Pan Fried Salmon with Spicy Cauliflower “Rice”

When you’ve been cooking as long as I have it’s not often you come across a technique you’ve never seen before. Cooking is a bit like fashion. Old recipes and ingredients are revived and tweaked, but there’s very little that’s totally new.

So as I was flicking through an old Delicious magazine recently and saw a recipe for making cauliflower into rice I thought, now that’s interesting, I wonder if it works? Well it does.

Here the rice is flavoured with coconut milk and cashew nuts and served with pan-fried salmon. But once you have the basic idea of blitzing raw cauliflower in the food processor to make rice you can use different liquids and flavourings and serve it with any meat, fish or even eggs. I know I’ll be trying all sorts of variations. Great for anyone trying to cut down on carbs.

Pan Fried Salmon with Spicy Cauliflower "Rice"2 Tbs coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 cauliflower roughly chopped
1 tsp each ground cumin, turmeric and chilli flakes
400ml can coconut milk
½ cup water
¾ cup roasted cashews
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 x 180g salmon fillets with skin on
1½ Tbs brown mustard seeds (sold in Asian supermarkets)
1 Tbs whole coriander seeds
Juice 1 orange
To garnish:
1 long green chilli, seeded and thinly sliced (can substitute a red chilli)
Coriander leaves

Melt 2 tsp coconut oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cinnamon and cook, stirring for 3 mins or until golden. Whiz cauliflower in food processor until finely chopped like rice – watch carefully as you don’t want to over-process it. Add to pan with the cumin, turmeric and dried chilli. Cook, stirring for 3 mins then add coconut milk, cashews and water.  Season to taste, then  partially cover and simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 mins or until thick. If not thickened when cooked remove lid and cook a bit more to reduce the liquid.

Melt 2 tsp coconut oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Season salmon then cook, skin-side down, for 4 mins or until skin is crisp. Turn and cook for a further 3 mins or until just cooked. Remove to a plate and keep warm.

To the pan where you cooked the salmon add the remaining 1 Tbs coconut oil and when hot add mustard and coriander seeds and cook for a minute or until they start popping. Remove from heat and stir in the orange juice.

Divide the cauliflower rice among 4 plates. Top with the salmon, spoon over the coriander seed oil. Garnish with the green chilli and coriander leaves.

Serves 4

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream

Over the years I’ve tried lots of recipes for potato cakes, latkes and rostis. Some used whole eggs and plain flour, while others used none of the above. None of them have ever quite hit the mark.

This recipe, based on one from Yotam Ottolenghi, uses egg whites and cornflour and from now on I won’t use any other. He uses a combination of grated potatoes and parsnip, but I used all potatoes and they were delicious. Ottolenghi says to use Desiree potatoes. I used Kipflers from the garden, because that’s what I had, and they worked well.

Serve one potato cake as a starter, or two as a light lunch or supper, perhaps accompanied by a cucumber salad. The potato cakes are best served immediately, but you can make them ahead and reheat them briefly in a hot oven.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream500-600g peeled potatoes, coarsely grated
2 egg whites
1 rounded Tbs cornflour
1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs snipped chives
40g butter
4 Tbs vegetable oil
To serve:
Smoked Salmon
Sour Cream

Tip grated potatoes onto a clean tea towel, draw in the sides and squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible. Place potatoes in a bowl with the egg whites, cornflour, salt, pepper and chives and mix well.

Heat half the butter and half the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Make three or four potato cakes using about 3 Tbs of mixture for each and about half the mixture. Cook for 2-4 mins each side over medium heat, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven. Add remaining butter and oil to the pan and make three or four more potato cakes.

Serve potato cakes (one or two per person) topped with smoked salmon, sour cream and a couple of chives.

Makes 6-8 potato cakes

Smoked Salmon with Mango & Avocado

My Swiss friend Esther served this simple but delicious starter for a ladies lunch she hosted. You can use smoked salmon or smoked trout and the recipe is easy to halve for two people. Served with a rocket salad and some crusty bread it’s enough for a light lunch.

Smoked Salmon with Mango & Avocado2 ripe but firm avocados in 1cm dice
1 spring onion (white part and a bit of the green), finely chopped
2 tsp fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
2 ripe but firm mangoes in 1cm dice
1 small red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 slices smoked salmon or trout
To serve:
Lemon or lime wedges
Fresh chives
Extra Virgin olive oil

Arrange four stacking rings on serving plates. Mix avocado with spring onion, coriander and lime or lemon juice. Season to taste then divide among the stacking rings and press down firmly with a spoon. Mix mango with chilli, place on top of the avocado and press down. Top each serving with a slice of smoked salmon or trout. Remove stacking ring then garnish plates with a lemon or lime wedge, a couple of pieces of fresh chive and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4

Maija’s Hot-Smoked Salmon with Mushroom Sauce

On our way back from Europe recently we spent 2 days with our friends Maija and Nestor who live in Turku, on the south western coast of Finland.

