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Offally Good Sweetbread Nuggets with Chipotle Mayo

Introduction:

In Yorkshire, as a kid, offal was all the rage. Not because we were fancy-pant eaters with the adventurous tastes of the culinary Bohemian – no, offal was cheap; pig’s liver, lamb’s tongue, tripe (cow’s stomach lining), kidney  and  brains (not for the cholesterol sensitive) were all used. And then there were the lower-end cuts such as shin beef, chuck steak, belly pork, mutton (old sheep) and even a rabbit could be picked up very cheaply.

Roll on to 2015 in Melbourne, and I’m sure Melbourne is not alone here, and those face-screwing inducing cuts of animals are now costing a pretty penny, often in excess of the finer cuts of meat. And I’ll tell you why – because  it has become trendy to use it through the proliferation of both the inspirational and me-too chefs out there.

But for me, off-cuts and offal should be up there with the best because cooked right, and that is vital, they are some of the most incredibly decadent and tasty parts of the animal. That is assuming of course that the animal has been treated with respect and looked after in a great environment whilst alive. Just think, offal accounts for about half of the edible part of an animal and is texturally diverse, nutritious and distinctly favour-some.

When I was younger butchers  would virtually throw belly pork at you to make room for their more elusive and upper-market cuts. Now, people turn a blind eye to it’s sumptuous calorie busting fat content because it is an amazing cut and there isn’t one restaurant that doesn’t have their ‘succulent’ belly pork on the menu…and rightly so. By the way if you’ve never had beef cheeks, another of those ‘in’ cuts, before then check out this smashing little Bourguignon – if you have had beef cheeks then definitely check it out.

 

Today, however, if you’re not already acquainted, and if you are this may be a reunion with a long lost friend, I am going to introduce you to another truly incredible bit of the now trendy but-never-used to-be cut of offal – the sweetbread. My kids were so exited when I said we were having sweetbreads for dinner; the connotation in their minds was that of a great home baked dessert. Alas, when I explained that it was the pancreatic gland or thymus of a lamb or calf their noses screwed up and they walked away disappointed – maybe as you are doing now. Alas, I didn’t sell the dish that well to them but I was about to redeem things.

Bought fresh sweetbreads are plump, firm to the touch and should be pink bordering on white. They deteriorate quickly so they need to be used the same day of purchase to get the best out of them. They have an amazingly nutty creaminess with a soft meaty centre that even when overcooked can remain succulent.  They do take a little bit of preparation, but trust me, please do, when I say that it is worth it. The recipe coming up is for essentially sweetbread nuggets with a chipotle mayonnaise – a brilliant snack, or if tarted up a bit with some cheffy presentation and a little touch of greenery can be used as a starter. Let’s begin.

 

Serves: 4 for a snack  |  Preparation: 1 hour soaking + 1 hour prep  |  Cooking: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1kg  Fresh plump sweetbreads |  Lamb’s or calf’s.
Large bowl  1% Salt solution | Enough to cover the sweetbreads – 10g of salt per litre of cold water – whisk to dissolve the salt.

For the Mayonnaise:
1  portion (About 275g) of mayonnaise | See here for the recipe.
Chipotle chillies | Use the tinned variety with adobo sauce.
2  tsp. adobo sauce | From the tinned chipotles.
1 lime  lime juice | Squeezed.
Pinch  Smoked paprika |

For the Sweetbread Nuggets:
Large eggs | Beaten.
1tsp.  Five spice powder | Recipe here.
150-200g  Plain flour | Enough to coat the sweetbreads
100g or so  Panko breadcrumbs | Enough to coat the sweetbreads.
To taste  Seasoning | Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Grapseed oil | Enough for frying – any high smoking point non-fragrant frying oil will do.

 

Method:

Preparing the sweetbreads: every sweetbread comes with it’s own natural packaging that needs to be removed . This can prove a little tricky but patience is rewarded.

Firstly, to remove any blood from the sweetbreads soak them in the 1% salt solution for an hour in the fridge.

Make the mayonnaise whilst you wait. To a miniature food processor add two tablespoons of mayonnaise, two chipotle chillies and two teaspoons of *adobo sauce. Blitz until smooth. Add the blended chillies to the rest of the mayonnaise and stir well. Now add half of the lime juice and a little seasoning, stir well and taste. Add more seasoning and lime juice if required. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika just before serving

Back to the sweetbreads: after an hour drain them and then leave to soak in unsalted cold water for 5 minutes. Now drain again and rinse them thoroughly.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the sweetbreads and poach for about 4-5 minutes – until they have only just firmed up. Carefully, with a slotted spoon, lift the sweetbreads out of the poaching water and put in to a large bowl of cold water in a sink. If the water temperature in the bowl rises too much run more cold water through until it is cool. Now the finicky bit. Carefully peel the membranes from each sweetbread – there’s no need to remove every single bit, but certainly remove as much as you can without damaging or breaking them. Let the sweetbreads dry out on your kitchen bench and discard all the removed membranes.

In a large frying pan heat an inch (2.5cm) of grapeseed oil to 170 deg C. (340 deg F.)**.

To a bowl add the plain flour, five-spice powder and some seasoning, and mix. To another bowl add the beaten egg. And finally to a third bowl add the panko breadcrumbs.

Now coat a sweetbread in the flour and shake to discard any excess. Dip it in the egg and let any excess drip off. Finally, coat with the panko breadcrumbs and put to one side. Repeat for all the sweetbreads.

