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I think it’s time to share: Roast Potatoes

January 16, 2010

I recently found out that I’m even more lucky than I previously thought.  Not only have I discovered that a friend has a friend who has just set up a pheasant shoot outside Guangzhou, (How bonza is that? Fresh, local, game?!), but I also discovered that another friend’s brother is a big man in the UK geese arena (organic, small family farm, you know what I’m talking about).

So big, in fact, that it was his geese that Heston Blumenthal used for his Perfect Christmas TV programme (great video here).  Bless his cottons, but this friend of mine brought me back a big tub of Goose Fat after Christmas this year as he knows I’m a bit OCD about my roast potatoes.  This goose grease was beautiful. They filter it so that it is a perfect, flawless milky white.

And so to perfect roasties.

1) Choose some good red-skinned potatoes of a medium to large size – this is important. You don’t want to choose small, round potatoes.

2) Peel said potatoes.

3) Cut said potatoes into at least quarters.  You want as many corners on them as possible and you want them to be at most the size of half a large kiwi-fruit (is that specific enough?).

4) Boil potatoes in very heavily salted water (this draws as much of the internal moisture out as possible), until they are fully cooked, none of this par-boiled nonsense.

5) Heat a generous amount of goose grease in the roasting pan – at least as much as to produce 0.5cm depth in the pan. You want a hot oven for them to properly crisp up so 200°C at least.

6) Drain potatoes and leave the lid off so that more water evaporates. Now comes an important point. If you have caught your potatoes at the right moment, before they have started to break up at all and become waterlogged (easily done), then VERY gently shake the pan so that you rough up the surface of the potatoes. If you are worried about the potatoes crumbling then you can gently use a fork and scrape it over the potatoes.

You need to do this so that the fat really gets into the tatoes and creates a lovely, rough, crispy surface.

7) When your fat is super hot, throw a good heaped teaspoon of Porcini or other mushroom Powder into the pan with another teaspoon of salt, along with a few twigs of rosemary and a few cloves of un-peeled garlic. Mix it all in properly.

8) Throw potatoes in pan when the fat is roaring hot to seal the them and then thoroughly coat every surface with the fat, (Careful you don’t throw water in too otherwise you’ll have the fat spitting, you need it all super hot so that the potatoes don’t suck up loads of fat and get fat-logged).  Shove the pan in the nice hot oven, and turn and baste the potatoes every 15-20mins until they are lovely and crispy and golden with hints of dark crunchy brown (around 45mins to 1hour usually depending on how stable your oven temp is).

And there you have it. I promise you that these will be the most jaw-dropping roasties you’ve ever had.  The goose grease aspect has been long known, but it’s the Porcini powder adding that Umami oomph that tips them over the edge. Thanks AH, you are a star.

Sorry there aren’t photos here. I was lost in a frenzy of gluttony when they came out of the oven. Next time, next time…

Lantau’s Island Club – A far-flung option for some organic veggies.

January 16, 2010

If you’re looking for something a bit different to do at the weekend, then this might make an interesting trip to buy vegetables.

There used to be a very famous pub on Lantau called the Frog & Toad, it was run by a chap nicknamed Tequila Joe who I think used to be a Canto stuntman or actor or summink.  Anyway – it was famous for it’s Mud Olympics and was an awesome stop off for junk trips, but sadly it closed down quite a few years ago.

However, I took a walk over to Dai Long Wan last weekend and there is a little club that has sprung up in its place:  The Island Club.

I tell you, it was a stunning day. Not too hot, with a light, cool breeze. The village is lovely (apart from the dog that snapped the boyf’s calf), there are not really any new style village houses, they’re mostly very old school.

Anyhow, as we were trying to find our way out of the village as I was sure there was a way to get to Sea Ranch we struck up a conversation with a lady tending to the rather sweet vegetable patches around the village.  Her name is Shirley and as it turns out she runs the Island Club.

You can also buy the lovely organic veggies from the Dai Long Wan Organic Farm, but as we were only  1/3 of the way  into our walk we declined.  Unfortunately they don’t take these veggies anywhere to sell, so you have to come here.  It did strike me that the government ban of keeping chicken and pigs is a bit nuts when villages like this don’t have road access. It’s an idyllic place and being able to keep chickens and pigs would mean that these guys could be utterly self sufficient in food. As it is they just have to call the Kaido’s over from Cheung Chau instead to take them to the shops there.

