Eggs Benedict in Ten Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom of the Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pineapple Tarte Tatin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your Tarte Tatin!

Smoked Salmon Ricotta Quenelles with Fennel Cream Sauce

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

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

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

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

Smoked Salmon Ricotta Quenelles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fennel Cream Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Butter, Sage & Cheese Omelette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hokkien Fried Noodles

For those of you who have been wondering why I have been rendering all this lard, wonder no more! Hokkien Char is one of my absolute favourites. I try to limit my consumption of it, because to be painfully honest, it’s not health food. Good thing is you can easily make it at home and then you have full control over the amount of lard you put in. One word of warning: Too little and it will taste nothing like Hokkien Char! For those of you who missed my lard rendering adventure, click here: Homemade Pork Lard and let’s get started.

I have divided the recipe into 4 not because it’s long and difficult, but because it makes it easier to get your head around the different blocks. If you want a shopping list, scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll find it there.

For the Meat:
  • 150g pork shoulder
  • 75g pork liver
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine

Cut the pork shoulder into thin slices. Slice the liver a little thicker. I find it easier to slice these when the meat and liver are still slightly frozen. If you bought them fresh, I suggest cutting them into blocks the of the size you want your slices to be and the sticking them into the freezer for an hour or two. Salt the meat and liver and pour the soy sauce and rice wine over and mix well. Add the corn starch and mix again. Do not omit the starch, as it will help your sauce thicken properly! Leave for at least 10 minutes, but try not to exceed 30, if you can.

For the Prawns:
  • 6 big whole prawns, about 180-200g
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda

Wash and dry your prawns. Make sure they are completely dried, then take off the heads and peel the prawns leaving the last section and the tail on. Pull off the sharp thorn part of the tail. Make sure to keep the shells, because you will need them later. Devein the prawns by cutting a slit into the rounded side and removing the black vein. I prefer not to wash the prawns after this because I find that it removes a fair part of the flavour. Sprinkle your prawns with the salt and the baking powder and mix thoroughly. Leave to marinate for 10-30 minutes.

For the Sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1½ tsp light soy sauce
  • 2½ Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

All of this sauce will easily fit into a small rice bowl. It may seem like that is too small an amount of for all those noodles, cabbage and meats, but trust me; it’s enough. Mix all the ingredients together before you start cooking. Trying to pour all this in separately while your hot wok is slowly burning your noodles is a very bad idea indeed.

To finish the noodles:
  • 400g thick yellow noodles (udon noodles will do as well)
  • 100g white cabbage, about ¼ of a small cabbage
  • 2 whole spring onions
  • 2 Tbsp pork crackling
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 small piece of ginger, about half a thumb
  • 2 tbsp lard
  • 200ml stock (or water with a little stock cube)

Wash the noodles in 2 changes of water and drain them in a colander.

Cut the white cabbage into thick strips. Cut the spring onions into 3cm long sections. If the spring onions are very thick, you may want to split the bottom sections lengthwise into two. Peel and chop the garlic cloves. The garlic in Hokkien Mee is traditionally just roughly chopped, but you can mince the garlic fine, if you prefer. Peel and slice the ginger and measure out 200ml of stock.

We can now start cooking. Heat the wok, add the lard and fry the crackling for 2-3 minutes until slightly darkened and crisp. Remove and reserve. Add the prawn heads and shells to the lard and fry for a minute, just to infuse the oil. Remove and discard (or use for stock). If the shells have eaten up some of your lard, add a little extra.

Make sure your lard is hot, then quickly fry the prawns to just cook them. The time for this will depend on the thickness and temperature of the prawns, but will rarely be more than two minutes. If your fat is hot enough and your prawns are not watery, you should get a nice light golden colour. Remove from the wok and keep.

Check that your fat is smoking hot, then add the ginger, stir and immediately add the garlic. As soon as the garlic takes the lightest bit of colour, add the meat and liver and give them a quick stir. Now here’s the difficult part; do not keep stirring, but spread the meat liver mix out flat and let it sear for 30 to 60 seconds before you stir again. This way you will get a nice brown colour. Your liver will be cooked through and have some bite, but then this is how it is supposed to be!

