The Carbonara

Carbonara

Sometimes I read enough trending food articles and I will instantly go out and buy a series of ingredients to see if what they’re talking about it so damn true. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about A Proper Carbonara, that doesn’t GOD FORBID have a drop of cream in it. Which…is never anything I gave much thought about to be honest, who hasn’t added a bit of double cream or crème fraîche to some pasta. Isn’t that normal? Don’t people do that? Am I wrong that I think that it’s yummy? Considering I’m about to marry someone of Italian decent…this is something I should know right? Also, do you know how much pressure there is to present Italian meal made in a bit of an impromptu mad kitchen moment to an Italian and be like: “This is how it should bloody taste like!” Pressure. 

So I had one of these impromptu “I Have To Cook Now” days and this is the result of me combining a couple of things from a few recipes I was nerding out on. Essentially what we are talking about here is that you only really need 4 basic but high quality ingredients: pasta, guanciale (or pancetta), cheese, and egg yolk. The actual creaminess comes from the delicious mixture of the egg yolks, cheese and cured meat fat. If you can’t get hold of the delicious cured cheek jowls of pork required, or even pancetta, I have actually substituted this for maple smoked streaky bacon in a pinch before and it was still delicious (shhh…don’t tell).

Serves 2.

The Carbonara:
160 g linguine 
4 egg yolks (I used Burford Brown's)
1 tsp olive oil
100 g guanciale, thinly cut
40 g pecorino, grated
40 g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
freshly cracked black pepper

In a heavy bottomed pan. Place the guanciale in with a little olive oil over low heat. Allow this to render out nice and slowly until nice and crispy. Turn the stove off when done, the heavy bottomed pan should keep it all warm for you.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, place the egg yolks, grated cheeses, and black pepper.

Cook your pasta until al dente in salted boiling water.

Add your cooked pasta into the mixing-bowl with the egg yolks and mix straight away. The residual heat from the pasta will melt the cheese and cook the egg yolks, forming your sauce. Magic!

Now add your crispy guanciale and some of the rendered fat and keep stirring.

You can adjust the consistency of the sauce with some of the pasta water, add more of the bacon fat should you need it. Adjust your seasoning.

Serve and eat immediately with more grated cheese. I served this with a courgette salad and followed it with a Rather Boozy Tiramisu.

Carbonara prep

Sticky Soy Glazed Pork Ribs – 紅燒排骨

sticky ribs

I’m going full veggie this month, and I’m actually looking forward to it. As someone who used to be veggie and is now with someone who I can only describe as a Carnivore, I’m happy to cut back on the meat to be honest! I am however *very* surprised that they are going veggie with me too. Over valentines as well. This should be interesting!

This is obviously a meat recipe, but I’m a bit behind and I’m requested to cook these quite often. So here they are, some yummy sticky ribs..

Serves 4.

Sticky Soy Glazed Pork Ribs:
700 g baby pork ribs, separate the ribs
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 whole head of garlic
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
3 tbsp light soy
55 g Chinese rock sugar (or Demerara is good)
175 ml water and more to cook if needed

Marinade the pork and the dark soy for at least half an hour.

Break up the garlic head into individual cloves with skins still intact.

Wok on medium-high heat. Once hot add the oil. Wait a bit for the oil to get hot and add the garlic cloves – toss for 1 minute. Now add the cinnamon and star anise and fry for another minute. Once lovely and fragrant add the pork ribs and lightly brown, then add the light soy sauce, sugar and water. Keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the heat low and gently simmer lid off for 30 minutes. Keep and eye on it and stir frequently to keep the meat from sticking to the bottom. Then cover and simmer for an hour or so. Do keep checking on the ‘Sticky Factor’ you want the sauce lovely and thick. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and a sprig of coriander if you’re being fancy. I’m probably too busy eating these with my hands to care!

Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu Sauce – 蓮藕燜豬肉

lotus root braised pork bellyThere are times when the evenings are too cold in London, work is too stressful and I just feel a bit homesick and really miss Hong Kong. At times like these, it’s always that taste-of-home-like-mum-makes-it which really hits the spot. This particular dish is a Cantonese staple and a huge favourite of mine. It’s salty, saucy and you have to eat it with rice. The lotus root is a vegetable that has starchy potato like qualities whilst also keeping a satisfying bite, and the fermented tofu sauce has a strong umami flavour. I’ve read that it’s been likened to cheese, but I guess it’s just one of those things that I’ve eaten from childhood so it’s just fermented tofu flavour to me. So first things first you’ll probably need to get your mitts on some fermented tofu (紅腐乳) from your local oriental supermarket. There are also dried mushrooms in this dish, so you will need to pre-soak these in a bowl of water with another bowl stacked on top to fully rehydrate them for at least an hour.

Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly:
500 g pork belly
500 g lotus root
6 dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soaked and halved
2 inch knob of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bricks fermented red bean curd (紅腐乳)
2 star anise
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

Cut the pork belly into 2-3 inch chunks. Set aside. Peel the piece of ginger and with the large flat side of a meat cleaver SMASH IT FLAT, peel the garlic and repeat the smashing (if you don’t have a big meat cleaver, a meat tenderiser is fine). Peel and cut the lotus root into similar sizes to your pork and give the occasionally large piece a similar smash with the side of the cleaver (violent hey? Good for de-stressing this). My mum tells me it’s to get more flavour in, I think she just likes smashing things. Rinse off the lotus root and add leave them in a container full of water and a bit of salt to stop them from discolouring.

You now want to make a simple marinade. In a separate mixing bowl (large enough for all the pork) add the light soy, dark soy, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and set aside.

Get your wok on medium to high heat and when the wok is nice and hot add your vegetable oil, once this is piping hot add the ginger then the garlic and flavour that oil but be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and ginger and set aside. You now want to sear the pork belly, it’s okay not to thoroughly cook it at this stage as it will go through a lot of braising, just carefully brown each side of the pork.

Once this is done, remove the pork and place it in the marinade, coat evenly and set aside.

With your wok still on, add back the ginger and the garlic and stir fry until fragrant again. Add to this the mushroom halves. Once they start smelling lovely add the fermented tofu with a cup of water and use the wok spatula to flatten and mix the blocks into a paste. Sieve the lotus root from the water and add the root to the wok. Stir stir stir. Coat coat coat. Now add the pork belly and all the marinade from the bowl. Finally add the star anise and enough water to just coat everything. Take the heat down to a simmer and leave for 2 hours always making sure to stir everything up occasionally and top up the water if needed. Test the pork, once this is soft and tender you’re ready to go. I hope you made some rice with that.

Scallops with Celeriac Purée & Lardons

scallops and celeriac purée

When the weather was cooler and I had a rather large celeriac root arrive in my veg box I decided to invite a friend over to cook up something nice with the celeriac and watch Black  Swan. Incidentally I recommend them both: The movie and the following dish.

Serves 2.

Scallops with Celeriac Purée & Lardons:
1 medium sized celeriac bulb
1 cup milk
Splash of single cream
50 g butter
100 g oak smoked lardons
12 scallops
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of paprika
Some fresh basil to garnish

You’ll notice that I haven’t removed the orange part (or the coral) of the scallop. Puritans may suggest you do but I think they taste pretty good so at least try some before you discard it.

Peel and chop your celeriac bulb into small pieces. Get a medium saucepan on the stove at medium heat. To this add your chopped celeriac and cover with just enough milk. Bring it to a boil until it all softens up (around 10 minutes). When it’s nice and soft, season with salt and pepper and blend it all up with a hand blender. Add half the butter and the cream and simmer it down on low heat with a lid on until it reaches your desired thickness – or conversely, add more liquid until it reaches your desired thickness. Constantly taste and adjust your seasonings. Keep it warm and set it aside.

While that’s happening, cook up and render down your lardons in a small frying pan on medium high heat until nice and crispy. Add a pinch of paprika and maybe some cracked black pepper. When they are nice and crisp, keep a tablespoon or two of their fat for the scallops then set them aside in a slightly warm oven to keep warm. You’ll want to warm some serving plates too, so get those in there.

In a large non stick pan, get it up to medium to high heat. Add the reserved lardon fat and the rest of the butter. When the the fat starts to brown, add your scallops in a clockwise orderly fashion so you know which ones are taking in the most heat. Sear these for 30 seconds to 1 minute on one side and flip ’em over for 20 seconds or so. You may need to do you scallops in batches depending on how big your frying pan is.

Get your pre-warmed plates out and serve up. Purée in the centre of the plate, scallops on top. Sprinkle liberally with the lardons and their fat. Maybe a sprinkle of sea salt flakes. Basil to garnish.

Pot Stickers – 鍋貼

Pot Stickers

Right! Here we go. The quintessential dumpling post that any Chinese person worth their salt needs to have up their sleeves.

These were made on the day of Chinese new year, and thank goodness for my friends helping to wrap! The meat and veg are easily interchangeable, be it pork, chicken or even lamb, with some sort of leafy cabbagey veg (pak choi, Chinese leaf, cabbage). I’ve gone for the absolute staple combo of pork and pak choi.

The wrapping technique I’ll be showing you here isn’t actually my preferred technique, but it’s your ‘this is what a dumpling looks like’ so it’ll be nice to start there before we advance to other styles right? I can actually make the wraps for this, but for the purposes of simplicity get yourself some wraps from your local Chinese supermarket. I’m also teaching you the Chinese style of pot stickers, not the Japanese ones. Which, to be fair is only really a difference in dumpling skin thickness. The nice thing about the Chinese thicker wraps is that they’re a bit more forgiving with the wrapping and can be boiled vigorously for a delicious water/soup variety of dumplings (水餃). The following makes around 30.

