Sunday, 29 January 2012

Making Kimchi

Kimchi is said to be Korea's national dish. A name that encompasses a wide range of chilli-soaked fermented vegetables, Koreans eat it with most, if not all meals and there is a popular Korean saying - 'a man can live without his wife, but not without kimchi'. They take this stuff seriously.

There are hundreds of different types, characterised by main ingredients but also of which season they were made and which region they come from. For someone with such a love of pickles, it was only natural that I would fall in love with kimchi. Its sour tang, hugely pungent aroma and spiciness was a great draw.

Not content with commercial offerings (though very good they are too), I set about making my own. My first attempt was half arsed (below) and it showed. I lobbed a load of chilli powder in with some cucumber and daikon that I needed to get rid of. This produced a harshly flavoured affair and the lot went in the bin and I forgot about it all for a few weeks.

I wasn't to be deterred though and once the kimchi craving hit me again, I set about getting the ingredients to make it properly. Glutinous rice flour is used to make a paste with Korean chilli flakes - and specifically Korean, as they use a type of chilli that is redder and milder than others, thereby colouring your kimchi well without making it so spicy it'll blow your face off.

Mixed with flavourings and seasonings, the vegetable of choice is smeared with this and packed into jars to ferment.

Left out on the side for a couple of days to get the fermentation going, I arrived home one evening and heard a strange hissing sound. After a few minutes of total bewilderment, I discovered it was coming from the jar. I opened the latch and the kimchi promptly exploded across the kitchen wall and covered me in cabbage juice. Fermentation produces gases and I packed my jar too full, causing all the kimchi to rise to the brim (below) and make a break for freedom. My housemate was aghast.

It was a right pain to clean up.

After a couple of days fermenting the kimchi went in the fridge. It tasted great just after two days but for a stronger, more soured flavour the longer you leave it the better it gets. I've taken to eating a lot of it straight from the jar, but I've also used it as a flavouring for roasting broccoli, and frying rice with it.

Cabbage Kimchi

Makes quite a lot

2 heads of Chinese leaf (Napa cabbage)
Loads of table salt

Chop your vegetable up into even sized pieces. Wash thoroughly and then coat liberally in salt, and place inside a colander. Turn every half hour or so, and leave for 3 hours. This is so that the salt leeches the moisture from the cabbage.

110gr coarse Korean chilli powder (Londoners, you can get this upstairs at New Loon Moon)
60gr glutinous rice flour (plain flour will also work)
250mls water
125ml fish sauce
1 large onion, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2" piece of ginger, grated
2 eating apples, peeled and grated
A bunch of spring onions, top and tailed and chopped into three
Many people also add raw oysters or salted shrimp but I'm too much of a wuss. Next time, next time...

Whisk together the water and the glutinous rice flour and bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the time. Cook for a few minutes and take off the heat. Allow to cool.

Stir in the chilli flakes, then add the garlic, onion, ginger and apples. Add the fish sauce and mix well.

Wash the cabbage thoroughly, at least a few times to make sure all the salt has washed off. In a large bowl toss in the spring onions and then add the chilli sludge. Combine well using your hands - if you have any cuts on your hands wear gloves otherwise it'll sting like a bastard.

Pack into a sterilised jar, leaving plenty of room from the top to allow for fermentation gases. Leave out on the side for a day or two (open the lid to this every so often to let the gas escape) and transfer to the fridge. It's good to eat as it is for at least 3 weeks - after that it may become quite strong but still good to use in stews, stir fries and other hot dishes.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Beetroot Thoran

I've always had a bit of a love hate relationship with beetroot; sometimes I can't get enough of it, and other times I push it away. I soon realised what the difference was; pickled or spicy beetroot preparations won favour over those paired with goats cheese. I still treat them with caution and they're not that kind of vegetable that I go rushing towards, but this dish helped get me in the right direction.

