Is it just me, or has the quality of pickled green chillies gone down drastically? Maybe PJ stalls still make their own pickled green chillies with the care and attention they deserve, but here in KL, I can tell you it’s a rare day that you find anything but watery, underpickled, boring rubbish. Now for those of you not familiar with the delights of pickled green chillies, here is a little explanatory chapter. The rest of you, just skip the next paragraph.
In Malaysia, like in most of the region, we eat pickled green chillies with our breakfast noodles (yes, breakfast). The type of chilli or chilli sauce served varies with every dish. I’m not sure whether this is tradition or habit, but it seems to work out. So every plate of wonton noodles will be served with a side of sliced, pickled green chillies. These are not at all spicy, but very fragrant and nicely sour and most people will pour a little soy sauce over them. So you get that salty sour hit with your morning carbs. And IF the chillies are pickled correctly in house, the chillies can be so delicious, you want to eat them on their own, like a snack.
If you are wondering what on earth you’re going to do with just pickled chillies, fret not. In the next few weeks I will show you how to make wonton noodles from scratch and I’ll show you how to turn them into a delicious wonton noodle soup, complete with prawn filled wonton. Not only that, I will also share my secret Magic Noodle Sauce with you, which will allow you to make dry noodles as good as any you will find in a coffeeshop.
Pickled Green Chillies
600ml sealable, reasonably heat proof jar (or similar)
450g fresh green chillies
150ml white vinegar
50ml cider vinegar
100g caster sugar
50g cassonnade or soft brown sugar
1 tsp/2g fine sea salt
Wash and drain the green chillies and cut them on the bias into slices of about 7-8mm. remove the pitch and seeds from the inside of the chillies and shake the cleaned chillies in a colander to remove whatever seeds are still there. If you want your chillies to be less spicy, soak them in cold water for an hour or so, then drain again. But honestly, this is really not necessary. The brine will soften whatever heat there may be left in the chillies after we have removed the seeds.
Pour the vinegars and water into a saucepan, add the sugars and salt and heat. A note of warning here; do not boil the brine, or you may lose a considerable amount of acidity and frankly, a lot of freshness. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of putting your nose over the pan to smell the brine. Although it’s quite an interesting experience.
While the brine is heating, pack the chillies tightly into a sealable heat proof jar. You will need to really squeeze the chillies to get them all in. Don’t worry about squashing them, they’re quite resilient. Once the brine is starting to simmer, pour it slowly into the jar, shaking things up between pouring to get rid of the bubbles. Pour the brine right to the top of the jar, then seal it while still hot. Keep in your cupboard for 7 days before opening and make sure to keep the jar in the chiller once you’ve opened it.
Traditionally people in Asia use simple rice vinegar and rock sugar to make most pickles, but I’m using Heinz white and cider vinegar, as well as cassonnade and caster sugar, simply because I think it makes for a slightly more refined pickle. But if you want to stick with tradition, you can substitute rice vinegar for both vinegars and rock sugar for the sugars and the proportions will still work perfectly. Some recipes ask you to soak the sliced chillies in hot water, but I honestly don’t recommend that, as it takes the crunch out of the chillies. We are already heating and sterilising them in the hot brine, so the boiling water step is superfluous.
We have this rather impressive attachment to our Kitchenaid stand mixer; an ice cream churning thing that goes in the freezer the night before and then supposedly whisks your ice cream like a pro. We shall see! At the restaurant we have a proper professional ice cream machine that allows you not only to make ice cream in 120 seconds. I’m not expecting anything similar from this implement. Strangely enough it was a free gift that came with the machine. Such generosity is rare.
I have just made the ice cream base and it’s on the kitchen table cooling down. Took about an hour, including letting the cream mix infuse for half an hour. Making ice cream is actually a total breeze, if you have an ice cream maker of any kind. If you are whisking it by hand in a tub in the freezer, it’s a total pain. I saw an interesting way of making ice cream on YouTube, where you pour the base into a freezer bag, seal it tight, put it into a larger freezer bag filled with ice and just shake the whole thing about. My no machine ice cream system is freezing it in ice cube trays and then whizzing it to a smoothie in a blender and returning it to the freezer to set. But we have a machine!
Sorrento Lemon Ice Cream
I’m lying and there’s not a Sorrento lemon in sight, so this is the first of my “Faking it with Chris & Eddie” recipes, where I will show you how to achieve something looking, feeling and tasting totally authentic. Without having to travel to the bay of Naples to pick your own lemons. The Sorrento lemon juice is sweet and quite different from the mostly South African lemons we get here, but the real difference is in the skin. Scratch the skin of a lemon from Surriento and there is a beautiful floral scent to it reminiscent of….
Yup. Daun Limau Purut; Kaffir lime leaves. So we are faking our Sorrento lemons with a little addition of kaffir lime leaves. The trick is not to overdo it, so your guests find the flavour. It has to be there in the background, silently doing its work. And off to work it is we go at last:
This should make about 1.5 litres
zest of 6 lemons
3 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut)
425ml lemon juice (about 6-8 lemons)
400ml full fat milk
400ml full cream
400g caster sugar
8 egg yolk
1 tbsp clear honey
Start by pouring the milk and cream into a saucepan and adding 100g of the caster sugar to it. Wash and crush your lime leaves and add them to the mix. Now wash the lemons well and grate their skin into the milk mix. I use a microplane grater for this, as it gives much finer zests and doesn’t take so much pith off. Heat the milk at high heat to just boiling point.
I find that although it is counter-intuitive, boiling milk at high heat reduces the risk of burning. And burning or browning is really the one thing you want to avoid when making ice cream or really any type of custard base (which is what an ice cream base really is). Once you detect even the slightest whiff of burned proteins, that horrid smell when dairy burns, chuck the milk out and save yourself the bother of making an inedible ice cream.
While the milk mix is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar to a fluffy, creamy texture. Squeeze the lemons to get your 425ml juice. I use this very handy tool that you just stick into the lemon and turn about. I find it the most effective way of getting juice out of lemons.
