Monday, 30 May 2011
Tom yum, that soup of wonders, that spicy restorative, that Thai dish which even gave its name to a Tony Jaa action film for reasons that still escape me (imagine if Mission Impossible 3 was renamed Mulligatawny).
There's a lot of controversy about what constitutes an authentic tom yum (sometimes spelt tom yam) - should it have tomatoes, what type of mushrooms if any, prawns or chicken - and it seems some recipes like to throw in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
I've even seen some people use coconut milk, which makes it too close to tom kha ghai for my liking, and any version with pineapple is going straight in the sin bin.
Anyway, I have to admit I used to err on the side of plenty, but I found it became too much of a jumble, so these days, I like to strip it down and use as few ingredients as possible. This gives a fresher, lighter, sharper taste - a broth that almost sparkles with clarity.
Here's my Channel 4 Food recipe for Fragrant Tom Yum Soup with Mussels to accompany tonight's episode of Gordon's Great Escapes which sees Ramsay take on Thailand.
I've used mussels this time - you could also use clams, the classic prawns (tom yum goong), a mix of seafood, or chicken.
Whichever you use, adjust the cooking time accordingly - you want to gently poach the meat, to preserve its character and let the flavours sing.
My Fragrant Tom Yum Soup recipe on Channel 4 Food
Gordon Ramsay's Great Escapes - Thailand
Monday 30 May on Channel 4 at 9 pm
Saturday, 28 May 2011
I'd never heard of speculoos till Edd Kimber aka The Boy Who Bakes mentioned it to me. Speculoos (or speculaas) is a spiced, gingerbready biscuit from Belgium and the Netherlands, which also comes as a spread, brilliant for using in cakes and other desserts.
So when I came across packets of speculoos in the adorable little Wye Bakery run by Mary Braithwaite and Nigel Ings (who'd moved from France to the village of Wye in Kent), I scooped some up as a present for said Boy Who Bakes (they also sold us some Campteclaire and Peveloise - artisan French bread flour - and gave us gluten and yeast).
Then today I felt like a snack, so I raided my freezer to find some Prune and Armagnac ice cream I'd made (this David Leibovitz recipe).
I had a couple of bites, and sucking the spoon I suddenly thought, "Y'know, I bet those speculoos biscuits would be really nice with this".
And so I opened one of Edd's packets, and I slathered fat wodges of ice cream between some of those biscuits and I ate them.
Goddamn, it was good. The spices in the speculoos plus the wonderful brittle snap was a perfect foil for the fruity, boozy ice cream - like a sophisticated version of a Maxibon.
Anyway, this probably makes me a slightly rubbish friend, but hell, he just came back from Amsterdam with these, so hopefully he'll forgive me.
01233 812 218
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Hog roast perfection.
Crackling divine, moistest meat,
Look at that. Unlimited pork plus sides for £12. TWELVE POUNDS.
This guy (Heath Ball aka @pubhobbit on Twitter) owns the pub. He looks justifiably happy.
The Red Lion and Sun
25 North Road
020 8340 1780
Parties of up to 100 people with a 80kg hog (Middle White or Gloucestershire Old Spot), or lamb roast or suckling pig roast for smaller parties (there were about 30 of us).
Summer only and booking essential - enquire on 0208 340 1780 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 23 May 2011
The first time I had laksa was almost a decade ago in South Kensington, in the uninspiring environs of Oriental Canteen (which was dilapidated even then), due to a tip-off from AA Gill of all people.
Though a slightly lurid shade of orange, the laksa was fiery, delicious, and bursting with seafood, and I tipped the bright red bowl to get every last drop. I then went home and tried to recreate the dish, and have been honing it ever since, and you can now see my laksa recipe on the Channel 4 Food site for tonight's Gordon's Great Escape to Malaysia.
I'd demurred from trying laksa for ages, as I'd foolishly thought it was just a spin on my beloved ohn-no khao swè and, ostensibly at least, the two had similarities.
I then found out that, whilst the Burmese dish was fairly strict in terms of ingredients and style (suggest garnishing it with coriander, and meet fisticuffs in some parts of Burma), laksa seemed to have almost as many variations as there are stars in the sky.
These differences are not so surprising when you discover that laksa has been co-opted as the national dish of both Malaysia and Singapore, and originally came from the Peranakans who are ethnically Chinese.
Despite all the variations, it's generally agreed that there are two main types of laksa: assam laksa and curry laksa. The former's soup is sour, made of tamarind paste and primarily fish-based, whereas the latter is the one most familiar in the West as having a gravy made of curried coconut milk and being packed with seafood and sometimes chicken.
