Seasoned Wok-er

Char Siu pork stir fryIn a recent recipes I posted I talked about ‘authenticity’ in cooking. I think there was a general concensus in the comments that followed that it’s also good to push recipes a little and try out the odd extra ingredient here or different combination there.

So, what about the equipment used? Well, a little while back, I posted a comment on a nicely seasoned wok in a post by Conor Boffin. Geek! I hear you shout, and you’d be right, but this is a good example of where authenticity works best.

Like the Moroccan Tagine, or the Paella pan, some things just work best because they’re designed for the purpose.

I’ve had a number of woks over the years, mainly cheap ones it must be said, but all had a non-stick coating on, and all inevitably failed in some way. Either the non-stick coating ‘stuck’ (Ken Hom, you really let me down here), or the pan simply couldn’t get hot enough to cook the ‘Chinese way’.

And so finally, spurred on by Conor’s aforementioned photo, took the time to go out to the Chinese supermarket in the City and invest in a proper carbon steel one.

I say ‘invest’ but it was a fraction of the price of my current one. I got a round bottomed version as I have a dedicated burner on my hob, but a flat bottomed one is needed otherwise, or for ceramic hobs apparently.

Once home, I set about seasoning it based on a number of internet sources and Youtube videos. The process effectively renders the wok non-stick and stops it rusting and was far simpler than I thought:

Wash the the pan gently with a foam pad and washing up liquid to thoroughly remove the manufacturer’s protective oil coating. On the biggest hob you have, heat the wok on high heat until it starts to discolour and smoke fiercely. Don’t lose your nerve!  Turn it round to heat evenly, it’ll turn golden brown and blue.

Turn the heat down half and carefully wipe the inside of the wok with some groundnut oil using tongues and a folded up wad of kitchen paper. Heat until smoking again and wipe off the oil – the paper towel should be brown/black. Repeat the wiping and heating until it stops colouring the paper towel.

Wok seasoning

Now, this never happened for me, the paper was just “less brown”. Maybe it was simply burning in the heat, who knows,  but I repeated the last steps about ten times to be sure. It turns out that was enough (and probably overkill to be honest).

Armed with my new wok and oozing authenticity, I set about making a stir fried dish for dinner…

My new seasoned wok

I’d defrosted some Char Siu pork fillet from the freezer, uncooked and still marinating nicely. I recommend this actually, I used the same recipe as I’d written about before, but it ultimately had far more flavour.

Char Siu pork stir fry with fried rice:

  • 1 Char Siu pork fillet – recipe here
  • Groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp Soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • Mushrooms (of your choice) sliced.
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced,
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, grated or chopped finely
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, one finely sliced, one less so for serving
  • 1 pak choi cleaned and separated.
  • 150g grams long grain rice, cooked and cooled
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame oil to serve

Drain the Char Siu pork from the marinade (and reserve it). In a hot oven(200°C/400°F), roast the pork until just done, it should take 20 mins or so. Use a thermometer so as not to overcook it.

Slice and allow to rest a little. Heat the wok with 3 tbsp groundnut oil until smoking. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and stir fry for a few seconds. Add the mushroom for a minute more.

Tip in the sliced pork and any resting juices. Keep the heat high. and stir to colour. Add 1tbsp soy sauce, rice wine, and some of the reserved marinade and stir well. Lastly, add the pak choi and finely sliced spring onion. Stir well to coat.

Stir fried vegetables

Set aside in a bowl and keep warm

Wipe the wok clean with a paper towel (wow – non-stick!), reheat and add a little more oil. Get it hot again. Fry the rice for a minute on high heat then make a gap in the middle and crack an egg into it. Stir rapidly to scramble and mix into the rice. Add a tbsp soy sauce and stir fry for a couple more minutes, until dried and evenly coloured. Season with a few drops sesame oil to taste.

Serve the dish up with some jauntily sliced fresh spring onion on top.

