A K Superstore

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I love Asian grocers, I particularly love the cheapness. It makes me chuckle every time I see a tiny 25g sachet of coriander leaf in Waitrose for 89p. A two minute drive down the road and for the same price I can get two whole bunches of the stuff. More coriander than I know what to do with (might be an exaggeration). Garlic, ginger, chillies, spices, fresh fruit and veg. I can stuff a carrier bag full and never have to break a bank note. Anyone serious about cooking living in a big city knows their nearest Asian grocer. Springfield (Sparkhill) Parade on Stratford Rd is close to where I live, on it there are 5 big grocers all vying for business. It’s a perfect competition scenario as studied in Economics class. Stock is turned over quickly and always fresh.

But A K Superstore is not there. It’s on the Coventry Rd in Small Heath. The bit you never go down because that’s why the Small Heath Bypass was built. That stretch of the Cov road is teeming with Asian and Middle-eastern businesses. AK Superstore is opposite the park and has the freshest fruit and veg of all the Asian grocers I’ve ever been in. Whenever I go there is always someone checking over the produce and discarding any that aren’t pristine. Worth a detour if you’re in the area especially during mango season.

A K Superstore
640-642 Coventry Rd, Birmingham B10 0UT

BBQ Village 串串香

What do you think of when you think of Chinese food? Sweet and sour chicken, beef in oyster sauce, fried rice, sesame prawn toast or maybe dim sum? You won’t find any of that in BBQ Village, or actually you will if they give you the English menu. But why would you go to this Sichuan-Beijing hybrid Chinese restaurant and order the usual westernised derivative Cantonese dishes. I’ve been a little reticent to put this on the Brumfoodmap because of the recent bad news about it’s hygiene rating. But in a way it makes the restaurant authentic because by the standards of food safety in China, if it doesn’t kill you then it’s considered safe over there… and I haven’t died yet. So in the interests of finding the tastiest food in Brum, BBQ Village is up there with the best.

If you’re not familiar with this kind of Chinese food then you may be surprised by the flavour of some of the dishes. The name of the restaurant in Chinese 串串香 means tasty or fragrant skewers (see how the simplified character for skewer 串 looks like skewer of meat, it’s a simple language really!) Order these to whet your appetite and prepare your tastebuds for the full on assault of spicy flavours about to follow. Skewered morsels of lamb, beef and chicken are encrusted with chilli and cumin, for the more adventurous try the chicken hearts and gizzards or the tripe skewers. Don’t miss out on the bread skewers either, toast but not the usual prawn toast. Move on to a cold starter of mouth-watering Chicken 口水雞, the unmistakable tingle of Sichuan pepper dances on your tongue balancing the moreish hot, sweet and vinegary dressing. If you like that then try the fearsome Beef in Chilli Oil 水煮牛肉, my favourite dish, a cauldron of sliced beef that you should pick out of the chilli oil-slick. Do not spoon the oil over your rice! Dry fried chicken with chillies 辣子雞丁 ups the ante on the Sichuan Pepper vs Chilli stakes. By now the Sichuan pepper should have sufficiently numbed your tongue so that you are immune to the chilli heat, perfect then to appreciate the wonderful textures of the classic Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐. The silken cubes of bean-curd slipping down your now distended gullet. To balance your meal, the dry fried green beans 四季豆 and garlicky aubergines 燒茄子 are wonderful accompaniments and actually great standalone main dishes in their own right. If you like your food spicier then ask for it so because they will adjust it down to what they perceive as Western tastes.

BBQ Village do not only do prepared dishes but also hotpot where you cook your own food at your table. In fact you’ll see a lot of the Chinese clientele hovering over steaming pots of stock poaching raw strips of meat. I’ve never ordered it myself because I believe hotpot is better done at home and besides I can’t get past all those amazing skewers and Sichuan dishes.

BBQ Village
Tel: 0121 643 5723
55 Station St, Birmingham B5 4DY

Abu Zayd

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Sometimes you just want a lamb kebab, simple as that. There’s plenty out there on our streets, the kebab shop next door to the Chicken hut, they’ll grill you a lamb seekh past the point of well done then some more. So what makes this Arabian grill restaurant different? The kebabs of course, lightly spiced and lacking the garish red colouring that most kebabs shops in Brum insist upon. You can actually taste the meat. What’s more they grill on charcoal and they know how to cook so the meat is still juicy. A couple of lamb kofte, big portion of rice, salad and Lebanese flatbread £6.50, simple.

