Friday, 12 August 2016

Cheeky little beggars

I like pigs cheeks. In actual fact I love them. I first had them at Roast in London (claaang!), and if I ever see them on menus will always go for them. I've cooked many many pigs cheeks as well, and the following recipe is a real beauty.

Slow Braised Spiced Pigs Cheeks 

This recipe couldn’t really be easier, and can be made to look really snazzy (just put less on the plate than I did here and you can make it look pretty elegant). The ingredient list and method looks long and arduous, but there is very little that is challenging. Plus, if you want to impress, it’s worth the investment in time. You can of course omit a couple of the garnishes, like the fried shallots and chorizo, but if you’re having a Dee Pee (dinner party!), you should keep them in. It’s almost a one pot wonder, but the real beauty is that the timing isn’t all that crucial. If you’re in a hurry, then perhaps it’s not the recipe for you today, but if you’ve a few things to do and aren’t sure what time you’ll be eating, it’s perfect as you have leeway at the back end of the cooking time. In actual fact, if you do cook it early then allow to cool and reheat when you need it, you’ll find it tastes even better. Better still the next day, as the flavours will have got pretty friendly the day before, then spent a cheeky night together!

Serves 4

Braised Pigs Cheeks
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Red Onions finely sliced 
  • 4 Fat Garlic Cloves (see notes)
  • 12 Pigs Cheeks
  • Seasoned Flour (salt, pepper, garlic powder)
  • 600ml Good Beef Stock
  • 250ml Medium Sweet Sherry
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Cumin Powder 
  •  ½ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Turmeric
  • 1 Rounded Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 50g Cold Unsalted Butter Diced
  • 1 Teaspoon Corn flour (might not be needed)
  • Cooking chorizo, cut in to very small cubes

To Serve

Mashed Parsnip and Potato
  • Floury Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Salted Butter
  • Cream
  • Seasoning
Shredded Cabbage
  • Hispi Cabbage (the pointy one)
  • 3 Banana Shallots
  • Butter 
  • Seasoning
Crispy Shallots
  • 3 Banana Shallots
  • Vegetable Oil for frying
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika 
And finally...
  • Cooking Chorizo sliced length ways

Method for the Pigs Cheeks 

1. In a stove top casserole with a lid, heat a little olive oil and fry the cubed chorizo until it releases its own oil. Then add the onions and fry gently for a good 10 minutes. They should end up shiny and soft (and red from the chorizo). Taste them, if they are nice and sweet, you’re done, if not, keep going but don’t allow them to catch or burn as they will taste slightly acrid (perfect for hot dogs though!)
2. In another frying pan, heat some more oil, dust the cheeks in the seasoned flour and fry them in batches. Allow them to get nice and brown, with a bit of crispiness ideally.
3. When the cheeks are all browned, add them to the pan with the onions and chorizo in.
4. In the pan that you fried the cheeks in, there should be some caramelised filth on the bottom of the pan, keep the heat on and pour in 100ml of the sherry. Scrape all the bits off the bottom of the pan and reduce the heat. Allow the sherry to bubble away until it is half its original volume. It should be a bit thicker and syrupy. (Taste a bit with a teaspoon…. this gives the dish a real rich depth of flavour)
5. Put the heat back on under the onion pan with the browned cheeks, and add the garlic (having crushed it), the paprika, cumin, cayenne and turmeric and allow to come up to a high heat. Cook away for about 2 minutes, then add the remaining sherry. You want it to bubble and sizzle, (you might get a flame or two as well), then stir everything together making sure you scrape the bottom of the pan as well.
6. Add the reduced sherry mixture, but retain about a tablespoon of it.
7. Add the beef stock and bring to the boil very briefly, then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 1 hour, then with the lid off for another hour (doesn’t matter if this turns in to an hour and a half). After this, you can allow to cool if you are serving later.
8. When you are ready to serve (having reheated if allowed to cool), add the cold cubed butter. Depending on how vigorous your simmering was, this may be enough to thicken it so that the sauce is nice and shiny. If you think it still seems a bit thin, mix the corn flour with a splash of cold water, and stir in bit by bit. As with everything else, do it a bit at a time until perfect, as opposed to whacking it all in and ending up with a meat jelly that you then need to thin out again!