Thoran is from South India - more specifically, Kerala - and is a dry one, made by stir-frying vegetables with coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds over a high heat. The coconut becomes more fragrant with the toasting of its flesh while the curry leaves impart their flavour to an otherwise simple dish.

While I wouldn't make it specifically to eat on it's own, it went very well with other saucy dishes such as the cauliflower and pea dhal that the grilled mackerel was sitting on. The earthy beetroot works well with the rich coconut flavours, and a squeeze of lemon brought it all to life.

You can use different vegetables with this; cabbage also works, as does green beans. Anything that can take a bit of stir-frying heat.

Beetroot Thoran

Serves 4 as a side

2 large beetroots, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 red onion sliced into half moons
2 green chillis chopped roughly
2 tsp black mustard seeds
3 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut - though grated fresh is best but a bit of a ballache
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 small handful of coriander, chopped
1 lemon
A hearty pinch of salt

Simmer the cubes of beetroot in water for 5 minutes, until tender. Drain well.

Heat up some vegetable oil and add the mustard seeds. Take the curry leaves off the sprig and add them. When the seeds begin to pop, add the red onion and the chilli and stir fry until softened. Add the beetroot, turn the heat right up and stir fry for a minute, then add the coconut and continue to stir-fry for another few minutes. It should be smelling nice and fragrant now. Add the lemon juice, salt and coriander, take off the heat and serve immediately.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Quo Vadis, Soho

Jeremy Lee's new position as head chef at the newly refurbished Quo Vadis has been all the talk recently. Previously at Blueprint Cafe, he moved just after Christmas. Reports came in with rapt admiration of his simple, pared down cooking in plusher surroundings.

I received an invitation to dinner there with Wine Chap and others to celebrate the new chef appointment, an offer you'd be mad to refuse. I've only been to Quo Vadis in casual circumstances - a drink in the bar, or a plate of oysters before moving on - so I don't really have any point of comparison. They make a mean martini though, and snacks of salsify baked and sprinkled with a strong, sharp cheese (£3.50) reinforced my thoughts that salsify is a vehicle, not much of a flavour in its own right but a great texture nonetheless for delivering delicious cheese into my face.

Most talked about on the new menu is the smoked eel and horseradish sandwich (£6.50). Plump juicy rounds of dense meat is served in between toasted slices of bread, spread liberally with creamy horseradish.

Vibrantly pink pickled onions had just the right sharpness to counteract the delicately smoked, richly flavoured flesh. The horseradish packed such a nose-clearing punch that I got a momentary mustard head - you know, when your sinuses burn and sting and you're rendered speechless. It's quite addictive, that. Anyway, it was an absolutely smashing sandwich. I was only sad that I had to share it.

Bloater paste (£4) was rather too strongly flavoured for me, but I absolutely loved the smooth anchovy paste, more like a mayonnaise and served with a sweet brioche bun for dunking.

Salted mallard (£6) salad was really gamey. I'm not usually a fan of game and my nose wrinkled, but when paired with the peppery watercress and the prune compote it was far mellower with the sweetness of the fruit balancing out the strong flavour.

The pescetarian on the table got a dish that made us all laugh at its sparsity. What we originally thought was celery turned out to be sea kale (£8.50), cooked to just tender and bathed in a gloriously lemon-yellow butter sauce. It may not look like much but the delicate flavours were perfectly balanced, the sauce decadent.

The main event arrived to gasps around the table. A roasted shoulder of kid was large and resplendent. Meat was pulled off the bones and dished onto plates along with creamy tender white beans in a green herby sauce. The meat was tender and not dissimilar in flavour to lamb. Courgettes were roasted with whole onions, their moisture releasing and creating its' own juice. These were no fancy plates, but decent, hearty stuff of which Lee is well known for. He came out to our table to greet us and others in the room, oozing enthusiasm and charm that was already evident from his twitter stream.

A cheese course arrived but I was too stuffed to attack it with much fervour, and just a nibble of Stichelton on an oatcake did me. Desserts were numerous and plenty, ranging from rhubarb compote to a fudgy chocolate cake. Pick of the bunch was this fruity number. I'm afraid that even the day after I've forgotten what it is. Rather than a reflection on the dish, I suspect the cocktails must've caught up with me.

