Black pepper prawns (Firecracker prawns)

You can always tell if you’re truly comfortable with someone when you’re willing to get down and dirty with a plate of sticky finger food in their company – whether it’s wings, ribs or a mound of shellfish, nothing says “he/she’s a good’un” like a willingness to get stuck in, get sauce smeared everywhere and do lots of finger-licking! In this dish that’s all pretty much compulsory, no cutlery is needed or wanted here.

Black pepper prawns

Despite the quantity of hot ingredients – 3 types of pepper, lots of ginger, chilli – this isn’t an insanely hot dish (though it does have a kick!). The Szechuan pepper not only makes your lips tingle, but it had a slight numbing effect too, leaving you hungry for more. It may seem odd to use butter in a clearly Oriental dish, but it creates a gorgeously unctuous sauce and – fusion-sceptics note – really is the best.

Firecracker pepper prawns
Serves 2

300g raw shell-on jumbo king prawns, trimmed of legs & straggly bits
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
100g butter
15-20g fresh ginger, finely diced
1 red chilli, finely diced (as hot as you like)
3 fat garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 spring onions, chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice

In a large wok toast the peppercorns for a minute or two until very aromatic, then tip into a pestle & mortar and crush roughly. Don’t over pound them, you want bits of peppercorn, not dust.

Melt the butter in the wok then fry the ginger, chilli and garlic for a couple of minutes until tender but not browned. Throw in the crushed pepper, the prawns, oyster sauce, soy sauce and most of the spring onions. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the prawns are cooked through (they should be completely opaque, with no trace of grey on their shells), finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, and the reserved spring onions and serve immediately.

To eat, suck the sauce off the prawn shells one at a time, peel off the shell and dunk the prawn back in the sauce. Suck the heads if you’re feeling brave (it’s where a lot of the prawn’s best juice is!). Crusty bread for mopping up the spare sauce is hardly authentically Oriental but works wonderfully, alternatively give each person a little bowl of steamed basmati or jasmine rice.

Continue reading “Black pepper prawns (Firecracker prawns)”

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Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)In my worklife my recipe writing revolves around straightforward meals anyone can make, using ingredients that are easily available to everyone, no matter where they live.  So it is such joy to come home and write about something that – hah! – if you want to make it you’re going to have to do some searching.  Banana flowers do not grow at your local co-op (unless you actually live in Vietnam or Thailand) and you can’t get them in Sainsbury’s, not now, not ever.  But I beseech you to seek them out anyway, and make this salad, as it is utterly sublime and so worth it, and if it means making a special trip to a town somewhere a bit far away that has a Vietnamese supermarket* then you can have a little adventure on the way.  Who said food always has to be about churning out dinner as quickly as possible from the contents of your cupboards? Let’s live a little!

Vietnamese banana flower
Banana flowers growing in situ in a Vietnamese garden

Tackling something as unfamiliar as a banana flower can be a little daunting if you don’t have an expert on hand to talk you through it, but there’s an excellent photographic guide here over on the blog ‘Cannundrums’ which explains it far better than I could!

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)
Serves 2 as a main course

1 banana flower
2 small chicken breasts
4 small sour green star fruit (again from the Vietnamese store) or 2 large yellow ones
1 tbsp caster sugar
Handful toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
juice of 4 limes
2-3 red chillies, finely sliced
2-3 tbsp fish sauce
A few shakes of sesame oil
Couple of pinches ground white pepper
a small bunch each of Vietnamese mint and coriander

Place the chicken breasts in a small pan and cover with water (or chicken stock), bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Pop a lid on, turn off the heat and leave the chicken to cook in the residual heat for a further 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool before shredding roughly.

Remove any loose or soft outer leaves from the banana flower, then cut into half lengthways and shred into fine strips with a large sharp knife. About 1/3 – 1/2 of the flower closest to the root will be made up of fluffy coiled buds – discard this section and use only the tightly coiled petals. Leave to soak in a bowl of water with half the lime juice whilst you get on with the rest of the salad.

