the barbecue chef

pan-fried hamour with potato, celery root and parsnip puree


Fish is to Kuwait as sheep are to New Zealand. We’ve got numerous kinds of fish. Big ones, small ones, white ones, black ones. (Reminiscing Dr. Seuss back there.) When it comes to traditional Kuwaiti cooking, fish are usually cooked in whole. Degutted and cleaned first, obviously. Then it can be broiled, grilled, fried, steamed, or cooked within rice. Now, in fancy shmancy Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ll never get served a fish in whole, no, you’d get the most sought after piece of meat, the filet. Besides a fatty salmon filet, the only other type of filet you’re most probably going to get is a white meat filet. In Kuwait, your first choice for a nice thick filet would be hamour. Second? I honestly have no idea. You can get a filet of dover sole, but it’s relatively thinner. You can either purchase a whole hamour, which will set you back no less than 20-40KD depending on it’s size, and filet it yourself. (Remember to make use of the head, tail and bones.) Or you can go to TSC/Lulu/Geant and get pre-cut filets – which is what i did.

Now ever since i made the potato and celery root puree a couple of months ago, i just had to make it again for this dish. In general, potatoes go quite well with fish. However, this time I felt like being adventurous so I decided to throw in some parsnips to the mix, what cani say, i live my life on the edge. Originally, i had planned to make a second puree – carrot and rutabega.  I actually made the puree, but when i came to taste it, it tasted beyond horrid. I was never a fan of rutabega, so that explains it. My sister had a spoonful and thought it was delicious. I, on the contrary, didn’t think it was edible. So I binned it. I couldn’t stand seeing it. So now, i had to think of something else to replace the carrot and rutabega puree. I was facing a culinary conundrum. Or was i? I improvised and decided to make mini pan-fried fondant potatoes, instead. Last minute change of plans are always challenging and fun. That wasn’t the only thing i had to improvise on. I had prepared a simple thinly sliced carrot and cucumber salad for garnish, but since the carrot and rutabega puree was a no go, i didn’t feel it was suitable. I took a look at the fridge and found these beautiful cherry tomatoes, so i went with them instead. At the end, the dish, albeit being heavily altered, turned out to be a success. The potato, celery root and parsnip puree was a success, the fish was nicely cooked, and the mini pan-fried fondant potatoes were nothing out of the ordinary- come to think of it, the whole dish wasn’t. Sometimes cooking is all about the simple stuff. The dawn of modern, high-end cooking took years to evolve, and it’ll one day reach it’s peak. Will it take a tumble? Who knows. On the other end, simple food has always flourished in every century since the beginning of time… and it will till the very end.

Recipe

1 hamour filet
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 celery root
1 large parsnip
3-4 cherry tomatoes
70ml chicken stock
50ml cream
2 tablespoons butter
sprig of fresh, or dried, thyme
salt & pepper
canola oil
olive oil

Start with the puree first, since you’ll need to boil the vegetables and they take a while to cook. Peel the celery root and dice into small cubes. Peel the parsnip and roughly chop into medium-sized chunks. Don’t peel the potatoes, cut in half. Get a pot, fill with water and throw in the celery root, potatoes, and the parsnip. Throw in four or five peppercorns and season with salt. Let it boil. Drain when the potatoes are soft in the center. Remember to drain well. Use a potato masher for a textured puree, or use a blender for a smoother one. Puree all the vegetables together with the cream and butter, season with salt. Don’t go crazy with the blending, you don’t want the puree to have the same consistency as that of baby food. You can heat the puree it by placing it over a hot-water bath, or just stirring it over low heat and adding several tablespoons of cream as to not let it dry out.

In a separate pot, boil one potato until it’s 75% cooked. You’re going to finish cooking it on the pan. After you’ve boiled it, keep the skin on and slice into 1cm slices, not too thin not too thick. Heat some butter and olive oil in the pan and when the oil’s piping hot, throw in the potatoes slices. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the fresh/dried thyme leaves. Brown the potatoes well on one side then flip and add the chicken stock, lower the heat to low and let potatoes soak up all the stock. It should take 5-10 minutes.

The filet needs ten minutes to cook, so if you time everything right, you can have the puree, fondant potatoes and fish all done at the same time. For the fish, season well with salt and pepper on both sides, drizzle some olive oil in the pan, wait till it’s hot then cook the fish skin side first. Cook on skin side for no less than three minutes, then flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Finish it off in the oven (set on 180C) for 7-8 minutes.

Done.

rosemary and sea salt focaccia

As i’ve previously stated, i hate baking. I never enjoyed baking and I don’t see myself enjoying baking. Ever. I hate being forced to add exact portions of each and every ingredient. Nobody’s the boss of me. Freestyling is what cooking is all about. You need to find a way to improvise if you’re ever out of an ingredient, don’t just throw in the towel because you’re out of celery. IMPROVISE! Just because the recipe asks for one tomato doesn’t mean you can’t add another. If you go by the book for each and every dish you cook, you deserve a badge for your utter naivety. You lack the passion required to become a successful cook.

So, today’s dish, rosemary and sea salt focaccia. I was browsing through recipes online when my eyes fell upon this really delicious-looking bread. I’ve seen it before, but never had it. *click* I skim through the recipe. I puffed up my chest and roared: “I CAN DO THIS!” But Khalid, you’ll need to bake, you hate baking, remember? Shush, subconscious, i’ve got this. (Triple-word rhyme, sort of. I deserve a trophy for that. I don’t? Ok.) Ingredients don’t get any simpler than this. So simple, in fact, that i didn’t even have to make a trip to the grocery store.

Mix. Wait. Mix. Knead. Wait. Roll into ball. Wait. Stretch. Wait.