Turku was settled in the 13th century, making it the oldest city in Finland. During our brief stay we visited the town, including the museum and the cathedral and spent an afternoon in a motor launch, meandering through the Turku archipelago which consists over over 20,000 islands. Amazing.

On our last evening Maija served a Finnish speciality: Hot Smoked Salmon with Mushroom Sauce, accompanied by potatoes, green beans and dark bread and butter. Maija used wild mushrooms she had bought at the farmer’s market that morning. I’m not sure what they’re called in English, but any combination of unusual mushrooms would work for this sauce. Any leftover fish and mushroom sauce are nice next day on their own or served with scrambled eggs on toast.

Maija's Hot-Smoked Salmon with Mushroom Sauce1 fillet of salmon, skin on, pin bones removed (about 1.2kg)
Olive oil
Curing mix:
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs coarse salt
Smoking material:
1 cup Jasmine rice
½ cup Jasmine tea
½ cup brown sugar
Mushroom Sauce:
500g mixed mushrooms (shitake, oyster, enokitake) or just ordinary mushrooms will do
50g butter
1 cup cream or sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix sugar and salt. Place salmon in a shallow dish and spread the mixture over both sides, then leave to cure for 2-3 hours. Rinse off the salt and sugar mixture, pat fish dry with paper towels, then leave to air dry for an hour or two.

For this recipe you need a kettle BBQ which uses either burners, coals or heat beads. Remove grill plate, give it a good clean then brush it with oil to prevent fish from sticking. Get the BBQ going and while you’re waiting mix the rice, tea and sugar and put it in one of those shallow foil containers you can buy in supermarkets. Place foil container directly on top of the burners and cover the BBQ with the lid. Brush salmon fillet on both sides with olive oil and place it on the clean grill plate. When BBQ has heated to medium heat and you can smell the aroma of the smoking material, place grill plate onto BBQ, shut the lid and let the salmon cook in the smoke for 15 minutes.

Transfer fish to a large plate and set aside to rest. Serve warm or at room temperature with the Mushroom Sauce, boiled new potatoes, green beans and if liked some dark Scandinavian bread and unsalted butter.

Mushroom Sauce: wipe mushrooms, trim and slice or cut into pieces. Don’t cut them too small as the sauce should have some texture. Heat butter in a large frying pan. Add mushrooms and cook gently, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes, or until softened. Add cream and season. Cook, stirring until cream has reduced and thickened a bit. Serve warm.

Salmon in Pastry with Currants and Ginger

Once it’s been passed on a few times, the origins of a recipe are often lost. I haven’t made this recipe for quite some time, but I remember it was given to me by my dear friend Maggie about 15 years ago. We started primary school together, so we go back a long way!

My friend Karen recently gave me two cook books by British cook book writer and critic Simon Hopkinson, called Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken. As I was reading the first volume, voilà, there was Maggie’s salmon. Hopkinson says it’s his version of “a most famous creation by George Perry-Smith, one of the great pioneers who changed the eating habits of an apathetic British public.” Perry-Smith was greatly influenced by Elizabeth David and made his name at The Hole in the Wall in Bath, which opened in the late 1950s.

You can either make this in individual parcels or one large one and cut it into slices, which is what I decided to do this time. Hopkinson likes to serve it with a hollandaise sauce, lightened with whipped cream, but concedes that the dish is very rich and just as nice served with a wedge of lemon. The combination of crisp pastry, salmon, ginger and currants is unusual, but delicious. A simple watercress salad and some buttered new potatoes are all that you need to complete the meal. The potatoes took longer to cook than I thought they would, which meant that the salmon got a bit over-cooked as you can see in the photo. Next time I will put the potatoes on earlier!

I served the reheated leftovers with my Cucumber Salad which went extremely well.