Method for the potato and parsnip mash 

1. Peel and chunk up your potatoes. Boil these in salted water for 10 minutes. While they are boiling, peel and chunk up your parsnips, removing the tough inner core near the thick end. You want about a 50/50 mix so use as many as you want depending on how hungry you are.
2. Add the parsnips to the potatoes and boil for a further 10 minutes.
3. Check that both the potatoes and the parsnips are soft, drain, then place in a food processor. Add butter and cream until you have a lovely smooth puree. You want it to hold its form, so don’t go too mad with the cream. Season, tasting as you go. Using salted butter means you shouldn’t need too much salt. (If you don’t have a food processor, then just mash them together with a masher, or a fork, and keep mashing until smooth. Mash first, then beat in the butter and cream with a wooden spoon. Doing it this way means you’ll still end up with a nice smooth puree)
4. Keep the puree warm until needed

Method for the Shredded Cabbage 

1. Remove the core from the hispi cabbage, and separate the leaves. Cut out the inner spine, then roll a few leaves up together, and slice as finely as you possibly can.
2. Peel and Slice the banana shallots as finely as you can as well, then gently fry these in melted butter until soft and translucent.
3. Add the cabbage to the pan and cook gently with the shallots and season well with salt and pepper. As you’ve removed the tough parts of the cabbage, it actually cooks in a surprisingly small amount of time. You want the cabbage to retain a bit of a crunch to add a bit of texture to this otherwise soft and squidgy dish so cook this at the last minute to retain this crunch. If you keep it warm, it will go soft, however it will still taste delicious.

Method for the Crispy Shallots 

1. Finely slice the shallots
2. Pour vegetable in to a small pan to about a 1 inch depth and heat until about 180c. Drop a small piece of shallot in, if it sizzles then you’re ready to go.
3. Drop all the shallots in to the hot oil and fry until they are brown. Drain them and put on to kitchen roll. Give them a stir about with a chopstick or spoon to try and get as much of the oil off as possible. Leave them in a warm oven and they should crisp up nicely. When ready to serve, season with salt, and the smoked paprika and shake it all together.

Method for the Chorizo garnish 

1. Slice the cooking chorizo length ways, about half a centimetre wide. You can either fry these strips until crispy, or put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, then put another layer of parchment over the top, then put another baking sheet on top. Put in the oven at about 180c and leave until crispy, shouldn’t take much more than ten minutes.

To Serve 

1. Spoon a decent portion of the potato and parsnip mix on to a plate. If you are going for the snazzy approach, it’s nice to use a piping bag and pipe a nice “mountain” on to the plate, like a big walnut whip!
2. Place a portion of the cabbage on the plate about the size of two cheeks, then place two cheeks on top of the cabbage.
3. Pour some sauce over the cheeks, then sprinkle the whole dish with crispy shallots.
4. Place a chorizo strip in to the potato mountain
5. Finally, drizzle each dish with the retained porky sherry syrup
6. Serve. If you have very hungry guests, you could always add another veg. Glazed carrots go particularly nicely. However, it is highly likely that your guests would prefer to save room for the 3rd cheek rather than fill up on root veg!!

As you can see, the recipe can be easily scaled up if you have more guests, and it makes for an impressive looking dish. The two plates with only one cheek were for the kids. They both came back for more!

Supermarket garlic is mostly terrible in my experience. Generally, very small bulbs with tiny little cloves that lack flavour. Try farm shops, or smaller independent shops (we have a Costcutter near us, that surprisingly has amazing fruit and veg for instance!) Or, treat yourself to a bunch from the garlic farm on the Isle of Wight (well worth a visit). Might cost a bit more, but it lasts for ages if you leave it on the stems with all the others and hang in your kitchen in sunlight if possible. If you keep garlic in a pot or cupboard then it thinks it’s been planted and starts to grow green shoots. When this happens, you lose the strong, pungent garlic flavour.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Korean Style Pork Skewers

I might have mentioned somewhere that I like pork. Add a sticky marinade, a crispy outside and an unctuous middle and I am pretty much in heaven. If you are also of that persuasion then this recipe is likely to be one that you use over and over again, as I do. It's loosely based on an old Marks and Spencers recipe book (so old that it was branded St Michael, I think it was from the 70s) that my mum had. Goodness knows what happened to the book, but this was the go to marinade when my dad fired up the old barbie. 


150 ml Olive Oil
150 ml Dark Soy Sauce
3 Crushed Garlic Cloves
1 tsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
3 Tbs Crunchy Peanut Butter
Ground Black Pepper
A good squirt of lemon juice.

