Eating Sea Monsters

They aren’t going to win any beauty contests and may well find their way into one of those American reality TV shows where hicks eat durians and throw up, but once you can convince yourself to try them, you will never look back! Here in Asia of course, where we eat boiled pig skin, fish maw and sea cucumbers, the Pollicipes Pollicipes has no chance of escaping uneaten. Before I tell you how to prepare them and how to get hold of them in the first place, a little story.

The Goose Barnacle, order of the Pedunculata has a most peculiar history. Let’s start with the attractive bird above; The Barnacle Goose. Before we knew that birds migrate, the fact that no one had ever seen a nest of these geese gave rise to the theory of spontaneous generation and our unlikely barnacle was thought to be the crustacean that spontaneously generated our goose, a process neatly illustrated here:

Barnacle geese hang from tree, (Miniature) Barnacle geese, as described by Gerald of Wales. They develop from beams in the water and hang from trees enclosed in shells until they can grow feathers and fly. Image taken from Bestiary. Originally published in England (Salisbury?); 1230-1240.

Like all great culinary delicacies, Percebes don’t come cheap, so one should try not to kill them by boiling them to death. I think clams and shells are best prepared as simply as possible. In fact I think the same goes for crustaceans. Lobster Thermidor may seem like a great invention, but give me a “homard en belle vue” anyday! Simply boiled whole in the shell, left to cool and then split in half and eaten with mayonnaise is the way to go.

My own little batch of percebes came from one of our suppliers as a sample and after this successful tasting it’s going on the menu as soon as a menu can be handed to customers again. So here’s what you do if you happen to find some goose barnacles stuck to the rock at the edge of the sea:

Percebes straight from the Sea

Well, almost straight from the sea. The idea is to make them taste like they come straight from the sea. And the best way to do that is to boil them just like the fishermen do in seawater. I don’t necessarily recommend getting a bucket of sea water from Port Klang, so the next best thing is to use mineral water and add a sea-like quantity of sea salt to it. How much, I hear you ask, is that? The average salinity of the sea is 35g per litre, but I like it a little saltier, so I add 50g to my litre of water. Not quite the dead sea (that’s 342g/litre), but definitely saltier than the Atlantic. I find that little hit of salt when you bite into the barnacle is a bit like the salt on edamame beans – happy making.

  • 500g percebes
  • 1 litre mineral water
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 lemon, seeded and cut into wedges

This will feed 3-4 people as a starter. Try to find some very good, organic or natural sea salt. That means Himalayan is out, because the Himalayas are not by the sea. Please don’t think it doesn’t matter. It does. And obviously do NOT use table salt with all its iodine and additives. We are only using three ingredients, so don’t screw it up!

Add the salt to the water and bring it to a rolling boil. While the water is getting to a boil, fill your serving bowl with boiling water to make sure it is really hot. Add the percebes, straight from the chiller all at once to your pot of boiling water and keep the heat high. Once the water is boiling again, count 60 seconds and take the pot off the heat. Do not just turn the heat off, but actually remove the pot from the source of heat. It makes a difference. Count another 60 seconds and scoop the percebes out of the water. (Don’t throw the water away quite yet) While the percebes are soaking for those 60 seconds, throw the water out of the serving bowl and wipe it dry. It should be so hot you need a towel to hold the bowl. Put your cooked percebes into this hot bowl, cover with a cloth and serve.

I know it doesn’t exactly scream “Eat Me”.

There may be some percebes that are stuck together in clusters of three or more. Pick them out and throw them back into the hot salt water for another minute. Don’t forget them!

Your intrepid chef happily eating his treat. Where can you get them here in KL? Well, you will have to wait until our restaurants open again, hopefully June 2021 after the lock down ends.

Quetschefluert – Luxembourg Plum Tart

I have been fiddling with my tart base dough for a few months now and I think I have at last got what I want. I have the good old high end French recipe and the easy to roll Luxembourg one, but then the other day, I got the measurement for the sugar very wrong and could not remove all of it again, so I just carried on. And as happens so often; is turned out to be the best so far!

