Friday, 22 April 2011

Farmhouse stir-fried pork with green peppers (nong jia chao rou)

So I mentioned I believe that I'm a big fan of Fuschia Dunlop and have recently been cooking from her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

My next foray, after Dong'an Chicken has been Nong Jia Chao Rou, or Farmhouse stir-fried pork with green peppers.  Strangely, as one of the things that I like about both Sichuan and Hunan cookery is the regions' exuberant use of chillis, those Hunan recipes that I have tried from the book so far have been extremely mild on the hot and spicy front and this was no exception.

Apparently this is one of the most popular dishes in Hunan cuisine, found in almost every home and restaurant in the province and yet rarely included in cookery books.  Which  of course is where Ms. Dunlop comes up trumps yet again - bringing to life a dish from a vibrant regional cuisine that would otherwise be little known to us.

I'm not sure what the green peppers used in China would be like but Fuschia suggests using the long, light green, mildly hot peppers found in Turkish or Greek supermarkets which luckily is exactly what I have access to here in my North London kitchen.

The recipe that follows is taken (with a few minor changes) from Revolutionary Chines Cookbook ..again, I strongly suggest buying a copy.

Farmhouse Stir-fried Pork with Green Peppers

250g long light green (thin skinned) peppers, stem discarded then sliced at an angle into 3cm chunks
50g streaky bacon, thinly sliced
200g lean pork, thinly sliced
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp dark soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp black fermented (salted) black beans, rinsed
2 tbsp lard

Add the Shaoxing wine and soy sauces to the pork slices in a bowl and set aside to marinate briefly.

Wipe the wok with a little oil or lard and heat over a medium flame. Stir fry the peppers for a good 5-10 minutes, pressing the pepper pieces down with a wooden spoon occasionally. When tender and fragrant and skins starting to pucker set aside.

Reheat the wok (make sure that there aren't any pepper seeds left in the wok) over a high flame until it starts to smoke then add the lard and swirl it around the wok. Add the bacon and stir fry until starting to turn golden.

Add the garlic and black beans, stir fry briefly until fragrant then add the pork (and the marinade). When the pork is almost coooked, return the peppers and continue to stirfry for a couple of minutes until the pork is cooked through and it is all thoroughly mixed.

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Cocktails at Detroit, Dinner at Kopapa

Our lovely friend Claire was over from Hong Kong for a couple of days last week so a few of us went out for drinks then dinner in honour of her, at the time, forthcoming birthday (this week, but when she had returned to HK).

We had booked dinner at Kopapa so I had fully intended to post a review but in all honesty a) a lot of cocktails had been knocked back in Detroit pre-dinner (Singapore Slings in my case, in keeping with the early colonial-Asia theme) and b) there were 5 of us which I didn't think would make the whole "small plates" deal at Kopapa easily divisible... I opted out therefore and had a soup and starter to myself while the others went wild on the small plates.  Which meant that while I had a good idea of what I ate, and how I felt about it, I can't really comment on the rest...

The Mixed Platter

The Mixed Platter consisted of, so the menu tells me, grilled chorizo, Guindilla chillies, marinated olives, Cabra del Tietar (a soft goat's cheese), Marcona almonds, Hansen & Lydersen (a local smokehouse based in Stoke Newington) smoked salmon & a sourdough breadstick.  Obviously as I'd opted out of the group thing I could only stare but it did look rather nice.

Sweet & Sour Coconut Broth, tempura soft shell crab, rice noodles, coriander & chilli

This was my starter effectively - the soft shell crab was very nice and it nearly worked as a whole.. the problem I found was that while the tamarind contributing to the sourness was quite pronounced I just felt it was rather too sweet.  A shame as it was on the verge of being excellent.

I'm not sure what this is in all honesty (above), I think it might be octupus.  In which case I think it may have had a white balsamic, yuzu, caper & shallot dressing.  It looks quite nice but at this point I felt quite justified in opting out of the sharing plates.. can you imagine that between 5 people?!

Shichimi-crusted baked tofu with shiitake, carrot, hijiki& miso mustard dressing

This looked pretty good it has to be said.  I've got a thing for pea shoots and micro leaves at the moment though so maybe that was it.

Goats curd, beluga lentils, samphire & grilled baby gem with pomegranate dressing  & hazelnuts

This was my salad "main course" and was absolutely delicious.  All the elements worked incredibly well with each other - the mild yet sharp creaminess of the curd, toasty nuttiness of the hazelnuts, crisp saltiness of the samphire, sweet tartness of the pomegranate dressing.  Yum... really good.

And this is why you should never say to a group of friends that you won't be sharing food with them and leave the table.  There were lots of photos of this ilk...

