Babaganoush is a much maligned dish. What you buy in the supermarkets is inedible and what you get in most restaurants is merely dreadful, which is why you should make your own. It’s one of these things that’s not difficult to make, but needs a bit of finesse to make really great. The topping can be as simple as a drizzle of oil and few toasted nuts or fresh herbs. The secret is in the babaganoush itself. On top of that, it’s one thing that you can easily make all your own. You are not making “the original” babaganoush (I sure know I’m not), but the one that hits all the right buttons for you. So experiment and stun your guests (in a good way, if possible).

Serve your babaganoush with traditional Pita bread or with Khobz. My own recipe for both will follow in the next few days. Pita Bread Moroccan Flat Bread – Khobz

For the Babaganoush:
  • 3 long aubergines
  • 1-2 Tbsp tahini
  • 2-4 Tbsp crème fraîche
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • salt
  • black pepper

Keep your aubergine at room temperature. It will really make charring them a hell of a lot easier. Make sure they are dry, then empale them on a carving fork, or similar instrument, turn on the fire on your gas hob and slowly char the aubergine on all sides. This sounds easier than it is and you may need to use tongs to get to the last bits of aubergine once the thing has gone limp, which is what you want it to do.

If you don’t have a gas burner, you can roast the aubergines in the oven, setting the thing to the highest heat it will do or char them under a grill, or throw them on the barbie, or even into the coals. Once the aubergines are mostly black and blistered, put them on your chopping board and leave them to cool down and deflate.

Do not try to peel your charred aubergines. It’s so fiddly, you will probably give up halfway through the first one and throw the whole batch away. What you do is just cut them in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. You will probably still have bits of charred skin left on the flesh, but as long as these are just small occasional flakes, don’t worry too much about it.

Now chop the flesh as fine as you can and put it into a bowl. Chop your one small garlic clove very fine, then mash it with the flat side of your blade and chop it again. You should have a relatively fine paste. Add it to the chopped aubergine. Salt lightly, stir and add the first tablespoon of tahini. Stir and taste, then add the fist tablespoon of crème fraîche. Taste again. Now you need to decide what texture you want your babaganoush to have. There’s no right or wrong, so make is to your own taste. I add about 1 ½ tablespoon tahini and 2 or 3 tablespoons crème fraîche to mine, depending on how stiff the tahini is. I want my babaganoush to be chunky, but creamy with just a hint of tahini.

Finish your babaganoush off by adding the lemon juice and adjusting the seasoning. Do this carefully! The salt takes a while to dissolve due to the relatively high fat content of the thing, so add a little, stir, wait, taste, then add more. Add pepper, or even chilli flakes and resist the urge to eat it all.


Restraint or Madness, the choice is yours and as long as you stay within the boundaries of good taste – literally – you’ll be fine. I would avoid anything that is not a vegetable, a root, a grain, nut or mineral. It is supposed to be a non meat, so bacon is pushing the envelope just a bit. As I said just a drizzle of good olive oil, a few freshly chopped herbs and you’re good to go, but if you are in the mood for something a little more interesting, here are 2 ideas for you:

Topping #1:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste

Heat the olive oil together with the garlic on medium heat. As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, turn the heat to low and stir the garlic until the edges start to brown. Turn off the heat and add the cumin and paprika. Stir for a minute, then add the chopped mint. Add a pinch of salt and reserve.

Once you are ready to serve, spread the babaganoush in a flattish serving plate and pour the oil over. Decorate with fresh mint leaves, if you like.

Topping #2:
  • 4 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thick
  • 1 Tbsp celery leaves, very roughly chopped
  • a pinch of salt

Heat the olive oil in a small pan or saucepan. Once it is hot, but not smoking, add the walnuts and fry them at medium heat until they have browned lightly and you can smell their aroma. Scoop them out of the oil and reserve. Reduce the heat to low and fry the garlic very slowly until it is light golden. Turn off the heat and take the pan off the fire. Keep stirring until the garlic is brown. Make sure the residual heat does not burn your garlic. Add the nuts back to the garlic oil, salt lightly and leave to stand for ten minutes before using. You can of course make this in advance and keep it at room temperature.

With you babaganoush in an attractive serving bowl, drizzle the oil over and decorate with the chopped celery leaves.

Topping #3:
  • 6 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 handful of rolled oats (not instant!)
  • 1-2 Tbsp  thinly sliced dried ancho chillies or other mild, sweet chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped medium fine
  • a generous pinch of salt

This is actually the most difficult of all three toppings. It’s not the ingredients or system, it’s the timing that makes it hard to do. If you are not sure of your chef skills, fry everything separate and then recombine at the end, starting with the garlic, then the chillies and last the oats. Here’s how you do it in one go:

Heat the oil to medium high and toss in the oats. They will absorb a lit of oil, but try not to add any extra. Stir on medium high until the oats are quite a bit darker and seem to flowing a little freer in the pan. Now add the garlic. Keep stirring until the garlic is just starting to colour at the edges. Turn up the heat a little, toss in the chillies and stir for a minute. Pour into a bowl and stir to lower the heat a little. You’re done!

Cacao Cake with Ganache Icing

I have fed this cake to people who “don’t eat cake” and they invariably ask for a second slice and sometimes a third. It’s just that good and I say this in the full knowledge that it is not my recipe. Giving credit where credit is due, this credit goes to Rose Prince and her “The Pocket Bakery” book, which I can only recommend. I made a few changes, but it’s essentially the same recipe, because… it was perfect already. One thing about this cake, though. Do not make it the day before. It really is best eaten a few hours after you’ve made it and if you get your ingredients ready, it’s mighty quick to make.

