O when you run a small catering group, the kitchen often takes second place. But the part of my job that I enjoy the most is developing new dishes. After all the tastings and tweaks, that unanimous nod from all the chefs in the kitchen gives me a high every time. My working hours are erratic at best, so at home my fridge is always full of salad ingredients and pickles, so I can feed my family their five-day-old veggies on the fly. Here are three of our must-haves.
Cornish crab, cucumber and wakame salad
A wonderfully refreshing salad or light starter. I don’t usually have live brown crab in the fridge, and it makes a nice vegetarian dish without it, but sometimes you want to push the boat out. If time is tight, a bundle of plucked white crabmeat is an easy shortcut and means the dish is a few minutes’ work (the salad also works with cooked, peeled shrimp).
If you start with a whole crab, you won’t need dark meat for this dish. It’s a real shame to waste it, so turn it into a dip: pass the dark meat through a fine sieve to obtain a smooth paste, then mix with 100 g of mayonnaise and the juice of half a lemon. It is ideal for dipping broccoli stalks or blanched asparagus.
The cucumber and seaweed really benefit from their marinade, so prepare them ahead of time. For four.
For the crab
200 g fresh white crabmeat or 1 brown crab, cooked and harvested
150g sea salt
4.5 liters of water
For the salad
100ml rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
13g sea salt
20g dried wakame
50g of fresh ginger
First prepare the salad. Place the rice vinegar, soy, sugar and 8g salt in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar and salt dissolve, then allow to cool.
Put the wakame in a bowl, cover with cold water and let sit for an hour, until completely rehydrated.
Cut and discard both ends of the cucumber, then using a vegetable peeler, peel off strips of skin lengthwise, so you have a striped cucumber, half peeled, half unpeeled, in alternating strips . Slice the cucumber into 1.5mm thick slices (a mandolin is by far the best tool for this job), then put them in a bowl with 200ml water and the remaining salt. Massage gently with your hands, then squeeze out the liquid and return the cucumber to the bowl.
Peel the ginger and cut the flesh into 1mm thick slices (again, use a mandolin, if you have one). Cut the ginger slices into very thin strips (to speed things up, pile them a few at a time before cutting) and add them to the cucumber, along with the drained and squeezed wakame. Pour the dressing, stir gently and leave to harden, ideally overnight and for at least two hours.
To serve, transfer the salad to a large plate or bowl, sprinkle with crabmeat and bring to the table.
This eggplant dish with a mild miso glaze is one of Japan’s best-known side dishes. The glaze usually includes dashi, which is often made with dried bonito flakes, but I kept this vegetarian. (If preferred, use a tablespoon of dashi instead of water.) Serves four.
Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
1 eggplant, cut into 1.5 cm thick discs
3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons miso paste
1 tablespoon of water
5g white sesame seeds
Pour enough oil into a deep, high-sided pan to come up 5mm up the sides. Over medium heat, bring the oil to 170°C. Lay out the eggplant slices, fry for two minutes, then turn over and cook for another two minutes. Lift the eggplant with a slotted spoon and place it on a plate lined with a kitchen towel, to drain the excess oil.
Meanwhile, put the sugar, miso and water in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, then turn off the heat.
Arrange the eggplant slices on a plate, coat with miso sauce, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve hot.
Spinach goma ae
It is very more filling, so you can double the quantities. It is one of the most popular bar snacks in Anzu, our new restaurant in London, but also as an accompaniment. Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine that is used in everything from salad dressings to grilled meats, marinades and stir-fries. It’s widely available in supermarkets, but if you can’t find it, dry sherry is a good alternative, especially if it’s sweetened with a bit of sugar. For four.
For the goma-ae sauce
25g toasted white sesame seeds, plus an extra pinch to finish
50ml soy sauce
25 ml mirine
For the salad
5g sea salt
100g baby spinach
Pound the sesame seeds in a mortar until they start to get gooey, then add the other sauce ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. Immerse the spinach in it, stir for 20 seconds, then drain, refresh in cold water (ideally ice cold) and leave to cool for 20 minutes; this process helps remove much of the bitterness from the leaves. Drain again, then squeeze as much water as possible over the spinach.
Put the spinach in a nice bowl, add a heaped teaspoon of the sauce and toss gently but carefully to coat well. Sprinkle with a final pinch of sesame seeds and serve at room temperature.