It's as simple as that! Mix everything together, you should end up with a fairly thick glossy marinade. Use whatever cut of pork you fancy, I used cubed shoulder steaks which you would think would be tough, however I used my newly found favourite way of cooking things like this. Called the "reverse sear". 

The Reverse Sear - The technique was developed by J. Kenji López-Alt, who is the culinary director of Serious Eats. He noticed that when searing meat first then roasting, it was very difficult to achieve the same level of "doneness" across the entire cut. Noticed most when roasting joints, the outside would be well done, with the inside really rare, as a result of searing the meat first "to keep the juices in". This theory turns out to be an absolute load of cobblers. You sear the meat to kick off the maillard reaction which is where your flavour comes from. So J.Kenji Lopez-Alt turned the entire process on it's head. Why not cook the meat slowly to begin with to get the meat to your desired stage (rare, medium etc) then give it a good sear at the end to achieve the amazing flavours you get from the blackening and caramelisation that goes on.(To be fair to the French, the Sous Vide method of cooking uses this exact same theory so J.Kenji wasn't really that ground breaking!) You can do this on a BBQ by setting it up for indirect cooking, and cooking at a low temp, then setting it up for direct cooking at a high heat. You could also just as easily do this in a conventional oven for the low and slow part, then whack it under a screaming hot grill for the "sear". Give it a try, you'll soon be converted I'm sure. 

This is the indirect cooking stage. You can just see a large heat deflector in the Big Green Egg under the griddle, that directs the heat around the food rather directly at it. You can do this in a traditional BBQ by lighting the coals, then when they are hot, push them all the way over to one side, and place your meat on the other side with a drip tray, or like I do with skewers over a tray.

Then, when it's time to sear the meat, put the meat directly on the griddle over the hot coals.

These skewers are delicious served with salad, cheese, sauces etc in tacos or tortillas, however my current favourite (and healthy) way of eating them is like the Koreans do, where they use crispy lettuce leaves as the "wrap". The Chinese do this as well, and they really are on to something!! Here, I used grated carrot, sliced red peppers, grated Parmesan cheese, French's mustard and mayonnaise. The marinade/glaze is a very strong flavour and still comes through wonderfully against all the other flavours that are competing for your brains approval. 

I urge you to try this method. It may change the way you cook meat forever!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Tonkatsu Pork - Kind of

I've been on a health kick of late, well, since Christmas. I've lost a significant amount of weight, but haven't stopped cooking and eating really tasty and different food. All I've done is replace the obvious carbs (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes) with less obvious alternatives. I'm trying to make the meat we eat special, then pickling all sorts of veg to go alongside, and eating an awful lot of Chinese Leaf cabbage. Is it cabbage, or is it lettuce? Not really sure, however the Japanese eat a lot of it with fried bread-crumbed pork, so I thought it worth a try. It's fair to say that I fell for it hook line and sinker either with home made Tonkatsu sauce, or Bulldog brand Tonkatsu purchased online at Sous Chef (like many of the odder ingredients I seek out). Tonkatsu is kind of like a Worcestershire sauce ketchup, but please don't let that put you off!!!

The traditional Japanese version is simply a boneless pork chop, battered out a little thinner, they then pané the chop (passing through flour, then egg, then panko breadcrumbs) and deep fry or shallow fry but in deeper oil than perhaps under normal circumstances. They then serve simply as per the picture with very finely shredded Chinese leaf, and some Tonkatsu sauce. I'm not sure if I prefer the sauce on the meat or on the leaves, so usually end up with both! 

The reason I've called it "kind of" Tonkatsu is because we had it as a family for the first time, and one of my daughters suggested that it would be nice with mozzarella cheese inside. Of course, their wish is my command under all circumstances (?!?!) so I thought I'd give it a go. Having had some interesting experiences with stuffing various cuts of meat, usually ending up with the need to cover my creation with sauce due to the explosion of molten cheese, I thought about encasing the cheese in another of my favourite things. Parma ham. 

 I cut a good sized pouch in to my boneless pork chop. Then took a nice slice of mozzarella and wrapped it tightly in Parma ham. 

Then I placed the ham and cheese parcel in to the chop and pressed firmly around the edges. Then passed it through plain flour, then whisked egg, then finally in to Panko breadcrumbs. You can get these everywhere now, but again, Sous Chef do good ones for about the same as supermarkets. 

