Spicy Tomato Salad, Asian Style

Eddie was making us a nice Chinese dinner when I suddenly felt like having some tomato salad. So I was left with trying to figure out how to make a tomato salad that would not stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of stir fried vegetables and kung po prawns (recipes will follow), so I came up with this thing and it was quite a success. In fact we both liked it so much that for I took down the recipe. You see, I very often just make stuff on the spur of the moment and am never able to replicate again, as I forget what I did. Not this time. A word of warning: Don’t use this dressing on salad leaves, it won’t be nice. You could try and add a teaspoon or two to a normal vinaigrette. That will work.

Asian Style Tomato Salad

enough for 2-3 people as a side

  • 1 large tomato
  • a pinch of sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp dark, sweet soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp homemade chilli oil or ready-made chilli oil
  • 1 tsp garlic oil (optional)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ shallot, finely diced
  • 1 spring onion, green part only
  • 1 small handful cilantro leaves.

Wash and dry the tomato well. Cut it into 12 wedges by cutting it into four and then cutting each quarter into three. Salt the tomatoes with a half a spoonful of sea salt and a sprinkle of sugar. The amount of sugar you will need depends on the quality of your tomato. If you manage to buy a ripe, sweet tomato, you won’t need to sugar them at all, but if you are saddled with a red, but underripe tomato, you’ll need a good pinch to bring out the life in it. Leave your tomatoes to marinate for at least half an hour.

Mix the soy sauces, homemade chilli oil, garlic oil (if you’re using it), black vinegar and sugar and stir to mix. It will take a while before the sugar dissolves, so keep on stirring. Add the finely minced garlic and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Do not add the shallot at this stage.

Roughly chop the spring onion and cilantro. Drain the water off the tomatoes, add the shallots and toss the salad in the dressing. Don’t drown your tomatoes, just use as much dressing as you need. Plate the tomato salad and garnish with the greens.

I added this dish to my “Asian Home Cooking” category, though shamefacedly. I’m sure someone, somewhere in the vast country that is China someone is making a salad like this. At least I hope so.

Asian Home Cooking

Stracciatella – Italian Egg Drop Soup

Here’s a soup that makes me smile. It’s a Sunday morning, I walk into the kitchen of my Italian friend’s mother and the whole place is filled with the smell of simmering stock. It’s not just chicken stock, that much is obvious. The Parmesan rinds that were saved up for this soup are floating in the stock and the give it a completely different dimension. Once you smell this soup, you will never forget it and believe me, just smelling it will make you happy. It has that effect on people.

Although this soup it is the height of simplicity, this is not an everyday soup, it’s a Sunday soup. In fact it was traditionally served as a first course on Easter Sunday. I say first course because a proper Italian lunch is not just starter, mains, dessert. It is a whole passeggiata of courses of which the pasta is just one starter! So be prepared to really eat if an Italian mama asked you to lunch. You are expected to eat two helping of everything!

La Bella Stracciatella

It may not be a great looking soup, but once tasted, never forgotten!

enough for 4 starters

  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 1 large piece of parmesan rind
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 Tbsp grated parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp semolina
  • a little salt
  • black pepper, preferably freshly ground

We are going to reduce the chicken stock to about 800ml-850ml while we infuse it with the cheese rind and boil the egg in it, so it’s really just enough for 4 starters. You can leave the semolina out if you like, which will give you a more raggedy looking egg in the soup. Semolina makes it a little more crumbly and elegant, but it doesn’t really alter the taste.

Bring your stock to the boil and add the parmesan rind. Simmer for half an hour, then adjust the reasoning and turn off the heat until you are ready to finish the soup. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them with a fork to break them up completely. Add in the grated parmesan and whisk to mix in. Add one or two little pinches of salt.

Remove the parmesan rind from the stock and bring it back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Quickly stir the semolina into the eggs, pour the mix into a jug and slowly pour the eggs into the simmering soup. Simmer for just a minute and you’re ready to serve.

Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce and Fried Garlic

One of the things we miss during the lockdown is coffeeshop vegetables. Simply boiled greens with a tasty sauce just poured over. It’s one of those things we don’t have delivered because the greens arrive brown and soggy and the sauce has lost its freshness. So I make it. It is really simple, once you get your head around the sequence. By the way, I just re-read the blog and I can’t quite believe that it took me three paragraphs to tell you how to fry crisp garlic. Chinese home cooks, please forgive me for stating the obvious and skip the chapter. The rest of you; Better read it attentively. It’s one of those easy things that can easily go wrong.

This is not a thick, gluey sauce, but it is just thick enough to coat the vegetables lightly. It is, believe me, delicious!

Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce
  • 200g-250g choy sum, about 12 stalks
  • 1½ Tbsp lard, duck fat or peanut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Mei Kwai Loo
  • 1 level tsp sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp water

There is no soya sauce in this recipe and it’s not a mistake. I wanted the oyster sauce to be at the forefront. You can add a tablespoon of soya sauce, leave out the salt and reduce the sauce a little more, but I find that it is not necessary. What you will find in there is Mei Kwai Loo, which is a rather strong, rose scented liqueur. I like the slight fragrance it adds, but please don’t overdo it, it can become cloying.