I’ll let you in on a little secret; I hate blind baking anything. The fussiness of those beans in an empty crust just isn’t me, but I still want a tart with a dry bottom (don’t say anything), so I use all sorts of tricks to get to the desired result. I use top & bottom heat to start the baking, rather than convection, I put the pie on the bottom most shelf in the oven for the entire bake. I start at 200ºC for the first 15 minutes and then I reduce to 180ºC for the rest of the bake and guess what? It works.

Now for this happens to be a plum tart, but there are hundreds of fruit options that will give you a great pie too. In Malaysia, we are not blessed with an excellent variety of ripe fruit, so you’re better off going to the shop with an open mind than with a fixed idea. See what there is and go with what’s ripe. (See Note at the bottom) For this plum tart, you will need really good, ripe plums like these.

The ones Eddie found for me were soft to the point of squishiness. There was no cutting them along the seam (or whatever you call that cheek crack thing), no twisting the two halves apart and prising out the stone. I was left with a handful of pulp and an elbow dripping juice. So in the end I cut two halves off as close to the stone as I could and that worked fine. I ate all the insides around the stone.


That’s another way of saying Plum Tart in Luxembourgish. Well, not exactly, because a quetsch is a quetsch and a plum is another thing, but close enough (am I rambling?).

This recipe actually makes enough dough for one pie with rim and one without. I’ll tell you what to do with the one without in another recipe. I was contemplating reducing the quantity, but the we end up having to use two thirds of an egg, which is just annoying. The rest of the dough will keep in the chiller for a week or happily live in the freezer for a month.

For the Base:
  • 250g flour
  • 180g butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 20ml water

Sift the flour into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and drop it into the flour. Using your fingers, squeeze the butter cubes into the flour and rub the whole thing to the texture of rough crumbs. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the sugar. Now break the egg into the mix, add the sugar and stir the whole thing into a soft dough. Lay out a piece of clingfilm and spoon the dough onto it. Cover with another piece of film, flatten to a thick disk and put it into the chiller for an hour.

Butter your pie dish. You want to be using a pie dish with a removable bottom, if you can. Heavily flour a wooden board, unwrap the dough and flour the top of it, then flip it onto the board. Flour the top of the dough generously and start rolling it out. Keep checking that it doesn’t stick to the work surface. If it starts to, flour the top and flip the dough.

Roll the dough out medium thin. It should be much larger than the pie bottom by now. Flour the dough again and place the pie bottom buttered side down on the dough. Cut the dough about 1cm from the rim of the pie base. Remove and keep the extra dough. Flip the dough together with the metal base over and roll it out thinner. The idea is to create a very fine, thin crust. Once this has been accomplished, put the whole board with the dough uncovered into the chiller for at least half an hour.

Gently loosen the edge of the dough around the metal base with a palette knife, or a dinner knife, lift it up and fit it into the pie dish. Make sure the edges of the dough fit tightly into the corner of the dish, press the dough gently into the rim and then cut off the excess. Prick the base with a fork to prevent air bubbles from lifting the base off and put the whole thing into the freezer for an hour. You can make this one (or more) days in advance, but remember to wrap the dish with the dough in clingfilm once it is frozen, otherwise your dough will dry out and crack.

For the Filling:
  • 1 kg fresh, ripe plums
  • 100ml milk
  • 100ml cream
  • 1 egg
  • 75g caster sugar

Heat your oven to 180ºC and make sure it has been at temperature for at least 15 minutes before you start baking. Wash and dry the plums, cut out the stone and quarter each plum. Arrange the plums neatly in your pie dish and return to the freezer while you make the custard filling. Mix the milk and cream in a jug, whisk the egg into it with a fork and dissolve the sugar as best as you can. You do not want the custard to be foamy, so go easy on the whisking.

Pour the custard over the pie and put it into the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the custard has risen. Allow to cool for an hour before you remove it from the dish. This pie will keep very well in the chiller for 3 days.


