Open the Pantry

Open the Pantry the-pantry

Marinated Pigs Ears

Yes you read right-PIG's EARS!

Deliciously chewy I have a love for the porcine earlobes such that could be describe as bearing similarities to a terrier-its a fervent and eager love of those floppy and wonderfully delicious ears.


I prefer to cook mine in an aromatic broth first for about 30mins

I used :

big knob of ginger

1 star anise

1 cassia quill

3 cloves

1/2 t Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 t fennel seeds

1/2 C Shaoxing wine

Water to just about cover the ears


slice it finely and marinate them with :

clove of crushed garlic

2 T soy

1 T black vinegar

1t sugar

1t salt

pinch black pepper

1 T toasted seasme seeds

2 T chilli oil-house made naturally

1 spring onion , finley chopped

1/4 t ground Sichuan Peppercorn

Mix really well and marinate for at least 2 hours

Monday, 13 May 2013

Home made Pickles

Times of abundance whether it be in terms of seasonal produce of time needs to be utilised well. On this day I had both so set about on a pickle mission so I can have a stock ready to go int he fridge.

A bit of experiementation-salt pickling can be ...well just too salty and then vinegar pickling can be again just to vinegary.But I wanted to set up some pickled chillies for winter when I cant get any at a reasonable price.

Sichuan cooking uses a great deal of pickled chillies chopped up into things to give a good ziny lift. This time of year when there are a tonne of chillies about it is an easy process.

Heat 2 parts white or rice vinegar with 1 part water with the addition of 2 cinnamon quills or cassia bark, 1 star anise a hunk of ginger and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, 2 T sugar and 1 t salt till it comes to a boil. Take it off the heat and allow to cool at bit before pouring over the chillies. Let sit for 10 mins or so and once cool enought to handle pack into a sterilised screw top jar. Into the fridge for at least 1 month and then they should be ready to rock.

Pickled Beansprouts are a good staple to have on hand as they can top really anything at all-noodles, a simple stir fry or just have on their own as a side dish.

Heat again 2 parts rice vinegar with 1 part water and add beansprouts. Heat till it just comes to a boil and take off the heat.Remove beansprouts immediatley and dress with sesame oil, sesame seeds, spring onions finely sliced, 1 t sugar and a sprinkle of ground Sichuan peppercorn if you like to have a bit of a mouth numbing addition.

The other two pickles on the day were daikon with turmeric and sliced bamboo shoots with Sichuan peppercorn, soy and five spice.



Monday, 28 January 2013

Silken Tofu at Home-First Attempt Nov 2012

Im afraid it is not much to look at at all but Im quite proud of the end result.

Using my basic milk recipe I made a thick, rich milk that is used to make silken tofu. Silken is by far my fav so the whole point I guess of doing thsi whole things was to be able to make my own silken tofu. Far less waste this time around so I feel like you do get more bang for your buck and time.

Unlike the firmer tofu where you add a coagulant, the silken tofu is not coagulated but rather steamed gently with the addition of gypsum to the tofu milk so it sets. So where as I needed 5 or so cups for the firm tofu that resulted in one small block of tofu once the whey and curds are seperated, this way I needed 3 cups and have 3 cups remaining.

Once the gypsum is mixed in it is steamed in my bamboo steamer for 10 mins till set then cooled.

I have fridged it over night to see if that alters the texture at all but Im pretty happy with it I must say.

Im making hot pot tonight with pork and chillies with my soft tofu so will post a pic later on.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Stir Fried Homemade Tofu with Shredded Chicken

Stir Fried Homemade Tofu with Shredded Chicken-first tofu batch Nov 2012

So I made the tofu wee small block of my very own handmade tofu.
Proudly I slid it into a it;s own container with fresh cold water and it was sitting there patiently for me to eat it.Most recipes say you have to consume it fast-literally within hours sort of deal but I did wait till the next day to crack it open and rinse it off.
I was worried it may be crumbly but not at all.

I poached a whole chicken and shredded that up to have that with chinese celery, coriander and toasted peanuts and my chilli garlic fried tofu.

Texturally -very nice I have to say. Firm but not too dense and not crumbly so I was happy with that aspect. Taste wise it is pretty tasteless -hence why I choose to fry it in the chilli and garlic but tofu is really all about texture.

Stir Fried Tofu with Shredded Chicken

1-2 cups Shredded meat from chicken-can be left over roasted chicken, some off a whole poached chicken , just leg meat...whatever you have on hand is fine and cold is preferable
1 bunch Chinese celery, well washed-if you cant find then use 3-4 sticks finely julienned regular celery
handful fresh coriander, well washed                                           bunch of choy sum,sliced finely and blanched                                1 spring onion, roots trimmed and sliced finely on a diagonal
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, ground finely
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon superior Chinese light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2-3 T roasted peanuts

In a bowl mix the chicken with all the ingredients and set aside to marinate for 10-15 mins in the fridge.
Meanwhile heat a wok with a little grapeseed oil
slice 2-3 (or to your taste) red chillies finely and 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed finely.
Rinse your firm tofu well then cut into thin stripes of even size
Add the chilli and garlic to the wok and be careful not to burn before adding the tofu slices.
Carefully brown on each side, turning the tofu as needed.
Remove from the heat and add to the salad mixing the tofu through well.
Either serve straight away or allow to sit and continue marinating for another 20 mins.
Great as a lunch box meal.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Homemade Tofu-First Attempt Nov 2012

I have a dream...most people dream of material goods that will make them happier, better cars, better houses or even better kitchens and while I definatley dream of a better kitchen my first dream of dreams right now is all about home made tofu.

I have a bee in my bonnet I guess and I find if that bee gets in there I have no choice but to rolll with the idea until I have exhausted it. Over the years it has been many things and some you have witnessed-kimchi making and pickling being my most recent for sure which I hope you too have gone and gotten all worked up about as I have.

My tofu obsession was alwasy there but certianly had not increased to the epic proportions that it is today where my husband finds tofu on the table at least three times a week. Not that it is expensive or not well made locally -we have more tofu outlets making A class tofu than I can even visit -but it is all about being able to say -this is my tofu!

So I am determined to have soft beautiful white lusciously delicious tofu by tomorrow evening. Today is Monday so I have sorted by ingredient needs and have my soy beans soaking.

Right now I have started small -just 500g dried soy beans which if I understand my reading right should be enough for at least one block.I went online and researched and read all sorts of things unforunately all telling me something different to do. Some said just use soy milk, some said buy a soy milk maker and go from there , some said no way to store bought soy milk and some said just use soy milk from any good Asian store. The true purists said you have to use soy beans that are soaked for 18 hours to get the best end result so that is where I am at-soaking my 500g of soy beans overnight before I rush home tomorrow after work ( I will be thinking tofu alllll day though I promise) and churn and squeeze my soy beans before pressing them to make tofu.

I also bought a wee kit online locally (again there easy to follow recipe is anyting but and rather confusing) but I think now I may have read all information on hand so just will just make a start. I have a press that is plastic as I feel I want to graduate into a beautiful wooden one when I actually have the process down and I have cheesecloth and a coagulant (again controversial stuff with much said on what and why and how so more on that as well later). 

Ill keep adding as this for now... just soy beans ...soaking...not very exciting..yet!



Day 2 was suppose to be Tuesday but as usual the week got the better of me.

I did make my milk though...and it seems to be just that-soy milk.

First off I washed my soaked soy beans well rinsing them a  a number of times before they went into my blender. Instead of the food processor I used my bar blender as I was suggested to be a better option for creating a finer milk.
I used 3 cups of beans and 6 cups of water to create a nice rich milk.