Laksa lemak, also known as Nyonya laksa, is a type of curry laksa with a particularly rich and sweet coconut gravy. Lemak is a Malay culinary term which refers to the presence of coconut milk - in fact, the proper national dish of Malaysia is nasi lemak which literally means coconut rice. It's my favourite type of laksa as it's comforting yet spicy, perfect when the world seems a bit grey and you need a little kick.
Incidentally, the finest laksa lemak I've ever tasted was made for me in her home by a Malaysian lady whom I know only as Auntie or Mama Dang. A few people have been lucky enough to try her food - if you want to have a chance of being one of them, follow her son, PR extraordinaire Andre Dang on Twitter and be nice ...
My Laksa Lemak recipe on Channel 4 Food
Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape - Malaysia
Monday 23 May on Channel 4 at 9 pm
Friday, 20 May 2011
Some "luxury" foods have always been a bit out of my reach for reasons of penury. Caviar is one of them - I think I've tried it twice in my life (once at a tasting at Selfridges and the second time at Bob Bob Ricard).
The other that springs to mind is the truffle - your average specimen costs about £80. I've bought truffle oil before, and even preserved ones in a jar, but the only time I'd had fresh truffles was at my birthday meal at Launceston Place last year (oh, and there was this one dish I had from Dolada, but let's not go into that).
So when I found out about Mister Truffle, a business that imports the best seasonal truffles and sells them by the GRAM, I thought, "Oooooh".
Because it meant I could even afford to cook with truffles myself - to make that silky truffled pasta, to shave wispy slices over my scrambled eggs, to pimp my steak sauce - bringing a taste of luxury to my home without having to mortgage my house in the process.
But before I could press click to order some truffles for myself, Mister Truffle offered to send me some for free to ask me if I could do something different and come up with a new recipe.
A challenge! And I do love a challenge.
A few days later, a neatly wrapped box arrived. Inside was 10g of vacuum-packed Black Winter Truffle.
Having done some research, I knew the truffle had to be used within days to capture the precious scent and flavour at its best, but I also wanted to relish it as much as possible, so I decided to make truffled eggs or rather truffle-infused eggs.
I had a vague idea about how to go about this, but it was surprisingly difficult to find exact instructions on t'internets.
How to Make Truffle-Infused Eggs
This is what I did in the end:
- Clean the truffle with a toothbrush dipped in brandy, and then blot with kitchen paper (this is for hard-shelled truffles like Perigord - for softer truffles, clean gently with a dry basting, pastry or mushroom brush).
- Line a sealable tupperware with two sheets of kitchen towel.
- Place the truffle in the tupperware with as many eggs as you can fit (I chose Clarence Court's Burford Browns, duck eggs, quail eggs, and a random free-range).
- Seal the tupperware so it's airtight and leave somewhere dry and cool for 3 days.
Retrieving the eggs (and resealing the truffles inside), I decided just to boil a few of them at first to savour their flavour as simply as possible.
The results were most pleasing - earthy, meaty, the sexiest soft-boiled eggs I have ever tasted.
Thrilled by the successful experiment, I polished them off tout de suite and then turned my attention to the truffle - stay tuned ...
Truffles by the Gram
Summer Truffles now in season - 97p per gram
Monday, 16 May 2011
Saturday evening, I'm at a family wedding, full of cake and gazing happily at the flickering tealights dotted around on my table. My 10 year old niece comes up to me and opens her hand and says, "What are these, Daw Daw?" Her palm is full of star anise taken from the table centrepieces. I say to her, "Smell one" and she does, and she says it smells spicy and faintly sweet.
I then take one pod and wave it through a flame and say, "Smell it again", and her eyes light up and she says it smells wonderful. I tell her that it's a spice used in Asian cookery and she runs off to gather more, and then insists I give them all the same treatment.
As I singe the anise pods one by one, she gets one of the wedding favours, a gauzy reticule full of sugared almonds, up-ends the sweets inside, and replaces them with the charred anise. She then reties the satin ribbon carefully and sniffs the newly-stuffed little pouch appreciatively.
That scent of charred star anise, of singed cloves and ginger, of fire-blackened garlic and onion, and of the smokiest of cassia bark spells absolute comfort and deliciousness to me. It's the heavenly fragrance of phở - the beautiful, delicately spiced, clear yet meaty broth of rice noodle ribbons and fresh, leafy herbs which is renowned as the national dish of Vietnam.
