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Things have been a bit quiet on the blogging front as it has been a busy old time, chez Lemur. Mr Lemur has been finishing a major project and I have been organising a series of events that have eaten up a good deal of my usual cooking time. But we’re finally into Spring break and I thought I should come back with a bit of a culinary experiment. And what’s better to get the juices flowing than pigs’ ears? No, really, you have to trust me on this: pigs’ ears are totally delicious.
I’ve always enjoyed cold pressed pigs’ ears in Sichuan restaurants; the softness of the outside skin followed by a just yielding crunch of cartilage is a pleasing texture sensation and the long slow braising imbues the slices with deep umami flavours. When I was in my lovely local butcher the other day buying some pork shoulder, I noticed his assistant breaking down some pig legs at the back of the store. I remarked how nice it was to see the butchering being done right there and my butcher said, yes, we got three pigs in this morning. Maybe those amazing Sichuan restaurant ears popped into my head, because I asked him, without thinking, ‘do you have ears then?’ ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘how many do you want?’ Then, he went off to the back of the store and came back a few moments later with a some ears wrapped up in paper. He didn’t even charge me for them! So off I went with my little bag of ears: what an adventure! Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been spending a bunch of time cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop’s fantastic Every Grain of Rice, especially its vegetable and tofu sections, but some of the cold dishes seem a bit labour-intensive for everyday cooking. I was pondering the Sichuan Numbing and Hot Beef, a party dish, really, that requires slowly simmering a whole beef shin before slicing it thinly for a crowd. And even this is Dunlop’s simplified version of an original that featured various cooking methods of tongue, heart and tripe. I love the combination of Sichuan peppercorn, cilantro and sesame but I wanted something for a weeknight dinner for two, not an impressive party platter. It struck me that, because the original is a cold dish, it might be susceptible to transformation into a yam, or Southeast Asian salad. Regular readers will know of my obsession with Thai and Viet main-dish salads, which can be quite hearty meals, but emphasise herbs and bright spicy flavours. I decided to commit what is probably a shameful bastardisation of a classic dish, and to experiment with a bit of fusion. I replaced the beef shin with a nice rare steak and the cooked sauce with a creamy sesame dressing. I think it ultimately turned into something quite different, but the result was addictive. The recipe could probably do with some revision – knock yourselves out if you have ideas for improvement – but as experiments go, it was pretty successful. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve long been a fan of XO sauce, possibly because Dim Sum Go Go restaurant in New York makes an amazing spicy-fishy-umami version to slather on its otherwise light and delicate shrimp dumplings. As a 1980s invention designed to connote luxury, it’s probably a terribly déclassé aspect of Hong Kong food culture, but I don’t care, I love it. Still, I’d never have thought to make it if not for a coincidental series of events. First, I was given the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas. It’s a fascinating read and a lovely book but incredibly cheffy: many of the recipes require you to have made a bone stock that takes three days and some special dashi before you even begin. It’s unapologetically impractical. But one thing did stand out – a recipe for XO sauce that required two things I just happened to have: lots of good quality dried shrimp and lots of good quality leftover ham. As it happened, I had a big bag of plump pink shrimp I’d brought back from Vietnam and a vacuum-sealed pack of 5-acorn Serrano ham scraps I brought from Barcelona. It was kismet! Thus began the XO sauce experiment. Read the rest of this entry »
Lovely lemur friend M gave us some dried chilies for Christmas and when the cold snap hit, it seemed like the perfect time to use them in something deeply warming and savoury. It turned properly cold here last week and I think everyone had some version of the same idea: comfort cook meats! There was an unprecedented queue at the local butcher and he told me everyone had been buying braising meat to the point that they had actually run out of pork belly. I swithered a bit and decided on a chicken and a few plump house-made chorizos. Nothing makes me feel quite so thrifty as using every part of a chicken and the chorizos reminded me of the Mexican chilies awaiting me at home.