That went straight into a pot and was heated to cook the beans. It seems there can be issues with uncooked and thus indigestible beans so this first process is again repeated but more on that later .
So my heated through milk is ready to be strained through a fine sieve lined with muslin cloth which is done twice and Im left with what is known as lees. Soy lees. They sort of look like ricotta actually and have a very mild cheesy smell to them but these are used in all sorts of Asian cooking to thicken and enrich soups and sweet puddings.




They can also be mashed up with other ingredients and fried to make a dumpling sort of croquet. I decided to stick to my plan though and I discarded my first lot of lees in favor of my attention not being taken away from my milk.?

I chilled my milk and the next day i reheated in order to recooked or do a ‘second cooking’ on the milk to aid in the digestion factor. Heated up to 75C and stirring well it starts taking on a tofu scent.

I took the pot off the heat and added my coagulant in thirds stirring well each time. I found that I needed more actually so ended up adding in 5g to 8 cups of milk.

The curds began to appear to my great excitement!


I left the pot for a few minutes then scooped out the curds and popped them into my plastic mould lined with the same freshly cleaned muslin cloth and placed a jar of marmalade on top to help weight it down.

I had decided that my first tofu attempt would be with a firmer style which is not my favourite but for some reason I decided perhaps would be easier. Indeed I think there is room for more error and as a terrible instruction follower I think I did ok.
I pressed my tofu block-yes one single not even very thick block of tofu-for exactly ten minutes and then flipped it out and into cold water to help firm it up.

The whole process took about 15 mins so I can see once I get the hang of it and have milk on hand it is a fast process that would be possible for dinner.
As I still have soy beans to use up from my 1 kg purchase Ill use them up and soak another batch tonight to make some soft tofu tomorrow but feel that in future Ill look for some organic soy milk at my local Chinese supermarket as this will indeed speed the process up drastically. I assume the taste will be totally different so keen to try both ways. Maybe ill decide that the milk process is one day and as it can be kept for up to 5 days in the fridge I guess it is on hand to make fresh when needed as well. Ill be back on that front soon to let you know.

Meanwhile...look out for new tofu recipes ! ?



Monday, 12 November 2012

Open the Jar-Kimchi Making in Winter July 2012

A cold but totally still and clear day should not be wasted in mid winter.
We set up a wee work station in the sun outside and after some searching the rather damp and muddy garden for goods we set about on a kimchi making mission.

Totally non traditional -so all traditionalist best move on immediately-often when Im up at the inlaws it is about using what is on hand from the garden or what is in the pantry.
Cathy my mother in law has asked for a few things so we could make a batch of kimchi but me being me I forgot some vital ingredients after a somewhat hectic and disastrous Friday that involved a truck and it almost squashing us.....another story.

So kimchi was made during warmer months but laid down over winter to ferment and do its delicious thing. Oysters were used in place of fish sauce traditionally but I quite like the sharpness that the fish sauce brings to my kimchi and I generally would use the dried Korean chillies that are sweet and quite mild. They give really nice colour as well.
As this kimchi was not going to go into the fridge but rather into the root cellar where it was pretty cold most of the time we packed into a jar in layers of cabbage then daikon then cabbage again. Traditional kimchi pots can be spotted about the place in Korea and are still used in areas to actually ferment the cabbage in the ground. You may even be lucky enough to buy one at a good Korean supermarket and they are best stored somewhere nice and cold with an even temperature.

What I like about pickling is you can use anything at all you have on hand-cabbage is great as it is cheap and plentiful and comes in so many varieties that you can have all sorts of different textures and tastes. Daikon is one of my favourites to get going as you can quickly pickle for a really crunchy texture or let it sit for a while to get really great full flavour from it.
Wonderful just as it is as a side dish or even better add it into eggs and create a kimchi pancake. You can stir fry and add into noodles or into a clay pot with tofu and steam it for a good 20 mins to allow all those really pungent fishy, chilli, garlic flavours take hold of the tofu. Jelly tofu is one of my favourites and a wee bit added in is magical!

So...we finally did get there and the next day was a stunning clear day for us to sit and make our batch of non traditional kimchi

We used:
half a Daikon, washed and sliced finely
a mini cabbage from the garden -not an Asian variety but just a good old fashioned one that was rather ‘lacy’ from slugs -sliced and chopped to your desired thickness                                                                                                                 fish sauce 2 T
salt -about 1/4 C
7-8 cloves garlic
4cm piece ginger , grated
7-8 dried chillies
3 T white miso paste
1 C water

So into the mortar went the garlic, some of the salt, fish sauce and chillies which were pounded until they formed a nice paste.
Into a large bowl went all the sliced cabbage and was well mixed with the garlic and chilli paste.
Into the cabbage I added the remaining salt as well as the miso paste and a dash more fish sauce. I must say at this stage I just wanted to stir fry it up and eat it ! It smelt great!
Once super well mixed I began packing it into a clean jar in layers of cabbage then daikon then cabbage again adding a wee bit of the water as I went.







Cathy and Pete will try not to eat it before it ripens which will be about 3 weeks in this cold. In warmer weather it starts fermenting pretty fast so keep an eye on it but I prefer to house in the fridge and I try to get through it all in around 3 weeks so I tend to make a large batch and give most of it away.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Caraway seeds-an Easter weekend lunch April 2012

Caraway seeds have that taste about them that reminds you of all sorts of delicious times in your life.
Dark rye breads topped with smoked salmon springs to mind instantly but I have to admit to having quite  thing for the warm sweetness that caraway possess and I add it in to many dishes that make others exclaim ...What?!"
So caraway is a biennial that produces a seed pod where our warm, earthy, robust little seeds spring from that have tones of fennel, anise, orange peel followed by a lingering nuttiness with even hints of eucalyptus. It has a brightness whilst being warm and nutty-beguiling!
One of the oldest used spices, it has been found in the remains of food dating back to 3000 BC. The Egyptians were fond of it enough to bury their dead with it, and the Greeks and Romans appreciated it's medicinal qualities.
Widely used in the Middle Ages due to it’s use in sweets and breads up to the time, Shakespeare even wrote about it hinting more toward the changes in culinary trends of England at the time as it had become a quite accepted spice in the English repertoire.

Said to keep your man at home or at  least stop him from straying, caraway had a lot of live up to. Pigeons were feed breads spiced with caraway to keep them coming back to roost but Im not sure if the same success was had with men.

Indigenous to Europe where all parts of the plant are eaten from its wispy fennel like leaves to it’s carrot like tapered root, it is said to have come from Asia, India and North Africa well before that which in my mind makes sense when you think of the flavours that it bears.

Dutch caraway is said to be the best but it is commercially grown around the globe making it rather a success story in the spice world were so much is grown in such remote or limited areas.

Naturally that rather wonderfully medicinal taste is used for all sorts of things from liqueurs to mouthwash believe it or not.

Most would say caraway is over powering an requires a platform of it’s own to strut its stuff. Think Dutch cheeses with caraway embedded in it’s creamy carrying device, think breads and sweets. But it does partner well with apples, pork, cabbage and other brassicas-theres a meal right there!-and one of the most well known roles it plays is in harissa. That super fiery and complex of pastes originating in Tunisia. The caraway plays a refreshing game of chase with the chilli, the earthiness of cumin and the acidic tang of the garlic and that lovely warmth of paprika.

I break all rules so I add caraway to my stroganoff (shame on me!) but I add all sorts to it anyway so it bears no resemblance at all it the classic format other than possibly being meat in saucey stuff.

My latest love affair is with lamb though and Easter weekend cooking has lead me to rework something I had been working on which was more Chinese in origin. This is a weird mix of all sorts being partially Indian, partially North African, almost Mexican, sort of all sort s of yum thing I like mashed together to make Easter weekend lunch

Cumin Caraway Lamb Wraps

 I used a champagne cut lamb leg which has no waste at all -just great tender lamb all the way through to the knuckle. You can use a butterfly lamb leg or a bone in lamb leg , lamb rump would be wonderful too ...really anything at all.

