Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Creamed Corn with Chorizo

It appears Summer is over. Grey skies dominate and the wind has become chilly. I don't know if I'll ever get over this short, rainy disappointment of a season, but the shops are still selling ears of corn. Sheathed in papery husks, they taste of sunshine to me. Lightly steamed, slathered in butter and shimmering with salt flakes, I rarely eat them any other way. When creamed though, corn takes on a new guise; rather than a snack, they are transformed into a bowl of comfort. Spiked through with spicy chorizo, livened with lemon and freshened with coriander leaves, it is a meal in itself. Switch the herbs and forget the chorizo, it makes a fine accompaniment to roasted or buttermilk fried chicken.

Creamed Corn with Chorizo

Serves 2, or 4 as a side

4 ears of corn, as fresh as possible
2 small floury potatoes, peeled and diced
300mls of milk plus more if needed
1 hot chorizo sausage, around 100gr - you want the raw, not cured kind
1 lemon
A handful of coriander (replace with parsley for a side dish), chopped roughly
1 small onion
3 cloves of garlic
A pinch of salt

Shave the corn kernels off two ears of corn. Blitz roughly in a food processor but do not puree. Deskin the sausage and fry the meat in a dry frying pan and set to one side once the meat is well cooked and slightly crisp. Wipe out the oil, leaving about a tablespoon. Dice and mince the onion, and fry in the chorizo fat until softened. Add the blitzed corn and potato and mix well, then add the milk. Simmer very gently for 15 or so minutes.

Shave the rest of the corn kernels off the cobs and add to the pan. Simmer for a further 10 - 15 minutes, adding more if it's looking dry. By the time it's cooked it should be fairly thick, the texture of a loose dhal perhaps. Finish with the salt and a squeeze of lemon. Dish out and top with the coriander and the chorizo.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

José, Bermondsey Street

José, a tapas bar on Bermondsey Street, is quickly to becoming my favourite place. I first visited with my parents on a hot, sticky Monday. We dashed in just before 7pm and still didn't manage to secure a seat but happily perched at the bar that evening, sweat pouring down our brows.

This vaguely uncomfortable way of dining is tolerated not only for the lively and bustling atmosphere, but for the food. Incredible in simplicity but by being so goddamn tasty. Visiting again last week, I was able to try more dishes and reaffirm the dishes that I will now day-dream about.

Ham croquettes were crisp on the outside, gorgeously creamy and studded with flesh within. I just don't understand how they make them; melting in the mouth and just the right shade of richness.

Jamon Iberico is sliced by hand and the creamy, gorgeous fat makes me salivate just thinking about it. I recently sat next to someone at a dinner who proudly exclaimed 'I even cut the fat off Parma ham!' which has now made me pity her even more than I did on the night. This was so good that the four of us ordered three plates of this over the course of our visit.

Pan con tomate (background) is often a disappointment to me as the tomato makes the bread a bit gross and soggy, but for some reason José's version just works. I'm fairly certain it's the liberal amount of garlic the bread is rubbed with.

THE PRAWNS. The chilli garlic prawns are perhaps the best I've eaten. Cooked to perfection and amazingly sweet.

Another addictive plate was the peas with poached egg, chorizo and migas (croutons). Egg yolk spilled out, making a sauce for the fresh, just-done peas.

The 'are you sure?' plate comes in the form of Pluma Iberica - rare grilled pork. My mum's eyes widened as the plate was set down. Understandable really, since many of us have been conditioned to think that pork must be cooked through, but this stuff is different. Of a far higher quality than normal pork, it tastes almost beefy, but with the tastiness of pork fat.

It's not all breathtakingly spectacular. Though the patatas with our bravas were cooked to crispy perfection, the tomato sauce could have had a touch more kick.

Similarly, the aioli served with the hake could have done with much, much more garlic. I like my aioli almost spicy with the stuff, but in this I failed to notice it at all.

Washed down with a bottle of Manzanilla sherry, I fell in love with the place. It would be amazing if there were a couple more tapas bars of the same ilk nearby so that you could do that proper tapas thing of going place to place, a little bite in each, but until London is ready for that, you'll find me throwing back the sherry and munching on jamon at José.


