On the cooking front it’s been a slow start to 2017, the excesses of the feasting season (goutmas) taking its toll. So here’s a quick round-up of some of my favourite cooking in 2016 to get my own creative juices flowing and provide inspiration.
Thai food and variations on the theme of massaman
Cooked a lot of Thai food in 2016 and had the pleasure of visiting Thailand again on holiday to provide a little more insight on this cuisine. My last Thai meal of the year was my favourite; funky fish gut curry kaeng tai pla, spicy rich dry curry of pork khua kling, som tam with pickled mud crabs, northern style sausages sai oua, grilled salmon collars with nam prik pao and a torched salmon belly nam tok. I loved the balance of this meal. This is the kind of meal I long for in Thai restaurants but never find. Particularly around here Thai restaurants are just like just like Balti restaurants, choose your sauce (red/green/yellow) and choose your protein (cow/pig/chicken/duck/prawn), nothing is fresh and most of the stuff is too sweet. You can bet that none of the curry pastes are made in-house. The spring roll/satay/fish cake mixed starter that’s been tipped straight into the fryer from the freezer bag is a sure sign of a bad Thai restaurant and it’s why I cook so much Thai food at home.
My best curry of 2016 was this massaman curry made from beef cheek pastrami. It’s a toss up with me whether rendang or massaman is my best curry but after making this version it’s definitely erring to the Thai side. I tried different variations, at Grillstock last year I entered a wagyu brisket burnt end massaman for Chef’s Special round and came second (robbed!). I tried it with smoked beef cheeks too but it was when I was brining some pastrami that I thought that there’s nothing in this brine that isn’t in a massaman curry paste. So if you have the inclination, make some pastrami with my recipe and come to one of my Thai cooking classes at Loaf to learn how to make the curry!
Tacos and mole poblano
People are getting Mexican food now apparently, or at least that’s what the food press are proclaiming at the moment. It’s so on trend but outside the big London bubble, we’re still eating slurry filled Tex-Mex burrito stodge and nacho cheese. Break the bad “Mexican’ food cycle with my handy guide on how to make proper tacos! My best tacos of 2016 were leftover Xmas roast beef, the aged fatty rib cap chopped and crisped up with cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and chilli. Served on grilled cheese corn tortillas with a lick of mole poblano…
I’m no Mexican food expert, it’s a vast cuisine that quite rightly is being recognised now globally for its long history and remarkable flavours. Noma are popping up there, after doing the same in Japan and Australia (nuff said?) I only really cook two Mexican things; tacos and mole poblano and have been cooking them ever since I first picked up a Diana Kennedy cookbook years ago. My mole poblano gets better every time I cook it. If you’ve never tried it think Mexican curry where, apart from chilli and garlic, the flavour spectrum has nothing in common with Asian curry. Mole poblano or “mole as made in the Mexican state Puebla” is probably the most famous mole (ignoring guacamole), it’s a rich, sweet and intensely savoury complex sauce that is usually reserved for feast days. It’s traditionally eaten with turkey and also goes really well with chicken or pork. Call yourself a foodie? Well, you need this in your life.
It’s been another good year for sausages. Finally nailed a lap cheung (Chinese semi dried sausage) recipe and made that most emotive of Cantonese dishes with it, claypot rice. Mention it to a Hong Kongese and watch them get misty eyed. Added some yuun cheung (liver sausage) and lap yuk (bacon) too, this was my platonic ideal of the dish. More meat than rice!
Sausages are perfect food, I waxed lyrical about these hotlinks in an earlier blog. Juicy wagyu beef hotlinks straight from the smoker. The hot beef fat bursting in the mouth as the skin snaps carrying all the smoky spice around your tastebuds in an instant.
Luxury chicken rice
Hainan chicken rice is one of my go-to dishes to cook for visitors. It’s the ultimate chicken dish and appeals to everyone. After countless iterations I’ve settled on a version that includes dried Cantonese seafood such as scallop, squid and prawns. The sweet seafood umami supercharges the rice to the next level. Everyone who tries it never forgets it. Recipe coming soon.
Maximum nasi lemak
Everything I know about Malaysian food is on this banana leaf. Coconut rice, beef cheek rendang, sambal belachan, ikan bilis and a few extras. It’s one of the most delicious combinations of food on the planet. Every bite is a different combination of rich, salty, sour, sweet, spicy, fishy, just everything I love about the food of South East Asia. Must cook this again asap.
Lardo on everything
Lardo is high in monounsaturated fats and is good for you. That’s a bonus because it’s also really quite delightful draped over everything. I made a big block of lardo from a really fatty Tamworth pig and everything I cooked for a while was just an excuse to pair it with lardo. Octopus was great as was sea urchin and smoked eel. But the real winners were these two steak meals. The lardo melted onto golden roasted garlicky pink fir apple potatoes to accompany steak and bone marrow dressed in crispy chimichurri.
The other steak was wrapped in lardo and dressed with a shallot caper vinaigrette. Grilled octopus with bottarga and oh so buttery Pommes Anna completed the set. My idea of surf and turf, squared.
A little BBQ
I’ve been cooking US-style BBQ for a while now and have started teaching a Texas Low n Slow class at the London BBQ School. The class includes brisket, hot links and smoked pork loin. To the surprise of everyone attending it’s the Lockhart pork loin that they all end up loving. Juicy, porky sweet and subtly smoky, it rehabilitates this much maligned cut to prime status. This Tamworth chop, with my own Backyard Brummie BBQ sauce, kales and duck scratchings. Simple. Kind of thing that if I opened a progressive BBQ joint it wouldn’t come off the menu: