Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Salmon with new potatoes, and pickled cucumber salad

I had lunch with James Martin the other day. Lovely man. Successful as both chef and television presenter he comes across as charming and very knowledgeable about good food. I particularly liked him because he is fronting a campaign for the Potato Council, promoting the British potato industry and you really do get totally fabulous potatoes here. Growing up in Oz the choice was red or white - and they were pretty much as undistinguished in flavour as that generic naming would have you believe. Big floury things mostly, occasionally a bit waxier if new season with big bitter green patches on them that, as one of the people who can taste that particular poison, I really hated. When I came to London it was something of a revelation to discover named varieties, some revered like the Jersey Royal and the King Edward, some inspiring particular love like the Maris Piper and the smooth Desiree.

I tried nutty little new potatoes just gorgeous in salads, galumphing great King Edwards baked in their skin then split and filled with all manner of wonders (my particular favourite is still sour cream and chives) and the pleasure of great clouds of delicately smooth creamy mashed potatoes, truly a food of the gods. With food like this it seemed to me that I had come to the country of the blessed. It was many moons ago however and it seems that people are losing the habit of knowing and loving their spuds. Bizarre as it seems to me, some people don't buy them at all as they are heavier to carry home than rice or pasta. I love rice and pasta - but as well as people - not instead of. Utter madness to miss out on the joys of the humble tuber.

The assembled group of bloggers and food workers sampled lots of different unadorned potatoes and it was interesting just how varied people's preferences were. My undoubted favourite was golden roasted Maris Piper, the perfect morsel on a bleak summer day.

From simple straight on to fabulous James Martin set about creating a few samples to showcase the versatility of  the potato. Chatting away while he worked he produced 3 lovely dishes in less than an hour. It all seemed so effortless. First up was an intensely green watercress and spinach soup given substance with diced new potatoes and an elegant finish with a poached egg.Anything with an egg is good in my book, especially if there's potato involved as well.

Next up was my favourite dish of the morning, pan fried salmon with new potatoes and a quick pickled salad. Crisp skinned fish was balanced with the lovely potatoes and the tartness of the veg.

 Last was pan fried pork steak with the most extraordinary mash - desiree boiled then mashed with lashings - and I mean LASHINGS - of butter and cream then, as a perfect match to the pork, grated apple was added to the potatoes. You'd think it wouldn't work but you'd be wrong.

We dug up our potatoes at the weekend in a momentary lull in the rain. The man laughs at me because I say they are free food but he agrees they are pretty amazing straight out of the ground. There is something pretty amazing about pulling up plants and finding food in the dirt. To be sure they were thoroughly special I decided to recreate the fabulous salmon dish I'd eaten earlier.

Salmon with Potato and Pickled Cucumber

A quick dinner for 2 that is on the table in less than 30 minutes

2 x 150g salmon fillets with the skin on
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn butter to finish

200g of salad potatoes like charlottes or pink fir apple
1 small white turnip
1/2 cucumber
1 shallot, peeled
100g radishes
A small bunch of watercress
100ml of white wine vinegar
1 tbspn sugar
1/2 tbspn salt

Put the potatoes, halved if large, into a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes till tender.

Place a sauté pan over a medium heat ad when hot, add the olive oil. Season the salmon fillets then put them, skin side down, into the hot oil. Leave to cook for about 5 minutes, you will be able to see them cook as the flesh changes colour and the skin crisps.

Thinly slice the turnip and shallot, cube the peeled cucumber and halve the radishes and put them all into a heatproof bowl. Put the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt into a pan and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the liquid over the salad and set aside for 5 minutes, then drain off the pickling liquid.

The salmon should be nearly cooked. Flip it carefully with a fish slice to finish.

Drain the potatoes and cut into 3 then pan fry in a little olive oil to colour and crisp the edges.

Melt the butter over the skin of the fish for enhanced loveliness.

Arrange the potatoes on 2 plates, top with the salmon and a generous dollop of pickled salad on the side. Garnish with the watercress.

At this point James Martin drizzled some sweet chilli sauce artfully around the plate which looked very pretty but I'm not really  a fan of added sugar so I omitted this and didn't miss it. Your call if you fancy it.

All that really remains to say is EAT MORE POTATOES. It would be a terrible thing if the sheer variety of flavours and textures diminished or disappeared, going the way of British apples. A world of only red or white potatoes is not a good place to live.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Smoked Ham Hock & Avocado Salad

After the lovely ham and peach salad of last week I wanted to put this one on the blog too, partly because it was seriously great and partly to show how I used the other half of that meaty little beauty that was the ham hock. But really because it is supposed to be summer - it is July, July! and yet at ten in the morning the skies hang so heavy it is almost dark - and such quick and elegant meals for mid week should be de rigeur.

Ham and avocado make a tasty pairing. Actually I find almost anything and avocado make a tasty pairing. They are so incredibly elegant and smooth and wonderfully buttery to eat. Good for you too - giving you fibre, potassium and vitamins in every pleasurable mouthful. Americans love them most of all in guacamole - on Super Bowl Sunday, they eat about 8 million pounds of guacamole - though I suspect it's the corn chips used for scooping that brings the calories to the feast!

Smoked Ham Hock & Avocado Salad

Serves 2

The basil oil in the dressing really makes the salad - you can buy it in most general food shops or it is really easy to make yourself

100g broad beans, after shelling
250g smoked ham hock, shredded
1 ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
3 or 4 handfuls of mixed salad leaves
100g cooked butterbeans
1 small fennel bulb, halved then sliced thin as you can
3 tbspns basil oil
1 tbspn lemon juice

Bring a small pan of salted water to the boil, drop the broad beans in, return to the boil and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain and then drop the beans into a bowl of cold water, with ice added if you have some handy. This stops them cooking any further and so they stay a lovely bright green. Pop each of the beans from the thick casing and set aside.

Mix the basil oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper in a screw top jar and shake with enthusiasm till emulsified. Taste and correct the seasoning if it needs it.

In a large bowl toss the salad leaves with half the dressing. Add the ham, avocado, both types of beans and the fennel shavings. Toss lightly with the remaining dressing till you have an elegant tangle - or a rough approximation of one.

Serve and consume with delight, tasting summer in every mouthful.