Crispy Papaya Nests, Prawns, and Skinny Sweet Potato Fries

I’m not into fried foods. It’s like an unspoken rule to avoid them at home since we try to eat healthily, s’il vous plaît. But who needs rules when you have a dish presented before you like this one?  When it came to Chef Ton’s Crispy Papaya Salad on holiday in Thailand, we took a different view on fried foods.  Things changed back home in our kitchen and the deep frier was no longer a hidden appliance in the corner.

thai fried prawns

Staying at Bain Sairee on Koh Samui island, we were surrounded by such lush vegetation. These papayas were picked when still green – not left to ripen into the sweet, orangey flesh as we know it.

papaya trees

As you can see, the papaya’s flesh was still white.  The other ingredients Ton used were so simple: a couple of tomatoes, limes, some unsalted cashew nuts, giant prawns, tamarind sauce and some tempura flour.

The papaya was shredded finely and tossed lightly in the tempura flour.  At the local Tesco Lotus supermarket up the road, tempura flour was so easy to find – ready prepared. No water was added, just a light dusting was all it took.

Then the papaya strands were deep fried for just a few minutes – keeping a eye on them until they reached a beautiful golden colour – then drained on kitchen paper.

The prawns were then given exactly the same treatment.

prawns in tempura batter

Chef Ton’s smile, as you can see, was contagious.

Thailand chefs

Then to finish up while the prawns were draining, Ton prepared the quickest, tangy sauce to serve alongside it.  Pounding the tomato in a mortar, he squeezed in the juice of the limes and added the tamarind sauce.

thai tomato sauce

This was so quick to prepare and definitely something I wanted to try as soon as we returned home – so here I got to it!

Papaya, however, was the problem to find here.  Instead, I substituted it with sweet potato.  I tried them Ton’s way, coating in the tempura flour – then another time without it.  They worked out great even on their own, as the sweet potato was drier.

My prawns were nothing like the same size as Ton’s Thai versions.  Mine were so small that to compensate, I threw in some onion rings and coated them in the tempura flour to add that extra taste..

And for the sauce, mortar-fied I couldn’t find the right tamarind sauce in a hurry, I added some fresh coriander (cilantro), some fish sauce, a good pinch of sugar, and some finely chopped spring onions.

Makes a change from French fries

Delicious! Now we’re hooked on these sweet potato ‘skinny fries’. They form a nest with marinaded curried chicken served with a cucumber salsa.  There’s only one thing missing….

thai red curry mad macarons

Thai red curry macarons. Fab with a G&T

A curry macaron would have gone perfectly with this, Thai green or red?  The recipe is in the Mad Macs savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons …

Herb-Hugging John Dory with Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc

The signs were all there.  First this one, rue St Pierre – or St Peter’s Street- looked down on me as my keys dropped to the ground.

Was I heading for the Pearly Gates to say b-b-b-onjour?

Thankfully to my relief, the sign appeared again a few minutes’ later at the local market in St Germain-en-Laye. Saint Pierre – or John Dory – was laid out beautifully chez le poissonier. Taking it as the real sign, it was high time to do something with this gorgeously thick fish fillet.

I couldn’t just fry it and shove it on a plate with lemon and parsley.  No. This was for Alchemy in the Kitchen, so it needed some transformation with some simple ingredients, as Hester puts it so well.

I found a French recipe by chef Vincent David but adapted it.  The result?  I’m making it again and again for my French guests. Sounds très posh? It’s so simple yet sophisticated and delicious. The topping is referred to as à la viennoise. It’s when you coat it with breadcrumbs and fry it.  Here, the topping is added at the last minute and quickly finished off under the grill.

Update: I’ve discovered the topping freezes well, especially as you’ll have some left over.  Cut the topping into fillet portions and stack each slice between baking parchment and seal in a container in the freezer.  Use just at the last minute when needed, grilling just a minute longer.  It’s one less thing to worry about if you’re entertaining guests!

Herb-hugging John Dory with Smoked Beurre Blanc Recipe

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time:
40 minutes

Serves 4

4 John Dory fillets

Viennoise Topping

100g butter
100g breadcrumbs
100g block of parmesan,
freshly grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme

1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the breadcrumbs, parmesan and garlic.   Here I added  a tablespoon of dried seaweed (found in Asian supermarkets) but you can add freshly chopped herbs if you prefer.

