Sunday 28 September 2008

British Food Fortnight

I saw this post by Antonia of Food, Glorious Food! on the UK Food Bloggers Association website, and it immediately reminded me of the oxtail languishing in my freezer. As I have hardly cooked any British food at all on this blog, I thought this might be a perfect opportunity to do so.

The British Food Fortnight runs from 20th September. It celebrates local, seasonal British produce and the rules were to create a thoroughly British dish from locally sourced ingredients (where possible).

I bought the oxtail on a whim while at the local butcher's shop. I had read it can be difficult for some people to get hold of, so I thought I best snap it up while I can. Of course, I was at a bit of a loss with what to do with it and it went into the freezer.

The most popular preparation of oxtail seems to be in soup, but I wanted to use something that to me, is quintessentially British; ale. It immediately conjures pictures of old pubs and English country beer gardens. I'm not a drinker of it myself, but a quick call to my dad told me that if I were to use it in a pie, dark ale would be best.

Being a resident of Greater London, there was no better choice than London Pride, brewed in Chiswick and has been for the last 350 years. This was to be the base of the pie filling. A word of warning; this pie takes two days...

Ale & Oxtail Pie

Serves 4

4 large pieces of oxtail
1 large white onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
6 closed cup mushrooms,sliced
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of London Pride (500mls)
Small bunch of thyme
15 whole black peppercorns
450mls beef stock
1 box of Jus-Rol puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Chop the onion roughly and lightly squish the whole cloves of garlic with the blade of your knife. Sweat the onions until softened and add the garlic. Fry slowly for 5 mins. Remove from the pan into a separate bowl, and set the pan back on a high heat. Brown the oxtail on all sides. Add the onions and garlic back in, and turn the heat down. Add the carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns and celery and stir fry until softened. Add all the ale in, and simmer for 15 mins. Then add the beef stock, mushrooms and the thyme and simmer for at least 4 hours.

Leave this to cool, and place in the fridge. Oxtail is quite fatty, and it's good to skim off the fat that collects and hardens at the top. You will also find that it has all set into jelly; warming this back up on the hob returns it to liquid.

Shred the oxtail meat from the bones, and discard the bones. Place it all into your pie dish (mine's 26cm) and leave to cool. Roll some puff pastry over the top carefully, and brush with beaten egg. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees celcius and bake the pie for 20 mins, or until the top is puffy and browned.

Every time I've had pie, there has always been leaves made with excess pastry stuck on top, so I did the same. I added the 'Pie' in case we couldn't figure out what it was...

So how did it taste? Well, it was definitely worth the two day cooking time. The sauce was rich and meaty, with a slight hint of bitter behind it. The meat melted in the mouth and was definitely not as tough as I was expecting; rather the opposite. The pastry soaked up the juices wonderfully and was buttery, yet light. Perhaps next time I'll attempt to make my own puff pastry...

Thursday 25 September 2008

Happy Birthday To Me

It was my birthday on Monday. I wanted to do something fairly low-key and I succeeded. I went to the local cider pub with friends and drank all the cider last Friday. The weekend proved to be the last gasp of summer with blue skies and actual, proper sunshine; it was like a birthday present just for me.

I've also been doing some serious eating. I went for a barbeque at my parents' place for lunch and then also had dinner, a mere 4 hours later. On my actual birthday, Monday, I went to Mirch Masala in Whitechapel with 7 friends. Much curry and cake was consumed.

Last night was the final outing. I was treated to dinner at Umu by my wonderful boyfriend and it was definitely that. On approach down a back alley in Mayfair, the facade of the restaurant isn't particularly imposing. I liked the panel which said 'Touch Here' - by placing your hand on it, the entrance door slides open. A bit cool.

On first impressions, the restaurant was very sleek indeed. Dark wooden tables lined the windows and there was a central bar style of seating, with a chef concentrating hard on slicing some fish.

