Sunday 29 May 2016

Potsticker Soup Dumplings

I long for the day London gets a Din Tai Fung. I'm still convinced we still might, because bloody everywhere else has; Dubai, LA, Hong Kong, Macau, Sydney, Melbourne - even Seattle has TWO branches! Come on! Anyway, if you haven't been to Din Tai Fung, you must; they make some really good siu long bao (soup dumplings). Delicate steamed little dumplings of different flavours, filled with soup to pop in your mouth. It's a real art, getting the skins thin enough so they're not doughy, but robust enough to hold the delicious broth and filling. I haven't found anywhere in London that matches their quality, though I haven't attempted the higher end Park Chinois-type places, admittedly. 

What's a girl to do when the craving hits? Make my own. 

I won't lie. It's not a quick process, and I knew that on the undertaking. The reason for this is that you need to make a stock out of chicken bones and pigs trotters so that it heavily gelatinises, and you can then whip it into the dumpling filling. Have you ever wondered how they get that soup in the dumplings? This is it; when the dumplings are cooking, the meat jelly melts into the soup. Phwoar. Meat jelly. So it's really a 2 day affair where you need to make the stock, solidify it, and then the graft happens. 

I also decided to add the complication of making my own wrappers. This was so that they would be pliable enough for me to pleat them into buns. My bun-pleating went all sorts of horribly wrong - @mayluuluu I am not - so I stuck to what I knew, and decided to turn them into potsticker soup dumplings instead. 

It worked damn well, but you definitely need a really good non-stick pan for this, lest anything sticks and you burst your precious dumplings and thus rid them of their juice. Disaster. If all goes to plan, you should be rewarded with these beauties, ready to be dressed with soy sauce, a touch of vinegar and chilli oil. Crunchy bottomed, steamed top and bulging with soup. Pretty exciting stuff. 

Potsticker Soup Dumplings

Makes around 30

For the broth, and the day before: 

1 pig trotter
400gr chicken wings
3 slices of ginger, lightly bashed
The whites of 4 spring onions, chopped roughly
A few white peppercorns

Put the pigs trotter and wings in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a hefty pinch or three of salt, and bring the water to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes and discard the water. Now clean everything really thoroughly under cold running water; this helps keep the broth scum-free. 

Put everything back into the pan, cover again with water, add the ginger, spring onion and peppercorns, and simmer on a low heat with the lid on for at least 3 hours. You should have at least a litre of broth by the end of this, as you're keeping the lid on. Remove from the heat, leave to cool, and fish out the trotter and chicken wings. Strain through a sieve into a large bowl, then line the sieve with muslin or kitchen towels and strain again. Then simmer gently for half an hour without the lid to reduce down by about a third. Remove, and taste - you'll need to add around a teaspoon of salt at this stage, but add it incrementally and keep tasting, in case it gets too salty. My neighbour's cat very much enjoyed the chicken wing meat stripped from the bones. Waste not want not. 

Place the broth in the fridge overnight. 

For the filling:

300gr fatty minced pork
2 inches of ginger, grated into a bowl, with 1tbsp water in it
The greens of 4 spring onions, minced
A large pinch of white pepper
1 tbsp oyster sauce 
2 tsp light soy
A large pinch of salt
A few leaves of Napa cabbage
Cooking oil

Dipping sauce & garnish: 

Slivered ginger
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp chilli oi
Snipped chives

In a large bowl, add the pork, salt, oyster sauce, light soy, white pepper and spring onions. Squeeze the ginger pulp and add the ginger water to the pork via a sieve. Mix the pork in one direction continuously with chopsticks until it starts to become a sticky lump. You'll need to do this for at least a few minutes. 

Take the meat jelly out of the fridge, and you'll only need half. You can freeze the other half. Chop into cubes, and mix again into the pork, stirring one direction continuously, and eventually whipping the pork up with the jelly until everything is amalgamated and no jelly lumps remain. 

You can make your own wrappers (double the quantities in that recipe) which is a bit of a pain and it takes a long time, or use ready bought, the meat-receiving side wettened. Fold them like so (YES IT'S ME being all awkward and that, sorry). Do make sure the folds and top are well sealed. 

Place the dumplings on the cabbage leaves (the leaves are so that they don't stick to the plate) while you make the rest. 

Either freeze them now, or cover them and place in the fridge (maximum a day, really) or cook them. To do so, add a tablespoon of oil to a non-stick pan on a medium heat and add the dumplings, flat side down. Fry for 3 minutes until golden, and then add around 5 tbsp cold water, plus the saucepan lid so that they steam. Let them steam for 5 minutes, then remove the lid, evaporate the water off, and let the bottoms fry again for another minute, at which point they should be bronzed.

To serve, garnish with snipped chives, mix the dipping sauce together, and for god's sake - let them cool for 5 minutes, unless you want boiling hot soup squirting straight down your gullet.

As an aside...

If you live in London and can't be arsed to make these, I can make them for you! 30 of them! But wait. What's that? Yes, I DO want something in return. SPONSOR ME!  

In November I'm cycling 500km across Ghana with over 6 days and I'm fundraising for them. All proceeds go to the charity and its projects; my trip will be entirely funded by myself. 