1 T each of rock salt, black freshly ground pepper, caraway seed, cumin seed
Mix together well and sprinkle over the top of your well oiled lamb
Place in preheated oven and cook to suit your cut.
Allow to rest well before cutting into nice even thin slices .

Tomato Coriander Salsa
So..this is all about making something that is juicy and squishy and tangy and sweet and bright and runs down your wrist as you bite in. It bring some needed wetness to the whole affair. I don't get rid of the tomato seeds as Im not that sort of super fussy person. I think too they really help with the sloppy arm licking enjoyment of this and with out them you would need another saucey creation. I also like to hand shred the herbs rather than chopping them as it makes for a more textured salsa.

4-5 vine ripened tomatoes, diced
fist full fresh coriander leaves, hand shredded
fist full fresh mint leaves, hand shredded
1/2 t salt
1 t sesame oil
1/2 t mango pickle-not a sweet syrupy nasty one but a massive evil as really trad Indian one that is tart and shocking
2 t fragrant oil I keep in the fridge (see below)

Mix all together well and allow to sit for 10 mins at least before serving.

Naan bread-you can make your own if you are insane or have time or visit your local INdian supply store for some mango pickle, naan bread, fresh as caraway seeds and cumin seeds. They will cost ya all of $3 for a pack of 4 freshly baked that morning and even on a good day I cant make them that good.
I halve them or you could make one massive roll that folds over if you wish.

I platter it all up-lamb slices, sliced cucumber, the salsa and my naan bread and quite a few hand towels to soak up the dribble with.

If you want to make a fragrant fridge Oil as I like to call it, it is way handy to have on hand and can be sued to add into noodles, stir fries, top soupy noodle mid week dinner dishes with, add to Asian salads...almost anything actually and Im sure my husband could use it to perfect his Asian inspired bloody marys. The work to get it into the jar is worth it and you keep adding in more oil every time you use any and allow to sit back and chill out in your fridge getting more yum.

2-3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
ginger, 3-4 slices, peeled and as above
2-3 chillies, either remove seeds for less intense shocking heat or removed
1 t fennel seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 cinnamon quill, halved
1 star anise

Place the peeled shallots, garlic and ginger in a fry pan and cover with grape seed oil.
Over a low to medium heat allow them too cook gently and brown but not burn!
Once well browned and really fragrant and in the chilli and spices.
Allow to cook gently again for 3-4 mins

Remove from the heat and allow to cool before pouring all into a jar with a screw top lid and storing the fridge for at least 2 weeks before using. Every time you use some add more fresh grape seed oil, shake well and return to fridge. Grape seed is ideal being flavourless and odorless so it is all about the taste of the ingredients. It also will not solidify in your fridge.

After a while it generates great subtle heat that has a nice lip tingle making it ideal for dishes as above.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Fermented Soy Beans-An everyday Ingredient

The soya bean plays such a vital role in Asian cuisine. Utilised to create such important ingredients as soy sauce, tofu and miso, the little cute green soya bean is king!
Over the years the availability fo different soy products has meant more choice for the discerning palate and now it is almost a little overwhelming to make a decision on what to buy.
Most of my friends now have a jar in their fridge of fermented bean paste which is a vital everyday ingredient for Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese dishes. The only problem is getting to knwo the differences. I use Korean and Chinese specifically and for the sake of ease more than anything I decided to leave miso out of it altogether. Have a look at an old post I did on miso.
So some info on soy bean paste to start....

Soy Bean Sauces and Pastes
It is thought that visiting scholar from Goguryeo, the ancient kingdom of Korea, bought fermented soy bean paste to north east China over 2,000 years ago as a dipping condiment specifically for eating with fresh vegetables. Now such an essential part of Chinese cuisine, the fermented bean paste was traditionally made once a year on the second day of the second month of the lunar year. Allowed to harden for a period of several months, natural bacteria forms as white mould at which time it is broken into pieces and stored in pottery vessels specifically made for the preservation of soy paste and has salt and water added that is then mixed regularly. Left out in the harsh sunlight, the fermentation process is speed up dramatically breaking it down into a yellowish runny paste. More salt and water are added to keep the fermentation process alive and eventually after some 6 months, it is ready to be used for the remaining year.
Pastes vary in colour from yellow, brown to black and range in texture from coarse dry beans through to shiny pastes. More pastey than saucy, they are often labelled simply as bean paste. 'Min sze Jeung' is the Chinese for mashed and whole fermented soy beans and 'mor sze jeung' for the smoother or ground paste and this is the term that refers to the most basic of bean sauces. The smoother is one that would generally be used for most Chinese, Malaysian or Singaporean dishes where a bean sauce is called for.
Most well known of bean sauces is hoi sin  jeung, most commonly known as hoisin sauce. A sweet mix of Chinese five spice, garlic, salt and sugar, it is used for many applications in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines.

Black beans go through a similar fermentation process to become 'douche' black bean paste which is very dry and salty. Beans are left whole and must be washed well first to remove the excess saltiness and rubbed gently to remove the exterior shells of the bean itself before being mushed into a paste. Prepared black bean sauces are never as tasty as those you make yourself, lacking in at the fullness of flavor that only salted fermented black beans can bring when used whole.
Bean pastes are used for so many applications to the point that there really is a paste for every dish. 'Tauchu" paste is just for steaming fish, 'hangdog" is a yellow paste that is vital for creating zhajiangmian, a noodles dish with fried pork. Tian main jingo is a sweet paste used with chicken. The list is endless. Look for a basic brown bean paste with out sugar as a starting point to experiment with.

Korean Bean Paste
The Koreans use a bean paste that is indispensable in the kitchen called 'dhwen jang' or 'done jaang' which literally translates as 'thick paste'. The first initial stage of the process is known as cheonggukjang and is a fast fermented product being held at 40 C for just 2-3 days with the addition of bacteria to help the fermentation process along. Made from wither whole or ground soy beans, this can also have the addition of chillies and salt.
The second more lengthy step  involves boiled and stone ground soy beans being formed into blocks that are known as 'meju'. These are aged and sun dried for a more developed flavor. With the help of dried rice plants, living bacteria (bacillus subtilis) grows onto the 'meju' blocks creating fermentation and a smell of ammonia. After 1-3 months these are then placed into pottery vats with brine and further aged and then the liquid and solids are separated and sold individually as 'g'anjang for the liquid and 'doenjang' for the solids.
I find all of the Korean paste to be very versatile in the chopstick kitchen being added to vinegars and oils to make quick dipping sauces and marinades, added to meats for stir fry dishes and to noodles or rice for instant flavpur. Found easily in any Korean supermarket, they show clearly not he lable if they have the addition of chilli or are aged. I find the aged to have more flavor that works equally well for Chinese dishes.
Vietnamese have a thinner sauce named tu'o'ng which is salted and fermented as with the other sauces but uses the addition of roasted soy for a different flavor.

Some more experimentation with Korean pastes have been a revelation to me so when I recently ran out of Chinese produced paste I just opted to stick with my Korean aged paste.I used it for what I call the classic and legendary roast pork-simply air dried to help the skin crackle and then marinated at least over night with aged korean bean paste, 1/2 t sugar, soy and 1 t five spice mixed well and runned into the flesh.Roasted for around 40 mins, the Korean paste actually provides a little more delicate flavour than the Chinese. I may just stick with it!

