Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sean Armstrong with photography by Toaki Okano
Random House - $49.99

At first I thought who is Sean Armstrong and then I read he had headed up the kitchen at my favourite Auckland restaurant, O'Connell Street Bistro, and I was an immediate convert.

Sean Armstrong’s Kitchen introduces this young and innovative new food writer. While the book draws on his 16 years in professional kitchens, it’s the home cook he aims to interest and inspire. The book is a delectable collection of dishes he has cooked for his own friends and family and some favourites from his years working in restaurants.

With photography from Toaki Okano that’s so vibrant the reader can almost smell the brioche, savour the oxtail risotto and crunch into the smoked fishcakes, Sean Armstrong’s Kitchen is structured around: weekend brunches, lazy Sunday lunches, quick tapas, dinner-party winners and blissful desserts.
Cooking for guests doesn’t always have to be about food that have taken hours of preparation with obscure ingredients,’ says Sean. ‘So I’ve included plenty of familiar and easy dishes. However, since the recession has made entertaining in the new eating out, I’ve included plenty of recipes to impress your guests! Some ingredients I use are familiar, some a little more unusual, but the formula for a successful meal is always the same — use the freshest, best-quality ingredients you can get your hands on, and make as much as you can from scratch.’

The best chefs are happy to share their secrets, so among the 90-plus recipes are tips on technique and the best ingredients to use (always the freshest!), as well easy but still elegant recipes that cover the basics.'

Sean credits his dad’s creative (if not always successful!) approach to food as giving him the push towards cooking. That passion became his vocation in 1993 when he started out as an apprentice chef at the Centra Hotel in Auckland. Clearly it was the right move for him — his talents were quickly recognised with the Apprentice Chef of the Year award.

With his qualifications under his belt, Sean moved to England to work in the Michelin-starred restaurant, Green House, in London’s Mayfair. After travels through Europe, Sean returned to London and worked in several different restaurants including gastro pubs and small Italian eateries. He then teamed up with Andrew Green — a man he describes as ‘the one of the most amazing and influential cooks’ he knows — to open the multiple award-winning Corney and Barrow, a restaurant in London’s theatre district.
Back home in Auckland, Sean headed up the kitchen at the O’Connell Street Bistro in Auckland and was chosen as a New Zealand Beef & Lamb Ambassador for 2001/2002. From O’Connell Street Bistro, and still in association with O’Connell Street’s owner Chris Upton, Sean opened Prime Bistro, which won the Metro magazine Best Restaurant for Lunch .

While at Prime, Sean continued his dedication to preparing fresh food in-house, and began making his own handcrafted breads. Those breads proved so popular he then launched Loaf, an artisan bakery that has risen to supply 30,000 loaves a week to 200 restaurants. Loaf also bakes specialty cakes.
In between cooking, Sean has also found time to branch out into television, with appearances on The Living Channel’s ‘April in the Afternoon’ programme.

I love the look of the following recipe and as soon as it is fig season and my friend Jack starts giving us figs again I am going to make it for a long, lazy Sunday lunch:

Sean's best roasted pork with caramelised figs:
1.5kg pork loin roast
sea salt
¼ bunch fresh sage, roughly chopped
¼ bunch oregano, roughly chopped
½ bunch soft thyme, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
freshly ground black pepper
butcher’s twine
12 fresh figs, topped and tailed
2 tbsp brown sugar
olive oil
100ml sauvignon blanc
1 litre chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 200°C, using the fan-bake setting.
To prepare the meat, lay it skin side down on a large chopping board and butterfly the pork by cutting approximately 1cm up from the skin almost all the way through lengthways (stop before cutting through). Repeat the process on the thicker piece of the pork until you have one large flat piece of meat. Turn it over and, with a sharp knife, score the pork skin with a criss-cross pattern, then rub sea salt into it. Turn the pork back over and cover the meat with herbs, lemon zest and crushed garlic. Season with pepper.
Starting from the opposite end to the skin, roll towards the centre and continue to roll until the pork has formed a nice tight roll with the scored skin on the outside. Tie butcher’s twine at evenly spaced intervals around the loin to keep it together. Place the pork in a roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes. Increase the temperature to 220°C and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.

While the pork is cooking, prepare the figs. Place them in a small roasting tray and season with a little salt, the brown sugar, olive oil and some pepper. Roast at 220°C for 10–12 minutes until the figs are soft and the brown sugar has caramelised.

Test the pork with a small knife. If the juices run clear the pork is ready. Remove it from the tray and rest in a warm place until ready to serve.
Return the roasting tray to the heat on your stove top and deglaze the pan with the wine. Reduce until the alcohol has almost evaporated, then add the stock. Reduce by half and add the butter. Season with lemon juice and pepper.

To serve, place the pork on a large wooden chopping board together with the whole figs. Set a sharp knife and a pouring jug of sauce out alongside. Serves 6

Doesn't that sound just so yummy ?! Can't wait to make it. There are loads of others too, high on my list is his Crispy Sweetbreads with Onion Marmalade and Brioche, and of course being a passionate consumer of pork belly I must try Sean's Pork Belly and Red-Wine Risotto with sage butter.
I need time off from the blog to try all the mouth-watering recipes in this appealing new book released just this week. Foodies, don't miss it.

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