Salmon in Pastry with Currants and Ginger2 Tbs currants
2 Tbs stem ginger in syrup, drained, or glace ginger
110g butter, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A pinch of ground mace or nutmeg
375g puff pastry, bought or home-made
8-900g salmon fillet, skinned and boned
1 egg yolk, beaten

Pour boiling water over the currants and leave to swell for 5-10 minutes, then drain and pat dry on paper towels. Mix currants and finely chopped ginger into butter, then add mace or nutmeg and season to taste. Roll out pastry to a size which is slightly longer and wider than the salmon fillet. Lay the pastry on a lightly oiled baking tray. Spread the butter over the salmon fillet, then fold it over on itself lengthwise. Place on pastry, to one side. Fold over the pastry and seal all the way around. Press with the tines of a fork then trim off any excess to give a neat edge. Salmon can be prepared ahead to this stage and kept, loosely covered, in the fridge for up to several hours.

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Brush salmon with egg yolk then bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown – you don’t want to overcook the salmon. Slice and serve with a wedge of lemon, lightly dressed watercress salad and boiled new potatoes, dressed with a knob of butter and some finely chopped parsley.

Serves 6

Salmon with Bois Boudran Sauce

We eat salmon fillets about once a week. It’s quick and easy and we love it. Sometimes I spread the fish with a mixture of grated fresh ginger and Thai sweet chilli sauce and bake it in a very hot oven on lightly oiled aluminium foil for about 8 minutes. Other times I pan fry or bake the seasoned salmon and serve it with this sauce, adapted from a recipe by French chef Michel Roux. It’s really just a thick herby, tomatoey vinaigrette.

In 1967 Roux opened Le Gavroche in London with his brother Albert. The restaurant became the first in England to win three Michelin stars. In 1972 they opened The Waterside Inn, which went on to become the first restaurant outside France to hold three Michelin stars for over 25 years and is now run by Michel’s son Alain.

This sauce is great to have in the fridge because it goes with all sorts of things and keeps for at least a week. In fact I think it improves after a day or so. It goes well with roast chicken or steak and is absolutely delicious served in half an avocado. The original version uses tarragon which definitely gives the sauce a distinctive flavour. But fresh tarragon is not always available, so vary the recipe with different herbs and see what you like best.

Salmon with Bois Boudrain Sauce1 cup mixed fresh herbs, loosely packed (see note)
3-4 French shallots, peeled (or substitute one small onion)
¾ cup vegetable oil e.g. canola
2 Tbs white wine vinegar or lemon juice
½ cup tomato ketchup
A few drops of Tabasco
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place chopped onion or shallots in a pan with water, bring to the boil, then drain thoroughly. Place herbs and onion in food processor and chop finely. Scrape into a jar with a lid, add remaining ingredients and shake well to combine. Serve at room temperature on grilled or pan-fried salmon, roast chicken or steak. Keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes about 1.5 cups

Note: the original recipe used chervil, chives and tarragon. In the photo I used dill, parsley and coriander. Use whatever you have available.

Seafood Mornay

When I was at school in England we made Russian Fish Pies in cookery classes. Steamed white fish, chopped hard boiled eggs and parsley were mixed with a thick white sauce, encased in puff pastry and baked. At the time I thought it was delicious, but I now realise that the fish was over-cooked.

This recipe for Seafood Mornay uses raw seafood mixed into a thick sauce flavoured with cheese and sherry. Either top it with grated cheese and breadcrumbs or make it into pies. Both are delicious – the latter a bit more filling, but not too bad as they only have pastry on the top, not underneath. Either way the seafood is cooked al dente, the way it should be.

Seafood Mornay500g firm white fish fillets, no skin or bones
500g salmon fillets, no skin or bones
500g peeled raw peeled prawns
3 Tbs breadcrumbs (about one slice of bread whizzed in food processor)
3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs parsley
60g butter
60g plain flour (about 2 very heaped Tbs)
1½ cups milk
½ cup cream
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
2 Tbs sherry
150g Gruyere cheese, grated (you can substitute cheddar or Ementhal)

Cut fish into cubes about 2-3 cm square then place with prawns in a colander to drain while you make the sauce. Melt butter, add flour, cook for a minute then gradually add sherry, milk and cream. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese. Season generously because the seafood hasn’t been seasoned. Remove from heat as soon as cheese melts. The sauce will be very thick, but the fish will create juices as it cooks, especially if it’s been frozen, so you need a thick sauce to counteract this. If it seems unmanageably thick add a dash more milk. Mix sauce with seafood and place in one large buttered ovenproof shallow dish or 8-10 individual dishes.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix Parmesan, breadcrumbs and parsley and sprinkle over. Mornays can be refrigerated, covered for up to 24 hrs or frozen, well-wrapped, for up to 2 months. If frozen, thaw before cooking.

Bake for 30-40 mins until golden brown all over and bubbly. Serve as a main dish with a green vegetable such as beans or snow peas and rice or new potatoes.