Abu Zayd
412 Coventry Road, Small Heath, Birmingham B10 0UF

How to Butcher a Pork Shoulder for BBQ

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I eat a lot of pork, maybe it’s because I’m Chinese – we were the first to domesticate pigs you know. The default word for meat in Chinese means pork. So collectively we’ve eaten a LOT of pork. It’s a wonderfully versatile meat, good thing really because you can’t milk a pig or spin soft wool from it’s bristly hair and don’t even try to plough a field with one. No, pigs are bred for eating and when the sun is out there’s no better way of cooking them than low and slow in a smoky barbeque pit. In particular pork shoulder for pulled pork. Let’s be clear about this, pulled pork means smoked barbequed pulled pork. In fact we say that pulled pork that isn’t barbequed should be banned or at least renamed slow-roast pork. Putting a barbeque sauce on mushy overcooked slow-roast roast pork doesn’t make it pulled pork either. You culprits know who you are!

So where do you start with pulled pork? Well with a pork shoulder of course. Now this is where things can get confused and where this guide can help you. Most BBQ blogs about pulled pork will be American and will talk a lot about Boston butts or picnic hams, cryovacing at Trader Joes or the Duroc crosses at Niman Ranch. None of which mean anything to your average UK butcher. They understand what shoulder, neck, hock and hand are. Most BBQ blogs start with a perfectly trimmed Boston butt but this blog will show you how to get to that stage.

In the photo below is a whole shoulder, it’s basically the front part of the pig called the front primal. Most butchers cut this using the first three spare ribs as a guide. This primal has been taken from the right side of the pig and the head, were it still attached, would be on the left of the photo. At the bottom of the primal you can see that the trotter and hock have been removed, equivalent to removing your arm up to the elbow (yes get over it). The other side has been skinned and a thin layer of fat left on:

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You could BBQ this whole of course but much better to take the neck bone off along with the ribs so the spice rub and smoke will penetrate the flesh. Follow the bone around with a thin boning knife and the whole lot should come away easily in one piece. In this next photo you’ll see that I’ve done this and I’ve also separated the top section to show you what British butchers call the neck. If you are BBQing you should not separate it like this, keep it whole, this is for demonstration only:

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Butchers like to sell you neck, it’s a common cut. When cured like bacon it’s called collar bacon. Cantonese cooks like it because we make Char Siu from it. It’s a perfectly acceptable cut for pulled pork but it’s a bit small and the loin end tends to dry out a little. What’s the loin end? Follow the neck back down the spine and the next section you’ll get to is the loin where you get the standard pork chop. So this end of the neck will tend to dryness because there’s less inter muscular fat and no connective tissue and it’s this stuff that makes pork shoulder so juicy and well suited to low and slow cooking. When a British butcher has separated the neck out the rest is usually called the shoulder, it’s often boned and rolled and sold as a roasting joint. This is fine for pulled pork too. Just get them to skin it for you first.

Below is a close-up of the neck, where I’m pinching is what competition BBQers call the money muscle. We like to separate this slightly and serve it sliced. This muscle stays really juicy and properly cooked melts in the mouth. A good way to demonstrate to BBQ judges that you know what you’re doing:

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Ok now this first shoulder I’ve been demonstrating on is not ideal for BBQ because I’ve separated the neck too much. Good thing it’s being used for carnitas! So here’s another shoulder, this is what’s known as the Boston butt in the US. This is the basically the upper half of the shoulder primal and twice as big as the neck. To get to this piece I’ve sawn straight across the front primal in half through the base of the shoulder blade. The top of the shoulder blade should still be buried in the Boston butt. You can bone it out but I like to leave it in because when it comes away clean after smoking you know your pork is perfectly cooked. The top of the pig is on the right of this photo, you can see that I’ve separated the money muscle out competition style but you don’t need to do this at home.

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The Boston butt or upper shoulder is the ideal cut for pulled pork as it’s big enough to stand up to a long slow smoke. The ratio of bark to juicy meat will be perfect. So now you know what you need, go forth and ask for it with confidence at your nearest quality butcher!