Dublin-born Robin Gill has worked under revered chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc, but his own string of restaurants – The Dairy, Sorella, and Counter Culture – are relaxed, innovative and very exciting.
Absolute freshness and seasonality is at the heart of Robin’s cooking. Game, when is in season, is a hero of his menus, and in spring the fruits of his city kitchen gardens attached to each of his restaurants provide produce for the tables, jars and bottles that adorn each of his destinations. Curing, fermenting and pickling are very much to the fore linked hand in hand with an unfettered philosophy of nose to tail, tail to gill and root to bloom.
In his new book, Larder, Robin shares his techniques to prove that a more traditional cooking method is perfectly achievable in any home, but the rewards and possibilities are endless.
I am obsessed with forgotten traditions and the way we used to cook. My time spent in Italy, where the menu was scripted by the seasons and the produce harvested from Alfonso’s farm, shook me and awakened my thirst – so much so that as I write this, we are in the process of opening our own Italian restaurant, Sorella. My years on the Amalfi Coast taught me the importance of working with the best of ingredients at their peak and preserving the excess. My restaurants are in an urban setting but my approach to cooking is an extreme version of this philosophy. We have urban gardens above the restaurants; we house beehives; our cellar is full of vinegars, miso, kimchi, charcuterie, kombucha, cordials, jams and chutneys.
Every inch of our old house is put to use with culinary experiments bubbling away. We have achieved great things from a central London location and I want to share my techniques to prove that a more traditional way of cooking is perfectly achievable in any home. The rewards and possibilities are endless. Vegetable fermentation, jam-making, pickling, curing and smoking meat and fish are but a few of the techniques that I want to share. You don’t need a countryside location to stock a healthy larder, and this can be your secret weapon in creating some inspiring dishes.
Loch Duart Salmon
Oyster Emulsion, Fennel, Fried Wakame
The oyster emulsion here is an absolute winner. It’s also amazing served as a dip with some oysters in tempura or with a beef tartare. The way the salmon is cooked is a trick I picked up from Raymond Blanc. I’ll never forget tasting it for the first time. It simply blew my mind and taught me to understand the nature of cooking fish. You will often hear chefs say that it takes great skill to cook fish. I slightly disagree. I believe it just requires an understanding. Fish is delicate and in most cases should never be cooked at too high a temperature, otherwise the fish tenses up and an unpleasant white protein appears, which for me is an alarm bell screaming that I have overcooked the fish.
100g banana shallots, sliced
200ml dry white wine
130g freshly shucked rock oysters (juice reserved)
150ml grapeseed oil
5 sorrel leaves
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
Put the shallots into a saucepan and pour over the white wine. Place on a medium to low heat and boil until all the wine has evaporated. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Tip the shallot mixture and oysters into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. While blending, gradually add the oil to make a mayonnaise consistency. Add the sorrel leaves and blend through, then blend in some of the reserved oyster juice to loosen the mixture. Stir in the crème fraîche. Keep the emulsion in the fridge until ready to serve.
200ml vegetable oil, for frying
50g dried wakame
Heat the oil in a deep pan to 160°C. Fry the wakame for 1½ minutes or until crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
250g Cured Salmon (see below)
8 slices Fennel Kimchi (see Larder)
Portion the salmon into four pieces. Place a spoon of oyster emulsion on each plate and add a piece of salmon to the side. Arrange the fennel kimchi and fried wakame around the fish. Garnish with dill and fennel.
The salmon can be cured in this manner and used as is, or it can then be smoked to add extra depth to the flavour.
Makes about 1.5kg
40g fennel seeds
40g black peppercorns
40g juniper berries
800g fine table salt
160g caster sugar
160g demerara sugar
280g soft brown sugar
zest of 8 lemons
16 sheets of dried nori (3g each), cut into small pieces with scissors
1 side of salmon, pin-boned and skinned
applewood chips, for smoking
Lightly toast the fennel seeds, peppercorns and juniper berries in a dry pan until they smell fragrant. Crush them lightly in a pestle and mortar. Combine the crushed spices with all the other ingredients, apart from the salmon and applewood chips, in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Lay a double layer of clingfilm, roughly four times the width of the salmon, across a worktop. Spread half of the spice cure evenly over the clingfilm, following the outline of the fish. Place the salmon on this and scatter the remaining cure over the top. Wrap the clingfilm around the fish, sealing in the cure. Set in a suitable-sized tray and leave in the fridge for 4 days, turning the fish over every 24 hours.
Unwrap the fish, rinse under cold water and pat dry. This cured salmon can be kept in the fridge, wrapped well in clingfilm, for up to 3 weeks.
To lightly smoke the salmon for dishes such as Loch Duart Salmon: spread some applewood chips over the bottom of a large, deep roasting tray. Warm the tray over a medium heat until the chips start to smoke. Place the fish on a heatproof tray set on a flat steamer rack. Remove the roasting tray from the heat. Place the steamer rack directly over the smoking chips. Completely cover the top and sides tightly with oven-safe clingfilm so the smoke is sealed inside with the fish, then leave to smoke lightly for 7 minutes.
To fully smoke the salmon, it would need to be placed in a smoking chamber (see note below) for 7 hours.
Once smoked, store the salmon, wrapped well in clingfilm, in the fridge.
Smoking: Some of our recipes require smoking, which is achievable in a home environment. Cold-smoking takes place at a temperature of 32°C or lower, which means that the meat or fish is smoked but not cooked. Therefore, there cannot be a heat source underneath it. The heat required for the smoke needs to be separate and away from the meat or fish, which must be enclosed in a chamber that can then be filled with smoke.
If the meat or fish only needs to be cold-smoked for a few minutes, this can be achieved quite simply: spread woodchips in a flat tray such as a deep roasting tray and place a flat steamer rack over the chips. Warm the tray over a medium heat until the chips start to smoke. Remove from the heat and place the fish or meat to be smoked on the steaming rack. Completely cover the top and sides tightly with oven-safe clingfilm so the smoke is sealed inside with the fish or meat and leave to smoke for the required time.
If you want to cold-smoke for a longer time, you need to create a smoking chamber. There are plenty of creative ways to do this – again, there are some informative tutorials online – but the basic premise is that the heat source is separate from the chamber and the smoke is fed between the two with a tube.
Other recipes require hot-smoking, which is smoking that takes place at a temperature of up to 93°C. So that the meat is both smoked and gently cooked at the same time. Reasonably priced stovetop and outdoor smokers are available from many online sources.
Extract taken from Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press, £26), out now.
Photography © Paul Winch-Furness