Possibly the Best Chocolate Cake on Earth

For the Cake:
  • 45g cacao
  • 90g boiling water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g softened butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 150g toasted ground almonds (from ±175g ground almonds)
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¾ tsp cream of tartar

Start by heating your oven to 180ºC. I use a flattish tin which is 24cm across and 4.5cm high, but you can really use anything that will give you a flat, rather than tall cake. A removable bottom is essential for this cake. Butter your tin and line it with parchment paper. I like to give it a little edge, so the dough doesn’t get into the cracks and well, crack when I take out the cake. Once you have lined the thing, lightly butter the parchment. This will make it easier to pull the parchment from under the cake once baked and cooled. This is NOT the kind of cake you can turn upside down to peel the parchment off, so just so as I say.

The recipe is easy enough, so I always forget that some of the ingredients need to cool before you can use them and so… The order in which to do things is:

Cut your cold butter into cubes and put it in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover and leave to soften.

Put the cacao powder into a cup or bowl and add the hot water. I just put the bowl on the scales, measure out the cacao and then carefully pour in the water while keeping an eye on the scales. If you have one of those electronic things that you can zero, here’s the time to use it. Stir until there are no more lumps and there you are. Leave to cool completely.

Put 175g of almond powder into a stainless steel pan and toast it until you can smell its wonderful aroma, which should be when it is just about lightly brown, not hazelnut. Pour the almond powder on a plate, or anything else that will have it spread out not too thick, so it cools faster. Once cooled, weigh off 150g, which should be almost all of it. Eat the rest.

Attach the whisk to your stand mixer, add 150g of the caster sugar to the now softened butter and whisk until pale white. Most of the sugar should have dissolved. Add the egg yolk one by one, whisking each time until the yolk has been incorporated. Pour the cold cacao paste into the butter and mix to incorporate, then add the cooled almond powder and mix under. Wash and dry your whisk (unless you have a second one).

In a second bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. As soon as they are lightly foamy, sieve the cream of tartar into the egg whites and continue to whisk until you have soft peaks. With the machine still running, sprinkle the 50g of sugar in and whisk to stiff peaks. Lift one third of this meringue under the cake batter, then another third and finally the last third. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Your cake will look slightly burnt, but as long as it does not smell like a burnt cake, you’ll be fine.

It may look a little burnt, but as long as it doesn’t smell burnt, you’re okay.

Once the middle of the cake rises, you’re about done. Do the insert a skewer test and it should come out reasonably clean. A few oil streaks are fine, but batter on your skewer is not. Once done, take your cake out of the oven and do nothing until it has cooled considerably. Once it’s no longer warm to the touch, lift the cake out of the ring, slide it off the metal base onto a cake tray, then gently pull out the parchment. Leave to cool completely. Do not chill at this point, or in fact ever, if you can avoid it.

For the Ganache Icing:
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 200ml double cream

Break the chocolate into small pieces and put it into a bowl. Heat the double cream to just below boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate and stir to melt. Make sure this is melted completely. Pour the whole thing on your cooled cake and spread to cover the whole surface and edges. This cake will have raised edges, but don’t worry about that. Just spread the ganache in a circular motion from the middle until it flows over the edges. Now your cake is flat. Leave to cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

NOTE:          If you can’t find double cream, use 120ml normal cream and stir 20g butter into the melted mix. That will do the trick.

Cold Silken Tofu with Crisp Shallots, Garlic & Spring Onion

I’m not sure this is even a recipe. It feels a bit like cheating, as there is hardly any cooking. You could even not bother with the garlic and still end up with a great meal. One word of warning; do NOT use ready bought fried shallots! They are mostly really nasty tasting stuff and will destroy your wonderful creation. I can’t remember when I first ate this cold tofu, but we have been in love ever since. The juxtaposition of the smooth, chilled creamy tofu and the umami oomph of the sauce and crisp shallots and the fresh zing of the spring onion just makes your taste buds dance.

Cold Silken Tofu

For the crisp stuff:
  • 5 big shallots, sliced medium fine
  • 5 big garlic cloves, sliced fine
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil

The secret of perfect crisp fried shallots and garlic is in the thickness of the slicing and the temperature of the oil. Shallots want to be slightly thicker than you might think, but garlic wants to be fine and both want an oil that is at a fairly low temperature. It takes me a good 15 minutes to fry shallots and then another ten to fry the garlic and here is why: The inside of the shallots and garlic need to be dry before the outside starts to brown. Otherwise the moisture of the inside will soften the crisp outside after you have removed it from the oil. So what you want is a slow and steady frying. Annoyingly slow is just right.

For the sauce:
  • 2 Tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp shallot garlic oil (from the recipe above)

Just mix all the ingredients together and whisk them to an emulsion just before serving.

To finish the dish:
  • 1 silken tofu
  • 1-2 spring onions, finely sliced (I like to use the dark green tops)

If you have ever wondered how to get the super soft, silken tofu out of its box without breaking bits off, stay with me. Now I’m not sure how hygienic this method is, but it sure works! Peel the top foil off and make sure to get all the bits around the edges completely cut off, or you will be scratching marks into your tofu. Take two sheets of paper kitchen towel, fold them up to fit the open side of the tofu, place them directly on the tofu, top with a and a small plate or chopping board and turn over. Leave to drain for about ten minutes.

Flip the tofu over again, remove the paper (and the plate, of course) and reverse the tofu on your serving dish. Note that your tofu is still in its box. Now comes the trick; Cut a small corner off the box and gently blow into this. You will feel the box coming loose from the tofu immediately. Aim achieved. If you are bacteria phobic, you could fit a small rubber balloon to the hole and pump it, I guess.

Just before serving, quickly whisk the sauce back to an emulsion, pour your sauce over, top with the crispy stuff and with the spring onion. Your tofu is ready!