Serves 8-10

Seafood Pies

Seafood mixture (see above)photo
1 egg, beaten
Sour Cream pastry:
250g plain flour
125g butter
1/3 cup sour cream
1-2 Tbs cold water
1 tsp salt

Place flour in food processor, add cold butter cut into pieces and process until fine crumbs. Add sour cream and salt and start motor again. Gradually add water through the chute with motor running. As soon as pastry forms a ball tip out and pat into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Divide fish mixture amongst 8-10 buttered dishes, such as soufflé dishes shown in photo which have a one cup (250ml) capacity. Fill almost level with the top. Roll out pastry on a floured surface and cut circles the diameter of dishes plus 2-3cm. Dampen edges of dishes, place pastry circles on top and press pastry on to seal. Cut a hole for steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg then bake for 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling through the steam vent.

Makes 8-10 pies

Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

When we were living in Paris our daughter Catherine was studying for an Arts-Law degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. She rang one day and said “Hey Mum, I’ve been thinking, when again am I going to have the chance to learn French with free accommodation in Paris?” Always a good negotiator it seems she had it all worked out. Within a month Catherine joined us in our apartment on the 8th floor of the Embassy building in the 15th arrondissement, having arranged to take a semester off uni.

A few days later the Ambassador’s butler Thierry rang. He had heard our daughter was in Paris and wondered if she would like to work at a cocktail party. We found a suitable black skirt and a white blouse and off she went to their apartment on the top floor of the building adjacent to ours.

Matthew and I were attending the party and when we arrived Catherine was busy handing out canapés to the guests. Having worked in several Canberra establishments, including Tilleys in Lyneham, she looked quite at ease. We were chatting in a small group, which included the Ambassador, when Catherine came past again with some delicious hot canapés. As Matthew reached out to take one she whipped the tray away, adding in a stern voice “You’ve had two already!”

The Ambassador was mortified and apologised profusely to Matthew. He said he had never seen this waitress before and she would never be hired again. When we explained who she was we all had a good laugh. The reason she was keeping a close eye on what we ate was because we had been on a diet for a week in an attempt to lose a couple of kilos. Daughters take their duties very seriously.

After a three week intensive course at the Alliance Française Catherine landed a job in a restaurant called Ze Kitchen Gallerie in the Latin quarter. I thought they would give her an easy job filling water glasses and bread baskets, but she was thrown in at the deep end with ten tables to serve each night. She survived and lived to tell the tale – in French!

If you need something quick to make when friends pop round for a drink, these savoury muffins take no time at all and are delicious filled with smoked salmon or gravlax. Best eaten the day they are made.

Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup polenta
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
¾ cup milk
To serve:
250g cream cheese at room temperature
1 Tbs lemon juice or lime juice
2 Tbs snipped chives or chopped dill
6-9 slices smoked salmon or gravlax
Pickled cucumber with red onion (see below)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix all ingredients for muffins and use to fill mini-muffin trays. I used silicone ones which don’t need greasing. Amount per muffin will depend on the size of the trays. Mine hold about a heaped teaspoon of batter. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden. Cool.

Mix cream cheese with snipped chives or dill and lemon juice. Cut muffins in half and spread about half a teaspoon of cream cheese on the bottom half, then a small piece of smoked salmon or gravlax and some pickled cucumber and onion, drained and patted dry with paper towel. Spread a little more cream cheese on the lids and stick back onto the muffins.  If preferred leave out the pickled cucumber and onion altogether, or substitute a slice of commercial gherkin or a couple of capers. Arrange on a serving tray and garnish with a few more herbs. Best eaten fresh on the day they are made.

Makes about 30

Pickled Cucumber and Onion
Thinly slice one or two Lebanese cucumbers or half a Telegraph cucumber and layer in a jar with a small, thinly sliced red or white onion. Add enough vinegar and water to cover – about half of each – about a tablespoon of sugar and half to one teaspoon of salt. Shake then marinate for several hours before using. Keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Figs with Smoked Salmon

From Paris a rural drive incorporating a few villages, a château and a good lunch is a delightful way to spend a Sunday in early summer. Or any time of year for that matter. Our friends Lynne and Brian were visiting from Australia and staying with us at the Embassy complex. We booked a table for lunch at La Vanne Rouge in Montigny-sur-Loing, about an hour’s drive from Paris. After a pleasant drive via the Château de Fontainebleau we arrived in the small village of Montigny-sur-Loing. Lynne, Brian and I went to find the restaurant while Matthew parked the car.