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Mackerel with James’ Rhubarb and Beetroot Feta Salad

Mackerel and Rhubarb with Feta & Beetroot SaladAs a kid, I distinctly remember our friends and neighbours growing their own fruit and veg, my folks included. Even better, there was a genuine co-op going on. People would pass any excess across the fences when they had too much for themselves. The more entrepreneurial would have a roadside table with an honesty box, sometime flogging some seedlings or eggs. Continue reading

Roast Chicken and Ratatouille

Ratatouille and Roast Chicken

The problem with writing about food, particularly recipes, on a website such as this is that according to the nifty stats page, it has been viewed by a fair number of countries across the world now. That’s actually great, a testament to the power of the internet, but it creates a problem for me in that I write about dishes FROM across the world. What I mean is, for example, I recently had a hit on my Stir fried Indian recipe FROM India. What did they think of it?

Did they find it interesting, or did they wet themselves laughing at my attempt to create something from their wonderfully rich cuisine. Similarly, I had a hit from China on my Beef Chow Mein post. I hope they didn’t spray their  cup of tea all over the screen as they read it (although I think that one was pretty hard to get wrong…).

And so, I often find myself wrapped up in ‘authenticity’.  I think it’s a worthy cause and a tribute from the host country who spent years lovingly honing it. However, food IS for enjoying, right? If you prefer cream in your Carbonara, why not put it in? Or Chorizo in your Cesar Salad? I know they are not technically correct but is that the main consideration?

A lot of question marks there then but I think the answer is authentic is often the best as it’s been made that way for a reason. The flavours are well balanced for most people’s tastes.

Today, being short sunny respite in the otherwise shower of ‘number 2s’ that is the British summer of recent years, I felt like something a bit lighter and realised I had all the ingredients of Ratatouille. So, I dutifully took out the the Holy tome that is La Gastronomique which suggested simply tomatoes, courgette, aubergine (Zucchini and Egg Plant my American friends,  why do we have such different names for these?) and peppers, sauted in olive oil and unspecified ‘herbs’. The wider internet suggested all sorts of extras and omissions. I was going to write about this but as usual, The Guardian has covered it already…

Roast chicken is a perfect partner for this super-healthy dish and I immediately set about making it less healthy with the addition of Chorizo. I didn’t actually intend to, but it was worth it. I gather this is pretty authentic, but either way, it was pretty tasty…

Ratatouille Ingredients

Serves 2-3

  • 4 tomatoes, halved
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp light olive oil
  • A little extra virgin olive oil to serve.
  • Thyme and parlsey (chopped – about a tbsp)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 (or 3) chicken ‘supremes’ on the bone.
  • 8 (or 12) slices Chorizo sausage.
  • A little oil
  • Salt and pepper

Start with the chicken: In an oven proof pan, season then fry the chicken, skin side down, under well browned. Flip over and add the Chorizo. Put in a low oven for about 25 minutes.

Slice the onion thinly and finely chop the garlic. Fry in the olive oil in a heavy pan (with a lid) until soft. Chop the vegetables into large chunks and stir into the pan gently. Add the herbs and a little salt and pepper. Put the lid on and gently simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Stir gently occasionally and add a little water to get things going if needed.

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Use a temperature probe to check the chicken is just cooked in the middle (65OC/150OF should do it) without overdoing it. Leave to rest in the pan.

Season the ratatouille if needed and serve it immediately with the chicken and Chorizo with a nice Sauvignon Blanc in the garden. Nice.

Ratatouille MixedIMG_0566-imp

Porcini Risotto, Parmesan Crisps and Poor Man’s Caviar.

Porcini Risotto

There’s a global recession on people! Well, except in the US, Canada, and the BRIC countries. They’re just experiencing moderate growth.

But in Europe, there’s a recession on everyone! The UK is showing weak growth but….oh forget it.

Whatever the situation, ‘austerity’ is the current buzz word and to be honest, prior to a few  years ago I wasn’t really aware of the concept, other than as an adjective for the sort of person I generally tried to avoid at parties.