Slice the star fruit and cover with the sugar and a little water to soak for 5 minutes to take the edge off the sourness (you wont need to do this if you’re using ripe yellow fruits – in fact you might want to add a little extra lime juice to get a good level of acidity in the final dish).

Mix the cooled and shredded chicken together the remaining lime juice, fish sauce, white pepper, chopped chilli and a little sesame oil.  Drain the banana flower and star fruit and toss together with the chicken and dressing.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce, lime or sesame.  Roughly shred the herbs and toss through the salad, then top with the chopped peanuts and sesame seeds. Serving on a spare banana flower petal is totally optional.

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)——————————————————————————————————-

*For me the best place to find these is Mare Street in North London which has several great South-East Asian stores or one of the Bangledeshi stores (of all places) in the Southern part of Brick Lane, but a quick Google search should sort you out if you’re further afield.

Chinese accompaniments: Umami-rich Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickle

Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickleTo my mind no oriental meal is complete without some rice and some pickles, and one of my favourite parts of any Chinese takeaway is the egg fried rice – for something so apparently simple it is something that has consistently gotten the better of me in the kitchen, never managing to recreate that wonderful simply savoury depth of flavour, so much so that I’d all but given up trying.

When I was planning some accompaniments to go with my Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce which I posted last week, I turned for advice to Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking and although I can never resist making a few tweaks to any recipe I follow, it turned out perfectly.  The pickles are a variation on hers too, and go wonderfully both with rice and dumplings, plus they keep for several days in the fridge so you can nibble them with anything else you have lying around – cheese or ham for instance.

Keep reading for my versions of both recipes…

Presto Pasta Nights #248 – The roundup

No sooner had the announcement been made that I was hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights then I had received the first entry, this stunning offering from La Caffettiera Rosa, a delicious seafood pasta with cannellini beans and mussels:

lacaffettierarosaNext up was Clarion of Preventing Culinary Amnesia with her classic Arrabbiata, a word which incidentally is Italian for ‘angry’, perfect for a dish of such spicyness:

ArrabbiataRuth, Queen Bee of Presto Pasta Nights and blogger over at Once Upon A Feast, contributed this delicious woodland-inspired ‘taste of the forest’ pasta with mushrooms, pancetta & arugula (that’s ‘rocket’ to you and me!) 🙂

Taste of the Forest Pasta Thus far all the pasta dishes have been pretty darn speedy supper recipes, but then in swept Nupur of UK Rasoi with a lovely step-by-step guide to making one of my favourite weekend meal projects: Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni:

Spinach and Ricotta CannelloniThe meatiest offering of the week came from Jules of Pictures of a princess, a spicy yet creamy Chicken Paprikash served on spätzle – the Germanic equivalent of Italy’s noodle, the name of which means ‘little sparrows’ for goodness-only-knows reason why!

Chicken paprikashShellfish got a rather glamorous makeover with this impressive entry from Tandy of Lavender & Lime – it’s time to apply for your fishing permit and do battle with the invading red signals so you can make this:  Crayfish ravioli with a bisque sauce

CRAYFISH RAVIOLI WITH A BISQUE SAUCEI’m not normally a big fan of vegan food (I do so love my cheese!) but Deb of Kahakai Kitchen might just have converted me with this scrumptious Super quick tomato basil ‘cream’ bucatini in which blitzed cashews take the place of dairy to make the sauce rich and creamy:

Super Quick Vegan Tomato Basil "Cream" BucatiniShelby, aka ‘HoneyB’ over at The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch broke with the so-far distinctly European vibe to produce this fabulous east-meets-west fusion of Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce on linguine:

Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce More globe trotting on the pasta front was going on over at Cook.Craft.Enjoy where the order of the day was a Paprika chicken stew with Pierogies – the delicious Polish dumplings that are halfway between ravioli and potato gnocchi:

