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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 been feeling a bit sorry for my vegetarian and vegan readers–who impressively continue to read despite my love for all things porcine–so I wanted to post a little something meatless to start the week off. Lemur friend the Geek Goddess gave me Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice as an un-birthday present (because she is the kind of awesome friend who knows you are stressed out and responds with cookbooks!) and it has a brilliant range of vegetable dishes from Sichuan province and beyond. I particularly loved her simple meatless version of ma po tofu: meat works more as a flavouring than as a main component of the dish in its traditional form, so it is actually relatively easy to replace the meat with other umami flavours. The real pleasure of ma po tofu for me is the contrast of soft, cooling tofu with the fiery, oily, tingling chili and Sichuan peppercorn sauce and this version focuses your attention on precisely that experience. I know there are people out there who are yet to be converted to tofu and I think this might be one of the dishes to do it. It’s making my mouth water just looking at the picture. 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 »
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 »
At the Brighton Fiery Foods Festival, I made the acquaintance of Jenny Song, entrepreneur and killer Sichuan cook from Chengdu. Jenny and her partner John run China Spice, a company that imports peppercorns, chilies and other traditional foods from Chengdu to the UK. The stall was doing a brisk business with eager customers trying out John’s claim that their Sichuan peppercorns put what we currently have in the UK to shame. John explains that the peppercorn business shares some tricks with importers of certain less legal products: the real peppercorns are cut with the cheaper, tasteless shells of other bushes and often dyed to look the part. Morevoer, even the real peppercorns we see tend to have hard black seeds inside – a pain to dig out – whereas well-picked peppercorns will be almost seed-free. The proof of the peppercorn is in the tasting and I cheerfully agreed to eat one – just one – peppercorn. It was astonishing. You start with the expected citrusty notes and numbing sensation, but these familiar experiences are just the beginning of a several-minute sensory play that includes fizzing and a dreamy feeling that’s actually a bit like being on drugs. In the nicest possible way. John was dead on: these are like tasting Neapolitan bufala mozzarella for the first time when you’ve only ever had string cheese. Read the rest of this entry »