Wednesday 27 June 2012

Princi Pizza

I've never liked Princi much. I walk past it every morning and watch the businessmen gazing onto Wardour Street, absent-mindedly munching on their crumbly pastries and sucking coffee back. Early evening, I walk past it again and it looks sleek from the outside, bustling and lively within. There's usually a bouncer on the door, typical of Alan Yau's places, like Cha Cha Moon (which I actively despised).

It lures you in with the open plan view of bakers rolling and patting dough, placing it in a wood-fired oven. When you walk in you can mill about at the counters displaying the food, queueing up to place your order. Then, after collecting your order you can shuffle amongst the bodies, desperately seeking a seat. Perhaps you thought ahead and made a mate guard some stools, and then you have to tag team while they go and do that food ordering thing while yours slowly loses optimum temperature. No, it was all too stressful for me.   But then, they extended next door and built what looked like a sit-down restaurant. You know, one of those places where you're seated and your order is retrieved from you. One Friday, seven sheets to the wind and in need of late-night sustenance, four of us staggered towards the bouncer, pizza in our minds. Miraculously we were let in. 

Heritage tomatoes were sweet and juicy, like no tomatoes you usually get in the UK. Paired with the sweet, creamy mozzerella and drizzled with olive oil (£7.50), this was simplicity at its best. We devoured this while we waited for our pizzas.

 Diavola (£9.50) was monstrously spicy, with hidden chilli slices ready to heat-bomb your face. It was addictive. We sucked air through our teeth as we attacked through the slices.  

Bresaola (£10.50) was huge and generously topped with the thinly shaved cured beef, some rocket and Parmesan. The base was chewy, well charred and the tomato sauce flavoursome. This was hard to fault. 

 I was less impressed with our waiter's recommendation, the Valerio. Topped with mushroom, ham, mozzerella, cream and basil, this was a white pizza and it was just a bit too boring for my tastes. With a beer each we paid roughly £15 each including service. By no means the cheapest drunk food I've ever had, but it was incredibly satisfying. Stress-free dining helps. 

 135 Wardour Street
London W1F 0UT 

  Princi on Urbanspoon

Monday 25 June 2012

Irene's Peranakan Recipes

In the same part of the cookbook series as Uncle Lau's Teochew Recipes, Irene's Peranakan Recipes have the same simple style and layout. Peranakan refers to the descendants of the late 15th & 16th century Chinese immigrants who settled in Malaysia and Indonesia  Now, normally I'd object to quotes like: "Girls have to do girls' things", being the raging bra-burning feminist that I am, but the picture of Irene herself at the stove with big glasses and 70s hair, as well as her charmingly honest history was enough to tame me.  
It was one Sunday and a group of my friends, obsessed with South East Asian food, decided to get together for a British version of a potluck, also known as the Pie Out. It was the perfect opportunity to try out this new cookbook. It's not the easiest cookbook to navigate as the contents page lists the Peranakan name of the dishes, but it's a fascinating flick through. 

Fish curry was well spiced with a tangy hit. The gelatinous quality of the sauce was made by the addition of lots of sliced okra. 

With plenty of spicy, creamy curries (including the chicken rendang in the opening picture), a simple cleansing cucumber salad was ideal to cool mouths, even if it did have some chilli in it. 

One of the dishes I made was braised green beans with prawns in spicy coconut milk. Pretty straightforward to make, the shrimp paste used to stir-fry the spice mixture gave it a deep savoury flavour that only shrimp paste makes. 

My favourite accompaniment of the dishes though was pickled pineapple. Chunks of pineapple are cooked until soft with salt, sugar, chilli and cinnamon (or cassia bark in my case) and then served at room temperature. It was the perfect acidic foil for the richness of the meal.

Pickled Pineapple

Serves 6 with other dishes 

1 small pineapple; cored, skinned and chopped into bite sized chunks
2 large red chillis, deseeded and chopped
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
1 6inch stick of cinnamon, or cassia bark
2 cloves

In a pan, heat up the pineapple with everything else gently. No need to add any liquid. Cook gently for 20 minutes until tender. Place in a bowl to cool and serve with creamy, rich curries at room temperature or cold.