We were talked through the menu by our charming waiter, and a rather hefty menu at that. There was normal a la carte, and then a sashimi and sushi menu, and lastly the Kaiseki menus. Kaiseki is a speciality of Kyoto and is a banquet style of meal. It is said to be an art form that balances the taste, texture, and appearance of food.

After a glass of pink champagne to mull it over, we decided it would have to be a Kaiseki menu, with one of us choosing the 'Special Sushi' menu so that we could sample it all.

We started off with duck cooked pink, sliced very thinly and served with "some sort of potato thing". I had nipped to the ladies' when they had served this first course. It was served cold, and the duck was melt-in-the-mouth tender. So far so good .

The next dish (left) certainly was impressive. In the glass dish was finely chopped octopus with lychee, topped with salmon eggs and fried shallots. After the first bite I was a bit taken aback by the sweet/savoury; and then I couldn't stop eating it. I even put the glass to my lips to get the remaining juice. Terribly uncouth. The next little morsel was slow-cooked eel.

Once again, on first bite it was mind boggling. The boggle soon melted away to "more! more!". You see, the eel was wrapped in very fine, marinated slices of ginger.

Next to this, a prawn-topped rice ball and lastly winter melon stuffed with smoked salmon. A cracking start to the meal.

So there were the 'seasonal appetisers' of the meal. Next came the sashimi. We had some sort of yellowtail, fatty tuna, and sesame-crusted mackerel. Our server told us that the tiny sprig of flowers resting atop the tuna should be dunked in the soy sauce, but didn't tell us why.

All amazingly fresh, and the first time I've had fatty tuna. At first I wondered what the fuss was all about; when the fat started melting I then knew. It was gorgeous. My stomach rumbles thinking back to it. Our server also told us that the Japanese like to leave one piece of fish until last, and then wrap it up in the leaf provided with a little grated daikon, dunk into the soy sauce and eat. This we did.

Once again, we were served our dishes while I had popped to the bathroom (I have a small bladder, alright?). On first glace it looked a little like Agedashi Tofu, but was actually egg stuffed with minced prawn, in a broth and topped with shreds of ginger and daikon.

The consistency of the egg was fabulous, a lot like that of silken tofu. It gave a good wobble in the broth and the prawn stuffing was very flavoursome. The occasional kick of the ginger was surprising. Even the egg-hating boyfriend thought it delicous.

Here is where our set meals branched off to involve the 'sushi' aspect. Boyfriend got 3 kinds of nigiri; back tuna, fatty tuna and some sort of seared white fish which we didn't catch the name of. Each was topped with a little minced radish. The back tuna was definitely the star.

The dish I got is pretty indecipherable from the photo, but was basically simmered red pepper, turnip, okra, aubergine and octopus in a bonito jelly. It was all served cold and was my least favourite dish of the meal. All very clean and fresh flavours, but it really was just that. The colours of the vegetables were really beautifully presented though.

It was after this that the heavy weights came out. A box containing a large tea light arrived with a wire mesh basket holding a paper cone. Inside it, a steaming clear broth. This, of course, was the Shabu Shabu. With this, came a wooden basket containing chopped chives and a little grated radish mixed with chilli. Dishes of ponzu and sesame were offered as dips.

We were told to add all the veg into the stock before the fish, which needed just a mere 10 seconds as it was so thinly sliced and fresh. This was quite entertaining, experimenting with the different dips and fishing things out yourself. For the vegetables, as you can see we were given a fresh shiitake mushroom, leeks, and Chinese cabbage. Also included was a 'wheat slice', a grey tofu-esque slab. When it was cooked, it didn't taste like much at all but the texture was exactly like the black sesame-filled glutinous rice balls you eat as a dessert in Chinese cuisine. Very strange indeed.

