This, I hope, will be the year that everyone will just have a go in the kitchen, without feeling the pressure to produce perfection at every turn. All that really matters is that we have a good time at the stove and at the table.
I suspect that this will be the year that we have a go at things we might normally leave to the professionals, such as amazing gourmet-style sandwiches, homemade sushi, gyoza, the plump little Japanese dumplings that have been too long in the shade, and our favourite all-day breakfast dishes, such as eggs Benedict. I’m also looking forward to more relaxed Asian cooking, particularly in the form of bright-tasting curries.
Having mastered cakes and cookies, and bolstered by the success of BBC2’s Great British Bake Off, I suspect we will see the continuing success of home baking, including pizza-making.
Greens with citrus broth
Bright, refreshing flavours such as lime, lemon and sometimes tamarind are replacing the dark, almost sinister spicing of the past. The whole effect is cleaner and sharper and works well with chicken or green vegetables.
For the spice paste:
garlic 4 cloves
lemon grass 4 short stalks
ground turmeric ½ tsp
green chillies 2, mild, medium
spring onions 2
vegetable or rapeseed oil about 3 tbsp
celery 2 large sticks
spring onions 6
choy sum or other Chinese greens 200g
vegetable stock approximately 400ml
lime juice 3 tbsp
fish sauce 1 tbsp
caster or palm sugar to taste
dark soy sauce 2 tsp
Make the spice paste. Peel the garlic and put into the bowl of a food processor. Remove the outer layer of lemon grass and discard, then chop the rest roughly and add to the garlic. Drop in the ground turmeric, chillies, spring onions and a little oil, about a tablespoon, then blitz to a rough paste.
Prepare the vegetables. Cut celery into short sticks. Cut the spring onions into short lengths, 4cm long. Cut the choy sum into large, bite-sized pieces.
Warm a large wok over a moderate heat then pour in a couple of tablespoons of oil. Add the spice paste, moving it round in the pan for a minute or two till fragrant but not coloured, then add the celery and spring onions. Pour in the stock. When it comes to the boil, add the greens, then, when they are tender add the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and soy to taste. Simmer for a few minutes till the greens are tender.
The delicious little Japanese dumpling, with its filling of pork, chicken or vegetables, has been politely waiting for its moment of glory. Originating in China, they have been slowly increasing in popularity and I suspect 2012 may finally be the gyoza’s year. The wrappers are available from Japanese food shops, usually in the frozen food section. Use the top, green bit of the Chinese cabbage in the stuffing, not the firm white stalks. Serve with the dip below.
Makes about 20
For the filling:
Chinese cabbage 2 handfuls
spring onions 6
sesame oil 2 tsp
garlic 3 cloves
ginger 2 tsp, finely grated
minced pork 250g
sugar a pinch
Chinese chives 2 tsp, chopped
light soy sauce a little
dumpling wrappers 20
oil a little for cooking
For the dip:
sesame oil 1 tbsp
rice wine vinegar 100 ml
sweet chilli sauce 2 tsp
dark soy sauce 2 tbsp
sugar 2 tsp
Shred the cabbage very finely then put it in a colander, place on a plate, sprinkle it heavily with salt and leave for 20 minutes. This will help it to soften. Rinse briefly, then squeeze out the moisture with your fist.
Finely chop the spring onions, put them in a frying pan with the sesame oil and let them soften over a low to moderate heat. Peel and finely crush the garlic and add to the pan together with the grated ginger and some ground white pepper. It is worth remembering that white pepper is hotter than black.
Add the minced pork to the mixture, turn the heat up slightly and fry till the meat is pale gold, a matter of 3 or 4 minutes. Add a pinch of sugar, the chopped chives and three or four drops of soy sauce. Let the mixture cool.
Place a gyoza wrapper on the work surface and put 2 teaspoons of the pork mixture in the centre of the wrapper. Dampen the edge of the wrapper with water, then fold the bundle in half to give a semicircle and press firmly to seal, crimping the dough as you go with your finger and thumb. Set aside and repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
Warm a thin layer of oil in a shallow pan to which you have a lid and place over a low to moderate heat. Place the dumplings in the pan so their crimped edge stands uppermost. Let the bottoms colour lightly – they should be pale amber. Pour in the water. Cover the pan with a lid and leave for 5 minutes, remove and let the water boil for a minute or two till it has evaporated. Serve the gyoza with the dip. To make the dip, put the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, then leave to cool. It should be sweet, sharp and salty.