Peel and chop the garlic about medium rough, if that makes any sense. You don’t want it to be too fine, or it will burn too easily. Heat the fat in a small saucepan, making sure it is not too hot, about 30 seconds on high. Then turn down the fire to low and add the garlic. It should just fizz lightly when you add it, but if it doesn’t sizzle at all, that’s fine too. What you don’t want is a huge high heat frying, because then the outside will brown before the inside has time to dry out and you will have brown, but soft garlic.

Crisping garlic is a slow and steady process, so keep the fire low, stir often and just leave it to do its thing. While this is fizzing, line a plate or tray with two layers of kitchen towel and prepare a strainer and a little heatproof bowl. The big question is when to take out the garlic. You have to remember that there is some residual heat that will continue to cook your garlic for a while after you have taken it out. One other thing is that fried garlic in the pan always looks lighter in colour than fried garlic once taken out. So I stop when the smallest pieces are nicely golden and the biggest ones look slightly underdone. They will all be crisp, trust me.

Once you have achieved the desired colour, pour the garlic into a strainer and collect the fat in the bowl. Shake the strainer about a bit to loosen up the garlic, then spread it on the kitchen towel.

Wipe out your pan and return the fat to the pan. Mix the oyster sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, Mei Kwai Loo, sugar and water and stir to dissolve. Add the sauce mix to the fat in your pan. Heat this up to a sizzle just before pouring it over the boiled choy sum, which incidentally is Chinese flowering cabbage in English. Now all you need to do is boil your vegetables, drain them and you’re ready. You can pre-blanch the veg, but it isn’t really necessary. The thing cooks in 3-4 minutes.

Get a nice big pot of water to boil and if the stalks of your choy sum are big, cut a ½ cm deep cross into them. It’s a very un-Chinese- restaurant thing to do, but I do it anyway, it just makes for more even cooking. Keep the water boiling and when all the other dishes (?) you are serving are about ready, quickly boil the choy sum, drain it in a colander for a minute, turn on the heat under your sauce and arrange them on a serving platter.

Now take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the choy sum into three sections; bottom stalk, middle stalk, leaves. Pour the hot sauce over, sprinkle your crisp garlic on top and serve.

Coq au Vin Façon du Chef

There is an easy way to make coq au vin and then there is my way. It’s a little more involved, but it will give you a beautifully clean looking sauce with perfectly cooked vegetables and an incomparable depth of flavour. Most recipes will as you to marinate the chicken in wine overnight and I used to do that too, but in my current return to culinary simplicity, I have eliminated that step. It’s not laziness, I just find that it takes away from the chicken flavour. I don’t thicken my sauce until about 30 minutes before finishing. The chicken that is not covered with flour develops a nicer skin texture and the sauce is just much cleaner tasting.

Simmering your chicken in a litre of wine will impart enough wine flavour, trust me. If you should choose to marinate, please boil off the alcohol in the wine before you marinate, because the alcohol will dry out your chicken. Talking about chicken; you really do need the best bird available for this dish. The skinny, floppy supermarket variety will not do at all.

I was lucky enough to have a free range 2.8kg capon for my coq au vin, courtesy of a dear friend. It has a beautiful layer of yellow fat under the skin and a nice tough meat that can stand up to two and a half hours of slow stewing. If you live in France, you will have no problem getting hold of a good, yellow-fatted chicken with thick skin, as long as you have relatively deep pockets. Here in Malaysia, the matter is a little trickier.

Ask your butcher, ask your supermarket, ask your friends and hopefully someone will know someone who supplies free range, proper grain fed chickens. Good Luck in your quest, and if luck is not on your side, buy the biggest, fattiest, toughest chicken you can find and hope for the best.

To make your life easier, there is a complete shopping list at the bottom of this blog.

To Stew the Chicken:
  • 1 large capon, or chicken, at least 2kg
  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 250g smoked pancetta, or bacon, in thick slices
  • 1-2 Tbsp duck fat or lard (or oil)
  • 1½ bottles of good, strong red, like Cahors
  • 2 nice, big carrots
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 big brown onion
  • 1 whole heads of garlic
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 1 handful of fresh thyme
  • 12 sage leaves
  • 2 big, fresh bay leaves

Cut your chicken into 10 parts. If you know how to do this, skip this paragraph. First cut the legs off the chicken. Make sure you get as much of the meat on the back as you can. Take care not to pierce or cut the skin. Once the legs have been taken off, split each leg into half along the joint. If you have trouble finding the joint, turn the leg skin down and you should see the joint clearly. Pierce the joint with the tip of the knife and then go from there and it should separate easily. The French cut a piece of the breast and keep it attached to the base of the wing, so whoever gets the wing doesn’t end up with just two small bones. Cut about a quarter off the breast and then separate the whole wing from the carcass. Cut off the wing tips and use them for stock. Keep the rest of the wing in one piece. Now for the hardest part; the breast. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut through the thin rib bones, then hold the butt of the chicken and the narrow end of the breastbone and break the two apart. Keep the spine part for stock. Place the breast part skin side up and make sure the skin is evenly stretched over the meat. Cut the two breasts apart and then split the bone in half lengthwise. Cut each breast across into two more or less even pieces. Each side of the chicken will thus yield one drumstick, one thigh, one wing with a bit of breast and two pieces of breast on the bone.

