Sunday, 24 March 2013

Piquant pigs trotters with star anise

If you get this dish right, you end up with a delicious savoury gelatinous sauce that makes the best comfort food on a cold winter's night. Plus it's really cheap.

(These amounts give a strong flavour so go easy if you prefer a lighter hit.)
4 - 6 pig trotters cut in half lengthways.
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or demerara sugar)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon (about 6) star anise
1 large knob of ginger — skinned and sliced
1 whole bulb garlic — crushed
1 medium red chilli pepper — thinly sliced
1 bunch spring onions — washed thoroughly, cut into 2 inch lengths
1 cup apple juice
2 tablespns groundnut oil
Dash of sesame oil

To prepare:
Like (some) humans, pigs have hairy toes which you have to remove or else lose something of the magic. Wash the trotters, then cover with boiling water for five minutes. Scrape off the hairy bits. Dry off.

To cook:
Heat the oil in a wok or large pot over a high flame. Add the trotters and brown for 2-5 minutes, then turn down to medium. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise and chilli pepper and stir (don't let the garlic burn).

Add the apple juice, soy sauce, cider vinegar, spring onions and sugar, plus a splosh of sesame oil. Turn up the heat so it's all boiling nicely then turn down to simmer for 2 hours until tender.

Serve over rice or noodles with greens.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Seasoning a wok: cooking as an extreme sport

Halfway there

Ready for its first stir fry

Today I seasoned a wok. This means preparing one of those huge Chinese carbon steel frying pans for cooking by coating the inside with oil and heating it until it turns black.

My Chinese father — a former professional chef before he became a publisher — never bothered with a wok. He did perfectly well with a large aluminium pot that lasted a lifetime.

I'd watched his Chinese friends cooking in clouds of smoking oil, clattering their large blackened round-bottomed woks with the iron "shovels" and, while entertained by the theatre of it, vowed never to put myself through the bother. There's something about the girth of a wok that can take over the average dinky kitchen. Where do you store such giants?

The chief pain that deterred me, though, was the seasoning process, described to me by my mother as some sort of trial which I was bound to fail. I'm told English people had to do this in ye olden days to seal the metal and protect it from oxidisation (rust) before the space age gave us Teflon non-stick. I once had a non-stick wok, as absurd as that seemed to a Chinese person, but was put off when the carcinogenic coating began to flake off under the pressure of high temperature stir-fries. Not healthy, plus it was a cheat.

However, this Christmas, I bought one for a friend who'd been jonesing after one, attracted by the romance and exoticism of cooking as an extreme sport. Rejecting the slinky black non-stick wok sets purveyed by Chinese TV chefs, I selected the most basic and authentic one I could find at the north London Wing Yip, made by Hancock. Lovely! Carbon steel with a wooden handle — no hanging loop, no second handle for the limp-wristed — this was a sturdy workaday kitchen implement I expect to last forever.

The instructions told us (once we'd scrubbed off the anti-rust layer with cream cleanser, rinsed and dried) to pour a tiny bit of vegetable oil in the wok and wipe it round with a kitchen towel to coat the inside thoroughly. Then you place it over a low heat until it darkens. Fifteen minutes they said, presumably not wishing to scare off novices. Fifteen minutes was enough to blacken the bottom (I bought a flat-bottomed one, otherwise you need a support ring — yet more equipment!) but nowhere near enough to affect the curved upper part.

After half an hour of this, he'd had enough and abandoned it to cool on the hob for another go later. (See first pic above)

While he was sulking, I cut to the chase, poured in more oil, slooshed it around (no namby-pamby kitchen roll for me) and emptied the excess down the sink. After shutting all doors and opening windows and back door, I then whacked up the flames on the biggest gas ring as far as they'd go until the oil was smoking: only then did the magic happen. You have to move it around and hold it at angles to make sure the sides get done, but it happens in front of your eyes so it's only a bit like watching paint dry.

To be totally safe (fire, flammable oil, soft human flesh, home) have a large metal lid and a damp tea-towel to hand, just in case. But you should be okay if you don't have more than a coating of oil.

It is now cooling down on the hob, ready for use. Every time you use it it will only get better.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ladudu in West Hampstead: restaurant review

Ooh, Ladudu is a welcome addition to West Hampstead's cluster of great restaurants.

Situated at the junction of Iverson Road and West End Lane, this Vietnamese eatery looks out at our swanky new Thameslink station and is perfectly placed for passing traffic and commuters seeking sustenance at the end of a busy day. Its elegant dark wood shared tables echo the canteen style of the popular Banana Tree up the road but manages to establish its own character with warm lighting and stylish decor. Having wifi and a comfy sofa zone, it invites you to hang about doing a bit of work or meeting friends.

Last night's meal was lovely and beautifully presented.

The prawns in the green papaya salad were a bit ordinary but the delicate flavours and crunchy texture in the salad were divine and have me salivating thinking about it even now. My Lovely Companion's char-grilled baby calimari stuffed with minced pork and prawns (four on a skewer) with little nibbly bits of rice noodles and salady stuff were "a top starter".