We hauled ourselves back up to the bar and smashed back a few more martinis. I called it a night after we'd sang a rousing number of Hey Jude while one of our party tinkled it on the resident piano; it was home time.

I left Quo Vadis feeling like I'd had a big hug. The food was a mixture of eye popping (that eel sandwich) and comforting (those herby beans). We did a fair bit of gawping too, at not only Ralph Fiennes dining there but also Fergus Henderson. At prices that are completely reasonable, not something I'd previously associate Quo Vadis with, I will be back there soon.

26 - 29 Dean Street
London W1D 3LL

Tel: 020 7437 9585

Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon

More photos from the night are HERE. I dined as a guest of Quo Vadis and Wine Chap.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Not Singapore Fried Noodles

Singaporeans will tell you that the popular takeaway classic, Singapore fried noodles, is not from their homeland. It's one of those dishes that popped up and got popular, and people are baffled (or enraged...) as to how they got that name. But you know, whatever, as the premise of it is actually quite delicious. When made at home, stir-fried rice vermicelli with a hint of curry spice and lots of crunchy vegetables was pretty damn good, and far away from the greasy neon yellow takeaway version.

It is Chinese New Year, a time traditionally to eat noodles as the strands symbolise longevity so don't go cutting them with scissors. This was a bit of a fridge wonder as most vegetables you've got lurking would work well so don't feel you have to follow the below exactly. Things like green beans need a bit of a blanch beforehand to lose the rawness. Doused in a chilli oil and freshened up with coriander and spring onions, this made a damn fine brunch to bring the year of the dragon in with. Just don't serve it to a Singaporean. Gung hei fat choi!

Not Singapore Fried Noodles

Serves two

150gr cooked rice vermicelli, left to go cold
A handful of green or bobby beans, blanched
One yellow pepper, sliced thinly
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 an onion, sliced into half moons
Some cabbage, or curly kale shredded
A handful of beansprouts
1 heaped tsp medium curry powder
2 tbsp light soy sauce
A splash of dark soy
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1" ginger, minced
1 green chilli, chopped
A handful of raw prawns
5 tofu puffs, sliced in half (optional, but great for texture)
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Chilli oil to serve
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
A handful of coriander, chopped

Heat the oil in the wok and add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Stir fry till fragrant and then add the carrot and pepper and onion. Add the bobby beans and stir fry, then adding the curry powder. Mix well then throw in the noodles and the rest of the ingredients except the spring onion and coriander garnish. Stir fry on a high heat for a couple of minutes until the prawns turn pink, then add the spring onion and coriander. Serve immediately.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Toasted Sandwiches

I don't know anyone who doesn't like toasted sandwiches. What's not to like? Earlier this week, images of Mishkin's Reuben sandwich in the morning paper haunted me for many hours. For me, an absolute must is cheese. Without that oozy, gooey quality you're better off leaving it untoasted.

I was offered a Waring sandwich toaster (£50) to review. It's the deep fill sort, and the leaflet that came with it proclaimed that you could also make an omelette or puff pastry fruit turnovers in them. I tend to have omelettes with something in the centre though so I'm not quite sure how it would work that way, so I stuck to toasties.

The sandwich toaster needs to get to optimum temperature first, which gives you plenty of time to construct your sandwich. Simplicity won over and a cheese and tomato toastie was tested first. Set to high, the dial felt a bit plasticky and cheap, but once toasted the sandwich that came out was a fine one; brown and crisp on the outside, well melted cheese within and the tomatoes atomically hot, ready to surprise you and burn the inside of your mouth out.

Garlicky mushrooms mixed with creme fraiche and spinach also worked well and made a quick dinner in front of the TV. It's convenient too as both sides have a quick release button for easy cleaning. I couldn't help but think though that this was another counter top appliance that I don't have the space for. Once done with, it is confined to wherever I can find to stash it. Although it toasts sandwiches well, I've managed to do the same with a frying pan and a heavy dish on top, squishing the sandwich down, for a while now.