Some of my super fast mid week speed dishes that make those hard days at work easier to deal with when you come home and just simply chicken marinated with soy bean paste, a touch of sugar and salt, soy, ginger and garlic. This mighty combo cant be beaten really for taste. Stir fried off with some brocolli and with a bowl of rice, it takes 20mins all up with rice cooking time and is delicious, tasy and full of veg yummmm.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chinese Black Vinegar June 2011

Excellence Food Biochemical Co Ltd Chinese Black Vinegar
Milder in taste to their European counterparts, Chinese vinegar is said to date back to the middle of the first millennium.
I have recently discovered the use of the black vinegars in my cooking, trying out a number of different ideas with them that seem to work quite well but is so dependent on the vinegar itself. A clean and not as overly acidic as European vinegars, most recipes I have looked at use what feels like a lot but once heated and additional ingredients added it seems to tone down even more so. Used more in Northern China, vinegars are used for pickling and preserving as well as adding tartness to dishes with heat. It adds that sweet and sour all at once.
There are a number available now in any good Asian supermarket without he Chinkiang brand being the most widely available. I picked up a new one the other day that is produced in Taiwan under try Excellence Food Biochemical Co and is made from glutinous rice vinegar, black rice vinegar, fruit and spice. More like a Worcestershire sauce, i tried it out with a fish dish.
I was pretty happy with the results as the fruit tartness mixed well with the chilles and coriander. I have tried this also with just plain black vinegar which is also nice too.

Whole Fried Snapper with Black Vinegar and Chilli Sauce
1 gutted and scaled fish-any variety will do, well washed and carefully make three long incisions int he fattest areas of the fish on each side-this will help the fish to cook evenly in the thicker areas
2 red chillies, seeds removed and finely juliennned
big bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked from stalks and discard stalks
2 spring onions, white part only very finely julienned
1/2 cup black vinegar -any variety you can find
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat a deep fryer or wok filled with grape seed oil till very hot.
Carefully slide the fish into the hot oil and cook it each side for 4 minutes depending not eh thickness of the fish
Remove and allow to drain on kitchen paper to remove excess oil
Heat a fry pan or another wok with a  little oil and fry the chillies till fragrant (1/2 minute) before adding he vinegar, sugar and salt.
Bring to the boil and then add the coriander and spring onion.
Remove from the heat and plate the fish onto a plate with a deep rim to hold the sauce
Pour over the fish and serve immediately.

If you cut carefully, you can make the fish curl once it is served. I like to deep fry in a a wok to help this process as it keeps the fish in a curled position long enough to spoon over the hot oil that then helps it to keep its shape. You have to work fast as well as carefully to avoid the fish breaking once it is cooked or burning yourself! The cuts in the fish will also help this too and tend to curl the body of the fish. Be sure not to overcook the flesh so keep a very close eye on the colour of the flesh as you cook.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Miso-The greatest food Creation! January 2011

Miso has been firmly embraced as a side to sushi here in New Zealand and in talking with people it seems that they deem it a wonderfully healthy food that can be enjoyed only as long as it is in the presence of raw fish.
While we still have a long way to go here at home with Japanese food, I am finding that with the interest that is out there for Japanese cuisine more people are interested and seeking out different miso than the ready to go, just add hot water varieties.
Don't get me wrong, I adore the Japanese for their ability to simplify foods to make them easy for us to carry to work and I eat miso every morning for breakfast while I sit at my computer checking email. It gives me great energy for the day ahead and it seems that no matter the season I never get sick of it.

Miso is definitely a culinary staple for the Japanese. High in protein, rich in minerals and vitamins, miso is a bit of a wonder food and there are all manner of ways to enjoy it that extend a great deal further than soup. Those eating a macrobiotic diet will be more than familiar with its virtues but I hope that more people begin to add it to their everyday diet as a fantastic flavour enhancer.

Miso came to Japan from China where the fermentation of soy based foods was creating tasty pastes for adding huge flavour to otherwise rather bland things. Today I use those formats in my Chinese cooking and they provide immense flavour and they have a format that is most like miso called "chiang". The Koreans also have very similar formats that they use to do the same trick and the Vietnamese know it as "chao do". It is thought that some time around the 6th century fermented soy based products came to Japan via Buddhism and it was known at that time as 'shi'.
"Shi" for quite some time was eaten as whole fermented soy beans with great big intense musky flavours that could be enjoyed with simple dishes of rice and pickles to provide extra protein. It wasn't until later that someone came up with the idea to grind the beans and make a paste that could then be used for far more applications.
The name changed along the way as did the processes with which it was made to the point that today it would be very rare to find someone who makes their own miso paste at home anymore.
Mass produced miso is cheap and wonderful. There is no denying it. A simple food product, it appears everywhere and can be dependant on quality, a few dollars or many.
Made by fermenting the main ingredient with salt and a fungus called koji, the process is one that produces a wide range of flavours.
Soy is the main ingredient used to make miso but rice and barley are also common as well as buckwheat, millet, rye and wheat. All are prized for the different flavours they bring to the miso.
The koji itself is a by product of sake and shochu brewing as well as being used for soy production so it plays an extremely vital role in everyday Japanese life.
Fermentation itself can range from mere days to months and naturally the difference in flavour is great. With any fermented food the longer the process continues the bigger and heartier the result will be. The temperature as well as the length of fermentation, the salt content added, the variety of koji fungus and even the vessel that the miso is being produced in play a part in the end taste.
There are four main varieties that are easily identifiable due to their colour and are named for their appearance :
-shiro-white miso
-aka-red miso
-awase-mixed miso
-hatcho-dark brown miso.

Each region of Japan seems to have a favourite and in my favourite town, Kyoto, they are big on hatcho miso while in the big city of Tokyo, you will be served shiro miso.
Classification is done by grain type that the fermentation process has been done with rather than age or flavour. These aspects can vary so greatly so type is the easiest identifier as a shopper.
Besides the four colour groups above, you then can have miso created from:
-Mugi-soy beans and barley
-tsubu-whole wheat/barley
-hatcho-soy bean
-kome-soy bens and white rice
-soba-soy beans and buckwheat
-genmai-soy beans and brown rice
-natto-soy beans and ginger
-gokoku-soy bean with a five grain mix
-hadakamugi-soy beans and rye
-nanban-soy beans and chilli-this is used more as a dipping sauce 

Production of miso is revered and a miso producer has much the same profile in Japan as a wine maker or cheese maker on France. A highly skilled profession, most miso houses are run by the same families for many, many generations passing on their traditions to make the best miso they can for  the region.

As a living product, the koji provides natural flora in the gut much the same as yoghurt does. The Japanese prize miso for its natural goodness and it is very much considered a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. Miso with rice for breakfast is very traditional.
Miso appears in soup as it is or with a number of accompaniments such as udon noodles, ramen noodles, big slow cooked hot pots called nabe and other slow cooked vegetable and meat dishes.  It is used to give flavour to grilled foods, marinades and sauces and is used to make a specific variety of pickle called misozuke.

As a natural living product, miso has a great deal of health benefits attached to it and this is important if you are looking at miso as an addition to your diet for those health purposes. The living culture can be killed off during production so look for unpasteurised formats of miso when you are buying i,t if you wish to be enjoying the flavour and health benefits. You will find those in the chilled section of a health food store or quality Japanese food store. Keep them well chilled to keep the bacteria alive and it is important that so as to not kill the bacteria that you do not over heat the miso at any stage. To make soup, bring the paste and water up to heat slowly and do not bring to a boil.
If you are looking to use miso as a flavour enhancer and still get the full health benefits look at some ways that you can introduce flavour through dipping sauces rather than cooking it.
I admit I use miso more for flavour than anything other reason but do enjoy the idea of added benefits and it appears on my table as a marinade with Japanese soy and a few other ingredients for chicken, beef and pork. It is fantastic used as a basting sauce for grilled meats and vegetables and also for tofu.
I use shiro and aka at home most regularly but do enjoy hatcho during the winter months for that bigger flavour when added to stews and slow cooked dishes. I like to mix different miso together to achieve different flavours.

