Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Cantonese Steamed Sea Bass with Spring Onions, Ginger and Coriander

I think I’m turning into my mother.

Similarities keep erupting at unexpected moments... using showers of choking hairspray, needing flesh-coloured tights (the most unsexy garment bar flesh-coloured pants), spouting old wives advice (only wash your hands in warm water and drink cola boiled with ginger when you’re pregnant - apparently the potion dispels wind...).

And I take after her party-throwing ways. When she’s hosting, Daddy Lee complains she cooks too much. The guests, however, marvel at the multiple dishes they are presented with – she doesn’t serve one course after another, but many dishes - and a lot at once. Such is the Chinese and Malaysian way.

One of her classic dishes is steamed fish. Whether it’s skate, rainbow trout, bream, my mother often nourishes us with this when we’re -what the Chinese call - ‘heaty’ (that is, when we’ve stuffed ourselves with crisps, deep fried goodness and break out in acne). She’s a master at it.

This recipe is a tribute to my mother. I am using sea bass, a firm fish with delicately flavoured white flesh -perfect for withstanding the boiling hot oil that transmutes the dish from standard to spectacular. This is also for my friend Joey – an affectionately fussy eater who shies away from whole fish with heads - but I’m happy to say was clamouring for the recipe by the end of the evening.

Extremely simple to make, perfect for a quick supper.

Serves 2

1 large sea bass (already scaled and gutted)
4 tablespoons oil (vegetable or sunflower)
2 spring onions, finely shredded
5 cm knob of ginger, finely sliced into very thin matchsticks
Handful of coriander
Several glugs of light soy sauce

Place the fish in a steamer for 15 -20 minutes, or until it is just cooked. I like to line coriander in its belly, but this is not essential.

Once the fish is done, take the fish out and place in a heatproof serving dish. Pour a few glugs of light soy sauce all over the fish before sprinkling over spring onions, coriander and ginger.

Heat the oil in a wok over the highest heat (or a small saucepan that can withstand high heat). You want this to be smoking, it’s so hot. Be patient, the dish will be ruined if you take it off too early.

One hot enough (you can check with a wooden chopstick, the oil will bubble furiously around it), pour over the fish and herbs, and there will be a loud satisfying sizzle as the ginger etc. flash cooks and the skin of the fish crisps up.

Serve immediately with white rice and stir-fried vegetables (such as pea shoots).

To see the other Chinese dishes I cooked the same evening, click here.

Equation for a less-than-elegant but tasty Chinese dinner

11 people for dinner. Mine and T’s little flat. The day before, I'd bought out the contents of Loon Fung in Chinatown, scaled fish, massaged pork, armed myself with cleaver, and wondered what wines oenophile Ruth would bring to match the food.

Here’s what we eat, drink and listen to that night.

The Friends
All from university. We don’t see enough of each other, but when we do, things happen... like deciding to stalk electronic genii Daft Punk and booking a long weekend in Vegas to see them. This time - out of the 11 people in my flat, 7 are running the Belfast marathon in a few days time. In neon/spandex-tutu/superman outfits. It is my moral duty to feed everyone up.

The Menu

Bak choi and limes for the G&Ts

Tonight it’s mainly Chinese food with a bit of impro, depending on what ingredients I’m left with. During the shredding, the gutting, the fine-chopping, Anthony Bourdain’s words often whirr through my head – your first principle should be ‘meez’...’mise-en-place’. As in, getting everything you need ready so that at the last minute (and so much is last minute putting together), all your chopped garlic and onions are set out like it is when you watch Delia serenely rustle up a coq au vin.

I’ll be linking the recipes for certain dishes below in following posts.

Chinese Turnip cake with soy and chilli dipping sauce

Cantonese steamed sea-bass with shredded spring onion, ginger and coriander

Crispy five-spice belly pork with mustard and soy sauce

Shittake mushrooms cooked in their own liquor

Dried-shrimp egg fried rice

Bak choi with ginger, garlic and soy sauce

Sliced rump steak with rice noodles and spring onions

Comté, Stichelton, port and apples

Sticky ginger cake and chocolate clafoutis with crème fraîche

(My friend Rob brings cheese – one of my favourites - nutty Comté, and Stichelton – a young blue made from unpasteurised milk.
Sticky ginger cake and chocolate clafoutis with oranges and crème fraiche is brought by dessert-goddess Hannah)

The Tunes
High Contrast, Confidential: drum and bass is a spicy backdrop to the savouries.

Floorfillers 90s Club Classics: For cheese and dessert, the retro I need your loving, Dub be good to me, and Ebenezer Goode just make sense.

The Sauce
We are lucky enough to have some handpicked wines brought by my friend Ruth, and some barrel samples from a Bordeaux tasting.

Here are the wine notes for anyone who wants to know what can go with Chinese fish, pork and beef.

