It’s an ORA (aura) kind of thing
Being given the head judge title this year for the Ora King awards for New Zealand was very much an honour and a great privilege. I was tasked with tasting and deciding out of the top three Ora King salmon creations selected from up and down the country - which one tasted the best, looked the best, technically was the best and had the best, most thoughtful and clever interpretation of this year’s theme “inspired by art”. Even if you are not a chef, the massive amount of pleasure that one gets from experiencing, seeing, tasting and enjoying someone’s ‘edible creation’ is perhaps one of the great pleasures in life. Having an art theme just makes it hat even more fascinating. This year’s three finalists were all superb and extremely memorable. The winning dish by mark McAlister was simply a knockout.
Read more here.
Hot Smoked Salmon + Horseraddish Cream
Hot smoked salmon is quite special around Christmas time – especially when you have made it yourself. It makes for a sensational party piece and is versatile in every way. It looks stunning served whole on a white platter for guests to help themselves, or you can flake the salmon and fill small tartlet cases for canapés. This also makes a show-stopper appearance on any Christmas day table.
1 side fresh salmon – season the night before by rubbing or massaging the salmon with 3 Tbsp maple syrup ( or 3 Tbsp sugar, white or brown) and 2 Tbsp salt – or any flavouring combinations of your choice.... leave un covered in the fridge.
1.5 cups Manuka wood chips
Take a large piece of foil. Mix woodchips with 2 teaspoons of water then spread on one side of the foil. Fold foil over and seal edges to form an envelope then pierce small holes in the top to allow smoke to come out. Or sprinkle over foil and put in an old fashioned smoker tray.
Place envelope in the frying pan over a high heat, place rack with salmon on top. Heat until smoke begins to waft out of the holes then cover with a tight fitting lid or cover tightly with tinfoil.
Or place meths in supplied dishes, light and place smoker tray on top.
Reduce to a medium heat. If you see there is no smoke coming out, increase the heat a little.
Very gently wash off excess sugar salt mix with cold water. Gently pat dry with paper towels. Place salmon on a rack and into smoker. Seal edges tightly with a lid or tin foil to capture all smoke and flavour salmon to the max.
Smoke, cook for 15 - 25 minutes or longer if the salmon is a large thick fillet.
Whisk 1 cup cream until soft whipped, fold in 3 – 5 Tbsp horseradish puree/paste – freshly peeled and grated horseradish is best – if you can find it add salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste. Taste the cream and adjust levels of horseradish and salt / lemon to taste. Sometimes crème fresh is added to the cream or ratio thereof to balance and give a slightly different flavour.
Some men experience discomfort when put in new and challenging situations. A bit like the kids at the recent school camp having to overcome their fear of height as they scale an 11m vertical pole with a steel tight rope at the top. That is to say I felt a lot like a fish out of water when I arrived at the traditional Ryoken Hotel in Hakone, Japan.
Firstly let me set the scene….
I was a guest of Ora King Salmon as one of the judges for their prestigious global Ora King Awards, recently held in Tokyo. Having experienced a few nights of five star luxury hotel accommodation on the 32nd floor and 180 degree panoramic views of the capital, I was looking forward to a breath of natural forest fresh air in the ‘mountainous reserve park’ of Hakone.
We arrived in the dark having endured several hours travel in a warm bouncy bus, topped off with a formula one never ending narrow chicane twisting uphill dash to our hotel.
I was truly looking forward to a long hot shower and collapsing into a deliciously soft king size bed. With my feet firmly on the ground it was great to sit down in a stationary chair and be warmly welcomed by professional staff dressed in traditional kimonos. Most unexpectedly we were told that we are all sharing rooms! Heck……this could be interesting! To make matters worse we were told it is traditional to wear (at all times), the traditional Japanese robe (normally worn with nothing on – at all – underneath)!!!
Oh, and by the way, they have Onsen here which are ‘public baths’. If you know nothing about this and it’s your first time then you are in for a shock! It basically means totally naked shared bathing in a small spa pool. There goes my long luxurious shower with shampoo and conditioner! Still feeling decidedly green with bus motion sickness, we were then dispatched to our rooms to change and robe up before dinner.
Walking into the shared room I discovered no king or queen size beds – in fact there were no beds at all. Woven tatami mats lined the floor and in the centre of the room a very low set coffee table with two thin cushions plus one of those tissue sliding doors (like the one the bad guy jumps out from behind in a James Bond movie)! This leads through to a sink, a mirror and a loo. Just noting all loos in Japan are very, very high tech and some are even digital (another fish out of water moment, but that’s another story altogether).
I braved the Japanese robe, but couldn’t quite do the “Braveheart-Kilt” thing and safely went off to dinner with undergarment on!