104 Bermondsey Street,
London, SE1 3UB

They do not take bookings.

José on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Black Sesame Ice Cream Mochi

Making ice cream mochi has been on my to-do list for ages, ever since I got back from Hong Kong last year and really missed the readily available ones there. Mochi is the word for pounded glutinous rice, and ice cream is wrapped in a thin dough made of this which is deliciously sticky and a bit gooey. I used to eat them a lot when I was kid, in a variety of flavours but I haven't yet found a reasonably priced version here. I was put off by all of the recipes making the dough in a microwave, as I don't have one, but the craving for mochi became too much and I ploughed on with a trusty saucepan.

It was quite hard work. The flour was added to the water and as it needs a bit of cooking, a lot of vigorous stirring and unladylike swearing ensued to make sure it didn't stick to the pan like shit to a blanket. The dough was then flopped out to a well floured surface to squidge it into a vaguely uniform thin sheet; I cursed the boiling hot dough scalding my fingers and left it to cool to later wrap the ice cream up into.

I left an unholy mess behind. Of the mochi? I managed to make a grand total of 6 misshapen balls, delicious filled with black sesame ice cream. It is entirely possible I need more practise. And possibly to buy a microwave.

The black sesame ice cream worked a treat though, and came out a dramatic grey-black colour which I loved but some were put off by it.

Black Sesame Ice Cream

200ml whipping cream
350ml semi skimmed milk
2 egg yolks
80gr sugar
7 tbsp black sesame seeds (rather a random amount but I added incrementally till I got the right flavour)
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they become creamy. Toast the black sesame seeds and grind finely. Add to the milk, then add the cream and heat till it comes to just under boiling and take off the heat. Add the vanilla and leave to infuse for half an hour. Add a few spoonfuls of the milk mixture to the eggs and stir well. Keep adding until all is incorporated, and then put back on a low heat, stirring and heating until it has thickened - do not let it boil. It should resemble custard. Strain the sesame seeds out and put the mixture in the fridge to cool thoroughly before churning into ice cream in your maker.

Mochi Ice Cream

70gr glutinous rice flour (you can buy this in Chinatown)
40gr sugar
1 tsp vanilla
100ml water
Ice cream
Loads of cornstarch

Using an ice cream scoop (or a melon scoop for smaller), make balls of ice cream and freeze them well.

If you have a microwave, place the dough ingredients into a bowl, mix well and cover. Nuke for 2 mins on medium, then stir and cook for one more. Mix well, it should turn shiny and smooth. Alternatively, place all of the above in a non-stick saucepan and prepare to stir like hell, heating it well and cooking for about 5 minutes.

Use plenty of cornflour on your work surface and flop your dough out onto it. It should be pliable but not too sloppy. Using your fingers, carefully push the dough out to make a thin sheet. Cut circles out of it with a pint glass and freeze the circles for half an hour. Wrap the ice cream balls in the mochi dough and freeze again.

Then clean your kitchen...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Shu Castle

The Old Kent Road has long been a bit of a mystery to me. I often catch buses trundling along, depositing me at my flat at the end of it, and as I gaze upon rows and rows of derelict-looking shops, I'm struck by what a shit-hole most of it is. But a diamond shines in the rough, as we found out when we visited Shu Castle on Friday night. I suspect it is part of Dragon Castle nearby, our stalwart dim sum joint and when we arrived it was almost full.

A short, neat menu with pictures of dishes was presented to us, and I was surprised to find most of the usual crowd-pleasing dishes were missing. It was Sichuan only and this pleased me. After much panic and self-restraint, we settled on a few dishes. Firstly, century eggs with sliced green chillis was doused with sesame oil and was super spicy. The eggs aren't as terrifying as they look; being buried in alkaline clay gives them that appearance, but they are creamy and mild.

Sliced chicken in chilli oil was cold yet mouth-warming. The chicken flesh was firm but tender, the skin pleasingly gelatinous.

White gourd and sliced pork soup was not made with winter melon as I thought it would be, but rather Chinese turnip (daikon). Simple and cleansing, it reminded me of soups my grandmother served when I was a child, at the start of the meal to aid digestion. I found it quite addictive.