Red rice is a hearty and very unassuming dish. It can be as simple as rice cooked with a tomato-based salsa and as such, you might think of it as a side dish rather than the main event. But it’s a palette made for variations and additions, and I like to add a bit of meaty flavour and a load of dark greens (it absorbs seemingly limitless amounts of them) to turn it into a one-pot meal. Besides, Mr Lemur has a bred-in-the-bone Latin American love for plain rice dishes and, after all, some of the world’s great dishes begin from nothing more than rice and chicken. This is one of those dishes that seem to involve a lot of steps but few of them call for close attention. It takes more time than effort so it’s the perfect thing to make over a weekend and it will feed you happily for days. Read the rest of this entry »
With a birthday very close to Christmas, I don’t tend to get very many presents (in contrast to the Geek Goddess who is infamous for receiving gifts from her many admirers months in advance of her birthday). But Lemur Mama came through with something I really wanted: Naomi Duguid’s new book Burma: Rivers of Flavor (Artisan, 2012). I’m a huge fan of Naomi’s writing––and of her approach to culture and food more generally––so I’d been looking forward to the publication of this new book for months.
For this book, she’s been travelling in Burma for years, opening up ways of life and complex political situations from the ground up, in places mostly closed to westerners. The book doesn’t address Burma’s recent political history too directly but rather it is suffused with understanding of Burmese lived experience: what mindset you develop when you have to be careful what you say, what tools people use in the kitchen, what food traditions displaced tribespeople bring with them to a new home and what kids snack on at the market. It’s what Duguid calls an immersive approach to culinary cultures: she pokes around markets, getting to know people through their everyday routines, but she also deploys a huge amount of knowledge with a light touch, keeping curiosity and respect for people’s lives at the forefront. In the same way, the book’s many anecdotes and brief cultural analysis sections are fascinating but the point is to learn about Burmese culture by making the recipes, working yourself into a new way of tasting and enjoying familiar Asian ingredients. Read the rest of this entry »
Happy New Year, Lemur readers! Soon, I’m going to be all about lighter and more colourful food to brighten up the dark days of January and look forward to a healthy Spring…but right now I’m still in hearty December mode. After my trip to Italy, I wanted a proper ragú to warm me up on these dreary English nights. Ragú is one of those things that most everyone makes but that it’s easy to take short cuts with. I don’t actually cook it all that often, but when I do, I’m all about the slow simmering of meats. I firmly believe that a good ragú needs both pork and veal. Often, I’ll spend contemplative time chopping the meat by hand but sadly, the supermarket only had minced veal, so this actually a rather easier version of a traditionally laborious process. Using pork cheeks means you can cook them whole and then pull the meat apart later. It gives a lovely unctuousness to the ragú, along with the rich flavour offered by the veal. You can’t really get easier than a ragú, where all the magic is worked by slow cooking rather than by any effort on the part of the cook. Later today, I’ll be cooking New Year’s fava bean soup, another slow-cooked Italian wonder. Happy 2013! Read the rest of this entry »
There has been lots going on for the Lemurs lately, and I’ve been neglecting the blog. Truth be told, I’ve been neglecting cooking too and that’s always an index of my overall wellbeing. Obviously, it can be pretty fun to be too busy to cook when what’s taking up your time is an endless round of parties and social events, and it can even be exhilarating to find yourself working super hard on an important project. I’ve been doing a bit of both of these and it’s certainly no hardship to attend glamorous book launches, film festival premieres and gallery openings. Nonetheless, I’m enough of an introvert that I need time at home to replenish my energies, and when I’m too tired even to cook, it’s a sign that I ought to slow things down. If I’m going to make it through the festive season in one piece, I need to take a breather and get myself back into the kitchen. Read the rest of this entry »
V gave me some chili plants for my last birthday, which she nurtured from seeds and eventually relocated to my garden. The whole enterprise has caused great hilarity and consternation, as Mr Lemur and I try to keep the damn things alive long enough to fruit. We’ve now brought them in for the winter and have a living room full of giant, unruly bushes which might or might not provide us with chilies one day. However, scarcely remarked in the great chili experiment is V’s rau ram plant which arrived in the same birthday present and is now going great guns. While we tried unsuccessfully to provide sunshine for the chilies, the rau ram was drinking up our wet and disappointing summer. Native to the swampier parts of Southeast Asia, rau ram or Vietnamese coriander is endlessly thirsty and apparently thrives on benign neglect. I only noticed how much it had grown when I brought it indoors. It was time for some soulful Vietnamese braised meat.
