Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Phil Howard of the Square - Chef MasterClass

The Square Cookbook - Volume 1 - Savoury

The Square in London has been around since 1991 and, during that time, it has built a reputation for understated excellence, earning two Michelin stars along the way. 

This is in no small part down to its chef and co-owner Philip Howard - one of the few "named" chefs who can still be found in the kitchen.

Howard was recently voted Chef's Chef of the Year at the National Restaurant Awards, and I was pleased to play a small role in The Kitchen Foundation from the Square - his Masterclass series where he shares culinary tips, tricks and secrets which he has gleaned and developed over the years.

These videos are to celebrate the Square's 21st Birthday and also to promote Howard's new cookbook The Square Cookbook - Volume 1 - Savoury - a real labour of love, documenting over 100 savoury recipes from the Square. 

I have just been given a copy and it's been a while since I've seen such a stunning (and hefty) tome. 

Volume 2 - Sweet comes out from Absolute Press in June next year.

Kitchen Foundation, Produce (Part 1)

Kitchen Foundation, Cold Foods (Mayonnaise)

The whole Kitchen Foundation series can be found here

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

EAT. and the Rise of the Culinary Travesty

How I feel about EAT.

I work in the City. Lunch options are scanty - throw a stone and you'll hit an identikit franchise serving variations on the same inedible theme - Pret, EAT., Chop'd, Tossed, Crussh.

Bitter experience should have taught me that whenever one of these places launches a new dish, it won't be any good, yet foolish hope springs eternal and on occasion I will return.

More recently I've come across instances of what might even be called cultural insensitivity.

EAT. are by far the worst culprit - here are just three examples of how their R & D department are completely rubbish.

EAT. travesty 1: Udon Ramen
Udon Ramen

Exhibit 1: Their "Udon Ramen". Udon Ramen. UDON RAMEN.

Udon is one type of Japanese noodle. Ramen is an entirely different type of Japanese noodle. This dish of theirs actually comprises a vague stock plus udon noodles. So it's udon. Not ramen.

It's the equivalent of a restaurant serving a dish called Rice Pasta, or Spring Roll Cannelloni.


EAT. travesty 2: Laksa Pho
Laksa Pho

Exhibit 2: Their "Laksa Pho". As if confusing two types of noodles wasn't enough, EAT. also manage to conflate whole dishes.

Laksa is a Malay/Singaporean dish of round egg noodles (sometimes also rice vermicelli) in a pungent, curried soup.

Pho is a Vietnamese dish of flat rice noodles in a clear, aromatic stock.


EAT. menu of travesty
Hells, no

Exhibit 3: I relate this one with a deep sense of sadness.

I'm walking past EAT. and see a sign for their new Hot Pots. I pop in out of curiosity, but I'm taken aback to see the whiteboard which says, "Burmese Chicken Curry".

Knowing EAT's track record for butchering "ethnic" cuisines, I walk straight out distraught. I thought I was safe - Burmese food is obscure, right?!

A few minutes later, I pluck up the courage to return.

I say, voice cracking, "Burmese Chicken Curry please", and the server yells, "Chicken Curry!" and every single one of the other staff yell back at him, "It's Chicken Hot Pot!". Already the dish is losing its identity.

EAT. "Burmese Chicken Curry"
The sight that greeted me

I scurry back to my desk and remove the lid. It looks like it's been eaten already, and I dry-heave.

I'm struck by a cloyingly coconutty scent. So that's the first thing wrong - we use coconut in two savoury dishes and that's about it -
  1. the Burmese equivalent to laksa (ohn-no khao swe); and 
  2. coconut rice (ohn-htamin).
Poking the surface gingerly, I spot bright green edamame beans and carrots. The Burmese only eat edamame that's been dried and then deep-fried, and carrots are very hard to come by (and we only use them in Chinese dishes anyway). Strike 2.

EAT. "Burmese Chicken Curry" Close-up
Slop in a cup

The carbohydrate under the slop is wild rice. Now Burma may once have been known as the rice bowl of Asia, but we have never produced wild rice - a Burmese person in Burma wouldn't be able to tell you what it was. Strike 3.

Sighing, I bring a spoonful to my mouth and chew. It tastes like a cheap, overly sweet Japanese curry, with the stringiest chunks of chicken breast.

Weirdest is the hit of chilli throughout. And guess what - the Burmese don't put chilli in our curries.

I'm done.

You might be thinking - what's the big deal: people have been tweaking recipes for centuries?

The big deal is that such tweaking ends up eroding the cuisine, even if the tweaking is an improvement (and this really isn't - it's more of an insult to said cuisine).

Burmese food isn't remotely well-known enough that it can withstand this kind of mucking about. The majority of punters won't know how the dishes ought to be, and so will take it as gospel that eg the Burmese dish mohinga uses cod (it doesn't), or that Burmese duck egg curry uses shrimp paste (it doesn't), rather than realising that the ingredients or methods have been changed at the whim of the chef.

Cuisines which are arguably well established in the UK have already suffered in this way - you wouldn't get Spaghetti Bolognaise, Chop Suey or Chicken Tikka Masala in their supposed countries of origin.