When the meat is completely cooked and slightly brown, add the noddle and stir to mix. Pour in the sauce and toss to coat as evenly as you can, then add the stock and mix. Leave at full heat to boil until reduced stirring occasionally. This should take no more than 3 minutes.

You will notice the sauce becoming dark and shiny as it reduces. Once the sauce is bubbling in the middle of the wok as well as on the sides, you’re probably done. Add the cabbage and give the whole thing a 30 second stir. Turn off the heat and add the prawns and spring onions. I keep a few of the spring onions to put on top of the finished noodles. Dish out your noodles by just sliding them off the wok rather than ladling them out. It will help them look better on your serving dish. Distribute the crackling all over the noodles as evenly as you can. Serve. Eat.

NOTE:          There are actually two types of Hokkien Mee in Malaysia, depending on where you are. If you ask for it in KL, you will get the noodles in our recipe above, if you ask for it in Penang, you will get a prawn noodle soup. Go figure.

Shopping List:

  • 400g thick yellow noodles (udon noodles will do as well)
  • 150g pork shoulder
  • 75g pork liver
  • 6 big whole prawns, about 180-200g
  • 100g white cabbage, about ¼ of a small cabbage
  • 200ml stock (or water with a little stock cube)
  • 2 Tbsp pork crackling
  • 2 tbsp lard
  • 2 whole spring onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 small piece of ginger, about half a thumb
  • light soy sauce
  • thick soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • Thai fish sauce
  • Chinese rice wine
  • sesame oil
  • salt
  • corn starch
  • baking soda

Le Quatre Quarts

The four quarter cake is the most simple of all cakes and almost every other cake is a variation on these ingredients and proportions. Quatre Quarts (ka-tre kar) is French for four quarters, i.e. a quarter kilo butter, a quarter kilo sugar, a quarter kilo flour and four eggs. I couldn’t figure out why four eggs would be a quarter of anything but 16, but so it is. Not three eggs, which would at least be a quarter of a dozen, but four! Ah, les Français!!

In my last post (Here We Go Again…) I mentioned this humble cake and then realised that I had not actually made a proper, basic quatre quarts in a long while and so with prompt resolve I did:

Le Quatre-Quarts – The Pound Cake

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g flour
  • 4 whole eggs (minus the shells)
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder (optional)

Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature! This is vital for the success of your cake. If it can’t be done in the timeframe you have, don’t bother to even start (but see below for what you can do to get an edible cake nevertheless). You will need two different beaters for your stand mixer to make this cake. Alternatively, you can use the mixer to whisk up the butter-sugar mix and finish the rest by hand, which will give you a decent workout. Sift your sugar at the start of the operation and grease your cake tin. If you ae using baking powder, sift it into the flour and mix it well. Heat your oven to 175ºC with the rack positioned so that the cake will be in the middle of the oven.

Your butter is hopefully at an airconditioned room temperature, not molten at our Malaysian ambient 34ºC. Toss the butter into the bowl of your mixer, attach the whisk, pour in the sugar and start the machine at low speed. Once the mix has fluffed up a little and occupies more space in the bowl, increase the speed. You may need to scrape down the sides from time to time, if you see the colour at the side be deeper than the middle. It will take a good 10-15 minutes for the mix to be properly processed. You can test by rubbing a little between your fingers. If you can still feel the sugar crystals, you’re not done.

Your butter-sugar mix should have doubled in size and become very pale. Turn off the machine, change from whisk to blade. Crack your first egg into a bowl, check there are no bits of shell in it and it’s not off and then pour it into the mix. Turn on the beater at lowest speed and process until the egg is completely incorporated, then switch the machine off. I actually do this by hand with a wooden spoon. It allows a much better control of the texture.