For some this is an inevitable consequence of genuine hardship, for others (and maybe I’m being a little cynical here) the latest trend, dare I say. But either way I think it’s having a cooling effect and in terms of food it’s opened up new avenues. And this is a food website after all.

People are baking again, cheaper cuts of meat – the best cuts in my opinion – are popular once more and in this country I think concepts of provenance and ‘proper’ cooking are now desirable. May I also refer you to my previous rant on chips. Good.

So tonight, ladies and gentlemen it’s caviar, only it’s the far more austere lumpfish caviar. Retailing at the more sensible price of around £40/kilo, it’s less than half the price of salmon caviar, and some 100 times less than the dangerously scarce Beluga caviar (which I have sampled and I can confirm is delicious). Still pricy of course, but then a little goes a long way.

As you may have guessed by the title I made it to accompany a porcini mushroom risotto and because, I like the texture, some parmesan crisps. It all worked nicely with a little scoop of ricotta that I had in the fridge.

If each serving was more than a £1.50, I’d be surprised. I’m keeping the belt tightened over here….

Serves two:

  • 160g good risotto rice
  • 100g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 small celery sticks, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 glass white vermouth
  • 700ml vegetable stock
  • 100g parmesan (with extra to serve)
  • Dried oregano
  • 2 heaped tsp lumpfish caviar
  • 2 tbsp ricotto cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives to serve

Start by soaking the mushrooms in the hot stock for 30 mins prior to cooking. Once ready, remove them and squeeze some of the liquid out with a sieve. Set aside until later.

In a heavy pan, fry off the shallots, celery and garlic until soft. Stir in the rice and butter and coat well. Add the vermouth and stir well (some of the rice starch will start to come out – this is good). Heat the stock back up in a small pan and leave on a low heat to keep hot.

Using a ladle, add a little stock and stir well until it’s nearly gone, then add another. Keeping ladling and stirring until all the rice is cooked but retains a bit of a ‘bite’. Soggy risotto is bad risotto. Towards the end add the parmesan and mushrooms. Taste and season. There should be a creamy sauce in the risotto, it shouldn’t be dry. Add a little water and a bit more seasoning if it is.

Risotto cooking

Meanwhile, make the parmesan crisps my forming mounds of grated grated parmesan with the oregano and black pepper. Grill until browned and flat. Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly. They should be nice and crisp.

Parmesan crisps

Serve the risotto in bowls with the crisps, chopped chives. Spoon on a tbsp of ricotta and a heaped tsp lumpfish caviar per person. Dust with a little more cheese and black pepper.

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Italian Style Chickpea Cakes

Chickpea cake

When, I explain I like to cook to people, a common reply is “I would, but I don’t have time”, which is nonsense of course. I have no quibble with anyone whatsoever for not enjoying cooking, or even turning to convenience food, each to their own and all that. But, I believe that if you have the time to heat a packet or jar of something, you’ll have time to make a meal.

Take, for example, some fresh pasta, prawns, frozen peas, garlic and a little chilli and I’ll bet you could have a great pasta dish in ten minutes. A frozen pizza takes longer.

Tonight was a little like this, I was a little late in, but having been out for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday, we couldn’t make it a hat trick. Could we? No, no we couldn’t…

And so the cogs clunked and whirred. I didn’t want anything too unhealthy and I’m trying to keep the meat content down for a while. For me personally, there is nothing better for going meat free than Italian food.

This was kind of inspired by falafel, but with Italian flavours in the form of ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and basil oil. With it, some spinach and simple sautéed mushrooms. Simple and on the table in about 15 minutes.

My only reservation? The chickpea cake was a bit soft, but otherwise, the flavour was good. I think chickpeas cooked from dried work better and have a better texture.

