Cooking with Pinterest (oh, and Tom Aikens…)

Baked Scallops with Sauce Vierge. We went a little overboard on the tarragon, but it was still delicious.

Baked Scallops with Sauce Vierge. We went a little overboard on the tarragon, but it was still delicious.

God bless Vikki Morgan‘s busy schedule, and her generosity in sharing her invitations to cool events.

When Pinterest extended an offer to join Tom Aikens (no big deal! *stricken face*) at Atelier des Chefs and learn to cook three beautiful seafood dishes, Tiff Jones and I grabbed the opportunity to go in Vikki’s place, and were warmly welcomed by the lovely Lizzie and the team for a most awesome evening.

With bubbly and Chablis making the rounds, we quickly relaxed and got into groups of five – ours included the wonderful Botanical Baker, Urvashi Roe, whom I’ve been following online for a long while now – dividing our tasks and trying to cook along and follow Tom’s instructions. His reputation for being frenetically active well-earned, he dashed in to save us from ourselves – seasoning and stirring here, tasting and plating there and occasionally indulgently (kindly) shaking his head at our less than perfect skills.

We made three dishes – salmon with pickled beetroots, baked scallops and sea bass with a delightful citrussy, herby pea shoot salad – and sat down to eat and drink as a group afterwards. The setting is great, and I think I’ll be back before long for one of ADC’s courses (especially as I discovered they weren’t nearly as expensive as I thought they would be; I have my eye on sushi, knife skills and vegetarian classes).

A personal highlight of the evening for me was discovering I’m not completely terrible at thinly slicing fish (a skill Casper will be delighted with, if only he can sample the results). But really what we took away from it was exactly – I think – what the team hoped we did; that is, that cooking fish and seafood respectfully with fresh herbs and lovely dressings and sauces can make for beautiful light meals.

If more inspiration is needed, the Pinterest team would undoubtedly want me to remind you (and they’d be right) that Pinterest is absolutely heaving with recipes, food photography and cooking tips – and you can of course search by ingredient and recipe now. I’m certainly going to be revisiting and reinvigorating my own boards, and you should join me. You’ll find other pins there from the night, for a start.

Thanks to Pinterest for a fab evening, which the team has blogged about here, Mr A himself for his precious time and expert advice, Tiff for her awesome company and Vikki for the opportunity to attend.

Recipe: Baked Salmon with Fennel and Lemons

Somehow, despite Ash and I being together for nearly six years and married for almost four, I’d never really cooked for my in-laws properly before. The odd cake or cookies here or there, but never a proper sit-down meal. I finally got the opportunity to do so this weekend, and wanted to make sure it was good enough to make up for years of insufficient hospitality (I’m Greek. they’re Jewish; food is love).

I had a side of salmon – skinless and boneless – weighing in at almost 2kg in the fridge, and had thoughts about poaching it, and lemons and working fennel in somewhere. Then I considered baking and did some Googling.

I ended up taking elements from this Gordon Ramsey recipe for salmon with caramelised lemons and adapting it for a) what I felt like eating and b) what I had available. This was the final recipe:

1 x side of salmon (would also work with the whole salmon).
2 x lemons, sliced thickly (about four per lemon)
1 x fennel, in medium slices (fronds reserved and chopped up)
A small bunch of dill, chopped
A small bunch of lemon thyme, whole
4 x garlic cloves
A handful of peppercorns
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to around 170 (fan assisted) or equivalent.

I laid the salmon in a roasting tin lined with foil, and seasoned it with a little salt and the peppercorns.

I put a generous glug of olive oil in a deep frying pan and added the fennel and garlic when hot, frying until they were nicely browned. You have to be a little patient, but also watchful, as it turns rather quickly (I had to fish the garlic cloves out first). I then added the lemons, but you do have to be really careful here, as hot oil and watery lemons make for a spitting pan. The lemons need just a minute or so on each side to brown beautifully.

I placed the fennel, garlic and lemons on top of the salmon, then added a generous handful of chopped dill with the fennel fronds, and threw over a generous bundle of lemon thyme twigs.

A slosh of oil completes the topping, and then the package can be closed up into a foil tent, which doesn’t really have any gaps but does allow a moderate amount of height for steam to develop inside.

The salmon baked for 30-35 minutes; it helps to let it sit for a while after and, in fact, can be served at any temperature – so is an excellent make-in-advance recipe to have up your sleeve. Although it means a little faffing at the beginning, and probably some splattery oil mess, it’s also very, very easy for such impressive-looking results. The frying-then-baking takes some of the acrid intensity away from the fennel, but leaves a beautiful aniseed aroma, so that Ash, who is no great fan of raw fennel – or, indeed, aniseed – hoovered it up. Even Ramona enthusiastically chewed on a lemon slice, as it becomes densely chewy and more-ish, despite retaining plenty of lip-curling acidity.

I served it with simple sides – new potatoes, carrots, peas and beans – since salmon is so rich and oily, but it’s meaty enough to stand up to more indulgent treatment if you want to push the boat out.