Wednesday 29 February 2012

Banh Mi 11 at Berwick Street Market

The banh mi craze swept London last year and I found my favourite, Panda Panda in Deptford. Theirs were chock full of pickled vegetables, delicious pork and encased in a warm, rice flour baguette - what more could I want? I stopped looking. The one downside is, of course, that I don't work in Deptford, or anywhere near it. When I heard that Banh Mi 11, usually a fixture on Broadway Market, now had a pitch on Berwick Street, I couldn't get out of the office fast enough. I crashed into people rushing towards their stall.

And what of the baguette? Light bread was filled with Imperial BBQ pork, coriander, pickled Chinese turnip and was decently spicy. Petra of Eat St was next to me in line and she recommended the fish banh mi, but my eyes were only on the pork. At £5 it's more expensive than my favourite, and I'd have liked a little more (and varied) pickled veg but nonetheless this was an excellent lunch. No more fridge-cold sandwiches from Pret.

Banh Mi 11

Berwick Street Market - Mondays - Fridays 10am - 3pm

Monday 27 February 2012

Roasted Pears with Salted Caramel Syrup

Although I'm not a Christian, I'll take any excuse to pig out on pancakes and I always get caught up in the Pancake Day craze. I'm more of an American kind of girl; I prefer their airy thickness to the wafer-thin crepe. My usual is blueberry, enhanced with maple butter (also called maple cream - basically, 100% maple syrup heat treated so that it is a buttery, creamy, oh holy god dribble-worthy consistency) that I found at the back of the cupboard but this time I decided on something different. Some sort of fruit was required to go with the salty caramel syrup I had been mooning after.

Pears hold their shape well and in fact roasting is beneficial to the rock-solid specimens we get at the supermarket. The heat softens them up and releases their juices, so you can get away with pears which aren't quite at their best. Roasted with a dab of butter in their hollows, I splashed them with vanilla essence to add further fragrance. Served atop fluffy pancakes and drizzled - or, you know, drenched - in salty caramel sauce, this was one of the best things I've made in a while. That salty caramel is so addictive it forces you to eat it straight from the jug until you feel pretty damn sick.

Pancake recipe is here.

Roasted Pears

Serves 4

6 pears, slightly under-ripe
1 tsp vanilla essence
Enough butter to dot into the hollows

Heat the oven to 190 degrees C. Peel the pears and halve - scoop out the middles with the seeds and dot with a small cube of butter. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn over and roast for another 20 minutes. Smaller or riper pears may need less so give them a poke every so often.

Salty Caramel Syrup

Serves 4

150gr soft brown sugar
80gr butter
100ml double cream
A hefty pinch of sea salt flakes

In a large saucepan (don't be tempted to use a small one, you want some good whisking space) heat the sugar up until it has all melted, stirring occasionally so that it melts evenly. Add the butter in and whisk well until incorporated. It may look lumpy and a bit gross at this point. Whisk in the cream, poured in a steady stream. Cook gently while whisking until smooth and silky - this may take a few minutes. Add the salt and then taste - carefully, it'll be molten - and add more if you think it needs it. I like my caramel quite salty.

Serve the roasted pears atop the pancakes, drizzled with the caramel sauce.

Friday 17 February 2012

Goodbye, New Cross

Image with thanks from

After 3 years living in New Cross, it's time to move on. I'm sure my parents will breathe a sigh of relief after two muggings in a year - look, one was in Brockley alright? - but as rough round the edges as New Cross was, there will be a lot of things I'll miss having in close proximity. Smokey Jerky, virtually next door was my go-to stalwart for excellent jerk chicken.

Brockley Market is really taking its stride. I visited on their opening week and only once more last weekend, which I'm kicking myself for because now I'll actually have to get a bus to get my mitts on another one of Mike & Ollie's fried mackerel wraps. Wrapped in flatbread, the mackerel is fresh and smoky. Nestled with garlic and cauliflower puree, the wrap is finished with a bundle of red cabbage, a plucking of mint leaves and ribbons of carrot. Crunch is added with a handful of seeds and it is gloriously messy, sat as I was in the winter sunshine taking huge bites and avoiding globs from dolloping onto my shoes.