As soon as the milk & cream start to bubble, turn off the heat and add the honey. You can actually do this at any stage, but hot milk will make it easier to get the honey off the spoon. Leave the mix to cool a little and then pour it over the fluffed eggs, beating the mixture with a whisk all the time. Wash out your saucepan and return the batter to the pan. Heat gently to about 75ºC. It’s good to have a thermometer to hand to make sure the temperature is correct. You can heat the mix higher without giving yourself problems, but stay well under 100ºC, or you will end up with lemon scramble.
Keep stirring your ice cream base for a minute or two after taking if off the heat to prevent lumps from forming, then pour it into a container, cover the top of the batter itself directly with a piece of cling film to prevent any skin from forming. Leave to cool to room temperature, then chill. One the batter is completely chilled, put it into the freezer for about two hours. The high sugar content will prevent it from freezing to a solid and the added chill factor will make churning your ice cream much easier.
Following the instructions of the manufacturer of your ice cream maker, churn your ice cream. Alternatively, whisk the ice cream after the first two hours of freezing, then every hour for the next 4 hours. After that you can leave it alone to set fully.
It may sound like a lot of effort for a bit of ice cream (1.9 litres to be exact), but it is sooooo delicious you won’t regret the time spent making it. There’s another advantage; a 500ml tub of Haagen Dazs will set you back about RM65 while the near two litres we made cost only RM30, so 7.50 for a 500ml tub! Imagine how much you could save by eating more ice cream!!
Here’s my trusty lemon squeezer. I know it looks like something that might come in handy in the bedroom, but believe me, it’s much better for squeezing those lemons. NOTE: You may need to vary the amount of sugar you add to the lemon juice, as some lemons are a lot sourer than others. So make this recipe as given, see whether you want your ice cream more or less sour and adjust for the next batch. Then try to remember the acidity of the lemon/sugar mix, so you can get the same acidity every time.
It’s so 1990’s, I know, but it’s become one of my favourites. You won’t believe this, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about an upside down pear cake. As this kind of cake has never been part of my repertoire, I had to start researching it a bit. Then I made two reasonably good ones before I landed on this adjustment of a few recipes mashed together. Whenever you research a new dish, it’s not about finding a recipe, but about sussing out the system. Once you got that, you can probably get your first run to be okay. Then you adjust from there, reminding yourself all the time not to go gilding the lily.
One proviso in all of that; if you have never tried that particular dish before, follow the blooming recipe to the letter and don’t start “interpreting” right off the bat. You’d be surprised how big a problem that is with professional chefs. We always think we can do it better, which is difficult when you don’t even know where you are starting from. That’s my rant for the day done. So where was I?
The pear cake I had in mind was nicely caramelised, dark in colour and dark in flavour (if that makes any sense), toffeeish with soft, stewey pears that nevertheless hold their shapes. And without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I think it’s been achieved. It does help that I have my own batch of homemade five spice powder! I really do recommend investing the time into making it. For the recipe, click here Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 1: Five Spice Powder
For the Ginger Syrup:
40g cassonnade or soft brown sugar
15g dried ginger
Buy some good quality dried ginger, preferably unsweetened. It’s hard to believe that 40g of cassonnade rather than local soft brown sugar would make any difference in an entire cake, but they do. So go invest in a bag of La Perruche sugar.
Cut the ginger into dice, add the water and cassonnade, or soft brown sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes to reduce by half, then strain. You should get 40ml ginger syrup. You can use this syrup hot or cold, it won’t make much difference. If you notice that when it cools, it’s becoming very thick, you will need to thin it out with a tablespoon of hot water. I add the rum for the caramel to the syrup after it has cooled a little, so I save one step later.
For the Caramel:
50g caster sugar
1 Tbsp dark rum
40ml ginger syrup (see Note below)
Making caramel is just a little more difficult than you would think. Most recipes tell you to keep brushing down the sides of the saucepan with water to prevent the edges of the sugar from burning, but honestly? Life is too short to be stand there brushing the sides of pots. Stirring the melting, browning sugar is a very bad idea, because it will crystallise. So I just gently swing the pan to dissolve the darkening side bits in the main body of the sugar. It works just fine! The picture on the right, just to be clear, is not me stirring the caramel, but me stirring the butter in. You can start on high heat and then gradually reduce the heat to keep better control of the process. As soon as you get near a dark golden, take the pan off the heat. In fact it’s a good idea to take it off before you reach the right colour. Have your butter ready and stir it in as soon as your caramel is done. The cooler butter will prevent the caramel from burning.
Pour the rum into the ginger syrup and pour the mix into the caramel. You will have quite a lot of caramel, toffee rum sauce and that’s a good thing.
For the Cake:
3 ripe, but firm pears
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 tsp five spice powder
½ tsp grated cinnamon
3 whole eggs
Your butter needs to be really soft, so the time to take it out of the chiller was about half an hour ago. Sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar, grate the cinnamon into it and add the five spice powder. Now, I don’t actually measure the cinnamon, I just grate it in and when it all smells as I like it, I stop. Crack the eggs into the bowl and beat the whole mix with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. It’s as simple as that! You can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but I like to do it by hand. As long as your butter is soft, it doesn’t take five minutes!
But before you get started with the cake itself, you should butter and line your cake tin. I am using a 20cm spring form. Because you line it, buttering the tin is not strictly necessary, but it will make it much easier to keep the parchment lining in place.
How to line a round pastry tin: If you know how to do it, skip this paragraph. You want this lining to come up pretty high on the sides, so place your tin on a square sheet of parchment that’s big enough. Fold the parchment in half (yes, you have to take the tin off it again), then into half again to get a get a triangular wedge. aligning the folded sides together. Keep doing folding until your wedge is quite thin. Measure the tip of the wedge to the middle of the tin and cut it so it allows enough for the sides to come up. The more times you fold the paper, the rounder your lining will become. Does it matter how round it is? In this case no, but if you are lining just the bottom, I’d say yes, it is.
