Chamberlain’s

How long should one mourn for something lost? I suppose it depends how dear it was to you, the joy it brought to your life and the sadness it left when it was gone…

A bit dramatic for a chippy no? But I did mourn the loss of the Great British Eatery, easily the best Brummie fish and chips for a few brief years before its ignominious closure in 2011. I’ve been moping ever since. The Black Country Museum is too far away and not open in the evenings. There’s nowhere else that fries in beef dripping which in my book is a must for best fish and chips. Well that is apart from Chamberlain’s but I’d been far from convinced on my early visits there, the chips were flabby and the batter too thick. But out of desperate longing for our national dish* I’ve gone back to Chamberlain’s a few times recently. I can now declare my extended period mourning over! Simpy impeccable cod/haddock and chips cooked in beef dripping, what more do you want? Some nice plain mushy peas would be nice, the minted stuff they have in there is really dull. And the haddock & mackerel scotch egg should be avoided, nice idea but the freshness is dubious. But the sides aside, if you’ve been missing proper fish and chips then I can’t think of a better place to go.

*even in curry capital Brum I still consider Fish and Chips the national dish

Chamberlain’s
8 Wolverhampton Road
Birmingham
B68 0LH
Tel: 0121 4297709

Kabayaki unagi

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I’m a bit of a fan of eel, you might have read my thoughts on smoking one in an earlier blog. Love eating them but hate having to deal with them. But with anything sometimes you have to do the dirty stuff in order to get to the good stuff. The good stuff in this case being one of my favourite dishes. Simple grilled eel done the Japanese way with a sweet sticky soy based kabayaki sauce. “Oh yeah so what” you murmur “I can get frozen eel from Wing Yip “. Yes you can, it’s also the same kind of eel that’s on top of everyone’s favourite nigiri sushi. It tastes great but you really don’t know how great until you’ve tried the real thing fresh off the coals. Come on, think about that hot eel fat dripping down onto the hot charcoal, igniting, the vaporised lipids bonding with the kabayaki sauce as you lacquer it on. If you like Japanese food, then you owe it to yourself to try kabayaki unagi as soon as possible. It’s one of the most beloved dishes in Japan where specialist unagi restaurants exist to perfect it.

But now we come to the crunch! Where can you actually eat this dish? Certainly not in any Yo! Sushi or other high street Japanese restaurant. Even the high end places such as Tetsu, Shiori, Roka or Umu don’t do it. From my extensive research the closest is Nodaiwa in Paris, an offshoot of the Michelin starred one in Tokyo! You know I love this dish so much that I recently went to Paris and ate it there. But then I wouldn’t be much of a cook if I didn’t try to make it myself too. I mean how hard can it be? Well it’s not that hard at all except for one caveat. You have to fillet them and eels are the most difficult fish to fillet. But after that it’s all downhill!

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Dispatch your eel
I’m assuming of course that you’ve bought a live one because what would be the point of buying a dead one? Eels go off very quickly so cook them as soon as possible. My preferred method of dispatch is to lock one up in a pot with a slurry of salt. An hour should do it. Remove the eel and scrape all the slime off its leathery skin. Cut off the long fins that run along the top and bottom.

Fillet
This is the hard part. Because of the shape of them and the tough leathery skin they’re tricky to fillet conventionally. But when you come upon a fish conundrum you just have to ask yourself “what would the Japanese do?” as no doubt they’d have come up with a simple elegant solution. In this case the shape and tough skin has been turned into an advantage. Make a small drill hole in the top right-hand corner of your largest chopping board (if you’re right-handed) and peg the head securely to it with the belly facing away from you. Make an incision behind the side fin and zip your knife along the backbone to release the top fillet and open the eel out like a fishy baguette. Cut out the guts (hardcore unagi eaters skewer these and grill them separately). Snip the backbone near the head and cut out the bone in one long piece starting at the head. The tough skin will make sure the head is still firmly pegged to the board so you can give it some power if the bone is being stubborn. This is a lot easier with a traditional Japanese style single-bevelled deba knife, a useful investment if you eat a lot of fish or have a knife fetish.

