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British-Chinese Fusion Cooking: Tea-poached Roast Duck

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

(Cross-posted from my LJ)

Chinese-Western fusion cooking sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I had an idea for a warm seasonal dish that relies on local ingredients and exotic spices and captures the spirit of my recent up-and-downs in China and the UK: Tea-and-cider-poached roast duck with caramelised apples and pears & mustardy cabbage.

Sounds like a mouthful? That’s because it is. I have often wanted to cook tea-smoked duck but decided that I’d better not get the fire brigade involved, and the weather is decidedly too cold for outdoors cooking at this time of year. In fact, Shanghai and London share the same temperatures today (14-15o during the day, around 7o at night—it gets cold in Shanghai too).

So I thought I’d experiment with duck poached in tea and then roasted. A spice glaze added before roasting would boost flavour and warmth and, since duck partners well with fruit, I decided to add cider to the mix and serve it with caramelised apples and pears. Mustardy cabbage struck me as a good counter-balance to the richness of the meat and sweet, buttery fruit.

With regard to the latter, it is important not to make this dish too sweet. Duck is already sweet but is mostly served with tooth-achingly gooey sauces or glazes. I halved the sweetness content of this recipe and made sure that the sugar was caramelised to the point of bitterness before adding the fruit, but your mileage may vary. As for flavouring, I used whatever was to hand: a number of ancient Oolong tea bags with a best-before date back in 2005 and a few drops of lemon essence stood in for the Earl Grey tea used in the original recipe.

The Finished Meal
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The Legendary Banana Pancake

Friday, August 28th, 2009

In honour of our upcoming Thailand trip (yay!), I’ve made a banana pancake:

The Legendary Banana Pancake

The recipe couldn’t be simpler. I do this by sight: sift about a cup of flour into a bowl, add 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of yeast (adding a pinch of yeast apparently helps it along), a pinch of salt, a beaten egg and enough milk to get the consistency of pouring cream and put it in the airing cupboard to rest for 2hrs.

Bring a knob of butter and a slug of oil to the sizzle, add a good spoonful or two of pancake mix (enough to comfortably cover the bottom of the pan when swirled) wait for the base to set and then add the sliced bananas/apple/blueberries/whatever to the still liquid batter on top, pressing them down slightly’ and fry until just set before flipping over.

BTW: it’s best if the slices of banana end up covered in a little batter to avoid the pancake getting soggy.

Serve with fruit, syrup, sugar or chocolate sauce (for recipe see picture link):

Banana Pancake with Grated Chocolate

Spotted Chilli Squares

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Spotted Chilli Squares

I remember not long ago the sun was shining, I was reading Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and thought happy thoughts about Trinidad & Tobago, and further back, Venezuela.

In Venezuela we ate black beans nearly every day. They have since become a staple in my kitchen. I vaguely remember trying my hands at Feijoada once, Brazil’s national dish, without much success. The version a friend of ours cooked was delicious, but I wasn’t going to try again—not that I have the right ingredients anyway. It was time for the next-best thing: black bean chilli.

Now the clouds have returned, the air is clammy and I’ve lost my appetite for hot chilli and samba rhythms. But I can always fit in a spotted chilli square, a great way of using up leftover and some of the cheapest grub you can make (works great with veggie chilli or dhal as well).

Take a tortilla wrapper, spoon on some chilli (chilled works best) and shape it into a square, then fold over edges until they just touch, covering the filling.

Press flat and fry, folded side down, in a little oil until crisp underneath. Turn with a wide spatula and fry the other side, then turn out onto a plate.

Serve spotted with Chipotle sauce.

Best eaten piping hot, crispy and greasy. The tortilla wrap doesn’t actually absorb the oil (most of it stays in the pan), so this is healthier than it looks/feels.

The Fifth Quarter: Oildown

Friday, June 5th, 2009


When it comes to nose-to-rail eating eating, I’ve done badly with nose and heels, but I have used my share of heads and trotters.

Now it’s the turn of the tails.

