My thoughts on The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – and a delicious recipe to farewell summer

This coming weekend in New Zealand we turn our clocks back, which heralds the end of daylight saving and, sad but true, summer. Luckily the days are still warm with plenty of sunshine but there is a definite chill creeping into the mornings and evenings.

I can’t say I’m entirely sorry about this shift of the seasons because I do enjoy the change that each new season brings. Time to store away the sandals and sundresses and get out the merino jumpers and boots. Think of all those rich winter colours. Beautiful. Also time to start cooking differently and this is the part I particularly enjoy. For me winter means apple crumble, soups simmering on the stove and rich casseroles cooking long and slow in the oven.

But before the clocks change and the nights really start to draw in I thought I would have one last nod to summer and share with you one of my favourite summertime recipes. One might say it’s barely a recipe, more an assembly of wonderful ingredients.

You’ll find the recipe below for Pan-seared Salmon with a Potato, Avocado and Watercress salad but just before I get to that I feel inspired to write a book review this week.

I have just finished reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, which is the first novel in the Cormoran Strike series. The author of this wonderful book is Robert Galbraith and if you have never heard of him let me enlighten you. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for none other than J.K. Rowling, creator and author of the Harry Potter series.

Before I impart my thoughts on Cormoran Strike and his first adventure I would like to touch briefly on J.K. Rowling’s most famous works – the fabulous, incredible and unmatchable Harry Potter series. It was not until the fourth book in the series had been released that I became interested in the boy wizard. I was living in London at the time and fascinated by the talk and hype surrounding it. So I decided to give it a try and bought the first book. I loved it.

Before I’d even read the last page I was down at the bookstore buying the second book, then the third and fourth and so on. Remember those days when you had to actually go to the bookstore and buy the book rather than just click ‘Buy’ on your Kindle?

I recall how excited I was to get on the train to work every morning, desperate to grab a seat so I could delve for that precious half hour into Harry’s world. Good luck to anyone who tried to talk to me. (Mind you, what am I saying? Chitchat on the London underground? Yeah, right!) And another thing – no ‘adult covers’ for me. Since when should one be embarrassed about reading a children’s book? I sat there with my precious copy in the original cover art and announced silently to the world – yes, I’m reading a children’s book and proud of it.

Now back to The Cuckoo’s Calling. I consider myself to be reasonably eclectic when it comes to reading although I have my favourite genres. And I suppose my all-time favourite if you were to press me would be British crime fiction. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Robert Galbraith was in fact J.K. Rowling and that she was writing a series of books about a London-based private detective. Right up my street!

Her chief protagonist is ex-military Cormoran Strike, who had his lower leg blown off while serving in Afghanistan. Strike is a large hulk of a man who at the beginning of the book is failing in both his personal and professional life. He is a flawed but wonderfully real character who I took an instant liking to.

Then there is Robin Ellacott, his feisty and clever assistant who arrives at his office one morning as a temp on a one-week assignment but becomes so intrigued with the case that she decides to stay on. Robin couldn’t be more different from Strike and yet she is just as likeable. The slow building of their trust and admiration for each other’s skills and strengths is a compelling and endearing part of the story.

Of course at the core of the book is a case for our private detective – the suicide of a famous supermodel. A family member of the model is convinced her death is no suicide and hires Strike to prove as much. Pleased to finally have a pay cheque and a distraction from his turbulent personal life, Strike throws himself into the investigation and one by one tracks down every person of interest (and they’re a motley crew – everything from celebrities and supermodels to the hired help and the homeless) until he has a clear picture of what really happened. His interview skills and deductive powers make for a fantastic read and you feel that you are there at Strike’s side throughout.

Once again J.K. Rowling has created truly memorable characters. Cormoran and Robin are a complete delight and come alive on the page. The narrative flows so effortlessly, the dialogue so natural that you don’t even notice the writing. The very second I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling I downloaded the second novel in the series, The Silkworm, and are now powering through it. I find myself going to bed earlier and earlier so I can get in more reading time.

And I think this is an appropriate moment to address the common complaint voiced by people who don’t read as much as they would like – I just never seem to find the time to read. Well, I have the answer and it is simply this. Make sure you are reading the right book. If you are reading a book that is impossible to put down, trust me, you will find time to read.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction, I suggest The Cuckoo’s Calling as a worthy contender to test this theory. Start reading and see if you can put it down!

 

Now back to my delicious salmon and potato salad. This is a wonderful combination of flavours and textures. I like to use the Microgreen watercress in this salad but regular watercress would be absolutely fine. When you’re cooking the potatoes it’s important to watch carefully and take them off the heat once they are just cooked. If the potatoes are overcooked they’ll fall apart in the salad and you’ll end up with bits of potato.

The same goes for choosing your avocado. I’ve been known to stand at the avocados in a supermarket for five minutes until I’ve found the perfect one. Still firm but with a little give to the touch. I find overripe avocados that are too soft have an unpleasant edge to their taste and end up being a mushy mess in your salad.

As for the dressing, this would be lovely with just some olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning if you wanted to keep it simple. But the creamy dressing below makes it feel a bit more special and the sharpness of the mustard and lemon juice cuts through the rich salmon beautifully.

It also looks stunning on the plate – this dish gets all the senses going!

 

Pan-seared Salmon with Potato, Avocado and Watercress Salad

Serves 4

500g new/gourmet potatoes

1 large avocado, diced

3 spring onions, chopped

50g watercress

4 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp lemon juice

Salt, pepper

4 x salmon fillets

 

Give the potatoes a quick wash and transfer them to a pot. Cover them with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer until they’re just cooked, checking regularly with a knife.

Wash the watercress and wrap in some kitchen paper to remove any excess water.

Once the potatoes are done, drain and rinse in cold water to stop them cooking and leave to cool.

Heat a frying pan to a medium heat. Season the salmon fillets and rub them with a little olive oil. Once the pan is heated cook the salmon for a few minutes on each side or until they’re done to your liking. I always leave the skin on while they cook and then it’s very easy to remove. The salmon will turn a milky pink as it cooks but to check poke a knife through the thickest part and if the meat flakes easily then it’s cooked. (I prefer my salmon to remain a little translucent in the middle but that’s a personal preference.)

While the salmon is cooking, make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, a bit at a time and tasting as you go until you’re happy.

Chop the cooled potatoes and add to a bowl with the spring onions, avocado and the watercress. Add the dressing and carefully stir through.

Serve with the salmon fillets and some lemon wedges for spritzing.

This dish is a lovely way to farewell summer. But fear not. All is not lost – we have some delicious autumnal ingredients and dishes to enjoy in the weeks to come.

Salmon & Watecress

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