Then all that's required is shallow frying for about 8 minutes on each side. If you're worried about it not being done, you can always pop it in to the oven for a few minutes to make sure. It stays moist due to it's internal surprise so if you are cautious about pink pork then go ahead. It's worth saying however, that if you buy pork from a butcher who knows where the animal was from and how it was raised and slaughtered etc, then eating pork on the pink side is no problem, and actually desirable in this house. I wouldn't eat it pink from the supermarket though. The legal temperature that pork can be served at in the USA was reduced by 9.5c in 2011, down to 62c, which would be pink, so it's up to personal taste.

Whether you use mozzarella, cheddar, or any other decent melting cheese is entirely up to you. Worth trying it without as well, the Japanese do know a thing or two about what tastes good. Just make sure you either make or buy some Tonkatsu sauce as it really makes the dish come alive. I'll post two recipes for the sauce, which if you make, then combine, it works brilliantly. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Pork Ribs

Fitting really that I'm talking about ribs, as I am currently nursing broken rib or ribs following a rather flamboyant, and high speed roller skating accident. I was tripped by a small child who fell in front of me. I must have done a good 20 yards of "will he, won't he" wobbling before finally crashing on to the floor chest first!

Anyway, my woes apart, as long as I can still lift the lid of my Big Green Egg, then I can cope. As such, I thought it long overdue that I slow cooked some pork ribs. It seems to be the thing to do if you look on any American BBQ forum.

I bought belly ribs from Joseph Morris (surprise). I got them from "the dark side". Not sure why they were over there but who cares, they were big and cheap. I smothered them in a "mustard moisturiser" of about 6 tbsp French's mustard, 6 tbsp water, 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce, and 2 tbsp cider vinegar.This idea is from Adam Perry Lang's book "Serious BBQ". He uses moisturisers, seasoning rubs, wrapping mixtures and sauces. Seems a right fag, but the results are worth it all.

Seasoning Blend
6 tbsp mild chili powder
3 tbsp sweet paprika
3 tbsp Dark Muscavado Sugar
1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder
2 1/4 tsp garlic salt
2 1/4 tsp Maldon sea salt flakes
2 1/4 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp Multi Purpose Seasoning
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Wrapping Mixture

250g Muscavado Sugar
250g Honey
50ml Apple Juice

Honey BBQ Sauce
250 g BBQ Sauce
125g Honey
2 tbsp cider vinegar

Preheat your BBQ to 135c / 275f, then set it up for indirect cooking. Soak some applewood chips in warm water.
Combine all the mustard moisturiser ingredients and smother the ribs with it. Then combine all the seasoning blend ingredients and sprinkle half of it over the ribs. Place the ribs on the BBQ for 2 hours.
Combine all the wrapping mixture ingredients and cover large sheets of foil with the mixture.
Remove the ribs from the BBQ, and wrap each rack in the covered foil, and crimp the edges. Return to the BBQ for another hour. You can stack them up if you want, but flip them around a couple of times during the cooking.
Remove the ribs from the BBQ and allow to rest still in the foil for 20 minutes.
Remove the ribs from the foil and season on both sides with the leftover seasoning blend, then put back in the BBQ for 30 minutes.
Combine the BBQ Sauce ingredients, and brush the ribs with an even coating of it and leave on the BBQ for another 20 - 30 minutes. Cut them in to individual ribs and serve. We had fried chicken wings, salad and rice and could have eaten both racks of ribs to myself!!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Devilled Eggs with Crispy Chicken Skin

Do you like beer? Do you like eggs? If the answer to both these questions is yes, then you will love this recipe. Even if you don't like beer, you'll still love these flavour packed beauties that pack a surprise punch.

The recipe comes from the Pit Cue Co Cookbook. If like me, you are in to American influenced low and slow BBQ food, coupled with amazing filthy sides all washed down with mental cocktails (Google "Pickle Back") then this book is for you.If you're lucky enough to have a Big Green Egg as well, then even better. Other outdoor cooking systems are available!

I made 12, as per the recipe, and served them for 4 people as a beer snack before a 3 course meal. Beware though, 3 of these bad boys really takes the edge off your appetite! The rest of the meal had to be delayed a while, which just meant more beers were consumed, but there you go.

This recipe makes a lot of anchovy salad cream, but it freezes well for next time you make these. Which trust me, you will.