Oildown is a dish I have heard much about, but never tried. Luckily, there are many recipes online. The dish seems to be simplicity itself, once you’ve sourced the ingredients!
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The Fifth Quarter: Cow Heel Soup

Monday, March 16th, 2009

not what it should look like!

Even before the credit crunch, eating offal and ‘neglected cuts’ (such as ears and feet) became fashionable among the chattering classes, thanks to celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson. But they are mainly regarded as things to chat about, not get stuck in day-to-day.

For me such meats have always been on the menu. I grew up in the countryside, and my elders tolerated no fuss when it came to eating. But I remember that most of the dishes were quite dull. The challenge is to come up with new and exciting ways to cook them. And, as always, travel provides the answer.

Tails, trotters, ears, noses and some bits of offal are what is generally known as the ‘fifth quarter’—food that was sold to the poor or given to slaves. While the Brits and North Americans nowadays tend to grind this sort of thing into their hot dogs, these items are still for sale in ethnic neighbourhoods (and some farmers’ markets), and they greatly influence the cuisines of the Caribbean and the US Deep South.

Nothing rams history down your throat like eating local fare. You can get pig tail stew a scant three-minute stroll from Tobago’s five-star Coco Reef Resort. Ditto cow heel soup. Cow heel soup is everywhere in Trinidad and Tobago. But as with so many ethnic dishes, over here it’s a closely guarded secret, and I had to go to T&T to find out what the fuss is about.

So when we were in London last week, I took a deep breath and pointed at one of the huge scorched cow’s legs that are for sale at the butchers in Deptford, wondering how I would get the thing into my pot.

No problem. Every ghetto butcher’s comes with a band saw.
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Trini-influenced Blueberry Pancakes

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I’m currently listening to the Soca Show on One Xtra and checking out the amazing carnival pics on Flickr.

In the UK, carnival is a more modest affair—i.e. non-existing, except for the overcrowded but vibrant Notting Hill Carnival, which is really a Caribbean festival that happens nowhere around carnival time. I do remember the German version of Karneval, but it’s nothing like what happens in Trini or even Notting Hill, especially with home-grown British talent thrown into the mix.

Anyway, the closest thing that we have around this time that harks back to Christian traditions is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, which is essentially the opposite of Fat Tuesday. Trust the Brits to do penance while the rest of the world throws one final, all-out party on the day before Lent.

But any excuse for a pancake, I say.

In Trinidad (or more precisely: in Dougie’s Bar in Manzanilla) I discovered the secret of the bake, which has influenced the way I now make pancakes.

½lb plain flour, 2tsp baking powder, pinch yeast.
Mix with enough water to knead, rest, form patties and deep-fry.

The secret lies of course in the yeast. If baking powder alone is used it affects the taste.

I don’t use exact measures for pancakes: the final batter should be the consistency of thick cream. You can always add more milk to thin it. Adding an extra yolk greatly improves the flavour.

About 300g plain (preferably 00-grade) flour, 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, milk, ca. 1tsp baking powder, pinch yeast, small pinch salt.
Beat the eggs, mix everything together until smooth and rest in the fridge overnight.

[EDIT: you must sift the flour, even if it’s extra fine :/]

[EDIT 2: half the suggested amount of flour. God, I hate pastry 🙁 And imperial measures >:( ]

Adding apples or blueberries: Bring some butter to sizzle in a pan and gently swirl the mix to spread it until the bottom sets. Press the fruit into the half-cooked batter. Continue to cook over a low heat until the top just starts to set and flip.

These pancakes tend to fluff up and break easily. Tossing them isn’t an option if you don’t want pieces of fruit flying around the kitchen, so I use a smaller pan and a big spatula to flip them over.

That’s the theory anyhow. We’ll see tomorrow.

How to make Proper Gravy

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Christmas Plate

Now that it is too cold to flounce around in strappy dresses, the weather thinks it can make up for a summer of misery with two days of sunshine. But what do I care, I’m off to Trinidad on November 30th!

Meanwhile I bought the Good Food Magazine to re-acquaint myself with autumn cooking. And lo, there on the inside cover of the accompanying booklet (and throughout the magazine) there was Marco Pierre White extolling the qualities of Knorr stock cubes. Who am I to argue? I have used Knorr cubes for over twenty years (but only chicken—and shame on them for not making their organic chicken cubes to the same traditional recipe! For vegetable, nothing beats Marigold).