Peel your pears, cut them into quarters and core them. I like to place my pears into the tin, so I know exactly how many I need. You won’t need all three, so eat the rest. Tip: If they are not good enough to eat, they are not good enough to bake. Make compote and go shopping for better pears. Try and squeeze as many pear quarters in as you can. They have a habit of shrinking during the baking. For me it’s always a battle between a nice pattern and a good quantity of pear.
Drop the pears into the caramel and stir them gently to coat, then layer them in your tin. Pour the rest of the caramel over and gently scoop the batter on top. There will be a lot of caramel and it’s a it like trying to float all this batter on top. Don’t worry too much if it’s not even. The caramel will be showing around the edges and that’s a good thing. The cake will absorb the caramel during the baking and create this wonderful burnt caramelly crust that tastes like sin.
One last thing. don’t let the cake cool down completely before you unmold it, or the parchment might stick a bit. So leave it for a good half hour, then open the spring form, put your wire rack on the cake and turn it upside down, or rightway up, whichever way you want to look at it. This cake is wonderful when it’s still warm, or even straight out of the oven (for those who are good at timing their dinner parties). After it has cooled down, it will like a day or two of rest before it develops its full flavour. It keeps in the chiller for a good seven days and possibly more, but I’ve never been able to keep it for that long.
Is Pineapple Fried Rice Thailand’s equivalent of Chow Mein or Spaghetti Meatballs, or is it a genuine Thai dish? I may be offending my Thai friends by casting asparagus, but I’m honestly wondering. There are some dishes a white person like me simply cannot order unless they want to be given the worst table in the house and pineapple fried rice is one of them. Lemon Chicken and Sweet Sour Pork are other no-no’s for the Mat Salleh in Asia. In Italy they throw you out of the restaurant if you ask for spaghetti meatballs and I’ve seen tourists sent to the beauty parlour after asking for a Hawaiian, because the local pizzaiolo thought that must surely be something like a Brazilian.
Pineapple Fried Rice is a great dish, but try ordering it in Thailand while white. They give you that look, bring you a beer and ask you whether you enjoyed Patpong last night. All of which does not take away from its appeal. But it’s probably safer to wait for your Thai friends to order it, which they never will, because it’s not something you have when ordering an assortment of dishes to be shared. So it’s best to just make it at home and here is how:
Pineapple Fried Rice
I don’t know about you, but I find a long list of ingredients very daunting and will most often either not cook the dish, or divide the list into easy to grasp sections. Maybe it’s just my short attention span? So here is the ingredient list in sections:
For the Rice:
8-10 prawns, diced (165g)
1-2 tsp egg white
350g cooked rice
75g red onion, diced
The quality of your fried rice depends on your cooked rice. It should be slightly undercooked, preferably a few days old and perfectly dry. I mostly get two out of three right, because I use left over rice, so it’s hardly ever slightly undercooked. Here’s a trick; spread your cooked rice out on a flat tray and leave it in uncovered the chiller overnight.
Start by peeling and de-veining your prawns, then cut them into reasonably large pieces. Some recipes tell you to chop the prawns, but I like to cut them, so all the pieces are more or less the same size. You can keep the tail on a few of the prawns and use them for decoration later, but I can’t really see the point, especially when you are doing it at home. I find it much nicer to have more pieces of prawn in the rice, rather than a few lonely ones on top. Salt your prawns lightly (but not too lightly!) and add a teaspoon or two of egg white, then mix the whole thing. This will give your prawns a nice crunchy texture. I actually keep the heads and shells of the prawns. More on that later.
1 tsp curry powder
white pepper to taste
½ tsp fish powder
½ tsp prawn powder
¼ tsp salt
Here is where is becomes a little complicated. The list I have given you above is really just a guideline. You can use any flavouring you like. Just curry powder is fine, a little extra turmeric won’t hurt, chicken powder, crumbed stock cubes (no, noooo…) is all perfectly fine, but if you have dried prawns in the house, blitz them in a blender and use a little of that. It’s really the best. I make my own curry powder mix, but you can use any good quality store bought brand. I like to use Madras curry powder because it has a really good fragrance and its high turmeric content makes your rice nice and yellow. Fish powder is made by toasting fried small flat fish over a flame and then blending them. (I know; who can be bothered!)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
Mix and keep ready. Some people like to add more soy sauce, but I’d rather salt the rice, mainly because a larger amount of soy sauce changes the bright yellow colour of the rice to a more dull brown.
½ cup slightly under ripe pineapple
1/3 cup toasted cashews
2 spring onions
½ cup tomatoes (+ I pinch salt, pepper, sugar)
5 chilli padi
I’m writing this in Asia, where pineapples are cheap and plentiful and no one has any excuse for using the canned variety. If you have no choice but to, try and find a can with minimal sugar added. I would still drizzle them with lime long before and then pat them dry before use. If you are using fresh pineapple (which you should if you can), look for a slightly underripe one. You want it to have a good pineapple flavour without being sweet. And this really is where many restaurants fail miserably. Fried rice with dessert-sweet pineapple is not an attractive dish!
Cut your tomato into wedges, remove the inside, salt, sugar and pepper lightly, mix and leave to marinate at least 15 minutes. Dice the onion, if you haven’t done it before, slice the spring onions and chilli padi and you’re ready to go!
Here’s the fun part. I’m a bit crazy, so I start by frying the prawns shells and heads in about four tablespoons of oil until they are smelling really nice, then I keep the shells to make stock (or sometimes throw them away) and use this flavoured oil to fry my rice. Pour out some of the oil and keep about 2 tablespoons to start the frying.