  • 400g cooked chickpeas – canned for speed, dried are better.
  • 3 tbsp ricotta
  • 6 sun dried tomatoes, drained and dried of oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan)
  • A lug of basil oil (or olive oil and some torn basil leaves)
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • A little polenta for dusting
  • Button mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • A couple of parsley sprigs
  • Butter (optional as ever..)
  • Spinach
  • Vegetable stock
  • Oil for frying

Blitz the chickpeas, cheeses, sun dried tomatoes, oil and seasoning in a processor (or just mash it with a fork).

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Shape into two burger shapes and dust in the polenta.

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Bring a small pan of vegetable stock (about 400ml) to the boil and put the spinach in. Turn off the heat and put the lid on. Meanwhile, in a heavy pan, fry the onions in the oil, and add the garlic. Fry for a few minutes more and stir in the butter and parsley. Turn the heat off, remove and keep warm.

Reheat the pan and add some more oil, fry the chickpea cakes for a few minutes on each side until the polenta crisps. Be careful not to break them – use a spatula!

Chickpea cakes frying

And relax…..its the weekend 😉

Hake, Brown Shrimp ‘salad’ and Jerseys

Hake Brown Shrimp Egg Salad

I’ve had a great week with my family who were up for an extended stay, with the additional bonus of giving me the opportunity to cater for more than just Helen and I (I’m aware that outside of the realms of likeminded bloggers people will think I’m weird).

Being a bit of a holiday, I’ve been through a repertoire of Full English breakfasts, BBQ, handmade pizza (a big hit with the kids) and easy to create ‘al forno’ pasta.

And so as the waist line inches toward what can only be described as ‘maximum’ it’s time to ditch the dairy and retire the red meat for a little while I think. Or cut down at least.

After dropping everyone off at the train station for the trip back down to the Midlands, I headed over to my local fishmongers. I’d received a tweet that they had just landed crab, langoustines, monkfish and hake. Now THIS is how social media should be used.

I did my usual trick of ordering far too much for the two of us and then gulping at the price when it’s read out from the assistant at the scales. Of course, most people would say “sorry that’s too much, can you put some back” but not me. Like someone who does that little jog after tripping on the pavement, I act casual. “That’s great” I replied.

I’m probably embellishing this a bit, but I gave half to my in-laws so all’s well…

I actually got some really good hake fillets. These are thick and cod-like but, for me, with a subtle, sea bass like flavour. I served it with some brown shrimps – lovely salty little suckers that add an (albeit far subtler) anchovy style kick, made into a sort of egg salad with wild garlic and capers and home made salad cream.

Hake Brown Shrimp

Jersey royals are bang in season too at the moment, so I’m filling my boots whilst I can….

  • 2 hake fillets
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 100g brown shrimps (they’re normally sold cooked)
  • 1 egg, boiled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp whole capers then chopped
  • 2 small shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 or 5 wild garlic leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp chives + a little extra for presentation.
  • 2 – 3 heaped tbsp homemade salad cream – I used this recipe from the BBC, but substituted single cream.
  • 4 or 5 Jersey Royals (or other new potato) each

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400°F.

Bring a pan of water to a boil and cook the egg. Once done (4 minutes), remove and add the potatoes for around 15 minutes.

In an ovenproof frying pan, heat the oil until smoking hot. Rinse and thoroughly dry the fish on kitchen paper, season and carefully lay into the pan, and rub it around so it doesn’t ‘catch’. Hold it down for a few seconds to stop it curling up if necessary.

Pan fried Hake

Turn the heat down a bit and allow to cook on the skin side, until the sides start to turn opaque. Transfer to an oven for about 10 minutes to cook through

In a small pan, fry the shallots and brown shrimps in the olive oil with a pinch of salt. Add the wild garlic leaves, capers and egg to warm through. Leave to cool slightly and stir through the salad cream. It should be warm but not hot.

Plate up the fish, crispy skin side up, with the shrimp/egg salad and the Jersey Royals. Sprinkle over some more chives and black pepper. They would have benefitted from butter, but not this week for me!

Hake Brown Shrimp Egg Salad