Here is how the great chef makes the ‘perfect gravy’:

For the perfect gravy, pour away most of the cooked juices from your roasting tray before adding your Knorr cube along with 300ml of water. Give the tray a good scrape to mix in any other bits of encrusted flavour, then boil on the hob until reduced by half.

And here, Marco, is how it’s done properly.
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Slow-cooked Pork

Friday, August 15th, 2008

The Olympics are normally a good excuse to try out something new in the kitchen, but I suck at cooking Chinese. I therefore surprised myself by making slow-cooked Chinese pork the other day, with a slap of pork belly from the local butcher that needed eating and wouldn’t fit into the freezer.
Chinese Slow-cooked Pork: condiments
There are no hard and fast rules about making this dish. Basically, the meat is rubbed with spices and slow-roasted for anything between 3 hours to overnight, with a final blast of heat to crisp up the rind (if it does, that is.) To help with the crackling, I generally score the rind (the butcher did it this time—with a box-cutter!) and pour over some boiling water, leaving it to dry out before rubbing in the spices.

Spice Paste:
2 cloves garlic; 1cm ginger; chilli flakes, to taste; 1tbsp soy sauce; pinch sugar; 1tsp 5-spice powder (star anise, cloves, fennel, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon); 1tsp oil

Work this into a paste and rub half of it into the skin, working it right into the scores. Put the meat into a hot oven for ½h, then turn down the heat.
Rub the rest of the spices all over the meat. Pour over ca. 200ml of water or stock. Since I had a fennel to hand, I chopped it up and rested the meat on top. Cover and roast slowly for several hours.
After the elected roasting time, you probably have a lot of liquid left. Pour it into a pot and bind it with cornflour. Rest the fennel on top. Now return the meat uncovered to a hot oven for ½h in the hope of crisping up the skin.
Slice and rest on top of the fennel and liquid. Heat through as required. You should be able to skim off a good deal of fat.

As the above picture indicates, this is best served with condiments—on top of udon noodles, boiled for 2 minutes (together with a head or two of bok choi, chopped lengthwise, if you want).

Annual BBQ—2008

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Last week my sister was visiting, and on Saturday the sun peeked through the clouds just about long enough for us to attempt our once-a-year BBQ cook-out.

The occasion—aside from her visit—was our 19th wedding anniversary. John’s workmates had given him a bottle of champagne which would probably have gone undrunk until our silver jubilee, if it was just the two of us. (Well, I would have drunk it, but that’s not really the idea…). So, with the strawberry season at it’s peak, the starter was a no-brainer:

Strawberries and Champagne

With just three people attending, it was hard to restrain myself when it came to the prep. I reluctantly gave up on humous, seeing that I was out of tahini anyway. I also didn’t have any aubergines, but we needed a Mediterranean influence so I made mini lamb köfte balls:

500g lamb mince; 4 spring onions; 1 batch ras-el-hanout (Waitrose does an authentic mix. Failing that, it’s 1 pinch allspice, 2tsp nutmeg, 20 threads saffron, 1½tsp black pepper, 1½tsp mace, 1tsp cinnamon, 1½tsp cardamom, 2tsp ginger, 2tsp salt. Really, this also ought to have rose petals in there. Waitrose’s does, but it doesn’t have saffron. Use 2-4 tbsp.); 2 cloves garlic; handful chopped coriander; 10(!) tbsp sesame seeds, slightly toasted.

This mixture freezes well. Make walnut-sized balls, roll in (corn)flour and thread onto soaked bamboo skewers (these give better hold than metal skewers). Serve piled into miniature pita pockets lined with lettuce leaves and drizzled with tzaziki (full fat yoghurt with cucumber—peeled, grated and squeezed—spring onion, garlic, lemon juice and fresh mint).