For more sandwichism and where to find the best in London, check out the all new London Review of Sandwiches.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Why Eat Burger When You Could Have Lobster?

You may have heard a lot about Burger & Lobster by now, and in particular their unusual menu. With just three choices of burger, a whole grilled or steamed lobster, or a lobster roll all served with chips and fries, you may also raise an eyebrow at the £20 price tag for each.

£20 for a burger? Yes, it's expensive but £20 for a lobster is cheap and I rather like this one price for all approach. Why anyone would order a burger when lobster is on offer anyway is beyond me, but when I visited plenty were. It was a rainy night and I had endured the trauma of both Selfridges and Hamleys one day before Christmas Eve. It was madness. If Selfridges, full of people dashing around buying last minute presents, jangled my nerves then Hamleys completely annihilated them. Burger & Lobster tucked away behind Green Park tube station was a haven of calm and comfort.

Sat at a high table on a leather banquet, the restaurant is all dark wood. A long bar glimmered with bottles of booze, while cocktails were expertly made. Something short and strong restored my spirits.

Steamed lobster was served on a metal tray, halved. A jug of herbed and lemon butter dip was for decadent dunking and chips were thin, crisp and salty; just how I love 'em. I don't know what more to say other than that I spent a very happy half hour picking my way around the huge lobster, extracting the sweet meat, trying not to spray my date with lobster viscera.

Just when I was almost reaching capacity our chatty waitress came over with a lobster roll on the house, a kind gesture from the management (who are also the steaky Goodman). A buttery brioche roll is toasted and stuffed to the brim with sweet lobster meat that's been dressed lightly in mayonnaise so that it's barely perceptible. Even after the mammoth lobster each we'd just eaten, it was certainly no chore, though I couldn't even think about eating anything else until at least lunchtime the next day.

It's a pretty niche restaurant, and if you don't like burgers or lobsters (what? WHAT?) then it won't be for you, but I loved it. Affordable lobster, well made cocktails and no menu anxiety is a winner in my book.

Burger & Lobster

29 Clarges Street
London W1J 7EF

No reservations, closed Sunday & Monday

Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Burnt Ends Bao & Pitt Cue Soho

I don't know whether you made it to Pitt Cue Co.'s barbecue truck underneath the Hungerford Bridge last summer, but if not you're in luck, as they've just opened a tiny place on Newburgh Street. We popped in during soft launch to be immediately greeted by pickle backs, that combination of a shot of bourbon followed swiftly by a shot of pickle juice. Most people wrinkle their noses at this, but once you drink it that sweet sour kick you get is addictive. Even if it does have a hint of Big Mac about it.

Downstairs is tiny, and the four of us squished in for dinner and ordered virtually everything from the menu. Trays came out laden with smoked meats, pickles and other sides. Pulled pork was soft and juicy, pork ribs glorious. Beef brisket was smoky and tender, and beef ribs fatty and charred. Burnt ends mash was insanely addictive, and ample helpings of beet slaw cut through the richness. Crispy pickled shiitake mushrooms were an absolute revelation and I still drool at the memory. It turned us feral, and we grabbed at each others' trays, trying to get a good taste of it all. All washed down with a New York Sour, I can imagine myself spending a lot of time here when they open properly on Monday 16th January.

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

We popped into the kitchen to give a wave to Tom and Neil who were manning the stoves and they kindly sent us off with a packet of burnt ends. These are the ends of the briskets that take on the most smoke flavour when they're cooking and often thought of as a delicacy. In thinking about what to do with my bounty, my brain kept screaming "MASH! Re-create that mash!" but I decided instead on buns. More specifically, the buns you get at dim sum restaurants ('bao' in Cantonese), usually stuffed with char siu (barbecue pork). The buns are steamed and they are soft and sweet, rich smoky meat within. The burnt ends were an obvious replacement.