Fried dried prawns and garlic, dried Chinese mushrooms soaked and fried with ginger, pickled radish, fried salted fish, black beans and ginger, crisp fried krill or ikan bilis, there is no limit to the variations. You may have noticed the thread that runs through it all; there is always a crisp element!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Is life too short to be stuffing mushrooms? Not if they are big Portobello mushrooms! I’m starting to rediscover the recipes of my youth. These meat stuffed mushrooms make a perfect main course for the family, or a successful starter for a dinner party. I plated them on a bed of very thinly sliced white cabbage that I fried very simply in duck fat, then added the juice form the cooked mushrooms. It may not have been haute cuisine, but all the guests asked for the recipe. It’s just that kind of a dish.

And for just a bit of science; Did you know that the Portobello mushroom and the button mushroom are one and the same? Agaricus bisporus is white or brown when young and grows to a cap size of 12-15cm and that’s when they are called Portobello mushrooms. Or Portabella or Portabello. The one thing they have nothing to do with is Portobello Road, even though there used to be a Portobello Farm there in the 18th century, so maybe…

Meat Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

makes 6 mushrooms, enough for 3 as a main

  • 6 big portobello mushrooms
  • 250g minced meat (see note for meat options)
  • 200g goat ricotta (no cream added)
  • 1 big shallot
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped rough
  • 1 big handful English parsley
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • small bundle chives
  • ½ sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ Tbsp Italian bread crumbs (or other
  • 6 tsp double cream
  • freshly grated Emmenthal cheese for the top
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 tsp butter per mushroom (inside cap before filling)
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil

Gently break the foot off the mushroom and remove it. Use a teaspoon to carefully remove the dark gills without breaking the rim of your mushroom. Salt and pepper both sides. Butter an ovenproof dish that will hold the mushrooms snugly and add your mushrooms rounded side down. Put a small tablespoon of butter into the bowl of each mushroom.

Peel and chop the garlic medium rough, then dice the shallot small. Finely chop the sage, rosemary, chives and parsley. Keep the garlic, the shallots and the herbs separately. Now heat two tablespoons of the oil in a pot and when it is smoking hot, add the minced meat. You can use any kind of mince, but preferably something with a little fat on it. Stir to break the meat up and once it is cooked through, add the garlic and fry until the garlic is just starting to take a little colour at the edges. Now add the shallots, lower the heat and fry for about two minutes. Turn off the heat, salt and pepper your meat and add the chopped herbs to it. Leave it to cool for ten minutes.

Add the ricotta to the cooked meat and stir to mix in. Now add the egg and stir to mix thoroughly. Last add the breadcrumbs and mix well once again. Check and adjust the seasoning. If the mix seems a little too wet at first, leave it to rest for five minutes and check again. If necessary, use a little more breadcrumb. If on the other hand it seems too dry, just add a dash of cream and if you don’t have that to hand, add a tablespoon of milk. preheat your oven to 200ºC

Divide your meat mix into roughly 6, pick up a mushroom and fill it so you have a nice dome of filling. Repeat until all the mushrooms have been filled. Make sure your mushrooms rest securely in your dish, then top each mushroom with a teaspoon of double cream and grate a generous amount of cheese over each. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes and leave to rest outside the oven for 5 minutes before serving. There will be a lot of juice, so make sure you serve it with something that can absorb this delicious sauce.

NOTE:          Depending on what type of minced meat you are using, you may want to vary the type of herbs you use and the side dish you serve it with.

Beef Mince – Rosemary, thyme and parsley would be the traditional herbs, but try oregano, chervil, a little rosemary, and just 4 sage leaves plus a handful of English parsley. Buttered Basmati rice will be perfect with it.

Lamb Mince – Mint and basil in an equal proportions, the same amount of chives and a tiny touch of anis seeds will be wonderful and if you replace the ricotta with 150g barrel aged feta and 50g liquid cream, you won’t regret it. Serve with a simple couscous moistened with lemon oil and chopped preserved lemons.

Chicken Mince – Forget using any minced chicken from the shop – it’s mostly watery rubbish, so mince your own. It is really quite easy, even by hand and you do not need a super fine mince anyway. Start by cutting the chicken skin into small pieces and then mince it together with the chicken meat. Sage, chervil and chives will work well. Alternatively use basil and marjoram and add three tablespoons of grated parmesan to your mix. Soft, creamy polenta will be heaven with it. (Try a 75% chicken 25% beef mix for a fuller flavour)

Pork Mince – Use the herbs listed above, because that’s the mince I designed them for. It was the only mince I had in the house. I served the mushrooms with ratatouille and fresh tomato red onion couscous.

Fish Mince – My advice is to use a mix of fish and prawn, about 70%-30%. And then rosemary should be the dominant herb, together with chives and spring onions. Rice is the obvious choice, but a small diced zucchini tossed in olive oil and moistened with fresh lemon juice and some roast potatoes will be quite outstanding.

My Very Own Spicy Fried Noodles

I woke up yesterday feeling very much like a plate of really spicy, oily fried noodles. It may have been the couple of magnums I downed with friends in anticipation of yet another lock-down, but whatever its was, the result is this entirely delicious noodle recipe that I claim as my very own! It’s part Hokkien Char, part Chilli Pan Mee with a bit of Kata Yakisoba thrown in for good measure. And no! It does not taste like the dog’s dinner, it’s a very finely balanced dish of spicy oil, creamy noodles, wonderful dark sauce, sour pickled vegetables and spicy oil. I know the spicy oil is in there twice, but that because, well… I added quite a bit of it.

Christian’s Best Spicy Fried Noodles

For the Meat Part:
  • 200g thinly sliced meat of any kind, thinly sliced
  • 1½ Tbsp rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 heaped tsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp fat or oil for frying

I used pork belly, but really any type of meat will work. The noodles are so tasty, the meat only plays a supporting role and with all the oil added, a leaner cut is actually better. I stick my meat of choice in the freezer for an hour, so it just firms up without freezing through. This will make slicing it thinly very much easier! Now simply mix the sliced meat with the rice wine and soy sauce, add the corn starch, mix and then add the sesame oil and mix again. Leave to marinate for half an hour.