There is a really nice beach and it’s great for junk trips.  If you want you can also just hop off the ferry in Cheung Chau, head off to the little public pier on the right and pay a Kaido to take you.  Lovely.

They have lots of watersports equipment that you can rent and she’ll cook bbq’s and sell you lots of booze. It’s very reasonable and looks like it’s a great alternative to going all the way round to Sai Kung’s Dai Long Wan.  She even has tents if you want to camp.  Check out her website  for more details, if you are looking for somewhere a bit different.

Location: Dai Long Wan, Chi Ma Wan peninsula (important as there are at least two Dai Long Wan’s on the island) Lantau.

Getting there: 30min easy hike from Chi Ma Wan Prison, or get a kaido from Cheung Chau for $100.

Contacts:  Shirley Chan  93508664 (very good english), www.islandclub.hk

Glow In The Dark Pork?!

January 9, 2010

From today’s SCMP:

Shenzhen pork glows in the dark

GUANGDONG – A man bought a piece of pork in a Shenzhen supermarket on Wednesday that glows in the dark, The Southern Metropolis News reports. He noticed something unusually bright in his kitchen and was shocked to discover it was the meat. The glow appeared to come from around the bone.

I suppose there are  questions to consider:

1) Is this really true?

2) Holy Cow! If this is true what the hell has someone been injecting into the pork?

3) WTF? Doesn’t a lot of the pork sold in Hong Kong come from farms in China’s Guangdong province, how likely is it that you might find a glowing pork chop in my fridge soon?

Chicken and Pomegranate Salad

September 20, 2009

Chinese Pomegranates are in season in Sept for about 3 months, so I bought some in the supermarché on a whim.

Ever since, I have been wondering what the hell to do with them as the boyfriend isn’t too keen on the pips.

I guessed I had to come up with another ingredient that would mask the crunchiness of the seeds within the pomegranate flesh, and today I came up with a winner:

Persian pomegranate chicken dishes usually have walnuts in them, so why not make a Chicken, Pomegranate and Walnut salad? Sounded tasty and the crunchy walnuts would be the perfect camo for the seeds.  I looked online and found this was a fairly standard salad combo, so got to work on my version, and it ended up being very tasty.

chicken_pomegranate_salad_causticcandy

Here it is (enough between 2 for lunch), note that all the measurements are fairly vague – use the proportions that you are happy with, this is just a foundation.

1/2 Pomegranate

Small handful walnuts (or a handful of walnuts if you have small hands like me)

1/2 a small red onion or 3-4 spring onions

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tps vinegar (something light, I used red wine vinegar, but you could use white wine, raspberry , probably cider etc)

At least 3 tbs good extra virgin olive oil (tweak proportion to taste)

Good pinch of salt

Dribble of fish sauce (optional, I like it as it adds a touch of depth and always have it in the kitchen anyway)

Good pinch of ground black pepper

Small pinch of ground white pepper (I like the extra zing it has)

Cup or two of shredded chicken (either remains of the roast or a couple of poached chicken breasts)

Green leaves. I used a couple of small chinese lettuces which are quite like Romaine, but you could used anything up to and including strongly flavoured rocket or watercress.

Put the walnuts in a medium/hot oven (180-190°C) to roast for a 5-10mins (check they don’t burn and give them a shake half way through). It is worth roasting them as the texture becomes less brittle and it tends to take the bitterness away for some reason.

Roll the pomegranate on the kitchen unit to loosen the seeds (this sounds crunchy).

Cut in half like a grapefruit and then whack each half over your salad bowl with the back of a wooden spoon or something and out fly the seeds.  Give the shell a good squeeze post pummel to get the juice out.

Add the finely chopped onion, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and fish sauce to the bowl and when the walnuts are done, break them up a bit and sling them in too.

Mix all these together thoroughly and taste the dressing, adjusting the seasoning whilst taking into account that you are going to be adding the lettuce and chicken to it – you want to try not to be adding more salt and pepper once you’ve added the bulking ingredients, as the salt tends to sit in the leaves rather than dissolving.

Add the chicken and the lettuce and toss well. Adjust the seasoning if you have to.

