reason to seize the day and fill it with positive perceptions and anticipation of good things to come during the life ahead.
These fond memories of train rides date back in my glory days, when I was taking the S- Train from my humble abode in Observatory, Cape Town, to Simonstown with friends – and looking forward to having the best calamari pizza in town. As this time of year is so often a time for melancholic reflection, the colours somehow seem brighter, the food tastes better and wine tastes, well, even better …
So, here’s another summer rendition of some sexy and sublime dishes that will put back the spunk in your life. So, look out for …. Dragon Fruit Belly, Cambodian Crab Crunchies, Black Rock Crab, Gravalax and Ginger, Silky Salmon, Yellow Fin Tuna and Summer Scallops.
DRAGON FRUIT BELLY
When it comes down to summer pairing, I created a summer dish like no other with dragon fruit, aka, strawberry pear. This exotic fruit, mostly native to Hawaii, is grown all around the world. The flower that opens, only at night, has also been called the Honolulu Queen. The fruit itself is rich in magnesium, fibre and has much less sugar and starch than most tropical fruits. It has the taste of Kiwi fruit, strawberry and pear, which is precisely why I came up with the idea of pairing it with crispy pork.
As we are now well adjusted to seasonal pairing, we are not going to get into the finer details of how to make the perfect pork belly. If you are a new reader, then go to my food archives and it’s all there just for you.
Plating this exotic dish requires some preparation. You’ll need some grated local cucumbers. Open that sushi grade pickled ginger and then pan sear some seasonal pineapples with some cardamom seeds and some ghee. On that note, ghee has become so expensive (as most healthy things have become. If it’s not mainstream, I guess that you pay the critical mass…)
Make summer fruit look sexy again by combing the crispy pork with the other crunchy, crisp, aromatic ingredients and then top it all with some caramelisation – a drizzle of wild flower honey and almond flakes.
YELLOW FIN TUNA
Fish, especially yellow fin tuna, is seasonally available in our warm waters. This firm, yet tender, fish cut is above the rest. If fresh, it becomes a sushi grade meal.
To make this dish unique, I made a light batter and added some Panko breadcrumbs, a dash of fish oil, a dash of soy sauce and salt and pepper. Pan sear your coated 100 gram of yellow fin tuna for 1 ½ minutes per side until crisp and golden brown.
Serve up with some fresh and dry pan fried bay leaves and fresh curry leaves. To give it a bit of warmth, add garlic and fennel sprigs and then top this masterpiece with slices of yellow peppers. To make your plate look complete, add some dhanya flowers and a dollop of mango preserve.
For me, as a chef, most of the time, seasonal simplicity can make you save a dime or two whilst also adding value for farmers and fisherman who are just trying to make an honest living. I stay clear of the corporate invested waters and have made a deliberate decision to support honest local farmers, both on and off shore.
My Baltic dish is served in a fennel lettuce cup, with ginger, wasabi (for the warm bite), miso paste and fresh dill.
For those who aren’t in the know, gravlax (or graved salmon) is a Nordic dish comprising salmon that is cured with a mix of salt and sugar with either dill or spruce twigs placed on top. Sometimes it is cold smoked.
Given food prices right now, this is more a summer treat than a regular meal. Given its roots and the fact that countries like Finland are regarded as the happiest places in the world, it comes as no surprise that this is one of my secret sensational dishes.
Having visited Finland and seen the spectacular Northern Lights, I have first-hand experience of all those happy vibes. Helsinki is so beautiful in summer and, even in winter, I would spend my time happily wrapped up in an igloo making soup every day. But it would come at a price – even all those years ago in 2008, a simple sandwich and beer rang up at around (over R270 at today’s exchange rate), so I guess you pay for clean air and quality of life.
But my memories of this dish also have a local flavour. My mind often goes back to early mornings in the summertime at the Shongweni market with my friend Trevor Pennals who was a smoking expert when it came to Norwegian salmon. Smoked in salt and cured in dill, this made it all worthwhile. We had to get to the market at around 4am which was tough in the chilly winter months – but fun in the festive summer months for both vendors and those enjoying this beautiful fish.
Our brand was called the ‘Dilly Fish’ and we had lots of fun and shared plenty of laughter over decent quality salmon trout and his famous crab bisque which was served and quickly sold out.
Unfortunately, we lost touch and I’m not sure what happened after my friend set sail from Durban harbour in his yacht. Let’s just say that he set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the door sill. This dish is a cry out for wherever you are my friend, sailing the high seas in your boat. Hopefully, we’ll re-connect in an ocean of cosmic delight.
As part of the crustacean family, crab has a distinctive sweet taste and softer texture than its fellow sea dwellers such as prawns and crayfish. Admittedly, they are quite a bugger to catch freely. Like lobster, you have to put those gloves on. They do fight back vigorously – and I guess that I would feel the same way if someone was trying to get me out of my habitat.