Peel the carrots and cut each one into 2-3 pieces. Clean and dry the celery branches and cut them into 4 pieces. Peel the onion and cut it into 8. Wash the whole, unpeeled garlic and cut it in half lengthwise. Cut the pancetta into lardons with each lardon being about as wide as it is thick, and you’re ready to start cooking.

Heat the fat of your choice in a cast iron pot and fry the pancetta in it until the fat has turned translucent and the lardons are just starting to brown. We’re not going for crisp bacon bits here, so don’t overdo it. Remove the lardons and reserve them for the second part of the process. Make sure there are about two tablespoons of fat in the bottom of your pot. Fry your chicken pieces in the hot fat until golden brown. You will have noticed that the chicken has not been seasoned yet. This is intentional.

Recipes always tell you to fry chicken until “golden brown”, but they don’t tell you how to achieve it. Here’s the trick: make sure the chicken is dry before you start frying it. Kitchen towel is best for that, but be careful paper tend to stick to the white membrane of the chicken, so be quick and don’t wrap your chicken in the paper, or you may have to wash it again. Now heat your cast iron pot on full heat for 2-3 minutes before you add the oil, then make sure the oil is smoking hot. Add the chicken skin side down and don’t try to move it. It may stock at first, but once it has fried for a while, it should come loose. Do not attempt to fry all the pieces in one go!

Turn your chicken at least twice, so fry the skin side until just goldenish, then turn it, leave the meat side to sear properly, then turn again and finish the skin side. There will definitely be parts that are more fried than others, but that’s not a shortcoming. Once browned, remove the chicken from the pot and reserve. I fry the legs and wings first and do the beast pieces last. You will notice that the second batch browns faster than the first, so it is good for the drier breast meat to spend less time in the oil than the juicier legs.

With the chicken fried and removed from the pot, add all the vegetables and just give them a quick stir. A light brown edge is all you need, which should take just 2-3 minutes. Some people like to remove some oil from the pot before they put in the vegetables, but I don’t usually bother. Just before you finish the vegetables, add the herbs, stir them in and then pour the wine over. Let the wine boil off the alcohol, then add all the chicken pieces and lastly pour in then stock. You need to add enough to just cover all the chicken. If you have trimmings form the mushrooms in part 2 of the recipe, add them now. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a good simmer and leave to stew for an hour to an hour and a half until the chicken is about 20 minutes from finished.

Lid or no lid? That really depends on how long your chicken will need and how much stock you have added. I usually start uncovered and finish the last half hour or so with the lid angled on top. Once the chicken is almost done, remove it from the pot and strain the sauce. Discard all the vegetables and herbs and then return the chicken to the sauce base. If you make the dish in advance, you can stop here and refrigerate until you need it. Make sure your chicken is kept in the sauce, though, or it will dry out.

To Finish the Coq au Vin:
  • 1 Tbsp duck fat or lard (or oil)
  • 2 nice, big carrots
  • 10-12 garlic cloves
  • 500g button mushrooms
  • 250g pearl onions or shallots
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste

Peel the carrots and slice them on the bias into 1cm slices. Peel the garlic cloves, but don’t crush them. Peel the pearl onions. If your mushrooms are very small, you can leave them whole, if they are bigger, cut them in half or into quarters. Heat the fat in your cast iron pot and fry the carrots, garlic cloves and pearl onions for two minutes without browning. Add the flour and fry for another minute until the flour starts to brown, then add the tomato paste and stir through.

Pour in the coq au vin sauce base and bring to the boil. Add the chicken and then the mushrooms and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the chicken is very tender. Your sauce should be just thick enough to coat the chicken. Try not to make a gloopy, starchy sauce. You’re aiming for elegance, not sustenance.

Shopping List:
  • 1 large capon, or chicken, at least 2kg
  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 250g smoked pancetta, or bacon, in very thick slices
  • 2-3 Tbsp duck fat or lard (or oil)
  • 1½ bottles of good, strong red, like Cahors
  • 4 nice, big carrots
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 big brown onion
  • 2 whole heads of garlic
  • 500g button mushrooms
  • 250g pearl onions or shallots
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 1 handful of fresh thyme
  • 12 sage leaves
  • 2 big, fresh bay leaves
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste

The Runny Egg Series

Who doesn’t like a runny egg?! It’s the ultimate comfort food and it’s good any way you prepare it, from the healthy poached egg to the wicked deep fried bull’s eye egg. That’s my translation of telur mata kerbau, a fried egg with a soft yolk that is usually served with spicy sambal on coconut rice. One of the true great traditional Malaysian breakfasts. My parents were not great egg lovers, apart from the odd soft boiled, so I think I got my first lesson in egg from a nun. Yes, a nun.