Stormy Cape Chenin Blanc 2009 - South Africa; easy, fruity, cheapie!
Henschke Tilly’s Vineyard 2007 - V famous Australian producer making premium wines; the Tilly’s is their ‘entry level’ white, blend of Semillon 55%, Sauvignon Blanc 20%, Chardonnay 25%; very aromatic, juicy tropical fruits, lots of body.
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2006 - 100% Pinot from v reputable New Zealand producer, winemaker Rudi Bauer has won lots of awards; savoury, juicy red fruit, spice

Bordeaux 2009:
Ch Petit Bocq 2009 St. Estephe
Ch Pierre de Montignac 2009 Medoc
Ch Pontac-Lynch 2009 Margaux

Do watch this space for the recipes.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Frolicking in The Lakes and Review of The Queen’s Head, Troutbeck

It’s monstrously difficult not to put on weight or to avoid buying technical gear when you’re in The Lakes. Yes, I succumbed and bought a waterproof with built in pro-plus-mega-shell-triple-gore-tex and a hood that turns with your head, hidden buttons and a cinched-in waist for the vain in me. Thank you Brent for demonstrating this in the shop, all I needed was a bucket of water thrown over me to complete the in-store demo.

And the weight thing? I’d like to say it’s down to muscle built up from climbing mammoth peaks like Bow Fell, and scrambling down to tarns and whatnots.

But it’s simply copious eating. How can you not devour wonderful Herdwick lamb, prized and possessed by the Lakelanders, a hardy, tasty sheep guaranteed to have scaled those mountains that have thwarted you?

We roasted a joint from Booths, a supermarket with a strong local-sourcing ethos, and used the leftovers to make a shepherd’s pie (which I’m still eating).

Or there’s the famous spiced warm Grasmere Gingerbread, the recipe a closely guarded secret, which you just have to pick up if you’re in the area. Cumbria has its fair share of starry restaurants, and good pubs and beers -the Hawkshead Lakeland Gold a particular favourite. (See below for my list of culinary places to go).

But what I really want to write about is dark cosy pub The Queen's Head in Troutbeck, near Windermere, because it’s tucked away and not starry in the slightest. Attentive bar staff and Cumbrian hospitality ensures an intimate dinner. I’m sure the vague waft of offal hits me when I walk in, but perhaps it’s the smell of too many children. That aside, there are several things I must rave about.

The first is Hartley’s Cumbria Way – an English pale ale deserving of adoration. If you go, drink it, it’s citrusy and light at first, but malty the more you drink. The second is my starter. The lambs kidneys – slightly pink in the middle, braised in claret, redcurrant and rosemary served on a wedge of crispy onion bread. I am raving about this as my picture makes them look like inedible body parts, but believe me, this is the most perfect-est dish.

The kidneys taste incredible and look much better in the dark...

A pressed pigeon and partridge terrine with tomato marmalade is good. The beer battered onion rings – crispy and airy - should be bagged and sold in supermarkets. The Chilean Santa Helena Merlot is a soft wine with a spice edge, and drinkable in the extreme.

I almost don’t want to mention the mains. By this time, not only are we having a rollicking time, but also filled up with starter. I love oxtail. I love venison. But as the ingredients for a cottage pie base, they do not marry - the result being that I taste neither, and the dryness renders the majority of it unpalatable.

A casserole of shin of beef with caramelised shallots is rich, the real ale gravy adding a depth to the dish.

We prop the bar afterwards, Italian taxi-drivers haranguing us, the barstaff giving us banter. But what amazes me is the familiar service, and the overall good quality of the food, probably down to the locality of the ingredients. The area, with its wet weather and lush greenery breeds flavour like no other. Cumbrians know how to sell us a good time, whether it be a well-fed and watered evening, or the dream of staying dry under a waterproof.

The Queen's Head, Troutbeck, Townhead Brow, Cumbria LA23 1
015394 32174

Other places to eat and shop:

Low Sizergh Barn
I have to be dragged out of here – it's difficult not to leave this farm shop in an old 17th century barn with armfuls of local chutneys, ales and cheeses.

Low Sizergh Farm, Sizergh, Kendal, Cumbria , LA8 8AE

The Drunken Duck Inn
Slightly more pricey than The Queen’s Head, but consistently good food.

Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 ONG
0871 961 1376

L’Enclume restaurant with rooms
Simon Rogan is to Cartmel what Heston Blumenthal is to Bray. The village, which claims to be the home of the sticky toffee pud, houses Rogan's Michelin starred restaurant L'Enclume as well as his less-expensive inn. I ate here in September 2008, experiencing fizzes, foams and fantastic fresh ingredients and combinations I’ve never heard of. I would definitely go again.

Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Nr Grange over Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ,
015395 36362

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

New London Review launch: Brand Spanking New Magazine

A small plug for the launch of a lovely new magazine for South London (currently covering Streatham, Clapham and Brixton). Slightly New Yorker-esque in style, the magazine has great coverage of what's going on in the areas (like the Streatham food festival 15th-20th May), and also features yours truly. The editor Stephen Murphy sums it up..

"We set out initially to report on local democracy and community issues in South London - and then quickly decided it would be more exciting if we also covered the great arts scene we have from arthouse cinema to fringe theatre to street art exhibitions.

As well as the website, we publish a monthly magazine… see May’s issue for our line-up of star columnists including Toby Young, Martin Bright & James Purnell writing about all things education, the arts and community organising. We also cover the best of May’s movies and theatre south of the river. And check out our interviews with Adam Byatt and Rosie Lovell – two of our very own gastro stars, both with book launches and growing fan bases throughout London."

The magazine is distributed at stations, but is also available for you to subscribe online.

For those who can't pick up a copy, you can subscribe or get a sneak preview by going here and pressing look inside.

Clicky here for my interview with Brixton deli owner and author Rosie Lovell. Unfortunately the edgy yet winsome photos which are in the magazine didn't make it onto the website, but have a look here for photographer Kirsten Bresciani's take on Rosie and her deli.