Cook the sweetbreads in the hot oil in batches, adjusting the heat to maintain the 170 deg C. (340 deg F.) temperature. Cook for a couple of minutes and then turn over. When golden brown remove the sweetbreads, drain on kitchen towel and serve immediately with that devilish chipotle and lime mayonnaise and be prepared to be an offal convert – or enjoy your re-acquaintance.

 

Depending on the availability of chipotle chillies and your ability to make a great adobo sauce I recommend buying tinned chipotles already in adobo sauce.

** Use a digital thermometer – it’s a great piece of kitchen equipment and can be picked up relatively cheaply.

Portugal – Piri Piri Chicken

Football:

Many years before Ronaldo was bamboozling the opposition with mazy runs and infinite step-overs there was a player who is considered as one of the greatest players to ever play the game; Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, or Eusébio for short. He was a player that was way ahead of his time; very athletic (he could run a sub 11-second 100m), an amazing dribbler that could easily beat defenders, and he had a devastating prowess in front of goal. In fact, his goal scoring record for Benfica, where he played a majority of his career, was 473 goals in 440 competitive games – a phenomenal achievement and statistic.

The only time he competed in the World Cup was in 1966 in England. He won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer and is remembered for rescuing Portugal when it was 3-0 down against North Korea by scoring 4 goals which led to a 5-3 victory. He was also an incredible sport, often congratulating opposition goalkeepers for wonderful saves against him. Portugal was eventually beaten 2-1 by England in the semi-final, with Eusébio scoring Portugal’s goal. He was devastated at the end and was consoled by both Portuguese and English players as he left the field in tears.

Eusébio passed away earlier this year at the age of 71, and such was the respect and adoration for this national hero that the Portuguese government declared 3 days of national mourning.

Unfortunately, Portugal suffered an early exit in Brasil, the devastating opening 4-0 loss to Germany making it difficult to come back from. Often, with Ronaldo in the side the air of expectation is higher than it really should be. However, with Portugal being ranked #3 in the world before the World Cup started I did expect a bit more of a fight.

 

Dish:

I remember the best octopus I have ever had was in a restaurant just outside of Lisbon in Portugal. It was a whole one that exuded garlic and was incredibly tender, and I distinctly remember it being presented with its tentacles hugging some saffron rice. I also remember eating the synonymous street food piri piri chicken on the streets of Lisbon. It was tender barbecued chicken with a fiery coating of chilli oil and chilli (piri piri). It was some of the simplest food I have eaten but the wonder of it has stayed with me since; and we are talking a few years ago.

It’s the middle of winter here in Melbourne but the lure and temptation of barbecued piri piri chicken on the day that I am writing and cooking about Portugal was too much to resist. I feel piri piri chicken has somewhat been bastardised by certain fast food chains around the world, so today was about bringing some good old pzazz back in to this Portuguese classic. We’ve got bags of fire with some bird’s-eye chillies and some deep intense flavour with roasted bay leaves, a little oregano and paprika and a good aged red wine vinegar. And of course to add authenticity it needs to be done over a barbecue with the fat from the chicken dripping to create pockets of fire that add a great charcoal flavour and texture to the marinated chicken skin. Surely, some of the ultimate football watching food.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes + 2 hours marinating   |   Cooking Time: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1.6kg Whole chicken |
10 Bird’s-eye chillies | Tops removed.
10 Fresh bay leaves |
1 tsp. Garlic powder |
1 tsp. Dried oregano |
1 tsp. Sea salt |
2 tsp. Sweet paprika |
50ml Red wine vinegar | I used an aged variety.
100ml Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil

 

How to:

Preheat an oven to 180°C (360°F).

To make the marinade: put the chillies and bay leaves on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and roughly chop. Put the garlic powder, oregano, salt, paprika, vinegar, oil and roasted chilli and bay leaves in a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow the marinade to cool and then blitz in a mini-food processor (or using a hand blender) to a purée.

Spatchcock the chicken: to do this cut along one side of the back bone and repeat for the other side to remove the backbone. Place the chicken breast side up and with the palm of your hand gentle press down to flatten the chicken. Skewer the chicken through one breast and the opposite thigh, and then repeat with another skewer for the other side. Rub half the marinade into the whole of the chicken and then seal the chicken in a plastic bag and leave in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.

Turn on a barbecue and heat to medium. Cook the chicken on the barbecue flipping frequently to ensure even cooking. Baste the chicken with the other half of the marinade during cooking. The bird should be ready in about half an hour. You can cut through one breast to the middle of the chicken to see of it is cooked the whole way through.

Cut the chicken in to portions and serve with chips and a light salad.

Brasil – Acarajé

Football:

Where to start with Brasil? 5 times World Cup winners, the darlings of nearly every neutral supporter in the world, sexy football that entertains and at times seizes ones breath, and home to the caipirinha – which has nothing to do with football but I thought I’d throw it in anyway.

Talking about Brasil instantly takes me back to Spain in 1982 and in particular one player that I admired and affectionately remember; a 6ft 4in bearded midfield genius by the name of Sócrates. Sócrates was the footballing maestro in midfield in a team that for me was the true essence of Brasilian football – flair, devastating attacks and scoring goals that must look good. He had an innate ability for accurate and defence splitting passing and had a finish to rival any – I remember the thunderbolt he scored against USSR in that 1982 World Cup. But alas in two attempts (1982 and 1986) Sócrates was never to win a World Cup winner’s medal, something which his younger brother did achieve in 1994. Unfortunately Sócrates’ life was brought to a premature end in 2011 at the age of 57, allegedly from food poisoning. Sócrates will always be Brasil to me and I will always remember him dazzling a wet behind ears 10-year old sat in his bedroom in a little house in Yorkshire back in 1982.