My brother and I were staying at a monastery for a week. I can’t for the life of me remember why. It can’t have been to find God as my parents weren’t sure there was any point looking. Be that as it may, we were there, in this huge, ancient monastery, getting up at the crack of dawn to attend first mass. As dinner the previous evening was served at 6pm, there was a fair bit of fainting among the ranks of hungry and tired children. And that is when the nun in our story (sorry I have forgotten your name) said that surely God would allow little children to be fed an egg before mass and would anyone like to help her make the eggs in the morning. Always the precocious little brat, I volunteered.

Kitchen at Kloster Bebenhausen in Germany

Now if you imagine we were boiling three dozen eggs to a grey ringed death, you are very much mistaken. In the cavernous depths of the monastery kitchens, The Nun grabbed a copper pan the size of Australia, added a pound of butter to it while I was cracking and beating seventy-two eggs. She brought the butter to a foaming great wave and just when the edges started to turn brown, she poured the beaten eggs into it and whisk them quickly until all that beurre noisette had been incorporated. She then turned down the raging heat from the black range, grabbed a wooden spoon and stirred like, well… the devil. And when I thought the eggs were still rather uncooked, she stopped, took the pan off the range, gave the eggs another minute’s stir, poured them into a big, deep bowl, sighed, held up an egg, looked at me and said: “The Lord has given us the most wonderful things to eat and the duty to prepare them well!”

I still remember this scramble as the best egg I have ever eaten. Fois gras laden, meat glaze drizzled, two temperature eggs make way for this 72 egg scramble. I am not sure whether her repertoire extended beyond scrambled eggs, because we made the very same thing every day. Until I saw this nun add butter to the eggs, I had never imagined that one could add such a huge amount of butter to eggs, but then of course I was too inexperienced to know that one can pour a litre of oil into a single egg yolk and call it Mayonnaise.

I have revisited this scrambled egg version and at first, I got it entirely wrong. I completely miscalculated. I added 30g of butter to 2 eggs, which at 60g weight per egg egg is 25% of the egg weight. 72 eggs however weigh 4,320g and a pound of butter would be less than 12%. I should have used half the butter. I tried it again and lo and behold; There was my perfect scramble!

The Perfect Scrambled Egg

  • 2 fresh eggs
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • a light sprinkling of white pepper
  • 12g butter
  • a deep, rather than flat bowl

Crack your eggs into a bowl, add the salt and pepper and whisk the eggs with a fork until they are foaming just a little. Melt the butter in a pan and when it turns slightly brown, turn the heat down to low and add the eggs. Use a wooden spoon to stir like crazy until the eggs are just starting to set. Pour into a preheated bowl (you do this by pouring hot water into the bowl and then drying it BEFORE you start on the eggs). Leave the scramble in the bowl for a minute before tugging in.

If you look at the menu on top and click on All the Recipes, you will find a category called “The Runny Egg Series”, which will bring you straight to all things runny egg I wrote about and will write about.

Before I leave you for the day, I have to bring up the one egg question on everyone’s chin: Are eggs bad for you? According to ever changing science (who, need I remind you, told us for years to eat margarine) we are supposed to eat no more than one egg a day. I ask you: ONE egg a day?? Who’s ever eaten a ONE egg omelette??? Sausages and ONE fried egg???? “Oh, okay then, I’ll have that boiled egg with mayo and limit myself to just the one. But can I have a slice of cake after that?” For more elucidation of the subject, here is the day’s long read:

Paccheri with Morels and Porcini Mushrooms

It’s always good to have a few simple, fast and impressive recipes to hand to wow impromptu guests or to feed the family when your shopping was delayed by a glass of wine. Today’s dish looks like you must have slaved for hour over a slow simmering stock but does in fact take just 20 minutes to make, about the time it will take to soak your mushrooms.

The sauce itself is a model of simplicity and because we will be using the soaking water from the dried mushrooms, we don’t need any stock at all. I like to use morel and porcini mushrooms, mainly because both give an intensely flavourful soaking water, but you could use pretty much any dried mushroom. Even Chinese dried shiitake will give you a nice pasta, though I’d probably go the whole way and use rice wine instead of red wine and let it be an Asian version.

As for the pasta, you can of course use any shape you like, but I think paccheri or maltagliati work best. Spaghetti or fusilli just don’t seem right for this sauce, if you see what I mean. As for the meat part of the recipe, you can really use any meat you want, or even make it completely vegetarian (vegan, in fact!).