The origins of phở seem to have been lost in the mists of time, but the name apparently comes from the French pot-au-feu which shares many elements with phở including adding roasted onion to the broth for color and flavor. Tonight episode of Gordon's Great Escape sees Gordon visit Vietnam, where he will explore the native cuisine and hopefully find out more about where phở comes from.
Although phở gà or chicken pho is extremely popular, the classical version is phở bò or beef pho, and as a meat-lover this is my favourite too, as you can add flank, brisket, sirloin, tendon and even tripe, as well those addictively bouncy beefballs you can find in Asian supermarkets. And at the table, it's fun to tweak the toppings to your heart's content - a little more slivered onion, a touch more mint and a good dash of Sriracha chilli sauce. Here's my recipe for phở bò - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.
Making phở is a bit of a labour of love, but the process is straightforward and enjoyable and the end result is really worth the effort. Such a medley of colours and textures and flavours and scents is rarely found, and a bowl of steaming phở is a true joy to lift your soul on a chilly day.
My pho bo recipe on Channel 4 Food
Gordon Ramsay's Great Escapes - Vietnam
Monday 16 May on Channel 4 at 9 pm
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Sometimes, at night, I get cravings for something savoury to nibble on. A packet of Salt 'n' Shake crisps will usually do the trick but sometimes, more drastic measures are needed.
Times like these, I'll crack out a piece of pork belly from the fridge (yes, I do always have one in there) and I'll roast it using the method in my recipe here.
I'll change the seasoning depending on my fancy and what's in my cupboard - caraway and thyme, maple syrup and paprika, pomegranate molasses and ras el hanout, miso and shiso sprinkles, honey and black pepper, or just soy, ginger and garlic.
And then I'll chop the crisp yet wibbly pork belly into fat chunks, fling them into a bowl and chomp away on the piggy morsels as if they were popcorn or peanuts, but oh so much better.
Making it takes a little while, but it's worth the wait. Pork heaven. Pork bliss.
Talking of pork bliss, I'm one of the judges for Pork Off 2011. "What's that?" I hear you cry.
Pork Off 2011 is a challenge to create the porkiest dish imagineable and to write about it or blog it by Thursday 30 June 2011 with a link to the official Pork Off website http://porkoff2011.weebly.com/.
The best porkmeisters will be invited to recreate their dishes for the judges at the final Pork Off to be held at Galoupet in London at a date to be arranged, for a prize yet to be announced but undoubtedly glamourous.
Rules of entry and the form to sign up to Pork Off 2011 are here - please enter so I may feed my greedy pork-loving face on your ingenuity. If you do take part and you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #porkoff2011 so everyone can follow the fun.
Let the porking begin ...
Sunday, 8 May 2011
A new series of Gordon's Great Escapes hosted by Gordon Ramsay starts tonight (Monday 9 May) on Channel 4.
In the last series, Ramsay explored India, but this time round he's taking on four countries. The focus is South East Asia, and so he's travelling to Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand to taste and to have a go at cooking the local cuisines.
I'm delighted to say that some of my own recipes are being featured on the Channel 4 website which accompanies Ramsay's new series.
Gordon's first stop is Cambodia, so here's my recipe for Amok Trei or Fish Amok - a Cambodian aka Khmer fish curry.
Amok is a coconut curry steamed gently in banana leaves (the Thais call their version "haw mok") and is considered by many to be the national dish of Cambodia. It's usually made with fish, but chicken, tofu and even snails are also used as the main protein.
The curry base of amok is a deeply fragrant paste known as kroeung, and it comprises a mix of fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime zest and leaves, galangal, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and dried red chillies pounded or blitzed together.
To this base is added coconut milk, eggs, sugar, fish sauce and prahok, a fish paste which is as integral to Cambodian cuisine as ngapi is to Burmese food. As prahok is a little hard to come by in the UK, shrimp paste eg belacan is okay as a substitute. Chunks of meaty white fish are then folded into this sauce and then the whole lot is steamed in banana leaf bowls.
Strictly speaking, an amok curry should also contain young, bitter morinda or nhor leaves (you could use a little holy basil or Swiss chard) as well as a rhizome called fingerroot - I've used ginger instead. As for the kaffir lime zest used in the kroeung, a fantastic substitute is the zest of the citron fruit which you can occasionally find in Indian shops, such as the little grocer on Drummond Street in London.
The crispy fried fish skin which you scatter on top is my own little twist to add textural variation - think fish scratchings.