Pickled green beans with pork and chilli was a vast portion and the tangy greens mixed with the savoury pork was perfect mixed into our bowls of rice. The beef in chilli came with a warning from our waitress, but we soldiered on. Strips of beef were velveted and as a result were really tender, bobbing around in a broth that was distinctly lacking in Sichuan peppercorn numbness but more than made up for it in chilli punch. A dish of boiled dumplings with chilli oil were slightly dull.

With service, food the three of us and a few beers each reached the grand total of £76 big ones. A total bargain really, especially as I got to take the leftover minced pork and pickled green beans to mix it with some steamed rice and top with a fried egg the next day. A very decent lunch indeed.

I sense a return visit in my very near future, mainly to try the shrimp in salted egg yolk and the crispy sea bass dishes. Oh! And they have a hot plate embedded into the tables. Steamboat ahoy. The toilets are disgusting though.

Shu Castle

194 Old Kent Road,

Tel: 020 7703 9797

Friday, 19 August 2011

Stir-fried Starch Jelly Noodles

Mung bean starch is a strange beast. I found it, at a whopping £3.99 at the Korean supermarket below Centrepoint, after reading Sunflower's post on making Sichuan liang fen (starch jelly) noodles. I had to have it; in her post, she says if you like rice noodles, you'll like these - I LOVE rice noodles. My first batch failed, after I mixed the boiling water all in one with the starch in cold water; I got major clumps. But then I tried again, mixing in the water bit by bit and mixing until smooth and it was a success.

The result is this weird, liquid-solid state. Poke it gently with your finger and your finger comes away clean, the surface feeling hard. Place your spoon into it and it cuts through like liquid; I was quite amused. EDIT: I've since been told by Su-Lin that this is, in fact, a non-Newtonian fluid. So for some brain boggling, have a read about it here.

The mixture is then placed in an oiled container to set in the fridge, and you can then slice it into noodles. At first, it was dressed with spring onion, garlic, tahini, chilli and coriander (top picture). Later when I came home from work and craved something hot and spicy, this was born.

Vegetables were stir-fried with a bit of pork, and the the starch jelly noodles, having sat in boiling water for a bit, were drained and added. They became translucent and fried well, holding their shape. I much preferred them to the cold noodle salad I had and I wonder how they'd hold up in a noodle soup.

Stir-Fried Starch Jelly Noodles

Serves 2

For the noodles:

100gr mung bean starch
500gr water
A pinch of salt

Mix the starch well with half of the water. Add the salt. Bring the other half up to the boil and add bit by bit, mixing the solution until well combined. Grease a tupperware box and pour into it. When cooled, place in the fridge.

To use, slice thinly width ways and then slice again to the width of the noodle desired.

For the noodle dish:

200gr starch jelly noodles
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch of ginger
1 chilli
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp light soy
1 courgette, cut into batons
A few Chinese leaves, or cabbage, torn roughly
Some meat - pork or chicken. Prawns would work too
1 egg
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
A small handful of coriander, chopped roughly

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the noodles into it and take off the heat. Mince the chilli, garlic and ginger. Fry this in a wok for a few seconds, then add the cabbage / chinese leaves, courgette and the meat if using (prawns go in at the end, not this stage). Stir fry for a few minutes, then drain the noodles and add this. Fry on a high heat. Crack the egg in and in stir-frying this should scramble it; take the wok off the heat immediately. Keep stir-frying, add the spring onion and coriander, and serve.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Why I'm Not Writing for London Confidential Anymore

I shan't be writing for London Confidential anymore.

This is why:

9:30 AM (1 hour ago)

Hi X, X,

Finally, I have been paid, a full 10 days after it should have been. This late payment of over £600 to my account was quite unacceptable; I was almost unable to pay my rent. When you set us a deadline of getting our invoices over to you by the 25th (or the 19th, in some cases) of each month, to then be supposedly paid on the 7th, that gives you two whole weeks to pay them. I can't understand why my payment was so late. Especially when you confirmed to me, previous to the 7th, that all the invoices had been received. I worked in Accounts Payable for a company of over 500 people; it really is not that difficult. I know this.

