Monday, 20 April 2015

Kimchi & Spam Fried Rice

I know, I know, Spam isn't the most glamorous of foods but it is one of the tastiest and I won't hear otherwise. Canned meat isn't always going to appeal, but cast aside any doubts of that pink rectangular mass sliding out of that can and do as follows. Because really it is delicious, as long as you treat it properly. 

So. Slice it, or cube it. Fry it with just the littlest bit of oil so that all the edges are bronzed and crisp. And then fry it for a little longer, just to make sure they really are crisp. Then, top freshly steamed rice with it. Squirt a little Sriracha over it. Or lay it upon instant noodles for a really filthy treat. You could wang it on a slice of bread, melt a little slappy cheese on top, squirt some ketchup and top it with more buttered bread for a treat that is strictly relegated to winter sport holidays, because by god you'll need to burn that off. My book, Chinatown Kitchen, includes other recipes using Spam, as well as a recipe for home-made kimchi. 

One of my favourite preparations is to cook it with fried rice in strong, punchy flavourings. Kimchi's garlicky pungency works well with the salty meat, flavouring the blandness of the rice, studded through with some guilt-balancing vegetables. You can use anything - sweetcorn, peas, carrots... I went for tenderstem broccoli and fine green beans. 

Kimchi & Spam Fried Rice 

Serves 2

200gr dry white rice, cooked and cooled overnight
1/2 a white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
70gr kimchi, drained and chopped
1/2 a can of Spam, cubed
A handful of green beans, or broccoli, or whatever your choice - diced
4 eggs
1 tbsp fish sauce
3 spring onions, sliced diagonally, whites separated from greens
4 tbsp cooking oil
Chilli oil (optional, to serve)

Heat a wok to a high heat and when it's smoking, turn it down a touch and add 2 tbsp cooking oil. Beat two of the eggs together in a bowl, then add it to the wok. Stir a little, then when it has just set, remove and place on a plate. 

Add another tbsp oil to the wok, swirl around and when it is just below smoking, add the diced onion,  whites of the spring onion, kimchi, garlic and the vegetables. Stir fry until the kimchi is dry-ish. 

Meanwhile, fry two eggs in a non-stick pan with the remaining tbsp oil until the whites are set and the yolks are runny. Place to one side. 

Push the vegetables to one side and add the cubed Spam. Stir-fry gently every couple of minutes so that the edges crisp up, then mix the vegetables in. Turn the heat up to the highest, then crumble the rice into the wok and leave for a minute, then toss together and stir fry for a minute, breaking up any clumps. Drizzle the fish sauce over the rice, and continue to stir-fry for a minute. Add the scrambled egg back in, then stir fry for another minute to break the egg up within the rice. To serve, garnish with the greens of the spring onion, and drizzle with chilli oil. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

VIDEO: How to Fold & Cook Potsticker Dumplings

Here I am, in video form, showing you how to fold and cook potsticker dumplings. The beauty of these is that you can make your own fillings up - prefer chicken? Used minced chicken instead. Add some prawn to the pork mixture for a little seafood sweetness. You can experiment with alliums too - finely minced Chinese chives work well. In the Spring, I tweak it a touch by adding wild garlic and asparagus to the mixture too. 

The full recipe, with more variations plus a step by step guide on how to fold them are in my book, Chinatown Kitchen, which you can buy here or at Waterstones. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rex & Mariano, Soho

I've worked in Soho, or the proximity of Soho for over ten years now (good god, that makes me feel old) and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to the site that Rex & Mariano now occupies on St. Anne's Court. A vast behemoth of a place tucked down this alleyway that joins Wardour Street to Dean Street, it was, for many years, Vodka Revolution. Nothing good happens in Vodka Revolution. It's the type of bar, in my experience, that is dark, dank, loud and full of grabby lecherous men. They used to sell flavoured vodka shots that you would optimistically suck back, your subconscious hoping beyond all hope that you would get pissed enough to induce a memory black-out of ever having been in such a place. 

But now it's all joyfulness and light. Gone is the dark, and in its place light pine furniture, white marble-topped tables and a huge gleaming kitchen. There's banquettes, there's bar seating, and also standalone tables - truly something for everyone. From the same stable as Goodman, Burger & Lobster and Beast, Rex is Rex Goldsmith, Chelsea's fishmonger, while Mariano looks after the wine list side of things. 

The menu is, indeed, very fishy. It's also presented to you not only as a paper menu, but also on an iPad. The first time I visited in December I thought perhaps that would be a worthless gimmick but I am now a total convert. All the items are listed for you to order with gay abandon, and an alert will tell you when you've ordered quite a lot and perhaps maybe you'd like to order more a little later so that it doesn't all come at once? There are humans available to guide you if it's your first time and also deliver the food, but I loved the efficiency of the electronic ordering and the subsequent 5% standard service charge. There are some who will bemoan the coldness of a dining experience without human interaction, but that's what your lunch companion is for. 

