Monday, 30 November -0001


Forget the three course dinner. Small plates are an exciting way to add pizzazz and variety to the way you cook – and eat, says Paul Gayler

Written by Melonie
Small dishes are becoming a big deal. No longer do we have to sit down to a three-course meal whenever we eat out. Instead, more and more restaurants are offering a menu of ‘small plates’, from which we can mix and match as we please.

Little bites of food amuse, stimulate and excite the palate. They give both the cook and the diner an opportunity to experiment with a variety of different ingredients, and there is always something to suit everyone’s taste – perfect for people who can never make up their mind.

The phenomenon isn’t new. It has its roots in some of the world’s greatest cuisines: think of the tapas of Spain, the antipasti of Italy, the dim sum of China, the mezze of the Middle East. What is new, however, is that these little dishes are now becoming the main event, rather than just something to awake the appetite before a meal. For diners, it’s a relaxed and sociable way of eating. For chefs, it’s an inspiring way to cook – an opportunity to play around with tastes, textures and flavours.

Small Bites, by Paul Gayler, with photography by Peter Cassidy (Kyle Books, £16.99).

Yuzu crab cocktail

  • ½ avocado, peeled and stoned
  • ⅛ tsp wasabi paste
  • 2 tbsp good-quality mayonnaise 
  • 2cm piece root ginger, peeled and grated 
  • 1 tbsp yuzu juice, available from good oriental stores (or lime juice)
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup 
  • 150g fresh white crabmeat 
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • trimmed mustard cress leaves and salmon caviar, to serve

Place the avocado and wasabi in a small bowl, and mash to a paste. Place to one side.

Combine the mayonnaise, ginger, yuzu (or lime) juice and ketchup to form a sauce. Add the crabmeat and season to taste.

To serve, place a spoonful of the mashed avocado in the base of four small cocktailstyle martini glasses. Top each with the crab mixture, and garnish with the cress leaves and salmon caviar.

Wonton crisps make a nice and simple accompaniment to the yuzu crab cocktail. Simply cut the wonton skins in half diagonally, then fry in hot oil at 180C/350F, until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper.

Bengali blackened salmon

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • ½ tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes 
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp sea salt 
  • 4 x 120g salmon fillets, skinned and boned
  • vegetable oil 
  • lime slices, to garnish

Mix together all the spices and the sea salt, then use to rub into both sides of the salmon pieces. Place the fish on a tray, cover, and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, heat up a frying pan over a high heat. Add a little oil to the pan, then cook the fillets for 2 minutes without moving them. Turn the fish over, cover, and cook for a further 2 minutes. While the exterior should look blackened, the fish should be lightly cooked inside.
Serve garnished with some thin slices of lime.

Black pudding, apple and bacon pies

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp freshly picked thyme 
  • 2 rashers of back bacon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp raisins, soaked in water until plump, drained
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped 
  • 170g black pudding
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 300g shortcrust pastry 
  • a little beaten egg Heat the oil in a frying pan.

When hot, add the onion and thyme and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the onion is softened. Raise the heat, add the bacon, raisins and apple, and fry until the bacon is cooked and the apple caramelised. Finally, add the black pudding.

Mix well together and cook until the mixture is well mashed up. Season to taste, remove from the heat and cool. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Lightly oil 12-15 small tartlet moulds (a mini muffin tin is also fine). Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick, then cut out 12 circles using a 6cm cutter. Cut out another 12 circles using a 5cm cutter, for the tops.

Line the moulds with the larger pastry circles, then add a spoonful of the black pudding mix. Brush around the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg before topping each pie with a smaller pastry round. Press down gently to seal and brush with the remaining beaten egg. Using a small knife, make a couple of slits in the top of each pie, then bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden.

Allow to stand for a moment or two before removing from the mould and serving.


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