20 December 2010

The Captain's pick: salade de chèvre chaud

croustillant de chèvre 1

The Captain adores this classic salad of goat cheese, of which there are literally dozens of variants—and he has taken it upon himself to sample them all, plate by plate and menu by menu, every time we are in the French Antilles. Well, someone has to do it...

It's all about the delicious contrasts—the hot creaminess of the goat cheese and the cool crispness of the salad leaves; the tangy savour enhanced by the hint of honey in the dressing.

It was time to treat my guests to a little something extra the other night, and so I introduced their main course with a small plate, just enough to whet their appetites—too large for an amuse-bouche, but certainly smaller than a standard appetiser. 

I chose to serve a riff on the classic salade de chèvre chaud: instead of presenting the cheese on crisp, garlicky rounds of toast, I cut the fresh mild goats cheese into fingers and wrapped each in a sheet of delicate Tunisian brik pastry and scattered each with poppy seeds. Then I slid them into a hot oven to warm the goats cheese into a melting creaminess within the light golden shell. I love brik for its flexible translucent sheets, more easily workable than filo and not needing to be layered with an additional coat of butter or olive oil.

For the dressing, I bruised a large sprig of fresh rosemary until the pine-y aromatics rose to my nose, then chopped it fine and tossed it into a beaker of golden honey. I warmed this gently, and left it to infuse. To layer the rosemary flavour, I repeated this process with some good green extra-virgin olive oil. Then I whisked a dab of Dijon mustard, the rosemary-infused honey and the rosemary-infused olive oil in a bowl till they emulsified nicely. I added a little Spanish sherry vinegar—vinagre de Jeréz—drop by drop until the flavours balanced.

For the salad leaves I chose tender baby spinach leaves to contrast with the slightly bitter frill of frisée (curly endive), a few finely-sliced curls of baby celery and a couple of shavings of fresh red beetroot for sweetness and crunch.

croustillant de chèvre 2

Now I had all my contrasts: the hot cheese, the crisp pastry, the fresh salad, the fragrant and lightly honeyed dressing. The verdict? Well, the plates came back clean (in one case, wiped enthusiastically with a licked finger), and The Captain, having eaten his separately-plated Captain's Tithe, pronounced himself well pleased. 



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Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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