Paccheri with Dried Mushrooms

  • 150g minced beef, pork, chicken or diced fresh mushrooms
  • 10g dried morel mushrooms
  • 12g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 400ml hot water
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ big brown onion
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sprig marjoram, oregano or sage (anything but basil or dill, really)
  • 15g butter (or 1 Tbsp olive oil for that vegan option)
  • 15g flour
  • 50ml red wine
  • 250g dried Paccheri pasta

Soak your dried mushrooms in hot water for about 30 minutes. Longer is fine, but anything less might leave you with hard cores in your shrooms. While the mushers are soaking, you can leisurely make the rest of your sauce. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, peel and finely dice the onion and… well, and nothing else.

Once your mushrooms have soaked, remove them from the water, squeeze them and chop them up. I like to keep the morels in strips, but just roughly chop the porcinis, they will pretty much fall apart during the cooking anyway. If you want a grander version, you could get fresh porcini, dice them and add them. But do NOT replace the dried ones with fresh ones. It doesn’t work that way. You need that Bovril like soaking broth.

Heat one to two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and once the oil is smoking hot, add the minced meat and spread it out flat in the pan. Leave to fry for a minute, then break it up into bits and fry for another minute. You need to leave the mince alone, so it can get some colour. If you keep stirring all the time, it won’t brown. I make all my own mince, so there is no problem with it being watery. If your mince draws water, you will let that evaporate first. Once the mince is cooked and nicely brown, remove it from the pan and reserve.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the onions. Once they start to take colour, add the garlic and let that brown as well, then quickly toss in the mushrooms and the herb(s) and stir for a short minute. Season lightly with salt and black pepper and stir for another minute. There is a small danger of burning the garlic, so keep an eye on it and if necessary wet it with a tablespoon of wine. Now add the fried mince back to the pan and stir to mix.

Add your cut of butter, let it melt and sprinkle the flour over the whole thing. Continue to fry for a minute, then add the red wine. Stir in and add the soaking liquid from the mushrooms. Pour this in gently and make sure not to disturb (or add) the sand that will have settled at the bottom. You can pour it through a strainer, or pre-strain through a cloth, but it’s not really necessary. Sand is quite heavy and if you’re careful, you can easily see when you need to stop. Bring your sauce to a simmer and cook until it’s just thickened. You are looking for something that will just coat the pasta, not a sauce you can slice with a knife. It’s a common error, even in restaurants to have over-reduced sauces that may have great flavour, but are just too heavy to enjoy, so try to avoid that and keep the freshness in there!

Time to boil your pasta. If you’re clever, you will have a big pot of water on the boil already. Salt it lightly. That means a child’s handful to a big pot. If you have no child to hand, use a heaped tablespoon. Once that’ boiling properly, toss in your pasta and keep stirring for the first minute, just to make sure the pasta does not stick. Boil for as long as the manufacturer tells you to and then check. The guys at Rustichella, my favourite pasta after Cipriani (terribly expensive) and Benedetto Cavalieri (not sold in Malaysia), think that their paccheri will boil in 15 minutes, but they are very wrong. It took me almost 20. So fish one out and eat it. Don’t bite off a corner, or eat a small bit. You need to chew it all to see whether it’s cooked or not. This recipe want a slightly soft pasta. Not mushy, but softer than a proper al dente.

Take your pasta out of the water with a slotted spoon, or strainer straight into your plates or serving platter. Do not pour the water and pasta into a colander. That will drench the pasta with all the starch in the water, which is a bit like pouring wall paper glue over the pasta. Don’t worry if there is a little extra water in the bottom of the plates, it won’t matter at all. Spoon the sauce over, serve with a generous amount of grated cheese of your preference and you’re set.

Eggs Benedict in Ten Minutes

Eggs Benedict are the bane of my life. I’m just terrible at poaching eggs, but I love Eggs Ben. Yes, I can do the wrap in cling film and gently simmer method, but that’s not really a poached egg at all. Of course I blame the eggs; too old; too new; too watery, but whichever way I look at it, the result is an unpalatable mess. I add vinegar to my water, I create a whirlpool and my whole egg just flies in all directions. I gently pour the egg into a flat pan of water and the white spreads all over the surface, while the yolk sinks to the bottom. Let’s face it, I’m just useless at poaching an egg.

But now, dear friends, I have solved the mystery of the poached egg and produce consistently acceptable eggs. I say acceptable; not perfect, but presentable. AND they can be cooked easily, consistently and what’s more, they can be removed from the water without breaking.

I couldn’t find my slotted spoon, so I use a strainer.

Of course Eggs Ben is nothing without its sauce, so there’s another problem for the lazy, bleary eyed morning cook. Proper Hollandaise needs a reduction, a bain-marie (double boiler to the uninitiated) and time. I on the other hand want my breakfast in under fifteen minutes with as little fuss as possible and I think I’m not alone. That’s why I have invented The Five Minute Sauce Hollandaise, which I am introducing to you right now:

The Five Minute Sauce Hollandaise
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • white pepper
  • 25g butter
  • 1 Tbsp cream (or milk)

Put your butter into a saucepan and set it over low heat, directly on the flame. Break and separate your egg and put the yolk into a small bowl. Add the two teaspoons of white wine vinegar, the salt, pepper and sugar and mix it all together. No need to whisk, just stir to mix and you’re done. By not your butter should be just starting to bubble up.