The main thing to note is that an amok is meant to be slightly set (think chawan mushi) so you scoop soft spoonfuls of the luscious curry onto your rice as you eat.
My Fish Amok Recipe on Channel 4 Food
Gordon Ramsay's Great Escapes - Cambodia
Monday 9 May on Channel 4 at 9 pm
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
2011 saw a brave new world as MasterChef (aka MehsterChef) copied its Australian counterpart by installing a fancy piece of topiary and dragging out the already interminable extravaganza by showing us the previously untelevised audition stages.
Hopefuls prepared their top dish to win a place in the final 20 (twenty!), but the series began with a whimper as the best part of the show - the Invention Test - seemed to have been consigned to history. Where's the fun in watching people make the one dish they know by heart? Where's the creativity, the ingenuity?
Worse was the bizarrely humiliating format, as they were forced to wheel a tea-trolley of comestibles onto a stage and turn tricks for the gurning Gregg Wallace and John Torode. Hopes crushed, unsuccessful contenders wheeled their trolleys back off again under the eyes of their disappointed loved ones.
After two episodes of X-FactorChef, I got fed up and turned off - even the gruesome twosome blind-folding contestants and making them "feel their meat" failed to keep me hooked.
But then, but then, old habits die hard, and so I ended up tuning into the (three) finals. And it seemed that MasterChef might have got a bit good again. Despite the surreally uncomfortable sight of them cooking for John Torode's family, I rather enjoyed My Big Fat Bogan Wedding and the kangaroo ballsack challenge. And so ...
This year's three finalists are 26 year old Tim Anderson, 31 year old Tom Whitaker and 40 year old (but much younger-looking) Sara Danesin Medio.
Overblown music accompanies a montage of their journey so far - I spy what looks like a pimped-up Kinder Bueno and note that the trophy is ten times sexier than it used to be (phwoar, granite).
"One of these three shall join these exceptional people" drones voiceover lady India Fisher and I'm chuffed to see my favourites in the front of the previous winners.
YORK! Padawan Sarah was tortured by fish by her father and grandfather until one day, traumatised, she split into three different people. The other two versions of her ran off to smoke and do naughty things, whilst she comforted herself with bowls of pasta. True love saved her in the form of Doctor David who forced her to learn English and earn her keep in a pub.
Now an ITU sister, her life is stressful, probably made more so by the female youngling in her house whose presence is never explained. As for cooking, her flavours have always been there, but it's not till recently that it's looked beautiful too. She once made an unpleasantly orange soup.
PUTNEY! Tom Hardy lookalike (growl) Tom was exposed to dangerous levels of food as a child. In an effort to cure this terrible affliction, he turned to SCIENCE which found him leading a dangerous double life - supermarket dentist by day and cheese warehouse DJ by night.
He then discovered an affinity for cooking which he honed after three years in Rome, although Italian ethos rather than cuisine is his style.
Lucy is the love of his life and they are soon to be married, despite the fact she didn't like him when they met. He once made a dish that looked like a turd and got dissed by a clown.
WHITECHAPEL! Tim's tale is intro'ed by Perpetuum Mobile, our really old friend (was used to intro Dhruv Baker last year - so that means Tim's won, right? RIGHT?).
Sweetly bespectabled Garth Algar lookalike Tim hails from Wisconsin, the home of that culinary treat known as deep-fried cheese curds.
I've been to Wisconsin. Everything he says is true. Barbecues rock Wisconsin-style and now I'm craving brats and butterburgers.
For no apparent reason, Blur's Country House is used to illustrate Tim travelling to LA and then on to Japan where he studied the art of noodle culture (I kid you not - this reminds me, a cousin once rang up my mum, a doctor, concerned that his love of instant ramen would cause him to develop "noodle face". My brother, also a doctor, had told him this was a genuine disease).
Tim also became a taiko drum master and met Laura, English lass and fellow matsuri lover, and got her drunk enough on beer and cheese that she brought him home with her to the Luxe to engage in a stilted conversation about mincemeat. He now sells beer and sketches excellent pictures. Dude rocks washoku and weird shit.
It's the Final Final Final and we're here in the new, improved and ridiculously cavernous studio!
As usual, John and Gregg begin to stalk the contestants to put them off their game and to issue random nonsense from their mouths.
"Polenta can often be crap, but Sara's Italian - she must be able to make it". Ah yes, John, because all English cooks can make Yorkshire puddings and all Indian cooks can make naan.
Tim's making "Burgers, noodles and British puddings". Gourmet Gregg is terribly worried that he'll end up with a bowl of "wet noodles", but can't wait to get his cock, sorry, spoon into the puddings (Food Urchin made me say that).