Steam and Grill
Cut the fillet in half and thread the two halves onto thin metal skewers so that they are easier to grill. You can grill the eel from raw with just a little salt if you prefer but if you want to brush them with kabayaki sauce then it’s better to par-cook the eel first as the the sauce is likely to burn over prolonged grilling. Very gently steam the fillets for 7 to 8 minutes before gently grilling them directly over coals brushing with the sauce:

Kabayaki Sauce 4 parts light soy, 1 part mirin, 1 part sake, 2 parts white caster sugar by volume. This is the basic sauce, simmer until thickened. I like to add star anise and a whole clove of garlic too.

The grilling should not be rushed, take your time, brush as often as you like with the sauce. I like to do it six or seven times on the flesh side only as I like to make sure the skin is nice and crispy and plenty of the fat has rendered off. Give the flesh a final lacquering before cutting into bite sized pieces. That’s it, told you it was easy. Just serve over a mound of tender Japanese rice and lashings of the sauce drizzled over the top. Or if you’re a real Japanese food nerd, give it another grill over a tabletop Konro before you pop into your mouth. Truly one of the best mouthfuls of food there is.

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Indian Pub Grills – A Roundup

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Classic pub grub, remember that stuff? Not the gastropub fare that you get nowadays. Not the multi Michelin starred gourmet delights of Tom Kerridge’s proper pub food. No I’m talking about the horrors of the 80s and 90s, where if you wanted more than a bag of pork scratchings or piss-stained peanuts you ran the eminent danger of salmonella poisoning from a week-old reheated lasagne. Those were the days, you really didn’t want to see what was going on behind that greasy kitchen door. Some bloke scratching his arse all the while dropping fag ash on your chicken kiev? The least of your problems. When the food came, it was obvious it was nothing more than a cheap sop for desperate binge drinkers. You had to drink more to erase the memory of it.

All those old boozers, all those kitchens, all that potential. Well in Brum some of that potential has been realised. In venerable pubs across the city, kitchens have been handed over to people who actually care about cooking good food for a decent price. The Thai chefs at The Bartons Arms being a shining example of this, but also the exception as most of those kitchens have been skewered by the expert grillers of the Punjab. Yes, in back rooms across the metropolis, fingers are being stained red from the smoky spice of a thousand kebabs. Here’s a smoke&umami (i.e. brief) guide to some of them:

The Vine
152 Roebuck St, West Bromwich, West Midlands B70 6RD
0121 553 2866

The daddy, the one everyone thinks of when you talk about Indian BBQ. On an unassuming back road, first left after the big West Brom roundabout, the small traditional frontage gives no indication to the behemoth of a grill room and garden in the back. Order your grilled food from the grill area but order your curries and bread from the bar at the front. The trick is to get them to arrive at the same time. I have no idea how the system works, it’s semi-organised chaos, just cross your fingers! Thankfully everything arrives pretty quickly as the kebabs are pre-cooked and finished to order. In all of these places it’s always the mixed grill, why would you order anything else? A mountain of grilled meats for not much money where you can assess the strengths and weaknesses of each restaurant. On the plus The Vine does pork steaks and the spicing is pretty much spot on. On the minus the chicken can get a little dry. Curries are good but breads are pretty ordinary.

The Sportsman
13 High St, West Bromwich B70 6PP
0121 553 1353

A stones throw away on West Brom high street is the other one. It’s the question that always comes up; The Vine vs The Sportsman, which one is better? The question should be; is there any difference? To me, not really. The grill room at The Sportsman is smaller and still feels like a back room of a regular pub. You can order everything from one hatch so it all comes at the same time. I really can’t decide between here and The Vine. The food is identical. Toss a coin if you’re in West Brom.

The Grove
279 Grove Lane, Handsworth, B20 2HA
0121 554 3120

It was making me itch a little being in the Black Country. Being a Brummie born and bred it has that effect on me! So it’s actually nice to find myself in Handsworth, no lie, actually very pleased because at one end of Grove Lane is where I went to school and at the other is The Grove pub freshly rebranded as a bar and restaurant. Fond memories of underage drinking were not rekindled as the place has been completely refurbed. There is still some semblance of the front bar but out back is now a large spotlessly clean dining room lined with hd TVs showing Sky Sports. The semi-open kitchen and grill is in one corner. This is the best ordering system of all, one hatch where you order, they give you a remote buzzer that vibrates when your order’s ready to pick up from a separate adjacent hatch. The kebabs taste a notch above those of the The Vineman (see what I’ve done there) and despite also being pre-cooked the chicken tikka is some of the juiciest and flavorful I’ve ever eaten. The seekh kebabs are spicy, thick and meaty. Special praise goes to the bread here, parathas and rotis are excellent. No pork though which is a shame but for me the best of the bunch.