As I was eating it, I thought that adding a little chilli or sichuan pepper infused oil to it would work as it could definitely take some heat, although I think that actual addition of chopped chilli wouldn’t be a winner – I’ll definitely make sure I use some rocket next time for kick.

For a more Italian version of this, shavings (not gratings) of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano are a tried and tested addition.

Trying to buy fish in HK – attempt #1

September 18, 2009

I’m a bit reticent to buy fish from the supermarkets in HK at the moment.

MSC regSo often the dead fish with their heads still on have milky eyes which is a sign of a not particularly fresh specimen, and I haven’t seen anything fresh or frozen yet with the Marine Stewardship Council’s mark.

I’ve also heard that fish flash frozen at sea are probably the best to buy if you can’t buy really fresh fish from your local waters, and so I thought I’d give some frozen Pink Cusk Eel Ling a go that I saw in Taste (Park’n’Shop).

I’ve no idea whether the Ling was flash frozen, but it looked like a big meaty fish that might might do well as a replacement for cod.  I don’t buy cod at the moment as it’s generally not sustatinably fished (unless its from the Bering Sea), and I know that Ling stocks are good.

So, I unfroze it and decided to bake it double wrapped in foil with a crust of lots of herbs, spices, onion and coconut.  It looked and smelled real good:

ling_hongkongphoodey

However, it was less than satisfactory when cooked.

I have yet to work out whether it was my oven or the fish but it took twice as long to cook as recommended (30minutes rather than 15) and it’s texture once finally cooked was slightly rubbery.

Now of course this could be a case of a bad workman blaming his tools, but usually I’m pretty good at baking/grilling and poaching fish.  I’ve bought an oven thermometer as a result of this to check my appliance, and now I’m just wondering how the texture of fish changes the less fresh it gets.  Anyone got any tips for me?

I bought some other fish as well this week that I know was flash frozen, so I’ll be experimenting with that in the next few days. For now though, the rest of the Ling I’ve got in the freezer will be consigned for use in fishcakes (great recipe) only, as I don’t think it’s worth trying it in anything more simple that shouts for quality of ingredients over anything else.

Click here for quite a good guide to buying fish (even though it’s for America), and here for the WWF sustainable fish guide, which has a pocket sized version for when you go shopping.

Fish Cakes – Super simple and Thai delish

September 7, 2009

Right, this recipe is a variation on one I found in Marie Clare’s Zest recipe book by Michelle Cranston.

I quite like that series, especially Michelle Cranston’s and Donna Hay’s books as these two chefs are Aussie and therefore in HK we have access to all the ingredients that they generally use.

salmon_fishcakes_causticcandy

500g fish, boned/skinned – I used a mix of Salmon (North Atlantic fresh) and Alaska pollock steaks/fillets (frozen at sea in the Bering Strait). I think that salmon works wonderfully well in toto, but to keep costs down I teamed it with something cheaper.  Any firm, meaty fish would work here.  I was a bit worried about the pollack when I smelt it as it’s got a much stronger fishy smell than the salmon, but it’s taste wasn’t overpowering at all, so that was a good find as pollock is a very sustainable fish apparently (and pretty local being from the Bering Sea).

2 lemongrass stalks, 4 kaffir lime leaves, 250ml water -  tear the kaffir leaves up a bit and bash the lemongrass stalks around with the butt of your knife so that all that fab scent and flavour starts to come out.

Throw them in a wide based pan with the water and bring to the boil.

Add the fish, turn down to a simmer, and cover.  Poach the fish for a scant 5 mins.  Don’t worry too much about it being cooked totally all the way through (although there is no reason it shouldn’t be), as you’re going to cook it again later.

Put the fish in a bowl to start cooling and break it up slightly to help it cool quicker.

Whilst the fish is cooling down a bit you need to gather together the following:

version 1:

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

Small handful coriander leaves - finely chopped

2 tbs lemongrass - very finely chopped/or food processed

2 kaffir lime leaves – very finely shredded. This is optional as many people don’t like to find bits of tough leaf in their food, but the flavour is fabulous so I like to add them.

Chillies – use as much as you like but make sure you chop it very finely. I used to large red chillis deseeded and for me that’s not quite hot enough.  Next time I’ll fling in another small Birdseye for some added oomph.