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot and stir fry the meat for just a minute, until it is just about cooked on the outside, then spead it in a single layer and leave it alone for about a minute, so it can brown nicely. Give it another stir and leave to it for 30 seconds to brown on the other side, then take out and reserve.

For the Noodles:
Here’s a store-bought version
  • 400g udon rice noodles or thick yellow mee
  • 200g sliced cabbage, well drained
  • 150g pickled vegetables
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 Tbsp roughly chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp flowering garlic chives (or plain garlic chives)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp fragrant fried chilli oil
  • 2 Tbsp oil or fat for frying

Now before you throw up your hands in dismay and ditch this recipe, let me explain. Yes, I did make my own pickled vegetables and chilli oil, but you don’t really have to. simply shred or julienne some carrots, celery and beans (or indeed whatever else you have at hand, drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and leave that to sit while you do the rest. As for the chilli oil, any good store-bought chilli garlic oil will do.

Start by mixing the soy sauce, thick soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil in a bowl. This will be your noodle sauce that you will add to the noodles just before finishing the cooking. Wash your noodles in some warm water and drain well.

We are going to use the green part of the spring onion for garnish and the white part for flavouring, so cut the white part of the spring onions into 1cm lengths and the green part into 3cm lengths and keep the two separate. I am using flowering garlic chives because they have thicker stems and a wonderful full flavour and don’t wilt away in the hot noodles like the flat garlic chives do. If you can’t find them, just leave them out.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in your wok and when it’s smoking hot, add your cabbage. Do not salt or pepper at this stage. First stir fry the cabbage, then leave it to brown at the edges before you stir it again. Once it has browned a little, add the pickled vegetables, stir fry for two minutes and remove it all from the wok. Reserve on a reasonably flat plate or bowl. You don’t want the cabbage continuing to stew in a piled heap.

We are about to finish our noodles. You can do all the previous parts in advance and then it will take you just ten minutes to cook. Heat the last tablespoon of oil in the wok. When it is smoking hot, add the noodles and fry for two minutes. Pour in the sauce mix and keep frying for another minute, then add the meat, cabbage, pickled vegetables, garlic chives and white part of the spring onions. Last, add in as much fragrant chilli oil as you like, but remember to scoop the solids and not add too much of the oil, or your noodles will become very oily. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and green part of the spring onions and there you have it!

The lightly pickled, crunchy vegetables give a really nice zingy-ness to the dish. You have all the right flavours there; the sweetness of the cabbage, the sour vegetables, the spicy, smokey dried chilli oil, the super umani sauce; it’s just delicious.

You could stop reading here and still make a wonderful noodle, but if you can be bothered, make the chilli oil yourself. It does make a difference.

For the Fragrant Fried Chillies:
  • 2 Tbsp fermented black beans, soaked
  • 5g dried red chillies, soaked (about 6 chillies)
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp finely diced or chopped ginger
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil

Chop the soaked red chillies. It’s really up to you how rough or fine you chop them. It will change the texture of your oil, but not the taste. Chop the soaked and drained black beans medium fine. Heat the oil in a small saucepan or wok and when it is medium hot, add the chillies. Fry until they start to turn darker, then add the garlic and fry until it starts to brown at the edges. Add in the ginger and black beans and fry for another minute. Pour into a bowl or jar and reserve. This will keep in the chiller for a very long time, as both the ginger and garlic have antibiotic properties and the chillies are not a favourite of any known common critters.

For the Fermented Vegetables:
  • 2 small carrots, cut into fine julienne
  • 2 long beans, cut into 3cm lengths
  • 1 celery branch, cut on the bias into 1cm pieces
  • 2 dried chilles, finely sliced
  • 10cm piece of konbu
  • 2.5% of the vegetable weight of salt

Cut the konbu into thin strips using a pair of clean scissors. Mix all the ingredients together and massage the salt in with perfectly clean hands. If you have a vacuum machine, you can vac the vegetables into a bag, but putting it into a zip lock bag and squeezing out as much air as you can. Keep the vegetables out at a reasonable room temperature for 24 hours, then put it into the chiller for a week or more. I put mine into the wine chiller, which is at 12ºC and the pickles are ready within a week.

Note that the bag will puff up with the gases that develop. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. The vegetables will have acquired a nice acidity by the end of the process. If they smell bad or off in any way, or if there is any mould on them, don’t even try them, just throw them away. I have never seen that happen, but it is wise to be careful. These pickles will keep in the chiller for a month or two.

A Cheese Soufflé for the Lazy Cook

It’s quite out of fashion, the soufflé. And it’s got a bad reputation to boot; difficult to make, difficult to cook and not worth eating. Wrong on all counts! Bear with me just a little longer and you will show you how easy it is to make and how rewarding it is to eat. Well, the last one I can’t really show you unless you make it.

I wasn’t really planning on making soufflé at all, but I had all these bits and pieces of cheese left over and I was too lazy to make béchamel, which is the traditional base for our soufflé, so I started thinking… and once I had thunk for a while, I figured I could make the same kind of base texture by using cream cheese and then adding a little corn starch to replace the binding flour in the original recipe. Guess what? It worked like a dream and so here it is:

Cheese Soufflé for Lazy Cooks
Light as air and deep in flavour. That’s a good soufflé.

enough for 2 lazy cooks

  • 40g Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 4g corn starch
  • ½ Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp cream
  • 50g grated cheese, plus extra for the moulds
  • butter to grease the moulds
  • a little freshly grated nutmeg
  • a little salt
  • two 200ml-250ml ramekins

Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature. Separate the yolks from the whites. Whisk the cream cheese to cream it up a little, then add the eggs and whisk to stir in. You need to make sure this is a pretty smooth mix, so keep on whisking until it’s smooth. Now add the cream and stir to mix. Dissolve the corn starch in half a tablespoon of water and mix it in. The starch will help the soufflé keep its shape and not collapse too fast. You can leave it out, but them you better run from the oven to the table and make sure there’s no draft.

