Birmingham Indoor Market and Wholesale Market

We’ve been remiss here on SmokeandUmami, a Birmingham food blog and no mention of two of our most precious resources. Except for a short hiatus whilst the Bull Ring was being redeveloped, the Indoor Market has always been there to serve the city with fresh fish and meat. Down the road is its ugly sister the Wholesale market, threatened with extinction but hanging on for salvation. Both markets hold some wonderful fresh produce, the only thing they ask of you is to be brave and get stuck in. So to help you out here’s a guide to some of my favourite stalls in both markets, what’s good to buy and what to avoid. All opinions are my own, a Brummie who has been using the markets for over 30 years. Let’s start with the INDOOR MARKET:


SHELLFISH
George Smith and Pearce’s

These two have been here since the old days when the market was in the dank basement of the old Bull Ring. The rivalry between them has pretty much stayed the same too, which is a good thing because between them Birmingham is served with some great shellfish. You can buy fresh (by which I mean live) shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, scallops, mussels, oysters and clams six days a week Monday to Saturday. Out of habit I prefer George Smith’s to Pearce’s because I think they’re friendlier. But really the quality is about the same. I love buying live brown crabs, I think they’re the most delicious shellfish of all. The folks at Smith will let you handle and choose the one you want, they always seem to have more ‘in the back’ too. Pearce’s are a bit funny about you handling their critters. Both have beautiful native lobsters when in season, which I urge you to buy in preference to the dark shelled Canadian lobsters. The flesh of our blue native lobster are denser and sweeter. Both shops have an eat-in shellfish bar that serve prepared crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks, mussels, cockles and even jellied eels. Though only Pearce’s sell live eels when in season.

FISH
H Satchwell*
Possibly the most unassuming fishmongers in the whole market. A small unit next door to George Smith’s, with only ever half a dozen fresh fish on display singly. Each fish is draped in a clear film, all in all a very sparse looking fish counter. But if you look closer, every fish is the best example of its kind and very fresh. If I were to open a sushi bar in the market I would make Mr Satchwell my very best friend. He always has wonderful flatfish such as brill, dover and lemon sole, large chunks of halibut and tuna. Again he only displays his fish singly but has more in the back. What’s more he has the best selection of kippers, smoked haddock and mackerel. I love kippers, try the Craster type if you’re a kipper fan. They’re fatter and juicier than the Manx kippers.
*not to be confused with W Satchwell, a new stall run by a cousin
AJ Barlows
In the centre of the market, this large three sided unit is half poultry and half fish. But that fish half consistently has the largest selection of fish in the whole market and is always bustling with activity on busy market days. I often buy their trays of farmed sea bass or gilt-head bream, usually 4 for a tenner, which makes them cheaper than the wholesale market. The turbot is always good here too, possibly my favourite fish much prized by Cantonese cooks for its firm white flesh and thick gelatinous skin.
All Seasons Fishmongers
Specialist in exotic fish from warmer waters, mostly previously frozen but impressive all the same. Especially the freshwater Rau a monstrously big river-fish from India, which one day I will pluck up the courage to buy. They only thing I do buy here regularly is octopus. These are the meaty twin sucker kind that taste much better than the single sucker variety that the rest of the market sells.

MEAT
I don’t buy much meat at the market. The quality in general is middling at best but cheap! So here’s a very short list of what to look out for:
Walter Smiths
Greatest Pork Pie you will ever eat, that is all you need to know. Ok maybe one more thing; point to the one you want otherwise they’ll pick out the oldest one for you. All market butchers are inately crafty.
Enochs
Usually a bit of bun fight at this pork specialist, if you can cut a swathe through the Chinese folk then the pork isn’t bad here. Though not all their pork is British, you have been warned.
Hong Keen
New kid on the block, a Chinese butchers with some decent cuts of beef and pork. Nice line in beef and pork offal, if you’re into that sort of thing.