Much has been written about the role it has played with cancer patients and those under going radiation therapy. It is suggested that miso can even delay the onset of cancers. Japanese woman who eat miso are found to have lower rates of breast cancers than non eaters in the same country. Those with lung disorders are said to be added with the daily consumption of miso to clear the passages. Miso is high in copper and manganese both of which are vital in creating antioxidants in the body and help with flexibility of blood vessels, bones and joints.
You can see why I enjoy a bowl every morning.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Polenta and Cavolo Nero-Winter Eating August 2010

I am definitely one for hibernation over winter. I am usually very content being in anyway but as soon as it hits around 4C outside I’m happy to be in with the cat but the heater.
Winter is easily the best time for cooking. Everyone goes on about summer cooking but hot weather isn’t conducive to being inside and slaving away over something at the stove for hours. Winter cooking is all about slow cooking and also about having the time to wait for slow cut meats to do their own thing in the oven.

I have been singing the praises of beef shin at the moment-a great cheap cut that has all the flavour of bone in it also and comes alive after at least two hours of cooking.
I cook it simply with white wine, capers, lemon zest, salt and pepper and after it has melted down, I shred it and have it on homemade pasta with the best winter veg, cavolo nero. Luxurious!!
Cavolo can be hard to find but check out your local health food store. I always buy it from there as an organically grown number and it is wonderfully good and hearty for you. A member of the kale family, this type of greens have so much goodness naturally-iron, vitamin K and C, calcium and the much discussed sulforaphane which is said to have anti-cancer properties that are best bought out when the vegetable in question is chopped or minced. The only difference between cabbage and kale is that no head forms as it does with a cabbage so the leaves are looser but a great deal tougher in texture.
Said to have been the most common green in Europe through the Middle Ages, kale was a hearty favourite of the Romans and nowadays the Italians love it as much as I do. It is oddly enough closely related to Chinese Kai-Larn which has a similarly woody texture but more stalky and is far more bitter in taste. Also oddly, I think more people would recognise the kale in bouquets rather than at the vege store. It grows remarkably well in little soil and loves the cold so is used ornamentally by city councils everywhere. 
So my favourite ways with the kale or Cavolo Nero are all about keeping it simple.
As I mentioned, I add the chopped cavolo to my beef shin mix just before I serve it to allow to cook but some other ways are:

 Ribollita Soup –an Italian Classic just isn’t the same with out a big handful of cavolo added to it. This truly wintery soup is all about what is stored away for the lean months so it is heavy with beans, left over old bread, tinned tomatoes, sometimes even a bacon hock or two but the cavolo is left in for quite a while to really cook through nicely.

Stir frying cavolo or kale with a heap of crushed garlic is possibly one of my favourite winter treats. Heat a little grape seed oil in a wok till just about smoking. Add 3-4 crushed garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon salt. I then add as much freshly washed, still damp cavolo as I can fit into the wok and mix it together well. Place a lid on the wok and allow the excess moisture on the leaves to steam it. Cook 2 minutes then remove the lid and dish out onto a plate.
I really enjoy this with other wintery delights such as good old mushrooms on toast, simple roast chicken, mash potato and a beautifully cooked piece of quality eye fillet….
It is very much a textural veg that should be enjoyed for the fact that is dark and chewy.
My other all time must make once a week favourite right now is meatballs on soft polenta with cavolo nero. I am a big fan of polenta but when talking with people I find that they think of it as very bland and gluggy. Made from corn, it has little to no nutrional quality at all but that certainly doesn’t mean it has to be tasteless! I think of it as a vehicle for flavours as it sucks up anything you add to it. Parmesan and polenta are very good friends as is cream or any dairy for that matter and wine. It can be served wet as below or cooked and set then grilled or baked for another versatile addition to the table.
You will find it in several formats at any good food-store. One is a fast cooked version ready in a matter of minutes. This is almost like parboiled rice and is fine if you are short of time. The other formats require more stirring and are usually a coarse grain or a finer grain. Both require 25-30 minutes of your attention and an arm happy to stand and stir continuously for that period. Italians will likely tell you the way I make it wrong and somewhat sacrilegious but I like the way it turns out so I am happy.

Pork and Veal Meatballs on Soft Polenta with Cavolo Nero
Serves 6-8

For the sauce
3 tins quality chopped tomatoes
½ bottle red wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed finely
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped

In a deep and heavy based casserole dish, heat a little grape seed oil and add the onion and garlic to brown gently. Add the tomatoes, mixing all well and then pour in the wine. Add the salt and pepper and the mix. Allow to just boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer.

For the Meatballs
500g free range quality pork mince
500g quality ethical veal mince
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
1 lemon zested finely
6 cloves garlic, crushed finely

In a bowl mix the meats and other ingredients together well. Using very little pressure form meat balls approx 2.5cm in diameter and rest them on a plate. If you roll too tight the meatballs will be hard when cooked. 
Heat a fry pan with a little grape seed oil and add a layer of meatballs. The idea here is simply to brown, not cook through so be very gentle when you turn then to brown on each side. Remove as soon as they are browned and place into the tomato sauce.

Cook the sauce either on the stove or in the oven covered on a low heat for 2 hours. This part can be done well advance if you like and then reheated.
Once it is time to start assembling the meal itself, remove the lid of the meatballs and bring back to a simmer so a little excess liquid can reduce away.

For the polenta
250-300g fine grain polenta
200g butter
1.2-1.5 litres water (or stock)
250ml cream
200ml white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

In a separate heavy based saucepan heat the butter till melted. Add the polenta and mix well with the butter.
Add enough warm water to make a sluggy mix and stir. Keep stirring and add all the water, stirring wildly as you go. I use a whisk for this part as it easier to control.
Keep stirring and add the white wine. You will begin to see that the textures of the grains themselves are softening and the whole mass is looking less grainy.
After 15 minutes of good honest stirring I add the cream and stir well again. Make sure at this stage that you are being careful to stir fast enough t stop exploding bubbles of polenta hit you. They burn believe me!
Once you feel it is at a stage that each mouthful will be soft and wonderful and not grainy and gritty then you are done!
Take off the heat and stir though a good helping of freshly grated good parmesan and add pepper and salt to taste.

Tip the whole lot out onto a massive platter with a lid and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the meatballs and sauce and garnish with a big handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley and more black pepper.

To the side I add a big bowlful of just stir-fried cavolo nero (as above) and have on hand a rather large quantity of red wine and good friends.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Japanese Travels-Part 2-Where has all the Sushi Gone? July 2010

Nigiri Wall

Strolling along the streets of fine Kyoto makes you hungry. Everywhere you look a tiny vendor is offering some delicious morsel up for sale. The wafting scent of oden steaming away, the smoky charcoal from a sweet potato roaster, the distinctive broth scent of a ramen shop, the glimpse through a door of someone grilling a handful of skewered meats. As a city, their days revolve around eating and I am right there with them to make the most of it.

Kyoto cuisine is distinctive to their region. Japan as a whole are extremely regionalised in their eating habits and any mention of food will inevitably begin a debate about where you can get the best of what you are talking about. The passion with which people discuss something as simple as the best bowl of ramen in town can be a two hour long debate that may involve making a few calls to get a better sample group. Everyone has an opinion and that opinion can also be heavily based on where they grew up or where their parents were from. The regional pride one feels for their village or prefecture is immense and therefore no one’s favourite ramen wants to be something that is similar to that of another region. Distinct flavours or additions will make their ramen different and recognisable as their own and for me as a traveller and eating machine, that much more excited when I next sit down to a bowl of ramen just one city over to taste the marked differences in their broth, the consistency of noodle, the tasty additions they may have on offer at each tale.