By now, we were nearing the end of our gastronomic shin-dig. Once again, our menus split off and I was given Shimeji mushroom rice, with pickles. Pickles! I love pickles. Sometimes I will eat pickles straight from the jar, I love them so. This was served with a red miso soup, something I haven't had before. The balance was just right; the blandness of the rice was great with the pickle, and the red miso was intensely savoury, bringing it all together perfectly.

To follow this, 'modern sushi' was brought out. They were nigiri, topped with cooked fish and a parsley and garlic sauce. The garlic was a rather severe shock to what was otherwise a meal of very clean flavours. After this, we were starting to feel the burn. Dessert was brought to us with a green tea. We were told that the jelly in the cup should be all mixed together; the seeds were plum seeds in a clear jelly and below it a milky jelly - perhaps pandanus? This was really refreshing and delicious, the consistency being very soft and almost custard-like. A great end to the meal.

...There was one last treat. These little caramel-filled wafer cups, dusted with green tea powder. They were tooth-achingly sweet and delicious. The boyfriend exclaimed that it may have been his favourite part of the meal.

We finished on a happy note. The waiting staff were charming and inobtrusive, especially when I asked to be moved shortly after we sat down due to a bellowing Australian suit. A raise of the eyebrow and "you are not the first to request this..." was the answer and we were relocated. My only gripe would be that they served three different courses while I wasn't at the table, and so missed out on their descriptions. Definitely worth going back, but quite certainly a 'special occasion' kind of place.
Umu on Urbanspoon

Sunday 21 September 2008

Wrap It

I love eating with my hands. It's rather more fun than using a knife and fork, or chopsticks and it can be messy. Who doesn't like a bit of mess? So things like wraps, chappatis and other dipping implements are popular with me.

These fajita-style wraps were also a good way of using up excess salad ingredients that I had lurking around the fridge. That lonely chicory was sliced thinly along with a slightly squidgy red pepper. The lettuce which was wilting around the edges was plunged into ice-cold water for a refresh, and then dried and shredded. A salsa was made with a little chopped coriander, chilli, spring onion and garlic and also a guacamole using the same ingredients plus lime juice.

The steak was he most time consuming part of this extremely quick meal as it was marinaded before being grilled to medium rare.

Marinated Steak

For two, as part of the wraps

1 450gr sirloin steak
2 springs of thyme, chopped finely
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 Asian shallots, chopped finely
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
A grinding of salt and pepper

Combine the marinade in a bowl, and add the steak. Massage the mixture into the steak and leave for at least 1/2 an hour, or over-night if possible. Grill or griddle the steak for until medium rare and allow it to rest for 15 mins under foil, before slicing into strips.

The wraps were great, especially with a little grated cheese added. I always keep a packet of flour tortilla wraps in the cupboard as they last forever and make a quick dinner, such as this one.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Smoked Haddock & Spinach Risotto

Risotto is a dish I often forget about. Surprising really, considering rice is a staple in my diet. I never order them in restaurants, I suppose largely because I rarely go to Italian restaurants and usually there is something a bit more exciting on the menu. Brilliant they are, but not massively innovative.

Smoked haddock and spinach is a great combination, usually with a poached egg. The boyfriend won't eat eggs though, so I thought the best way would be to incorporate it into a risotto. Unfortunately the smoked haddock is, as you can see, dyed. It was Tescos Finest; shame on me! But it was also reduced to 87p. I can't resist a bargain.

I've seen various all-in-one recipes for risotto, mainly for people who can't be bothered to stir some rice for 15 - 20 mins, but I find the stirring mildly theraputic. It doesn't help to be too hungry as impatience is a risotto killer, so some nibbles must be kept at hand. The rice packet suggested '75gr rice per person, less if a starter' but I find that very stingy indeed.