After the most sumptuous, nourishing, extravagant and exquisite feast it was time to retire for a much needed sleep. Problem one – no shower. This meant… ah, well… ok.. I would have to have to man up and have some sort of a wash. Quickly referring to the in-room instructions on “how to” do the Onsen and off I went.
When I arrived at the MENS door and gingerly pushed it open I wasn’t sure at all about what to do. I noticed some men putting their robes and bits and pieces into little wooden cubby holes before moving through to the next area.
You get this little thin long flannel thing to take into the bath, but you are not allowed to put it in the water or dare even put it on the side of the pool. It’s like a mini mini towel to dry you off before properly drying yourself back in the de-robing room. Apparently you should fold it up and balance it on your head, good thinking!
Next, I slid the door open to go to the Onsen and to my relief there were some funny little cubicals where guys are sitting down on low plastic stools washing themselves with hand held shower hoses. One chap was washing his hair, another was actually having a shave (quite civilised!!) and this I believe is where you properly ‘wash off’ before getting in to the onsen. Makes perfect sense, especially if you’ve been on a hot speedy bus.
Sitting down on that low stool and hosing myself off was actually fantastic – certainly the best part of the day / second only to the dinner! I grabbed my mini mini towel and walked over to the Onsen. Big toe in first for a temperature check – perfect, and at I last lowered myself into the crystal clean water. Now being a Kiwi and a bit of an expert on natural hot pools and the like, I know what a good natural spa should smell and feel like. Well this is where the stakes just got a hell of a lot higher. The pool design and finishing materials were plain, unadorned, simple and perfectly finished with no sharp edges. However the most noticeable thing was the quality of water. It was the purest I have ever bathed in. There was no Rotoura pong, no Miranda cloudiness, no Taupo eggyness, no steamy Waiwera wish wash. It was just the purest of pure! I actually liken it to perhaps the exact opposite in temperature - of pure coolness, where the OraKing salmon are hatched in our own pure natural Te Waikoropupu spring water near Tataka.
Rejuvenated and thoroughly cleansed as well as relaxed, I returned to our shared room to discover a mattress on the floor, (with feather duvet on top thank goodness) perfectly made up ready for me to retire into. At last horizontal and quite surprised by the ‘comfort’ in my new Japanese bed. I closed my eyes and thought…. first class meal, simple practical clothing with no pretence, relaxing and almost spiritual cleansing ‘bathing’ ritual which unwinds the mind and body.
Ha, so who’s afraid of heights or Onsen? How lucky was I? What a cool experience, I’m certainly no fish out of water!
If you have a party coming up, here are some great recipes to help you at from my latest BITE article.
After cooking the “Pacific Inspired" menu in Beijing for the 80 executive delegates on behalf of the Bank of China, the following morning the Executive Chef Mr Ai decided to take me on a shopping tour of the markets. He was very keen to learn about the flavours and combination of ingredients that he could use for his Western guests, so we purchased a great selection of produce so I could demonstrate a few more Western dishes.
After this extraordinary shopping experience, it was clear I was showing signs of fatigue and needed bolstering up - so very thoughtfully Mr Ai decided to treat me to an every day breakfast experience that all local Beijing people love to enjoy.
We walked into what looked like a fast food joint and in less than a minute after food was ordered, we sat down to a plastic tray loaded with 3 or 4 typical local ‘favourites’......oh dear! I tucked in (not really knowing what I was eating)! Demcee, my kind and patient translator explained first up was Congee. It was a very loose and rather tasteless ‘safe’ porridge. I noticed him nibbling away on some hearty stuff which I thought looked pretty good after the soupy bowl of floating tapioca. Well O.M.G.......it was chicken feet, but not the hot crispy version I’ve tried before - it was cold soggy and slightly slippery. Ewwww!!!
I took this as my queue to jump back into something nourishing so I dipped my spoon into the dark rich looking hot bowl of what was the “Beijing speciality”…. pork liver cooked in a tasty pork soup. It was quite tricky actually getting it into the spoon due to it being such a gloopy, stretchy sort of jelly like and nothing I'd ever seen before - think lots of cornflour. Well once I got it in my mouth it certainly confirmed the smell - reekin' porky, offaly, awfully strong and slightly minging! Whoa, way too much for me especially when I politely enquired as to what was in it ?? "Oh it's made by boiling up ALL the inside of the pig"! Mr Ai and Demcee woofed (or should I say pigged) it down - just like happy pigs in mud. Obviously delicious for them and quite disgusting for me!
Isn’t it funny how we all have our cultural cuisine likes and dislikes and I couldn’t but help think how deliciously comforting my weetbix and milk seemed. Hmmm, I wonder if my new Chinese friends would enjoy my weetbix breakfast as much as me?
Oh dear, what an experience that was!
What do you think......delicious or disgusting?