The Seychelles, Part Five: Cooking in Paradise

This is the thirteenth post in a series on the French-themed trip I took last summer.  This is the final post about our trip to the Seychelles.  In previous posts,  I wrote about bats in the sky and on the plate, the market in the capital city, Victoria, the rare flora and fauna of the Seychelles, and the remote island of La DIgue.  In earlier posts, we visited La Réunion, the French island colony in the Indian Ocean, where I tried French-influenced Indian cuisine, suggested an AOC for Chouchou de Cirque de Salazie, and visited the marché in St. Pierre, where we had caramelized banana jam. In case you missed them, read my earlier posts on how I became such a Francophile, come along on a Parisian food tour inspired by David Lebovitz, see me try out his recipe for pain d’épices au chocolat, read my homage to lovely Montmartre, and see the Space Invaders in Paris and the street art of Belleville.   

*     *     *

Later on the trip, when my French had improved (kréol, not so much), I had the marvelous opportunity to learn local Seychellois kréol cooking at the Four Seasons Resort.  Taught once a week, this class normally hosts 4 students, but I lucked out and had a private lesson with Chef Sherla Mathurin.  We cooked in an outdoor kitchen with a unobstructed view of famed Petite Anse beach, and prepared a menu of typical local foods.

Chef Sherla Mathurin

Chef Sherla was delightful.  Aside from gently correcting my kitchen errors, she shared the story of how she came to be a cook at The Four Seasons.  She was born and raised on Mahé, Seychelles’ main island, and learned to cook at a young age by necessity.  She started out by helping her single mother cooking simple creole meals in the kitchen.  She later found that she enjoyed not only cooking but also baking, and by her early teens formed a business with her mother baking cakes to order for her community.  Years later, she enrolled in the local tourism school, where she gained professional training as a chef.  One of her early jobs led to a prized opportunity to be the personal chef to the Shaykah of Bahrain, a position she held for 6 years, until she returned to the Seychelles when her son fell ill.  She described her Bahrain experience as a formative one.  She spent full days in the kitchen preparing individual meals for the members of the royal family, and different international cuisines depending on the whim of the Shaykah.  Often, Chef Sherla said, she would prepare an international buffet for the Shaykah which would spread the full length of a long table; the Shaykah would cruise the table from one end to the other, tasting a spoonful of each dish.  When she came to the end of the table, her meal was complete.  While this sounds like a whole lot of work, Chef Sherla is grateful for the experience.  Because of the variety of foods the royal family wished to eat, and with no expense spared, she learned to cook nearly every world cuisine.

When she returned to the Seychelles, Chef Sherla was hired to cook the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons, which includes both créole and international foods.  She said she gets a lot of pleasure from sharing the food of her roots, simple creole dishes, with the international guests who pass through.

After a very enjoyable class (especially with my mise-en-place already prepared), I was excited to share the Seychellois dishes I had made with my family.  Before I left, I asked her about bat curry, the dish Seychelles is famous for.  “We used to serve it here at the Four Seasons,” she said, and I was expecting her to tell me it was taken off the menu for lack of interest.  Instead, she said that new regulations had been instated, which made it more difficult to legally procure bats for consumption (hard to believe, given the large flocks that flew overhead every night).

Fear not, there is no bat featured in this post, either. The menu consists of octopus salad, fish curry with creole rice, and for dessert, banana fritters.  All of these dishes capture local flavors: abundant seafood from the Indian Ocean, curry from the cuisine of Indian laborers, and tropical banana.

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Créole Octopus Salad

Eating this salad was the first time I enjoyed eating octopus.  That’s because it’s prepared in a traditional local way by cooking the octopus with papaya, a natural tenderizer.  If any of you find octopus’s sometimes rubbery textture off-putting, this will take care of that problem.

Ingredients

150 g octopus (1/4 pound)

30g bell pepper (1/4 cup)

30g tomato (1/4 cup)

10g onion (1 T)

8g spring onion (1 T)

8g salt (1T)

2g black pepper  (1 tsp)

2g olive oil (1tsp)

10g lemon juice (1 T)

20g chilli (2 T)

02g mesclun greens (about an ounce)

Technique

1.  Cut octopus into small pieces.

2.  Boil octopus in a pot of water with a piece of papaya (tenderizes) until tender.

3.  Simmer octopus in boiling water 2 to 3 ties to prevent the skin from ripping off the meat.

4.  Remove cooked octopus and allow to cool.

5.  Combine remiaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add octopus, and season with lemon juice.

*     *     *

Créole Fish Curry

Ingredients

200g fish cut in chunks (such as snapper) (1/2 lb)

40g chopped onion (1/2 cup)

230g chopped fresh tomato (1 cup)

15g crushed garlic (2 T)

4g turmeric powder (2 tsp)

30g olive oil (3T)

salt and pepper to taste

1g curry leaves

10g curry powder (1 T)

10g ginger (1 T)

30g coconut milk (3T)

20g cubed eggplant (2T)

20g chopped coriander (2T)

creole rice (below)

Technique

1.  Season cubed fish with salt, curry powder, turmeric and marinate for 15-30 minutes.  Lightly pan fry and set aside.

2.  Pan fry cubed eggplant and set aside.

3.  Heat oil over low heat in a heavy skillet.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, curry leaves and stir for a minute.

4.  Add salt, peper, curry powder, chili powder or fresh chili, then add turmeric.  Stir for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and coriander.

5.  Deglaze with water or stock and reduce for a few minutes.

6.  Add coconut milk and curry leaves, simmer for 2 more minutes.

7.  Add prepared fish and simmer for 5 minutes.

8.  Add fried eggplant and stir for 30 seconds.

9.  Finish with a squeeze or fresh lemon juice and garnish with fresh coriander.

10. Serve over creole rice (recipe follows).

Créole Rice

Ingredients

300g basmati rice (1 cup)

200g chopped onion (1 cup)

3 Tbsp sunflower oil

200g diced bell pepper (1 cup)

8 curry leaves

11/2 Tbsp cinnamon

30g garlic (3T)

30g ginger (3T)

5g cloves (1/2 T)

2 Tbsp turmeric powder

salt and ground cumin to taste

2 cups water

Technique

1.  Saute onion, garlic, ginger, cloves and then add curry leaves and cinnamon powder.

2.  Add turmeric and cumin.

3.  Add rice, season with salt and pepper, and stir.

4.  Add water and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes until fluffy.  Stir before serving.

*    *     *

Banana Fritters

Ingredients

750 g all purpose flour  (3 1/3 cups)

3 eggs

300g sugar (1 1/3 cups)

15g baking powder (11/2 T)

500g ripe banana, coarsely mashed. (4-5)

Vanilla extract (1tsp)

Milk

Oil for deep-drying

Optional: powdered sugar, vanilla or other ice cream

Technique

1.  Mix egg and sugar together with a fork.

2.  Add flour and baking powder and stir well.

3.  Add mashed banana and enough milk to make a batter (slightly thicker than pancake batter).  Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

4.  Deep fry for a few minutes in oil until golden.

5.  Drain on paper towels.

6.  Serve hot with a dusting of powdered sugar or a scoop of ice cream.

With Executive Chef Jesse Olsen.

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9 responses

  1. A very nice post with lovely photos. I have a question regarding the octopus salad. In the list of ingredients you have !/4 lb. of boiled octopus. In the directions you say to boil the octopus until tender…is that a second boiling of the octopus.

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  5. My husband and I have just returned from a sailing trip round the inner islands. We are inviting friends to look ar our pictures and for a Seychlloise supper. Thanks for these recipes. They will be perfect!

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