The Farcroft
Rookery Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, B21 9QY
0121 554 0957

Staying in Handsworth we’re now in the fairly rough looking Farcroft, which will please purists who complain about The Vine having been sanitised. If you want grit then this is the place for you. A big pub which has seen better days. You wend your way through the back gate to the BBQ area where you get fairly standard renditions of everything including pork steaks. Strangely the mixed grill is small here, it only includes wings, seekh kebabs and chicken tikka. But, like the surroundings, everything is really cheap so you can order extras to your wallets content. Spicing is really good here but a hard sell for me considering The Grove is just two minutes down the road.

Hen & Chickens
27 Constitution Hill, Birmingham, West Midlands B19 3LE
0121 236 3121

Quite a small corner pub on Constitution Hill a brisk walk from Snow Hill. They’ve only been serving Indian BBQ for about 6 months and pride themselves on cooking everything from raw. Only problem is that there’s an interminable wait for your food. Compounded by no visible kitchen, always a worry with these kind of places. There’s a primeval buzz to seeing stacks of skewered meat piled high ready for the flames. It’s one of the big draws of these pubs. It’s worth the wait though, the large mix grill is good and includes fried chicken, fried fish and green chicken! A kind of green chicken tikka, quite tasty though I could really do without the fried stuff in my mixed grill especially as they sacrifice lamb chops for them. The bread here, a bit thin and crispy, isn’t as good as The Grove. There’s not much dining space but they have plans to extend out into the beer garden. A good option if you’re in town and have craving for mountains of meat.

The Shaftmoor
266 Shaftmoor Lane,Birmingham B28 8ST
07956 879688

Here’s one from the southside of town. Yes we have meat lovers down here too though mostly we’re catered for by Muslim kebab and curry houses. So it’s actually rare, possibly unique, to find a grill in a back of an actual working pub in the south of town. The Shaftmoor, similar to The Farcroft, is a big old pub not far from the Mughal e Azam . Which probably does the best mixed grill anywhere in the city not just in the back of a pub so it has some stiff local competition. The grill is actually called Minesh’s BBQ as Minesh has taken over one of the pub’s outhouses. He was plying his trade down the road in The Sparkhill Social Club in Sparkbrook but moved because it got a bit rough. I did the same! This is the smallest operation I’ve come across so far, just your man on the grill and taking orders at the same time. Hygiene is also the most dubious as he cooks everything from raw. Seeing him scoop a big handful of seasoned raw minced lamb, expertly forming seekh kebabs then handing your change covered in lamb gore is certainly keeping it real. Some may be may put off by this, I was a little, especially when I found a rare piece of chicken tikka in my order. The seekh kebabs are delicious though. If you want to get close to the action then this is the place, this has the most backyard feel of all of them.

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The Bartons Arms

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It’s quite a modern day phenomenon, Thai food served in very traditional pubs. There are quite a few dotted around down that there London. But the only one in Brum is at The Bartons Arms, a truly gorgeous restored Victorian boozer in a pretty rough corner of town. Sitting in the dining room it’s hard not to think that it may be the most beautiful in the city, not as grand or opulent as Mughal e Azam but definitely having more soul, possessing a timeless quality that’s been scrubbed clean and looks fresh again.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from the food. I find most Thai food served in the city to be pretty generic, like the offerings in our Balti houses, choose your gravy then choose the protein to go into it. Which is a shame because great Thai cuisine is so vibrant, pushing the hot-sour-salty-sweet envelope with complex flavours. Like a massaman curry which served here comes close to greatness, better than the roast duck curry with pineapple that should be more sour. Most Thai food in this country is generally too sweet and the food here doesn’t escape that syndrome. The juicy well cooked tamarind duck should be both sweet and sour but childishly errs to candy. The hot and salty can be fixed with a little dish of prik nam pla (Thai chillies in fish sauce) at the table but sometimes the sour need to be cooked-in. A gripe, which I happily acknowledge is down to personal preference, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the dishes here. The starters are mixed, nice honey ribs but bland chicken wings and satay. Fishcakes could do with a little more kick but are of a pleasingly irregular handmade shape. Never trust a perfectly round fish cake, they’ve probably been dropped into the fryer from frozen straight out of the packet. There is the sense of fresh ingredients here, from the Thai basil in the curry to the shredded carrot and cabbage garnish, it’s all been cooked with care.

