28 May 2012

Quick tart

All you need to make this is some puff pastry, some onions and some other veg. It's a simple thing one might easily arrive at when discovering an aged block of pastry in a overlooked freezer drawer. In fact that's exactly what happened here.

  • puff pastry
  • onions or shallots
  • olive oil
  • sage
  • tomatoes
  • cured meat
  • feta or salad cheese

Roll out the pastry and preheat the oven to a hottish setting.

Meanwhile fry your onions or shallots (whose mild flavours would go very well here) in some oil. Add some sage towards the end, and some sweet cherry tomatoes. Prepare anything else you want on there - a feta type white cheese goes well here, as does any type of sausage or cured meat. We used some Polish sausage. Chuck everything on an put into the oven for about half an hour.

Part way through the cooking monitor the toppings - there is obviously a risk that the onions may burn before the pastry in the centre has cooked. If it looks like this is happening put some foil over the tart and give it a bit more time. It's not an exact science so monitor carefully.

Like a cross between a pizza and a quiche, this egg-less entity is very easy to prepare. It's pretty rich, so serve with a big pile of greens or perhaps a mustardy leaf salad to offset things. By it's very nature it's also highly adaptable, although some nice juicy tomatoes are highly advised.

18 May 2012

Garlic soup

This recipe was brought to my attention by a friend who cooked it for dinner once. It's a version of garlic soup which uses both roast and raw garlic cooked in the soup mix to create a distinct but far from overpowering flavour, which is then enriched by parmesan and cream.

You are going to need -
  • 26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
  • some olive oil
  • two small sliced onions
  • a teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 18 garlic cloves, peeled
  • four cups of chicken or veg stock
  • some single cream
  • finely grated parmesan
  • plenty of lemon

Roast the unpeeled garlic for around 40 minutes. Fry the onions with the thyme for 15 minutes with some olive oil.

Add the raw garlic, the roast garlic (sans jackets naturally) and the stock and cook for half an hour. When everything seems ready blitz the mixture, remove from the heat and add a little cream. Serve with a grating of parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.

I'm not sure this recipe needs as much cream as the original blog suggests. It does make a wonderfully tasty and rich soup, a perfect starter in fact, but with a little less you could have a larger bowl of it which, with some bread, would make a good lunch.

The lemon really lifts the taste and should not be missed. I wonder if perhaps it's possible to skip the roasting stage of the garlic to simplify the recipe and make things quicker? Either way, it's delicious.

11 May 2012

Lap yuk - Chinese air dried bacon

I've had a months' sabbatical from SDON having become a bit unmotivated with blogging. Hopefully I'm now suitably refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things. The most interesting thing I've made recently has been lap yuk - air dried Chinese bacon.

First up props to the original source: Sunflower Food Galore, one of my favourite food blogs. If you want loads of interesting East Asian and specifically Chinese recipes head over. The archives are a gold mine.

Sunflower's lap yuk recipe can be found here - I followed it more or less to the letter so I won't bother repeating it all.

This is a very easy first step into the world of curing meats, a world which may seem intimidating at first. The only specialist ingredient is Prague powder (also known as Instacure or curing salt or pink salt). The key thing to note is that there are actually two Prague powders/Instacures/pink salts - Number 1 always contains 93.75% table salt (sodium chloride) and 6.25% sodium nitrite. Number 2 always contains 89.75% table salt, 6.25% sodium nitrite and 4% of the slower acting sodium nitrate. Number 1 is used for fresh sausages and Number 2 for air dried sausages as well as whole meat products like this bacon or the Italian coppa.

The sodium nitrate and nitrate helps cure the meat, preserves pink colours in certain things and discourages dangerous bacteria including that responsible for botulism. Neither versions are expensive and can be easily obtained on Ebay or Amazon. Safety warning - in large amounts they are toxic so be careful with amounts in recipes and don't let any kids near them!

Right, with that out the way here is what you are going to need (cribbed from Sunflower).