 Recipe  - Serves 4

6 free range hens eggs
Anchovy Salad Cream - see below
Sriracha Hot Sauce
Roast Chicken Skin - see below
Maldon Sea Salt to taste

For the Roast Chicken skin

3 Sprigs Thyme
250g Chicken skin (If you ask your butcher, he's bound to be able to provide plenty)
50ml Chicken stock
Maldon Sea Salt to taste


Heat the oven to 170c / 325f / gas mark 3 (-20c for fan ovens). Lay the sprigs of thyme in a roasting pan with the skins spread out on top. Add the chicken stock. Then cook in the oven uncovered for 40 minutes in total stirring every 10 minutes.

Drain the skins, then put back in the oven for another 20 minutes. They should end up nice and crispy. Season.

For the Anchovy salad cream

100ml Cider vinegar
50g Dijon Mustard
10g Caster Sugar
10g Maldon Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper
150g Marinated Anchovy Fillets
3 Cloves Garlic
1tsp Thyme Leaves
400ml Double Cream


It's easiest if you have kitchen scales that allow you to reset to zero after each ingredient. If so, put your blender bowl on the scales, and measure in all the ingredients apart from the cream. Blitz for 30 seconds, then add the cream slowly through the hole in the lid until just incorporated.

Pass through a fine sieve and put in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

To Assemble

Halve the eggs length ways and carefully scoop out the yolk. In a bowl mix the yolks with the anchovy salad cream and pass through a fine sieve.Put it in a piping bag.
Put 1/2 tsp of the Sriracha hot sauce in to the cavity of each egg, then pipe the yolk mixture on top. Put in the fridge for 20 minutes, then crumble over the crispy chicken skin, a sliver or two of chives, and serve. Then have another beer and enjoy the noises that will be emanating from your guests.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Smoked Sticky Toffee Pork Belly

Every once in a while, you have an epiphany. I can't credit my latest epiphany to my own creative juices, but more to probably my biggest hero in the culinary world. Richard H Turner is the man that I wish I was, he's a legendary BBQ chef, a restaurateur of some repute (heard of Hawksmoor, or Pit Cue??), a butcher probably of even more repute (heard of Turner and George?), an author of one of the best porcine cookery books known to man (heard of Hog?), and has forgotten more about pigs than I will ever know!

So, when you buy the latest book from your food hero, (having already devoured Pit Cue Co, my previously favourite book), and you flick through the pages, and then you are forced to STOP!!!! Hold on, I'm sure it can't be, but it looks like I've just flicked past a recipe called "Sticky Toffee Pork Belly"? Really? In all truth, could there ever be a more enticing recipe title than that? Well maybe not for many people, but for me, a self confessed pork freak never before has my excitement been so great at the mere name of a dish. It has everything I want; pork, in fact the belly of said porky favourite cut; bootstrap molasses, chili, muscovado sugar, more sugar, chinese 5 spice, soy sauce... the list of my favourite things just goes on and on. 2 litres of pork broth, how can that ever be seen as anything but incredible? This was one of those absolutely "must try" recipes, and it had to be served to people that I know would appreciate it. Step forward my wonderful wife, the perpetual size 8 woman who seems to consume thousands of calories with no weight gain whatsoever, and my old friend "posh" Matt, the only man to go to one of the best schools in the country and end up as an estate agent (I know he wont mind me saying that, but his parents and long passed grandparents probably might!).

The cooking method is simple. You braise the meat in all sorts of filthy loveliness for a long time, then Richard's recipe says to roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Now, this is where my epiphany kicks in and the final outcome changes for what I think is the better. My thinking, is that the final 20 minutes of oven heat at 220c, could easily be converted to a couple of hours at 125c in thick apple wood smoke to build up an amazing smoky "bark", followed by a final 20 minutes at 220c to get some crispiness going on. This also gave me and Matt plenty of time to muck about with the Big Green Egg, getting the temperature right, while drinking quite a lot of cider. Apples and pork are the perfect match after all!

The meat is braised on the bone, which after a few hours in the broth just pop out with minimal fuss along with the smaller gnarly little white bone bits that you see in proper bacon. Pictures to the side and below show the stages of smoking, ending up with a lovely black bark, that looks like burn to the uninitiated, but to those in the know is a massive layer of smoky flavour.

Richard suggests serving with Pak Choi and steamed rice, so who am I to disagree and go against the legend?! The sauce ends up as a really rather disgustingly rich and flavoursome syrup that adds an amazing sweetness and spiciness to the finished dish. I would recommend this dish to absolutely anybody that likes pork belly. One of my previous posts suggests that I am yet to find my favourite way of cooking pork belly. Well, my epiphany is, that I have found it, and will shout about it long and loud!!

