Monday, January 17, 2011

kitchen how to...: Kimchi

kitchen how to...: Kimchi: "Makes around 2 litres I couldn't find chili powder so I used some Thai chili paste, which made the kimchi a bit murky. If you can, try to..."


Makes around 2 litres

I couldn't find chili powder so I used some Thai chili paste, which made the kimchi a bit murky. If you can, try to find the Korean chilli powder. I added a scant tsp of Mexican chilli powder for colour.

1 large Chinese cabbage
4 litre water
100g coarse salt
1 small head of garlic, peeled and finely minced
one 6cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
60ml fish sauce
80ml chilli paste
1 bunch spring onions cut into 3cm lengths
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and grated
1 tsp sugar or honey

Slice the cabbage lengthwise in half, then slice each half lengthwise into 3 sections. Cut away the tough stem chunks.

Dissolve the salt in the water in a very large container, then submerge the cabbage under the water. Put a plate on top to make sure they stay under water, then let stand for 2 hours.

Mix the other ingredients in a very large metal or glass bowl. Drain the cabbage, rinse it, and squeeze it dry.

Pack the kimchi in a clean glass jar large enough to hold it all. Let stand for two days in a cool place, around room temperature. Check the kimchi after two days. If it's bubbling a bit, it's ready and can be refrigerated. If not, let it stand 1-2 more days, when it should be ready.

Once it's fermenting, serve or store in the refrigerator. If you want, add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds over the kimchi for serving.

Many advise to eat the kimchi within 3 weeks. After that, it can get too fermented

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Risotto master

Risotto simply put is, at its heart, a peasant dish, with the core ingredient being the staple food for around 2.5 billion of us today, and in Asia alone employing some 200 million rice workers. To nail a proper risotto, you must first begin to understand the mechanics of it, how it comes together, and what happens through the process. To know how to cook risotto is one of those kitchen basics, that once mastered takes your skill level up a notch or two.

The origins of risotto are not specific, but are the topic of much debate.  It is, however, a staple throughout northern Italy which has specific rices grown extensively in the Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions solely for this dish. In the world of rice, there are infinite varieties but only those short-grained rices particular to risotto should be used for the job. The three main risotto types being:

Arborio; makes a lighter risotto, doesn't absorb a huge amount of broth and is especially good if you want the soupy texture.
Carnaroli; has a very high starch content and as such introduces a creaminess to your risotto.
Vialone Nano; a shorter and fatter grain offering the maximum liquid absorption of all the rices.

I'd be the enemy of any Italian if I didn't blow up the statement that the very soul of all Italian cooking is to use the highest quality ingredients; and this is never more important in the effort put in when assembling the components for a risotto. It's the broth that binds every grain of rice and as such, you will want the best possible. As always, there is nothing like the stuff you make at home, effort is required here, but it is so worth it.  It also needs to be hot broth too. The heat will ensure the risotto cooks evenly and constant, cold broth will make the process staggered and edgy, be nice to your rice.

Finely chopped onion is the most commonly used flavour base for risotto.  Cook the onions gently in either butter or oil, preferably a combination of both. Shallots, garlic and maybe a little celery work here too, but with confidence and experience, it doesn't need to stop there.

Once the onions are softened without colour, toasting the rice is the next stage. Gently sealing the rice as we'd do with meat pre-roasting, seals the starch into the grains of rice and locks in its chewy quality. This stage takes only 3-4 minutes and again should never impart any colour on either base or rice.

Once the grains are toasted, the liquid is added gradually, one loving ladelful at a time. Never allow the risotto to dry out, but equally so, never drown it by pouring all the liquid on at once, save this behaviour for bath-time. This also helps with the stirring. You cannot properly stir rice that is swimming in broth, nor can you keep an eye on the grains as they develop into your desired finished result.

This action creates the friction on the grains of rice and releases their starches. This is how we end up with a creamy risotto. Without agitating the starch out of the grains, we may just as well have a bowl of boiled rice sprinkled with Parmesan. Not quite the same effect.

Risotto releases starch and becomes creamy, but it should still have a little bite to it. This is equivalent to cooking pasta al dente. As a final flourish, stir in a little butter and it will be extra creamy. Adding butter is classical.

Risotto recipes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Knife wizardry

I probably own somewhere in the region of two hundred knives in all manners of sizes, states and styles, but use only three of them.

The one I pick up for 8 out of 10 kitchen tasks is my Hong Kong cold rolled steel stamped blade Chinese cook’s knife. Looks like a cleaver, and is often referred to as such, but it isn’t. It is THE knife everyone must own; kept sharp it will do everything for you, and most importantly do it with extreme confidence. This honey in the right hands and with a bit of practice will fillet a rockfish, segment a grapefruit, chop an onion and carve a roast without putting up any resistance.

