Wednesday, April 2, 2014

sichuan pepper roasted duck

Whilst very briefly in Beijing recently, I was sent off to a wonderfully recommended Sichuan inspired restaurant. I have only just stopped glowing and my mouth no longer hums with the aftershock more commonly associated with a pretty severe session with a hardcore dentist. As absolutely delicious as it almost all was; the mouth numbing intensity that the sweet and innocent Sichuan peppercorn offers, in combination with the fried red chilli peppers which were in glorious abundance in the dishes, there is only so much a man can take.

Hoping to take the heat and intensity down a notch here, but try and retain the fragrant element of what this amazing cuisine does offer.

Sichuan pepper roasted duck with plum and star anise

Serves 4

4 duck legs
2 tblsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns

For the plum sauce
150g sugar
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
450g plums, halved and stoned
Juice of 1 lime
A dash of fish sauce, plus a little to taste if necessary
Steamed rice, to serve

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Pierce the skin of the duck all over with a fork. Combine the peppercorns with a teaspoon of salt and rub all over the duck legs so they are nicely coated. Place on a wire rack (with a tray underneath to catch the fat) in the oven.

Immediately turn the temperature down to 350F/180C/Gas 4 and cook for two hours until the skin is golden and the meat begins to flake away from the bone easily.

Meanwhile, make the plum sauce by combining the sugar in a saucepan with 200ml water, the star anise and the cinnamon. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for five minutes until slightly reduced. Add the plums and cook until they are soft and have broken down slightly (how long will depend on the size of your plums).

Take off the heat, squeeze in the lime juice and pour in the fish sauce. Taste and add a dash more fish sauce if you feel it. Spoon over the duck and serve immediately with steamed rice. Smother with a couple of dozen crispy red chillis here at your peril, this is absolutely optional.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the club burger at the lotus cafe

In the sleepy village of Lin Tong Mei Tsuen, there's a buzzing place called the Lotus Cafe. It's properly packed, delicious and outstanding, and there's no more point wasting time in coming up with more superlatives to add to that statement. I had a club burger, everyone else had a bit of everything from BLT pittas through fatty pork belly over rice to deep fried French toast with peanut butter and syrup. After a decent hike in the clouds above Yuen Long, believe me, it was properly outstanding.

In other news, a decent way with a pork burger to do at home if you fancy it.

Pork burgers

Serves 4

200 g minced pork
1 tblsp grain mustard
1 tblsp clear honey
1 tblsp sage, chopped
1 tblsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 egg yolk
2 tblsp breadcrumbs
Grated zest of a lemon
2 shallots, finely chopped
Olive oil

To serve
Bun or bread - anything works
Sliced red onions
Shaved Parmesan
Olive oil
Rocket leaves
Watercress sprigs

In a mixing bowl, mix together the pork, mustard, honey, sage, parsley, yolk, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and shallots.

Shape the pork mixture into 4 even-sized burgers.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add in the burgers and fry until golden brown on both sides and cooked through.

Serve the fried burgers between freshly griddled bread or toasted buns. Top the burgers with red onion, gherkins, Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, rocket and watercress.

Sauces and relishes at this stage are totally over to you. I'd throw on a fried egg and a bit of bacon myself, but that's just me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

a trip to the bbq man

A trip up to see the nice man who does great bbq pork and birds up the street is always a great treat, even though something you do more than once a week technically should fall outside the treat category. He's been doing his art forever, and the consistency alone of what is churned out has to be totally respected. Just a handful of fatty slices of char siu atop steamed rice and a
smattering of green onions and minced ginger is a polystyrene takeaway container and throwaway chopsticks of legends. I'll never tire of this.

Barbecuing at home (without any outdoor space I have to add) has its small but not impossible challenges and a set of why bothers when our friend does his so well. But when all that is said, he doesn't have ribs in his collection. This is easy slow long cooking simplicity. Smokey it may slightly fail on to a degree, but taste and texture wise, hard to beat without getting all too fancy.

Great barbecue ribs

Enough for 4

2 racks of small pork loin ribs - 5 or 6 ribs per person
1½ tsp smoked paprika
a good splash of soy sauce
a good splash of Worcestershire sauce
20g tomato ketchup
30g dark brown sugar
20g HP sauce
20g strong mustard

Place the racks curved-side down, and using a small knife to peel the edge of the translucent membrane away from the smaller end of the rack until you can get a grip of it. Pull this towards you, so the membrane comes away from the bones.

Mix together the marinade ingredients and rub about half into the ribs well. Put in a shallow dish, cover and leave for at least a couple of hours, turning once or twice during this time to make sure the entire rack is coated.

Heat the oven to 140°C. Cover the dish tightly with foil and cook for about 2½ hours until tender, basting once or twice during this time, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes. The racks ought to be close to falling apart by now but still remaining intact.

If possible, heat a barbecue or a griddle pan until hot, drizzle the ribs with the rest of the marinade and cook until blackened and charred. Serve immediately.

If it is not possible to barbecue over a fierce flame, crank up the oven to 200°C and conduct this last bit without any cover on the ribs until a crust appears.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

what to do if your nigiri just won't hold together

It's all about the rice you know. White hulled sushi rice, more often just labelled as sushi rice is a high quality short grain that is sticky and slightly sweet, but not to be mistaken for glutinous rice. the higher the quality of rice, the less likely there will be any broken grains. The real stuff has a good balance of starches so that the rice sticks together allowing just enough hold between moulding, plate, chopsticks and mouth.