Crack the second egg into the bowl and slip it into the bowl. Process again. There will be not much danger for the first two eggs, but the third and especially the fourth can leave you with a curdled batter. It’s not the end of the world. Just the end of the perfect quatre-quarts. Once the last egg has been added successfully, stop working the batter immediately. Working it more may curdle a perfectly good batter.

Sift the first 2-3 tablespoons of flour into your batter and mix in. Be gentle, but thorough. Keep sifting in 2-3 tablespoons at a time until all the flour has been incorporated. Spoon into your buttered cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes, until a skewer (or pairing knife) comes out clean. That means there will be streaks of fat on it, but no batter at all. The cake will crack and split across the top, so if you want to make sure the split is even, you will need to cut along the top of the batter as soon as it has risen and is starting to set. This is merely cosmetic and will have no bearing on the flavour of your cake.

I have to admit that I cheated and added the zest of 1 lemon to my cake, as I really fancied a lemon butter cake. You can add the zest of a lemon or an orange without changing the texture at all, so feel free.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag:     If you are in a rush, but still want to make a butter cake, cut your butter into small cubes and spread it out in the bowl of your mixer. Leave it to soften for 15-20 minutes while you sift the flour and butter the tin. Add the sugar and mash the butter and sugar together to soften the butter further. Use the blade of your mixer and process the butter and sugar for 5-10 minutes, then add the first egg and process to incorporate. After having incorporated the second egg, add a tablespoon of the flour. Add another tablespoon of flour after the third egg and all should be well. The texture of your cake will not be the same, but it will still be a good cake.

Here We Go Again…

…it’s another lockdown! But this tine around we got a full day’s notice, so we all grabbed the opportunity to head out and have one last hurrah before we are confined to our little flat for two weeks (or will that be four?). Eddie and I have been pining for sushi for a while now, but a combination of financial prudence in the face of a difficult economic situation and the sheer difficulty of booking one of the two tiny sushi places we like prevented sushi from happening. Our friends Maho & Seiichi had a booking, so be begged, cajoled and fawned our way to two more seats. Well, actually our dear friends did it, being Japanese going to a Japanese restaurant, it just seemed easier. For us.

Sushi Ori, operated and owned by Chef Ori is without doubt one of the best Sushi places in KL.

We were early and were shown to a rather austere holding pen, which was much improved by the appearance of two glasses of blissfully chilled Draught Suntory Beers. I’m not sure why, but beer always seem like a nice prelude to sushi. Maybe it’s the memories of these tiny little glasses one elegantly sips the workmen’s drink out of in Japan?

We pass through the simple, elegant entrance into a completely functional dining room. 10 seats, two chefs, a sushi counter and that’s about it. Bring your own wine if you want, or choose from the limited, but serviceable list. Of course purists do sake, but for some reason I have never understood, it’s one of the few things that simply doesn’t agree with me. Maybe it’s because I know nothing about sake? Fortunately Seiichi and Maho prefer wine too, so that’s an easy decision.

Seiichi: Is someone eating my ankimo?!

I was going to say “Chef Ori is a master of his craft”, but it sounds trite and tired, even though he is. I do think that too much has been made of the simple craft of sushi cuisine. It has been elevated to an almost mythical status when in fact it is the same as every other simple thing; extremely hard to do well. If you are wondering what I mean, think simple butter cake, a French quatre-quarts, four quarters: quarter kilo butter, quarter kilo sugar, quarter kilo flour, four eggs. Nothing to it until you try (Le Quatre Quarts). When you are dealing with very few ingredients, you have nowhere to hide and every wrong step, every lack of technique, every bad choice of base material will be plain as day for everyone to see. So when you start baking, make a black forest cherry cake, not a butter cake!

And when you make Japanese food at home, simmer something, don’t try and make sushi. A lot of people think the super expensive fish makes sushi great, but that is not the case; in the hands of a master, even (I should say especially) the simple fish turns into something that will take your breath away when it touches your tongue. Think seabass, think sardine. In this way, sushi is no different from dim sum. You can fill your siew long pau with foie gras and con everyone, but if you can’t stun me with your har kau, you are not a master of your craft.