2.  Spread the mixture out on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.

3.  Top with another baking parchment sheet and roll it out until it’s flat and even (about 3mm thickness).  Place in the fridge to set.

Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc Sauce

50g shallots
40cl dry white wine
25cl single cream
90g butter
1 Lapsang Souchong teabag

4. Using some of the butter, sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes until translucent (don’t brown).  Add the wine and leave on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until reduced by half.

5.  Add the cream and stir until boiling.  Take off the heat, whisk in the rest of the butter until it melts then add the teabag and leave the tea to infuse for about 10 minutes.

6.  Meanwhile, prepare some vegetables of your choice.  Here I cooked some green beans, added some fried mushrooms and sautéed them together with a touch of lemon juice.

7.  Filter the sauce into another saucepan and keep on a low heat.

8. Season the fish fillets and fry in some olive oil and butter gently until just cooked; no more than 5 minutes, depending on thickness.

Keep bathing the fish in the butter

9. The viennoise topping is now ready to cut. If you have any extra, cut them into portions, place each between the paper and freeze until needed.

Place the fish in a roasting tin, layer the topping on top of it and melt it under the grill for a couple of minutes.

Just placing it under the grill gives a magical effect: the topping just hugs the fish like they were meant to be together.

Viennoise topping hugging the fish

Serve on a bed of vegetables and surround with the sauce and enjoy with a chilled glass of white Burgundy.

Santé! Slàinte!

This recipe was published as a guest post over at Alchemy in the Kitchen.
Hop on over to Hester’s blog if you would like to leave a comment.

Cherry Tomato, Wild Strawberry & Rocket Salad

When Mum came to visit recently, she left an enticing pile of magazines from the UK.  It’s a real treat to read magazines in English every so often – even if I no longer recognise some faces that go with the gossip – is that what happens after being in France for so long? Flicking through the YOU Magazine, this inspiring salad by Lucas Hollweg had been earmarked by Mum – I think it was something I was supposed to make when she was over. Sorry, Mum.  I’m a bit late but voilà, here it is!

Argula rocket, tomato and wild strawberry salad recipe

I discovered this “Spicy Globe” basil plant a few years’ ago.  The leaves are so small that there’s no need to chop them up for cooking.  They are also particularly powerful and, when added to a salad like this one, it adds a touch of peppery spice to it. Speaking of peppery spice, the rocket leaves (or arugula for my American friends) balance out the sweetness of the strawberries.

spicy globe basil

Spicy Globe Basil

Perfect on a sizzling summer day, this is sheer bliss with a glass of chilled rosé, a soft-on-the-inside and freckled, crusty-on-the-outside French baguette, listening to Strawberry Fields forever. I could eat this forever with its fresh, fruity and savoury flavours. Here, I also tossed in a few pre-cooked asparagus spears (7 mins in boiling water) since I was surprised to find them still at this late stage at the market.

argula rocket, cherry tomato and strawberry salad with basil

Cherry Tomato, Wild Strawberry & Rocket Salad

Adapted from Lucas Hollweg’s recipe for Tomato and Strawberry Salad
(YOU Magazine from the Sunday Times
.)

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

300g cherry tomatoes, halved
200g rocket salad 100g strawberries, hulled & quartered
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g parmesan reggiano (ensure it’s shaved, especially for good company)
a few asparagus spears, cooked (optional)
a handful of small basil leaves sea salt & ground peppercorns,
to taste
a handful of wild strawberries

Mix together the olive oil with balsamic, season and toss all the ingredients together gently.

Serve immediately, adding the wild strawberries as a decoration. And, since we’re on a Mad About Macarons website, then why not accompany it with a garden herb macaron?

Sweet Garden Herb Macarons

Bon appétit, enjoy!

Warm Goat Cheese Salad (salade de chèvre chaud)

My husband refuses to eat salad as a main dish.  C’est comme ça. In Antoine’s book, if a main meal is served cold, it’s not dinner – even when the temperatures soar to a sweltering 37°C like it did this week in Paris.

The Corsicans have a reputation of being stubborn and as just-as-stubborn a Scot, in our 20 years together, we always reach some kind of a compromise. For a salad, this delicious exception to his cold salad rule is a salade de chèvre chaud, since the goat’s cheese is melted under the grill.