Lots of other dishes were ordered and eaten but in concentrating on eating my own I failed to take photos of the others (and did I mention the cocktails?).  It was a good evening but I can't honestly say how good or otherwise the rest of the food was really. 

Certainly my meal was a tale of two halves.  The soup was fairly so-so (the crab was good, the broth not so great) but the salad was excellent.  I honestly can't call it in all so I think that the proof will be on a return weekend brunch visit which I hear is very good indeed.

Kopapa Café and Restaurant, 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, 
London WC2H 9HA

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Friday, 15 April 2011

Fish Matters!!

And by the way people, further to my subtle campaigning in terms of sustainable fishing in the miso salmon post, please do follow this link, and more importantly read and digest!!
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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Dong'an Chicken & Pounded Aubergines

Some time ago, leading up to a trip to Shanghai, someone recommended that I read Fuschia Dunlop’s memoir of her time living & cooking in Sichuan Province: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper.  Fuschia was the first foreigner to study at the Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu so not only is the book a fascinating insight into Chinese life and cooking culture but it also includes many regional recipes that likewise, fascinated.

The trip to Shanghai followed, where friends were kind enough to introduce us to many regional restaurants to get a good taste of all the country has to offer (well some anyway, in fairness!).  It was then that my dislike of “Chinese food” garnered from rubbish Chinese takeaways in London changed to love - particularly of Sichuan & Hunan cuisines (and also of xiaolongbao which I’d love to attempt to make myself but I fear they wouldn’t turn out well - or does anyone know where to get excellent xiaolongbao in London?).

On my return I bought a copy of Fuschia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery from which I have cooked many, many things and cannot recommend enough.  It was this book that also cured me of another lifelong aversion: aubergines - now I love them, and positively crave fish-fragrant aubergine on a fairly frequent basis.

It was only a matter of time therefore before I knew I would have to get her second cookery book: The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook this time focusing on Hunan cuisine, birthplace of the “Great Leader” himself, Chairman Mao.

What follows are approximations (unfortunately I threw away my notes!) of the two recipes I tried first: dong an zi ji (Dong’an chicken - also called “vinegar chicken”) and qing jiapo lei qie zi (pounded aubergines with green peppers) - both slightly adapted. 

I advise that you buy both books yourself as they are truly brilliant.  

Pounded Aubergines
Serves 1

1 aubergine
1 thin-skinned green pepper (of the type found in mediterranean / middle eastern supermarkets)
Light soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil

Peel & slice aubergines thickly - sprinkle liberally on both sides with salt then set aside for approx 30 mins.

Meanwhile cut the pepper in half, cut away seeds & stem then slice thinly.  

After 30 minutes rinse the aubergines of salt then pat dry with kitchen towel.

Put the peppers into a wok over medium heat (obviously a flame is best when using a wok I’m afraid electric-hob users!), pressing down against the side of the wok until the peppers are softer and smell fragrant.

Set the peppers aside then add the oil to the wok and heat.  Add the aubergines and stir-fry for at least 15 minutes, pressing down on them firmly occasionally to break them down to a sludgy paste.  At the end they should be softened, about half the volume of the original slices but not coloured.

Return the peppers to the wok with the aubergine mush and stirfry for a few minutes until combined.  Season with a little light soy then serve.

Dong’an Chicken
Serves 1

1 chicken breast
weak chicken stock for poaching - about 500 ml
1½ inch knob ginger, unpeeled
2 spring onions
½ fresh red chilli, deseeded, deveined & cut into  very fine slivers
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp rice vinegar (mine was seasoned japanese vingegar as that was what I had, but it should be clear)
¼ tsp sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp sesame oil
1tbsp lard

Poach the chicken: bring the chicken stock to boil in a saucepan, add the chicken and bring back to the boil.  Crush half the unpeeled ginger and 1 spring onion (I bash with a rolling pin) and add to the pan.

Reduce the heat and poach for about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken for the poaching liquid, and let cool (keep the poaching liquid to one side).  The chicken will only be about ¾ cooked which is what you want.

When it is cool enough to handle, cut along the grain into bite size pieces.

Now peel the remaining ginger and slice into verey fine slivers. Ditto with the green part only of the remaining spring onion.  

Heat the wok until starting to smoke and add the lard. When it has warmed up but isn’t fiercely hot and smoking, add the ginger and chilli, dried chilli & Sichuan pepper.  I remove from the heat and swirl around until all is fragrant but not burning - this only takes about 30 seconds or so.

Add the chicken and stirfry, splashing the Shaoxing wine in. Then add the vinegar and a pinch of salt (to taste).  Then add about 50 mls of the cooking liquid.  Bring to the boil then simmer briefly, stirring to ensure all is coated in the liquid and the flavours have mingled and penetrated the chicken.