The dough was a lengthy process, and I turned to the ever-trusty Sunflower for guidance. Her recipe involved making a flour roux first, then adding this to dry ingredients. I am not much of a baker to know why, but it worked so I'll go with it.

After a couple of hours proving, the dough was then flattened and stuffed with the burnt ends mix to then be pleated shut.

Left to prove in the steamer for a little longer, I was worried that they wouldn't work. They seemed like they hadn't risen much.

Happily, they doubled in size when they were steamed. The buns came out a more cream colour than what you might be used to at dim sum restaurants, but this is because commercially made bao is made with super bleached flour. Incidentally I found some when I was at my local Chinese supermarket picking up something else while this dough was proving. Typical.

I was really happy with the result; soft, pillowy buns broke open to reveal intensely smoky and juicy meat. I ate 4 of these with ease.

Burnt Ends Bao

Makes 9 - 10

(Adapted from Sunflower)

20gr plain flour
100mls water

Whisk in the flour to the water while it is heating gently. Keep whisking until it has thickened and take off the heat. Leave to cool.

1 tsp instant yeast
80mls water
Flour roux as above
300gr plain flour (or bao flour)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
60gr sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Mix the yeast with the water and set aside. Sieve the flour and the baking powder together.

Mix the flour roux with the dissolved yeast liquid, sugar, salt and oil.

Using the mixing paddle or a sturdy wooden spoon, add half the liquid to the flour mixture and mix well. Add the rest of the liquid using a tablespoon so that you get a soft but not too sticky dough. I used all the liquid but you may need less. Mix well but don't knead it and leave it for 15 minutes. Then give it a quick knead until it is smooth, and leave to prove somewhere warm for 1.5 hours or 2, basically until it has risen 1.5 times in size.


Any kind of barbecued meat, or char siu. You'll want it to have a bit of sauce though so that it's not too dry.

10 squares of greaseproof paper
1 tbsp white vinegar

When the dough has risen, dust it with a bit of flour and knead for a minute. Divide into 9 or 10 pieces and roll into balls.

Flatten the dough into a circle. It's better to have the middle a little thinner than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling into the centre and start gathering the dough from the right handside - try to pleat and twist towards the centre so that you have a middle gathering at the top of the bun. Place on a square of greaseproof paper and leave to rise for another 15 minutes.

Add the white vinegar to the water in the steamer - this is supposed to make the bao fluffier - and once the water is boiling, add the buns to the steamer and place the lid on. Steam for 10 minutes on high and then remove. Eat while hot; any leftovers can be refrigerated and steamed gently to reheat, or frozen.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Blueberry Crumble Squares

I'm a big fan of blueberries. My 'signature' cake is a blueberry with soured cream frosting and it's so because it's the one I always make. It's easy and delicious and Christ it's got FRUIT in it so it must be healthy, right? Blueberries are so expensive in the supermarkets though so when I saw this lot at Lewisham Market for £1 I rubbed my bargain-hunting hands with glee.

There are only so many handfuls of blueberries you can scoff by the handful before you feel a burning desire to mix them with butter and sugar. I decided to break tradition and try a new recipe. The ever trusty Smitten Kitchen popped up instantaneously and my mind was made up.

I made some tweaks. I ALWAYS make some tweaks. Ironically, when I came to making this recipe I didn't have enough blueberries left. Turns out I had shovelled too many into my gob. I ramped up the fruit flavour by not only adding lemon, but orange. For a minute I worried that the orange would overshadow the blueberry flavour.

My fears were unfounded and it came out beautifully fragrant; a whiff of orange, the jammy blueberries popped and stained the cakey-like base purple. The crumble topping was gorgeously crisp - it doesn't stay like that after being refrigerated though, so scoff them all on the same day or get some sort of airtight container. I can't wait to make these again (so, after I visit Lewisham on Saturday...) and next time, there are definitely nuts going into that crumble topping.