This is a base recipe for all sorts of pies and it will work very well with apples, pears, cherries, apricots and peaches, figs, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and my favourite; blueberries. You can even use mangoes. lychees or pineapple. And of course it’s an alternative and much easier recipe to my previous rhubarb tart blog Rhubarb Tart. Rhubarb though is a vegetable, not a fruit.

Depending on what fruit (or vegetable) you are using, you may need to sugar it. A little acidity is fine, because we are adding the sweet custard, but it should not be enormously sour, so if you sugar the fruit, just taste it after a while and if it’s just agreeable with a touch of sourness at the end, you’re good to go. Drain any large amounts of juice that may have collected. If it’s just a couple of tablespoonsful, you can just add the juice to the custard mix.

Kimchi Jjigae – Kimchi Stew

If you are Korean, please stop reading right now and save me the embarrassment. Here’s what happened: The fully Korean mother of a semi-Korean friend of ours gave us a tub of wonderful, homemade kimchi, so we’ve been munching on it for a while and there was some left over in the chiller. There were also two little pieces of leek a half an onion, a soon to expire block of tofu and some roast Chinese pork siew yok, so all put together read Kimchin Soup! Hearty, but still light enough for a dinner after a big Sunday Lunch at Strato. A quick scan through a few recipe books and I felt qualified to make my very own kimchi soup. I mean I’ve eaten it many times, so what can possibly go wrong?!

The only thing I didn’t have was Gochujang, the Korean chilli paste, which would have really spiced things up. And that’s why I have added it to the recipe anyway. I just used some chilli flakes instead (not in the recipe), so if you like to get all heated up, use both the paste and a good tablespoon of chilli flakes (not powder, unless you have a death wish).

You want to use aged kimchi for this, not freshly made one, which doesn’t have the depth of flavour you need.

Now about the meat; traditionally it should be pork, but if you’re not thus inclined, don’t worry, you can really use anything at all. This is a kimchi soup of leftovers, so rummage around in your chiller or freezer and use up those bits and pieces that are too small to make a meal, but too good to throw away. A good kimchi will marry it all together and make it delicious. But let’s get started:

Kimchi Soup

  • 250g kimchi, preferably aged
  • 1 Tbsp gochujang Korean chilli paste
  • 100g siew yok or other leftover roast
  • 180g-200g minced meat of any kind
  • 1 Tbsp mirin or rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 200g-300g firm tofu
  • 2 spring onions
  • ½ brown onion (about 100g)
  • ½ leek (the lower white half)
  • 30g rice
  • 600ml water or stock
  • oil or fat for frying

Wash the rice just once in a traditional rice bowl, then fill the bowl with water and leave the rice to sit until you need it. And now you are ready to cook. Slice your siew yok, or leftover meat into fine slices. Mix the mince with the mirin, soy sauce and pepper and leave it to marinate for 15 minutes. Slice your onions fine and your leek thick. Cut the spring onion into 4-5cm lengths and dice or slice the tofu any way you like. Now slice your kimchi into about 1cm strips. Some people like to chop it, but I think the larger bits of kimchi are quite attractive in the soup, so that’s my way of doing it.

Bring your stock or water to the boil, add the rice with the water and simmer for 10 minutes, which is just enough to get your soup base started. Heat the oil in a pot, fry the mince until it just starts to change colour. You don’t need this to be brown. Add the sliced meat and the onions and fry for another minute, then add the kimchi and fry one or two minutes. Add the Gochujang chilli paste, just sir to mix in evenly and pour the stock or water with the rice into the soup base. Leave to boil at a rapid boil for ten minutes.

Traditionally, you wouldn’t use stock, just the water from the washing of the rice, but I wanted mine to be a one dish meal, so it all goes in together. When your soup has simmered for ten, add the tofu and leek, turn down the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. Turn up the heat and just bring your kimchi soup to a rolling boil, turn off the heat, put the spring onions on top and serve piping hot.