Brasil is now only one game away from the final after a tense and energetic win over Colombia yesterday. Germany is next and I think the winner of this may just win the World Cup.

 

Dish:

The bean is an incredibly important part of Brasilian cuisine and nutrition.Take the widely respected national dish of feijoada; a stew of beans with pork and beef; the black bean being the legume in use. In fact the black bean is the most common one to be used in Rio di Janeiro whereas it is only used for feijoada in the rest of the country. The most popular bean throughout Brasil is the feijão carioca which is similar to the pinto bean. After this is a list of really exotic sounding ones in use: Jalo, rosinha, bolinha, fradinho, verde, branco, azuki and roxinho.

With respect to peas, I have never cooked the black-eyed pea before, a staple in the northern region of Brasil. Its origins are in Africa and it is related to the Chinese mung-bean. It is one of the traditional seed-foods that is said to bring 12 months of luck if eaten on the first day of the New Year. Black-eyed peas are versatile in that they don’t require any preliminary soaking in order to be cooked to tenderness within 40 minutes. Saying that, the dish I have cooked requires a good old soaking of that there black-eyed pea – it is the iconic street food of acarajé. Acarajé is a deep fried fritter of the aforementioned pea, flavoured with onion and dried shrimp. I have served it with chilli garlic sauce, but traditionally it is served with pimenta malagueta, a Brazilian pepper sauce. As it takes a month to mature I didn’t have time to make it, however, I have included the recipe.

The recipe for my chilli garlic is here. These also go well with chimichurri.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 30 minutes + overnight soaking   |   Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the pimento malagueta:
500g Bird’s-eye chillies | Or even better, malagueta peppers.
250ml White rum or vodka | An inexpensive one as it is used to rinse.
300ml Olive oil |
150ml White wine vinegar |

For the acarajé:
250g Black-eyed peas | Picked through and soaked overnight.
1 Brown onion | Finely chopped.
2 tbsp. Dried shrimp | Brasilian or Chinese – Brasilian shrimp tends to be more salty.
1 pinch Sea salt | If using Brasilian dried shrimp. 2-3 pinches if using Chinese dried shrimp.

Dende oil for frying | Dende is a red oil used in Brasilian cooking (derived from the seed fruit of a dende plant). I used a palm oil with carotene to get the red colour. Plain vegetable oil will also be ok.

 

How to:

For the pimento malagueta: pick through the chillies to ensure there are no bad ones or ones with blemishes. Rinse the chillies with the white spirit and shake them dry – using alcohol cleans the chillies and eliminates surface water which can cause the chilli to rot over time. Pack the chillies in to a sterilised wine bottle or similar container. Pour the oil and vinegar in to the bottle to completely submerge the chillies. The proportion of oil to vinegar should be 2:1, so just maintain that proportion if you need less or more of either. Stopper the bottle and leave for a month to mature. The pepper sauce keeps indefinitely.

For the acarajé: once the black-eyed peas have soaked pick through and remove all of the skins. This is a finicky and time consuming job, but very much worth the effort. Most skins will fall off effortlessly after the soaking.

Heat the dende oil (about 2 inch deep) in a deep frying pan to 180°C.

Put the black-eyed peas, onion, dried shrimp and sea salt in food processor and blend until you have a smooth paste like consistency. Drop a few walnut size balls of batter in to the oil and fry for about 2-3 minutes. Turn over and fry for a further minute. Remove the acarajé from the oil and drain on kitchen towel. Repeat for the rest of the batter. Serve with the garlic chilli, chimichurri or if you have it the pimenta malagueta to be truly Brasilian.

Chile – Chilean Scrambled Eggs with Arepas

Football:

Chile’s World Cup history goes back to the inaugural World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay where it finished 5th out of the 13 teams that competed. It has competed in 8 previous World Cups with a best finish of third back in 1962, the year that Chile hosted the World Cup.

There is usually one player in a team that others fear, or at least have a wary respect for: Messi for Argentina, Neymar for Brazil, Pirlo for Italy, Ronaldo for Portugal, Touré for Côte d’Ivoire; the list goes on. In France 1998, Chile was not expected to do much, but teams were wary of its one outstanding and dangerous player at the time, Marcelo Salas. He was that little bit of class that could elevate the expectations of a nation. Wherever Salas played he won trophies; for clubs in South America and Europe. He had a deft scoring touch and an amazing aerial ability for a relatively short guy, which helped him score 4 goals in the 1998 tournament. The only downside for Chile was that they met a Ronaldo inspired Brasil in the second round and were beaten 4-1, with Salas scoring a consolation goal.

In Brasil, I reckon Chile has done remarkably well to progress through to the second round, given it had the Netherlands, Spain and a tenacious Australia side in its group. And just like in 1998 they face Brazil again in the second round. Even though they don’t have a Salas this time, I still think that they have a chance of beating Brazil – it should be a belter of a game.