I went two months without payment which was rightfully due to me; firstly, through incompetence on your side by not informing me of your address change - a rather crucial piece of information, since you insist on the antiquated way of posting by mail the invoices (are we back in the 90s?). I find it completely absurd that when I got my invoices to the correct address (after my invoices were returned to me as I'd had them registered - thank god) two days late, I was denied payment for another month because it was merely two days late. And your company had the audacity to withhold payment from me two weeks?

Given that I wrote restaurant reviews for your website without payment for my time or writing, I would have thought you would reimburse me in a timely fashion for the cost of the meals. You were getting the reviews effectively written for you for free. Do you have over £600 that you can bandy about, to sit around waiting for? I certainly don't and now I've been charged interest on my credit card because your company couldn't keep up their side of the bargain. I was, effectively, paying to write for you and that's not right.

I really think you should review the way you are paying people contributing to your website, but I won't be anymore.

I wish you the best in your endeavor.


I received a response:

"Dear Mrs Mabbot,

I have been sent your email by X. It's not often I receive comments like this in this day and age, when freelancers are losing their opportunity to have their writing published and possibly paid for as print media is sliding down a black hole.

Frankly, not even gifted freelance writers would send Confidential notes like these , let alone an un-gifted amateur.

Confidential is a self-funding organisation which relies upon business paying its bills on time. It is a labour of love for me and has taken seven years to grow from my own personal food blog to where it is today, arguably the largest of its kind in the world in both terms of readership, income and articles. We continue to win awards, the latest being Magazine of the year in the North West.

Everyone who works and writes with knows that they are not working for NewsCorp; sometimes bills are delayed, and the past six weeks have been difficult but everyone has pulled together.

Reading your note you clearly are not a Confidential type. Reading your articles it becomes even clearer. You should not be writing alongside my team, it does you no favours.

So, allow me to give you some feedback for your tight, fairly well written petit-bourgeois note. Stick it up your fat, suburban arse.

Mark Garner


The Confidentials."

EDIT: Thank you all for your comments. Just to clarify;

- The money I was chasing was expenses, not salary. I was not getting paid for the writing, that was the agreement.

- my invoices said payment due by return.

- yes, my email was snarky, but I had been chasing them for two weeks, to be told on falsely at different points that they had been paid, when they had not.

- perhaps I was unprofessional, but I did not make an attack on Mr Garner's personal appearance.

- I have not got a fat arse.

(Please feel free to leave a comment, but please also refrain from making personal remarks about Mr Garner. I won't publish them. Thanks!)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sweating Over a Steamboat

Steamboats, it must be said, aren't traditionally eaten in high summer. Bubbling pots of broth are set upon a hot plate or a gas burner with piles of thinly sliced meats, fish and vegetables for you to dip in the broth, fish out and eat. Not really conducive to the summer sun, but then we don't get much of that anyway.

We used to go for steamboat a lot when I was a child. One particular memory I have is of gazing down at some sort of shellfish and poking it with a toothpick, watching it quiver, before promptly dumping it in the broth. I was never destined to be a vegetarian.

Four of us, plus my parents took a trip to Little Lamb in Chinatown for dinner one night. If I'm honest I'm surprised my parents agreed to it. My dad always muttered that he couldn't understand why anyone would go to a restaurant to pay to cook their own food, but it's all in the fun of it. We were given a tick sheet and for 23 of your finest pounds per head, you get to choose 5 dishes each .

Given we were 6, we chose 30. Firstly, a huge bowl, split into two, yin-yang style. In one side, a spicy, oily broth, the other was a mild, mushroom stock. And then the plates started coming. Wafer-thin slices of pork, beef and lamb were dipped lazily into the broth until just cooked. Fish balls of all type, our favourites being the Fuzhou (stuffed with minced pork) slopped in to bob around. An onslaught of prawns, squid, sweet meaty crabs, various vegetables joined, and soon we couldn't move for the plates.

My favourites? The 'ham', which as we suspected, was Spam (stop grimacing - I bloody love Spam). Who would have thought boiled Spam would be so tasty? It was. Those Fuzhou fish balls and the crab came in at a close second, as well as the turnip, which was daikon, that soaked up the flavours beautifully. Mongolian flat bean noodles were wonderfully slippery, and none of us escaped without splattered selves - do not, under any circumstances, wear white. Pak choi and lettuce were refreshing in simplicity, and the only real duds were the fried gluten which were much like deep fried bread puffs, and a really tough plate of beef tripe.