Start by frying the diced prawn in hot oil and as soon as it has become opaque, remove them and keep them on a flat tray or plate. Don’t pile it into a bowl, or the prawns at the bottom will cook through. Add a little more (prawn) oil, if necessary. You want about two tablespoons at this point. Break the eggs into a bowl and slip them into the oil. Scramble until the eggs are just about starting to set. If you are not sure, err on the side of more cooked, rather than less. Drizzle in the rice and stir to mix. Now I like to make sure my rice is completely unclumped beforehand, so I break it up with my fingers. It just makes life easier.
A Few Tips on Frying Rice: 1. Yes, you really do need that much oil! It’s very simple: If you are worried about the health factor, don’t make fried rice. 2. You always need to fry it longer than you think. 3. Stop stirring it all the time. Start by mixing it all very well, about two or three minutes, then spread it in a layer at the bottom and halfway up the sides of the wok and let the flames do their job for two minutes or more, depending on your fire power. Repeat two or three more times. 4. No, that egg is not going to burn.
Add the dry ingredients about halfway through the frying, then add the wet ingredients right at the end of this phase and make sure to fry long enough to dry the rice up again. Adjust seasoning, which really just means the salt. Now about the onions. Some people like them soft and some want a bit of crunch. How you like them determines when you add them. Even if you add the onions right at the end, before the prawns, they won’t be raw. There is enough heat in the rice itself to cook the onions and that’s how I like mine.
Add the tomatoes, pineapple, cashew nuts and prawns and toss to just heat through. Ladle onto a serving plate, toss the spring onion and chilli padi on top and enjoy! (There’s an easy checklist below the image that will make your life better)
As promised, here is the “while frying” checklist:
No, this is not a German insult but a cake. In fact its full name is Gefüllter Streuselkuchen, which literally translated means Filled Crumble Cake. The combination of buttery yeast cake, sugary crumble and cool vanilla custard is heaven on a plate. The Streusel is a traditional Luxembourg thing and you can buy individual little Streusels in every bakery. Or at least you could when I was a child. Don’t worry, it’s actually much easier to make than it looks and the cake is very forgiving, so even if the shape isn’t quite perfect, it just adds to the homely look. The whole assembled cake keeps much longer that you might think and a nice slice right out of the chiller will be almost as good a week later as when you first baked it. Neither the crumble nor the cake will go soggy.
For the Cake Starter:
80g plain flour
8g dry yeast
80ml just warm milk
If your milk is cold, heat it to reach just above blood temperature. If you put a finger in the milk, it should feel just warm. Mix the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the milk and stir to mix well. Cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes until about doubled on size.
If you are clever, you don’t do what I did, but go out and buy the correct cake tin, which will be either a 24cm spring form, or loose bottom tin. As I didn’t have one, I decided to make a sleeve out of parchment paper to go around that little tin you see in the picture above. It’s a hell of a lot of bother and you’ll need to make 2 separate ones; one for baking and one for filling the cake with custard. Not going to do that again!
For the Cake Dough:
180g plain flour
40g caster sugar
4g fine sea salt
80ml just warm milk
40g butter (very soft, but not melted)
Sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and mix. Lightly beat the egg and mix it with the warm milk. Make sure your butter is very soft, or it will be difficult to mix into the dough. Use the hook of the stand mixer to stir the air out of your starter, fit the bowl and hook to the mixer and turn the speed to low. Now add the flour mix, then the milk and egg. Once the dough has come together, turn the speed one notch up and leave to knead for ten minutes. Now add the butter and knead until the dough has absorbed the butter and the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes in total. Cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
While the dough is rising, make the Streusel Topping and keep it at room temperature.
For the Streusel Topping:
50g butter at room temperature
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour
Mix the flour with the sugar and rub the butter into it with your fingertips. You are basically making crumble.
Finish the Cake:
Knock the dough back and shape it into a rough ball, put it into your cake mould and flatten it with moistened hands. Make sure the top of the dough is quite wet. This will help the topping to stick to it. Scatter the Streusel Topping over the dough and leave to rise another 20 minutes, then bake at 180ºC for 45 minutes.
For the Custard Filling:
2 tsp vanilla essence
6 egg yolk
120g caster sugar
35g corn starch
3 Tbsp boiling water
Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan. While this is heating up, weigh the sugar into a bowl and strain the corn starch on top, then mix with a whisk to get an even, lump free mix. Whisk the vanilla essence into the egg yolks, then whisk the sugar corn starch mixture in.
Pour three tablespoons of boiling water into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatine into the water. Stir with a spoon to dissolve completely. Do not whisk, or you’ll get a bowl full of foam.
Once the milk is just starting to boil, take it off the heat and leave for a minute, just to cool it a little. Slowly stir the hot milk into the egg mixture, then return it to the saucepan and heat it. Keep stirring with your whisk and make sure to reach into all the corners and not burn any part of the custard. We are going to strain it later, but any burnt part will give the whole custard a rather nasty flavour.
You will see the foam slowly disappearing and that is an indication that your custard is about to bubble. At the very first indication of a bubble, turn down the heat and continue to stir for just one minute. Strain the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film, making sure the film touches the surface of the custard and leave to cool down for an hour, or until just warm to the touch.
Now cut a lid off your Streusel. You want the top to be about one third of the total height. So 2/3 bottom 1/3 top. Don’t worry if some of the crumble falls off. There will be plenty left. If you did it all right, your cake will have a lovely, airy texture, but still be quite firm to the touch.
Place the bottom of the Streusel into the cake tin and strain the custard on while it is still just warm. Close your custard sandwich with the top of the cake, cover with cling film and refrigerate. This cake will easily keep for a week in the chiller, so you can make it a few days in advance.
…is another man’s Milanese. It’s all crumbs to me! And there’s the secret I’m about to share with you. The idea of the Wiener Schnitzel or Scaloppa Milanese is pretty straightforward; flatten, flour, egg-wash and crumb your meat and then shallow fry it in oil or better still animal fat. So far, so easy. But then why is it so often so disappointing you ask? It’s the crumb, dummy! In fact that’s not the whole truth. Like most simple recipes, it’s all in the details. What kind of meat, what amount of flour, how much salt , what type of frying fat and most importantly, what type of crumb!