Blueberry Crumble Squares

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

600gr blueberries
220gr caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
450gr plain flour
225gr butter, chilled
A pinch of salt
1 egg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Juice of 1 small orange
90gr brown sugar
6 tsp cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C. Grease a rectangular baking pan.

Mix together the blueberries with the orange juice, lemon juice and zest, brown sugar in a bowl. Stir well. Add the cornstarch and mix well.

Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, salt and caster sugar to a large bowl. Add the egg, then add the butter cut into cubes. Mix and rub the butter into the flour quickly to create a crumbly dough. Pat half the dough into the bottom of the baking tin and pat down and into the corners. Spread the blueberries and the juice on top, then top lightly with the rest of the crumbly dough mix.

Bake for 45mins on the top shelf of the oven. The topping should be nicely browned, if not leave in for a bit longer. Remove, leave to cool in the tin completely and then cut into squares. Serve with ice cream or custard.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


I suppose you could say that 2011 is the year I really discovered ramen. From Momofuku Noodle Bar's pork ramen in New York way back in June, the love affair was ignited. There are a baffling array of regional variations of ramen, and not many cover them as well as the excellent first issue of Lucky Peach. Unfortunately it seems to be out of stock and they're going for £190 secondhand but Wikipedia gives you a rough outline.

I wasn't alone in these feelings though. Tsuru, the popular mini chain of Japanese restaurants famous for its signature chicken katsu sandwich, started up Tsuru Ramen; a sporadic ramen Saturday, offering different ramens in two sittings in advance of opening up a ramen shop. They take this stuff seriously, with a 5 day ramen slurping research trip to Tokyo scheduled imminently. Their events have been selling out.

I managed to nab a ticket to the Tonkotsu event. Tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu) is a speciality of Kyushu and it translates to 'pork bone'. The broth is milky from simmering the pork bones over a long time. It gets its appearance from the fat and collagen and what you're left with is an intensely porky broth for the springy noodles to swim in. Topped with a slice of tender, fatty pork and half a soft boiled nitamago (soy seasoned egg), this was an excellent and hearty bowl of noodles. You can keep up to date with events by following them on Twitter and checking out their blog.

More of a permanent fixture is Shochu Lounge's Ramen Mondays. Bizarrely it isn't advertised at all, even their website doesn't say they're open on Monday lunchtimes but this tip came from the ever excellent Mr Noodles. Underneath Roka on Charlotte Street, this sleek and expensive-feeling bar is usually the den of the well-heeled, sipping on shochu cocktails before dinner upstairs but come on a Monday lunchtime and you find instead a vat of bubbling water in the middle of the bar, with a chef dunking balls of noodles into nets to get lowered into the water.

Only two options of ramen are offered; Shoyu ramen has a clear, light broth and is flavoured with soy sauce. Again topped with a soy-seasoned egg, this was a touch more cooked, resulting in a fudgy consistency. Toasted nori went well with the broth, being crisp above surface and slimy below. Slices of pork are plentiful, the noodles a pleasing consistency - I value bouncy springiness firstly and foremost.

The miso ramen is an altogether richer affair. A thicker broth seasoned heavily with the flavour of miso, this one is definitely for the winter months. The broth is borderline on the salty front and was more of a slurpable one combined with the noodles than on its' own. Sweetcorn bobbed about for some welcome sweetness and the strong flavour of sesame was prevalent. This was a gutsy bowl which worked well with the chewy noodles.

Shochu Lounge on Urbanspoon

I decided it was high time I made my own. I followed the recipe for the ramen noodles from Lucky Peach issue 1 (top photo) which involved cooking baking soda in the oven and a lot of faff with the pasta machine but they weren't quite right; too mushy and not springy enough. Shop bought were better so I will omit the recipe until I get it right. But the broth of the noodles and the accompaniments were pretty damn good so it's here instead.