There are so many different varieties of our spikey friends, but the most common Indian Ocean crab is the yellow crab. With its soft shell, these are the crabs that I use in this dish. These are baby crabs with lots of tender meat.
In Asia, these crabs are chopped with a cleaver whilst still raw, braised or stir fried in their shells – but that is for another time waiting for another wave to break.
After boiling them in salt water, you can let your crabs rest until they are at room temperature and then start deshelling them.
To make your crab cakes, you only need a few ingredients:
(Yield 4. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes.)
250 grams crab meat
a handful of bread crumbs
10 grams finely chopped fresh parsley
1 egg (if you are vegan, use1 teaspoon xanthan gum)
2 teaspoons fish spice
2 Tablespoons creamy mayo, or egg free Canola mayo
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mustard powder or seeds (I like the seeds because they pop in your mouth)..
Beat the egg and the mayo and then add the rest of the mixture. Use your hands to massage all the flavours together and shape them into balls. Place on to some parchment paper and cover them in cling wrap, letting them set in the fridge for half an hour.
Place into a 160°C oven for 15 minutes until they are golden brown.
My serving suggestion is to place these in a cone shaped corn tortilla. Add a dollop of garlic mayo and some fresh diced chilly and some lemon zest.
Season them well and bite back!!!!
BLACK ROCK CRAB
Brace yourself for a quick transatlantic flight to Southern California on the Baja peninsula which will handsomely provide you with black rock crabs – only problem is that I think I will be back in time to finish this blog…
So, for the purpose of this dish and presentation, I have instead managed to find some local fresh yellow crab legs that are juicy and tender.
This is one of my most sexy summer dishes, accompanied by a side veggie rice paper roll
It’s a true summer nom nom – apparently slang for darn good.
Making rice paper rolls is definitely all about trial and error. These delicate wafer thin rice sheets are so fragile that one wrong move and you have to start all over again. For my first attempt, I used 10 sheets to get it to perfection.
This dish is inspired by a Vietnamese dish. I created my own creative version for plating.
A quick direction to folding them into masterpieces:
Immerse an individual sheet in water in a shallow plate. Remove after 3 seconds and place on non-stick paper with your filling in the middle. Fold up 1 third of the paper over the filling, then fold both sides, firmly pressing on the paper, slowly roll up. You can cut it into 3 pockets with a sharp sushi knife, ready to plate.
For my choice of filling, I used julienne style fresh carrot, cucumber and some dried seaweed.
Plating up is the best part. With a faultless presentation and a handsome amount of dark soy and black molasses, place your cooked crab leg and claw and serve with grated cucumber, pickled ginger and lemon zest and a good crack of salt and black pepper. You can add some sweet chilli sauce as per your taste.
The rice paper is so nutritious, with 0 percent fat and cholesterol, as it is made from rice flour, rice water and tapioca flour. Get ready to crunch your way into this healthy snack.
For me as an executive chef, presentation is everything and I never let myself and my diners down. Then there is the taste as well – but a perfect meal should be amazing to look at and a taste that brings you back for more.
Some recipes you will find online will keep to the bottom line of adding just cream cheese and salmon plus some herbs. But this a recipe that will keep your guests in awe.
For my salmon pate, I use a combination or perfectly measured ingredients. As this silky dish, can go either way, too soggy or too stodgy, this pate requires these fine ingredients:
200 grams well shredded smoked salmon
75 grams mascarpone cheese
75 grams crème fraiche
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
finely chopped capers, as your salt taste buds require
1 stem saffron
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
a crack or two of black pepper
1 /2 teaspoon dried fennel
2 Tablespoons creamy mayo
2 small pickled cucumbers, diced
Mix the ingredients by hand with a wooden spoon, folding the mixture continuously. I find that using a food processor or blender might puree it too much and then you are left with nothing more than a wet pulp. The end result should have a velvety and silky texture.
You can plate up by wrapping the pate in a few slices of cucumber. Add some more capers, paprika and seasoning
Scallops just scream summer…
These delicate sea creatures deserve a medal of honour and they are definitely on my list of two things I would love to be stuck with on a deserted island – an endless supply of scallops and chardonnay…okay, maybe Natalie Portman as well.
So, this is my favourite seafood treat. There are parts of this shellfish that you can eat – the scallop and the orange coral that is attached to the flesh. I prefer to leave the coral.
If you can find fresh scallops, they come with a hefty price tag – you can either save up from the beginning of the year or take out a second bond.
If fresh, the perfect scallop is pan fried in some really good butter, a hint of fennel and a good vodka – my choice is Swedish Absolute. Flambé for 2 minutes each side in a hot pan and that’s it!
The flavour of the scallop is so intense that you don’t need to add anything during the cooking process. For plating, I used a slice of fresh lemon, red radish and some mint leaves. To add some colour, you can pan fry some thinly sliced carrot and garnish with some fennel seedlings.
After all this wonderful food I’m sure that you will understand that, if you guys don’t hear from me next week, you’ll find me on my Sublime Summer Island, soaking up the sun and enjoying the fresh seafood.