For £33 a head with a few beers and service, it really was a feast - 30 dishes! 30! - and although yes, you are cooking the dinner yourself, it's a fun way to share a meal with friends. Highly recommended; but you will emerge stinking of meat.

Little Lamb

72 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 6NA

Tel: 020 7287 8078

Little Lamb on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Crab & Samphire Trofie

Aside from a couple extra kilos from having too much fun, the only thing I brought back from our trip to Puglia was a box of trofie. It's not even typical to the Puglia region, but it looked interesting so I bought it anyway. The small, wormy spirals are typically eaten with pesto but I thought that a bit boring, so it was stashed away until I could think of something better to do with it.

Turns out I didn't have to wait long, as a dinner at Polpetto included a dish of Devon crab and sea purslane (I think?) with trofie. So good it was that I set out the next day to recreate it. A quick stop at F. C. Sopers of Nunhead, my local fishmonger, and I was all set. Sea purslane was swapped out for samphire, its salty strands adding crunch. My recreation wasn't quite as good, but then I wasn't three sheets to the wind as the night before. Everything tastes even better when you're drunk, especially if you waited 40 minutes for a table. I reckon adding an extra hunk of butter would do the trick, though.

Crab & Samphire Trofie

Serves 2

200gr trofie
2 tbsp brown crab meat
1 small glass of white wine
1/2 a small onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp white crab meat
A handful of radishes
1 egg yolk
1/2 a lemon
A healthy knob of butter
A few sprigs of parsley, minced

Slice the radishes thinly and set aside. Put plenty of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Blanch the samphire ad refresh. In a little oil, sweat the onion and garlic until it's translucent and soft. Add the glass of white wine and simmer to reduce by at least half. Stir in the brown crab meat and take off the heat. By now your pasta should be almost ready. Whisk the yolk in a bowl with the lemon juice and add the samphire. When the pasta is cooked, drain reserving a couple tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the brown crabmeat mixture, then add the lot to the egg yolk, tossing it so that all the pasta is coated well. Garnish with the minced parsley and plenty of black pepper. Top with a tablespoon each of the white crabmeat.

For any leftover crab and samphire, you can make this.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Smoked Pork with Black Beans & Roasted Salsa

When I first saw the hickory smoked wings over on Food Stories I knew I had to get in on that action. Straight onto Ebay and a box of hickory chips, suitable for stovetop rather than barbecues, went straight into my virtual basket and I sped through checkout. My reasoning was that I couldn't be arsed with lighting a barbecue each time I wanted a smoke so this option seemed easiest.

Except it's not really. As I type this, my hair, clothes, carpets and furniture all honk like a bonfire. My housemate will wonder if I took part in some ritualistic effigy-burning when she gets home. Not that I do that a lot, mind.

The results, though, are pretty special. In choosing my cut of pork, I went for a shoulder cut. My initial thoughts were to do belly to then make pulled pork but rather the shredded softness that brings, I rather fancied something with more bite, something to get your teeth working. The pork was marinaded over night in a chilli paste, then slowly roasted and finished off with a smoking. Each slice had a hint of chilli, smokiness flavouring the fat; I forgot momentarily about my just-washed, now stinky hair.

To accompany the pork, rather addictive black beans and a roasted tomato salsa, adapted from Thomasina Miers' 'Mexican Food Made Simple'. I'm not finding it easy to find very ripe tomatoes, so blistering them deepens their flavour.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

7 tomatoes, as ripe as you can find them
3 large red chillis
3 cloves of garlic, skin on
2 spring onions
Juice of half a lime
A pinch of sugar
A large pinch of salt and pepper
Small handful of coriander

In a dry non-stick pan, add the tomatoes first. Dry-roast for a few minutes, then add the chillis in. You're aiming for blackened skins so keep turning them. Add the spring onions and garlic. It'll take about 15 minutes for this. Leave to cool. Once cooled, peel the garlic and pound in a pestle and mortar with salt. Take the tomatoes and squeeze them gently over the sink so that the seeds all fall out, as you don't want it too watery. If you have a thing about skin then remove it; I rather like it so I leave it in. Chop roughly and pound in the pestle and mortar. Repeat with chillis. Slice the spring onions finely. Combine in a bowl with the lime juice, the sugar and stir the coriander in.