Recipe  serves 4, but you might want to use a larger piece of belly

1.5kg piece of thick end pork belly, skin on, bone in. Buy the best you can afford.

For the Brine
I know the point of brining is to retain moisture when cooking meat in dry heat. This recipe involves braising so brining is probably pointless from one point of view, but from a flavour point of view I thought an overnight soak in apple juice, sugar, salt and water couldn't do any harm.

1 litre Apple Juice
1 litre Water
110g table salt
55g brown sugar

For the Braising Liquid

20g Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
2 litres Pork Broth
1/2 tsp chines five spice powder
2 fresh chillies finely chopped
Heaped 1/4 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
100ml blackstrap molasses (sometimes called cane molasses, available at Sous Chef.
100ml light soy sauce
100g stoned dates chopped
100g light brown muscovado sugar
100g dark brown muscovado sugar

The Brine

Mix all the ingredients until dissolved then submerge the pork belly overnight. Rinse off and dry with paper towels.

Generously salt the pork, then leave uncovered for an hour. Given that I'd already brined the meat, I did wonder if this was necessary, however I went with it. After an hour, rinse the salt off.

The Braise

Put the pork belly in a large saucepan and cover with the pork broth and all the other ingredients. Bring up to the boil then turn down to a simmer. It will take somewhere between 2 and 3 hours depending on the thickness of your piece of belly. Mine took just over 3 as it was very thick. You should be able to push a skewer through with ease, or pop one of the rib bones out with very little resistance.

Remove the meat from the broth carefully, and then pop out all the rib bones and other sinews. They should all come away from the meat easily and cleanly.

At this point, the recipe in the book suggests 20 minutes in a 220c oven, however I went off piste and decided to smoke it for 2 hours at 130c in the Big Green Egg until it was very dark, then upped the temperature to 200c for 10 minutes which gave it a lovely crunch around the edges. I added the olive oil drizzled pak choi to the Egg for the final 10 minutes which came out perfectly with still a nice crunch but a bit of caramelisation.

Strain the braising liquid in to another pan, then boil hard until reduced to a lovely sticky syrupy consistency. Serve with the pak choi, rice and the sauce. Then prepare yourself to be assaulted in the mouth, and then be ready to assault any other diners in order to get seconds!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Sweet and Sour Pork

Yes, Pork tonight. Feels like I haven't had any pork for ages.

It is ages, it is 24 hours in total which is plenty long enough for anyone.

Hang on, no, I had a roast ham sandwich courtesy of my mother at lunch time.

Anyway, I used to make Sweet and Sour pork at university using good old Uncle Ben's sauce in a jar. I'd overcrowd the pan ridiculously with way too much meat, inadvertently steam it so that it was a lovely insipid grey colour. Then I'd let all the water boil away, add some more oil and get some colour on the meat, (which obviously completely dried it out), then added the wonderful sauce, full of natural flavours and colours! To be honest, it was actually nicer than the standard tuna bakes everyone else was knocking out using even better quality "Dolmio" sauces!

I then discovered the joys of Chinese takeaway sweet and sour pork. I was brought up in a small village a long way from proper civilisation (places that had takeaways) so my experience of Chinese takeaway food was a little limited. We did have takeaways but usually had what my parents advised I would like, like egg foo yung, chop suey, sweet and sour chicken balls, spring rolls etc. We did in fact eat in a couple of posh Chinese restaurants fairly regularly, the Chung Ying in Birmingham for one which is still going and still has an excellent reputation. Then another in Lutterworth that used to be called the Paper Tiger that was excellent back in the day (we're talking early to mid 80s here). There was also one up in Cheshire near Frodsham I think, near where my parents relocated to. The point I am actually going to make when I eventually get there, is that this was decent Chinese restaurant food where we were spoiled rotten by things like chicken and sweetcorn soup (the lovely stuff with the egg white whisked through it to give that wonderful snot like consistency!), crispy duck in pancakes, and the wonderful Yuk Sung at the Chung Ying which to a young lad was an unbelievable experience. How could lettuce ever be involved in a dish that good?? Takeaway style sweet and sour pork as a result was something I discovered and fell in love with later on in my life, and resolved to make an equivalent version.