The restaurant appeared to be set up for summer in the courtyard, accessed through high timber double gates. There didn’t appear to be any other way in. The gates were locked so I rang the bell and we waited. After a few minutes I rang again. No response. Through the keyhole I could just make out a few tables, but I couldn’t see any staff in order to draw their attention. We had been waiting for more than 10 minutes when Matthew arrived to find me jumping up and down in an effort to be seen by someone inside. I rang the bell again, this time long and hard.

Suddenly the gate was opened by a tiny elderly lady dressed in black, her hair pulled back into a severe bun. Madame looked us over and demanded to know what we wanted. I explained that we had booked a table for one o’clock and apologised for being 15 minutes late, adding by way of explanation that we had been waiting for more than 10 minutes and had rung the bell several times. “That’s impossible. There’s no need to tell lies” she barked back at me. Then in the same cross tone she shouted across the courtyard to a young waiter “Did you take a booking for these people at one?” Fortunately he confirmed that he had. We were getting pretty hungry by this stage and finding somewhere to have a good Sunday lunch in France without a booking is virtually impossible. We know, we’ve tried.

“Follow me” said our unfriendly hostess. And so we did, feeling like four naughty school children. “Sit here” she said, pointing to a table with nothing on it. Madame proceeded to set the table, plonking everything down noisily and glaring at us all the time. “Is this normal?” whispered Lynne, as we sat in silence like stunned rabbits while Madame finished the table. “Um not really, but it does seem to happen more in France than in Australia” I replied when Madame was out of earshot.

The meal arrived and it was excellent. My starter of figs with smoked salmon was so delicious I have been making my own version ever since. Whoever would have thought that figs go so beautifully with smoked salmon? Their chef had made the smoked salmon into a nest in the middle and cut some of the figs into small dice to scatter around the plate. And their salad leaves were very small delicate mesclun, so it all looked very snazzy. My version as you can see is far less glamorous, but not bad for a quick lunch.

Once the food arrived we relaxed and started to enjoy ourselves. As we were eating, Madame’s three-legged dog appeared and I made a fuss of him. That was it, her attitude changed completely and we were friends for life.

Figs with Smoked Salmon

4 cups small mixed salad leaves
Walnut oil
White balsamic vinegar
4 fresh figs, sliced
6 slices smoked salmon, cut into ribbons
1/3 cup pine nuts (see note below), lightly toasted

Dress salad leaves with a little oil and vinegar then arrange on two plates. Arrange smoked salmon and figs over the salad, sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and drizzle with a little more walnut oil.

Serves 2

Note: Having made a whole heap of pesto last weekend I had run out of pine nuts so I used chopped cashews which were okay but not quite as good. If you haven’t got walnut oil use olive oil.

Salmon with Couscous and Cherry Tomatoes

Instant or quick-cook couscous is ready in a jiffy and so is salmon, so I often team them up for a week-day dinner. With cherry tomatoes and lemons in the garden I came up with this tasty combination which you can have on the table in 15 minutes.

Any leftover couscous mixture makes the basis of a tasty salad for lunch the following day. Just add any of the following – cubed leftover chicken or other cooked meat, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, canned corn, herbs, onion and a dollop of mayonnaise, French dressing or pesto. To stretch if even further, serve on a bed of salad greens and voila, lunch is served. As I write this blog I am eating my leftover couscous salad. I added leftover roast chicken, a diced perfectly ripe nectarine, some cucumber, a teaspoon of curry paste and a dollop of mayonnaise. Delicious.

Salmon with Couscous and Cherry Tomatoes

1 cup couscous
1 cup water
2-4 tsp grated ginger
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 salmon fillets weighing 180-200g (with or without skin, as you prefer)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbs olive oil
Juice and zest of half a lemon
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 spring onions, finely sliced or ½ red onion, finely diced
½ cup chopped coriander
½  to 1 birds eye chilli, to taste, seeded and finely diced

Heat water in a saucepan and when it boils add couscous, stir then cover and turn off heat. Leave to stand while you cook the salmon. Place salmon in a dish with half the oil, garlic, half the lemon zest and juice. Season to taste and turn to coat. Pan fry salmon in a non-stick frying pan over moderate to high heat for 3-4 minutes each side, or until done to liking. There is no need to add additional oil as there is some in the marinade. Fluff up the couscous with a fork and add the ginger, tomatoes, onion, coriander, chilli, remaining zest, juice and oil. Season to taste and add any juices from cooking the salmon. Serve salmon on a bed of couscous garnished with more coriander. The couscous will be warm not hot.

Serves 2