Finally throw in the spring onion greens and stir around.  Remove from the heat stir in the sesame oil and serve with the aubergines and a little rice.

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Spicy Salmon & Noodle Broth

I've had a pretty heavy cold this week - possibly brought on by the disappearance of the lovely, yet unseasonable, warm weather - so I've got a wee bit behind with posting. As I'm off to Rome soon (yay!) and will therefore get even more behind I suspect that I'll have to double-post over the next few days.

So, first up today is "Salmon part II" as I'd had some to use up after the miso salmon from the day before.

I basically fancied something light yet filling, tasty and healthy. What I came up with is in part inspired by an Angela Hartnett recipe I read a couple of months ago in The Guardian and also by something I'd seen by Nick Nairn somewhere or other. What I remember about the latter is that he wrote that the basis of his broth is usually a fresh fish stock combined with mussel juices but that he had attempted to use fish stock cubes once and it wasn’t a success. For some reason that made me want to try a fish stock cube myself. Not that I’m contrary or anything....

Spicy Salmon Broth
Serves 2

2 tsp of sesame oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch knob of ginger peeled & chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, cut in half and crushed (whack with a rolling pin)
2 birds eye chillis, deseeded, deveined and cut into slivers
700ml weak fish stock (ie use half the amount of cube to water that the instructions suggest)
a couple of shakes of Linghams chilli sauce or Sriracha if you have it
2 tsp of soy sauce
6 tsp of fish sauce
2 salmon fillets (skin removed), cut into chunks - about 200g in total
2 spring onions, chopped
2 large handfuls of spring greens, shredded
100g fine beans, trimmed and chopped in half
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 nest of dried noodles (about 50g)
Juice of 1 lime and rind of ½
4 tsp of chopped coriander

Gently heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan then add the garlic, ginger, onions and lemongrass. Sauté gently for about 5 minutes without letting the contents colour. 

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the chilli, soy & fish sauces. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables and simmer for a few minutes more.  

Then gently add the noodles and salmon chunks and simmer until the salmon and noodles are cooked (about four minutes).

Finally, stir in the the lime juice and the grated rind. Spoon into large bowls and sprinkle over with the chopped coriander, and perhaps some shredded spring onion and chilli slivers.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Miso Salmon

I was zumba-ing last night with the girls, following which it is customary to go for pasta and wine. In other words there was no time to blog the other seafood meal from the weekend - miso-marinated salmon.

High on my list of "would like to try"s has long been Nobu's Black Cod with Miso. Sadly it doesn't look like I will ever frequent Nobu so long as they continue to serve up endangered Bluefin tuna.  Yes they make a small italicised note on the menu (check it out) that perhaps one could ask for an alternative but frankly that just isn't good enough.

Still, I figured that I could make the effort to try it myself but chose to use sustainably sourced salmon fillets from Waitrose instead.  What follows is a recipe cobbled together from multiple sources, all slightly adapted.

Miso Salmon
Serves 2

Note: this needs to be started at least 24 hours in advance to allow to salmon to marinade for at least that long - potentially even longer would be better should the fish be fresh enough.

100ml mirin
60ml sake
120g miso paste (this should have been white miso paste but I didn't realise and only had brown - on top of which it had little bits of "sea vegetable" in it)
60g sugar (caster sugar is a good idea so it melts easily)
2 salmon fillets
pickled ginger slices (such as used with sushi)

Firstly mix the mirin and sake in a small saucepan and bring to the boil - boil furiously for about 30 seconds so the alcohol evaporates.

Turn the heat down and add the miso paste, stirring until it dissolves into the liquid. At this point turn the heat back up and add the sugar - stirring constantly until it has completely dissolved.

Leave to one side to cool completely and when it has done slather the salmon fillets in a bowl with the mixture. Cover and keep in the fridge for at least 24 hours, turning the fish occasionally.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to about 200c and turn the grill on (this is what you would ideally do - my grill is, annoyingly, in my oven so I have to do the grilling bit and then put the oven on after). Wipe the miso off the salmon and put under the grill until the top is just starting to turn brownish. Remove from the grill and place in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile tip the marinade into a saucepan and simmer until it is heated through and has thickened slightly.

Serve the salmon with a drizzle of the sauce, a couple of slivers of pickled ginger (traditionally eaten after the salmon - I actually forgot to serve it completely), steamed broccoli (sprinkle a tiny bit of vegetable bouillon powder over the broccoli while it steams) and spring greens sauteed in a drop of Sichuan pepper oil with some chopped red chilli.

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Monday, 4 April 2011

Seared squid & chorizo with chickpea purée

I really fancied trying out a squid recipe from Economy Gastronomy over the weekend so it seemed a good time to check out Green Lanes Fisheries, a popular fishmongers between Palmers Green and Wood Green.