Grate your cheese and stir it into the mix. I use a fork for this, as a whisk tends to get all clogged up with strands of cheese. Leave this mix to rest for about 10-15 minutes. You need to use hard cheese, such as gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar or similar. Soft cheeses will not work at all, so no brie or camembert. Check the seasoning and add a little salt if necessary and a little white pepper, if you like and definitely a good grating of nutmeg, unless you hate it. I find that nutmeg once grated goes very stale very quickly, so I only use freshly grated. Added advantage; the whole nutmeg keeps almost indefinitely. You can prepare this mix in advance and just keep it at room temperature if you plan to bake it within the next hour or so.

Heat your oven to 200ºC, butter your ramekins and line them with a little grated cheese. I use parmesan for this, because it gives a nice, rich flavour. You will need about one heaped tablespoon to line your ramekin. Clean the rim of each pot with a paper towel to make sure the soufflé doesn’t stick.

Just before baking, add two pinches of salt to the egg whites and quickly whisk them to stiff peaks. Lift half the egg whites under the cheese mix, then lift the second half under. Make sure you have a relatively smooth mix. Fill your ramekins with the soufflé base and bake them at 200ºC for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven while you bake, or disaster will strike. Apart from that, you’re going to be fine. Carefully remove the soufflés from the oven. Remember, they are very hot and if you burn yourself you have but two choices; sacrifice yourself or the soufflé. Once you have successfully managed to navigate the hot soufflés to the table, you’re ready to enjoy!

I used a mix of Spanish Manchego and some no longer identifiable Italian hard cheese, which worked very well. Traditionally, it’s Gruyère, but you can really use just about anything, as long as it has a strong flavour and can easily be grated. I say that because if it can’t be easily grated, it’s probably not hard enough to give you a decent soufflé. A younger Parmesan should do well too. I’m thinking to break my own rule and use a good Greek feta, so watch this space.


Why on earth would you make your own sausages? Teutonic souls will known; there simply isn’t a decent sausage to be had in this city. Some are okay, but none are the real thing we remember from our pre-covid travelling days. What we are making today is a fried sausage. It has no preservatives in it, is quite easy to make, freezes very well and is unbelievably delicious. Believe me. I am going to try and figure out how to make thins without pork, so that all our non-porky friends can try this triumph of the German butcher’s ingenuity .

  • 500g pork shoulder, finely minced
  • 500g pork belly, skin off, medium minced
  • 4 eggs
  • 200ml cold milk
  • 20g plain salt
  • 4g black pepper
  • 1g anis seeds (replace with cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
  • 2g cumin seeds
  • 2g nutmeg
  • 500g caul fat (net fat) to wrap the sausages in (optional, but recommended)

As it is easier to mince a larger quantity of meat, we will first mince and then split the quantities into two. Mince the shoulder through the fine die and keep it separate. Now mince the belly through the medium die.

Shoulder going through the fine blade.

Put the cumin, anis seeds and black pepper corns into a mortar and crush to a medium fine powder. It should not have bits in it that will be hard to bite, but it really does not need to be super fine. Grate the nutmeg into your spice mix. Most of the time, I will toast my spices first, but in this instance, I don’t find it to be necessary.

Put the minced shoulder into the bowl of your mixer, attach the blade, add the eggs and all the spices and mix at low speed until it lightens and turns into more of a paste. Increase the speed to 2 and slowly add the cold milk. Once it is all nicely incorporated and looks slightly more gluey, add the minced pork belly and mix well. Fill this off into a big disposable piping bag and chill for a couple of hours. his is not strictly necessary, but the firmer mince will make piping  a good shape easier.

A word about the piping bag. You can buy these either online, or in any good baking shop. cutting the right sized opening is not always easy, so I use an idiot proof way of getting it right. I want my bratwurst to be 2.5cm in diameter, so I use the handle of my whisk as a template. Stuff handle into the bag, mark bag with a small cut, remove whisk and cut bag. Perfect 2.5cm sausages will happen.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pipe a sausage the whole length of this tray, then pinch the end of the bag to finish the sausage. Pipe as many as you can get onto your tray without the things touching. You should have lengths of about 16 to 14 inches, 32 to 36cm, which will be too long to fit into your pan. Use a pair of scissors to cut each length in half, then freeze the sausages. They will be easier to handle for the next step.

Buying natural sheep casings is not easy here in Malaysia and I don’t really like the collagen ones, so I use caul fat to make my sausages. It’s a bit troublesome, but I find it quite fun to work with. You do however need to find a butcher willing to supply it to you. It’s a pork product, so don’t ask your halal butcher! You can actually skip this step entirely And just fry the sausages without casing. You will still get a pretty tasty meal, but I do recommend making the extra effort.

Here’s what you do when the butcher hands you a packet of what looks like a blob of fat. Take it home, gently pull the layers of fat apart and lay them on a large board, or washable surface. Salt them all over, then fold them up and put them into a bowl. Repeat with all the different pieces. If you notice any pieces that are too torn or too thick to use, chuck them into a bowl. You can render lard out of it or throw it away, which would be a shame. Leave the salted caul to stand for fifteen minutes, then fill the bowl with water and move the caul around without disturbing it too much, or your layers will be harder to separate later on. Wash two or three times, until the water runs clear, then empty the bowl and press down to get rid of as much water as you can. You may find it easier to get the caul sheets apart if they are in the water. Whatever works for you is fine, but you should try and pat the caul dry before you wrap the sausage.