I based this on a tonkotsu-esque idea, but as I didn't have a huge amount of pork bones I supplemented it with oxtail for an even bigger whack of meaty flavour. To balance this out, I added some Chinese preserved radish which helped cut through the richness nicely. This kind of broth takes minimal fuss but a lot of time, so set aside at least a couple of days to make it. This recipe makes enough for about 6 bowls. It's rugged, but rich and comforting.

Oxtail & Pork Broth

1 oxtail, sectioned (into pieces...)
1 pork shank
3 large slices of ginger

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the oxtail and pork shank. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in a colander and clean the pot out. This is to get rid of all the horrible grey scum that will make your broth weird.

Add to a fresh pan of water, enough to cover and simmer very gently with the ginger for 10 hours with lid on in the oven at 100 degrees. It seems a lot but you can do this in a slow cooker. Drain, strain through muslin and chill overnight. Skim the fat off once it has solidified on the surface. there is a heart-stopping amount. Bring to the simmer.

Pork Belly

500gr piece of pork belly
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt

Rub the salt and sugar all over the pork belly. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the liquid out and pat dry, then roast for half an hour on full blast and then turn it down to 140 degrees C and roast for an hour. Remove, leave to cool and chill. (This last bit is only necessary if you like neat slices.) To serve, remove the skin if you have it on and slice into inch-thick pieces to serve on top of your ramen.

Nitamago (Soy-seasoned eggs)

6 eggs
1 clove of garlic
1 slice of ginger
60ml light soy sauce
60ml sake
60ml mirin
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Bring the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sake and mirin to the boil in a small saucepan. Once it hits boiling remove and place in a container to cool. Carefully lower the room temperature eggs into a pan of boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water until cooled. Very carefully peel and place in the cold soy sauce mix. Marinate overnight, turning once.

Other Bits

1 sheet of toasted nori per person
A handful of beansprouts, blanched
1 spring onion, slivered finely
A handful of rinsed preserved turnip or radish
1 tsp miso per person

So the rest is assembly really. Make sure the stock is bubbling heartily and assemble the cooked noodles in the bowl. Attach the toasted nori sheet to the side of the bowl (a smear of miso did this well) and ladle the broth into the bowl. Top with beansprouts, pickled veg, slivered spring onion and the tsp of miso so that it dissolves into the broth, and finally split an egg in half and settle on top. Serve immediately.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

New York - December Edition - Not So Cheap

As much as I loved all the cheaper places we visited, leisurely dinners meant coughing up a bit more. My favourite of the trip goes to Schiller's Liquor Bar. Located on the Lower East Side, the room is white tiled, darkly lit and bustling. The bar area was filled with people perched on high stools sipping on beers and we were seated at one of the last tables for two left.

I loved how unpretentious it was; the wine list was simply presented as 3 options; 'cheap', 'decent' and 'good'. When our bottle arrived, CHEAP was plastered across it. I'm not a wine buff in any way, shape or form and our bottle was drinkable and tasted good.

East Coast and West Coast oysters were sweeter with more mineral flavour than ones from our own shores. Crab and articoke dip with melba toast was decadently creamy and rich, though I'd have preferred a little more crab flavour. A seared tuna Nicoise salad (what was I thinking!?) was horrendously overshadowed by The Boy's 'pork chops and roasted potatoes'. What was presented to him was a behemoth plate with two chops and a pile of roasted potatoes, just as advertised. They were cooked in the most delicious caramelised onion, ginger and garlicky sauce. I almost cried with envy.

With a couple of well made cocktails and well deserved tip for our affable and charming waiter, the bill came to around £50 / head.

Schiller's Liquor Bar on Urbanspoon

I was a fan of David Chang since I went to Momofuku Noodle Bar on my first visit. Since then I've become an even bigger fan, having bought his cookbook and the quarterly magazine he's a part of, Lucky Peach. We managed to nab two seats at the bar at Momofuku Ssam early on new year's eve.