Let’s talk about the meat.
The best and most traditional cut of meat to use is veal, both in the Viennese Schnitzel and the Cotoletta Milanese and it should really be a veal chop with plenty of fat on it. The idea is that the fat flattens out and and provides a great burst of flavour to an otherwise quite dry meat. That’s the idea. The reality is unfortunately often quite different and you end up with a truly dry piece of veal (or pork, or chicken). I have tried pork shoulder and even lean belly, but I have to say that my vote goes to ribeye steak. For two reasons: if you choose a nicely marbled one, you will get that burst of fat in almost every bite AND it is much easier to hammer flat than a resilient piece of pork. And of course it has the added advantage that I can cook it for our Muslim friends too.
So here it is before I took my trusty hammer to it. This is a thinnish steak, roughly 1.5cm of about 200g. Place the meat between two sheets of clingfilm and start hammering gently. DON’T wack the hell out of it, but go soft and steady and you will end up with this:
It’s about 5mm thick, which is more than double the traditional Schnitzel thickness, but works just fine for our beef. You will get a nice little bit of pink in the middle of your cooked Schnitzel and that’s really all we ask for. Now prepare three soup plates, trays or whatever you have to hand and sift (yes, do it!) plain local flour into one. You will need about half a tablespoon per steak, but of course it’s impossible to spread half a tablespoon thin enough, so you will have to waste some. The second tray hold our lightly whisked eggs, again one egg is more than enough for two steaks. The third tray has our wonderful breadcrumb mix!
Homemade Breadcrumb Mix
60g Italian breadcrumbs (pan grattato)
30g almond meal
10g grated parmesan
3g/1tsp fine sea salt
0.5g/½ tsp black pepper
That’s enough to coat about 4 pieces of meat. Make sure to use good quality breadcrumbs and not those horrible orange coloured thins they try to flog in the supermarket. You can make them yourself, but you can also buy some Italian or French breadcrumbs. Grate your Parmesan fresh and for God’s sake don’t use the dried ready-made crap you can buy in a box, which smells like the toilet of an English pub in Benidorm after a long weekend and pretty much tastes like it too. Don’t worry about the cheese being a bit wet and in strands, rather than small bits. Once you add it to the breadcrumbs and mix it all about, the crumbs will dry out the cheese, absorb some of its fat and the whole thing will become nicely homogeneous. The addition of the ground almonds is, believe me, a stroke of genius, but then you know who you’re talking to… So don’t leave them out.
Before we start, I’d like to talk about salt and pepper. For a great flavour throughout the meat, you will want to season the steaks, the egg AND the breadcrumbs (as you can see in the ingredient list above). The steak needs a light sprinkling of salt on both sides, as well as good grind of black pepper. Add a small pinch of salt for each egg and leave the flour alone. I find that seasoning the flour doesn’t really work, as salt is so much heavier than flour and just drops to the bottom of the tray.
All we need to do now is fry the things. It is obviously best to coat the steaks last minute, but I find that they don’t suffer too much when done in advance and kept in the chiller. Don’t stack them up more than two by two, or the bottom ones will become soggy and keep a piece of parchment paper between them, cover the whole tray with cling film and you’ll be fine. When it’s a choice between spending the evening with your friends or in the kitchen breading steaks, I think the friends should win out over a tray of crumbs.
Fat! Traditionally, it’s clarified butter, which is a bit of a bummer to make, so open a can of ghee instead. Or buy some good duck or goose fat. Lard will do the trick too and when all else fails, go for good quality olive oil. Heat the fat in a pan just big enough to hold a steak or two. Don’t overheat the fat, or your crumbs will burn before they brown and before the meat is cooked. Even heat is important, so go medium high.
There’s a little trick I do; when all the steaks are fried, I quickly wipe down the pan, just to get rid of any crumbs that may have accumulated, add a big knob of butter to the hot pan and let it turn brown. I then pour this beurre noisette over the breaded steaks and serve them with a quarter lemon.
One last thing. Please don’t serve the Schnitzel (German plural is the same as the singular; ein Schnitzel, zwei Schnitzel) with tiny, cute lemon wedges no person is ever able to get any juice out of. You really do want to drench the Schnitzel in fresh lemon juice, so go invest in a whole lemon for every four people.
What do you serve with this? Healthy; a big salad (I’m thinking potato salad); not so healthy, chips (that’s French Fries to the Donald), catastrophically unhealthy; steamed potatoes with parsley in a lake of lard (with possibly some bacon on top). And a green salad to go with it.
Here’s a perfect recipe for those days when you wake up early and just can’t get back to sleep. Make some of Emperor Friedrich III buns for that wonderful sense of achievement. In 1487 Kaiser Friedrich of Austria is said to have had these buns baked with his portrait on them. I have to say that in the modern version it doesn’t look much like his face and more like his… never mind. That’s him on the right there. Not much fun at dinner, I’d say.
The dough is very much alive and behaves in a very strange but quite entertaining way. I’ll show you what I mean later on. Then there is the Austrian folding, which should result in a perfect 5 fold, star shaped bun. I have not ever managed it, but I enjoy the basketful of misshapen buns I get. They still taste great.
This one here looks just too perfect to be made by man (or woman). The Emperor buns are best eaten on the day you’ve made them, in fact within two hours is ideal, so I like to made a big batch, buy some smoked salmon, cured ham, mortadella and some good butter and have friends over for a Sunday Brunch. I’m a bit crazy, so I made this type as well as the polenta version I have given you in the note below. Mortadella and Polenta Emperor Buns is possibly the best thing you will ever eat. Don’t be shy with the butter and slap the mortadella on like there is no tomorrow and the gates of heaven will open for you. Possibly quite literally because of the sheer volume of fat each little bun will add to your arteries. Let’s get started with our….