Now all of that is done, pull out one caul sheet, lay it flat on your surface, place a frozen sausage on top and roll the caul around it twice, cut off the excess on each side, about 1.5cm-2cm from the end. You don’t need to tie this, it will melt into shape when you fry the sausages. Once all sausages are wrapped in caul, you can freeze them. They should not really have defrosted, if you are fast enough. If not, take them out of the freezer one or two at a time.

Although it looks like some of the sausage is not covered in fat, the caul has a transparent membrane that will hold everything perfectly in place.

I put a piece of parchment paper in between the sausages before I freeze them, so they don’t stock together and I can take out as many as I need at the time. Plan two sausages a head if it’s a main course. Time to fry! Take your sausages out of the freezer two to three hours before you fry them and just leave them at ambient temperature. Heat a large frying pan. Add 1-2 tablespoons of lard or oil and once it’s nice and hot, add your sausages. Turn them every three minutes until they are nice and golden on all sides, then turn the heat down to medium and continue to fry until they are bouncy to the touch. They are almost impossible to over-fry, so err on the side of safety and don’t serve raw sausages.

Note how the caul fat starts to quickly melt away, but still keeps the sausage meat neatly contained within it. Quite brilliant, I think. I am going to post a whole load more sausage recipes, some of which you will need a wine chiller to make at home…

Confit Leek, Mozzarella & Tomato Vinaigrette

Confit leek and mozzarella is one of my favourite combinations. I have used it in the restaurants in many different interpretations and it has always been a success. The idea of confit’ing anything often puts home cooks off, but with most vegetables it’s a breeze! And the added advantage is that you can make it well in advance. I always think it a shame if the host(ess) has to be stuck in the kitchen making starters while everyone else is having fun. This is the perfect thing! All the parts can be ready and even the lemon cream and leeks will gladly sit on the plates for an hour.

Leek & Mozzarella

Serves 4-6 people
  • 2-3 balls of mozzarella!

I thought I better mention that you will need mozzarella, apart from all the ingredients below. I normally buy 1 ball of mozzarella for every 2 people, cut nice slices out of the inside and then use the leftovers for something else. If you are buying Burrata instead, omit the lemon cream, it will be overkill. Just a little of the leek oil and tomato oil and your dish will be wonderful.

For the confit leeks:
  • 4 young leeks, cut into 6cm lengths
  • 350ml good olive oil
  • 2 tsp smoked Maldon salt
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly crushed

Peel the tough outer layer of the leek away, but be careful not to split the layers underneath, or your leek will fall apart when cooking. Cut each leek into 6cm pieces, using only the white and light green part of the leek. Take a saucepan or small pot that can just hold your leek pieces in one single layer. Cover with the olive oil and add the salt and the peeled garlic.

Bring the oil to between 75ºC and 95ºC and keep it there until your leeks are really soft. If you don’t have a thermometer, just keep an eye on the oil and as soon as you have little bubbles forming, turn off the heat. Turn it on again after 5 minutes, bring to the same point and turn off again. Repeat until the leeks are soft. This should not take more than 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the leeks. Leave to cool in the oil.

For the tomato vinaigrette:
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely diced
  • 2.5g sea salt
  • 1.5g caster sugar
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped, crushed and chopped again
  • 1 small shallot, very finely diced
  • 15g tomato paste
  • 30g olive oil

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half crosswise, meaning not through the vine end. Gently squeeze out the seeds and use a teaspoon to remove the inside. Now cut into small dice. Mix with the salt, sugar, garlic and shallots and leave to stand at room temperature for at least half an hour.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and when it’s just medium hot, add the tomato paste. Make sure to be using paste and not thick sauce. Keep stirring the paste while heating the oil. The paste will slowly go from sticking together to forming flakes. You should be able to smell the tomato aroma when you are almost done. Do not burn the thing! Pour into a bowl as leave to cool.

Pour the tomatoes into a fine strainer and gently squeeze out the excess moisture. Add this to the cooled tomato oil. Adjust seasoning and you’re done!

For the lemon herb cream (optional):
  • 4 Tbsp liquid cream at room temperature
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
  • salt & white pepper

If you can’t be bothered to make a third part to the recipe, just don’t. Add a little more leek oil and possible a dash of unadulterated cream. But seriously, you’ve come this far, why not go the whole way? Slowly add the lemon to the cream until you achieve the thickness you want, then gently stir in the salt, pepper and herbs.

To finish:

Spread one tablespoon of the lemon herb cream in the middle of the plate. Gently remove the leeks from the oil. Be careful, because they have a tendency to come apart, with the inside layers just sliding out of the outer ones. Place two pieces of leek on each bed of cream. My leeks were really thick, so I decided to cut them in half lengthwise, which is a damn difficult thing to do if you want to keep each falling apart. Don’t worry about the oil, just let it run over the plate, it is delicious.

Put one or two slices of mozzarella on top, then a dollop of the tomato vinaigrette. Try to scoop out the solids and then drizzle some extra oil all over. You can make this dish look elegant or rustic, plate it neatly geometrical and drizzle the tomato oil Jackson Pollok fashion over the plate like a 3 star chef, or put it all lopsided into one of those flat earthenware bowls like a trattoria, the taste will be the same – damned delicious.

Fried Mackerel with Cassoulet Beans & Herb Garlic Crumbs

Here’s a dish that packs a punch! I wanted to make a cassoulet that our pescatarian friends could eat as well, but still preserve that depth of flavour and that heartening warmth of the meaty versions. Fat is an important part of a good cassoulet, so don’t be shocked by the quantities of oil I have added. If your friends are meat eaters, use duck fat, which gives much the better flavour. I used canned beans and I’m not at all ashamed of it. It’s a good product that has been used in households all over the world for more than 150 years, so if you have the time to make (or can) your own, go ahead, if not, these are great!