Contact Epigram for a copy of the book here

Thursday 21 June 2012

Roast Cockerel Stuffed with Chinese Glutinous Rice

A worried text came through from my housemate. 'Your chicken's arrived, feet and all. I gave it a poke, and, er... I think there's something inside it.' I laughed knowingly; the giblets are all inside a bag inside the chicken, of course! I carried on drinking my drink and dancing my dance without a worry in my mind. 5 hours later I stumbled back to South East London, bleary-eyed and my stomach churning. I hauled the big bird out of the fridge and visibly withered away. My dear housemate wasn't lying. Not only did it have enormous, dinosaur-like claws, THE HEAD WAS STILL ATTACHED. Wrapped up in a plastic bag, like some sort of morbid veil. There was no visible hole, which meant... oh god. The insides were still in.

I flapped (sorry) around the kitchen screeching, giggling and hyperventilating simultaneously. It was as heavy as a 4 month-old baby. I thought of my task ahead and a little retch began to take hold at the base of my throat. I was panicking. I'm squeamish, alright?

At that moment, my other housemate strode through the door, tanned and Adonis-like, the vision of manliness, and he took charge. 'Find me a YouTube video and we'll sort this.' I hid behind a door. 

'Shit, I don't know if I can do this.' 

'HARGH! Huuurrrgghhh.' Squelch-squelch-hack-splinter-squelch.

'Oooh look it's working'.

And like that, my housemate has become my new hero. Even if I did jump and scream from his careful positioning of the claws.

It was all a misunderstanding really. The lovely people at The Ginger Pig asked me to come up with a recipe for the new chickens they'll be selling. Bred in Lincolnshire / Leicestershire and hand plucked, they are offering either pullets (hens) or larger cockerels. I'd been asked whether I wanted the feet on mine, and thinking they'd be small delicate ones - you know, like the kind you have at dim sum - I said yes. Never again.

I wanted something special for this cockerel. Something to be a centre piece, to have everyone ooh'ing and ahhing over it, and something different from your usual. I decided to stuff it. Glutinous rice studded with sweet, porky Chinese sausage would soak up the fat from the bird well. Flavoured with shiitake mushrooms, made plump by the cock's juices (stop it) and finished off with a little dried mandarin peel for a tart dimension, this is quite a traditional Chinese dish. The skin is marinated in aromatics and basted well and often for a deep chrome colour. A little rice, some chicken and greenery made a different kind of Sunday roast, but a gorgeous one nonetheless. This beast feeds 6; at £8.50 / kg you can buy them here. You don't have to get yours with guts and claws.

And how does a cockerel taste? They take a lot of cooking, especially when stuffed. This one was in the oven for 4 hours, but when it came out the meat was tender and gamey, a hint of farmyard about it. The skin was tougher than a chicken's but by no means too tough; the flavour of the meat stood up to that ballsy filling well. It's not a quick recipe, but with a bit of planning ahead it should be relatively straight-forward. Don't be afraid of the blackened, gunky bits - these are quite delicious or you can scrape it off a little to reveal the gorgeous mahogany colour beneath.

Cockerel Stuffed with Glutinous Rice 

Feeds 6 as a cockerel, 4 if a chicken 

To do the night before:  
 350gr glutinous rice, washed well and soaked in water overnight 

Mix together:  
 4 tbsp oyster sauce 
2 tbsp dark soy 
4 tbsp light soy 
6 cloves of garlic, mushed in a pestle and mortar 
1 inch of ginger, minced  
2 tbsp dark brown sugar  
1 tsp level of five spice  

Mix this all together and cover your bird in it. Leave for a few hours, or preferably overnight. Don't throw leftover marinade away.  

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.   

For the filling:  3 lap cheong, sliced thinly (Chinese sausage, you can buy it at the Chinese supermarket) 
6 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water. Reserve the soaking juices.   
2 inches of ginger, minced  
4 cloves of garlic, minced  
1 dried mandarin peel (you can buy this in Asian supermarkets), soaked in hot water  
3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, or sherry  
1 tsp dark soy sauce  
3 tbsp light soy sauce  
6 stalks of spring onion, chopped roughly.   
1 tbsp cooking oil  

Fry the garlic and ginger gently with the lap cheong. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot. Add the mandarin peel, chopped roughly. Add the soy sauces, rice wine / sherry and the rice and toss to coat the rice. Take off the heat and add the spring onions.  Stuff the rice back into the cavity of the bird - do not overstuff as the rice expands.  