Smoked Haddock & Spinach Risotto

For two

200gr Arborio rice
1 large white onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 glass of white wine
2 smoked haddock fillets
Enough milk to poach the fillets
500mls fish or veg stock
1 lemon, zested
3 handfuls of spinach, washed
2 tbsp double cream (optional)
1 knob of butter (optional)
A few leafy stalks of flat-leaf parsley

Poach the fish in the milk gently until just done. Take off the heat, flake the fish aside and add the milk to the stock. Dice the onion and sweat gently in some oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and the lemon zest. When the onions are soft and sweet, add the rice, stir to coat the grains in the oil and then on a medium heat add the white wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed. Add the stock in ladlefuls and stir constantly until the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley. When the rice is al dente, add the cream if using and throw in the spinach and the fish. Take off the heat, squeeze in the juice of your lemon and stir until the spinach is wilted. Add the butter and garnish the parsley and lots of black pepper.

Smoked fish can be quite salty so watch it if you add any seasoning. I don't like cheese with fish (unless it's a tuna melt...) so I don't add any. It's a very rich dish anyway, but the lemon and parsley really lifts it from being overtly so.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Sunday Cooking

I love the feeling on a Friday knowing that you have the whole weekend ahead of you, and no plans to show for it. I've had a busy few weeks recently, so I declined party invitations and made vague but unwholesome promises to meet up with people; I knew what I was doing. A weekend of nothing, except perhaps cooking.

Often I see recipes that I'd love to attempt, but time is a great factor. On a good day, I might get home from work by 7:15pm and will usually allow myself of up to an hour before dinner must be in my belly. This doesn't allow a lot of room for long and involved recipes. So, this weekend was all about that.

When I first saw this recipe for Dong Po Pork, and then saw it blogged by Josh here, I knew it had to be done. Who doesn't love belly pork, after all? Off I went to the butchers' (the excellent GG Sparks) and returned armed with various bits and pieces, purely for the purpose of long and slow cooking (more on this later).

Dong Po Pork is famous Hangzhou dish, supposedly named after the revered Song Dynasty poet, artist and calligrapher Su Dongpo who is said to have invented, or at least inspired it. My gosh, what a recipe. It involves blanching the piece of pork in boiling water, then simmering the pork for a half hour, then another simmer in a sauce mixture, then some hazardous frying, another simmer in tea-flavoured water, before a final 2 hour steaming.

The recipe I used was from Eating China. It was very easy to follow, but like I said; labour-intensive. My kettle has never been so boiled before, at least 6 or 7 full loads. I knew the frying of the pork would be treacherous due to what Josh said about it before. As I placed the pork in the pan I thought I'd got away with it. Then I turned it over onto it's skin side and it started spitting angrily all over the kitchen. I retreated, spatula in hand, quite swiftly, so do beware if you have a go yourself.

So what of the result? Unctuous meat, falling apart with just the gentlest of persuasion. I'm quite used to strong, robust flavours from braising meat from using fermented red bean curd, Sichuan peppercorns, chillies and so on but this was very different, surprisingly so. The flesh was delicately flavoured, the sauce light and a little sweet. The skin was a deep caramel colour and while it can sometimes be a bit chewy, it melted in the mouth. The fat was bursting with intense pork flavour. Plenty of white rice and the obligatory steamed greens soaked these flavours up well. I didn't want it to end but unfortunately it did. Labour-intensive, yes - worth it? Definitely.

The recipe states using a 1kg lump of belly. Mine came in at 850gr, and we ate it between the two of us. What piggies (!) we are.

Saturday 13 September 2008


Veal can sometimes provoke a strong reaction from people. Images of little baby cows being kept in tiny boxes usually springs to mind, but I recenty saw some rosé veal being sold in Tescos.

Rosé veal is from calves raised to the highest welfare standards. The pack I bought was labelled as being produced in accordance to the RSPCA's stringent programme, Freedom Foods. This means the calf may be anything up to 8 months old and is raised in an ethically sound environment.

I've never cooked veal before, but having a quick Google I saw that it was best to give it a quick cooking. I wanted to keep it simple for my first veal cooking experience, so I decided to breadcrumb the escalopes and simply fry them, serving it with a more flavoursome vegetable side dish.