 

Dish:

I am delving in to Chilean food for the first time and not to my surprise the cuisine is as diverse as the country is long. With such a lengthy coastline seafood is a big influence in Chile’s choice of food, especially as the phenomenon known as the Humboldt Current (the marine system that flows up the coast of Chile) encourages an abundance of sea life to live in Chilean waters. Some of the standout dishes that I must try at some point are: raw clams with lemon juice (imejas con limón); abalone bread pudding (chupe de locos); scallops in melted butter covered in grilled Parmesan (ostiones a la Permesane); and Chilean crab pie served in its shell (pastel de jaiba).

Moving away from seafood I wanted to celebrate two ingredients of Chile; chorizo and achiote. Chilean chorizo comes in short fat links and has an amazing amount of luscious red fat. The local Latin American deli near where I live has a range of wonderfully fatty chorizo – every time the El Salvadoran lady goes to cut a chorizo from the hanging bunch drips of red oil splash down on to her face – she laughs and says that she goes home sometimes looking as red as the Chilean home kit.

Achiote, or annatto, is the collective noun applied to the berries gathered in the Amazon rainforests. The native Brazilians that collected them used the red colour from the berries as a dye to paint their bodies. When the Africans arrived in Brazil they found that they could use the dye in food, and missing the food from home they dyed cooking oil to make it look like the dende (palm oil) from back home. The dye, known as color chileno, is today used extensively in Chilean cooking, where the achiote seeds are infused in oil and strained out to produce an intensely red dye.

The dish I have cooked is huevos revueltos con color chileno, or Chilean scrambled eggs, and they are accompanied by some hot freshly made arepas.

 

Serves: 2-4 |   Preparation: 15 minutes + 30 minutes resting |   Cooking Time: 35 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the color chileno:
70g Achiote seeds | Also known as annatto seeds.
120ml Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil. Traditionally pork lard is used.

For the Arepas:
120g Pre-cooked white corn meal |
10g Unsalted butter |
250ml Warm water |
Good pinch Sea salt |
2 tbsp. Butter | For frying.

For the scrambled eggs:
2 tbsp. Grapeseed oil |
100-120g Chorizo | This is about the average weight of one chorizo.
1 small Red chilli | Deseeded and finely chopped.
½ tsp. Color chileno | See above.
6 Free range eggs | Lightly beaten.
Seasoning Sea salt | Take care as the chorizo is naturally salty.

 

How to:

For the color chileno: add the achiote seeds and 40ml of the oil to a small frying pan. Cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes and then drain the red oil, reserving it. Add another 40ml of the oil to the existing achiote seeds and cook for a further 5 minutes. Drain the oil and add to the previously reserved oil. Repeat the process for the final 40ml of oil. Discard the achiote seeds at the end. The red oil is the color chileno.

For the arepas: to a bowl add the corn meal, butter, water and salt and mix with your hands until an even paste is formed. Leave the paste to rest for 5 minutes and then bring it together and knead it in to a dough. Melt the butter in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Form thin 15 cm diameter discs with the cornmeal dough (you should get 4 arepas) and fry both sides until golden – about 2-3 minutes each side.

For the eggs: remove the skin from the chorizo sausage and slice the sausage. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and fry the chorizo for about 3 minutes. That lovely red fat should be oozing out. Add the chopped chilli and fry for a further minute. Now add the color chileno and beaten eggs and whilst stirring cook until solid but still a little wet. Season, if required, and serve immediately with the hot arepas.

Everest Inspired Lamb Rogan Josh

Introduction:

Amidst the hustle, bustle and clinking I sit and stare, and stare some more. It pulls me closer and closer but yet I get no nearer; one day I will, I swear.  It is just an image now; an image that hypnotises me every time I visit. But soon it will be real.

Where I am is in a Nepalese restaurant in the Royal borough of Kingston-upon-Thames; where I want to be…Sagarmatha, or Everest.

From the first time I entered that restaurant as a poor student I vowed that one day I would take my own photograph of what welcomed me each time I passed the threshold into that hotbed of stinging and soothing curries. Looking at the landscape photograph of this Himalayan wonder nestled amongst other mountainous peaks used to instil in me a sense of freedom and a respect for what the earth was capable of. Of course, this worked in synergy with the consumption of wonderfully spiced curries.

Monty’s was a curry institution in this part of the world, and one that was frequented by me and my university mates, during our studies and long after graduation. It was a Nepalese restaurant but its fare was not limited to the Nepalese region; it catered for everyone. On one hand they produced a phall (incredibly hot British-Indian curry) for the lager induced daredevils; I tried it once and feel myself still fortunate to have an intact palate. At the opposite end of the scale was the diminutive but nonetheless tasty mild chicken korma; an immaculate and delicate blend of spices with juicy and tender chicken breast, finished with delicious almondy creaminess. One of my go-to curries, however, was the lamb rogan josh. There was just something about tender lamb in a curry that took me to another plane. I think it’s the strength of flavour of lamb which competes with, but with parity, the spices. I also loved the acidity and tartness of the yoghurt that was used in this particular rogan josh, and as such this dish has remained a favourite of mine ever since.

Rogan josh is believed to have originated with the Persians. The history can be traced back to the 14th/15th century when India was invaded by Timur Lang, the great conqueror, and as a result Mughals of varying skills, including cooks, began to influence this South Asian land. The Mughals would often retreat to the cooler climate of mountainous Kashmir, and it is here that the dish rogan josh was perfected.