Cirio gets my vote for a great canned tomato and La Molisana is reliable too.

I had a little problem with my mackerel fillets. I bough them frozen and let them defrost slowly in the chiller and when I took them out just as my cassoulet beans were about finished, I noticed the pin bones had not been removed! As there wasn’t enough time to do it and still have my beans be perfect, I just cut the fish lengthwise on either side and lifted the bones out. But that left me with these long torpedo shaped pieces of fish. As was my intention all along, of course…

You are absolutely going to love this recipe and if you think the smoked salmon as well as the anchovies is overkill, think again!

Mackerel Cassoulet

For the Garlic Breadcrumbs:
  • 2 Tbsp Italian breadcrumbs (pan grattato)
  • 2 Tbsp very finely chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp duck fat or olive oil

Start by making the breadcrumbs. Heat the fat in a small pan and when it is hot, add the breadcrumbs. Keep stirring them until they are nicely browned, then take off the heat and stir in the garlic and parsley. Salt and spread on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. The breadcrumbs will at first clump together, but should in the end be loose enough to sprinkle over.

For the Cassoulet:
  • 3 mackerel fillets
  • 1 green capsicum, diced medium
  • 1 brown onion, diced medium
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 100g smoked salmon
  • 1 small can anchovies, drained (25g net weight)
  • chilli flakes to taste
  • 50ml white wine, or a dash of vinegar or verjuice
  • ¾ can diced tomatoes (300g out of a 400g can)
  • 1 can cannellini beans (±400g), drained
  • 3 Tbsp duck fat or olive oil (go with the fat, if you have it)

Check your fish fillets for bones and trim any raggedy ends off. Cover and return to the chiller immediately. Dice both capsicum and onion into roughly 1cm dice. You can put these into one bowl, as we will fry them together anyway. Peel the garlic and chop it very rough. Cut the smoked salmon into large bits. The size and shape will not matter, as they will crumble away in the frying and stewing. We are not interested in the texture, just the smokiness of the salmon.

Drain your can of beans. You don’t need to drain this completely, just pour the top water off. Open the can of anchovies and pour most of the oil off or keep it for another use and we are ready to start our beans.

Heat one tablespoon of the fat or oil in a cast iron pan or dish, or anything other that can go straight into the oven after frying. When the fat is nice and hot add the garlic and give it a quick stir to flavour the oil. That should take about a minute or two. Try not to brown the garlic. Now add the capsicum and onion to the pan and fry on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. A little browning is fine, but you don’t want too much caramelisation.

Once the mix is fried, add the chilli flakes and diced salmon and the other tablespoon of duck fat or oil to the pan and fry until the salmon is completely opaque and starting to fall apart. This should take no more than two minutes. Add the anchovies and whatever of their oil is left straight from the can. Stir well to dissolve and be careful not to burn the anchovies. Deglaze with the wine and leave to evaporate almost completely.

Now add the tomatoes, complete with their juice, but do it slowly. Look at your mix and try not to turn it into a soup. Cassoulet is quite thick, it isn’t a runny thing. We will have another 30 minutes in the oven, which will dry things out a bit, so stick to the ¾ can the first time around, then next time you make it, you can adjust to get it just the way you want it. Simmer for five to ten minutes. Taste the thing once or twice. Once the tomatoes have mostly fallen apart and the onions and capsicums are soft, you are done.

At this point you can cover the pan and leave the whole thing to cool down. You could even make this a few hours in advance and give yourself time for an aperitif before dinner. If you make it in the morning for the evening, keep the mix a little wetter, as the beans will absorb some moisture, even in the chiller.

Heat the oven to 200ºC well before you need it. Put the cassoulet in the oven just 30 minutes before serving. Once the edge of the pan bubbles nicely, your beans are done. Once the beans are done, turn off the heat and start frying your fish. Dry the fillets well and salt them generously. Grind black pepper on the meat side and heat the last tablespoon of duck fat in a frying pan until smoking hot. Add the mackerel fillets skin side down and fry until the edges are nicely browned and the meat is pretty much opaque. There should be no need to fry the meat side, as long as the cassoulet is hot.

Take out the cassoulet beans and place the mackerel fillets on top skin side up. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over and serve immediately. You can use other fish to make this dish, but I feel that a meaty, oily fish is best suited for this rustic dish. You could try it with big slabs of cod. If you don’t want to be bothered with frying fish last minute, throw some tuna steaks into the freezer for an hour and then flash sear them on both sides and quickly chill them in the freezer for ten minutes. Now you can just put them on top of the cassoulet beans and roast the whole thing together. For more detailed information on how to fry fish, check out my previous post How to Fry Fish.

NOTE:          I used about a tablespoon of pretty mild chilli flakes, but I don’t really want to give you a quantity. If you hit a super hot chilli flake, one tablespoon full might kill you.

How to Fry Fish

A good restaurant should serve you a beautifully fried fillet of fish with crisp, golden skin and mouthwateringly juicy flesh. It should be so delicious just on its own that you hesitate before you add any of the accompanying sauces or vegetables to your fork. Frying a fillet of fish is not actually very difficult, but there are a number of tricks and tips you need to observe and I have to say that most people just do it wrong, even in restaurants. I am talking about flat fillets of fish today, large chunks of cod, Chilean sea bass, monkfish or even tuna will require a different technique.

I once hired a new chef for one of our restaurants and on his first day at work I found a whole row of pre-fried fish being “kept warm” on the shelf above the range, to be quickly turned in the pan before being served to some unsuspecting customer. This had been the standard procedure at his previous place of employment, which incidentally was at a rather famous chef’s restaurant. Now let me be entirely clear: Pre-frying a fish fillet is a crime against humanity deserving of a tribunal at the Hague. It is all the more incomprehensible when you consider that the frying of a fish fillet takes less than five minutes!