Smoked Pork

Serves 2

500gr shoulder of pork
A mixture of dried chillis; I used mulato, habenero and cascabel (bought here)
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
200mls orange juice
A handful of hickory or oak wood chips

Soak the chillis in boiling water until softened. Remove the seeds and blitz with the onion, sugar, garlic and salt. Rub on the flesh of the pork and marinade overnight. Bring up to room temperature and place in a baking tray with the orange juice. Cover loosely with foil and roast on 140 degrees C for 2 hours and remove. Simmer down the juices and add to the black beans while they're cooking (recipe here). Serve with a toasted tortilla, or some rice.

I wouldn't recommend you smoking in your kitchen, but if you have better ventilation or you don't mind stinking of smoke, then line your pot with foil, add a handful of wood chips and drizzle with a bit of water. Put your pork in a heatproof bowl and place it within (I used a metal steamer) and heat gently for 30 - 35 minutes. Everything will be covered in an orange-ish goo so wash it immediately, and it's likely your pot will be slightly discoloured. Or, you know, use your barbecue. OUTSIDE.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Summer Ham & Orzo Soup

When I think of smoked ham hocks, I think of rich meaty stews, pies topped with golden pastry, spoons digging into steaming dishes and inducing food comas immediately afterwards. In this current muggy weather it's not an appealing thought. The freezer needed clearing out for yet more ice cream though, and the ham hock was taking up precious space, so I had to think on my feet.

Ham hocks are really the gift that keep on giving. Tender meat shreds well off the bone and the poaching liquid is beautifully meaty. As it simmered away merrily filling up the flat with smells akin to bacon, I decided to make the most of the richly flavoured broth and came up with this soup. With a few vegetables simmered in it, the flavours were clean and summery, enlivened with the addition of a spoonful of basil, parsley and Pecorino puree, turning my bowl into an algae-green.

And I've still got some ham hock left to make a pie. A summery pie.

Summer Ham & Orzo Soup

Serves 2 with leftovers

1 smoked ham hock - soak overnight in water, to remove some saltiness.
2 bay leaves
3 sticks of celery
4 black peppercorns
2 onions

Cover the ham hock with water and add the above; simmer on a very low heat for 2 hours. Remove the hock; discard the skin and fat, the flesh should just flop off the bone. Strain the stock and skim off the fat.

100gr orzo, cooked separately
1 courgette, cut into batons
1 carrot, diced
1 plum tomato, skinned, seeded and diced

Warm up the stock and add the carrot. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the courgette, simmering for a further 10 mins. Take off the heat and add the orzo and the tomato to warm through. Add a quenelle of the herb puree (below) to finish.

A large handful of basil
Half that of parsley
A squeeze of lemon
A clove of garlic
A handful of grated Pecorino, or Parmesan

Whizz the above in a blender until nicely emulsified.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thai Sour Fish Curry

I call it a curry but really it's more like a soup. I've been craving sour things recently, that bite of lime or tamarind and blazing heat on the tongue. I also have a habit of picking up new and unknown vegetables, and it just so happened that the 'bai yor' I bought on impulse is perfect for Thai fish curries. Thus a plan fell into place.

Firstly, a spicy curry paste is made. Various vegetables are simmered with stock and said curry paste, and the final touch is to blitz just-cooked white fish into flakes, then add it to the soup for essential fish flavour, texture and to thicken it up a bit. I used the cheapest white fish I could find for this, coley; alternatively, you could just drop chunks of white fish in to poach. The bai yor leaves go in last for a final simmer; they act like spinach and wilt down, adding a slightly bitter flavour to the dish. It's fine to leave out if you can't find it.