But at least those dishes and their names exist in their own right, and most people realise that they aren't authentic.

Whereas EAT. is declaring that Ramen IS Udon, and thus wilfully misleading the masses who aren't yet as familiar with Japanese (or Vietnamese or Burmese) cuisine.

I'm all for experimentation, but if EAT. are going to claim that a dish is a dish, they ought to get that dish right (with exceptions for ingredients that are genuinely obscure - though in that case, they shouldn't be seeking to mass produce that dish).

Dearest EAT., please keep developing new products, but if you're delving into new cuisines, you have to consult someone who actually knows what they're talking about before you slap a label on something and stick it on your shelves.

This is an open invitation to call me by the way ...

This post was inspired by Mr Noodles of Eat Love Noodles who is better at rants than me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Easy Kimchi Recipe

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Killer Kimchi

Kimchi. Practically the national dish of Korea, this potent pickle is pungent, sour, spicy and unnecessarily delicious.

It works well as a condiment or side dish, in stews and curries, with rice and noodles, and even in a sandwich or bun - in fact, a kimchi hotdog seems to be de rigueur these days.

Till recently, I've been lazy and got packets or tubs of the stuff from Oriental supermarkets, but I discovered that it's both cheap and easy to make yourself. This is a good thing as I recently had to make a shed-load for my Momofuku tribute dinner Lunchy Peach.

The recipe looks long but I wanted to show you all the steps - it's really straightforward.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Korean Pepper Flakes and Burmese Shrimp Paste

And you can tweak the flavours (saltier, sweeter, sourer) so it tastes even better than shop-bought.

(Burmese) shrimp paste, similar to belacan, is my secret ingredient for extra umami - other recipes add chopped-up oysters, dried shrimp or squid, but you could do without and just ramp up the fish sauce.

I've gone for traditional Chinese leaf (aka napa cabbage here), but feel free to free-style and use daikon, cucumber, and even carrots instead ...

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Chinese Leaf

It will stink out your house, but it's so worth it.

And at this time of year, it's one of the best foods to blast away a cold.

Easy Kimchi Recipe
Makes a massive tub


  • Chinese leaf, 3 heads
  • 100g salt
  • 200g glutinous rice flour
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 bulb of garlic, peeled
  • 2 fat pieces of ginger, both ~ 4 inches long, peeled
  • 100g Korean chilli flakes*
  • 100ml fish sauce, a good quality one like Three Crabs
  • 50g shrimp paste (belacan) - optional
  • Bunch of spring onions/scallions

  • 1 large basin or bowl - enough to take the Chinese leaf
  • Tupperware or jars with screw top or clip lids totalling ~ 5 litres capacity.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Soak the Chinese leaf

Wash the Chinese leaf and then cut into chunks about two inch square. Soak in a basin of cold water with the salt for an hour.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Make the rice paste

Meanwhile, mix the glutinous rice flour with the sugar and 750ml cold water in a saucepan and then bring to the boil and stir till it bubbles like a cauldron and becomes a translucent paste. Leave to cool.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Shred the spring onions and ginger

Shred half the spring onions (both white and green parts) and one piece of ginger into slivers about 2 inches long.

Mince the garlic, the other piece of ginger and the rest of the spring onion (I use a mini chopper).

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Mix the Kimchi marinade ingredients - the brown stuff is the shrimp paste

Add the minced veg to the cooled rice paste, then whisk in the chilli flakes, fish sauce, and shrimp paste.

Lastly add the shredded spring onions and ginger. This is your kimchi marinade.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Final kimchi marinade

Drain and thoroughly rinse the Chinese leaf with cold running water (it will have shrunk down a little) and then squeeze the leaf to get rid of as much moisture as possible.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Drain the Chinese leaf

Then, using the same basin in which you soaked the leaf, mix the Chinese leaf with the kimchi marinade, coating it thoroughly.

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Marinated kimchi ready for packing

Taste a little and adjust if necessary, eg add more fish sauce or a little sugar, but bear in mind that the flavours will develop and get stronger over time. You can actually eat it straight away, but why would you?

Press down firmly in the Tupperware or jars and seal, making sure you leave a couple of inches of air space above the kimchi - as it ferments, gas will be produced and you really don't want an explosion.

Kimchi Making by meemalee

Keep at room temperature for about two days (one day in warm weather) and wait for the fermentation to start.

You'll know it's worked when bubbles start to form on the surface and it smells sour, and you may even hear a small hissing noise.

Then store the kimchi in the fridge and let the flavours develop - I think the optimum time is a week to eat "as is", and a fortnight for cooking with.

Eat the kimchi within a month (although you'll probably finish it sooner like I did).

Kimchi Making by meemalee
Lovely, lovely kimchi

*Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru) are also labelled Korean red pepper, red pepper flakes or hot pepper powder in Oriental supermarkets. It's a bright red rather than a rusty colour. Turkish red pepper flakes are a good substitute, but not standard chilli powder or crushed chillies. I got my Korean pepper flakes from Centrepoint Food Store in London, but you can buy them online at Sous Chef.