Monday, 27 July 2009

Sumac Salmon and Apricot Tart

Cowie and I have caught Ottolegnhi fever. It's a rare condition where the victim exhibits symptons of boredom with normal food and a craving for exotic sounding spices like sumac and Za'atar. Other tell tale signs are a new found love of vegetables and an addiction to scorched broccoli.

So when Cowie and I planned our latest dinner party it was only natural that it took on an Ottoleghi feel. Feeling confident having followed some of his recipes carefully, we decided to branch out and use the book as inspiration rather than treating it like a copy of the ten commandments. Our menu was:

Starter: Communal watercress salad with griddled nectarine, goats cheese and mandarin oil dressing

Main: Whole sumac BBQ salmon with fregola and sumac yoghurt

Dessert: Apricot semolina tart


For the salad we simply griddled some nectaries assembled a large salad of watercress, soft goats cheese and slices of prosciutto. We then sprinkled it with a dressing made from Nudo mandarin olive oil and white balsamic and a few turns of salt and pepper. It looked stunning and was wolfed down with great enthusiasm.

Peach salad

Kicking off dinner parties with shared salads like this where everyone can help themselves whilst having a drink is a great way of taking some of the strain out of being a host. It saves washing up and can be prepared really easily. It allowed us to concentrate on doing justice to the salmon...

As a result of our excellent turbot, we decided to source our wild side of salmon to feed 12 from Moxons. It costs more. But when it is the star of the show, it's worth it.

Sumac marinade

I whipped up a marinade of olive oil, sumac, salt, pepper and sumac and left it to rest for half an hour whilst we got the BBQ up to heat. The logistics of BBQing a whole side of salmon are simple. But daunting. One wrong move and the fish falls apart and everyone goes home hungry. Having collected lots of advice from various books and websites I dived straight in with Cowie almost shouting at me to play it safe and cook it in foil... Pah...

Here's what to do:
1. Clean the grill and then oil it so it's nice and slippy
2. If you aren't marinating the fish, then make sure you oil the skin
3. Disperse the embers so that you aren't cooking directly above them - it's much better cooking on indirect heat as it avoids burning
4. Place the fish skin side down
5. Attend to your fish with unwavering concentration
6. When the time is right, use two spatulas/fish slices and use quick jabbing movements and turn he fish quickly
7. Only turn your fish once
8. The fish will only need a short amount of cooking on the flesh side
9. Remove from the heat and serve

BBQ salmon

Our salmon took around 15-20 minutes of gentle cooking before it was ready. The smell of heat on fish skin is one of my favourites.

Sumac salmon

To our delight the salmon was perfect. The skin was so crispy and fragrant that fish skin haters lapped it up with glee; the flesh teased apart and made serving it a doddle; and It was still thrillingly medium rare. Phew!

The yoghurt dressing with sumac, lemon zest, chilli and clutch of herbs from the garden offered a fresh creamy counterpoint to the vibrant fish. The exotic, lemony flavour of sumac was very subtle, but utterly delicious. It's got us hooked!

Sumac sour cream sauce

A bowl of fregola mixed with cous cous hazlenuts, tomatoes and herbs wasn't half bad either! Another doff of cap to Ottolenghi.

Fregola goodies

After the success of a semolina rhubarb tart earlier in the year we decided to make the most of a glut of apricots by making them into a tart. It's very easy and tastes great. The night before simply make a semolina cream by heating 1 1/2 cups of milk spiked with vanilla and when it gets hot add 45 grams of fine semolina and 55 grams of caster sugar. Stir this as it heat and bring to the boil. Cook for a little longer and when it is smooth and thick remove from the heat. Allow it cool a little and then beat in 3 egg yolks. Set this aside in plastic bowl and cover with cling-film that hugs the cream to avoid a skin forming. Then on the night of the dinner party blind bake some dessert pastry, allow to cool and then spoon in the semolina cream. Now you can get arty. Arrange your slices of fresh apricot in geometric patterns and paint with apricot jam. Then bake until the apricots have become soft and the top has turned golden.

Apricot Tart

We served it warm with some vanilla ice cream. But it is probably better (and easier to serve) cold. The tart apricots had turned sweet with their juices combined with the smooth semolina cream. The only disappointment was that there wasn't enough for seconds! You could do the same thing with gooseberries or raspberries...

It was one of our most fun dinner parties to date. We managed to balance cooking interesting food whilst also taking as much stress and time consuming preparation out as possible. It's a great formula, and one we are going to repeat.

8 comments:

Dan said...

What a fantastic dinner party menu Browners. Looks delicious - glad to see managed to track down some sumac in the end.

Browners said...

@Dan - I completely forgot to mention your help along with Lizzie and Niahm in sourcing some sumac. In the end I couldn't make it up to Camden so had to buy some from Selfridges instead which is next to my office. It's great stuff that is going to get a huge amount of use.

Joseph said...

Hi Browners. I too, have caught the Ottolenghi fever and have began to use his book as inspiration rather than follow the recipes literally.

I made that excellent chargrilled broccoli and wanted to use sumac somewhere in the same dish, so I thew in chargrilled squid with the broccoli. It was delish. http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephseliong/3763100256/in/set-72157621863593468/

Many thanks to Cowie for introducing me to the world of Ottolenghi!

Browners said...

@Jospeh - Glad to hear you are a convert too! Squid with broccoli sounds fun.

Lizzie said...

Oh my! Those photos are dribble-worthy. Glad to hear you managed to find sumac. And very brave to cook such a beast on the bbq!

Browners said...

@ Lizzie - dribble worthy is my new favourite comment. BBQing a whole side of salmon was pretty tense. It almost went catastrophically wrong! As did the tart. But no-one needs to know about that!

curiouseater said...

Your dinner parties look lovely. Your friends ought to know they are spoiled!

Browners said...

@Curiouseater - I'm not sure they realise how spoiled they are. We've got another one coming up this week. This weeks's theme is "retro". Should be a laugh.

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