Though in Deptford, I spent many a Saturday lunchtime walking over to Panda Panda for one of their banh mis, still the best I've tried in London. Crunchy pickled vegetables and a few slivers of chilli formed a base for this sandwich, stuffed to the gills with pork. Of the bubble teas pineapple was my favourite, and my friends went nuts for the milkshake options, to be made with whichever chocolate bar you choose. Chaconia's is also in Deptford and often is a time I've craved their Trini curry-stuffed rotis.

Recently, a new shop called The Allotment opened up on the New Cross Road negating the need to spend vast quantities on insipid fruit and vegetables at the Sainsburys near by. Well set out within, the fruit & veg was well priced and fresh.

Lastly, it is with sadness that I read that The Montague Arms is under threat. This ramshackle old building that once had 'COACH PARTIES WELCOME' emblazoned across its side is an absolute gem. Inside, the place is decorated with fairy lights and relics like stuffed deer heads and old diving suits. I was a regular on a Thursday night when beers were £2.20, and the Sunday roasts were homely and plentiful. The old couple who ran it were always smiling and pleasant, I admired them for their energy so I was saddened to read of their passing. Fingers crossed for the best outcome.

If you're still not convinced of New Cross' awesomeness you need to check out New Cross is Better Than New York.Also, Goldsmiths' video on South East London is worth a watch.

Goodbye New Cross! I'm only going a few miles down the road to East Dulwich but I'll miss it nonetheless.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Chinese Scotch Egg

On first glance, this may seem like a normal scotch egg - perhaps even a kiev. Fortnum & Masons claim to have made the first scotch egg, and indeed they are the perfect picnic snack. But long gone are the days of cold, soggy breadcrumbed shell and eggs within boiled to oblivion, that tell-tale grey ring around the yolk indicating a lack of love. A new wave of scotch eggs hit London a while ago now, one of the most lauded being The Harwood Arms' venison version, below.

The gamey meat encased a beautifully cooked egg, yolk bursting forth from being cut. The gauntlet was thrown, and pubs all around London came up with their own versions. The Ship hosted a friendly Scotch Egg Challenge for a definitive.

Throughout all this, a vague idea of a Chinese version was nagging at me. I kept swooping from pork with preserved veg, to perhaps five spice? It was all a little half hearted. A dish at The Heron, minced pork with crispy-coated fried century eggs revived the passion; this was to be my eggy base. As luck would have it, @supercharz tweeted a prawn-coated century egg from Hong Kong - hurrah! The plan was made.

Century eggs are so called because legend has it that they were buried in clay for a hundred years to preserve them. These days, they're buried in alkaline clay for between a few weeks to a few months. This results in the egg white turning into a black, clear jelly - the egg yolks are grey-green. Admittedly it's not the most appetising thing to look at, but the flavour is mild and delicate.

The prawn paste is processed until thick and sludgy and smooth in texture, reminiscent of fish balls you can buy in the Chinese supermarket. This is then wrapped around the egg and the whole lot dunked in breadcrumbs and fried. I toyed with the idea of rolling them in sesame seeds, but they burn quite quickly and I wanted a stronger crunch texture.

Served with a drizzle of spring onion, chilli oil and black vinegar, these were pretty special. The eggy centre worked well with the prawn filling, which was bouncy and light.

These probably wouldn't go down to well with your more conservative friends; I had one leftover which I later stir-fried with some chilli bean sauce and broccoli whick worked brilliantly too, if you don't mind a sauce-laden exterior.

Chinese Scotch Eggs

Makes 4

4 century eggs (both the big supermarkets on Gerrard Street sell them)
450gr raw, unshelled prawns
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
3 spring onions
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 egg white + 1 egg
Panko breadcrumbs
Enough vegetable oil to deep fry

For the sauce -

2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
3 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chilli oil

Devein the prawns and add to a food processor with the ginger, garlic, white pepper, spring onions, salt, soy sauce, cornflour and egg white. Whizz until smooth.

