””

Singapore Cooks

A recipe for spiced salmon trout confit with cauliflower cream

Marine surveyor Chia Wee Loon spends time plating his dishes and sketches them before cooking

From elegantly twirled angel hair pasta adorned with micro cress and prawns to sous-vide lamb rack garnished with smears of butternut squash puree and smoked potato cream, marine surveyor Chia Wee Loon's home-cooked meals resemble those served in fine-dining restaurants.

The 35-year-old plates his food with finesse. Armed with tweezers and plating spoons, he meticulously constructs his dishes on warm white plates, keeping a close eye on the balance of colours and shapes of the components.

The self-confessed perfectionist says: "I enjoy creating Instagramworthy dishes that entertain the eyes and the palate."

His close attention to detail was on full display when he spent 10 minutes plating one of his favourite dishes, spiced salmon trout confit with cauliflower cream, the recipes for which he shares here.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

The fillets of salmon trout are soaked overnight in oil that has been infused with aromatics such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and thyme.

He also uses the flavourful oil to stir-fry asparagus and X.O. prawns.

The trickiest part of cooking the spiced salmon trout confit is gauging whether the fish is cooked.

That can be difficult, he says, as the fish is lightly baked and looks like bright orange-red sashimi. After much experimentation, he nailed the timing. But he adds that one can stick a cooking thermometer into the fish, and it is done if the temperature is 60 deg C.

To yield a "more presentable" salmon trout, he brines it for 45 minutes. This prevents albumin, a white coagulated protein, from oozing out of the fish when it is being cooked. He serves the fish with cauliflower cream for a velvety texture.

Appearance is paramount to Mr Chia's dishes, so he spends time fussing over the garnishes. He had no qualms re-plating what seemed like a perfectly assembled dish of a salmon trout fillet that was placed parallel to a smeared line of cauliflower cream as "the amount of cream is not proportionate to the fish".

To add volume to the salmon trout, he carefully tops it with micro greens such as red-veined sorrel, chervil and red mustard, all of which he buys fortnightly from a vegetable farm.

For a dramatic finish, he places a squid-ink chip made with deep-fried sago pearls next to the fish.

His passion for plating dishes was sparked three years ago when he received Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook as a Christmas gift. The book contains recipes and the cooking philosophies of Eleven Madison Park, a renowned fine-dining restaurant in New York.

Though Mr Chia had not heard of the restaurant, he was intrigued by the luscious food photography in the cookbook.

He set himself a challenge: To replicate the presentation of the simpler dishes at home. That proved to be addictive and he started turning to YouTube and Instagram to see how chefs compose their dishes.

"I was bad at drawing in school, but cooking has uncovered my artistic side," he says.

These days, he plans and sketches his dishes before cooking, or whenever inspiration hits. He cooks three to four times a week for his wife, Ivy, 32, an accountant. They have no children.

Mr Chia's visually stunning dishes, including saffron prawn aglio olio and ribeye steak, can be viewed on his Instagram account (@snowcology).

The site is named after his two dogs, Snowy and Coco, and cat, Codie, who appear in the food photos. He says: "I can document my food and pets at one go and preserve precious memories of them."


SPICED SALMON TROUT CONFIT WITH CAULIFLOWER CREAM

INGREDIENTS

For the spiced oil:

500ml canola oil

5 stalks lemongrass, flattened with the back of a knife

10 bay leaves

10 kaffir lime leaves

10 sprigs thyme

20 cloves garlic, crushed

10 shallots, peeled and crushed

50g ginger, thinly sliced

2 tsp ground white pepper

2 tsp ground coriander seeds

2 tsp fennel seeds

For the brine solution:

100g salt

100g brown sugar

1 litre tap water

4 100g salmon trout fillets, skinned

For the cauliflower cream:

2 peeled shallots, chopped

10 curry leaves

1 tsp sugar

50g unsalted butter

250g cauliflower, cut into florets

150ml fresh milk

Salt and pepper to taste

METHOD

1. To make the spiced oil: Place all the ingredients in a pot set over low heat and simmer for two hours. Cool and remove the solids. Pour the oil into a jar and refrigerate overnight. The oil can be kept for up to three months.

2. To make the brine solution: In a mixing bowl, dissolve salt and brown sugar in the water.

3. Place the salmon trout fillets in the brine solution for 45 minutes in the refrigerator.

4. Remove the fish fillets from the brine solution. Gently rinse them under running tap water and pat dry with kitchen towels. Set aside.

5. Pour 450ml of the oil made earlier into a tray and soak the salmon trout fillets in it. Marinate the fish overnight in the refrigerator.

6. On the day of cooking, remove the fish from the tray of confit oil. Discard the oil.

7. Preheat the oven to 60 deg C.

8. Drizzle 1 Tbs of the remaining confit oil over each salmon trout fillet evenly. Bake for 25 minutes.

9. To make the cauliflower cream: In a pan set over medium heat, saute the shallots, curry leaves and sugar in butter until the shallots turn translucent.

10. Add the cauliflower florets and saute the mixture for five minutes. Add the milk and cook the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower becomes fork-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

11. Drain the cauliflower mixture and reserve the liquid. Using a blender, process the cooked cauliflower with 150ml of the reserved cooking liquid until it becomes a puree.

12. Remove the baked salmon trout from the oven.

13. To plate the dish: Divide the cauliflower cream among four plates. Use a spoon to draw a line through the cream in the centre of the plate. Place the salmon trout fillet parallel to the line. Optional garnishes include micro cress and squid-ink sago chips.

Serves four

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Dishy eats '. Print Edition | Subscribe