Monday 9 May 2016

Pappardelle with Lamb & Olive Ragu

I will readily admit I am a terrific pasta fiend. It makes up a lot of my diet; it's just so easy, and satisfying. I'm a pretty active person so I don't buy into any of this 'pasta makes you fat' carb-avoidance, so don't get my started on courgetti. A lot of the sauces I make to go with my pasta binges are quick versions, that take as long as it takes for the pasta to cook, but once in a while, I'll go all out with a long, slow-cooked sauce, richly reduced over time, to dress those glossy noodles. 

I favour the noodle-shape. I won't eat penne. I don't know why, but there's something about that shape I just don't like. Rigatoni is great. Penne? No. 

If you're into pasta as much as I am, there's no doubt you'll have tried all the brands, from supermarket's own, to De Cecco and more. My new favourite is La Pasta di Aldo (bought here), an air-dried egg pasta. It takes a shorter time to cook, around 7 minutes, but it has the bite of dried pasta, and the flavour of fresh. It's not cheap - £3.99 for 250gr - but it's really worth it for the superior texture. 

I don't recommend that you put away 150gr pappardelle in one sitting. It was the night before Tough Mudder, a half marathon slog through obstacle courses and freezing water so I needed the energy. 100gr is much more civilised, though I don't regret that portion for a second. Lamb shoulder is cooked with alliums in a tomato sauce until it reduces, the lamb falls apart into soft chunks, and the whole lot is finished off with sliced olives and spinach. Vitamins. A hearty grate of pecorino finishes it, and the promise of a slump on the couch afterwards.

Lamb & Olive Ragu

Serves 4 normal people

300gr lamb shoulder, shank or braising cut on the bone
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced 
2 ribs of celery, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 sprigs of thyme
2 tins of the best canned tomatoes you can find
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar 
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp salt, + to taste
Black pepper
A large handful of green olives, pitted and sliced
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
400gr dried pappardelle
A small handful of basil leaves
Pecorino, to serve
1 tbsp cooking oil

In a large saucepan, add the cooking oil on a medium heat and brown the piece of lamb all over, slowly, until deep bronze. Remove and place to one side. Add the carrots, onion, celery, a few twists of black pepper and garlic and cook over a low to medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, puree, sugar, sherry vinegar, salt, and refill a tin with water and add that too. Bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and blitz with a stick blender. If it's very thick, add a little more water. 

Plonk the lamb back in with the thyme, place the lid on and simmer very gently on a low heat for 2.5 hours. 

Remove the lamb, leave to cool for 15 minutes while the sauce reduces further without the lid. Remove the meat from the bone and chop roughly, and add back to the sauce. Add the olives. Continue to cook on a low heat without the lid. It should be making a plop plop sound, and make you regret wearing a white shirt nearby. 

Meanwhile, cook the pappardelle in heavily salted water, until al dente. Reserve a mugful of the pasta water, add the spinach leaves to the pasta, give it a good stir so they wilt, and drain. 

Add the pasta back to the saucepan on a very low heat and add the lamb ragu in ladlefuls incrementally, tossing the pasta as you go, adding a dribble or two of the cooking water. You want it to come together in a glossy, rich sauce. Keep adding the lamb ragu and tossing the pasta until the pasta is just coated, but not swimming. You may have some sauce left. Yay!

Dish into warmed bowls or plates, top with grated pecorino and a few scattered basil leaves, and serve. 

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Bigbe Chicken, Chinatown (EDIT: Now Good Friends Chicken)

I get pretty excited about new arrivals in Chinatown; often restaurants are changing their names for whatever reason and not much else changes, but on a wet and windy trudge through Soho I saw a shining yellow beacon; Bigbe Chicken, a specialist Taiwanese fried chicken shop. 

I popped in one evening, late, around 9:30pm to see what was up. Obviously still very new, it's a really simple set up; fried chicken, fried squid, sweet potato fries, and soft drinks. That's it. Don't come here looking for a salad. 

I asked the nice chap behind the counter lots of questions; they're new, the chef is from Taiwan, and they serve really good fried chicken. The powders are for you to select to have shaken on your chicken. I asked so many questions, in fact, that the chef offered me up some of their off-menu chicken skin, freshly fried, and for the other customers waiting too. He raised his eyebrows - "are you sure?" - surprised that I hoovered it up (I think a lot of Chinese are still surprised by white people enjoying the 'undesirable' bits. They also never notice the Chinese bit of me.)

The man is obviously incredibly talented at the fryer, for that was one tasty chicken-pop. I was talked into a behemoth chicken breast, battered out flat and bigger than my head (£5.50). Once out of the frier, I asked for a mixture of plum powder (sweet and tangy) and chilli (not spicy enough, but a good tingle). 

The chicken is well marinated, crisp and juicy. I burnt my tongue and scraped the roof of my mouth scoffing it down. Sweet potato fries, which they very sweetly insisted I have after I'd paid for just the chicken, were great; crisp, salty and with soft insides, and also garnished with flavourings. Next time - curry powder.

Afterwards, I died of salty thirst. It's probably not going to win any health awards, but it was so filthy-good. Shame the sign printer managed to print off all their wall art with 'deep fired chicken'. 

I'll be back, undoubtedly. 

Bigbe Chicken
10 Little Newport St, 
London WC2H 7JJ