  • 1.75 - 2 kg belly pork
  • 1/2 cup of light soy
  • 1 tbsp dark soy
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp five spice
  • 2 tsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/3 cup Shaoshing wine
  • 5g #2 cure salt (Prague #2 or insta cure #2)

Get your butcher to cut the pork belly into long thick strips. Mix all the other ingredients together to make a marinade (shown up top). I added a few chillies too. Put the meat in a sealed bag with the liquid.

Keep the bacon in the fridge for three or four days and turn once or twice per day so all areas are exposed to the wicked flavours.

Remove the meat, put some string through the end and hang up somewhere with a slight breeze. My long suffering co-habitees let me use our curtain rail.

These two photos were taken after a couple of days of hanging. You can clearly see the meat has lost some mass (in the form of moisture). It's also darkened a lot. That's the result of both the wet cure in the fridge with the salt and sodium nitrate/nitrite and the gradual air drying.

context shot of location

Sunflower recommends a week's drying. My bacon is seen in cross-section below and I've got to say was (is) bloody tasty. Big success this one. I've only had lap yuk a couple of times - most memorably in an excellent stir-fry at Gourmet San with leek and crispy tofu - but the taste of this was absolutely spot on. It's got an extremely strong flavour - salty, fatty but most of all muskily meaty, with the warmth and perfume of the spices coming through at the end.

Hold tight for some recipes involving the bacon. I've found it most straightforward to use as lardons or slices in stir-frys. I chop the bacon and fry it first before adding chilli pastes, garlic etc. This allows some of the fat to render out and subsequently coat the stir-fry, and also the chance for the fat to crisp up a little. The skin is pretty chewy, I think it's fine to remove it if it's not too your taste. From a bit of googling I'd guess that steaming the bacon is the most popular and traditional means of cooking, however I'm very fond of frying it to obtain some crispiness.

As a first go at curing meat lap yuk was a highly satisfying experience. Easy and very rewarding, I've got my hands on a copy of Charcuterie and an old school meat mincer for sausage making so watch this space.

A few thoughts:
  • Make sure you get the pork belly end without the ribs in. Most of mine was boneless but it had mini cartilaginous proto-ribs at one one as you can see above (the two central white circles).
  • Check the bacon after five or six days drying as mine was very hard after seven.
  • It's a strong tasting and robust kind of thing, so don't worry too much about exact details!

12 April 2012

Lemony aubergine soup

Cooking aubergines on a gas top is one of those thing you can't believe you've never done before. It's well easy, and a great way to cook them that avoid using a load of oil. You stick them over a naked gas flame, rotate occasionally and after about fifteen minutes you've some beautifully soft and giving aubergines ready for baba ganoush, or in this case soup. This Ottolenghi recipe (from his first book) is extremely simple. All you need is:

  • plenty of aubergine
  • some cream
  • some stock
  • lots of lemon
  • a bit of basil
Cook half your aubos as I have described. When soft allow to cool and peel off their skins. Chop roughly.

Meantime, fry the other half of your aubergines, cubed, in some olive oil. When they are soft combine all the aubergines and top up with some stock. Cook this for thirty minutes. When it seems done season, squeeze loads of lemon juice in, top off with a lick of cream (off the boil so it doesn't curdle) and chuck on a few basil leaves.

Very easy. Also very tasty, though the soup has a delicate appeal that wasn't immediately evident. It was consumed alongside the green pancakes of wonder, and such was our delight in them that the soup was over-shadowed. However, once reassessed after a few more spoons it was judged positively. It's quite light and simple - there is just the one vegetable in it - but the mix of smoke from the grill, sharpness from the lemon and richness from the cream was just the ticket with a bit of toasted pitta.

3 April 2012

Red braised pork chops with carrots and garlic

Another day another Szechuan pork dish. I've cooked red-braised pork quite a few times - it's a total Chinese classic, a piece of piss to do and reputedly Mao's favourite meal. You braise pork in some liquid flavoured with cooking wine, soy, aromatic spices including star anise and cinnamon, a little dried chilli and sweetened with sugar. When the pork is tender you are done. Couldn't be easier really, and doubtless there's any many local variations as there are cooks.