Don’t you just love a recipe where the list of ingredients takes longer to read than the instructions for cooking. It normally means it’s impossible to screw up, which is the case for this soup. You could just throw everything into the pot and boil it up and still get a pretty good meal out of it.

Ham Yue Ching Yok Peng

And what is a ham yue ching yok peng, you ask? It’s a meat patty flavoured with fermented fish. For those of you who haven’t immediately closed this blog, I’ll continue to give the recipe. It’s a pretty easy thing to make and if, like me, you are crazy about all things fermented, preserved or pickled, you will LOVE these things. They are traditionally make with pork, but they are just as delicious with minced chicken. We mince our own pork and chicken (I hear some of my friends say: “But of course you do!”) and if you have a mincer attachment to your Kitchenaid or whatever you are using, it’s really easy to make. We mince a few kilos, put 500g into freezer bags, flatten the mince out evenly and then use a ruler to divide them into two and presto! Now you can easily break off portions of 250g without defrosting the whole half kilo and save bags into the bargain!

Before you start thinking about making this, you will unfortunately need to find the right fish. This is not simply salted dried fish, but the more funky fermented variety. I forgot to take a picture of my bottle, so I just stole this one from the net. It doesn’t need to be tenggiri, any firm oily fish will be fine. I get mine from a little dry goods shop on Jalan Tun HS Lee and guess what? They have a website and will deliver: They have a whole load of other handy things you need to cook Chinese food proper like and they speak English are mostly cheerful and helpful, which any pink person can attest is not always the case when there are communication problems (pink person’s fault for not speaking the lingo, of course).

If you are mincing your own chicken, mince it with the skin on and if you can find chicken fat, add some in for good measure and pass it once through the medium blade. If you are mincing pork, use half leg and half belly and pass both once through the largest blade. Now, friends, do not start mincing 250g of anything. It’s a waste of time and the wastage left in the machine may well be 30% of the total you stick into it. Make it a kilo. Believe me, you won’t regret the work that goes into it. Store bought mince is mostly wet and sloppy, flooding your pan with liquid. Homemade mince will not do that at all!

For the cakes:
  • 250g roughly minced pork or chicken
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • white pepper
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 15g finely diced ginger
  • 25g chopped spring onion
  • 20g cilantro stalks, cut into small rounds
  • 2 water chestnuts, finely diced (optional)
  • 35g salted fermented fish

Salt the meat very lightly. Your fish is really salty, so prudence is advised. I use the stalks of my cilantro and finely diced water chestnut for crunch, but sometimes the chestnut is hard to find, so I just chuck in a little more stalk. Take the fish out of its oil and scrape off all the meat, leaving the hard center bone for the cat (not recommended unless you don’t like your cat very much). This is messy work, but if like me you like the fish right out of the jar, licking your fingers can be rewarding.

Mix all the ingredients and vigorously stir it all together with a wooden spoon. I dissolve my corn starch in the water before adding it, but that’s not strictly necessary. You will notice the texture change and become more gluey as you beat the thing. That’s what you want. If you’re lazy, you can beat it with the blade attachment in the bowl of a mixer on low for two minutes, but I find it isn’t worth all the cleaning up you’ll have to do. Portion your meat into 8 – 10 meatballs and stock them into the chiller until you need them, but at least half an hour.

For the coating:
  • 5 Tbsp plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • a little white pepper

Beat the eggs in one flat plate and salt and pepper them lightly and put your flour into another flat plate. Heat a generous amount of oil in a pan. Roll each meatball in flour, then egg and then once more in flour. The mix is quite soft, so this can get a bit messy. I do this just before frying, because the things tend to stick if you don’t drop them into the oil right away. If you want to make this in advance, you can give each patty a quick fry in hot oil and them keep them and refry, or even deep fry them before serving.

Here’s another piece of great news: These things are as good cold as hot, so make smaller ones for snacks. They are perfect with a cold beer on a hot day, which here is pretty much every day here in Malaysia.

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.