I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had left school at 16 and gone to catering college. Would my career have taken me through Michelin-starred kitchens around the globe, working for the biggest names in the culinary world? I like to think so. I like to think that in my twenties I would have had the energy to endure those killer shifts, and the patience to palm off the barrages of abuse hurled by volatile chefs as I learned everything I could to take me to the top. Maybe I would have a star or two to call my own, or a restaurant with my name above the door and a telly programme to boot. Or maybe I would have burned out by thirty, broken by the punishing life that the highest level of professional cookery demands.
Sometimes I put on a pair of rose-tinted spectacles and imagine myself at the pass of my imaginary restaurant. I'm dribbling sauce with precision over beautiful plates of food, wiping the rims of the plates clean, and shouting 'service!' as teams of waitresses carefully place the dishes onto shining silver trays and ferry them into the dining room where the guests applaud the arrival of their food. All the waitresses look like Gisele Bundchen, obviously. In the corner of the dining room a table of critics has gathered. Look! There's Kate Spicer, and she's smiling! Charles Campion and Jay Rayner are bearhugging each other. They are squeezing each other so hard it looks like they might fuse together like two bubbles turning into one wobbly mass. Giles Coren is just piling food into his mouth as Fay Maschler and Marina O'Loughlin tweet each other their analysis of every mouthful, #sublimelysublime. At the end of the meal I step out of the kitchen to ask how everything was and they fall to their knees in reverential awe.
Sometimes it's nice to put those glasses on, just for a while, because when I watch programmes like Masterchef: The Professionals, I know that kind of life could never be for me. I'm lucky that I get to cook every day in a calm environment, without Marcus Wareing glaring at me or Monica Galetti rolling her eyes at my miserable attempt at some classical but rarely used technique. However I do envy the restaurant chefs' opportunities to play with their gadgets to produce cutting edge modernist food, which in my daily job, there is little call for.
It's at home then, that I get to play with my kitchen toys and yes, I have a few. Every now and again I experiment with techniques and ingredients just for fun, making dishes I would never include as a part of my cookery courses due to their complexity, but ones that I might put on the menu in my fantasy restaurant. Here's a dish for which I used my chamber vacuum machine and water bath set to 47°C to produce the most melt-in-the-mouth salmon. Anyone without this equipment can make it at home with a ziploc bag and a thermometer. For more on how to do this visit Chef Steps which is an amazing resource for all things sous vide. Of course you could just poach or roast the salmon and pair it with the garnishes I used. I also used a spiriliser to create cucumber spaghetti but if you don't have one then just create ribbons with a potato peeler. Everything else is pretty straightforward to prepare, although there are obviously quite a few elements to the dish.
Salmon Mi-Cuit with Pickled Cucumber & Shiitake, Miso Mayo, Rye and Wasabi
2 skinless salmon portions, if possible lightly smoked, and cut in half
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp light miso paste
A few drops of truffle oil to taste
60g cider vinegar
1/2 cucumber, peeled lengthways into long strips
½ cumber,peeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp wasabi peas
1 dark rye ryvita crisp bread
1 tbsp mayonnaise
15 shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced. (you will have more than you need for this dish)
60g white wine vinegar
60g soy sauce
3 slices ginger, peeled
To pickle the cucumber, boil the sugar and vinegar together with the salt until the sugar and salt dissolves. Add the water and chill in the fridge until cool then pour over the cucumber cubes and ribbons and allow to marinate.
To pickle the shiitakes, heat the sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves. Add the soy, vinegar, shiitakes and ginger and allow the mushrooms to pickle for 30 minutes as the liquid cools. Remove the ginger and keep in the fridge until needed.
Heat a water bath or saucepan of water to 47°C.
Vacuum pack the salmon with a little olive oil and place in the water bath for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the fish from the bag and pat dry. Place in the fridge to chill.
With a small circular biscuit cutter, cut out 2 discs from the ryvita and reserve. Place the trimmings into a mini chopper and pulse until they become coarse crumbs. Reserve.
Place the wasabi peas into the chopper and pulse until they reach a coarse crumb consistency. Reserve.
Combine the mayonnaise ingredients just before serving.
To serve, bring the fish to room temperature and scorch the tops lightly with a blow torch.
Smear a thin layer of mayonnaise over once side of the ryvita disc and sprinkle with wasabi pea crumbs.
Drain the cucumber and some shiitakes and dry with kitchen paper. Arrange a pile of cucumber ribbons in the middle of the plate and lean the salmon on top. Dot blobs of mayo around the plate and rest the wasabi disc against the salmon. Place shiitakes and cucumber dice around the plate and sprinkle the whole plate with wasabi and ryvita crumbs.