Remove the pot from the heat and pour in the tablespoon of cream straight from the fridge. The whole thing will look like a curdled mess, but we are not worried about that. Now take a small whisk, drop the egg mix into the butter and cream thing and whisk it up. Set it back over a very low flame and whisk like your life depends on it, because it does. As soon as the mix thickens, take it off the heat, continue to whisk for another 30 seconds and pour the sauce back into the egg bowl. You’re done! What you are aiming for is the consistency of slightly flowy mayonnaise, so keep that in mind.

The Bottom of the Plate

Obviously, your eggs have to sit on something. Tradition dictates that it be toasted and topped with something smoked. As for as toast goes, you could use one of the following: Flaxseed Loaf or The Incomparable Toast will go well with your poached eggs and hollandaise. What you put on top of your toast is really up to you. I smoked cooked ham or smoked salmon, but I was out of both, so what you see on the pictures is Spanish Bellota ham. In fact it’s Paleta Iberico de Bellota, which you can acquire from https://www.mysybaritas.com/. It’s considerably cheaper than Jamon de Bellota and I find it much tastier. The difference between jamon and paleta is that the former is from the hind leg and the latter from the front leg of the acorn fed pig.

If you’re vegetarian, you could go for avocado mash with chopped shallots and Thai basil, or mushroom duxelles (that’s a long stewed diced mushroom thing), but I think a few thinnish slices of pan seared porcini or eringi mushrooms (that’s a king oyster mushroom) will be best. Now we are all set to poach our eggs!

The Poached Eggs:
  • 2 nice free range eggs
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt

This is not a difficult recipe, but I have to admit that it’s equipment intensive. You’ve already used a saucepan, a bowl, a spoon a whisk and a plate and now you’re going to need another two spoon plus a slotted one if you have it, another saucepan or small pot, another three bowls and a strainer. The washing up is honestly going to take longer than the cooking and eating combined, but it will be worth it, I promise.

Bring your water to the boil. When I say boil, I really mean simmer. The lightest of bubbles rising is just what you want. Add the salt and vinegar right at the beginning, so you don’t have to think about that again. Place a small strainer over one of your three small bowls and break the first egg into the strainer. Leave it there for about a minute, then pour the egg into a second clean bowl. Repeat with egg number two, which you should pour into a third bowl. I recommend that you rinse the strainer immediately; dried egg white is a nightmare to get out of a strainer.

What happens here? The egg white is actually composed of two parts, the tighter white around the yolk and the very liquid white around that. We are getting rid of the flowy part, which tends to spread in the water and pull the tighter white with it.

Once the water is simmering, bring the first bowl with egg right to the surface of the water and gently slip the egg in. Give it 30 seconds and repeat with the second egg. Leave the eggs in the hot, but completely motionless water for exactly three minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gather up whatever bits of egg white may be sticking to the edges of the egg and scoop the whole egg out of the water. Set the spoon on a cloth or paper towel for a few seconds, just to get rid of excess water, then flip the egg upside down on the toast. Repeat with the second egg.

You can see how the egg on the right was strained properly, so there is very little loose white pulling free, while the one on the left wasn’t strained quite long enough. I did that on purpose, of course.

What I’m doing here is hiding the fact that my poached egg is not the perfect version, where the egg white envelops the yolk evenly by hiding the yolk under the white. Once the sauce has been poured over no one will notice that the egg is not perfect. You may wonder why I flip the eggs when the yolky side looks much better. It may look better before saucing, but after saucing, the thinness of the layer of white will show. Flip them and no one will look at the underside of the yolk! It’s called window dressing.

Spoon your hollandaise over the eggs and your breakfast is ready. You could dress this with chopped chives or other herbs, but it will do perfectly well on its own.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin

It’s the second day of Chinese New Year, a time for indulgence, a time of plenty and of sweet treats, so I decided to try my hand at a tarte tatin with a local flavour. If you buy the puff pastry, it’s all relatively easy to make. Our pineapple was a little underripe, so I thought I’d caramelise it fist in some butter, both for added flavour and to soften the fruit a little. You can do the tart without first frying the pineapple, if you’re feeling lazy, but make sure you get a nice, soft and ripe fruit.

  • 1 pineapple of about 1kg-1.2kg
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25g dark palm sugar
  • 25g salted butter, plus extra for frying
  • 2 Tbsp coconut cream
  • enough puff pastry to cover

Line your spring form with parchment paper, making sure the paper goes all the way up the sides and has no holes or splits in it. Heat your oven to 180ºC at least half an hour before you put your pie in. Convection heat will give you the best result for this tart.

Peel and clean the pineapple and cut it in half lengthwise. I’m quite lousy at this, so I normally get the someone to do this for me, or I just buy a peeled fresh pineapple. Slice into thick slices, about 1.5cm. Cut the strawy core out. Heat plenty of salted butter in a non-stick pan and fry the pineapple slices on both sides until they are nicely browned. This will take a while, so be patient and don’t worry if it isn’t even and there are some quite dark or almost black patches. It will just add to the look. Remove the pineapple from the pan and reserve. Keep all the butter and juices.

