26 August 2006

Let the trials begin

Things have been moving on the job search front. Chefette has got two trials and one interview set up for the early part of next week. All with local restaurants.

Cue excitement and nervous anticipation in equal measure. And fervent hope that one of these possibilities will come good!

Improvising with samphire

Chefette had a rip-roaring culinary success last night with an improvised warm salad. It was one of those evenings when everything just worked in the kitchen. When previously random shopping instincts -- by which I mean buying whatever looks good in the market even though you have no idea what you're going to do with it later -- combine so fortuitously with random leftovers in the fridge that inspiration strikes, and cheffy brainwaves conjure up a new dish. The Husband was so bowled over that he insisted that I should immediately note down the recipe.

So, in response to the Husband's urgings, I have attempted to record it for posterity. It borrows in part from an old Nigel Slater recipe for chargrilled squid with parsley. But I think addition of the crunchy samphire and earthy sauté potatoes round it out into a delicious whole.

SAMPHIRE, if you haven't heard of it, is one of the most lovely wild vegetables. Chefette first tasted it in Norfolk a decade ago, having bought a bunch from a man at a roadside shack selling dressed crabs. A sort of 'asparagus of the sea', it's a form of edible seaweed, which might sound a bit slimy but I can assure you that the young stalks are nothing but succulent, tender crunch. It's a real delicacy, and absolutely worth trying if you can get it fresh. I've seen it sold in jars in France, but haven't ever tried it that way myself. If you can't get hold of samphire, it might work by substituting very fine young green beans instead (and increasing the blanching time a bit).

Would feed four as a starter, or two as a main.

Squid & Samphire Salad


450-500g squid
3 large handfuls of samphire
3 medium floury potatoes -- cooked whole and cooled in their skins (i used leftover baked maris piper potatoes)
bit of vegetable and/or peanut oil
2 juicy limes
1 clove garlic, peeled and bruised

For the dressing:
4T good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of coriander
Small bunch flat parsley leaves
2 red chillies
Salt & freshly ground pepper for seasoning


1. Clean the squid, and reserve tentacles (take care to remove the beaks). Slice the main body cavity into thick rings. Trim off long tentacles to same length as shorter tentacles, keeping each bunch of tentacles intact. Rinse prepared squid and pat dry with kitchen paper. Reserve in fridge until ready.

2. Wash and pick over the samphire, removing any woody stems.

3. Make the dressing: Put the olive oil into a mixing bowl. Finely chop the herbs, and add to the oil. Remove the seeds and membranes from the chillies, and dice very finely. Add to the dressing. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

4. Peel the cooked, cooled potatoes. Break them up into irregular, bite-size chunks. Make sure they are dry, and well seasoned. Heat a bit of vegetable or peanut oil a non-stick pan together with the bruised clove of garlic. As soon as the garlic clove starts to colour, remove it. Add the potatoes to the garlicky oil, and saute until the outsides are crispy and golden. Do not rush this stage-- start with very hot oil, and then turn heat down to low and continue cooking the potato chunks without turning too often. You want them to have a golden, crispy exterior. Hold in a warming oven.

5. While the potatoes are sauteing, heat up a cast iron griddle plate or skillet, and bring a large pot of water to boil. You'll need these ready to cook the squid and samphire, respectively, as soon as the potatoes are done.

6. Toss the squid in a bit of oil, and squeeze over the juice of one and a half limes. Cook the squid on the hot griddle plate, about 1 minute each side or perhaps less. Don't let it go too long or it will be tough. Remove the squid and immediately turn it through the dressing.

7. Blanche the samphire for 30 seconds, then drain well in a colander. Put into a serving bowl, and squeeze over the juice from the remaining half lime.

8. Add the saute potatoes and dressed squid to the samphire, and mix once or twice to coat everything evenly in the dressing. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Serve warm.

21 August 2006

A-hunting she will go

A big, enthusiastic 'howdy' to you all. Chefette is back from a brief hiatus, which encompassed a three-week holiday with the Husband, lots of catching up with friends, and a mini assault on some chores. Think of it as Chefette's petite fermeture annuelle.

Before I forget, heartfelt thanks to those (few) of you who were kind enough to notice and lament the dearth of Chefette postings these past several weeks. Possibly all the rest of you have been on holiday, and would have noticed and lamented eventually. . .

Now, of course, the pleasures of student life have come to an end, and the job hunt has officially kicked off. I have already had the good fortune of two job offers, but neither one was what I'm particularly looking for. The first came before I went away on hols, which was a chance to be the manager of the food side at a local neighbourhood deli. While it might have been fun working in the neighbourhood, it was truly a managerial role, and there wouldn't have been much hands-on cooking. Plus, the fact that there would have been five (!) different owners to report to and keep happy didn't really seem a great situation to be going into as a novice food manager.

The other offer -- a commis chef position with a corporate contract caterer -- came last Tuesday. The manager there remembered me from a work experience stint I did with the company last December, and called me as soon as the company got my CV. I asked him if I could work there for a day or two before making my decision, which turned out to be a good move, as it helped me to narrow down my focus. I've come to the conclusion that I need to be working someplace where the food inspires me, and not just somewhere the hours would be good. Don't get me wrong, it felt great to be back in a commercial kitchen for a couple of days, helping with the mise-en-place and working a couple of lunchtime services. But the food they were doing simply didn't turn my head. And let's face it, life is too short to be turning out food you don't love!

So it's back to the drawing board, and getting out more CVs. I'm starting with local restaurants / gastropubs, and if that doesn't work out I'll be expanding to other ideas. People, wish me luck!!

Meanwhile, Chefette is trying to keep her skills up with lots of entertaining and adventurous home cooking. Had a good success at a dinner party for 6 last week with a variation on a Jamie Oliver recipe for tortellini of ricotta, lemon, parmesan and sage butter*. It took
me around 90-minutes to roll out, fill and shape c. 3 dozen tortellini, but these little efforts in the name of Pasta Practice are all good. By the end I was pressing and folding and churning out the little critters in record time. Well, at least I seemed to get a little faster.

* recipe can be found in Return of the Naked Chef, page 120