Its name? Well there is no definitive answer. For example, there is the theory that the name of the dish came from the Persian for clarified butter (rogan) and hot (josh), implied by the popular meat stew dish that came from there. Another idea is that the name rogan was a derivative of words such as rouge (red in French) or even the Kashmiri word for red, which is, I am led to believe, rogan.

The dish itself has many variations, a lot of which are family secrets; similar to spice blends. As the Kashmiri Brahmans didn’t eat onion or garlic, their rogan josh was often flavoured with fennel seeds and the lamb seasoned with asafoetida. The Muslim version, however, uses lots of onion and garlic. The redness of the dish can be attributed to Kashmiri chillies; a deep red-coloured chilli with a milder spice to the usual Indian red chillies. The colour is also attributed to the addition of the indigenous Kashmiri plant, mawal (cockscomb flower).

So, now I present you with another version of this classic. The lamb is marinated in yoghurt and asafoetida. The yoghurt helps tenderise the meat whist the asafoetida adds flavour. Harold McGee refers to asafoetida as:

one of the strangest and strongest of all spices

of which I wholly agree. We also have garlic and onions, and bags of wonderful Indian spice, including Kashmiri chilli.

 

Serves: 2 to 4   |   Preparation: 30 minutes   |   Cooking: 1 hour + 1 hour marinating

 

Ingredients:

150g Plain yoghurt |
½ tsp. Asafoetida | Dissolved in 2 tbsp. of water.
700g Boned leg of lamb | Trimmed of fat and diced into 2cm cubes.
2 large Ripe tomatoes | Roughly chopped – note: I used a few ripe organic miniature cherry tomatoes which worked really well.
2 Brown onions | Roughly chopped.
2 Hot green chillies | With seeds if you’re game enough. Roughly chopped.
1 tbsp. Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil e.g. groundnut.
3 tbsp. Grapeseed oil | For frying.
2 Fresh bay leaves |
1 Cinnamon quill |
1 tsp. Fennel seeds |
6 Cloves |
2 Brown cardamom | Gently crushed to split them.
3 Green cardamom | Gently crushed to split them.
½ tbsp. Garlic paste |
½ tbsp. Ginger paste |
1 tbsp. Ground coriander seed | Toast in a hot frying pan for 30-40 seconds and then grind to a powder.
½ tsp. Ground turmeric |
1 tsp. Kashmiri red chilli powder |
1 tbsp. Tomato puree |

 

 

How To:

Put the diced lamb, yoghurt and dissolved asafoetida in a non-reactive bowl (important because of the acidity of the yoghurt) and mix well. Cover the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour. Meanwhile add the tomatoes, onion, green chillies and 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil to a food processor and blend to a paste-like consistency.

Heat the 3 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large heavy based pan until hot. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon quill, fennel seeds, cloves, and brown and green cardamom to the pan. The brown cardamom is particularly fun as it doesn’t half spit and crackle – I recommend covering the pan momentarily so you don’t lose any of the spices. Once fragrant, add the garlic and ginger pastes and stir for 20 seconds. Now add the blended tomato/ onion/ chilli paste and a dash of salt, and stir. Cook this on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onion should soften without browning too much.

Now add the ground coriander seed, turmeric and Kashmiri chilli powder, and stir (maybe adding a little water if too dry). Stir in the tomato puree and another dash of salt. Turn the heat to high and carefully place the lamb in the pan, retaining any residual yoghurt in the bowl. Sear the lamb so that it browns nicely on all sides. Add the residual yoghurt marinade and stir, then turn the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 40 minutes.

Taste, and then season if required; the rogan gosh is now ready to wow you. Serve with fresh yoghurt, and coriander if your taste buds desire.

 

Notes:

  • Goes great with hot Basmati rice and/ or roti bread.

 

Vietnamese Red Cabbage Salad

Introduction:

I recall being sat in the middle of steamy kitchen in a small town in Thailand; the two women speaking melodically in their native tongue. There was giggling, laughter and the percussion like sound of the wooden pestle pounding against the hardwood mortar. It was 7 in the morning and breakfast was being prepared.

I was here on a stopover prior to an adventure in the sub-continent, but it was here, in this kitchen, with these two ladies that my adventure began. I sat mesmerised at the high energy these ladies exerted whilst pounding the ingredients, especially in the humid heat. And yet they made it look easy, whilst smiling and maintaining a high octane conversation. Momentarily they would look up at me, look at each other, and then giggle before continuing the grind, as it were.

The next part is what I distinctly remember; moreover as it was something I had never seen before. One of the ladies showed me a large fruit item – which a few days after I learnt to be green papaya – and then began to fervently lacerate it with a large old looking chopping knife, more akin to a bone cleaver. Then she delicately shaved it and away peeled hundreds of finely formed ribbons. I noted this down in my mind’s journal, and years later I recall it as I am preparing a Vietnamese salad in the confines of a Melbourne kitchen; although this time with a carrot.

Given its close proximity to Vietnam there are many similarities in the flavour profile of the food from Thailand; the enchanting mix of the sweet, salt and sourness underpinned with garlic and chilli. And a great Vietnamese salad is very much about shredding and tearing, much like that which occurred those years ago in the steamy Thai kitchen.

Green papaya can be difficult to find and so I have substituted it for red cabbage which with carrot makes a visually stunning salad. I am very fortunate to be living very close to ‘Little Vietnam’ here in Melbourne so have great access to most of the herbs that I found and tasted when in Thailand and Vietnam. This salad has been carefully developed on and off over a few months, mainly to get a great balance of flavour; but there is everything right in you trying to find your perfect blend of herbs and flavours, using this as a base.