John's worried about a flavour clash, though excited by Tim's "Wah-GOO","GUY-oza" and "Shee-SHO" (he and the voiceover lady really need to look at FORVO).
Tom wants to win because he's never been the best at anything ever ever ever and is prepared to sacrifice a pig (and his finger) in order to see this through. And if that fails, the fried things, soft things and crispy things should do it.
TASTING TIMETOM'S DISHES:
- Pan-fried fillet of gurnard, octopus pease pudding and mollusc ragoût of whelks, winkles and razor clams
- Saddle of suckling pig stuffed with walnuts, black pudding and oats, on smoked pomme purée, deep fried pigs trotter crubeens, crispy pig’s ear salad, and creamy pork honey sauce
- Seashore and hedgerow: carrageen moss vanilla pudding, oat biscuit crumble, quince and rosehip coulis, elderflower jelly and crystallised mint leaves
The starter is fab save for the peas, which are undercooked and still firm.
As for the main, Gregg says it's highly original. I guess he does eat at Harvester a lot.
Anyway, Tom's smoked mash is unnerving me.
Pudding - and Gregg is over-excited about Tom's "moss flavoured custard". Carageen yeah? Just a seaweed version of gelatine (cf agar).
Anyway, Tom's elderflower jelly is unnerving me.
VERDICT: they'd book his restaurant in an instant.
- Chocolate ravioli stuffed with partridge and ricotta served with partridge demi-glace sauce, and beurre noisette with parmesan
- Mango parfait topped with passion fruit glaze and lime and vodka nitro-sorbet
- Saddle of hare served on blackberry jam with crispy thyme-scented polenta, parsnip silk, chestnut purée and a medley of autumn mushrooms
John thinks the starter is beautiful and well-executed on every level; Gregg loves the "meaty partridge as smooth as you like" and wants to give it a kiss.
Gregg is completely surprised by the main and didn't expect that combo of flavours. I guess he does eat at Harvester a lot.
The pudding is dreamy and refreshing for Gregg, but lacks a dimension for John.
VERDICT: this is restaurant quality food.
- Tri-City Sliders: The Los Angeles Slider of Wagyu Beef Tartare, Smoky Beer and Jalapeño Marmalade, Avocado and Butter Bean Mousse, The Tokyo Slider of Monkfish Liver, Umeboshi Ketchup, Jellied Ponzu, Matcha Mayonnaise, and The London Slider of Curried Lamb Cheeseburger, Apple and Ale Chutney, Raita Mayonnaise, all served on Beer Buns
- Kyushu-Style Pork Ramen with Pork Belly, Truffled Lobster Gyoza topped with Porcini crisps, Julienned Rhubarb and Spring Onion and served with Aromatic Oils and Pork Broth
- Sticky Toffee Crème Brûlée with Blackcurrant Stout Sauce, Deep-fried Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Ball and Cheddar Cheesecake with Whiskey Jelly
Gregg is reduced to giggles by the radish highs of the starter and dubs Tim a clever old stick. John's not keen on the sweet curried lamb, but admits that that's his palate - mainly he's flabberghasted that Tim made everything from scratch in time, including the sour pickled plums. This astonishment carries through to the main and the pudding - it's inventive, delicious and incredible that he managed it all.
VERDICT: Tim says "That went better than expected". Bless you for your understatement.
So the three contestants leave the room, and John and Gregg froth at the mouth about what Tim, Tom and Sara have achieved. Gregg says "You could eat out every day for two months and still not experience food like that". I guess he does eat at Harvester a lot.
John's beside himself at Tom's ability to make nose-to-tail British food wonderful and sexy and by the fact that he exploded a pig in their honour, Gregg's orgasmic at Sara's chocolate ravioli and her Italian soul, and they're both overcome by Tim's chutzpah, quirkiness and talent.
But as well we know, there can be only one.
Strangely melancholy music plays as the three come back into the hangar-like studio and after the cliched dramatic pause ...
Tim is announced as the worthy winner for making every one of John's senses tingle.
Incredulous, the young man steps up to get his trophy (with the words "You're kidding?" - yes, Tim - that really is the only prize).
"If you're gonna spew, spew into this"
And in an unexpected turn of events, instead of the traditional "shout into the mobile phone to say that they've won", Tim's wife Laura appears in person to congratulate her conquering hero.
WATCH A CLIP FROM THE GRIPPING FINAL
All screencaps/photos copyright BBC/SHINE