This version, unlike my student attempts, uses the deep fat fryer which in my book can never, ever be a bad thing. In moderation (ish) of course. So you coat and fry the pork, make a simple sweet and sour sauce, then add cooked carrots, spring onions and black sesame seeds. It's incredible, even if I do say so myself. This also works extremely well with pork belly that has been braised in aromatic stock, then dried and deep fried. This turns it in to an amazingly decadent dish which is disappointing only in that you can never eat as much as you think you should do, due to the immense richness of deep fried fatty pork belly.

Recipe - serves 4

600g pork cut into strips (whatever cut you fancy, I used loin chops which are tender, however I also like using shoulder steaks which aren't tender cooked for this length of time, however you get a nice chew!)
Spring Onions
Black Sesame Seeds
Cooked sliced carrots

4 tbs Self Raising Flour
2 tbs Rice Flour
2 tbs Potato Flour
2 tsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1 good pinch of Salt
1 good pinch of White Pepper

225 ml Pineapple Juice
80 ml Water
3 tbs Distilled Vinegar
3 tbs Cornflour
2 tbs Soy Sauce
60g Soft Dark Brown Sugar

For the pork - Heat a deep fat fryer, or a wok half full with vegetable oil to 180c. Combine all the coating ingredients in a strong freezer or food bag. Drop the strips of pork in to the bag, close the top and give it a right good shake to ensure all the pork gets covered. Deep fry for no more than 3 minutes, then lift out the oil. Just before adding to the sweet and sour sauce, drop the pork in again for another minute to crisp it up.

For the Sauce - Combine all the ingredients in a pan and heat, stirring until thickened to your preference.

If you don't want to make your own sauce, then use 2 or 3 packets of Blue Dragon Sweet and Sour Stir Fry sachets. As mentioned somewhere else on this blog, they really are extremely nice. They have that cloying sweetness then sourness that hurts the back of your tongue, as per the takeaway sauce. Have I sold it to you?!

To Serve - Having given the pork it's last 1 minutes blast in the fryer, drop it straight in to the sauce, adding the cooked carrots, chopped spring onion and a tablespoon or so of black sesame seeds. Toss it all together over a high heat until it is sizzling hot. Serve with buttered long grain rice, or make yourself some special fried rice for the authentic takeaway experience!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Pork Belly Buns

When I told my wife I'd just ordered the Momofuku book, she looked at me with a strange expression. It's not the most instantly acceptable book title to us straight laced Brits (?!?) however once I explained that it was actually the name of a restaurant (at least one) and that the author David Chang was famous for cooking pork belly did she realise that I was serious. My wife you see has come to terms with my pork obsession. Fortunately she is partial to the piggy also, although our early dating was fraught with danger as she was a vegetarian for over 5 years prior to us meeting. She did well though, I think she was tucking in to her first rare steak a good 4 weeks after we starting seeing each other. A lesson in abstinence right there!!

So, to the buns. I've made steamed buns, and the outcome is really very good indeed. It's a major pain in the bum though as you have to prove, then roll in to golf ball sized pieces, then prove, then roll out in to slipper shapes, prove, fold over an oiled chopstick so that it looks like a tongue, then prove, then steam, then burn your fingers many times while trying to prise the two tongue flaps apart in order to fill them with filth. The recipe I use makes about 48 of them, so it does get pretty tedious. If you are faced with a wet weekend with naff all else to do, then it's well worth the effort. However, on a miserable work day Tuesday in July (today) when the sun should be shining, there is an alternative. Some purists may call it cheating, I however call it eating! If you don't cut corners once in a while you will either go hungry or end up eating bland rubbish. I occasionally get an "attack of the buns", and that happened today at about 1pm. Way too late in the day to start making dough with the multiple proves given that we like to eat with the kids between 5.30 and 6pm. Given also that I had not done any preparation in terms of the pork belly, so the whole meal was going to be a quick version. Step in some shop bought Taiwanese Steamed Buns. I've failed in my quest to source said tongue shaped beauties, unless you want to order 500 from one of the frozen food delivery specialists. Instead, I found these buns at Starry Asian Market Online.

It's a brilliant website, and they stock all sorts of oriental delights that you'd struggle to find elsewhere. Customer service is brilliant, and delivery is super quick. You get stung by about a tenner for frozen food delivery, so ordering in bulk is worthwhile. So, I'm going to cheat today. Will it be any less tasty though? We shall see. 10 minutes in the steamer from frozen. Cheating or not, that's pretty exciting!!