What this means though for us as little old New Zealanders is that we have what I refer to as the food over view of a country. It is maybe the best bits all rolled into one or maybe it is just the most exciting and tasty parts? At any rate it tends to miss quite a big chunk of what the reality is of eating in another world.
In the case of Japanese food we seem to have grown an idea that Japan is awash with St Pierre’s stores all selling sushi and miso in little plastic containers. It is very similar to what we also consider to be Chinese food in New Zealand. The homogenised mass that pleases all palates is something I am not a fan of and have long bemoaned the fact that until very recently have we actually seen the regional differences of countries coming through into small restaurants in New Zealand. No longer is Chinese just Chinese but rather we have the choice of Shanghaiese, Cantonese, Yunan style, proper Schecuan. The vastness of China can certainly provide a wonderful array of dining treats that could last you many days of banqueting.

The same can be said for the Japanese and their cuisine and in fact anywhere you attempt to find the ‘real’ food of a country it should be celebrated as a true find. It is likely it will be the best food you eat and more than likely also the least expensive.  

The big question people always ask upon return from Japan seems to always be about the sushi and what the difference is between here and there. A fair enough question one would think as sushi pretty much epitomises the Japanese culture to a westerner.

The word sushi originally meant fermented fish. Over some mere 2000 years the meaning of the word altered and now we know it as the stuff we find in all most every food hall across the world and is basically vinegared rice with raw fish.
It seems when reading anything about sushi there are a number of different versions that tell the story of how sushi became sushi and certainly more importantly, how different styles emerged.

Kyoto is inland and due to some rather fascinating events over the course of Japanese history, fresh fish took a very long time to make its way to the streets of the geisha in Kyoto. (One of my favourites is the banning of the wheel for a period of time). Distance is a factor to freshness and the Japanese are perhaps the most finicky about freshness and quality than any other eaters in the world. Transportation was a massive factor in getting freshly caught fish from the coast back into Kyoto before the advent of the super fast and super efficient Japanese train that can do it in a mere 22 minutes. So they just didn’t. They gave it up in favour of other foods and even today in Kyoto the sushi of the area is differentiated as being known as Kyoto sushi as opposed to Edomae or Tokyo sushi.
Traditionally sushi shops were closed during the summer months due to the heat and lack of refrigeration to the keep the fish at a useable holding temperature. It took the great earthquake of 1923 to get Tokyo sushi really rolling in Kyoto as many traditional sushi shops moved from the devastation in Tokyo to Kyoto to set up shop in the old capital.

They cleverly though did find a way to create a type of sushi that fitted their needs. Using cured fish or fish that did not spoil as quickly meant they could still enjoy fish but in quite a different way to their Tokyo friends.
The list is rather endless once you start investigating the varieties…..
Sabazushi is a form of Kyoto sushi and is made from pickled mackerel on sushi rice. The pickling or curing of the mackerel means it can keep a little longer-up to 3 days-but it also alters the texture of the fish itself creating quite an interplay of textures so different than the Edomae sushi we are use to. The sabazushi is formed into along roll and then wrapped in kelp. Kelp also works as a preservative for the rice keeping it moist and also encased for easy travel.
Hamo sushi uses grilled eel which is topped with a sweet soy glaze so the whole lot is cooked rather than the expected raw version.  
Shapes can play an important role also and Teamri sushi is formed into a ball which holds cured fish or vegetables inside. It is believed that this may have been one of the earliest forms of sushi and that the rice itself was merely a vehicle to get the fish from point to point. Almost like a lunch box you could say.
Kaki No ha Sushi is known more in the Nara region which is not far from Kyoto and is the same box sushi that is seen in Osaka but uses cured fish wrapped in persimmon leaves. The leaves have antibacterial properties which helps keep the fish fresher. The leaves are sometimes salted also the aid the process.
Bamboo leaves are also used in the same way as they to have similar antibacterial qualities.
Shima sushi is also referred to as island sushi and comes from the Izu islands not too far from Tokyo itself. They have a unique style that uses raw fish but all the sashimi is immersed in soy sauce infused with togarashi peppers. They also use mustard rather than wasabi to serve along side their sushi.
Inari sushi uses the delicately cooked soft tofu pockets and each pocket is filled with sushi rice.   
Vegetables play an important role in sushi in Kyoto as well as other plants so you have fantastic textural sushi rolls that are immense in the unique flavours of pickled and preserved local vegetables.

Sabazushi Restuarant Kyoto

The photo above show one restuarant that has been in Kyoto for over 300 years run by the same family. The specialise in Sabazushi but also make other traditional items that are some of the finest sushi I have ever eaten. The floor of the restuarant was paved with river stones that had been freshly washed just before they opened and the walls were lined with panels of wood apparently taken from barges that once made the journey up and down the river just metres away. A total organic experience you felt as if you were sitting in a forest or a river bed being handed hand crafted foods on beautifully hand painted very rustic platters. I am very thankful to Michael of Kyoto for introducing us to this incredible experience.

Sabazushi Restuarant Kyoto

Each day a beautiful display is made in the window of the resturant and the lunch trade is incredible. As we waited for Michael to arrive they cleared almost all of this out in less than 10 minutes. You can see the Sabazushi rolls in the white paper looking more like a beautifully wrapped present than your lunch. The Inari pockets (tofu pockets) can just be seen to the right of the frame.

Sabazushi rolls Kyoto

We then went on to see Sabazushi all over Kyoto. This photo was taken at a 'foodhall' type market that sold everything from vegetables to sake and pizza.

1970’s saw the rise of Japanese restaurants outside of their home country and naturally like all food transitions some changes had to take place so that the oddity that was sushi would be gradually accepted. The invention of the California roll was a high point in fusion cuisine and bought the flavours of Japan into reach from those who were too scared to try it in its traditional manner.
Salmon was not a traditional raw ingredient due to the parasites that particularly like the flesh of salmon and even in Japan the Ainu people of Northern Japan would freeze salmon in the snow for a few days to kill off any parasites before they ate it. Raw salmon is a rather new addition to menus and certainly one that New Zealanders seem to be the most accepting of.

The rise of the roll is surely got to be a good thing outside of Japan. If it makes even a few people try something more exotic than the 70’s California creation then that is a success in itself. The appreciation that there is more to Japanese cuisine than raw fish and seaweed has still to be recognised by many but we can chip away at that much the same as there is more to Chinese food than chicken black bean from the local takeaways.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Aubergine and Prawns August 2010

Aubergine and Coriander Prawns

I threw together quick lunchtime eat the weekend I was away with my inlaws and a resounding yum came from the table. Certainly nothing too glam, I thought it would make a nice easy Sunday brunch idea for when the eater gets a little warmer.
An excellent one too for right now as aubergines are finally at that stage that you may even think about buying them again now that hey aren't $8 each.

Aubergine and Nut Prawn Noodles
2 aubergine, halved and roasted with a little oil till softened and the flesh can be removed-discard skins
handful toasted almonds
1/2 handful toasted peanuts
1 -2 teaspoons salt
handful of freshly chopped coriander, finely chopped
2-3 springs fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
500g raw prawns, shelled and tails removed

In a food processor, mix the aubergine flesh with the nuts and fresh herbs, salt and tahini, garlic, cumin and sesame oil till blended to a paste. I like it with still nice chunky bits but up to you.
Remove and place in a bowl. Set aside.
Rinser the prawns well and pat dry.
Heat a little oil in a wok and add the extra garlic and cook till just beginning to colour.
add the prawns in batched and stir fry till they just begin to change colour.
Set aside in a bowl.
Add the aubergine to the wok and mix well and then add the prawns and throughly coat the prawns.
Remove from the heat and toss through some extra chopped coriander.
Serve over freshly cooked noodles or just as they are.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Preserved Lemons July 2010

Winter brings with it the onset of colds, flus, running noses and general winter blues and while they say an apple a day will keep the doctor away, lemons do just as good a job over the winter months.
With a massive 53 mg of vitamin C in a standard lemon it is no wonder the lemon is referred to as nature’s pharmacy.
I do enjoy the citrus fruits that winter brings and feel that much better with a hot lemon and manuka honey drink in hand to help ease the blues and the sore throat.