Melt the sugar in a stainless steel and turn it into caramel. Once nice and dark, add the palm sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the butter and last the coconut cream. Don’t worry if it stiffens a little and if it becomes too stiff, just heat it gently. The trick is to work this part as fast as you can and pour the finished caramel into the lined tin, then tilt the tin to spread it all over the base.

Put the pineapple into the caramel, placing the nicest looking side face down into the caramel, as that’s the side that will be on top when you reverse the tart. Roll your dough out to about 5mm thickness. If you have bought ready-made sheets of puff pastry (like I did), use it as is. Cut a circle about 3cm wider than the bottom of your cake tin, all around. So if your tin is 20cm in diameter, your dough should be 26cm diameter.

Place the dough on the pineapple tart so that the dough is folded up along the sides of the tin. Check that it’s pretty evenly placed, then fold the sides under the pineapples. It’s pretty forgiving, so just squeeze them in, creating a bit of an upside down tart shell. This does not need to be perfectly even. Prick the dough at intervals with a sharp knife to create some small holes through which the steam can escape. Don’t make chimneys, though!

Bake at 180ºC for about 40 minutes, until the dough has nicely puffed up and is dark brown. Take it out and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Remove the ring of the spring form and fold the parchment out, so it’s not in the way when you turn your tart upside down. Place your serving tray or plate over the tart and gently, but resolutely reverse it. I say gently, because you do not want to have the caramel fly all over the kitchen.

Enjoy your Tarte Tatin!

Smoked Salmon Ricotta Quenelles with Fennel Cream Sauce

Quenelles are really just fishballs in French, so there’s nothing that should scare you here. You aim for a super light texture (very contrary to their Asian cousins), but if you don’t quite achieve it, there’s still nothing lost and you will probably enjoy them just as much. If you’re making them for guests, my advice is to pretend whatever texture they turn out to be is the exact one you were aiming for. This is one of the great Sunday Lunch dishes. You can serve it individually plated, or in a tray in the middle of the table. You can make it in advance and gratinate it in a hot oven. You can even pre-cook the quenelles and then deep fry them and serve them with a light tomato sauce! I like serving them very simply around the still hot pot of freshly made sauce. The more splattered and untidy it looks, the better I like it.

They’re not the tidiest looking quenelles I’ve ever made, but who cares!

The real traditional quenelles are made with a mixture of béchamel, panada and fish paste, but that’s too much bother in my books, so I’ve developed this mousseline type quenelles that are easy and fast to make, quick to boil and delicious to eat. Plus, the bones will make your sauce, so it’s an all in one dish!

It is essential that you buy really fresh fish, so if that can’t be found, skip this recipe and make jam instead. Get the fishmonger to scale and fillet the fish for you. Even if he is the lousiest monger in town, he can’t spoil your fillets, because you’re going to turn them into paste anyway! There are two parts to this recipe, the quenelles and the sauce. I suggest you make the quenelles first, chill the paste while you start on the stock, shape the quenelles and keep them covered in the chiller while you finish the sauce. Don’t add the lemon juice and just leave all this to be finished 20 minutes before you want dinner to be on the table.

Smoked Salmon Ricotta Quenelles

makes 12 generous quenelles, enough for a good starter for 6

  • 300g seabass fillets, skinned, trimmed weight (2 medium fish)
  • 100g smoked salmon
  • 3g salt
  • white pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 small egg whites
  • 150g ricotta
  • 150g liquid cream

Put the bowl and lid of your food processor or blender into the chiller. Make sure the seabass fillets are perfectly trimmed and washed of all scales. You may want to cut out the darkest part of the bloodline. Cut the trimmed seabass fillets into smallish pieces. This will make is easier for you to blend them. The weight should be 300g-315g. Anything more and you will need to adjust the rest of the ingredient weights.

Cut the smoked salmon into dice and add it to your fish. Put the fish and smoked salmon on a flat plate and put it into the freezer for about half an hour to make sure the fish is very cold. Both the ricotta and the cream should be as cold as possible without being frozen. Put all the fish salmon into the food processor, add the salt, white pepper and nutmeg and pulse to a fine paste. Once done, feel the paste to make sure it is still perfectly cold. If it isn’t, or if you’re not sure, put the bowl of the food processor and all its contents into the freezer for 15 minutes. Now add half the egg whites (you can whisk them lightly to make them easier to pour) and pulse again. Add the rest of the egg whites and pulse again.

Check the temperature of your mix. If it is cold, add the ricotta and pulse again, then add the cream and pulse one more last time. Chill the mix for at least an hour. You can speed this up by putting it into the freezer, but try not to forget it…

The traditional recipe now asks you to push this through a fine strainer, but I think it is really not necessary and it is truly a devil of a task, so don’t.

It is important that you keep the water barely simmering and not boil them to death.