Right after popping the dough into the oven, i sat on the ground, facing the oven. I was worried I had the temperature set too high/low. I always worry when i’m baking. Two hours worth of prepping, mixing, kneading and waiting can go belly up simply because the temperature was set a tad too high. You’d usually face such problems when baking delicate cakes, not with this focaccia, though, thankfully. So there i was on the floor, temperature was set exactly on the required degree. I set the timer for 15 minutes and after that, it’s a waiting game. Ten minutes in, the crust got nice and golden brown. I had a sudden urge to pull it out dreading that i’d overcook it. The recipe said fifteen minutes, there’s no freestyling in baking, remember? Fourteen minutes. I pulled it out. The smell smacked me in the face the moment I pulled down the oven door. I let the bread rest for ten minutes before having a bite. Resting bread is just as critical as resting a piece of steak. You’ve waited for two hours, another ten minutes won’t hurt. Ten minutes later, I get the knife and start cutting. Dipped a piece in some olive oil and attacked it. A minute later, half the bread had vanished. And it will, too, when you bake yours.

Recipe:
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons milk, slightly warmed
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 teaspoons coarse sea salt

Mix the sugar and yeast in a bowl. Don’t throw in the salt now, it’ll kill the yeast. Add warm water and milk. Let it sit for ten minutes to activate the yeast. Transfer into mixer bowl. Mix on low speed. Add the flour, a little at a time. Then add the the salt and drizzle in two tablespoons of olive oil. Attach the dough hook, set speed to medium. Knead for ten minutes. You should have a clean bowl, and the dough should look like a ball. It shouldn’t be sticky. If it is, you must’ve done something wrong. We’re not even halfway through the recipe and you already messed up. Brilliant.

Brush the dough with olive oil and transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a cool place. Give it two hours.

Two hours later, the dough should’ve doubled in size. Give it a punch to release the trapped air. Now equally distribute the dough into two balls. Brush them with olive oil and place them apart in a bowl. Towel on for another twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later, stretch the dough to your desired size and shape. Circular or rectangular, your call. Using a rolling pin is considered taboo when making focaccia, or any Italian dough, in Italy. But unless you’re in Italy, you can use a rolling pin if you’re having trouble stretching it by hand. Brush the dough with oil and place on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a towel for one last time. 1.5 hours, this time.

Preheat the oven to 230 C. Now here’s the fun part, lightly dimple the dough, not too much. Don’t make them geometric, you’ll take away the rustic feeling to it if you do. Brush top with some oil. Sprinkle rosemary and sea salt. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Let it rest for ten minutes before serving. Enjoy.

arugula, fennel and green apple salad

So there i was, lying on the couch, thinking what the first dish of my ‘culinary project’ should be. An entree? No, too flashy. A soup? Too boring. A dessert? Too lazy. What about a salad? A salad? Why not. Basic, easy to get ingredients. Prep time of no more than 15 minutes. Why this salad? Well, i’ve had a similar salad at the Gaucho Grill. If you’ve ordered their veal sausage appetizer, this salad, minus the fennel, is what they serve alongside the sausage. Fresh, fragrant, summer salad. How do you compliment such fresh ingredients? A citrus dressing. Really simple, takes literally a minute to whip up. End product? A sweet and sour, crunchy, slightly peppery, refreshing salad. Top it off with some feta cheese for an extra oomph.

Recipe:
Adapted from Dave’s Dinners.

Small chunk of feta cheese
10-12 walnuts
small fennel bulb
1 green apple, Granny Smith preferably
4 handfuls arugula
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Wash arugula first to let any excess moisture dry off by the time you’re ready to dress the salad. If there’s any water by the time you want to dress the salad, the leaves won’t be completely coated with the dressing. So please, make sure the leaves are nice and dry.

Toast the walnuts in a skillet on medium heat. Remove after 2-3 minutes. Take a whiff, you’ll be in for a surprise. If the walnuts are too big, you can always give them a good smack.

You can either use a mandolin or a sharp knife for slicing the fennel. Don’t even bother using a blunt knife, you won’t get anything done with it. Since fennel tastes quite strong, you’ll need to slice it extra fine. Slice the apple as well. Combine ingredients into salad bowl.

For the dressing, whisk all the ingredients except the olive oil. If the oranges are sweet enough, you can omit the sugar. Oh, you should also pass the juice of the lemon/orange through a fine sieve to remove any pulp. Don’t throw away the pulp, eat it, it’s good for you. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking the dressing to form an emulsion. Notice there’s barely any oil floating on the surface.

Once you’re done with the dressing, pour half of it onto the salad. Mix. Well. Not fully coated? Add some more until you reach the desired dressing-to-green ratio. Garnish with toasted walnuts and crumbled feta cheese. You can thank me after devouring the salad. Enjoy.

Blog? Why not.

First things first, welcome to my blog. I won’t rant about what i saw at the mall, nor will I share Youtube videos. Posts will be food-related, and food-related only. I’m hoping i’ll be able to post at least two dishes which i’ve cooked myself every week, maybe more, but hopefully not less. Salads, appetizers, soups, main dishes, you name it! As much as i hate baking, i’ll try to squeeze in a baking post every now and then. *arrogance mode ON* I do make a killer orange cake. *arrogance mode OFF* Photos of dishes that i’ve cooked and shared on my Instagram account, thebarbecuechef, is what i’ll be posting about in detail here, emphasis on ‘in detail’. I’ll write the full recipe and a somewhat brief summary of the dish; what to do, what not to do, pointing out where things can go wrong, etc. I hope this blog will pave the way for future success. I am, after all, nothing but a humble cook. A chef? I don’t know what’s in store for me. Stick around my blog for the next few years and you’ll find out. (That previous sentence was one heck of a marketing technique.)

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