I'd have liked to try more of the raw dishes but they were quite pricy, so we settled on one - diver scallops with yuba (tofu skin), satsuma and coriander. The smears were intensely orange flavoured and worked well with the sweet, delicate shellfish. Yuba doesn't taste of much but had a tender texture, much like the skin you get on top of gravy. It sounds rank but it was a great texture contrast to the scallop.

The pork buns, which Momofuku is famous for were pretty damn sexy. Pillowy steamed buns were stuffed with a slab of fatty warm pork belly, with a smear of hoisin sauce and sliced cucumbers. It took everything in my power to refrain from cancelling the other dishes and ordering another seven of these instead.

Fuji apple kimchi with bacon and maple mayo was incredible; rather than the apples being fermented with garlic and chilli over a length of time, the apples were crisp and fresh, having been dressed in kimchi juice instead. The bacon was really smoky and coupled with the maple mayo it was perfect.

Market greens came in the form of swiss chard, cooked in XO sauce and topped with a heap of fried shallots. Cooked until the stalks were al dente and the leaves just wilted, the intense savoury flavour of the XO sauce was thankfully sparing; any more and it would have been overwhelming.

Spicy sausage with fried rice cakes and Sichuan pepper was my least favourite dish of the meal. Although the rice cakes had a great texture, both gooey and crispy from frying, after a while it began to all get a bit samey with each bite. Too stuffed for dessert and with a party to get over to, we decided against desserts. With a couple of cocktails each, our bill again reached around £50 / head.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

After an afternoon of ice skating, we were ravenous. The temperature on our last night was around -5 C; I don't think I've been anywhere that cold. The streets of New York were windy, and as we rushed towards Locanda Verde in TriBeCa I had everything crossed that we wouldn't have to wait long.

The place is cavernous, dark - this is a recurring theme - but lively. Families dined with small children, couples were having intimate dinners and groups of friends were sharing plates. A long L-shaped bar was absolutely rammed, both with people having drinks waiting for a table as well as people eating at the bar. A mere half hour wait while nursing a Negroni was all it took before we were seated.

A tuna crostini with smoked cannellini beans and a hint of lemon was perfunctory enough to keep the hunger at bay. Proscuitto lent smokiness to the prawns they were wrapping, doused in romesco sauce and it was dotted with creamy white beans to give some heartiness to the dish.

Marinated beet salad was a textbook example. Tender beetroot was topped with slices of fennel and happily they didn't go for the obvious goats cheese, but instead smoked ricotta. Some welcome crunch was provided from the pistachio garnish, with a smear of pistachio puree hiding under the beets.

We had a lot of trouble trying to decide on mains, but we were pleased with our spiced duck choice. Huge slabs of flush pink breast arrived, garnished with pomegranate seeds, small faro grains and cavolo nero. The skin was crisp with sweetness with a hint of the exotic, and the meat as tender as butter. A side dish of roasted brussel sprouts was a hearty affair; strong mustard flavours with the slightly bitter brassica was reinforced further with chunks of pecorino and pancetta. It was the unheathiest vegetable side I've laid eyes on in recent times. Obviously I thought it was great.

Orecchiette was served with beans and fennel sausage and a hard strong cheese grated on top. These were gutsy flavours and the little ears held them well. With the beans and pasta combined, it was great comfort food. But good lord we were stuffed afterwards.

A pear, quince and cranberry crisp with vanilla bourbon ice cream sounds quite light and insubstantial, right? That's what we thought when we ordered it to share. A deep ramekin arrived with the aforementioned fruits in a crumble. Crisp, it turns out, is a crumble. Oof. We managed to polish it all off due to its own deliciousness caused by nuts being incorporated into the crumble topping, but I was rendered incapacitated after the meal and could only lie down and make small groaning noises.

Locanda Verde
reminded me a lot of Polpo both in atmosphere and food; unsurprising really, as the recommendation to go there came from Russell Norman. Locanda Verde is a touch more expensive though, we hit £60 a head with a bottle of wine.

Locanda Verde on Urbanspoon

Now I shall be nibbling on dry bread and lentils until my bank balance recovers.