Now Chinese culinary doctrine will tell you that everything in a meal has to be a similar size and grab-ale with chopsticks. European cuisines are more familiar with a large single piece of meat that can be cut with a knife and accompanying veg to be scooped with a fork. This is a slightly Anglicised version of the Chinese classic then - whole pork chops red braised, this time with lots of garlic and some carrots.

  • pork chops
  • half a head of garlic per person
  • two carrots per person
  • Soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil
  • two chillies, one star anise, one stick cinnamon
  • sugar

Give your pork a quick purge by adding cold water and heating until it begins to boil and scum comes off the meat. This step allegedly cleanses the meat, although I'm unsure of the actual scientific thought behind the process.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sugar in a pan with some oil until it turns liquid. Add all the other ingredients except the carrots and top up with water.

Simmer away for fifteen minutes and add the carrots in big chunks. Give everything a stir and flip the meat around so it all gets cooked. Simmer for another forty-five minutes or so and leave the lid off towards the end so the sauce thickens up. The garlic will totally dissolve and form a sauce. It's best to go mad with the garlic - bear in mind it becomes very mild when cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust with soy or anything else.

Man, this was tasty. It's quite sweet and mild so I suggest getting your necessary chilli fix by adding pickled or salted chillies from a jar to some greens on the side. The liquid ends up wonderfully thickened with dissolved garlic and makes an admirable sauce. Whole chops will take a while longer than pieces of pork, so make sure you leave an hour to cook them. All you need is some plain rice and you've a wonderful and pretty straight-forward dinner to enjoy.

28 March 2012

Sweet potato gratin with peanut butter, chilli and lime

This is a dish for the tail end of winter. The clocks have now changed and we are fully into spring. And how welcome it is. However there's still some chill in the air along with the sun, and evenings are not yet as warm as they might be. Get a load of this extremely rich dish, although I'd be tempted to tone down the amount of cream next time. The full recipe is on the Guardian but you are going to need:

  • sweet potato
  • chilli, garlic
  • cream
  • crunchy peanut butter
  • lime

Slice your potato and mix with cream and the flavourings. Layer up in a bowl and add the peanut butter in little blobs. Finish off layering the dish and bake at gas mark 5 for around 50 minutes. Serve with more lime squeezed on top and (this is essential!) something very plain such as steamed greens (and beetroot salad).

Peanut and chilli is of course a well tested combination. Lime and sweet potatoes might also occur alongside nuts and spice in a Thai curry. So it's perhaps not as unusual combination as it might seem - an Thai accented dish of English comfort food with spice as well as richness. Not an absolute knock-out dish but certainly worth a look. Possibly very satisfying to eat in bed.

20 March 2012

Green pancakes with lime butter

First things first - this is an absolute winner. It's the perfect thing for a weekend brunch or lunch, or in our case a rainy Sunday's film club. Airy, light, spiced pancakes with a pleasingly raw and green taste and a sharp lime and chilli butter. Wondrous. You can find the full version from the Guardian here. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients - most of them are regular household things that you may have around the house, and you can easily bodge a few bits.

  • butter, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper, chilli flakes, raw garlic for the butter
  • self-raising flour
  • eggs
  • baking powder
  • spinach, green chilli, spring onions
  • milk, egg, butter
  • ground cumin

Make the butter by creaming all of the ingredients needed together. Use common sense as to amounts but  aim for a punchy and strong tasting result with lots of lime. It should look a bit like this...

The correct amounts for the pancakes can be found in the Guardian link. I think you could put even slightly more spinach in the mix. Fresh green chillies give an amazing edge to things and should not be missed, and the egg whites are essential in making a fluffy pancake.

Fry with keenness, speed and vigour. Top with the butter and enjoy. We had these with aubergine soup (to be blogged soon) but you could have with poached eggs, salads, hummus or whatever else.

This is one of the best Ottolenghi recopies I've ever tasted. Don't delay