Reading about the lemon and its long history made me understand that it seems to be a little bit of a mystery where lemons actually originated first but some thoughts are India, who are today still the largest producers. Chinese cuisine does have an old tradition of using lemon both for cooking and medicinally so perhaps the lemon came from these regions before it took the long journey over to Europe near Southern Italy. The Arab world adopted the lemon whole heartedly and it plays a major role in their cuisine today.
Cultivation of the lemon in Europe didn’t start until late in the piece-somewhere around the 15th century and then it was introduced to the Americas by Columbus and by the late 1800’s mass plantings of citrus around Florida and California could be found.

I always have lemons on hand in the kitchen for cooking. You cant beat that bright, fresh zing they add and often when I feel that I cant get a dish right, I add a little zest or juice of a lemon and find that it hits the spot.

Preserved lemons are another favoured ingredient that I keep on hand to add brightness and complexity to dishes.
Common to North African cuisine, the preserved lemon has become a common sight in recipes and are available quite readily packed into jars. Not just something unique to Northern Africa, those who grew and enjoyed lemons wanted to be able to enjoy them all year round so the preserving or lemons and citrus in some form is found all over the world. An American cookbook and good house management book I found dating from 1808 notes the preserving of lemons in salt and spices such as ginger and nutmeg or vinegar and salt and allowing them to sit for at least 1 year before they are used.
In Sri Lanka they boil them till they split then stuff them with salt and submerge them in vinegar for six months. They are then minced with shallots and chillies as a type of lemon pickle to be enjoyed on rice.
In North Africa they are pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice and salt, they are allowed to ferment for a period of usually months before they are used. The convenience factor of being able to buy them off the shelf these days saves for a lot of work and space saving as believe me, a huge tub of fermenting lemons in your laundry can get a little annoying and make the husband rather grumpy every time he whacks his toe against it.

The process itself is not difficult . Slice the lemon almost into quarters bit not all the way through. Stuff the lemon with approximately 1 tablespoon of good sea salt. Squeeze the lemons into large wide mouthed jars and toss more salt in on top.
Add whatever spices you feel you want to-cinnamon quills, paprika, chillies, peppercorns…up to you and here there are no rules so go crazy if you like.
At this stage some people cover with lemon juice or vinegar and some just allow the natural mushing of the lemons against one another to create juice. I like to cover with more lemon juice to be safe as I don’t want that hard work to be wasted.
Seal but the jar and if you feel inclined, allow it to simmer in a hot water bath to kill any extra bugs. This is totally your call and as the lemon juice is acidic, it tends to kill off anything anyway.
Store for at least 3 weeks before you can’t wait any longer but you can keep them up to a year by which time they would have darkened considerably but are still safe to use.

They are wonderful to use as you would expect for North African dishes. Classic tagines and slow cooked meats are wonderfully enhanced with the addition of a lemon quarter or two.
It is usual just to cut away the fleshy pulp in the middle and just add the skin either whole or finely chopped but I have found that unless it has a huge amount of seeds I don’t bother. Slow cooking with the preserved lemons makes them even softer again and can easily just be mushed up into the liquid.
If I am adding them to a salad or cous cous then I do remove the pulp and very finely slice the skin so you are not getting a massive sour burst in a mouthful.

Other applications for preserved lemons:
-Add a quarter to a chicken stuffing rather than a fresh lemon. The taste is a little mellower.
-Make a gremolata from preserved lemon skin, very finely chopped, fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped and garlic, also finely chopped. Top grilled meats, seafood or soups.
-Preserved lemons work very well with fish so bake a whole or fillets of fish with slices of preserved lemon, pepper, sliced fennel bulbs and olive oil
-Heavy meats such as lamb shanks can be lightened up with the addition of preserved lemons. Add at the start of the cooking process and mush them up into the cooking liquids.
-Sliced finely and added to fresh summer salads
-Add to herb and nut mixers to create zesty pestos to have toasted onto breads

If you have a lemon tree this is a great way to enjoy lemons all year round. Get harvesting and bottling!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Rice-the Feeder of the World June 2010

Rice is the ultimate food. Every day millions of people start and finish the day with a bowl of rice. In my house rice is a permanent fixture at breakfast and dinner and often for lunch as well. My rice box is seldom empty and if for some unknown reason that is does become so it is like a state emergency!
As I have been bought up eating rice basically every day I don’t quite have the same love affair as others do to potatoes and other forms of starch that are generally served alongside meats. My appreciation of rice is that is works in so many ways.
Through out the East there are many expressions that relate to eating that involve rice. To ask someone if they have eaten today is indicated in a manner that asks if you have eaten rice today. The Japanese were introduced to rice from the Chinese via Korea and made it a staple of their diets and a central part of their cuisine. Each dish is a side issue to the rice itself that takes centre stage.

There are some easy to remember rules about rice that will make choosing the right rice easy. I find many people have rice confusion over long grain, short grain, medium grain, jasmine, japonica, basmati; wild….the list is rather long on varietals.
Three species differentiate eating types in Asia. Indica is a long grain variety with a little stickiness, Japonica is short with some stickiness and Javanica is long grained with more stickiness.
Basmati and Jasmine fall into the long grained Indica variety while the rice you will generally see in Japan, China, and Korea are all Japonica. Vietnamese use a mixture of Japonica and long grained rice that they cook in such a way to create either very sticky or very dry and fluffy rice.

I am a Japonica short or medium grain girl myself and always have been. I enjoy the natural clumping, the sweet taste that does not over power the food and creaminess of the grain. It is the perfect rice to serve alongside Chinese food and can be used for sushi, fried rice dishes and to serve alongside Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean food.
I always wash my rice very well first then cook using the standard absorption method.
Naturally there is a great deal of choice when it comes to rice including those that have not be polished, or still have their exterior sheath on them for extra nutrition. It doesn’t have to be all white rice and less nutriants if you don’t want it to be.
Brown rice has not been milled so the colour you see is the exterior layer of bran. Much higher in fibre than white rice, it is a good dietary source of vitamin B but can be rather chewy. I like brown rice but I would never give up white in its favour. I do enjoy it more when mixed with white rice as it provides a lovely nuttiness.

Basmati Rice is the classic rice used when cooking Indian and Persian dishes. The grains are visibly longer and when cooked remain separated. Many suggest soaking basmati for up to 30minutes prior to cooking so the rice uptakes the water better making it fluffier when cooked. In India aged or vintage basmati is highly prized for its flavour but is not commonly seen elsewhere.

Jasmine rice has a subtle flavour and a longer grain. Perfumed, it needs to be matched carefully so its flavours will not over power but it is ideal for Thai dishes rich in intense flavours. Rinse well before use.

Wild rice is not a grain but an aquatic grass, it is well known to those who shop at health food stores. Now more and more available in supermarkets, it is always hellishly expensive for some unknown reason as it is no longer wild but cultivated like all other races. The expensive makes it a hard one to serve on its own and I find too that the chewy quality of the grass grain can really be quite a work out for the teeth. I mix it with other rices to extend it and if nothing else it looks lovely served as a pilaff. Soaking it can help speed up the lengthy cooking time also.

Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli are all risotto rice’s high in all the right starches that you need to make creamy comfort food.
Risotto should never simply be sloppy though and these grains all need a different treatment to get the most out of them. Arborio is perhaps the most temperamental but generally the most widely available for risotto. Each variety adds different attributes and textures to your risotto as each contain differing degrees of amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is the soft starch that dissolves when cooked and amylose is the starch in the centre of the grain that keeps its bite even when cooked. If you hold a grain of risotto rice up to the light you can see the two types of white in each grain. This starch makes the creamy texture you are looking for in a good risotto, hence why you don’t wash your risotto rice like you would all other rice.
Arborio has the most surface starch or amylopectin, making it the ideal choice for a dense risotto. It does in turn need the most attention as that lovely starch and creaminess can become very gluey easily. The irony is arborio is perhaps the most common of all three risotto rises but the most difficult to cook well. Large grain size means a 18-20 minute cooking time.
Vialone nano is the smallest of the three grains and has equal quantities of amylopectin and amylose. Generally used to make a much wetter Venetian style risotto, the results are not too creamy, not too dry with a shorter cooking time of around 14-15 minutes.
Carnaroli is also evenly proportioned in starch inside and out and is seen as the most forgiving of all three producing a even, soft texture but the larger grain means a slightly longer cooking time of 16-17 minutes.

I have come to realise that cooking rice is one of things that people take for granted that everyone knows. I have also come to realise that there is a lot of badly cooked rice out there! I follow this procedure to ensure I get fluffy perfect rice each time and I am sorry to say it does not involve using the microwave or a boil in the bag.

Place the rice in a heavy based pot and wash well under running water. Move the rice through your fingers, gently massaging it and helping any excess starch works its way put of the rice. The water will be cloudy. Pour off the water and continue the rinsing process a few times or until the water begins to run clearer.
Cover the rice with 3 centimetres of water. Some people use the finger measure where they add enough water to reach their knuckle if their fingertip is resting on the rice.
Place the pot on the stove covered on a high heat and bring it to the boil. You may need to very briefly remove the lid to release excess steam but make sure you replace the lid straight away. Steam is the key to fluffy rice.
Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook for 20 minutes.

The simplest of things can sometimes be the hardest to master so keep working at it.
Happy eating!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Japanese Travels Part 1-The Delicious Art of Pickles


Having just returned in the last week or so from Japan and China, I am still totally overwhelmed with the tastes and smells that made up my holiday.
A whole 20 long days enjoying the fast paced, expo crazed city of Shanghai coupled with the graceful tranquillity of Kyoto and a final few days in what is always the adventure of Osaka made for a truly memorable experience.
Returning home and back to reality is always hard and a whole week after my husband was rather sick of my depressive plodding and grumpy demeanor. I just really wanted to be back in Kyoto having another draft Asahi, another sticky charcoal cooked treat, and another trip to a food market so I could photograph yet more tsukemono as if I didn't already have hundreds of photos.
The love affair of Japan I am finding is not unique to me and my husband. I am pleased to be reassured that we are not alone in our swooning when we hear the hushed tones of a group of Japanese woman shopping for kimono or the splendidly loose laughter of a drunken salary man. There is a group of us out there who feel very deeply that we have found our second home in this country and for the most part I find that they are all people who are as openly obsessed by food as I. The Japanese certainly make no qualms about their food obsession so it is nice to be surrounded by those who also really worry about what they find in their food, how it tastes, where it has come from and when we might be eating it.
I plan to write a bit more about various eating experiences more but for now I thought that a general staring point needed to be made somewhere in the massive experience that was me acting like a giant attempting to fit the entirety of Kyoto into my mouth at once.

So I think as good as any place to start is with pickles. Tsukemono is the name for pickles in Japan and it is a word that is so much a part of everyday life it is as intrinsic as rice.
With literally thousands to choose from, it makes it hard when you walk a place like Nishiki market in Kyoto's centre, to make out any difference between one stall and another. You do begin to think that surely they are a replica of one another and the best tsukemono maker on the day will win. On looking a little closer and making use of the generosity of the tastings available, you discover that each one is different. Subtle differences make good tsukemono truly an art form and such a beautiful thing to see piled high in an alley way packed with shoppers.

To try and simplify things, the identification of pickles can be broken down into salt pickles, rice bran pickles and miso pickles.
Salt pickles or shio-zuke are the easiest to make yourself at home and uses a very simple process of brining the chosen ingredient. Salted vegetables are weighted down to draw out moisture resulting in the creation of brine that then pickles the vegetable.
This can be done just in a plastic container with a weight on top at home and most Japanese kitchens use a small shio-zuke press that has a screw down top that places more pressure on the vegetable inside.

Shio-Zuke Kyuri
Salt Pickled Cucumber
3 Japanese cucumbers, unpeeled and cut on a diagonal into rounds (look for these at Korean and Chinese food stores-they are smaller and thinner with a dark green glossy skin)
3 teaspoons salt

Mix the salt one teaspoon at a time into the cucumbers.
Pack into a jar or container and place a heavy weight on top to push the cucumbers down
Leave at least 10 hours for the salt to brine the cucumbers.
Remove the weight and wash the cucumbers well to remove all the salt residue
Pat dry and serve
The Shio-zuke Kyuri will last up to a week in the fridge

You can use this very simple process to salt pickle anything at all from eggplants to cabbage and carrots.

Rice bran pickles or nuka-zuke are a little more complex only in that you need to have access to rice bran. Naturally in Japan that is rather easy but anywhere else in the world you may have a great deal more difficulty. The rice bran adds a bigger,  more gutsy flavour that makes them ideal with beer as a nibble or with rice as a side dish.
Look at a good health food store as nuka is a macrobiotic product that is full of vitamins and minerals. Look for nuka that has been unprocessed and still retains that natural goodness through lack of preservative, pasteurisation or additives.  
A batch of nuka can last for years and more rice bran can be added if your batch has become a little too wet.
Mix water with the rice bran to make a stodgy mess. Place some of the mix into your pickling container and then lay pieces of kombu (dried seaweed that is available from a good Japanese food store) on top of the mix. Pack the remaining rice barn in to the container adding a few cloves of garlic and slices of ginger for flavour as you go. The rice bran will take a few days to ripen before it can be used to pack vegetables in for pickling. The process is much like miso pickling and takes a bit longer than salt pickling so you will need to wait a few months before you can sample your nuka-zuke.
Pack the vegetables in and ensure they are covered well before popping them into the fridge. Some vegetables will take a shorter amount of time dependent on their texture so lesser time for softer vegetables and longer periods for hard vegetables. 

Rice Bran Pickles

These barrels of nuka I found in Nishiki Market in Kyoto. They have a distinctive small and strong taste but this shows the variety of vegetables that can be used to make nuka-zuke.
Miso pickles or miso-zuke is one of the oldest varieties of pickles. With miso coming to Japan sometime around the 6th century, the introduction of such a beautifully flavourful product would have been quite something. Coming all the way from China perhaps via Korea, the taste of miso is far more intense than most Japanese flavours that you encounter (perhaps with the exception of nato) but it is a very versatile pantry essential.
Using different types of miso will naturally give you different tasting pickles to have on offer but miso pickling does take longer than salt pickling. The process is a great deal slower so parboiling vegetables before they are added to miso and left to their own devices will help speed up the process. You are looking at a time frame of about three months to get something that has good full flavour but it will depend greatly on the density of the vegetables. 
To make a batch of miso pickled daikon (available widely now and always available in good Asian food stores) simply peel and slice into desired shape and width. Pack the daikon in to miso of your choice making sure that the daikon is covered. Place in the fridge for up to four months, removing what you need for a meal. Wash and pat the daikon dry and serve.
The miso is still able to be used so nothing here is wasted at all and the flavour will be enhanced by what ever vegetable you have had pickling in it for the past few months.


Again at Nishiki Market, this stall had all sorts of varities to chose from that.Why make your own when these have been expertly made for you?

There are still more varieties but I think for now these are the three I will try to master.
As you can see salt pickling takes very little time to action so preparing the night before, you could have fresh shio-zuke easily for dinner the next night.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Even a Policeman has to Eat! Shanghai February 2010

Policeman Shanghai Feb 2010

Spotted in the Muslim area of Shanghai as we sheltered from the 2 degree cold. His bread is a local delicacy that can be found piping hot from any of the clay ovens in the area.


Monday, 17 January 2011

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