Frying pan pizza
Pizza has long been the preserve of the professionals but they are good fun to make at home, too. You need a seriously hot oven and, preferably, a pizza stone for a home-baked version, but you can also achieve a good, crisp crust by cooking them in a heavy frying pan.
Enough for 2 medium pizzas
For the dough:
strong, plain flour 400g
fine sea salt 1 tsp
dried yeast a 7g sachet
sugar a pinch
warm water approximately 250ml
Tip the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Pour in the dried yeast, sugar, salt and most of the water and mix to a soft dough. Add as much water as you need to obtain a slightly sticky dough, it may be more or less than 250ml, depending on the flour you are using. Tip out on to a floured board and knead for at least 5 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky.
Place the ball of dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a clean, damp tea towel, and leave in a warm place for an hour or until the dough has risen to roughly twice its size.
Turn the dough out and press it down with your fist. It is now ready to roll out and cover with your toppings.
Mushroom taleggio pizza
Enough for the pizza dough above
butter a thick slice
assorted mushrooms 300g
taleggio or other semi-soft cheese 200g
mozzarella 1 ball
thyme leaves several small sprigs
Melt the butter in a shallow pan over a moderate to high heat. Slice the mushrooms and cook them in the butter for 3 to 4 minutes until they start to colour. Season with pepper and remove from the heat. Drain on kitchen paper. (Excess moisture in the mushrooms will lead to a soggy pizza base.)
Split the dough into 2 equal lumps. Roll each piece out to fit the base of a large, heavy-based frying pan, approximately 28-30cm. Get an overhead grill hot for finishing the pizza.
Place the frying pan on a medium to low heat and lower in one of the pieces of rolled dough. Push it firmly with your fist to come slightly up the sides of the pan. Let the dough cook until it is patchily golden on the underside, maybe even a little charred in spots. Loosen it from the pan with a palette knife and flip it over. Cook the underside side to a crisp texture then place half of the cooked mushrooms on the pizza base. Divide the taleggio and mozzarella into two. Place half the cheese on the pizza, tucking it in between the mushrooms. Scatter the thyme leaves and place pizza under the grill for 5 minutes or so till the cheese melts and starts to bubble. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining ingredients.
Fish sandwich with green mango dressing
It is so much a part of our culinary heritage that I can see no reason why we shouldn’t go to as much trouble for a sandwich as we do for a full supper. This one uses the classic combination of seafood and sour mango but in a new way, sandwiched between crisp white bread. The mango should be unripe, very chilled and the fish should be hot and sizzling, straight from the pan. Use whatever fish you like, but talapia works well for this.
mango ½ a sour one, fridge-cold
carrot 1 medium sized
fish sauce ½ tsp
rice wine vinegar 1 tsp
lime juice of 1
talapia one fillet, 100g
rapeseed oil 1 tbsp
white bread, crisp crusted 2 slices
Peel the mango and cut the flesh first into thin slices and then into matchstick shreds. Peel the carrot and cut it into the same size shreds as the mango. Put the fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and lime juice into a small bowl, mix briefly then fold gently into the mango and carrot. The dressing should taste sharp and bright.
Grill the fish or fry it quickly in a very thin film of oil in a non-stick pan. Sandwich the sour mango and fried fish between the slices of bread and eat immediately.
All-day breakfast kipper Benedict
If you put most breakfast dishes – the full English, kedgeree, eggs Benedict etc – on a restaurant or cafe menu, I’m certain there would be more than a few takers. I have recently been exploring the possibility of using something other than eggs in a breakfast muffin, while keeping the hollandaise and the bread. The result is here, a wonderful mixture of toasted English muffin, warm butter and egg sauce, and poached smoked fish. You may well have a little sauce left for later, but it’s difficult to make a smaller quantity.
kipper fillets 500g, cooked and flaked coarsely
English muffins 4
For the hollandaise sauce:
egg yolks 2
Put the kettle on. Put the kipper fillets into a heatproof container or pan and pour boiling water from the kettle over them. Leave for 10 minutes till the fish will come fairly easily off the bones. Carefully remove every small bone.
Make the hollandaise sauce. Melt the butter in a small pan. Put the yolks in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Slowly beat in the butter with a whisk, trickling it slowly into the egg yolks. Season with lemon juice and salt then remove from the heat. Give it a regular whisk to stop it separating.
Split and toast the muffins and spoon a little hollandaise on to each. Divide the kipper pieces between the muffins, spoon over the rest of the hollandaise and grill for a minute or two till golden. Eat immediately.
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