The cilantro-y flavour of rau ram is often used in salads, or as one of the fresh herbs topping pho, but I thought it would be nice as part of a more autumnal dish. I bought some shoulder pork from my lovely local butcher and decided to braise it in an aromatic light broth with star anise, cinnamon and cumin. I once made a Luke Nguyen braise that used Sichuan peppercorns alongside more traditional Vietnamese flavours and I borrowed that idea to give a little kick to this aromatic dish. It came out rather nicely, with a pleasing slurry of spices. You could crush them if you wanted a more refined texture (or do as Nguyen does and isolate them in a muslin bag) but I rather wanted the homeliness of leaving them whole.
Although I wanted to emphasise the flavours of rau ram, you could make the dish with cilantro if you don’t have rau ram available. If you did that, then add some black pepper to the braise. (I’m really curious as to how my friends who hate cilantro respond to rau ram. The flavours are a bit similar but I don’t think they’re botanically connected, so perhaps that soapy sensation wouldn’t occur?)
Braised pork with rau ram
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 – 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns (to taste)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 cloves
- 4 star anise
- 5 cloves garlic
- a generous glug of fish sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp thick soy sauce
- 4 shoulder or spare rib pork chops
- 20 rau ram leaves
- 1 cup water
- 3 small red chilies, or to taste
Begin by toasting the spices (cumin, fennel, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves) one at a time in a cast-iron skillet until fragrant. Set aside.
Brown the pork chops in a large heavy-bottomed skillet in vegetable oil and then add chopped garlic. When garlic begins to colour, add a decent whack of fish sauce, dark soy and enough water to semi-cover the meat. Add whole spices, cinnamon and sugar and stir. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. After 15 minutes, add thinly-sliced rau ram.
After a half hour or so, the sauce should be reduced somewhat: still thin but nicely brown and beginning to be sticky. Garnish with chopped chilies (or more rau ram if you’d rather it not be too spicy) and serve with quickly wok-tossed vegetables. I made these amazing purple carrots with mange-touts.
It’s Rosh Hashanah and regular readers will know that I have a real love for holiday cooking. Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples and honey, and one of the traditional dishes is a dark and moist honey cake. Some people don’t like honey cake because bad versions tend to be dry. It can also be very heavily spiced with cinnamon and cloves, which I find a bit overwhelming. So in thinking about honey cake, I wanted to start from a recipe I knew would be good and moist and I also wanted to think about ways to alter the flavours a bit to my own taste.
I began Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which she herself adapted from Marcy Goldman’s Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking. But I wasn’t keen on the idea of whisky and I wanted a rather different flavour profile. So instead of the traditional spices, I made a chai masala – the aromatic spice mix that goes into Indian tea. Chai masala has some of the same notes as a spiced cake – cinnamon and cloves – but it adds to them cardamom, mace, ginger and nutmeg. I love masala tea and its blend of peppery and perfumey spices with sweet tea seemed like rather a good combination for a cake. I also replaced the booze with apples, partly to keep tea the predominant liquid flavour and partly because I wanted to add a bit of New Year apples to the mix. Read the rest of this entry »
I was thrilled to be Freshly Pressed on my last post – that’s included in the WordPress editors’ daily picks. And welcome to new readers who liked the Vietnamese Chicken Curry post and have decided to stick around! I hope you enjoy the blog. Unfortunately Mr Lemur is away shooting a film so I am without both camera and photographer for a few weeks. Boo! For now, we will all have to put up with my iPhone photography. I know, it’s a hardship, but we soldier bravely on…
I came across black rice noodles in our local ethnic food store the other day and was intrigued. I love black rice but I don’t cook it very often as it is fairly time consuming and many of the uses I know for it are desserts. (I adore Malaysian pulut hitam, or black rice pudding with coconut milk, for instance, but I rarely make it myself.) I was immediately drawn to these deep black noodles. I knew they wouldn’t produce the exact satisfying chewyness of a black rice grain on the teeth but I figured they might combine the glutinous qualities of glass noodles with a deeper, wholegrain flavour.