In the first of our daily reports, we sample the flavours (and the show) as world-class chefs share their talents in Abu Dhabi.
A week of gourmet
There may have been a scattering of ominous clouds in the sky at the gala opening of Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2011, but the visiting chefs who were paraded on stage at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr provided more than enough (Michelin) star sparkle to light up the evening.
What followed was a rundown of events, a roundup of the considerable cheffing talent currently in town and canapés aplenty (spiced scallops, steak with wasabi sauce and cauliflower and crayfish flan among them).
The major revelation of the evening was that the three-Michelin-star chef Juan Amador will be opening a restaurant at the Park Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi later this year.
If there's one thing the UAE's culinary scene currently lacks it is Spanish restaurants, so this is exciting news for anyone who dreams of eating patatas bravas and cubes of Manchego. That said, Amador is famed for his progressive, avant-garde style, so it is unlikely the tapas on offer will be altogether traditional. As a taste of things to come, he ran through three rather complicated dishes at his masterclass on Thursday morning: poached quails' eggs topped with a sliver of Périgord truffle, encased in a caramelised sugar shell being one of them. This is not the cheapest of canapé options, so it's perhaps best to wait for the restaurant to open in the autumn, rather than attempt this one at home.
French-born Vincent Pouessel's class featured rather more achievable dishes. Pouessel payed homage to his mentor, the legendary chef Charlie Palmer, with an American-style dish that is on the menu at Aureole, the Las Vegas restaurant where he is currently the executive chef. The recipe for his Maine lobster corn dog with tarragon espuma is below. Please don't let the term "espuma" put you off: it is the Spanish word for foam and is currently very in vogue among chefs, thanks to the work of one Ferran Adria. An espuma gun isn't an essential piece of kit for the average home cook, so have no qualms about serving your corn dogs with a tarragon sauce, rather than foam.
Fans of modern Indian cooking will be thrilled to learn that Atul Kochhar revealed on Friday that he will open his first restaurant in the UAE in the coming year. The Dubai-based restaurant will showcase the style of food that has earned Kochhar two Michelin stars over the course of his career. He describes it as "a fusion of both Indian and British flavours, which isn't governed or restricted by the traditions of either cuisine". Definitely something to look forward to.
A good-natured James Martin kicked off Friday morning's cooking session with customary charm, a bit of banter and plenty of butter. Low fat just doesn't cut it in this Yorkshire man's kitchen: "butter means flavour, and that's what my cooking is all about" he said more than once. Martin is a seasoned professional at cooking on camera and his recipes are designed with the home cook firmly in mind.
Following him was Susur Lee, an internationally acclaimed chef who was born in Hong Kong and is now based in Canada. While not perhaps as effervescent as Martin, Lee has an endearing charm about him and was eager to engage his audience, encouraging them to ask him questions and frequently passing around obscure ingredients.
All in all, a tasty start to what is surely the highlight of the year for the capital's foodies.
Vincent Pouessel: Maine lobster corn dog with tarragon espuma
Serves 4 as a starter
For the lobster mousse: 500g firm white fish (eg halibut, cod, grouper) 300g lobster meat, poached for 4-5 minutes 250g cream 2 eggs tsp togarashi (Japanese mixed spice, available to buy in the UAE) 1 tbsp chopped chives 1 tbsp chopped basil 100g lobster tail meat, poached for 4-5 minutes (optional)
For the batter: 125g all purpose flour 125g cornmeal 1 tsp salt tsp baking soda tsp baking powder tsp togarashi 2 tsp sugar 375ml ice cold milk
For the tarragon and caramelised onion espuma: 3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced 1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 375g cream 1 tbsp chopped tarragon 4 egg whites salt and black pepper vegetable oil, for frying
To prepare the lobster mousse, cut the fish into small pieces and place in a food processor with three quarters of the cooked lobster meat. Blend until roughly chopped. With the motor running, gradually pour in the cream. By this point the mixture should be quite smooth. Add the eggs and the togarashi, season with salt and pepper.
Pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Dice the remaining lobster meat and fold into the mousse, along with the chopped chives and basil and transfer to a piping bag. In the absence of a piping bag, a plastic sandwich bag, with the corner cut off, can be used.
Lay a sheet of cling film out on a flat surface. Pipe a line of fish mousse (about 2cm thick and 15cm long) horizontally along the lower part of the cling film, the fold over the top half, pressing the cling film against the mousse, so that there are no gaps or air bubbles. Roll up tightly into a sausage shape and tie the ends together so it is air tight.
Bring a pan of water to a gentle simmer (about 75-80C), add the cling film-wrapped mousse and poach gently for 4-5 minutes. Place in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process.
To prepare the espuma, cook the onions in the butter for 15-20 minutes until soft and caramelised. Tip into a blender, blend to a purée, then pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Pour the cream into a saucepan and cook until reduced by half. Add the onions and balsamic vinegar to the cream and season. In the absence of an espuma gun, serve the sauce like this. Or, pour into the espuma gun canister and add the gas charger, shaking well.
To prepare the batter, tip all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir well. Add the cold milk a bit at a time, whisking continuously, until smooth with a pouring consistency.
Half fill a deep, heavy-bottomed pan with vegetable oil and heat to 180¿C/350¿F. Slice the cooked fish mousse into 3cm pieces (remove the cling film as you go) and dip into the batter, coating well. Carefully add the mousse slices to the pan of hot oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until light golden brown and crisp.
Thinly slice the lobster tail meat (if using). Arrange the "corn dogs" between four plates, with a slice of lobster on top and a little espuma foam (or sauce) on the side. Serve immediately.