So after all this pseudo philosophical waffling; what did we eat? I’m not going to give you a rundown of every course, because a) it’s boring and b) by the end of it there was too much wine for me to properly remember. I’m not a foodie influencer, so forgive me for not having taken notes, but I like to enjoy eating my food more than I enjoy taking pictures of it. I did try, though, as I wanted to share it with you.

And after this little extravaganza, we returned home satisfied in the knowledge that life will go on after the lockdown and there will be more wonderful meals, more laughter with friends, more silly conversations, more music, more wine. Life seems still worth living.
For more information about Sushi Ori (no, I don’t get a commission), check out their website. https://sushi-ori.com/en/

Note: Neither Eddie nor I have any intention of becoming restaurant critics. It does not become restauranteurs to set themselves up as the judges of others, so all you will see here is positive reviews of the restaurants of our friends and of people we think are making a great effort to improve the scene here in KL and elsewhere. We have but little time to go out and eat, so don’t expect the list to be in any way exhaustive.

Homemade Pork Lard

Why make your own lard? Because the commercially available one here in Malaysia is mostly terrible and expensive and you don’t get all that wonderful crackling with it either!

Our prime objective is to make lard to cook with, but a very welcome by-product is obviously the just mentioned pork crackling. I like to leave the crackling just slightly undercooked. Not so much that it’s horrible to eat, but with enough life left in it, so that when I use it to make noodles or anything else, I can still refry it for a few minutes without burning it. If you plan to just eat it as a snack, just fry it to a perfectly crisp state.

Pork Lard

This recipe will give you about 1.5 litres of lard and two 350ml jars of crackling, depending on how much of it you eat before it even reaches the bottle.

  • 2 kg hard pork fat (fatback)
  • 50g plain, fine salt

Now, before we start, one word of advice; I don’t recommend making less than half the quantity in this recipe. It’s just as much work to make 250ml than it is to make 1500ml and it won’t be any faster either.

Put all the pork fat into the pot that you are planning on rendering it in and salt the fat evenly. Leave it to cure for 25 minutes. Your pot should be filled almost to the brim. Fill the pot with water, stir the fat and drain the water off. Do this 3 times in total. Whatever water you have left in the pot after the last draining will be enough to get your rendering started. Do not add extra, it’s just going to delay the process.

Turn on the heat and boil at high heat until the fat has firmed up and become springy. Keep the heat on high until all the water has evaporated and the lard has started to render, then turn it down low, so you’re proceeding at a low simmer. It’s a pain, but the slower you go, the more fat you will extract and the better crackling you will get.

It can take a few hours for the lard to properly extract from the fat, so be patient. It is not necessary to stir the pot all the time. In fact, the fat will reach its sticky stage just before it crisps up and stirring it at that time will be annoying, as it tends to stick to the spoon and come out of the pot in one huge messy island, so just leave it alone until it has unstuck itself.

Once the crackling is separated into individual bits, you’re almost done. I like to turn the heat off completely and leave the crackling to cool in the fat. I actually just leave it to sit overnight and then reheat it again the next day. Do not cover the pot until the lard has cooled, or you will have condensation dripping into the fat.

When you are ready to bottle, heat the lard and crackling back to about 120ºC, line two baking trays with kitchen towel and scoop the crackling onto it. I like to strain the lard through a strainer and a fine cloth to get as clean a fat as possible, but this is not absolutely necessary. Reheat the lard once again to 120ºC and pour it directly into clean glass jars, as high up as it will comfortably go and close the lid immediately. The hot fat will ensure no bacteria will grow in your jars or on top of your lard.

I fill the crackling into bottles and then place them into a 150ºC oven for 20 minutes, then close them immediately. It helps to keep the crackling fresh for longer. You will still need to keep both lard and crackling in the chiller. Fat will go rancid after a while and that’s not at all nice.

