Kurland’s Thai calamari salad

Today’s demonstration on The Global Table is by Greg Gautier, the head chef at magnificent Kurland on the Garden Route, whose recipe for a Thai salad with calamari mint, coriander, sour fruit and chilli makes for a refreshing and fragrant starter. Also included is footage from a few of the pursuits one may enjoy while in The Crags, as well as some scenes from the historical 700-hectare estate itself.

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Thai calamari salad – The Recipe

As Greg points out on the video, this dish has three components – the salad, the dressing and the calamari itself, though the spoonful or two of sticky jasmine rice which he recommends you serve it with could be considered a fourth component. Note that it’s difficult to supply exact quantities, especially for the dressing, as it’s really all down to achieving a taste that is completely balanced in terms of hot, sweet, salty and sour – in that order!  A good guideline in terms of the hot and sour parts though is to use the juice from one lime for every chilli used, Greg advises.

For the dressing:

Take 1 small handful of coriander stalks, chop finely, then pound to a fine paste with a pestle and mortar – use a little coarse salt to help it along. Do the same with 5 red chillies – you can use green chillies too but the red ones are more aesthetic. Also pound two medium cloves of garlic to a fine paste – it should give you about half a teaspoon of pulp.

Squeeze the juice from 5 limes; add it to the three pastes and mix through. Add some white or palm sugar to taste – start with two or three teaspoons and add more if needed. Also add a good few shakes of fish sauce to taste. If you’d like the dressing hotter, add a pinch of dried red chilli.

Combine all the ingredients till the sugar is nicely dissolved and set aside.

For the salad:

For each starter portion, take a handful of fresh coriander leaves (you’ll have reserved the stalks for the dressing) and a slightly smaller handful of mint. Add some thinly sliced starfruit – cut it lengthways and use about three or four “wings” from one fruit per person – but do watch out for the tough little edge on each wing. Also add five Cape gooseberries per serving – these can be halved and quartered to add texture. Lastly, add a few strips of red onion – about half a smallish one is ample.

For the calamari:

For each person, allow one calamari steak (tube) which you slice open lengthways on one side. Flap it open, cut off the little edges to form a rectangle, then divide that rectangle into three slices. You’ll probably only need two of the slices for each serving though.

Using a sharp knife, first score each slice in one direction, then in the other direction to form a diamond-like criss-cross pattern on one side

Cut each slice into four triangular pieces – if you’re not sure how to do it, refer to the video demonstration, as the method is important to ensure each little triangular piece of calamari curls into a little “tube” while it’s being blanched. It also serves to tenderise the calamari.

Blanch the eight triangles of calamari in a pot of boiling water until they form curly tubes – aim for a maximum of 30 seconds. Remove from the water, drain and toss in a little bit of fish sauce.

To assemble:

Add about two teaspoons of dressing to both the calamari and the salad and toss gently using your fingertips. Pile onto a plate and serve with sticky jasmine rice.

Profile: Greg Gautier – head chef at Kurland

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

After graduating with a culinary diploma in Johannesburg in 2001, Greg worked as a comis chef at Entabeni game reserve.  His head chef at the time, Clinton Drake, suggested Greg go overseas to learn more about the art of cooking.

“I hit London with a lot of confidence and walked into the back door of a restaurant called Le Gavroche – just like our friends Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes had done decades before,” Greg recalls. “I spoke with Michel Roux, the chef/owner, who put me on a waiting list and referred me to The Wolsley, a new grand café that was opening in Picadilli.”

It was there that Greg’s career really began – “through blood, sweat and tears”, he quips. “I’d worked in the café on the veg and meat section for a few months when I received a letter from Le Gavroche stating I should report for duty on the fish section. Bear in mind that Gordon refers to this section as ‘Death Row’ – enough said!

“I spent my days filleting and poaching fish, picking wriggling langoustines, whelks and scallops, dicing and slicing, and generally having a hard time, but was good to see how a real kitchen operates. Nevertheless, I’d run into an altercation with the Portuguese pot washer and left after the season. Pity…”

Greg’s next source of experience was in the Cotswolds, at a gastro pub called The Swan, under Bob Parkinson, “who’d left the rigours of London life to start a better quality life in the country”.

“Bob’s food was regional and seasonal; never pretentious and big in flavour. It was very French, English, Italian and Thai, though he kept classic dishes classic. In my career I’d never seen such a true form of cooking that brought back nostalgia and preserved a heritage in the cuisine of centuries ago.

“Alas, my visa ran out and I headed home, wondering where I’d be able to reproduce my new-found passion for regional, seasonal cooking.

“Ahhh, Kurland … That’s where I am now, and that’s what I do here.”

10 Questions: Greg Gautier

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

1. Where and how did your love of cooking begin?
I remember both my grandmother and my mother cooking. They never had to use child psychology on me to help them out in the kitchen – I’ve always been keen, and cooking for mates became a huge source of delight for me. I remember doing steamed pork fillet, with plum and ginger, as one of my trials for some mates and they loved it. I’ve never looked back.

2. Where have the ideas and influences come from for the dishes that you have refined at Kurland?
Most of what I do at Kurland is based on food that I learned how to cook in the English countryside. The food was always about the area it was sourced from, and the season it was sourced in. Kurland is a country hotel and people demand real food, so country cooking was the way forward here. But cooking with Gran and Mum definitely brought out feelings of nostalgia in my cooking, and there are also strong hints of Italian cooking coming through.

3. What are a few of your current favourites on the Kurland menu and why do these dishes work so well?
For lunch, a simple dish of freshly steamed Saldanha Bay black mussels with red onion, white wine and parsley. For dinner, I love my paella with saffron rice, harissa, caramelised onion, chorizo, mussels, calamari, tiger prawns and squid ink. And I always enjoy gremoulata as a condiment.

4. You’ve recently begun experimenting with making your own cured meats. Is there any particular direction or style of cooking that you’d like to explore further in future?
It’s hard to say, really. Every year, my food becomes more refined (probably because it’s getting easier and easier!) Although the food I am currently doing is “country”, I think the various components that make up the dishes will start to become more pronounced.

5. What are the most important lessons that working as a chef has taught you thus far?
You can never take short cuts. Keep it clean, neat and simple – and most of all consistent.

6. There seems to be a sense of camaraderie among you and your team. How important is teamwork in a well-functioning kitchen and how do you ensure everyone works well together?
That’s a biggie… and it’s not always fun and games. I can get a bit irritated by childish behaviour, and people do get tired, I guess it’s simply a matter of keeping cool and collected. The rest will follow.

7. Who are your culinary heroes and why?
I owe my passion for cooking to Bob Parkinson (chef/owner of The Swan, in the Cotswolds). He was a great leader and he inspired me during my time there. I also love the Irishman Richard Corrigan. There are so many good ones out there!

8. What are the five fridge/freezer/store cupboard ingredients that you can’t live without?
Eggs, sherry vinegar, artichokes, olive oil – and cows!

9. Which of your kitchen tools or pieces of equipment do you rate the highest?
My knife.

10. There is a growing enthusiasm for fresh, authentic and organic produce on the Garden Route. Is it becoming less difficult to find good suppliers and top-quality ingredients than in the past?
People are becoming more and more aware of exotic ingredients and, as a result, more farmers are growing them. There’s a couple near Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route who have a label called Fresh Ideas – and they are doing very well in growing and preserving their produce on the same day. I remember them making peppadew jam a while back – with peppadews that were picked on the day!

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