I had the pork chops (two) with a fried egg — lovely broken into the rice. It also came with the most delicious fish cakes that could be a starter on their own (I hope the owners add this to the starter menu). The pork chops were tender and lightly spiced but not as tasty as the marinated pork at the Banana Tree which we usually have as a shared starter. Lovely companion's marinaded pork skewers on noodles were nicely spicy.

He enjoyed his caramelised pear cake (a spongy upside-down cake) with lychee ice-cream. I often skip dessert but I'm glad I had the crepes (two) stuffed with actual coconut meat, not the desiccated packet stuff you make cakes with. My roasted sesame seed ice-cream could have done with a bit more flavour whereas the lychee had a nice subtle fruity kick.

Lovely Companion says beer drinkers should note that the flavour of the Hanoi is better than the Saigon.

Too often, restaurants which focus on the visual presentation of their food assume you only want dinky ornamental amounts. Ladudu's portions are generous and don't leave you starving at the end of the meal. Bill came to £45 including two beers and an Aspall's cider.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Coriander and tomatoes in the garden

coriander and basil
I don't grow much foodstuff in the garden, a situation I must rectify. In the meantime, here are photos of coriander, basil and tomatoes coming along nicely.

home-grwon tomatoes on the vine

wild strawberry
And a lone wild strawberry that survived the wood pigeons. They have such a great flavour, a bit like the impossible sweets from childhood. The strawberries, that is, not the pigeons.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Roast potatoes and parsnips

Sorry for the hiatus but I'm trying to find time to write up another couple of blogposts including a review of the Kam Sang Chinese Restaurant in Scarborough.

In the meantime, here is a photo of the roast parsnips and potatoes I cooked the other day. The spuds were crunchy on the outside and powdery soft on the inside, while the parsnips were like crisps made in heaven. Method: parboiling, frying in duck fat in a hot roasting tin over a flame, and then roasting at 190 - 200 for twice as long as any cookbook tells you. 15 minutes from the end, I drizzled honey over the parsnips, but I forgot the sesame seeds.

Not East Asian but cooked by someone of East Asian origins.

EDIT: Almost forgot. Very important to drain the potatoes after boiling for a few minutes only (I do about five minutes). Reserve the water for gravy, replace the lid and then SHAKE the pot so you fluff up the outside ready to be seared in the hot fat.

Monday, 12 July 2010

How to cook Nasi Goreng: classic Asian fried rice video Part 2

PART TWO plus recipe

The second part of how to make Nasi Goreng, the traditional East Asian rice dish with ginger, garlic and prawns. Accompanied by chicken and rich peanut satay sauce. Demonstrated by my good friend Denise Ingamells. Warning: strong flavours. May damage your waistline.

Nasi Goreng is a classic rice dish fried in a savoury paste with prawns and a fried egg to top it off. We’re serving this with roast chicken pieces and a peanut satay sauce, and fresh spinach.

Yesterday, I posted the first of two videos showing how Denise makes it. Here’s the concluding part with the full recipe as follows. (Part one here.)

For four people with big appetites. Begin with the rice.

Nasi Goreng rice — microwave or perfect boiled rice method
2 mugs basmati rice
4 mugs water

Microwave for 12 minutes

Then start the roast chicken with satay sauce.

Roast chicken:
12 chicken thighs and legs
Peanut oil
Dark soy sauce
I teaspoon thick soy sauce (or treacle)
Chinese rice wine
3-8 garlic cloves, crushed
Generous root of ginger
2 teaspoons of cayenne powder
Sprinkle of lemon juice

Mix everything together and cook in the oven at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Peanut satay sauce:
Toasted peanuts
1 Spanish onion, diced and fried to caramelise
3 teaspoons coriander
Coconut milk
1 teaspoon Lazy Chilli
Handful of palm sugar
Soy sauce

Fry up onion to caramelise and puree roughly in processor. Add the roughly pureed onion back to pan, then add ground ginger, garlic and peanuts (roughly ground)

Paste for Nasi Goreng rice
Garlic, ginger, chilli and onion, all ground finely in processor
Add palm sugar
Generous splash of soy sauce
1 teaspoon tamarind
4 teaspoons fish sauce
Soy sauce
Powdered coriander
Chinese rice wine

Mix together the paste ingredients.

Raw prawns, deveined
Cooked prawns
Spring onions, sliced
Sesame oil sprinkled on top at the end of cooking

Fry the raw prawns in peanut oil (or rapeseed or sunflower) over a high heat. When they’ve turned pink, add the paste and continue to cook, turning all the time. When they’re almost done, add the cooked prawns (for different texture).

Add the cooked rice and continue to cook over the high flame, turning gently all the time.

Add spring onions and cook for a little longer. Remove from heat and sprinkle with a little sesame oil.

Fry sliced Spanish onion until brown.
Plus four free-range eggs

Pour over boiling water, turn and press out the excess water. Add a touch of Oyster Sauce and garlic oil.

Serve the Nasi Goreng rice with fried egg on top. Plus chicken with satay sauce. And blanched spinach. Add fried onion garnish.

Thank the chef.

nasi goreng fried rice with prawns, chicken and satay sauce