Roast - my 2.5kg cockerel took around 4 hours as I cooked in on a lower temperature. For the beginning, I added the mushroom juices into the pan and then covered with foil and cooked it for 2 hours, then removed the foil, basted with any remaining marinade and roasted it a little higher for the rest of the time, again basting every half hour or so. Leave to rest in a warm place (like the oven, switched off with the door ajar) for half an hour.  
Carve so that everyone gets some rice, and serve with some greens, like spinach stir-fried with garlic. 

Saturday 16 June 2012

Sausage & Egg Not-Mc-Muffin

I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a sucker for a Maccy D's breakfast. Pure filth, but when you're still a bit drunk from the night before and you need to get something hot, fatty and so salty your bum reaches down for a drink when you go to the loo, there's nothing like it. There is always an element of shame attached to them, so I usually eat them on the move, trying the hide the McMuffin within the folds of my napkin as I hungrily devour it. Accompanied by a hash brown (no finer than theirs, I'll wager) dipped in some ketchup, it is a make-or-break. And trust me, I have been on the break end of the scale and yet I still love them. 

The wilds of East Dulwich don't have such an establishment though (dahling), so I set to making one of my own. This was the posh muffin, no Mc in sight. Lincolnshire sausages from the local butcher were relieved of their skins and shaped into patties, their slight herbiness working well but not overwhelming for a breakfast. Duck eggs were fried in a chef's ring to get the perfect disc shape, the yolk still wobbly and bursting forth from the toasted muffin, rendering it a happily messy breakfast. I forgot the slappy cheese - how could I?! - so instead, some finely grated cheddar for a cheesy savoury hit. McDonald's, I need never visit you again (except for your delicious hash browns. Dammit.). 

Sausage & Egg Not-Mc-Muffin

Serves 4

4 English muffins
4 duck eggs (oh fine, normal will do I SUPPOSE) 
100gr cheddar, or 4 slices of slappy cheese
5 Lincolnshire sausages
A little cooking oil

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins. This bit is gross and sticky. Season with a few twists of black pepper - they don't need salt. Wet your hands and shape into patties slightly larger than the muffin (as they'll shrink a little when they're cooking). Fry in a non-stick dry frying pan gently for 15 minutes (or longer, depending on thickness). Meanwhile, grate your cheese finely. Toast your muffins and butter them, then add an even layer of cheese to the bottom of the muffin. 

Oil the chef's ring so that the egg doesn't stick to it and place it in the non stick pan with a drop of oil. Wait till the ring is hot, then crack an egg into it - I had to do this one at a time as I only had one ring, so watch out for that. Using a chopstick, run around the chef's ring so that the egg white doesn't stick to it. Fry until the white is set (I hate flobby whites) and the yolk is still soft. This is easier if you place a plate or something on top to keep the heat in. Place your sausage patty on top of the cheese, then top with the egg and the top of the muffin.

Serve with napkins. 

Sunday 10 June 2012

Uncle Lau's Teochew Recipes

When Epigram Books contacted me asking whether I wanted to review a copy of their Heritage cookbooks, I jumped at the chance; it's very rare to see a Teochew cookbook available here. I love Teochew food, but have a very limited knowledge of it, and there aren't many (if any?) restaurants in London serving this kind of food.

Teochew people are native to the Guangdong province of China, but as far as I know most Teochew people (at least, the cuisine) is mostly found in Singapore and Malaysia. Teochew cuisine, in my limited experience, involves a lot of braised dishes and judging by this cookbook, is heavy on seafood. I recognised a lot of dishes listed, such as preserved radish omelette, but there are also a lot of intriguing dishes that I can't wait to make, like fish bladder soup. Yup, I have the dried bladders, all ready for a day I'm feeling brave.

The book is very simply laid out. If you're someone who likes a lot of glossy, heavily styled pictures of dishes then it is not really for you, as it has none. Instead, all the recipes are simply laid out within a clean, simple border. The introduction is a sweet story about the author's father, a self-taught cook, who the recipes are from. A lot of the ingredients from the book aren't available in normal supermarkets, but have a wander around the Asian supermarkets or a browse online and you're likely to find what you want.

I wanted to try the most straightforward of the recipes, so I went for Braised Pork Spare Ribs - come on, of course it was going to be pork! - or, Ang Sio Bak Kut. I had to do a little butchery to get the ribs down to the size I needed them, but otherwise it was very easy indeed. The ribs, on the bone were flavoursome and tender. The star of the show might have been the mushrooms which soaked up all the porky, cinnamon star anise flavour to fill your mouth with deliciousness and my friends I had round raved about them.