For the Poolish Starter:
120g plain, local flour
10g dried yeast
120ml water at room temperature
For the starter, sift the flour into the bowl of your mixer and add the yeast. Pour in the water and mix well. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 20 minutes. At the end of this time, your starter should have risen nicely. If you are wondering how to get the sticky dough off the fork without getting your hands dirty, just tap the fork against the dough slowly a few times and that will do the trick!
For the Semmeln (that’s buns in Austrian):
380g plain, local flour
5g fine sea salt
200ml milk, plus extra to brush on
While the starter is starting, sift the flour into a bowl, add the salt. Put the butter into a saucepan and melt it over low heat. Pour in the milk and heat until it is just at blood heat. Once the starter has risen, set your mixer to the lowest speed, add in the flour and salt and slowly pour in the milk and butter. Knead for 3 minutes, then increase the speed one notch and leave it to knead for another 8 minutes.
By the end of this time, you should have a beautifully smooth and pretty relaxed dough. Use a scraper to shape this dough into a rough ball inside your mixer. Dust with a little flour, cover with a cloth and leave to rest and rise for 20 minutes.
For the Shaping:
40g plain flour
This dough is great fun to work. It’s a bit like playdough. You can cut it into pieces and put it together again and it will still forgive you. Let’s get started: Mix the plain flour and the cornstarch and sift it onto your work surface. This is your flour dust for rolling, shaping and dusting. Set up your weighing scales and cut 75g pieces off the dough. I got 11 and a bit.
Now for the fun part! Press one portion of dough tightly between the palms of your hands while rubbing your palms together in a circular motion. Excert as much force as you can for a few seconds and something strange will to happen. The dough will start to resist you and you can actually feel it starting to push back. I’m not kidding here! As the dough pushes back, release the pressure and cup your hands more and more, to form a nice, smooth ball. This should take about ten to fifteen seconds. Roll the ball in your flour dust and put it on a towel. Fold the towel over to cover the dough. Repeat until all 11 balls have been formed. Leave the dough to rest for about 10 minutes, then start the shaping.
I have tried to fold these semmel 5 times, as one should, but I have failed miserably. So as I made the last one, I decided to fold it just 4 times and lo and behold; the bun didn’t look like it had been made by a blind drunk. It’s still not an easy process and trying to explain it in words is not very useful, so here are the pictures:
Dust your buns generously with the flour dust you made earlier, put them generously spaced on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and leave them to rise another 20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 220ºC, preferably at top and bottom heat rather than fan forced setting. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 220ºC, brushing the buns with milk after about 10 minutes.
I like to put a tray of boiling water on a rack at the top of the oven, to generate a good amount of steam and improve the rise and crispness. Note all the bad shapes I made. And here are two truly bad ones:
If you can’t be bothered with all that folding, you can just cut a deep cross into the top and that will look nice too, though of course Kaiser Friedrich would not have been to happy. As promised, i will also give you the recipe for Polenta Buns. Proceed just like above, but brush with olive oil rather than milk.
Delicious, easy, satisfying. Three words that are bound to turn anyone off. I have been extolling the virtues of a good vegetablish soup for many years and still no one is listening and I have not been served a soup starter at any of my friend’s dinner parties. I for one used to serve them regularly until I broke a soup plate and am now left with just 5, so either I pretend not to like soup, or eat out of a bowl or don’t serve soup. It’s a sad fact.
I think no one wants to make stock and everyone, except the most silly, knows that for a good soup, you just cannot use stock cubes. It’s simply not done! (I think I’ve been watching too many Downton Abbeys), so if your hurdle to a good soup is good stock, check out my the last post; Taking Stock and Making It.
Spinach & Herb Soup
makes 800ml, enough for 4 starter portions or 2 mains
800ml chicken stock
100g young leeks, finely diced
50g onion, finely diced
100g spinach (either frozen or blanched and squeezed)
Melt the butter in a pot and fry the diced onion for about 5 minutes, until translucent, but not brown. Add the leek and continue to fry at low heat for another 3 minutes, taking care not to burn the leek. Add the spinach and just fry for a minute, then pour in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and add the herbs and grate in the potato. You need to grate the potato straight into the pot, or it will turn brown. Simmer for 5 minutes, then leave to cool a little.
Blend about ¾ of the soup and mix it back into the unblended ¼. Bring back to a simmer.
While the soup is simmering, stir the crème fraiche to smooth it out and add two or three tablespoons of hot soup to temper the cream and prevent it from curdling. Add the tempered crème fraîche to the soup, slowly add beurre manié until you have reached your desired soup consistency and serve.
Of course that whole thing would look much better with a dollop of crème fraîche and a single chive or chervil leaf in the middle of the plate, but I was too hungry.
That picture, of course, is Normal Rockwell’s Thanksgiving fantasy. I’m sure there is one with a terrine of chicken soup, I just couldn’t find it. I know many of you will switch off at the mere thought of making stock, but you are missing out on something that not only links us to our past and a line of long forgotten ancestors, but to something that will give you a lot of happiness. Jump straight to the recipe: #chickenstock
Making your own stock, broth or soup is one of the most rewarding things life has to offer. The smell of simmering chicken stock when you come home might even remind you of childhood, if you were lucky enough to have a parent who cooked. My own mother wouldn’t have known how to boil a stock cube and it still reminds me of home, which must be some Rockwellian fantasy. It’s that wholesome illusion, the 50’s nuclear family, the French country kitchen, the Yiddishe mamma making matze ball soup. Of course if you add cabbage, the smell, though sweet, will be more Soviet Union 1964 than French Country Kitchen. Even that is nostalgia, I guess.
I used to take out my big Staub pot to make stock, but it yields only about 2.5 litres, so it’s not really enough for a big family of two. Hence the recent shopping trip to acquire a pot more in tune with a large batch. This here Pujadas 20 litre monster can give you 6-8 litres of nice clean stock. But only if you make it right. That’s where I can help. Over the years, the way i make stock has changed considerably. I used to add lots of wine and handfuls of aromatics (that’s herb & spices to the uninitiated) and boil the stock literally for days. But those days are gone. I make a much cleaner tasting stock and have recently banished wine from my stock making, simply because I feel it is not necessary. When you use the stock in a recipe, the addition of wine can be a great thing, but I feel that you don’t need it in the base at all.