 

Serves: 2 to 4   |   Preparation: 30 minutes   |   Cooking: at least 30 minutes resting

 

Ingredients:

150g Red cabbage | finely shredded, known as chiffonade.
24 leaves Asian (Thai) basil |
24 leaves Vietnamese mint |
24 leaves Mint |
24 small sprigs Coriander | a small sprig is about 3 leaves.
24 leaves Perilla |
1 Carrot | peeled and shredded/ finely julienned.
1 serving Nuoc Cham | click here for recipe.

 

 

How To:

Prepare the nuoc cham at least half an hour before serving the salad in order for the ingredients to become intimately acquainted.

Place the Asian basil, Vietnamese mint, mint, coriander and perilla leaves in a bowl of iced water for about 5 minutes, to freshen and crisp. Remove the leaves from the water and roughly tear in to a large bowl. Add the shredded red cabbage and carrot. Mix with your hands.

A minute before serving add the nuoc cham to the salad and thoroughly, but carefully, mix with your hands so the herbs, cabbage and carrot are coated in the dressing. Leave the salad to marinade for one minute and then serve.

I find plating this salad using a hand has two benefits: firstly, most of excess liquid is drained and therefore there are no large ‘puddles’ on the plate; and secondly, it is easier to shape the salad on the plate.

 

Notes:

  • This is an incredibly versatile salad and goes particularly well with a medium rib-eye steak fillet, an extremely good quality pork sausage or even pan-fried snapper.

Chilli Caramel

Introduction:

As a prelude to a dish that I will post in the next few days I have recently shared recipes for nước chấm and Chinese master stock. The final of these basics is a salty chilli caramel which throws the taste buds into frenzy; saltiness from fish and soy sauces, intense caramel sweetness from refined sugar, and a spicy prod from a heat stick named chilli. Add to this the sticky texture and it makes a great saucy coating, for pork in particular.

The key element of getting the consistency and taste of this sauce spot on is the caramelisation of the sugar. Sugar is an incredible substance especially when it is heated. It transforms from a sweet odourless compound into something that is richly aromatic containing acidic and bitter notes. The bitterness develops more as the temperature of the sugar increases, to a point where it becomes acrid, burnt and inedible. It’s important therefore to catch the caramel at the precise point required.

Traditionally there are two ways to produce a caramel: the wet method which involves mixing sugar with water and then heating, and the dry method where the sugar is heated on its own. There a couple of advantages when using the wet method: firstly, as it takes longer to caramelise there tends to be a greater development of flavour, and secondly the presence of water means that you can cook the caramel on a higher heat (than for dry) from the onset without the risk of burning the sugar. The dry method requires more attention but it is a quicker method to caramelise sugar.

This recipe uses the wet method. For it we require a straw coloured caramel, the colour of which will start to appear at about 165 deg C (330 deg F). The precision of temperature is not vital here, unlike when doing sugar-work at lower temperatures. I therefore just use my old mince pies (eyes) to tell when it is done.

A word of note to folks that are inexperienced using heated sugar –  just go careful as the temperatures are far hotter than boiled water, and caramelised sugar will create a nasty burn or two if it comes in contact with your skin (I still have the scars). I read recently that Heston Blumenthal suggests that you visualise your cooking and techniques before performing them. In this way you can have everything ready in preparation. For example when the caramel hits the straw colour ensure that you have your other ingredients at hand, as it is amazing how quickly caramel can burn if you turn your back.

The fun really happens when you add the liquid (fish and soy sauces) to the caramel as it creates a boiling effervescence that rises sharply in the pan. For this reason when creating this sauce it is necessary to use a large enough pan so that the effervescence does not over-flow.

The addition of chilli, star anise, coriander seed and cinnamon give a great South-east Asian character to this sauce of which I am sure you will think is just irresistibility.

 

Serves: 4  as part of a meal   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking: 20-25 minutes

 

Ingredients:

160g White refined sugar |
160ml Cold water |
1 Bird’s eye chilli | Sliced.
3 pods Star anise |
⅓ stick Cinnamon |
1 tsp. Coriander seed |
70ml Fish sauce | Use real fish sauce i.e. not a synthetic one that contains ‘flavouring’.
60ml Light soy sauce | With light soy and fish sauce just the right balance of saltiness to sweetness can be achieved.

 

 

How To:

Add the sugar and water to a pan and put over a medium to high heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring. If any crystals of sugar develop around the pan then wash them with a pastry brush dipped in water. This will dissolve them. If these crystals are not dissolved they can cause the mixture to crystallise rendering the caramel gritty and unusable.

When the mixture starts to caramelise and has turned a straw colour add the sliced chilli, star anise, and coriander seeds. Next add the fish sauce and soy sauce. The liquid will boil and rise up the pan so go careful. Now start stirring, and reduce the heat to low.

Stir continuously for 5 minutes, during which any solid caramel will dissolve back into the sauce. The caramel sauce will also develop a deeper, richer flavour. Take the caramel off the heat and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Now strain the caramel through a fine sieve and put aside until required.

To use the caramel later just warm it gently until it liquefies.

Hot Chilli Garlic Sauce

Introduction:

Why do we love chilli?