Using two tablespoons, shape the mix into quenelles. You can do all this in advance and keep the shaped quenelles covered in the chiller for one day. When ready to serve, bring a pot of well salted water to a simmer and poach the quenelles in the barely simmering water for 10-15 minutes. They should feel perfectly firm and springy. Remove and serve, or chill for later use.

Fennel Cream Sauce

  • heads and bones of 2 medium seabass
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 leek
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 celery branches
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • salt & white pepper
  • 25g butter
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 300g liquid cream
  • juice of 1 lemon

Wash and dry the fish heads and bones. Dice the fennel bulb, leek and onion. Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the vegetables in the butter without browning them. This should take about three minutes. Now add the fish bones to the pan and continue to fry until the bones are pretty much cooked, another 3-4 minutes. Turn up the heat, deglaze with the wine and leave to evaporate completely. Now add about 1 litre of water, just enough to cover the fish and vegetables. We will want to reduce the stock to just 150ml, so the more you add now, the longer you will need to cook it down.

Bring the stock to a simmer and gently cook uncovered for one hour. Strain the stock through a fine strainer and then strain it again through a cloth. You want the stock to be as clear as possible. Put the stock back into a pot and reduce to about 150ml. Pour the cream into another saucepan and simmer to reduce by two thirds to very thick, You do unfortunately have to watch and stir this all the time, or it will burn and you won’t be able to use it.

Off the heat, gently pour the reduced stock into the reduced cream, stirring all the time. Your sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it isn’t, simmer to reduce it further. Turn off the heat and leave to rest a few minutes, then slowly and carefully add the strained lemon juice, adjust the seasoning and strain the sauce one more time. You’re ready to serve.

I have served my quenelles with white asparagus that I bought ready made in a jar, but you could just decorate your plate with a few salad leaves, a small raw fennel salad or even just an oven baked tomato! Serve them with rice, if you want to turn it into a meal.

Brown Butter, Sage & Cheese Omelette

The star in this recipe is not the cheese, but the sage and brown butter. Looking at the picture of my omelette, you might think it will be far too oily, but trust me, it’s not. This is another post in “The Runny Egg” Series, so our omlette will obviously be of the runny sort. The addition of cheese however binds the runny egg a bit, so it might be a way to convert our dry egg friends to the joys of the runny ones!

What do you need for this omelette? Eggs, obviously, but also fresh sage. If you can’t find that, you could go with marjoram, but that’s about the only replacement I can think of. We have a sage shrub on our tiny balcony and it seems to be doing reasonably well. I dare not move it at all, for fear of upsetting it and seeing it wilt away in obstinate protest. Sage is wonderfully fragrant, but it can overpower a dish easily, so go easy. I use only about 5 smallish leaves for a two egg omelette. Three will do if they are very large. Just wash them and dry them a little without crushing the things.

I use salted butter to make the this beurre noisette (hazelnut brown butter), which is quite unorthodox, but adds a thrillingly savoury note to it. If you can find a good butter with proper salt flakes in it, like the one shown here, then please use that one. It really does make a huge difference. Eggs, of course get the best you can find and please forget the pasteurised ones, the low cholesterol (it means tiny yolks) or extra selenium, cadmium or lead type eggs. A simple, free range chicken egg will do just fine.

To make a nice breakfast omelette for one you will need:

  • 2 fresh eggs
  • ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp grated cheese
  • 1 small pinch salt
  • white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp salted butter
  • 5 sage leaves

I use two different types of cheese for this, Emmenthaler for creamy stringiness and aged cheddar for depth. One generous, loose packed tablespoon of each will be enough. Grate your cheese first and then crack the eggs into a bowl, add a small pinch of salt and a fair amount of white pepper and whisk them until they bubble a little. You’re just breaking up the eggs, not making a sabayon, so don’t overdo it. Make sure to salt the eggs very lightly, because the cheese will add salt and you also have the salted beurre noisette we will pour over later.

Now heat the unsalted butter in the pan. You want to be at medium high heat, if you want a brown omelette and at medium low if you don’t. Once the butter is foaming, pour in the eggs and wait for the sides to just set, then scrape the side gently into the middle, all around the edges. The remaining liquid egg should flow to fill the gaps you have made. You should be able to do this for roughly one and a half rounds before you need to tilt the pan to fill the gap. Stop after the first tilting, grab your grated cheese and scatter it all over the runny egg. Tilt your pan and use a spatula to fold the egg roughly in half. Your upper half, should be a little smaller than your bottom half. This is not vital, but it makes the finished omelette look much better.

Slip the omelette on a plate and immediately add the salted butter to the pan. Keep the heat high and as soon as the butter is frothing, toss the sage leaves in. You should hear a satisfying crackle. Wait for the butter to just turn brown and pour it over the omelette.

Now all you need is a nice slice of toasted Flaxseed Loaf (see recipe), a cup of tea and the morning is starting very well indeed. This is a new recipe I came up with this morning, so please do try it and let me know what you think.