Anyway, the food. The food! The raw red prawns (opening picture) will be served to you cooked if you so choose. They are specialities of Sicily, and they are the sweetest, prawniest little things. Already de-shelled for your eating ease, they are dressed liberally with olive oil and salt. Some find the raw versions a little slimy but that's why I like them - they're slippery and sweet. Suck the heads of the prawns for an extra prawny hit (I imagine some of you might be retching a little at the thought but do try it. Prawn brains!) At £10 for 8 of the highest quality seafood, it really is a bargain. 

Lobster ceviche (£12) I am not sure is a ceviche in the truest sense of it being cured in a citrus juice, but it certainly is very lightly cooked, tossed with lemon and the unmistakable fragrance of yuzu, a type of Japanese citrus fruit. It's hard to describe what yuzu tastes of, except for absolutely delicious. Along with shaved fennel and chives, this is what summer flavours are made of.

Tuna ceviche is true to form and has the unmistakable heat flavour of jalapeno, addictive and punchy. Salmon carpaccio with tomato and olive oil was something I had at my original visit in December, and I found it a little dull when compared with the exciting flavours that preceded it.

Onto the cooked. There's usually a daily fish on offer, grilled simply and served with chips but these clams with white wine, chilli and parsley are unmissable. On my first visit (which was also their first day open) the clams were deliciously garlicky but also borderline too salty - this has now calmed down a lot. We used empty shells to slurp up the delicious sauce. 

Courgette fries have surpassed Byron's as my favourite side in London. Served with an aioli that is mercifully mild on the garlic flavour (look, no one wants a colleague returning from lunch honking of garlic) they are crisp, bronzed and utterly irresistible. 

Olives are stuffed with yellowfin tuna, dusted lightly and deep fried. I've had versions of these stuffed with anchovies which are a bit too much for me - a literal salt bomb - so these tuna versions pleased me greatly, as they have just the right side of fishiness. 

Nothing will ever sway me from my most favoured preparation of deep fried seafood, which is the classic Cantonese salt and pepper (yup, you guessed it - there's a book plug - I have a recipe for it in Chinatown Kitchen!) but this frito misto with Old Bay seasoning is a decent alternative. Old Bay seasoning is used for crab and crawfish boils, made up of rich, warm spices. We were pretty big on squid on this plate - a couple more whitebait would have balanced it out well, but for £9 it was a good portion. 

That's another thing. Price. While Goodman is expensive - quality meat doesn't come cheap - they've brought lobster to the masses, for £20 at Burger & Lobster. Beast blows the budget with the food coming in at £75 per head - certainly, it is 'exclusive' as their website advertises. That king crab aint cheap. Rex & Mariano though is a total bargain. If you look at the price of seafood at the fishmongers you'll know it's not a cheap foodstuff; at Rex & Mariano, those prices are barely inflated. 

So why isn't it completely packed to the rafters? Alas, fish and seafood is one type of food that divides people. I know a lot of people fanatical about it; similarly I know many who won't entertain any sort of seafood at all. I feel sorry for them. I've recommended Rex & Mariano to countless people who have been so excited to go, to be let down by one party member who won't or can't eat fish. Unless you're happy with a meal of sides, it won't be suitable. I can't help but wonder if they could just put a chicken or steak dish on the menu to pacify the naysayers, I could go more often to stuff my face full of delicious creatures of the sea. Please?

2 St. Anne's Court
London W1F 0AZ

Tel: 020 7437 0566

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 April 2015

Top 5 Essentials for Asian Cooking

In my book, Chinatown Kitchen - which is out now! -I detail basic ingredients that you can buy to build the basis of your cooking repertoire for Asian food. Here are my top 5, from right to left.

Chilli oil / sauce - Essential flavour enhancer for congee, soup, rice dishes, noodle dishes, grilled cheese sandwiches... The type of chilli oil or sauce alternates as I like to experiment with what I find in the supermarket. Stalwarts are Sriracha (the book actually has a home-made version of this too) and a classic oil made from just dried, ground chillis and Sichuan peppercorns.

Dark Soy Sauce - Usually used very sparingly, this adds colour and  caramel-like flavour.

Light Soy Sauce - I prefer Pearl River Bridge Premium Deluxe - it is a little harder to find (See Woo definitely sell it) and a little more expensive than regular soy sauce, but it has a superior flavour that I love.

Chinkiang black vinegar - this is a very delicate, slightly sweet and fragrant Chinese vinegar. It's added at the end of cooking to preserve its flavour, and is used in sauces, soups and dipping sauces for dumplings.

Fish Sauce - I use 3 Crabs, upon the advice of the eminent Vietnamese guru, Uyen Leluu. It's flavoursome and fragrant, without the harsh saltiness you get from lesser brands. It's essential in Thai and Vietnamese cookery.

You can buy these in Asian supermarkets, and a lot of the ingredients are available in mainstream supermarkets like Waitrose, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tescos. You can also buy online - Wai Yee Hong and Sous Chef deliver.