1/2cup spring onions – finely chopped. Include as much of the green stems as possible for added colour

1 tbs fish sauce - don’t skimp on the fish sauce, you need it to bring the cakes to life as I’m not adding any other salt.

1/2 tsp white pepper - ground.  I’ve only recently been convinced of the use of white pepper. I used to associate it with disgusting school meals, but have come to appreciate it in Asian cooking, and it definitely has a very different taste to black pepper. Worth having it in the house.

After you have gathered all this together the fish should be cooler.  Break it up as finely as you like with a fork. My preference is for quite finely mashed up, as when it’s in bigger chunks it’s more difficult to keep the cakes from breaking up in the frying pan without overcooking them.

Anyway. After you’ve broken all the fish up throw in all the other ingredients and give it a good mix, take a taste to see if you need to adjust the seasoning.

2 eggs – beaten, they need to be medium to large eggs.

Finally add the eggs once you’re happy with the seasoning, and then if you have time put aside in the fridge for a good 30min-1hour to chill which is good for making the ingredients stick together, but more importantly the flavours will develop too.

Frying:

Form the mix into the size of fishcake you would like.

Pour enough veggie oil into your frying pan to come up half way up your fish cakes. Heat the oil until it’s good an’ hot.  Not deep-fat frying hot, but immediately spitting if you flick some water in it (best to cook the cakes on a medium heat, so you may want to turn the oil down slightly once you put the cakes in).

Fry off the fish cakes, turning only once.  They should take 2-3mins on each side to go a lovely golden brown, but just use your judgement.

Place on kitchen towel to drain off excess oil.

Don’t be shy on the oil.  Shallow frying actually sucks more oil into the cakes, and is therefore less healthy, and oil saturated cakes is not really what we’re aiming for here.

Version 2:

The fishcakes above come out with having quite a “rustic” texture, and because the fish is in direct contact with the pan, you do end up with crunchy, overcooked bits of fish (which aren’t to everyone’s taste).

If you prefer a cake with a smoother texture then replace the 2 cups of breadcrumbs with mashed potato and chop the fish up finely rather than just breaking it up with a fork.  I would add 1.5 cups of mash for this much fish.

When I’m using mash, I also like to add more onion, and I’d add one very finely chopped shallot on top of the spring onions above, or 2-3 shallots in total if you can’t be faffing with lots of different ingredients.

When you are doing this version, you need to roll the fishcakes in fresh breadcrumbs before frying so that they stay together and the breadcrumbs protects the fish on the outside from going crunchy (which I suppose you could do in version 1 too!)

To serve, squeeze over some fresh lime juice and serve with sweet chilli dipping sauce and some lovely greens.  Bonza. My boyfriend reckons these are the best fish cakes he’s ever had, which is high praise indeed! And just look how easy they are to make! Super simple, Super delish.


Hami Melons – something to look forward to in September.

September 2, 2009

Yum – Hami Melon season.

caustic_candy_hami-melon

I’m lucky enough to have been to Xinjiang and seen the melons and grapes growing in Hami and Turpan, which is maybe why I love to buy them here when they are in season.

There is something wonderful about traveling across hundreds of miles of rugged, parched desert, then arriving suddenly in an oasis to see masses of burgeoning grape and melon vines strung up throughout town, heavy with fruit.

Vintners have been exploring the potential of the oasis towns of the Gobi and Taklamakan for years, and the same climatic conditions that give rise to beautiful, sweet, plump grapes also gives rise to beautiful, sweet, crisp melons. They first came to prominence a few hundred years ago reputedly when the Hami oasis ruler sent tribute to the Chinese emporer Kangxi in the form of melons.

Hami melons are a variety of musk melon and apparently it’s the long hot summers that concentrates the sugars in these fruit (although I think it has something to do with the large difference in temperatures between night and day too).  They are so sweet, but they also retain a fantastic crisp bite, which makes this a king amongst melons for me. I can’t abide fluffy watermelon and buttery honeydews, there are just some textures that turn me off.

So, if your in HK and are looking for something seasonal and “local” (kind of, at least it’s from the same country…?!) then make sure you try the Hami melons, they’ll be in stores throughout September.

Melons are ripe when there is some give around the non-stalk end, and they smell good.  I left mine out on the balcony for 2-3 days after I bought it and it seemed to ripen up really well. I like to think that being in the sunshine helped, but that might just be my own romantic delusion.

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