I use a very long blade serrated slicer, mostly for bread really, and seeing as I’m totally obsessed with sandwiches this knife sees the light of day often enough. That one will come out daily, even if it’s to slice a piece for toast in the morning or split a ciabatta in half for my lunchtime BLT . She easily earns her place in my heart.

The third lady in my life is my yanagi ba sashimi knife. An awesome piece of craftsmanship which actually cuts precious little but does force me to dance around the kitchen doing sweeps and jabs while whistling that tune from Kill Bill, you know the one.

There are three key elements to looking after your blades, which in turn will look after you.

1.   Keep them sharp – this I cannot stress enough, I use a diamond steel for this critically important task. Mostly steels are touted as sharpening tools, but few actually only realign the edge that bends when contacting the cutting surface. Because my steel contains diamond dust, it's hard enough to sharpen a blade while accomplishing the final task of professional sharpening, which is polishing the blade to a fine point while realigning the edge.

2.   Store them properly – if you chuck them in a drawer with your wine opener, random keys and batteries they will get damaged. Hung in a rack or stuck to a magnetic strip on your kitchen wall, or if you must hide them away (why would you hide such beauty indeed?), wrap them in a knife roll or kitchen towels at least.

3.   Wash them correctly – hot water, soft cloth and light detergent ONLY. Then dry them immediately, yet again with another dry soft cloth. Finally, if you ever put them in the dishwasher I’m coming round your house and taking them off you. 

Knifey recipes
Grilled honey prawns with noodle salad 

Roasting birds

It's the time of year when the season has begun to offer us some of life's best ever culinary treats. Game, in my humble opinion, is what the land wants us to eat, and saving those earthier, fuller flavours for this colder turn in the weather seems simply perfect. 
We started with the sadly over worked and over priced grouse shooting season in August, and now we hit the time of year when the pheasant has made it's way into our butchers. They'll keep going on through until February, but now is the moment before they truly toughen up for the winter, so when I talk about gentle roasting, don't leave it too much longer.
I'm passionate about drawing as much of my food supply from the land as possible, so if there's a hunter in the family keen on sharing his bag this season, hopefully here's a helping hand on preparation.
I'm applying the 80-20 rule on this one, 80% preparation, and 20% doing; this is key to most of my cooking, and no more so with game. 
Even in it's prime, the bird can be very lean, and needs a lot of extra care during roasting. The extra care will surely result in a juicy, tasty treat. An average sized pheasant will serve two adults who haven't been hunting all day and are not ravenously hungry. If you've been out on the hills foraging, a whole bird all to yourself is allowed here; otherwise, sharing is caring.
What will be important is to cook at high temperature, so get your oven on good and hot well in advance. Start with a room temperature bird - make sure it's not too fridge cold. While the oven is preheating, lightly rinse and dry the bird. Season the cavity with salt, pepper and something aromatic of your choosing. Bruised rosemary sprigs, grated lemon zest, crushed juniper berries are all perfect partners. A few slices of onion inside the cavity also work nicely. Remember not to pack the cavity over tightly; you're using these elements to help flavour the bird, not to act as stuffing.
Rub the outside of the bird with either butter or olive oil and bard the breast and legs. Barding is covering the breast and legs of the pheasant with bacon to keep the meat from drying out. If this is all too much like hard work, a good butcher may just offer this service for you. Place strips of bacon across the breast and legs, trimming as necessary to keep them neat, then secure with toothpicks. Do make sure this is done, though; there's nothing chewier and drier than an exposed pheasant breast, with the exception of my Uncle Jack's sense of humour, that is. 
Place the pheasant in a roasting pan on its side and put it straight into your oven at 450°F/230°C for 6 minutes, then turn the bird onto the other side for a further 6 minutes.  Searing the bird like this at a high temperature helps lock in the moisture. Now decrease the oven temperature to 325°F/160°C and breast side up cook for a final 8 minutes. The ideal scenario is to achieve an internal temperature of 155°F/70°C, but if you pierce the joint between the thigh and drumstick and the juice comes out anything other than bloody, you're all good.
Remove the bird from the oven and cover the roasting pan with foil for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. This is crucial to allow the flesh to recover from the trauma of the oven heat and to keep juices from running out when the pheasant is carved.
When ready to serve, remove the foil, carve the bird, and serve. Check your meal very carefully for bird shot pellets. It's one of the things you need to be aware of when eating wild game. The meat may have tiny bloody holes where the bird shot entered.
Simple side dishes complement pheasant the best: roasted potatoes, and a peppery salad maybe with watercress, along with the saved pan juices would be more than enough . Pair with a lightly acidic white or light red wine that won't overpower the bird and you've made a simple, elegant meal.
Once this is mastered, here are a couple of pheasant-like recipes worth looking at.