NOTE:          Make sure the cloth you use to strain the lard can take a high temperature. If in doubt, dip a corner into the pot and if it shrivels you know to go get another one.

Pâté de Campagne – Rustic Pork Pâté

Pâté is the kind of thing you see in French butchers’ windows or served by slice in a Brasserie in Paris, so you naturally assume that making it is complicated, fraught with risk and really belongs in the domain of the experienced chef. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s easy to make and once you slice it and serve it up, the feeling of complete satisfaction is quite incomparable. A meat thermometer will be useful to have, but you can do without if you must. Apart from that, you don’t need a thing you don’t already have!

I use this really cute one litre piggy pot in cast iron, but you can literally use any glass, ceramic or metal container that can go into the oven whether with or without lid. I like to serve the pâté in the container it has been cooked in, so I can scoop out the delicious jelly that forms during the cooking process. Country pâté can be made slowly, at low temperature, or quite fast at a high temperature like meatloaf. Cooked slowly inside a bain-marie, it will be a little finer in texture, so that’s what I’m going for today.

Rustic Pork Pâté

  • 250g pork belly, skin removed
  • 500g pork shoulder or collar
  • 70g pork or chicken liver
  • 120g guanciale or Parma or Serrano ham, thickly sliced
  • 18 slices of smoked pancetta for lining the pot (optional)
  • 2 small egg whites
  • 1 small brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced and crushed to a paste
  • 3 Tbsp peaty whiskey
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 sprigs marjoram (about 2 Tbsp whole, loose leaves)
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 small bay leaves, hard center vein removed

Making this pâté is easiest if you have a meat grinder, but having one is not at all essential. You can quite easily chop the relatively small quantity of pork by hand. Providing that you follow my instructions on how to cut the meat, it’s not much work at all. But if you are planning on making these types of terrines more often, it’s worth investing in a simple meat grinder, or an attachment for your stand mixer.

It is absolutely essential that all the meats are very well chilled at every stage of the production. If you don’t chill properly, the protein in the meat will break down and you will end up with a crumbly pâté, which is not what you want! I actually place my seasoned mix into the freezer for half an hour before grinding it.

Wash the fresh herbs, dry them and pluck the leaves. Cut the vein out of the bay leaves and mix it all together. Chop the dry and fresh herbs as finely as you can.

Cut the belly and shoulder into small dice. If you are using a meat grinder, you can leave the dice larger, but if not, it’s a good idea to cut small dice. Dice the liver, but do not mix it with the rest of the meat. Cut the guanciale or ham into dice and keep it separate. We are going to mix this in after we have ground the meat, so however big you want your dice, that’s how you should cut them. Add the diced onion and the finely chopped garlic to the mix. Season the diced meats with a generous amount of salt, white pepper and the spice mix, then drizzle the whiskey over, cover and chill. I keep the diced guanciale in the separate container, but I place it inside the tray, because I have been known to forget to add it.

Using the largest die of your grinder, grind the belly and shoulder once. If you are hand chopping, stop when the mixture is still quite coarse. Divide the meat roughly into two. Open the grinder and change to the medium die. Now grind the liver, mix it with one half of the ground meat and grind that half one more time through the same medium die. If you’re doing this by hand, just add the liver to one half of the roughly chopped meat and continue to chop until your second half is quite fine. Mix the rough meat mixture, the fine mix and the diced pancetta thoroughly. Adjust the seasoning. I just taste a little of the raw mix. When it tastes a bit oversalted, it will be just right. Chilled meat will taste less salty than cooked meat, so be generous with your salt and pepper. I would much rather eat a slightly over seasoned pâté than a bland one.