Chicken Stew with PierogiesJoanne of Eats Well With Others joined in with an inspired healthy-meets-comfort food offering of Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese:

Broccoli-Basil Mac and CheeseWith a twist on a classic in a similar vein to Joanne, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast deserves super-praise for contributing not just one, but TWO entries for this week’s round up – her second one being her Insanely Delicious Mac ‘n Cheese with Kale:

Insanely Delicious Mac 'n Cheese with Kale And lastly, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution – an Asian cousin of ravioli – Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce:

← Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!) Presto Pasta Nights needs YOU! → Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceThat’s it!  I’ve loved hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights and hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup.  Next week the roundup returns to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast.

Presto pasta nights

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce

The provenance of this recipe is quite mixed – the leeks are of course quintessentially British, the soy and ginger in the dip are very Chinese (as is my accompaniment of egg fried rice), but I’ve added a touch of Vietnam too with the white peppercorns – a pungent and aromatic spice that is so different from regular black pepper, and which instantly transports me with memories of my honeymoon.  The result is, I think, a very happy fusion and quite unlike anything I’ve had in any restaurant, whether it be Chinese, Vietnamese or any other.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceMaking these gyoza is super-easy if – like me – you keep a packet of gyoza ‘skins’ or wrappers in the freezer. Commercially sold gyoza skins are so much thinner than anything you can make at home and are perfect for quick steamed dumplings like these (though if you want to pan-fry these you could of course make up a batch of your favourite dough – I like Ken Hom’s recipe). The wrappers take half an hour or so to defrost at room temperature (during which time you can be making the filling and the dipping sauce), but be sure to keep them under a damp cloth to stop them drying out.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce
Serves 4-6

550g minced pork (absolutely NOT the kind sold as ‘lean’ – it’s essential to have fat in there or the dumplings will be too dry)
1 large leek, finely diced
2 tbsp finely diced fresh ginger
1 tbsp white peppercorns, freshly ground
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 tbsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
35-40 gyoza wrappers (I use Imperial Dragon brand, bought from Wing Yip), defrosted if frozen

For the dipping sauce:
125ml rice vinegar
75g caster sugar
2cm ginger, finely diced or grated
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 hot red chilli, finely diced (a scotch bonnet, though not authentic, is tastiest, use a birdseye chilli – seeds and all – for a more traditional flavour)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime

Start the dipping sauce first, as the gyoza are actually very quick to make. Start by dissolving the sugar with the vinegar in a small saucepan over a low heat, then increase the heat and simmer vigorously until it has reduced by about a third and is quite syrupy. Allow this to cool then stir in the remaining ingredients.

For the gyoza, simply mix together all the filling ingredients, then assemble them one at a time (to stop them drying out too much) by placing a heaped spoonful of filling in the centre of each gyoza wrapper, running a wet finger around the edge (this becomes the ‘glue’), then folding over into a semi-circle and pressing together gently to seal, expelling any air as you go. Place them on a baking tray and keep them covered whilst you do the rest. They keep for a day in the fridge, tightly covered with clingfilm, or they freeze well. To cook, line a large steamer basket with a sheet of greaseproof paper and lay the gyoza onto it in a single layer, not touching each other (they stick easily). Steam for 4-5 minutes until the pork is just cooked through – it is important not to overcook them as the filling will become bouncy and tough rather than tender and meltingly soft.

This recipe makes around 35-40 dumplings, a generous 4 portions if accompanied by rice and pickles, or they will obviously serve more if you are having them alone as a starter.  I served them with egg fried rice and some speedy carrot & cucumber pickles, the recipes of which will follow soon…..