Ang Sio Bak Kut

Serves 6 with other dishes

1.5 kg pork spare ribs, cut into 3 - 4cm pieces - I left these a little larger; use a cleaver or a brute force 1/2 tsp salt   1.5 tbsp dark soy 
75ml Shaoxing rice wine 
20gr ginger 
4 - 6 stalks of spring onion, cut into 6cm lengths 
10 - 12 dried shiitake mushrooms - soak in hot water to soften and remove the stems 
4 tbsp light soy sauce 
1 - 2 star anise 
3cm stick of cinnamon (I used cassia bark) 
1 dried mandarin peel 
1.5 tsp rock sugar 
1 sprig coriander to garnish (I went for spring onion)

Place the spare ribs in a bowl and rub with the salt and the dark soy sauce. Transfer to a heavy bottomed casserole and pour in 100ml water and the Shaoxing rice wine. Add the ginger and spring onoins. Bring to a boil and then reduce the hear, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking, turn the ribs over.

Squeeze the excess water from the mushrooms and add to the pot with 1/2 cup of the mushroom water. Add the light soy sauce, the cinnamon, star anise, mandarin peel and rock sugar. You can use a muslin bag for this - instead I had my guests look out for it in case they munched on it. Simmer for another hour, uncovered; add more water if it's looking dry. The sauce should have a syrupy consistency when it is done. If the sauce is too thick, add water.

Taste, adjust seasoning and garnish.

I also made Stir-Fried Vegetarian Stew (Chap Chye) but I ballsed that up quite royally by misreading the recipe and then running out of time. Instead of a soupy dish made with glass noodles, I ended up with a stir-fried rice vermicelli. It was still good though, despite my misunderstanding.

If I have any gripes about the book, I found that the page numbers being in the top left hand corner of the page difficult to flick through and find what I wanted easily. There aren't any suggestions on how many each dish might serve, but from what I can gather it seems to be 6, with other dishes as is typical of Chinese meals. Otherwise, I loved the book.

I can't find it for sale anywhere online but you can contact Epigram Books (based in Singapore) here if you want a copy.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

I love clams. My earliest memory of them was eating them drenched in black bean sauce on Lamma Island off Hong Kong; meaty ones, without a hint of grit. Huge platters were bought to the table for you to feast on, and I had eyes only for them. Well, them and the buckets of prawns fried with garlic. I would squirm on my sweaty plastic chair, the sea breeze cooling us, grabbing at more clam shells and greedily scooping out its contents. It wasn't a pretty sight.  

Unfortunately I don't often see clams on sale much, so when I did I took the opportunity to grab a bag of them. My eyes widened when I saw that they cost £20 (Waitrose for you), but as a treat I swallowed my gasp. You can use mussels for this though, if they're too difficult to get hold of, or too pricy. 

Black bean is a strong flavour, but one that still allows the sweetness of the clams to shine through nicely. Eaten on top of some steamed white rice to absorb the juices, this was one to tackle with your hands, clattering away at the table. I served this with some simply steamed greens; the clams were made short work of, and we had the bonus of some flavoursome rice afterwards.

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

Serves 4

2kg clams, alive - keep them in the fridge win a bowl draped in a wet cloth 
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips 
4 cloves of garlic, minced 
3" piece of ginger, minced 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce 
1 tsp soy sauce 
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar 
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine - or sherry 
1 tsp sugar 3 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed - you can buy this at a Chinese supermarket 
1 heaped tsp cornflour, slaked with 2 tbsp water 
2 spring onions, sliced on the slant 
350ml water

Steamed white rice to serve.

Rinse the clams under running water for a good 15 minutes. Leave to drain. Meanwhile, smash up the black beans in a pestle and mortar with the garlic and minced ginger. Heat up some oil in a wok, and then fry the ginger, garlic and black beans gently.

Add the red pepper, and fry gently until softened. Add the water, and bring to a simmer. Add the clams followed by the soy sauces, vinegar, rice wine and sugar. Put the lid on and steam for a couple of minutes (I used foil) and then add the cornflour and toss well. The clams should now be open and cooked, but if not just carry on tossing them around the pan until they do on a medium heat. The sauce should be glossy and should cling to the clams, if not you need a little more cornflour mixed with water, cooked into the sauce. Serve in a big bowl, garnished with the spring onion, with rice on the side.