You don’t actually need a recipe to make stock, because the quantities can be varied wildly and you will still arrive at a great stock. But if you want the same stock every time, you need some kind of guideline. Mine is the size of a laksa bowl I have in the kitchen, so once I have a bowl full of each vegetable, I know I’m ready to go. I recommend you find your own system that allow you to work fast without having to weigh your ingredients. Here are the peeled and cut weights of all I have put into this chicken stock:
This recipe makes about 4.5 litres
3 chicken carcasses (1.2kg total and up is good)
2 packets of chicken feet (about 24 pieces)
250-300g celery branches
250-300g brown onion
(150-200g fennel bulb) optional, but I highly recommend splashing out.
2 tsp salt
About 10 litres water
3 bay leaves
12 white peppercorns
2 sprigs rosemary
1 small handful thyme
1 big handful parsley
(5 sprigs chervil) optional, but nice.
To avoid scooping some of the vegetables and herbs out of the stock when skimming, I first boil the meat and only add the vegetables and aromatics once the stock is clean. Start by washing the chicken and the chicken feet under running water and putting them into a stockpot. Add water to cover and stir the meat around, then pour off all the water for a second wash. Refill the pot to about 2/3 full, roughly 10 litres. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring the water with the meat to a boil.
Do not add the vegetables or aromatics at this point! Once the water is boiling and a nice , skim off the scum at the top. Do this several times, until the stock stays quite clear. You will see the foamy stuff at the top going from grey-brown at the first cleaning to white at the next and finally there should be no or little foam.
Now add all the vegetables and aromatics and bring back to the boil. Once the stock is boiling, lower the heat and keep the stock at a steady simmer for 3 more hours. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave to cool down for 30 minutes.
For this broth, I have not degreased the stock and only strained it through a fine wire mesh. The fat carries a lot of flavour, so I like to only partially degrease, if my chicken was very fatty or, as in this case, not degrease at all.
Pour the stock through a fine strainer into plastic tubs and cover with a lid while still hot. Then leave to cool at room temperature. If you want to degrease, put the tubs into tha chiller overnight and just scoop off the solidified fat in the morning, then label and freeze your stock. The stock will keep for a year in a domestic freezer. Unlike restaurant freezers, domestic freezers don’t have blowers, so things actually keep much longer. I have defrosted stock I forgot was there after two years and it was perfectly fine.
Our Aromatic Crispy Duck has come to its completion, so here is the actual recipe in full, without diversions into making your own Hoisin Sauce, for which you can make your own Black Bean Paste, for which you can make your own Five Spice Powder. Guess who was fool enough to make all his own everything? Yes. Me. If you have read all the previous blogs and want to jump to the frying part, click here #fryingduck.
Making the duck is really quite easy, it just takes time. You need the spice and salt mix to rub over the duck, then leave that in the chiller for 2-3 days. Then you steam the duck for 3 hours and again chill it for a day or two and you are ready to fry. I do recommend making your own Hoisin Sauce, if you can afford the time and effort. Here is the link: Hoisin Sauce. Last, but not least and to make your life easy, I have added a complete shopping list to the bottom of this post #crispyduckshoppinglist
Aromatic Salt & Spice Mix
You could just use five spice powder and add fennel seeds and sand ginger to it, especially if you have made your own five spice, but making the spice salt mix fresh will add a depth of flavour a store bought mix can’t give you. The good news is that you do not need to process this to a fine powder, so a quick whizz in a food processor or blender/grinder will do just fine. Leave all the rough bits in and just rub your duck with the whole mix.
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 star anise
½ tsp green fennel seeds
1 Chinese or black cardamom pod
1 piece cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp dried sand ginger slices (see Note)
45g fine sea salt, about 3 Tbsp
Break the star anise into pieces, lightly crush the Sichuan peppercorns, open the cardamom pod and scrape out the seeds inside, break the cassia bark or cinnamon into smaller pieces and crush the pieces without reducing them to powder. Now heat a small stainless steel pan. It is best to use a thick bottom pan, as the heat will distribute much better. Add all the spices into the pan, pour in the salt and toss in the heat until your kitchen smell like a church in Russia. Pour the spice and salt mix into a flat plate and leave it to cool down. Once it has cooled pound it in a mortar to get a rough mix.
Hausfrauen Ratschlag – Tip:
Make a double batch of the spice mix and keep the extra for other dishes. Just grind the extra to a fine(ish) powder and use it to flavour chicken or beef for a stir-fry, marinate beef or lamb in it for an hour before turning it into stew. Try a light sprinkle of the spiced salt on a more robust fish, like a cod or garoupa fillet. Rub the inside of a seabass with the spiced salt just before you steam it. It will all turn out delicious, I promise.
Marinating the Duck:
1 duck, obviously
all of the spice mix
3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
30g of ginger, unpeeled
4 spring onions
If your duck looks like this one, you need to start by trimming the unwieldy animal. This can be a little daunting and if you’re scared of floppy dead animals, I suggest you get your butcher to deal with it. Just tell him it’s a duck for roasting and ask him to cut the wings off and give them to you to make stock out of. But really, all you have to do is empty the inside of the duck of all things it needed for life, lungs, liver, heart, kidneys. Hopefully the guts have been taken out, because that’s the really horrid stuff. Then you cut the neck off and pull out whatever bits of windpipe there may be left in there. Cut off the feet at the joint, but leave the drumsticks and thighs on. Cut the wingtips off and keep them for stock. Cut the tail off by slicing a V shaped piece out from the sides of the tail to a point in the cavity. You’ll find it when you try. Wash your duck inside out and dry it properly.