Prepare a deepish tray that can fit your pâté mould and that you can fill with hot water to come halfway up to the mould. Preheat your oven to 160ºC

Cover your forcemeat and put it into the freezer while you line the form. Now here I can’t really give you exact instructions, because it all depends on the width and length of your pancetta (or smoked bacon, which will work just as well). If you intend to unmould your pâté, you need to focus on how the bottom of the pot is going to look like and if, like me, you are serving it in the pot, you need a nice looking top. Think patterns; simple full slices, herringbone, criss-cross, maybe a weave?? But remember that the slices will shrink! And don’t forget to leave enough hanging over to cover the top of your pâté!

Once your artful lining is completed, just fill the forcemeat into the pot, fold the pancetta over the top, push it all down well to make sure you have no holes in your pâté. Put the lid on the mould and if your mould doesn’t have a lid, just leave it open. Put it in your baking tray, place all into the middle of your oven, fill the ray with hot water and bake your pâté for one and a half to two hours, or until the internal temperature has reached at the very least 65ºC. I do bring my pâté to 75ºC, just to be on the safe side.

Once cooked, you may want to put a flat, aluminium wrapped piece of cardboard on top and weigh it down with a big can of whatever is to hand. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will give you a better, more firmly textured pâté. As soon as the pâté is cool enough to go into the chiller, chill it. You can eat it the next day, but it will be much better a bout 2 days later, when it has had time to mature. Your whole pâté will easily last in the chiller for a week or two, but once cut, you should try and eat it within 7 days.

The pictures above show the pâté during the cooking, in the water bath, then fully cooked but still hot. You can see how the meat has shrunk and the fat has accumulated at the sides. If you are not using a thermometer, look for a nice gap of about 1 cm all around and you can be sure that your pâté is cooked. Once you have chilled it overnight, the delicious fat will have turned white as in the picture here.

NOTE: If like me, you have a little too much forcemeat, fashion it into a burger patty and pan fry it! It makes a great snack for a hungry cook. The burger will taste overly salty and that’s how you want it, because when you eat the pâté cold, the saltiness will be just right.

A Happy New Year

Now that our revels are ended, I’m slowly growing tired of wishing “Happy New Year” to all and sundry all day long, desperately trying to remember whom I have wished and whom I haven’t and probably getting it wrong, wishing the same, by now exasperated person eight times, I am looking forward to the time when good manners allow me to ignore the fact that it’s a happy new year and just get on with my usual grumpy “G’morning”. Saying all that, it has been a good start of the year for Eddie and me.

For the first time in almost 20 years, we welcomed the new year at home in the company of good friends. Of course I had to go a little mad on the food. Apart from a long board of cold cuts, a platter of cheeses provided by our friend Jane, as well as a bowl of caviar plus blinis and all the trimmings, deftly put together by Corinne (friend), I made:

2 loaves of bread Pumpkin & Sunflower Seed Bread The Incomparable Toast
Pâté de Campagne Pâté de Campagne – Rustic Pork Pâté
Terrine de Foie Gras
Baked Fish Pie with Rough Puff Crust (somewhat failed)
Macédoine de Legumes (Vegetable Salad)
Oeufs à la Russe façon du Chef (more on that later)
Apricot Tart
Rhubarb Pie Rhubarb Tart

All of that for 7 people, so you can imagine that there was quite a bit left over. I am going to share all the recipes with you over the next few weeks, which means that I will have to cook the fish pie again and take my time to make the pastry, which although delicious was somewhat soaked. I just didn’t give it the time it deserved, so it refused to stretch and instead of nicely puffing up over the steaming pie, it cracked and got flooded with cream sauce. Not a good look! Talking of not a good look, I still don’t seem to manage to compose the face quick enough to get a picture in which I don’t look like a complete village idiot.

There’s another picture that I captioned “Old People Dancing”, but I deleted it in case it frightens the children. Those flowers, by the way, are bought cheaply at the wholesalers and arranged without much talent by me. It goes to show that if you buy enough of them, they will look good no matter what you do to them.

I will leave you with a picture of our table ravished rather than ravishing and a promise of posting the first recipe day after tomorrow. Fabulous Fish Pie coming up next week.