All so very easy, so what do you do if you don't even get past the point where moulding and sticking together doesn't quite happen. You label that unlabelled tub of white rice at home that you thought was sushi rice 'NOT SUSHI RICE', that's what you do. Oh, and make a bloody Mary to have with your raw salmon atop slightly loose but delicious rice.


Serves about 8

400g Japanese sushi rice
400ml water
5 tblsp rice wine vinegar
3 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
200g piece of salmon at its absolute freshest
A little wasabi paste

To serve
6 tblsp dark soy sauce
30g Japanese pickled ginger

Wash the rice really well until the water rinses clear. Drain the rice in a colander and let it stand for 30 minutes. Place the rice in a pot and add the water (same volume as the rice as it was when it was unwashed). Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cover. Cook for 15 minutes or until the water evaporates and the rice sounds like it's starting to catch - good sign. Remove the cover and place a damp towel over the rice, and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, mix the vinegar with the sugar and salt until all dissolved.

Pour the sushi vinegar over cooked rice and mix it gently. You can do this in a wooden bowl for making sushi rice or in the pot by taking away from the heat and pouring the vinegar and mixing gently and evenly. Now leave it until it cools down to room temperature, still covered with a damp cloth to fight off the drying out bit that isn't good.

Using slightly wet hands shape the cooked rice into small, mouthful rectangles. Cut the fish across the grain into thin, similar sized slices to drape over the rice. Smear the top of each piece of rice with a little wasabi and cover neatly with a slice of fish.

Serve the sushi with the soy and pickled ginger and extra wasabi for the fiery types at the table. Once devoured, continue relabelling a few more random tubs in the kitchen while its fresh in the mind.

Friday, February 21, 2014

tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies, breadcrumbs

Seeing as burrata with tomatoes was the last thing I committed to paper, why not continue the theme I thought. Dull as it may seem, the simplicity of adding sharpness and salt to a tomato is a wonderful thing to do. As this is a baked number, plum tomatoes tend to hold their shape better than the majority of the round varieties, but don't let that stop you if round ones are what you have.

Baked tomatoes with mozzarella, anchovies and breadcrumbs

Serves 4

12 plum tomatoes
175g fresh breadcrumbs
8 anchovy fillets
2 large cloves garlic
a good handful of basil leaves
a ball of mozzarella
6 tblsp olive oil

Chop the anchovies, peel and finely chop the garlic and cut the mozzarella into small dice.

Preheat the oven to 220°c/gas 7. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Place the tomatoes skin-side down in a roasting tin so that they nudge up against one another.

Mix the tomato innards with the breadcrumbs, anchovies, garlic, basil, mozzarella and two tablespoons of the olive oil.

Season the stuffing with salt and black pepper, and pile the filling into the tomato halves. Pour over the remaining olive oil and bake for 25 minutes until the filling is golden.

Monday, February 3, 2014

the humble burrata

Just to set a little record straight. Burrata is not mozzarella. So there. Burrata isn't even buffalo mozzarella, even though it is made from the milk of that particular beast.

As I understand, burrata is formed of the same stringy cheese that makes up the solid ball of a mozzarella, but rather than a ball, these strings are formed into a ball but rather a hollow pouch and filled with fresh cream and the softer trimmings from the mozzarella making process.

The thin casing of the burrata is literally just there to hold the delicious contents within. If it's at all chewy or thick, your burrata is getting on a bit. At the end of the day, it has nothing really to do with the packaging, it's all about the filling.
Eat burrata as nature intended, plain of course, and on crisp bread, but also try it in salads and pastas, top off a pizza right before eating and drop into a soup, and as dessert. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

pizza and biryani, what a combo

If ever there was a combination sure to surprise and delight, pizza followed by a killer biryani actually works, trust me as I wasn't one bit convinced to begin with either. The pizza needs a decent hit of chilli fire, obviously, and an open mind, definitely. This recipe here is only just a starting point, and there really is no pizza recipe out there that is the definitive article. Toppings are totally at everyone's discretion. This blog post is actually now so messed up that the photo neither reflects a biryani or a puff pastry based mushroom and taleggio pizza. What the photo actually is an incredibly delicious pizza had in Weymouth while watching the Olympic sailing in the Summer of 2012, that was a great combination. 

Mushroom and taleggio pizza

Serves 4

Puff pastry provides an instant base to the pizza, and the crust stays crisp slightly longer than regular pizza dough. A nice salad of wild rocket leaves with Parmesan shavings would be great with it.

25g unsalted butter
3 tblsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
450g mixed mushrooms (such as girolle, portobello, shiitake and chestnut mushrooms), roughly sliced into a similar size
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
375g puff pastry
1 medium egg, beaten
4-5 tblsp grated Parmesan
100g taleggio cheese, torn into small pieces
Handful of oregano, leaves picked and roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Heat a pan with the butter and olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until golden brown. (You may need to do this in two batches if your pan is not wide enough.) Season well with salt and pepper. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

Roll out the pastry on to a lightly floured board to a large rectangle about 3mm thick. Slide this on to a baking tray. Using a long knife, lightly score a 1cm border around the edge of the rectangle, taking care not to cut through the pastry. Brush all over the pastry with the beaten egg. Layer the sautéed mushrooms around the inner rectangle of the pastry. Sprinkle the parmesan and taleggio over the mushrooms. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry has puffed and browned. 

Scatter the chopped oregano leaves over the pizza and drizzle with a little olive oil before slicing into four and demolishing until the biryani is ready to tackle.