Peel the century eggs carefully and then add a thin layer, about the thickness of a pound coin to a square of cling film. Wrap the century egg by gathering the corners up and distributing the prawn paste evenly. Wrap and place in the fridge for an hour to chill (this helps it hold its' shape). When ready, roll in the breadcrumbs, then roll in the beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumbs again.

Fry gently for 5 - 6 minutes, until nicely golden all around. I found it a bit tricky to control the temperature in my wok so I fried till golden and then finished it off for 15 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Century eggs are perhaps more forgiving as the yolks are already set.

Combine the sauce ingredients and serve the egg drizzled with this.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Curry Mee

I miss Malaysia. My trip there last April affected me greatly; it was one of the most hardcore eating trips I've done. After day 3 I forgot how it felt to be hungry and instead felt only 'full', 'really very full' and 'ohmygod-I'm-going-to-barf'. The ease of getting a quick bowl of noodles for next to nothing made me giddy. I hit the noodle soups hard and one of my favourites was curry mee.

Thick, spicy and coconutty soup contained chunks of congealed pigs blood and little cockles as well as tofu puffs and prawns. Alas, it's not as easy to get hold of pigs blood and cockles so my replica version leaves these out, you may well be relieved to hear.

Instead, spongy tofu soaks up the soup so that they're nice and juicy when you bite into them. There are slices of fish cake lurking in there too, underneath the mound of yellow egg noodles. For a bit of texture variation, I also added a little rice vermicelli, a tip I picked up in Penang. A few green beans in there added some crunch, and once all the sambal olek (chilli sauce) was mixed into the broth, a squeeze of lime made the dish complete. Most noodle soups in Malaysia that we tried were served with a hard boiled egg; I prefer mine a bit softer so a barely poached egg was dropped in.

The key to this lies in the paste, where most of the flavours are. You can get most of the ingredients in an Asian supermarket; in London, I use New Loon Moon on Gerrard Street.

Curry Mee

Serves 4

For the paste:

15 small purple shallots
7 cloves of garlic
3" of ginger
4 sticks of lemongrass, soft innards only
6 dried red chillis soaked in boiling water till soft
1 tsp shrimp paste (belachan)
2 tsp ground coriander
Roots or stems of a bunch of coriander
1 tsp sugar

Chop all of the above roughly and blend into a fine paste, adding some oil as you go. Any leftover paste should be kept in the fridge with a film of oil on top.

300gr yellow eggs noodles, fresh
100gr rice vermicelli, cooked and cooled
1 branch of curry leaves, fresh
4 lime leaves, fresh
A handful of green beans
100gr Chinese fish cake, sliced thinly
20 tofu puffs, halved
A handful of beansprouts
1 tin of coconut milk
250mls chicken stock
1 limes, quartered
A handful of coriander to serve
4 eggs
Sambal Olek to serve

In a large pan, fry 2 tbsp curry paste per person, so 8 tbsp in this instance. Fry slowly for 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk, the chicken stock, the lime leaves and the curry leaves. Leave the curry leaves on the branch when you add them in as this makes it easier to remove them. Simmer gently for 35 minutes. Add the tofu puffs in the last 15 minutes, the fishcake slices in the last 5 and take off the heat. Remove the curry leaf branch.

Add the eggs to boiling water and leave for 6 minutes - take off the heat and run under cold water. Peel carefully.

In another pan, blanch the beansprouts and simmer the green beans for 3 minutes. Cook the egg noodles as per cooking instructions (mine required just plunging into boiling water for a couple of minutes) and drain.

To serve, divide the egg noodles and vermicelli noodles among 4 deep bowls equally. Top with beansprouts and green beans. Heat the soup base up till simmering, then distribute soup base equally. Halve each egg over the bowl and place in carefully, then add the coriander sprinkled on top with a quarter of lime per bowl. Serve with the sambal olek.