French goats cheese salad

 

When I first tasted this salad as a student in a Parisian brasserie, it was a far cry from the one I later learned to make in Provence.  Alas, many brasseries use the horrid plastic-tasting, pasturised goat cheese which can be pretty nasty.

The best goat cheese to use is Crottin de Chavignol. The French are normally so poetic but when it came to officially naming this cheese, they somehow lost their romantic charm: it literally means goat’s droppings. I’m swiftly passing this part by, as it couldn’t be further from the amazing flavour of this lait cru (raw milk) cheese.

crottin de chavignol French goats cheese

As a student, Antoine introduced me to some of his friends in Provence.  I hardly spoke a word, apart from Je m’appelle Jill with the most attrocious Scottish accent. On top of that, their typical twangy southern accents had me even more bewildered: ‘du pain’ is pronounced ‘du paing’, ‘du vin’ is ‘du vaing’, and so on.  Even when they swear it has a song to it.

As the men sat around – catching up on gossip on the terrasse – the girls took me under their wings in the kitchen.  We didn’t need much conversation: everything was self-explanatory as the most fresh and flavoursome produce lay in front of us on an ancient oak table.

goat-cheese-salad

There’s nothing to this salad and it’s not even a recipe, really.  (If you would prefer me to write it out, please say, otherwise I’m just leaving it like this.)

The most important lesson I learned from them was to put a simple bay leaf on top of each slice of crusty baguette which had been dribbled with olive oil before laying the slice of chèvre, walnuts, rosemary (or herbes de provence) on top and dribbled with more olive oil before toasting in the oven.  What’s the big deal with the bay leaf?  Well, when you taste it this way you don’t want your salad any other way again.

warm goats cheese French salad

Serve on top of a mesclun salad, topped with a good dose of  lardons (bacon bits), a dash of fresh thyme and plenty of chopped garlic (don’t forget to remove the core first, as it’s easier to digest) that have been pre-fried together.  Toss the salad in some vinaigrette dressing.

Just remember to take out the bay leaf before eating: you’ll see just how it’s all beautifully fragranced;  oh-là-là, summer, Provence, and with a glass of chilled rosé amongst friends; and time for the girls to join in the gossip.

Warm goat cheese salad chèvre chaud recipe

This week’s soaring temperatures reminded me of when we lived in Paris, just 5 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower.  Being in an apartment that was south facing with no air conditioning was a challenge at times in summer: it’s no wonder we used to just stoodge about in our swimming gear.

laurier bay leaf tree

Now that we’re out in the suburbs with a house, kids and garden, we can sit out and enjoy the shade of the laurel bay tree – thinking of our next salade de chèvre chaud.  But there are still the heat challenges: the metal on our front gate had expanded so much, that we couldn’t get out. Now, that’s certainly a new excuse for being late for school!

goat cheese melon watermelon salad

After our recent trip to the Loire, I’m craving more goat cheese.  This is what I had this week for lunch while it was 37°C  – and no, Antoine didn’t have this cold stuff. Roughly chopped cucumber, watermelon, melon de Cavaillon, goat cheese, chives – all tossed in olive oil and lemon juice (or mix olive oil and limoncello for something more adult) and served with a crusty baguette.

Creamy Lemon, Prawn and Asparagus Spaghetti

This has to be one of my favourite pronto pasta dishes after home-made pesto.  It’s “fast food”, easy, scrumptious and what’s more – it uses up egg yolks!  I mentioned this recipe briefly in the egg yolk pages in the book’s annex, but here it is in more detail.

I played about with a fish recipe for John Dory with Sorrel in my tattered and splattered Crème Fraîche Cookbook (Boutron/Ager) one night, since the photo had fresh noodles and called for egg yolks and lemon.  And since I only had prawns to hand and some fresh asparagus, this just evolved.

Vegetarians can omit the prawns and have a lovely lemony cream sauce with the asparagus.  I’m using asparagus, as it’s the end of its season here, but you can omit this and toss in fresh or frozen peas instead. It’s as simple as that.