As it turned out it wasn't really a well planned visit at all: I already had some salmon at home marinating for dinner (more on that to come) and I knew I was going to be out on Sunday.  There was so much great fish & seafood that it seemed a bit of a wasted visit to only come back with squid.

But anyway, I'd decided to try the seared squid & chorizo and was looking forward to my al fresco lunch before getting stuck in to some gardening - my version below is adapted to be a little less fat and calorie-laden (way less olive oil for instance) but is still pretty tasty.  In the book they list this as a starter but I used all the chickpea puree to make it a pretty substantial lunch.. it certainly gave me enough energy to do lots of heavy digging in the veg patch!

Seared Squid & Chorizo
Serves 2 generously

400g tin chickpeas
2 tsps ground cumin
a large pinch chilli flakes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp Total 0% Greek yoghurt
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp chopped coriander
250g prepared & cleaned squid, cut into rings
120g cooking chorizo cut into diagonal slices about 1.5cm thick
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
juice of ½ lemon
mixed leaves to serve

Drain the chickpeas and put them in a food processor with the cumin, 1 of the cloves of garlic (chopped) and the chilli. Pulse until the chickpeas are coarsely chopped and then add 2 tbsp of the yoghurt, the water and olive oil. Process until it has made a smoothish purée then add a generous pinch of salt and puree a bit longer.

Mix the other 2bsp of yoghurt with the chopped coriander, cover and place in the fridge while you continue.

Heat a medium, heavy bottomed frying pan with a splash of olive oil and fry the chorizo until it colours and chars in places. Set aside but keep the paprika coloured oil. Turn the heat up to high and when it is very hot throw in the squid.

Fry the squid for about 3 minutes - if the pan is hot enough it won't need any longer and any longer will almost certainly see it get rubbery. It will get a little firmer and more opaque and a little seared in places.

Add the chorizo back to the pan along with the tomatoes, the other chopped garlic clove & the lemon juice. Toss everything together and remove from the heat.

Put a large dollop of chickpea purée on each plate and spoon round the contents of the pan (including the highly flavoured oil). Put a large handful of mixed leaves on the plate along with a few blobs of coriander yoghurt and serve. Preferable outside, in the sun, with a spicy virgin mary.

Polly kindly on the lookout for any marauding
squid thieves

While Jack takes an altogether more laid-back approach

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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Baked Chicken Maryland - kind of

I love cook books and have quite a lot... unfortunately I'm currently at the stage where I've run out of space for new ones: saying that I will be buying Fuschia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook as soon as possible - I currently have it on loan from the library and am really looking forward to trying a few recipes next week: she's a genius.

Anyway, the point is that I've been looking back over a few of the older books on the shelves looking for things to try out that I may not have on first reading.  One of which is Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners.  I like Jamie's books - I think it's pretty unfashionable to say so these days ("He's not a real chef", "Where are the Michelin stars" grumble grumble) but in my opinion he's very good at doing what he does: putting together pretty simple recipes that work.

On Friday night then I opted to give the tray baked Chicken Maryland a whirl.  Well sort of - chicken breast, check; corn on the cob, check; white wine, check (well, obviously)... ermmm no banana, no cannellini or butter beans (4 tins of borlotti and 2 of pinto mind, what is that all about?), no cream, no streaky bacon, no mint. Luckily Waitrose had reduced a packet of good Parma ham (49p!) which I'd snapped up earlier in the day and there was also some cream cheese in the fridge so all was not entirely lost....

Baked Chicken Maryland
Serves 1

1 chicken breast, skin removed
1 fresh corn on the cob
1 tbsp cream cheese
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 small wine glass of white wine (I'd suggest having a gulp of this as otherwise it's probably a little too much)
couple splashes of milk
2 slices Parma ham
a small handful of basil, leaves picked

Preheat the oven to about 200c (gas mark 6).

Stand the corn cob on its end (large flat end) and run the blade of your knife down the length of the cob to slice off the kernels. Continue around the cob until all the corn is off.  Add the corn to an oven-proof dish and season well with salt and pepper.

Using a small sharp knife, carefully make a pocket in the chicken breast - you will notice that the breast has a little flap of meat down one side that can be pushed back and gives you the start of a pocket anyway, cut into that.  Into the pocket squish in the cream cheese and fold the flap back.  Season with a little salt and a generous grind of pepper.

Turn the chicken upside down (so the slightly scruffier side of the breast is facing you) and place it on the corn in the dish.  Tip over the wine and a couple of splashes of milk then drape the Parma ham slices over the chicken.

Cook in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes.  It should be cooked through but check by inserting a skewer into a fat bit of chicken and make sure the juices run clear.  Scatter over the basil leaves and serve with steamed broccoli.

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