Pork and pak choi dumplings:
1 packet of thick dumpling skins (not the thin gyoza ones)
250g minced organic pork (not too lean)
100 - 150 g pak choi (baby ones better)
50 g spring onions (about half a bunch)
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp light soy
1 tsp dark soy
3 tpsp sesame oil

Finely chop all your veg. Get everything (bar your dumpling skins obviously) into a mixing bowl and mix and squeeze everything with your hands. No messing about with a spoon or whatever. It’s quite hard to give you guys ‘proper’ veg weights as I like to eye ball my proportions. But basically you want a meat to veg ratio of around 60:40. The more veg the better I think, but you want there to be enough meat to bind it all together. Mix with your hands for around 5 minutes.

Ready to wrap? Get a shallow bowl of water and a tray dusted with rice flour ready. Let’s go:

How to fold pot stickers

1. Place a wrap flat on your hand.

2. Add about 1 tablespoon of mix in the centre.

3. Dip your finger into the water and make a ring all the way around the edge for your seal. Fold in half. Seal it and make sure there are no air bubbles.

4. Pleat!

5. Pleat-pleat-pleat-pleat. All done.

6. Take your dumpling by the pleats and gently press it onto your work top to form that flat base and curve it so it looks more crescent like. Yay! Dumplings.

So now that you’ve got all your dumplings, let’s turn them into delicious pot stickers. I hope you have a really decent non-stick frying pan with a lid, because you’ll need that lid to steam. The key to these is to NOT TOUCH THEM. I can’t emphasise that enough. Just trust that they are cooking okay? You can only move them when they are cooked and have a firm enough base to move. They aren’t called pot stickers for nothing.

Heat at medium high, frying pan on. When at heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil (corn or rapeseed good) and evenly coat the base. When the oil is nice and hot, add some dumplings. Space them out a bit they’ll expand, I also like to add them in a clockwise array just so I know which ones have been taking the heat longest. Now you’ll want to not touch these and let the bases take on a bit of colour, maybe 3-5 minutes? Now add enough water so that there’s a centimetre of liquid in the pan. Lid on. Heat up. Bring that liquid to a boil to create a load of steam. Steam for around five minutes.

At this point the water is evaporating out of the pan or you’ll need to take the lid off to evaporate the rest of the water away. Once the water is almost all evaporated, take a wooden chopstick or skewer and carefully run it around each dumpling to remove any access gloopy flour. Turn the heat down to medium high again (or even medium if that’s too scary) and get those bases crunchy. Another 2-5 minutes perhaps. At around this stage I like to give my pan a bit of a shake to loosen them up. Carefully lift to see what their colouring is like, you want nice and golden brown, not burnt. Keep frying them until they’re nice and crisp.

Serve up! I like having these with some Chinese black vinegar and freshly sliced ginger, but a huge jar of chilli is never too far away. If you have any spare, place them separately on a lightly floured tray in the freezer until solid. Then pack them all up in a bag. Nothing nicer than a lazy evening when you suddenly remember you have a few of these bad boys ready to go. If you’re cooking from frozen you can follow the above instructions, just have them on the first fry time a bit longer.

pot stickers cooking

Chinese Styled Pumpkin Stew with Kale and Mince

As the title suggests, this is a Chinese stew type dish which really reminds me of wintertime in Hong Kong. And after these past few cold rainy days, I really needed some HK styled comfort food. The type that has gloriously squidgy textures and an oyster saucy gravy that goes divinely with plain steamed rice. This is rather hilariously made with posh versions of all the 3 main ingredients of pumpkin, carrots and kale (Casperita squash, purple carrots and cavolo nero), obviously you can substitute with the more easily found versions in your grocery isle. I’ve also used Quorn mince instead of proper meat mince, if you would like to use real meat, go for pork mince. Failing that, turkey or chicken.

Chinese Pumpkin Stew:
1 small squash or pumpkin (Cantaloupe melon sized?)
1 carrot - chopped
2 generous handfuls of kale - shredded
2 cloves garlic - slightly smashed
4-6 shallots - quartered
1 tbsp veg oil
250 g mince
1/2 cup water
1-2 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp chilli bean paste
2 cardamom pods - lightly smashed
1 whole star anise
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste
1 tsp cornflour (optional)

Oven to 170°C. Chop up your squash and cut it into smallish chunks, I left the skin on because I like the extra texture after roasting, toss them in a bowl with a bit of oil, white pepper and some salt. This is probably where the recipe isn’t strictly Chinese as not everyone has an oven back home, but I really like the slight crisping of the edges roasting provides. Roast until tender about 30-40 minutes.

While that’s roasting. Pan on the stove. Medium-high heat. Heat the oil then sauté the garlic and shallots until slightly tender. Add your smashed cardamom pod, star anise and cinnamon and fry to release some nice smells. Now add your mince and brown a bit. Carrots, the 1/2 cup of water, oyster sauce and the chill bean paste go in next. Cover and cook until the carrots are tender. The kale goes in last for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

The optional cornflour should be used to thicken the sauce at this point. In a small bowl, mix thoroughly with a tablespoon of cold water and add it to the pan and stir in well. Be careful! Too thick and it becomes horrible Chinese takeaway gloopy – and nobody needs that. Stir through your pumpkin and serve up. There should be enough to feed two. Or, one very hungry small person…

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