The Bartons Arms
144 High Street, Aston, Birmingham, B6 4UP
Tel: 0121 3335988

Lewis’s of Moseley

There patently aren’t enough delis in Birmingham, which I believe is an indicator of the level of homecooking going on. Though supermarkets provide the essentials, you really aren’t going to find five types of dried Mexican chillies in them. For that you need places like Lewis’s sitting in its prime location between the Fighting Cocks and Bulls Head in Moseley Village. Along with the venerable (and musty) Nima it’s one of two whole delis in this suburb.

I wasn’t joking about the dried chillies, Lewis stocks a nice selection of Cool Chile Co’s Mexican stuff from corn husks and masa harina to tomatillos. He’s also got a spiffing line in Mediterranean goods which are the lifeblood of delis like his. Where else would your yummy mummies (and me) go to find Spanish Tapas essentials like Santo Domingo Pimenton De La Vera, Valdespino sherry vinegar, Brindisa chorizo or Perello Gordal olives? Interesting pasta shapes like bucatini and panettone at xmas? Or even Vietnamese summer roll kits.

There’s a limited but good selection of charcuterie and cheeses, some fresh seasonal veg including gorgeous heritage tomatoes. Fresh artisanal bread daily from Lucky 13 Bakehouse and cakes from the Bake Birmingham gents. Service is superbly friendly and best of all there’s seating so you can try everything whilst sipping an excellent Monmouth Coffee Company coffee. Just what every suburb in Birmingham needs, not another flipping Tesco Express. Gets busy on Moseley famers market day (4th Saturday of the month).

Lewis’s of Moseley
11 St Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8HW
Tel: 0121 4499933

Chilli Bean Paste – Taste Test

Reorganising my jar and bottle cupboard in the kitchen, you know the one with all the different vinegars (3 types of balsamic, white/red/rice wine, cider, strawberry), I found that I’d accumulated 5 different brands of chilli bean pastes. I don’t really know how this has come about but it’s a handy opportunity to do a taste test on them!

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Chilli bean paste is a Chinese store cupboard essential. A mixture of chilli and bean (broad bean or soy bean) that’s been fermented together to give a deep complex umami flavour. It’s used in stir-fries, braises, hot-pots or anytime you want that addictive chilli hit. Particularly in Sichuan cookery where the chilli bean paste produced in Pixian county, Chengdu is considered the best. I’m not a Sichuanese expert so can’t comment on authenticity but I’m comparing them to chilli bean pastes from other parts of China so each of them is assessed on taste alone.

1. Lee Kum Kee – Chilli Bean Sauce 李錦記辣豆瓣醬
Salted chilli pepper, water, fermented soy bean paste, fermented broad bean paste, white sugar, garlic, modified cornstarch, chilli pepper powder, soy bean oil, acid

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This is the one most people who cook Chinese food at home will have. LKK are a Hong Kong brand so is the most established in Chinese supermarkets here in the UK and in Western shops. Unusually it’s the hottest of the lot with a sweet garlicky flavour that doesn’t linger long. It doesn’t really have that fermented lactic flavour so it’s not really suitable for Sichuan dishes. The pale colour gives the game away a bit. I can’t imagine big vats of this having been fermented in the open for years at a time. A bit one dimensional, however it is good in stir fried prawns.

2. Juan City Brand 鹃城牌红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, vegetable oil, spices, food additives (potassium sorbate)

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This plastic jar has a handy carry handle but unhandily if you don’t read any Chinese then it might be difficult to spot that it’s a Pixian style chilli bean paste. Ok there’s a clue in the company name in small print Sichuan Pixiandouban Co Ltd otherwise the jar I have has no other indication in English, not even ingredients. Which I’m sure is pretty illegal in this country. The importers need to sort this out. However I’m glad they’ve smuggled it in because the taste of this red oil 红油 version is fantastic. Rich red colour, well balanced flavour, mild to medium chilli, not too salty, perfect for twice cooked pork, the oily richness is lip-smacking.