Basil, Lemon & Chilli Courgettes

For two

2 courgettes, sliced into batons
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 very ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 stalk of spring onion, sliced
Zest of 1 small lemon
A handful of basil leaves
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

In a little oil, firstly add the chilli and then fry the courgette batons until softened. This should take about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and fry slowly for a further minute. Add the lemon zest and mix to combine, then add the tomatoes and the spring onions. Cook on a very low heat, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go until the tomatoes are hot. Take off the heat and upon serving, scatter the basil leaves on top. Finally, drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables.

The veal was simply breaded and fried. While it was very tender, I'm not sure I'd buy it again due to the high cost of it, at around £4.40 for two small escalopes. It was definitely worth a try though, and I'd love to try a different cut of veal. Perhaps Osso Bucco...

Thursday 11 September 2008

The Chinese One Hundred

Out of the Omnivore's Hundred came this; The Chinese One Hundred. This was created by Diana over at Appetite For China and I had to give it a go.

So copy it, paste it, highlight the ones you've tried and link it back to Appetite For China. Let's see how we get on...

Almond Milk
Ants Climbing A Tree - glass noodles with pork - not literal!)
Asian pear - only the best hangover cure ever
Baby bok choy - sweet and delicious
Baijiu - A Chinese distilled liquour. I was quite young. It tasted awful.
Beef brisket - I'm not sure why this is particularly Chinese, unless it means the stewed beef brisket, 'ngau lam' in Cantonese. Delicious, especially with tendons in noodle soup.
Beggar's Chicken
Bingtang Hulu
Bitter melon
Bubble tea - love it. Especially with big black tapoica pearls.
Buddha's Delight - aka. Monk's Vegetables
Cantonese roast duck - so good. I haven't yet recreated it at home.
Century Egg, or thousand-year egg - the last time I ate this I was horrendously hungover, having dim sum with my parents. My mum ordered it to spite me, I'm sure!
Char Siu (Cantonese roast pork)
Char kway teow - fried ho fun
Chicken feet - I can take them or leave them really.
Chinese Sausage - I prefer the less livery ones.
Chow mein - not a big fan. If it has to be fried noodles, make them ho fun please.
Chrysanthemum Tea (pic to the right)
Claypot rice
Congee - my grandmother made this for me when I was ill, adding dried scallops. I used to will myself to be sick just for it.
Dried Scallops - See above.
Crab rangoon - I had to look this up and got this: "Crab rangoon are deep-fried dumplings served in American Chinese restaurants, stuffed with a combination of cream cheese, lightly flaked crab meat with spring onions and/or garlic. These fillings are then wrapped in Chinese wonton wrappers in a triangular or flower shape, then deep fried in oil". This sounds horrible. Thank god I haven't had it.
Dan Dan Noodles - most recently at Baozi Inn
Dragon's Beard Candy - currently there is a stall in Chinatown selling it.
Dried cuttlefish
Drunken Chicken
Dry Fried Green Beans
Egg drop soup
Egg rolls - I first thought this referred to the sweet egg pastry rolled into cigar shapes you can buy in big tins at New Year. These are also good.
Egg tart, Cantonese or Macanese - Cantonese is my favourite.
Fresh bamboo shoots - oooh - not fresh, I don't think.
Fortune cookies
Fried Milk
Fried rice
Gai lan (Chinese broccoli)
General Tso's Chicken (picture to the right)
Gobi Manchurian
Goji berries (Chinese wolfberries)
Grass Jelly - not actually made from grass.
Hainan chicken rice - The best I had was at the Shangri-La in Singapore when I was about 10. I still dribble at the memory.
Hand-pulled noodles
Har Gau (steamed shrimp dumplings in translucent wrappers. Not very easy to make, as I demonstrated recently.)
Haw Flakes - sweets. Any Brits I ever offered it to never liked it, although why I have no idea.
Hibiscus tea
Hong Kong Style Milk Tea - my grandmother made it best.
Hot & Sour Soup - still one of my favourites.
Hot Coca-Cola with Ginger
Hot Pot
Iron Goddess Tea (Tieguanyin) - no idea. Probably.
Jellyfish - I particularly like it cold, dressed in sesame
Kosher Chinese Food - no idea.
Kung Pao Chicken - Fuschia Dunlop's recipe is lovely
Lamb skewers (yangrou chua'r)
Lion's Head meatballs
Lomo Saltado - never heard of it
Longan fruit