Gyoza

Vietnamese Caramel Pork

Vietnamese Caramel Pork Continuing my theme of easy suppers entitled ‘Chris’s Dishes‘, this is one of my favourite weeknight meals, and because hubby doesn’t love his pork in quite the same way I do, it’s the one I treat myself to most often when he’s away. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I can eat this whole quantity by myself in one sitting – it’s that good.  Caramel and pork may not seem to be automatic partners in the kitchen, but its classic Vietnamese, and although this South-East Asian cuisine can appear scary and/or complicated to the uninitiated, this is actually a super-simple tasty dinner.   Vietnamese food is characterised by the use of three key things: fresh herbs, fish sauce and sugar.  Although this recipe is missing the first as it’s one of my ‘storecupboard staple’ recipes made from what I always have in the kitchen, it’s got plenty of the other two ingredients, and is my version of a classic dish.

To balance the sweetness of the caramel, the pork is also flavoured with lots of spicy chilli, sour lime and vinegar, and punchy fish sauce.  Don’t be scared of the fish sauce – it makes the dish taste deliciously savoury, not fishy!  Crispy, crunchy meat full of mouth-popping flavours, and thrown together in just 15 minutes: heaven.  This needs nothing more than a heap of basmati rice*, which can be cooked in the same amount of time as the pork.

Vietnamese Caramel Pork
Serves 2, with leftovers

500g minced pork (not the kind sold as ‘lean’ – you need some fat!)
75g caster sugar
2 limes, juice only
1-2 hot red chillis, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 spring onions, roughly chopped

Put all the ingredients apart from the pork and the spring onions into a medium saucepan along with 2 tbsp water and bring gently to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and boil for a couple of minutes until it has reduced and gone slightly syrupy.

Meanwhile fry the mince in a big splash of oil in a large frying pan. Keep the heat high and don’t move the meat about too much, so that it has a chance to brown thoroughly. It will go from quite soft to super-crisp very suddenly when the excess moisture in the meat cooks off: at this point stir in the caramel, cook for one minute more and taste for seasoning – careful, it’ll be hot!

Serve with white rice*, and a scattering of spring onion.

————

*P.S. I always follow Delia Smith’s recipe for cooking rice, and have never had anything other than a perfect result. You can find the method here

Wagamama

Chilli Beef RamenMany years ago, when I was still new to the food blogging lark and lived a relatively sheltered life away from the capital, a friend told me about a sensation that was sweeping the country – Wagamama. Back then the notion that there was oriental food other than Chinese and sushi, and that you might sit on benches elbow-to-jowl with complete strangers to eat your food outside of school dining rooms was rather novel. Hard to imagine these days when you can hardly turn a corner without bumping into a noodle bar, but as it turns out, when I discovered it Wagamama wasn’t new at all – their first restaurant opened in 1992.

Quality chain restaurants are one of the restaurant trends of the past decade which I genuinely am happy for (although I know there are some who think they’re anathema). The likes of Wagamama, Itsu, and Pizza Express may not serve haute cuisine, but they all serve tasty food at a reasonable price, and you can be sure that the menu item you loved in Birmingham will be just as tasty as the one you have in Edinburgh. True, you can make the same boast about McDonalds (although maybe not with the word ‘tasty’ included), but Wagamama and its fellows serve real food cooked by real chefs and it’s still as consistent as the nasty slop pumped out by the machines at Burger HQ factory.

Nowadays, living in London and over-exposed to a wealth of restaurants so vast it would take a lifetime to scratch the surface, I still find myself going back to Wags (as its known both in my household and at work) on a regular basis, and I’m not the only one. Scarcely a week goes by without a group from work having lunch there, and visiting friends on the lookout for a pre-theatre bite are always drawn to the now familiar black, white and red sign which seems to be on every second street. The secret with Wagamama is to stick to the core menu – there are dishes on there which are iconic for a reason. Katsu curry is so universally popular that, now that they’ve introduced a vegetarian version, at a recent lunch with twelve other people all but one of them ordered it. I don’t order it anymore, but that’s because I became so addicted to it my husband and I devoted insane amounts of time to working out the top-secret recipe, and now I cook it at home instead.

For the novices amongst you, I thought I’d revisit my original trip to Wagamama, formerly published on Souperior at its old Blogger home, republished here [with edits] out of pure nostalgia.
keep reading……