Sour Fish Curry

Serves 2

For the paste

5 red birds eye chillis
5 dried chillis
2 stalks of lemongrass, soft innards only
1 inch piece of galangal
2 tbsp tamarind paste
1 small onion
6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Soften dried chillis in hot water. Deseed the chillis and blitz with the rest of the ingredients into a fine paste. You may need to add a little oil.

10 prawns
200gr white fish
A handful of green beans
A few leaves of Chinese cabbage
A few bai yor leaves (optional)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 lime
300mls fish or chicken stock
A handful of coriander, chopped

In a pan, add the curry paste and fry gently for a few minutes. Add the stock and the Chinese cabbage, then then green beans cut into inch long pieces. Simmer for a few minutes. Either add the fish in chunks or cook the fish separately and blitz into flakes, then add to the soup. Add the bai yor, fish sauce, then the prawns and cook until the prawns turn pink and take off the heat immediately. Serve with a wedge of lime and rice, if desired.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Hashi Cookery Course & Beef Tataki

Not so long ago I was invited to one of the Gourmet classes at Hashi Cookery School. I know little to nothing about Japanese food and yet it's one of my favourite cuisines, so I excitedly accepted. Arriving at Reiko's beautiful house in Wimbledon, the three of us students settled around a central island to watch the dishes we were to learn to prepare.

Firstly, beef tataki. Rare slices of fillet were beautifully arranged across the plate to be topped with sesame sauce and deep fried garlic chips. The chips were a revelation; sweet garlic in flavour without any harshness. We gobbled this up quick smart.

Chirashi-zushi was up next. Flakes of salted cooked salmon was mixed into the already prepared sushi rice, to be topped with slices of salmon sashimi and ikura, those big round salmon roe. A thin-as-paper omelette was julienned and mixed in with the rice, with steamed pieces of tenderstem broccoli for colour. I was delighted that after watching it prepared, we got a healthy portion to scoff too.

Meanwhile, Reiko prepared the Mizore Jiru - a cloudy soup, the cloud being formed from finely grated daikon. Given it took all of about 15 minutes, I was surprised it was so flavoursome. Dashi stock gave depth while floating pieces of fried tofu sheet were spongy and sweet.

Lastly, a fusion dish - monkfish with porcini mushrooms and ponzu soy butter. I have a serious addiction to ponzu and have, at times found myself slurping it off a teaspoon, so when coupled with butter it was no wonder I loved this too.

Reiko was a calm, patient and entertaining teacher; on the surface, £260 seems a lot of money, but once you consider it's a lesson a week for four weeks and you get to eat 4 courses of the food that's made, it seems quite a bargain. Visit the website here to book; she also does one-off classes from £55.

Of course, cookery lessons aren't much use unless you can put them to practise at home. I had a bash at the beef tataki at home. Thinly slicing the garlic with my poor knife skills was a bit of a fag, but otherwise it was simple and delicious. I'm just sad I don't have such beautiful plates to present them on.

Beef Tataki

Serves 4 as a starter

300gr beef fillet
1 medium onion (I used red) sliced thinly

For the garlic chips:

4 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
A small saucepan

For the sesame sauce:

4 tbsp tahini paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp water

Firstly, the garlic chips, Heat the oil in the saucepan and add the garlic slices - you want to fry them on a low heat, so that they slowly dehydrate and not cook quickly. They burn easily so watch them like a hawk. Once it begins to colour, after 5 or 6 mins, drain on kitchen paper. Don't cook them as far as golden as they carry on cooking after draining. Reserve the garlicky oil.

Rub the onion slices with plenty of salt and then soak in water for 10 - 15 minutes. This will get rid of the onion harshness.

Brush the beef fillet with the garlicky oil and sear in a hot dry non-stick frying pan until nicely browned all over. In a bowl, mi the mirin and soy together. Once the fillet is cooked to rare - medium rare, remove and add to the mirin soy mixture, turning occasionally. Set this aside for 30 mins.

Combine the tahini with the soy and mirin that the beef was resting in. Add the water, sugar and rice vinegar and then stir well. It may look like it's splitting, but carry on stirring and it'll come together. To serve, rinse the onion in a colander then squeeze the water out and make a little bed out of it. Slice the beef thinly and drape across the onion, then drizzle with the sauce. Top with a sprinkling of garlic chips.