Macaroni in soup with Spam - my favourite, especially with a fried egg on top.
Malatang - a Beijing speciality, apparently
Mantou, especially if fried and dipped in sweetened condensed milk
Mapo Tofu - one of my favourites.
Mock meat
Mooncake (bonus points for the snow-skin variety) - red bean paste ones are the best. I do hope they import some snow skin varieties this year!
Nor mai gai (chicken and sticky rice in lotus leaf)
Pan-fried jiaozi
Peking duck -
In Beijing, no less.
Pineapple bun
Prawn crackers
- is there anyone who hasn't?
Pu'er tea - ?
Red bean in dessert form - red bean ice lollies are best, but the pancakes are also good. Anyone got a recipe?
Red bayberry
Red cooked pork
Roast pigeon
- we used to go to a restaurant on Lamma Island that did them well. My sister liked to suck the heads of the pigeons.
Rose tea
Scallion pancake
Shaved ice dessert
Sesame chicken
Sichuan pepper in any dish
Sichuan preserved vegetable (zhacai)
Silken tofu
Soy milk, freshly made
- my mum makes it all the time
Steamed egg custard - urgh. Too eggy for my liking.
Stinky tofu - and my god does it stink.
Sugar cane juice
Sweet and sour pork, chicken, or shrimp - mostly in England.
Tea eggs
Tea-smoked duck
Turnip cake (law bok gau) - possibly the best bit about New Year.
Twice-cooked pork
Water chestnut cake (mati gau)
Wonton noodle soup

Wood ear
Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)

Yuanyang (half coffee, half tea, Hong Kong style)
Yunnan goat cheese
So I make that 78. What's your score?

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Avocado Salsa

I spent last weekend wallowing in the mud and cursing at the relentless rain. I've never been to a festival where I didn't get sunburnt so it was quite a shock and upon my return, I got a lovely hoarse throat and a sniffly nose to show for it. I try and tell myself that it has nothing to do with the millions of cigarettes I smoked, but this is clearly a lie.

When I'm feeling like this, all I crave are fresh flavours and lots of vegetables. Over the course of the weekend, 2 pizzas and a bacon sandwich were consumed, a seafood paella was poked at, a ham and cheese crepe shovelled in on the move, and a vegetable curry eaten double-quick. In four days. I feel positively malnourished.

Salmon is probably the fish I consume the most, either in smoked form or most often poached. I don't particularly like it roasted, grilled or fried as I find it makes it too rich, whilst poaching or steaming keeps it light and healthy. The salsa that accompanied it gave just the right amount of tartness to balance the flavours. To cook the salmon, I simply placed it in a pan of water to cover the fillet, brought it to the boil and then immediately turned off the heat. This cooks the salmon so that it's still slightly translucent in the middle. To cook it thoroughly, leave it in the hot water for a few minutes.

Avocado Salsa

For 2 as an accompaniment

1 large ripe Hass avocado
2 small red chillies, deseeded
2" cucumber
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
Juice of half a lime

Peel the cucumber, cut out the seeds and chop the flesh finely, adding it to a large bowl. Cut the avocado into large chunks and place in the bowl along with the herbs. Squeeze over the lime juice so that the avocado does not discolour. Chop the chillies finely and add to the bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients. Toss carefully and gently so that it is all combined and spoon over your fish. I imagine this would also work with grilled mackerel or tuna or even roasted cod and haddock.

