Last night, as the moon made its way across the ink sky, I shared dinner, fireside, outdoors, with a friend. Anna made me Ottolenghi’s trout tartare with cumin burnt butter and pistachios. I made dessert. Brought a bottle of wine. But what was so special about this meal is that I had introduced Anna to the recipe a few weeks earlier at one of my cooking retreats.
The recipe is from the cookbook Simple. It has 12 ingredients and six steps, but everything is easy and accessible and the resulting dish is standout. Silky diced fish with tones of citrus from lemon and cumin, nuttiness and sweetness from browned butter, crunch from pistachios, a hint of sharpness from sliced shallot and an aniseedy herby twang from tarragon. I explain in the retreat booklet that some recipes are so good that they need to be shared. Shouted about. Unaltered. Passed on. And the fact that so many of the people who have attended my retreats have gone on to make this dish again at home is testament to Mr. Ottolenghi’s creation. Anna says it’s more than the recipe though. It’s the confidence she was given over the weekend. The inspiration and appreciation gained from preparing and sharing meals in the company of others during her time in Gerroa, that has spurred her on to make this dish, for the third time now. And that blows me away. It’s an honour. And a joy.
The cooking retreats that I have set in motion come from a place of passion. They come from somewhere deep inside of me that believes in the power of food to connect us. To unite us. To heal us. To ignite us. As humans. It’s common. And necessary. And although this belief is earnest and true, to promote myself is hard. Scary. Fraught with rollercoaster emotion.
I never grew up wanting to cook for others. I wanted to be an art therapist. Through the power of creativity, guide people to release worries and fear and anger and doubt. To scream with red paint. To cry with watercolour. To release through using a medium other than their voice. As, I now understand, art did for me. Express feelings without saying a word. But after a fine art diploma and a year into a psychology degree, I changed tact. I can’t explain why. Something just didn’t feel right. And I finished university with a masters in English. Shortly after graduating, a broken heart took me to the French Alps to cook in chalets, and my life as a chef began. Now some 20 years later I find myself coming full circle and realizing the potential that food has to heal the soul. To nourish the body and the mind. To build community, sharing recipes and memories. The ability it gives for self expression. And so this year I have taken a leap of faith and created Chef by the Sea cooking therapy weekends. To communicate through making. To uplift through feeding. To inspire by sharing what I love. And to have that ethos given back to me is incredibly special. And testament that I may just have been on the right path all along.
Join me on my next cooking therapy weekend click HERE
Trout tartare with cumin burnt butter and pistachios
by Yottam Ottolenghi from Simple
1 eshallot, sliced into thin rounds
2 lemons, zest and juice
1/4 tsp caster sugar
360g trout, diced into 1.5cm pieces
1tsp olive oil
25g unsalted butter
1/2tsp cumin seeds
20g pistachios, toasted and chopped
5g tarragon leaves, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
Place the shallot in a small bowl with 30ml lemon juice, the sugar, 1/2tsp salt and a generous grind of pepper. Massage the ingredients together and set bowl aside.
Put the fish into another bowl with the oil, zest, remaining juice, 1.5tsp salt and a grind of pepper. Stir and set aside for 30 minutes, but no longer. More than this and the fish will over ‘cook’.
After 30 minutes, divide the fish among four plates and top with the drained shallots (there’s no need to keep the onion liquid) and then the pistachios and tarragon.
Put the butter and cumin in a small pan and heat, gently swirling from time to time until it starts to bubble, turn brown and smell nutty. Use all your senses for this step. It should take about five minutes.
Drizzle the butter over the fish, add a few flecks of salt and serve immediately.
Enjoy this recipe? Then you’ll love this strawberry tart one too