Why are some of us addicted to the sensation that traverses the plain of delight to pain? Studies conducted at Reading university suggests that the answer to this is because when hot chilli hits the tongue, pulses are sent to the brain which trigger both the ‘happy’ part and the part that detects pain. It seems that the happiness brought on by consuming the fiery molecules of capsaicin (the actively ‘hot’ component of chilli peppers) is enough to counteract the obvious pain that can result, especially from those chillies that register high on the Scoville scale (the scale that measures the pungency, or spicy heat, of chillies). And, as we like to do things that make us happy – we eat chilli.

Personally, I love hot seedy chilli sauce (that’s with seeds and not the delight of eating chilli in some sordid back alley) with garlic; something that was in every local street stall in Hanoi when I visited recently. However, my affinity for this delectable sauce goes back to my time in London, the memory of which came to me the other day as I smelt the chilli garlic sauce I was cooking.

I remember arriving in London as a wet-behind-the-ears young man, looking for adventure and to study. Money was too tight to mention and on arrival in England’s capital managed, by a bit of luck and a fair wind, to score a fantastic flat in Tooting thanks to a wonderful Singaporean lady. She was the landlady and lived in neighbouring Streatham. I remember going over to her place one Sunday afternoon, rocking up to a shop front from which emanated the smells of an oriental feast of herbs and spices. After being invited in for afternoon tea, and subsequently eating an array of amazing Chinese/ Singaporean home-made snacks, I was presented with a jar; a jar that can only be described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh rolled in to one – chilli garlic sauce. I had never tasted anything like this before, and the memory of the amazing peppery and garlic flavour and intense tingling sensation from the heat that bolted and somersaulted around my mouth has never left me. I later learned that this lady was a magnificent chef and had even been commissioned to provide a banquet for the Prince of Wales (Charlie to his mates) during her career.

Not until today have I tried to replicate that magical chilli sauce. So fanfares please, as I present my version of chilli garlic sauce – pleasure and eye-watering pain.

 

Serves: A few months’ supply   |   Preparation:  10 minutes   |   Cooking: 30 minutes + 1 week resting

 

Ingredients:

900g Birds eye chilli | Tops removed. I bought these at our local Vietnamese grocers; they were just known as Vietnamese chillies, which I know to be birds eye chillies. They are nice and hot.
18 cloves Garlic | Peeled.
2 tbsp.  Peanut oil |
1½ tbsp. White sugar |
1½ tbsp. Sea salt  
100ml Rice wine vinegar | This sauce is not as acidic as some bought ones – it’s more rounded in flavour. You can add more vinegar if you like.

 

 

How To:

In a food processor blitz the chillies, garlic and peanut oil until a smooth paste is formed. I process them for about 3-4 minutes.

Add the chilli paste to a pan, and then stir in the salt, sugar and rice wine vinegar and bring to a simmer over a low to medium heat. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Pour the resulting thick sauce in to *sterilised jars, seal them and then allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, at which point they should be refrigerated. I recommend leaving this chilli sauce for at least a week to mature. It should keep for a few months, refrigerated. With the birds eye chilli this sauce is nice and hot so use with abandon…I mean care.

*To sterilise a jar wash with warm soapy water, and then rinse well. Dry with a clean tea-towel and then put it in a preheated oven at 120 deg C (250 deg F) for 5 minutes (ensure your jar is heat proof). Remove the jar carefully from the oven and allow to cool, ensuring you don’t touch the inside of the jar.

Notes:

  • Did you know that the main heat from chilli comes from the pith and not from the seeds?

Gazpacho

Introduction:

Boy, is this a polarizing dish. I can hear the Yorkshire folk of generations gone by saying “cold soup…cold soup, we’re in bleeding Yorkshire, not on Mercury”. Soup is of course traditionally hot, well in Northern parts any way. But when one looks at the history of gazpacho, the cold tomato soup (the modern version is a soup anyway), one can feel the romance of the Spanish labourers in the hot sun creating and partaking in this refreshing and nutritious delight.

It can be no more beautifully detailed than by the Chilean writer Marta Brunet, who was of Catalan descent, when she described the dish as the meal of the Spanish muleteers ( those that drove mules), who:

take with them on their travels an earthen dish, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as some dry bread, which they crumble up. By the side of the road they crush the garlic between two stones with a little salt, then add some oil. They coat the inside of the dish with this mixture. Then they cut up the cucumbers and tomatoes and place them in the dish in alternate layers with breadcrumbs, finishing with a layer of breadcrumbs and oil. Having done this, they take a wet cloth, wrap the dish in it and leave it in the sun. The contents are cooked by evaporation and when the cloth is dry, the meal is cooked.

Today’s version is a little less romantic, but is a brilliant balance of ingredients that delivers a tomatoey, cucumber-fresh, bitey and exhilarating gustatory delight. It’s also a very healthy meal.

 

Serves: 2-4   |   Preparation:  15 minutes   |   Cooking: Resting – 1 day

 

Ingredients:

4 medium Ripened tomatoes | Ripened Roma or truss tomatoes are great. Cut in to quarters.
1 whole Lebanese cucumber | Lebanese cucumbers are smaller’ than their European counterpart. If using a European cucumber try ½ cucumber.
⅓ of a medium Red onion | Roughly chopped.
1 medium Red pepper (capsicum) | Deseeded and roughly chopped.
⅓ large clove Garlic | Finely chopped. Not too much or the raw garlic will overpower the soup. We want just a hint of bite.
½ Chilli | I use a Jalapeno with seeds, finely chopped.
1 tsp. Olive oil | I use extra virgin.
1½ tsp. Sherry vinegar | Quintessentially Spanish vinegar that adds a wonderful nuance of Spain to the dish.
⅓ tsp. Sea salt | For seasoning. Adjust to your taste.
To taste Black pepper | For seasoning.