To make sure your duck is dry, use paper towels to pat down the inside of the cavity first and then pat down outside. I then leave the duck uncovered in the chiller while I do the spice mix. That way the skin dries out completely.
Now crush the ginger and the spring onions with the flat of a cleaver or heavy knife. Prick the duck all over with a fork. You want to prick the duck deeply, so the spice salt can penetrate well into the flesh. Rub the duck inside and out with all of the spice salt mix, massaging it well into the meat. Exert some pressure on the thorax of the duck, to break the ribs and flatten the duck a little. Break the leg joints, if you’re not too squeamish, so the duck doesn’t tighten up when it is being steamed. Stuff the crushed ginger and spring onions into the cavity of the duck and place the bird into an ovenproof dish. I like to use an oval dish, because it holds the duck just nicely.
Last thing to do is gently pour the rice wine over the duck. You might think that this is going to wash the salt mix off, but you’re wrong. The wine will be absorbed into the mix, as long as you pour it gently, tablespoon by tablespoon.
The last thing for today is to tightly wrap the dish containing the bird and put it in the chiller for 2-3 days. 48 hours will be enough, but an additional day won’t do any harm, so do what’s convenient.
Depending on where you live, you may find it difficult to find sand ginger, whether dried or fresh. Scientifically, Sand Ginger is Kaempferia Galanga. Here in Malaysia, it is known as Cekur, in Indonesia it is called Kencur and to the Chinese it’s Sha Jiang. If there is a Chinese medical shop anywhere to be found, they will probably stock it. If you can find it fresh in the market, drying it is easy; just wash it and slice it into about 2mm slices, skin and all and cry it in the oven at 100ºC for about 30-45 minutes.
If you can’t find it at all, try a mix of dried galangal and dried ginger. It is available online, but it’s quite pricey, so might not be worth investing in for just one dish.
Steaming the Duck:
Our starting point for today is this lovely pink, marinated duck. You are going to need a bit of equipment for this part, unless you are lucky enough to have a steamer oven. You need a big steamer basket with lid and a wok large enough to deal with that basket. I’m using a 16″/40cm wok and a 14″/36cm steamer basket, which fits my duck and bowl perfectly.
Remove the clingfilm from the bowl and cover the bowl tightly with aluminium foil. Heat 2-3 litres of water in a wok large enough to accommodate a bamboo steaming basket that can hold the duck in its dish. Once the water is boiling rapidly, set the steamer basket in the wok and cover. You will need to steam the duck for 2-3 hours.
The water will evaporate, so be sure to add water whenever necessary. Use boiling hot water, so as not to interrupt the steaming process. I find that adding one litre every hour is sufficient. Try and keep the bamboo basket closed as much as possible, so the duck steams evenly.
After 2 hours, turn off the heat and carefully remove the basket with the duck in it. Unwrap a corner of the dish and use a small knife to check the doneness of the duck. It should be very soft and tender. For this dish, it is better for the duck to be too soft, rather than too tough. Once the duck is tender, leave it to cool wrapped in the foil inside the basket. This will take a very long time, possible 4-5 hours. Once the duck has cooled down sufficiently, unwrap the dish, pour the liquid into a bowl and reserve it. Now wrap the duck tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate it overnight or for up to two days.
The liquid you have collected will make a wonderful base for a soup or a stock, but remember that it is quite salty, so make the necessary adjustments.
Frying and Eating the Duck:
Frying the duck is actually the easiest and fastest part of the process, but it is also the most dangerous. If you don’t have a sturdy wok stand, I would advise against even trying. A litre and a half of hot oil needs to be treated with respect, because it can cause considerable damage. There is no need to be afraid of frying the duck, if you keep a few simple rules in mind and if you keep your mind on the matter at hand. First step is to remove any children and/or furry animals, frisky partners and the like from the vicinity of the frying area. Next you need to find the right implements to hold and turn the duck without it slipping from your grip. Then remember to do everything slowly. Add the duck to the oil slowly, turn it over slowly and watch the bubbly oil foam to make sure it doesn’t leave the wok.
1.5 litres cooking oil
young leek julienne
Heat about 1.5 litres of oil to 200ºC in a large wok. While this is heating up, dust the steamed and chilled duck all over with corn starch. Shake off any excess starch and get ready to fry. Gently lower the duck, breast side down into your vat of boiling oil. Keep basting the upper side of the duck with hot oil. Turn the duck over carefully as soon as the beast side is a light brown. Now fry until the underside is nicely browned too, then remove the duck from the oil.
Even if you have kept the heat at full blast, the oil will probably have cooled down considerably, so heat it back to a smoking 200ºC. Repeat the whole frying process, getting the duck a beautiful golden colour. Once cooked, remove and drain on a rack for a few minutes.
Like so many very involved recipes with a lot of steps, most of the preparation can be done long in advance and the aromatic crispy duck will happily wait an additional day after you have marinated it and after steaming, it will sit, tightly wrapped in the chiller for 6 days and still be tasty once fried. So it really is something you can start on a Monday for the following Sunday dinner. I have to say that it is so very delicious, it’s well worth the effort.
Serve your duck with traditional Chinese pancakes, Hoisin sauce, julienned young leek or spring onion and cucumber. If you can’t find Chinese pancakes (or make them), the duck will taste just as good wrapped in fresh romaine lettuce leaves, or store bought flour tortillas or chapatis. Toast them lightly, then tear the top layer from the bottom one to make two “pancakes” out of each tortilla or chapati.
1 duck, preferably oven ready
1.5 litres cooking oil
1 jar Hoisin Sauce
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 star anise
½ tsp green fennel seeds
1 Chinese or black cardamom pod
1 piece cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp dried sand ginger slices (see Note)
45g fine sea salt, about 3 Tbsp
3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
2-3 young leeks
2 English cucumbers
30g of ginger, unpeeled
4 spring onions
about 6-8 Chinese pancakes or 3-4 flour tortillas per person