GROCERIES
China Mini Market

This place is the literal meaning of the word gem, something tiny and precious. Here you will find all you will ever need to make any Oriental (far Eastern) dish. From its awkwardly shaped frontage you will find fresh produce ranging from tofu, fish balls and noodles to Thai basil, banana leaves and galangal through to durian, mangosteen and rambutan past gai lan, choi sum and tong ho. Peek at the back wall and it’s crammed with every Oriental cupboard staple; soy sauce, chilli sauces, coconut cream, spices… Shout up here, the ladies that run it don’t stand on ceremony and don’t like to waste time. Essential one stop shop for all your Oriental needs.
Global Produce
Run by the same lot as the China Mini Market. Some of the produce here is replicated but sells more Western groceries. Apples, pears, oranges, leeks and celery replace pak choy and green mangos. However this shop has a slower turnaround and the produce is a little more tired than its Asian counterpart so choose carefully. Occassionally you will find something extraordinary here, a golden tamarillo anyone?

OTHER
There are numerous West Indian stalls in the market, two near the Dudley St doors African Foods and Claras back onto each other and basically sell the same goods. Look out for the city’s finest patties Fenky Janes on sale at African Foods.
There are Halal butchers at the market too and I’ve bought the occasional mutton from them, the quality is variable though.
Mr Fish specialises mostly in game! But don’t fall for their patter, a lot of their stuff is very tired looking indeed.


WHOLESALE MARKET
100 metres down the road out of town is the concrete carbunkel of the Wholesale Market, the largest of its kind in the whole country. The market is split into four blocks: Meat, Fish & Poultry, Fruit & Veg and Horticulture. It’s open from 4am onward Monday to Saturday and is accessible to the public. For a few years there was a guard on the gate that stopped public vehicles from entering, you had to be in a trade vehicle or have a permit to drive in. So there was no choice for members of the public but to walk in. But I’ve noticed this year that the guard has disappeared so you can drive in now, just be careful of the forklifts and where you park. Of course as with any wholesale market in the world you need to get there early. I usually go around 7:30am to make sure there’s still plenty of fresh fish available, because seafood is the primary reason I get up early on either a Wednesday or Thursday (these are the best days for fresh fish). The fish & poultry section is to the right of the complex as you enter, follow the fork right and it’s the large building on the left. It used to house a dozen or so wholesalers but now it’s only half that and dominated by two large companies J.Vickerstaff and Caterfish.
Vickerstaff has more variety, stocking African and Asian species and salted dried fish from around the world. See if you can spot the box of red herrings that always seems to be there. To my eye though the quality of the fish at Caterfish is consistently better and they always have lots of good looking salmon, bass and bream. Caterfish also have 3 live lobster tanks in their cold storage room, if you are a lobster fan then ask to be shown inside where you can dunk your hands into the chilly waters and pull out your own fresh lobsters.
But my favourite fish wholesaler is WS Scott, a smaller operation nestled between the two big boys. Fresh prawns galore from little ones to banana sized ones from Africa. Always the best turbot here, usually two sorts wild and farmed. I prefer the farmed, from icy cold clean Norweigian waters they taste wonderfully clean. Dover soles, lemon soles, live crabs, lobsters, scallops, razor clams all usually very good quality. They are the only stall where I’ve bought live sea urchin. For that reason alone they will always be my favourite!
The poultry and egg section is adjacent to the fish market. H Bellingham sell Label Rouge French chickens which is essential for one of my ultimate dishes Hainan Chicken Rice. They also sell duck, game and around xmas time whole lobes of foie gras.
The wholesale fruit and veg market is enormous and there’s not a lot that the average punter can buy here except if like me you are a mango fanatic. Get your boxes of Indian or Pakistani mangoes from Bidwalla when they are in season.

Usain Bolt’s* Pecan-smoked Jerk Pork Ribs!

* not officially endorsed by Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a legend, and one of the world’s greatest sprinters. Usain Bolt is also officially Birmingham’s favourite adopted son. He and the Jamaican team trained at the University of Birmingham, and he bigged us up not once, but twice during his post-race interviews with the BBC.

Sadly Usain Bolt didn’t make it round our house for tea when he was in Birmingham but if he had, this is what I would have cooked him.