3. Chuan Lao Hui – Hong Yau Dou Ban 川老滙郫县红油豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour, sugar, pickled ginger, pickled garlic, vegetable oil, flavour enhancer

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Comes in the same plastic jar with carry handle as the Juan City Brand. I wonder who is copying who? At least this jar has some English stuck on it from the importers Day In. This is also a red oil version of Pixian style chilli bean paste with extras. It has the same deep lip-smacking flavour but, probably due to the pickled ginger and garlic, is really too salty to use in the same quantities as the Juan City Brand. But the less you use the less umami impact you get in your food. I struggled cooking with this until I started using it as a base for hot-pot flavouring lots of chicken stock.

4. Fu Chi – Chilli Bean Sauce 富記辣豆瓣醬
Chilli, soy bean, barley flake, salt, sugar, sesame oil, acidity regulator

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Taiwanese brand, the only one not to have any broad beans in but not lacking in deep rich flavour. The mildest of the lot, least salty, sweet round flavour so great to use in larger quantities. My favourite for fish-fragrant aubergines.

5. Sichuan Dan Dan Seasoning Co Ltd – Pi-Xian Fermented Broadbean 丹丹郫县豆瓣
Chilli, broad bean, salt, wheat flour

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The purest Pixian chilli bean paste here and it comes in the most darling wicker basket! First saw this on Fuchsia Dunlop’s blog but could never find it anywhere so when I spotted it recently on http://www.souschef.co.uk/ I snapped it up. There are two plastic sachets of the chunky paste in the basket that you have to decant elsewhere. This is not a red oil version like the other two Pixian pastes, it’s quite dry, slightly saltier than Juan City Brand. Even used sparingly it gives a great hit of flavour. I definitely wouldn’t waste this in a hot-pot! Great in braises.

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Red n’ Hot

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What’s in a name? In particular Red n’ Hot, what kind of establishment does it sound like? As you’re reading a food blog you’ll guess it’s some kind of restaurant but in other circumstances you might say it’s a soft-core porn collection from the days of VHS. Something a bit niche. In some ways it might as well be for all the mainstream attention it gets but it must be doing something right sitting in it’s prime Hurst St location next to the the Hippodrome. It’s actually a chain of Sichuan restaurants, the other branches in London and Manchester. With the recent demise of BBQ village it’s become my go to for that spicy branch of Chinese cuisine. It’s pure Sichuan too, no pandering to Cantonese, Shanghainese or Beijing tastes.

Neither seemingly does it pander to Western tastes, the dark frontage looks brooding and the dark beaded blinds prevents passersby from peeking in. If you do get through the door the first thing you see is a little office space, cus that’s what it is, a Chinese travel agency. Look beyond this bit and you get the restaurant, all bare black surfaces. The tables have hotpot functionality but I’ve never had that there, always going for the plated dishes from the phonebook sized menu with its 100+ items. The old menu was a little more concise with photos of every dish listed but this one only illustrates the highlights. The dishes are listed in English but the components are in Chinese, so cryptic names like Husband and Wife Slices can be a little hard to decipher (cold sliced beef tripe and pork tongue). But be brave, order a lot and ask for it spicy because these are flavours you should fully commit to.

Rumour has it that the chef from BBQ Village relocated here and there is evidence in the Dry Fried Chicken with Chillies 辣子雞丁. The outrageous amount of chillies used in the dish is a hallmark. But then the Sliced Pork in Chilli 水煮肉片 is a little underpowered, it should be face-melting but wasn’t. It’s still delicious but when the waitress issues a warning when you order and it doesn’t deliver on maximum numbing 麻 and hot 辣 then you have to be a little disappointed. Nonetheless the flavours of the Sizzling Cumin Lamb 孜然羊肉 and Gong Bao King Prawn 宫保虾球 are excellent and worth going for on their own. Indeed I think dishes taste a lot cleaner than they did at BBQ Village so maybe the chef has cleaned up his act, literally, as the restaurant displays it’s 5/5 hygiene rating proudly. Some say it takes away something from the food, but in these more enlightened times maybe a little less MSG and sizzling oil is actually a good thing.

Red n’ Hot
Tel: 0121 6666076
35 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4BJ

Razor clams. Musings and some recipes.