I ate this with some griddled chicory, an idea I got from here and it hit the spot perfectly.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Roast With A Difference

I love fish, sometimes more than I do meat. Sainsburys had a special offer on sea bream not so long ago, and I instantly snapped them up.

I had steamed the bream in a foil pouch with a black bean sauce before, so I wanted to do something different, whilst still keeping the flavours light to fully appreciate the flavour of the fish. I decided to roast it with some Chinese flavours, not surprising seeing that I seem to lack inspiration for anything European style, recently.

Roasting fish isn't something I do often so timing was key. Judging by the size of the fish, 20 mins at 180 degrees was my guestimation, and thankfully I was right. Nothing worse than over-cooked fish, after all.

This is a very easy dish, not really worthy of writing out a recipe for it. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Simply enough, using a white fleshed whole fish, cut some deep slits into the flesh about an inch apart (I made 4 each side).

Place the fish in an oven-proof dish. Stuff the slits with a slice each of ginger, spring onion and chilli. Stuff the cavity of the fish with slices of lime. Splash a tablespoon each of light soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, and vegetable oil over the fish, turning it over once.

Roast the fish for roughly 20 minutes per 500gr. The fish is done when the flesh is opaque and flakes away from the bone easily. Take care not to over-cook it.

I served this with just greens (bitter melon, in this case but spinach or broccoli would be great) stir-fried with fermented white tofu and a little oyster sauce, and of course a bowl of white rice to soak up the flavours.

The fish was delicious; the soft flesh was lightly flavoured with the stuffings and it fell apart from the bone. Usually with steaming, I scrape back the skin as I dislike the texture of it, but this wasn't necessary as the skin was crispy from the roasting.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Sambal Prawns

I spotted some curry leaves at Lewisham market and immediately purchased a bag of them. I kept seeing them in recipes, but couldn't find them for sale anywhere. But of course, once I bought them, I was stuck for ideas and couldn't find said recipes again. Typical.

Asking around, I was told that they're a good addition to any curry, and especially in tarka for dhal. However, Sambal Prawns was suggested to me by Sunflower and it instantly appealed, especially since I hadn't made anything Malaysian before.

I've used a lot of Sunflower's recipes, long before I started this blog and they've never let me down. They're always easy to follow, and extremely tasty. I urge you to give them a go. I made a couple of changes to the recipe to suit what I had in the fridge.

Sambal Prawns

Serves two

10 raw prawns (I use frozen ones, defrosted)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 small onion, sliced
1 sprig of curry leaves, leaves taken off the stalk
3 tbsp tamarind paste, the thick kind from a jar
8 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
Cooking oil

Rempah (spice paste)

3 Asian shallots (the purple kind), chopped finely
2 sticks of lemongrass, tender part only, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1" piece of galangal - this freezes well, so if you see any for sale buy a lot and slice it to freeze
2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
4 dried chillis, soaked in boiling water
2 tsp shrimp paste

Using a mini chopper or a pestle and mortar, grind the rempah ingredients into a paste. Heat about 3tbsp of oil up in the wok. Fry the curry leaves until they sizzle, and then (after opening all your windows) add the rempah. Fry for 5 minutes, and then add the onion slices. Fry until softened, and add the tamarind paste, sugar and coconut milk. Add the tomatoes and once they're heated through, add the prawns and turn the heat up to high. Stir fry until the prawns have just turned pink, and take off the heat.

Cucumber slices are suggested as garnish but I didn't have any so I used raw red pepper. I imagine the cucumber would work better as the freshness and crunch would cut through the richness of the sambal.
For my first home-cooked attempt, it was astounding. I couldn't stop eating it; it was fragrant, spicy and rich, accompanied perfectly with just plain white rice. I ate the whole two portions and then had to lie down. This happens with alarming regularity.

I must try more Malaysian food at home; do you have a favourite recipe?