On arrival at the South African Chefs Academy in Cape Town I don full chef's attire and report to Garth Stroebel in the hot kitchen. Garth is a legend in South African food circles, with a list of enviable international achievements to his name. Together with Paul Hartmann, they simulate a real life environment with lots of practical learning opportunities as I would soon find out.
I’m here for a lesson in cooking fish. Chef Stroebel proudly presents us with a shiny Norwegian salmon, which was “still swimming in the fjords a few days ago”.
While filleting, he quickly whips up some salmon tartare. Chopped gherkin, capers, red Spanish onions, parsley and the soft salmon meat is mixed with a bit of mustard. We get to taste it on top of a cracker and I can taste the sea and the tang of the individual flavours.
Chef prepares the sashimi while we get on with the tataki and confit. First we cure our salmon in a salt and sugar mixture. We then wash and sear it, before placing the fish on a piece of plastic wrap together with a small amount of marinade and wrapping it up. We dip the parcels in iced water to stop the cooking process and later on we will slice it into rounds through the plastic holding it together.
In the meantime we make a cucumber and chili salad with vinaigrette and slice half a fennel bulb, "like angel's hair". I learn the claw method for slicing, which involves running the blade up and down the middle part of my middle finger, while the rest of my hand is safely clawed away. We add boiled water with a bit of rice vinegar, a bay leaf and peppercorns to the fennel and let it stand.
The confit we prepare by covering the last pieces of salmon in oil and poaching it in the oven at 60 degrees. This locks the flavour inside; nothing can escape so it doesn't dry out and the goodness is preserved. We do the same with some rosa tomatoes, to bring out their sweetness.
For the garnish we press and dry fry the salmon skin before cutting it into strips. We also deep fry rice noodles and tie it with a nori ribbon. I create a mat of sliced cucumber on the serving plate and add salad as a base for the sashimi, garnished with wasabi. Together with soya sauce, wasabi has the dual purpose of flavouring and killing bacteria on the raw fish. Chef inspects my plate and I'm chuffed that I whipped up this trio of salmon with just a little guidance.
The best part, though, is tasting the meal afterwards and exploring the different textures and flavours that we have achieved through different styles of preparation. I will never look at cooking salmon in quite the same way again. Anyone for dinner?
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