This dish is missing something. Oh yes, filth! As per usual, my first thought under any circumstances when thinking about what meat to cook, is pork. More specifically pork belly. It's kind of like some people's fish fingers or frozen burgers. When you can't think what to cook for tea, I think pork belly. I've always got pork belly, I buy large amounts each time I visit the butcher, vacuum seal it then freeze it. Probably better if it's fresh, but given the amount of salting, brining, marinating, smoking, slow roasting, braising, deep frying, searing and various other torturous techniques I subject the poor fatty cut to, I can't see that it could make that much difference at all. In this instance, all that is called for is moist meat, with a crispy skin and a hint of saltiness. Chang's recipe calls for skinless belly, which I almost can never bring myself to do. Don't get me wrong, if you look at my twitter image, you'll spot dried pork skin that's been deep fried and puffed outrageously. However, more often than not, I prefer the skin to stay on, even when advised to remove by legendary pork geniuses.

I decided to use the Big Green Egg, as everything I have cooked on it so far has been the best I've ever produced without exception. I salted the meat for an hour (more is better but needs must), then a simple blast for an hour at around 230c, basting with the rendered fat after 30 minutes, then another hour at about 130c, although the temperature for most of the cook was higher than that. It seems that getting a Big Green Egg to drop 100c isn't that straight forward. I ended up putting the "snuffer" on to effectively put the thing out. Even then, it remained around the 130c mark for ages afterwards. As a result, I covered the tray with foil for the final hour. I'd already got a nicely crispy skin. The image shows the belly skin side down which actually helped crisp the skin further. The meat ended up as expected, with a crispy top and bottom, with a lovely moist inside. My absolute perfect range of textures and flavours. You can see the moisture glistening away, with a lovely crispy outer layer.

All that remained was to slice some cucumber and drop into a bowl of my universal pickle mix, slice some spring onion, and get the hoisin sauce out the fridge. Seriously, no one expects you to make your own hoisin sauce on a weeknight do they?! I spread both sides of the split bun with hoisin, added some cucumber slices, sprinkled with spring onion, then a sprinkle also of chopped fresh coriander (I love it with pork belly!), then sandwich together and enjoy one of the best mouthfuls of food you can imagine. It's no wonder this flavour combination has made David Chang a legend. If some people want to call me a cheat, then so be it, enjoy your fish fingers and frozen burgers!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

BBQ Sauce

Having tried making many BBQ sauces over the years, and many more recently with my sudden excitement with all things American style BBQ, I have always been unimpressed by the result. To the extent that I resorted to Heinz smoky BBQ sauce as it was completely inoffensive. In actual fact, mixed with a bit of hot chili sauce it was even verging on good...

That was until I bought the book "Hog" by Richard H Turner. I've been a fan of Richard's for a while now having bought the Hawksmoor at Home and Pit Cue Co books, both of which he is involved in. Having made the investment in a Big Green Egg, it seemed a shame to spend hours slow cooking and smoking various bits of animal to then smother it in a mass produced sauce.

So below, is the current recipe from Richard, although he states quite clearly in the book that it is likely to carry on evolving. The ingredients list is extensive and uses large quantities of things like maple syrup and French's mustard. If you buy a standard sized bottle of French's, you'll need to go and get another one!

One final word of warning. Chipotle! I used the amount suggested below, and you end up with one hell of a fiery sauce. Perfect for my taste, however if you want to serve to kids, the elderly, or the infirm perhaps halve or even quarter the amount of chipotle you put in!

For the spice mix;
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns.

Put all the ingredients in to a large dry saucepan and toast until you can smell the lovely pungent flavours.

For the sauce;
2 white onions grated
3 garlic cloves grated
50ml veg oil
250ml apple juice
250ml cider vinegar
2 apples cored, peeled and grated
50g smoked sea salt flakes (Maldon do them, and are widely stocked in supermarkets)
125g canned chipotle peppers (I get mine, along with many other harder to source ingredients from Sous Chef. Great company with excellent customer service)
250ml maple syrup
250ml French's mustard
250ml Blackstrap Molasses (Also from Sous Chef)
250g Apricot Preserve
250g canned tomatoes

Add the onions, garlic and oil to the toasted spices and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes or more until the onions are really soft. Add the apple juice and cider vinegar and simmer until reduced by a third. (I use a chopstick like a dipstick to gauge the amount of reduction). Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes.

Blitz the sauce in a blender, then pass through a fine sieve. The recipe makes about 1.5 litres and will keep in sterilized jars in the fridge for a good while. Makes a nice present as well!