 

 

How To:

In a juicer juice the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and red pepper. Juicing the onion can be an emotional experience. Put the juice in a bowl or hand blender beaker and add to it the garlic, chilli, olive oil, sherry vinegar, sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste (optional). Blend with a hand blender so that all of the chilli and garlic have been obliterated.

Strain through a fine sieve, pushing through as much pulp as possible. Leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for a day or so – the ingredients can then get to know each other on a friendly basis.

 

Notes:

  • If you want to give some airy volume to the gazpacho, use a hand blender to ‘foam’ it up (as in the picture above) just before serving. I serve this with a sprinkling of smoked paprika.
  • If you don’t have a juicer then you can blend all the ingredients in a food processor or with a hand blender and then strain. I find it easier to blend and strain the soup if I have first extracted the juice with a juicer.

Lemongrass and Chilli Chicken

Introduction:

After a morning’s trek with my seven year old son through the misty terraced rice fields that are home to the Hmong tribe, we are approached by a young man who calls himself Alex, or his helmet does, a member of this tribal community in Northern Vietnam. He is wearing non-traditional clothing for his day job – motorcycling tourists back to the main hill station of Sapa.

The month is January, a few weeks before Vietnam celebrates Tet, the festivities of the lunar New Year.

After I agree to take a ride from Alex we talk about life here in the village, and he tells me that their main livelihood is rice; rice feeds the village as well as provides the villagers with income (some of the women of the tribe also earn money by selling locally made crafts to tourists). He tells me that the whole year revolves around two events: the harvesting of the rice and Tet. Rice is the heartbeat of this community and each grain is sown, tended and hand-picked with the utmost care.

As we wend our way through the village to where Alex’s motorcycle is waiting we sidestep and dodge chickens, wild pigs, cows and irritated looking dogs. Alex explains that Tet is the time of year where all the family, including those that have flown the nest of the village to try their luck in modern-day Vietnam, return and celebrate with food and drink. When I asked about the drink he smiled and then giggled

“This is why rice is so important because it makes us even happier and funnier when we drink it”.

He’s referring to the locally brewed rice wine which forms a traditional part of the Lunar New Year celebrations.

We talk about food. He points at some of the animals wandering around and says that they are being prepared for the celebrations, “we eat the whole of the animal, especially the chicken. The whole chicken represents abundance and prosperity and this is the thing we cling to every year – the abundance of rice and prosperity for all our family wherever they are”.

As we approach the motorcycle, I have a wonderful respect for this kind of life; it is hard and parts of it I wouldn’t want, but the importance of food, of family and of having a belief that things will turn out for the good made me feel good. My son’s eyes were also opened to a new world, a new culture and an understanding of life beyond the distractions of our everyday life.

As was customary I haggled a price before the trip up the hill. The journey up the muddy steep track was hair raising but great fun. The last part was so steep that I had to disembark from the motorcycle and walk the rest, whilst Alex continued on with my son to Sapa. When I arrived we smiled, embraced and I paid him, with a little extra. That was the last I saw of Alex.

The humble chicken is such an important part of Vietnamese culture and its presence as a symbolic food is all around; from the blue legged chickens that I saw in Sapa market to the iconic dish of Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) that is present in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. My memory of this beautiful trip to Vietnam is given to you by means of a dish that I cooked at a cooking class in Sapa; a chicken dish of course. I hope it provides you abundance and prosperity.

 

Serves: 2   |   Preparation:   15 minutes   |   Cooking: 30 minutes marinade + 10 minutes cooking

 

Ingredients:

200g Chicken breast or thigh fillet | Cut in to bite sized pieces.
2 cloves Garlic | 1 minced; 1 finely chopped.
2 x 2cm pieces Ginger | 1 minced; 1 finely chopped.
2 tbsp. Peanut oil |
½ medium Brown onion | Chopped.
3 stalks Lemongrass | White part only – finely sliced.
1 medium Red chilli Finely chopped – a medium heat chilli is great.
1 medium Red pepper Chopped.
1 medium Green pepper Chopped.
2 tsp. Soy sauce |
2 tsp. Oyster sauce |
2 Spring onions | White part sliced into 1cm pieces.
1 sprig Coriander and Thai basil | For garnish.

 

 

How To:

To a bowl add the chicken, the minced garlic clove, the minced ginger and some salt and pepper to season, mix well and leave to marinade for 30 minutes.

To a wok add the peanut oil and when hot add the finely chopped clove of garlic, the finely chopped piece of ginger, the onion and lemongrass. Stir fry for about a minute over a medium heat until lightly golden. Take care not burn any of the ingredients as it will add an unwanted bitterness to the dish.

Up the heat to high and add the marinated chicken pieces, chilli, and the red and green peppers. Stir well, and then add the soy sauce and oyster sauce.

Stir fry for a further 2 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Now add the coriander/ Thai basil and the spring onions and toss for 10 seconds. Serve immediately with steamed rice and garnish with some coriander or Thai basil.