Morroccan Lamb Balls

They also go well with vegetable skewers: peel 2-3 mushrooms per skewer, score the caps cross-wise and marinade for an hour or so in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, oil, fresh thyme and black pepper. Toss in a few thick, halved courgette slices and roll some cherry tomatoes in oil. Thread the lot onto skewers and throw it on the BBQ until the tomatoes are soft. Olives, stuffed jalapeños and salad make nice sides.

Naturally, there had to be an Asian influence as well. It’s always good to have some Chinese chilli oil at hand (veggies, note that this contains fermented fish or shrimp). I tried my hand at chicken satay again, after spotting some free range chicken breast at the butcher’s. This dish is better if the meat is cut into very small pieces and threaded onto thin skewers. The chilli oil was needed to liven up the saus kachang which was a bit weak (a strong Thai chilli would fix this). This is derived from my favourite Asian Street Food cookbook:

8tbsp peanut butter; 2tsp jaggery; ½tsp garlic salt; 3tbsp soy sauce; 1tsp blachan (shrimp paste); 1 finely chopped chilli; 100 ml coconut milk; 1tsp lime juice. Heat in sauce pan to combine and add water to desired consistency.

The satay chicken is marinated in a pinch each of cinnamon and tumeric; 1tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and jaggery; 1tbsp crushed salted peanuts; 6 minced spring onions; 2tbsp oil and the grated rind of 1 lime (lemon grass would be better, if any was to be had in Tadley).

The book also provided the base recipe for the enduring classic Indonesian barbecued spare ribs, although I must say that I haven’t come across anything like it in Indonesia. These ribs are usually pre-cooked in the wok or oven and finished on the BBQ, basting frequently. Since I didn’t have enough notice, I stuck the ribs directly on the BBQ. They have to be grilled for a long time over a low heat to cook through. Keep brushing on the sauce with a pastry brush:

2-3 chillies, chopped; 2 cloves garlic; 2cm ginger, sliced; small onion, grated (or 4 spring onions)—mince all this.
1 good slug kecap manis or 1tbsp jaggery; 2tbsp soy sauce; 1tsp nam pla (fish sauce); 1tsp tamarind concentrate; 1tsp tumeric; 1tbsp ketchup; 1tbsp oil.
Coat the ribs with the mix and toss them on the BBQ. There’s no need to marinade.

BBQ selection

This was it for the year, or so experience tells me.

We’re unlikely to go abroad this summer (John hasn’t renewed his passport), but we’re off to Scotland next week. Perhaps—just perhaps—we’ll have another BBQ there, if I can dissuade the guys from landing me with 3 (!) assistants when cooking. The current rota spells chaos.

Well, we’ll see.

Snails with Yanis

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Cretan Snail

One Cretan speciality I wanted to try as soon as I spotted the main ingredients piled up in net bags in wicker baskets at the greengrocer’s were snails.

I refrained from purchasing one of those bags (about 7€ per kg.), remembering my promise about not bringing fish, fowl or other creatures into the homestay kitchenette. Besides, I didn’t have the first idea how to set about preparing the things.

None of the lower-end tavernas had snails on their menu. I wished for access to a kitchen with a friendly chef who could teach me about them.

Enter Yanis.

We had asked him whether the Cosmogonia Bar does food. To be honest, late evenings the place is plenty busy serving beer (each order is accompanied by different nibbles), and the bar is surrounded by cafés and restaurants that do. Yanis said he serves breakfast and lunchtime snacks in the season, and yes, mezedhes might be a good idea to stimulate business during early evenings. After all he did have a kitchen.

So we talked about Cretan food, and we talked about snails and Yanis said: “Why don’t I make some for you tomorrow? Come at about eleven, then you can taste them.”

And I said: “Oh, can I watch you and learn how to prepare them?”

It was early in the evening of the fateful night that almost ended in a bar fight. As predicted, the following morning my head was nearly killing me and the tension hadn’t worn off. I was in two minds about going to see Yanis, but I was damn glad that I did, even if I was a bit monosyllabic. He had been expecting me.

We spent almost the entire afternoon in the kitchen, batch-processing a kilogram of snails, with Yanis nearly forgetting about the customers who trickled into the bar every now and then.

All in the name of friendship.
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