My sincere excuses to my Italian friends for this photo.  As you can see, I do love pasta with my parmesan. Parmesan isn’t normally served with seafood pasta dishes, but I personally adore it.  Each time I sprinkle it on, my Corsican Mother-in-Law reminds me. Constantly; with that disapproving half-eye cringe. But I still love it, even if my feet shuffle under the table.

prawn lemon and asparagus spaghetti

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 12 minutes

12 giant prawns
3 egg yolks
2 lemons, untreated
20 cl tub crème fraîche
50g freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme
bunch of green asparagus (optional)

1. Firstly, get some freshly cooked prawns and shell them.

2. Cook dried spaghetti in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes or until al dente.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix the yolks, the juice and zest from the lemons, crème fraîche (or cream if you’re feeling decadently creamy), the parmesan and herbs, then season.

Mix lemon zest/juice, yolks, cream and parmesan

4. If using, break the stems off the asparagus (where they break naturally, about quarter up from the bottom) and cook them for about 5 minutes until al dente in boiling salted water.

5. Drain the pasta and in the same pasta pan, add in the sauce and toss the pasta in it.  Add the prawns, asparagus and decorate with extra fresh herbs such as lemon thyme or chives.

Serve pronto with a chilled glass of Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay.

Here I omitted the prawns and tossed in some roasted chicken leftovers…

Creamy lemon spaghetti with asparagus, lemon thyme & chicken

Et voilà. Keep the egg whites for a batch of macarons!

A huge thank you to my friend, Manu, from Manu’s Menu: she has been very generous in passing on a Versatile Blogger Award, plus others.  It means so much coming from Manu, as I’m always in awe of her fabulous Italian recipes:  her detailed step-by-step guides make it possible for us all to recreate her perfect dishes in our own kitchens.  Merci, Manu!  Congratulations to you, on winning the May Recipe Challenge at Food Frenzy with your Macarons with White Chocolate and Mint Ganache!  They are amazing. 🙂

Saltimbocca: Veal and Parma Ham Spirals

saltimbocca veal roll easy recipe

Spam Saltimbocca without the spam, please

A few years back, Antoine gave me a clever Christmas present: a course in Italian cooking in Paris. It was a great idea for ALL of us in the end, wasn’t it? One of the class dishes prepared was saltimbocca, but instead of using the traditional veal they used thin chicken breasts and stuffed them with sun-dried tomatoes and basil leaves.

I’d made Saltimbocca before but I learned a neat trick: instead of serving them as one long sausage type roll, simply cut them up into dainty slices and you see the beautiful spirals: it’s a no brainer. 🙂 Saltimbocca (literally “jumps in the mouth”) is a real classic but so easy to rustle up at the last minute for unexpected guests.

I learned this part not from the class but from my local butcher: to tenderise the veal, hammer the living daylights out of it. The French romantically call this, “une caresse du boucher“.  Imagine the scene chez le boucher in Le Vésinet, a posh suburb just up the road from us.  With a long queue of serious French customers looking on (and listening carefully, of course) I asked for the thinnest possible veal escalopes they could give me, along with a caresse, please. I thought I was being clever but it was a blond moment.  I didn’t go back there for a while since they’d ask me each time for une caresse.  So the best way was just to buy a cheap meat hammer from Ikea and do it yourself!

tenderizing meat with a caress du boucher

giving a tenderising “caresse du boucher”

For 4 people

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

4 veal escalopes @ 100g
4 slices Parma ham
8 sage leaves
25cl white wine (or Marsala)
4 tbsps crème fraîche

  1. Spread out each veal escalope on a chopping board and thump the living daylights out of it so that it will be beautifully tender.
  2. Place a slice of Parma ham on top of each escalope, add a sage leaf and season.
  3. Roll up each escalope and hold it together with a toothpick.  Chop up the rest of the sage leaves into thin strips.
  4. Fry the escalopes gently in a mixture of butter and olive oil plus the sage on all sides for about 15 minutes.  Glaze the pan with the wine (or Marsala if you want something a bit more fruity and gutsy) and finish off by adding the crème frâiche.
  5. Remove the escalope rolls and with a good sharp knife, slice each escalope into small slices.

Serve immediately with pasta tossed in the sauce and decorate with crispy sage leaves.
Alternatively, serve with sweet potato and sage gnocchi for something slightly different.

saltimbocca veal rolls with sweet potato gnocchi and marsala sauce

Saltimbocca served with sweet potato gnocchi and a marsala sauce