Two beautifully trimmed fish fillets, ready salted for the pan.

If you are wondering what happened to this chef, he did the same thing again the next day in what was a clear act of insubordination (yes, a professional kitchen is like the army), so I threw the fish at him and the pan followed straight after. I don’t loose my temper all that often, but when I do it’s not a pretty sight. You can come to me and explain a new or better or easier system to me, show it and let me taste the result and I will be more than happy to change things. I am not the owner of the only truth and I believe in learning at any stage in your career. It’s the evolution of all crafts. You want the next generation to be better than the previous one, otherwise our craft is a dead one in which we still all cook “the original” whatever and excommunicate all and any who dare deviate from the true path. That is not knowledge, that is stupidity. But back to frying fish:

First rule; don’t buy ready cut fillets packed ready to cook on trays. Buy the whole fish and have the fish monger fillet it for you. Ask to keep the head and bones, which will make a good stock. At home, I usually freeze the bones until I have enough to boil up a whole batch of fish stock, which can then be frozen in portions. If your fish monger gives you fillets that are raggedy, torn or where the skin has been damaged, you need to change monger. I have yet to see anyone here in KL who gives you properly trimmed fillets, so you will have to do that yourself.

On the left is what my fish monger here gives me and on the right is the properly trimmed fillet. I first check the skin side for scales (there always are some left over ones), the meat side for stray bones and then I wash and dry my fillet before trimming it. Trimming is very clean work, so you don’t need to wash the fish again afterwards. Washing it before gives it a little time to dry in the air. Look at the fillet on the left. On its left hand side you see these little uneven flaps. These are the fin sides. Trim them off. You need to keep your hopefully really sharp knife at a slight angle away from the fish, as the fins extend a little under the meat on most fish. But you will see that when you do the job. Now trim off a little of the top of the belly side (that’s on the right of the untrimmed fillet above). What you are doing is removing some of the white belly membrane. If there are some bones in there, don’t bother to remove them, just cut under them to remove both membrane and bones. Now all you need to do is cut a little off the top and bottom to give your fillet a nicer shape. Cover your fish with cling film and put it back in the chiller immediately.

The five main points to remember for a successfully fried fish:

  • Be generous with the oil
  • Keep your fish cold
  • Keep you fish dry
  • Keep your oil hot
  • Don’t fuss!

Pour a very generous amount of oil (or animal fat!) into your pan. This should be less than deep frying, but probably a lot more than you normally use. You want the oil to lap at the edges of the fish, so to speak. Do not worry, your fish will not be oily as long as you temperature remains high. To achieve a consistently high temperature your pan needs to be big enough for each fillet to have ample space. If the fillets touch, not only will your temperature not be high enough, your fillets will also stick to each other.

A generous amount of oil and plenty of space in the pan.

We are going to fry this fish almost exclusively on the skin side, the meat side of the fish will tell us whether we will get a nice fish or not. If our fillets are not cold enough, the meat side will become opaque before the skin side is golden and the fish will be overcooked. Most people unfortunately keep their chillers far too warm. You should be running it at 1º-2ºC, not at 6ºC. Water should just, just, juuust not freeze when you stick it at the top shelf in the back, which is normally the coldest spot in your fridge.

You want to season your fish just before putting it into the pan! A wet fish will give you a lot of splatter and a soggy skin, so season as late as you can. Start by patting your fish dry one last time before salting it and make sure your plate, tray or board that you are salting on is dry as well. Do not use the plate you kept the fish on in the chiller. The cold will create condensation on the plate. Place the fillets skin side down on the board and lightly salt it. You should be using only half as much salt on the meat side as on on the skin side! Pepper and any other seasoning should go on the meat side only, so it does not burn in the longer frying of the skin. Now salt the skin side about twice as heavily as the meat side and leave the fillets skin side up.

Check that your oil is smoking hot and I mean smoking. If anyone tells you once the oil smokes it’s burnt, tell them not to talk nonsense. As soon as the oil is smoking, place your fillets skin side down in the pan. Now here’s an interesting thing: The more your fillets curl up, the older the fish. The more the skin shrinks, the older the fish. I don’t mean the fish’s actual age, of course, just the time it’s been out of the water and dead. If they curl a lot, gently press them down.

These fillets are finished on the skin side. Note how the meat is still slightly uncooked.

Lift the fish once, gently from each side to allow a little more oil to get under the skin and then don’t bother them again. Leave them until they start to become opaque around the edges and then leave them some more. You should be able to see a clear golden colour appear around the sides of the fillets, just like so:

That is your queue! You can now pick up your fish by its tail using your kitchen tongs and flip it on the meat side. You will be able to do this only if the meat is still uncooked and you will be able to do this only once. As soon as you have turned it, you will need a spatula or palette knife to pick up the fish. Try the tings again and the fillet will break into pieces.

Once you have turned your fillets on the meat side, count to ten. Then remove them from the pan, keeping them skin side up. You must NEVER put them on the skin side, or all your crisping work will be for naught. The idea is for the heat to just kiss the meat side and then remove the fish. And now take a rest. Your friend and also your enemy is residual heat. The heat you have given the fish will continue to cook it. If you were to cut into the middle of the fillet right after taking it out of the pan, it should be raw inside. But let it rest for just two minutes and the fish will be cooked, but running with juices.

Perfectly fried fish every time (the odd disaster excepted).

So here’s the trick: You are balancing the temperature of the fish, the temperature of the oil and the resting time. It seems difficult at first, but you will soon get the hang of it and people will b gobsmacked by your dexterity with fish.

P.S.: The insubordinate chef almost walked out before I could sack him, but the kitchen team convinced us both to make another go of it and I’m glad they did, because he stayed with us for a long time and proved to be an excellent addition to our team. He became a colleague and a friend and I’m glad to say that he never pre-cooked fish ever again.