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I was thinking the other day that I don’t eat enough razor clams. They’re plentiful, cheap and delicious. So to address that I bought a kilo of them and scoffed them all on my own! Almost 30 of the buggers for £8, I was in razor clam heaven for an evening. They don’t take much to prepare either, the six dishes that I tried out only took a couple of hours from start to finish. Seafood is fast food.

The first two dishes require no cooking at all. There is an adage that you should do as little as possible to fresh seafood. All seafood loving cooks know this. So what’s simpler than just eating raw clams? But first you have to clean them, razor clams notoriously can be full of sand. Shuck one open and see how much grit you have in there. It will wriggle a little, you’ll see the main fleshy muscle ‘foot’ where most of the sweet meat is surrounded by the stringy abductor muscles that keep the clam shut. At the top is the siphon, at the centre there’s the digestive tract where half-digested food and most of the sand will be hiding. Check this part carefully with your fingers. If it feels soft then you’ve got a clean batch. If not then soak your clams in cold water for an hour, this will help degrit them. Luckily I bought a clean batch this time so I was ready to go!

Crudo
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Shuck open half a dozen clams, take out the prime fleshy muscle ‘foot’ only, butterfly them open, scrape along them to make them curl up like ferns. Dress them with sea salt, lemon, caper, shallot, parsley and olive oil. Eat.

Sashimi
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Moving away from the Mediterranean, I hear that the Japanese like to eat raw seafood too. Again using only the fleshy foot, slice it on the bias and return the pieces to the shell on top of finely shredded daikon. Dress with salmon roe, ponzu and very fine Thai basil (I couldn’t get hold of shiso).

Cantonese Steamed Clams
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There are two classic variations we have in the Cantonese repertoire; Black Bean Sauce and Ginger Spring Onion. Prepare the clams first by opening them and loosening them from the shell. When cooked most of the clam is good eating, even the half-digested stuff in the sac.
Traditionally the black bean version is stir-fried because the razor clams you get in Asia are quite small. But with bigger clams I like to make an extra rich black bean sauce separately and dress the raw opened clams with this sauce, mild red chillies and steamed for two minutes. The sauce is made by frying garlic, ginger, spring onion and crushed fermented black beans together till aromatic. Add a splash of shaosing then stock, chicken preferably but instant dashi is a good for convenience, simmer for 5 minutes. Season with sugar and soy then thicken with starch. Strain the sauce before using it.
Even simpler is the ginger and spring onion variation. Dress the raw clams with this finely shredded stuff, add salt then steam for two minutes. Add a splash of soy to the clams before sizzling with smoking hot groundnut oil. Finish with some fresh curls of spring onion.

Grilled Clams with Fried Shallot and Sherry Vinegar
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Nick was raving about this dish he had at the Quality Chop House in London. Sounded simple enough but I couldn’t quite get my head round the taste combination. So like foodie monkey sees he does… Deep fry the shallot first and season them with a little salt. In a searing hot pan or hotplate place your clams so they open downwards, add a little olive oil, a splash of lemon and clamp a lid on for one minute. Remove the clams right away, slice them and return to the shell, dress with the shallots and a drizzle of the best sherry vinegar you can afford. Any doubts I had about this dish were dismissed with the first bite, it’s a taste sensation. Try it now, I dare say this combination of crispy fried shallot and sherry vinegar would work with a lot of things.

Sautéed Clams with N’duja
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I’ve been curing my own n’duja, as you do, that spreadable spicy Calabrian salami. Except I couldn’t find any Calabrian pepper powder so I used the reddest chilli powder I could think of, Korean Gojugaru. The addition of the fish sauce has seen it renamed Kim Doo Ya! But the essence of deep spicy funky pork fat is still there.
Shell your clams first and slice them into chunks. Start frying off the n’duja in a pan, it should melt into a crimson slurry of pork fat, cook it out a little then add garlic and then the clam meat. Cook for one minute, at the end season with lemon juice and smack it with parsley*. That’s it, serve them back in the shell or just as it is with some bread to mop up all those juices.
I think frying some breadcrumbs till crispy in the n’duja first would be a good variation, will try it next time but as it stands clams with n’duja is pretty good eating. Pork and clams eh?

Hopefully you can see that preparing and cooking Razor Clams is actually really simple. Try out these dishes and let me know which is your favourite. I know which are mine.

* yeah I said it.

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