Pecan-smoked Jerk Pork Ribs

I didn’t think I was a big fan of jerk seasoning until I tried Lap’s pecan-smoked jerk chicken which were a revelation. Good jerk, as in Thai cooking, has it all; sweetness from molasses, acid from lime juice, spice from pimento seeds, searing heat from Scotch bonnets, umami from the meat and smoke – in this case from pecan wood, which goes fantastically well with jerk seasonings (hickory would also work).

But Lap’s jerk chicken had something different, undefinable, kicking it up another level. He wouldn’t tell me for ages, just occasionally wafting his seasoning under my nose – taunting me. Eventually, with electrodes wired to his nipples and the threat of water-boarding hanging in the air, he finally confessed his dirtiest of dirty secrets; he adds Malibu to his jerk seasoning.

OMG.

Now this jerk seasoning works great with chicken (although curiously, the judges at Grillstock didn’t much care for it), but it is something else entirely with ribs. I used baby back ribs, and here comes another dirty secret; they were from Costco. And they were actually very good. More importantly you can actually go and buy 8 racks (or whatever) of ribs there, something many butchers struggle to be able to provide.

As with all such things, exact recipes are both difficult to record and somewhat inappropriate as they are so personal. Lap says you have to feel such things. Certainly you will feel the Scotch bonnets as their juice sprays into your eyes, so be mighty careful.

My rub has the following ingredients: garlic, ginger, allspice, molasses sugar, Scotch bonnets, lime, Malibu, thyme, salt, black pepper and for some additional savouriness, Dunn’s all-purpose seasoning.

A few guidelines:

  • Use a blender to make a paste of garlic and ginger
  • Use approximately equal amounts of garlic and ginger.
  • One lime per Scotch bonnet.
  • You’ll want to remove the seeds from the Scotch bonnets or you will likely die.
  • Make sure the final result is well-balanced, it should be sweet, hot, sour and salty. You want plenty of sugar in there.
  • You want LOTS of all-spice. This is the dominant flavour.
  • Thin it out with rum to make a wet rub.

Once made, liberally rub your pork ribs which you ideally would have removed the paper-thin membrane from the backs of. Use more rub on the front than the backs of the ribs.

Marinade in the fridge overnight to let the flavours permeate.

Light up your smoker and smoke at 200 degrees fahrenheit for at least four hours to get a good smoke. Remove from the smoker, and apply the pineapple glaze:

Pineapple Glaze

1 cup pineapple juice
molasses sugar
cider vinegar
salt
pepper
75g butter

I actually didn’t have any pineapple juice so I used some Levi Root’s mango and pineapple drink instead, which I reduced first. That is not a recommendation.

Again this is to taste. Combine all the ingredients, bring to the boil and allow to reduce into a sticky glaze. Again it should be sweet, acidic and thick enough to coat the ribs.

Liberally paint over the ribs and return to the smoker until they are cooked (they should bend easily and you should be able to pull the ribs apart by hand, but they should not be falling apart). If this is taking too long and the glaze is burning then wrap in foil until finished.

Red Stripe would probably be the correct accompaniment, and perhaps some sweet sweet soca music.

To di world!

If you are interested in trying some of Usain Bolt’s** Pecan-smoked Jerk Ribs then you should think about coming along on Saturday 18th August to “SDS FIRE” where the Backyard Brummies have teamed up with Soul Food Project to provide some meaty treats. There are still tickets available and the price includes more meat than you can handle as well as drinks.

** Please don’t sue me

Malted Milk Ice Cream

My current food obsession is with my new ice cream maker and David Lebovitz’s superb book The Perfect Scoop.

So far I have tried his vanilla ice-cream recipe (superb), his turron ice-cream recipe (not universally loved due to excess of orange peel) and his frozen yoghurt (good and easy). On the list to try include his “tin roof” ice cream, coconut ice cream, green tea (matcha) ice cream and of course the king of ice creams, salted butter caramel.

Most recently I have been addicted to his recipe for malted milk ice cream which you know will be brilliant even before you’ve made it. Everyone loves malted milkshakes but they are often let down by the quality of the ice cream that goes in them. This combines a rich, thick, smooth custard with the nostalgic flavour of malt (well, nostalgic for 50s Americana things that British kids only experienced vicariously through things like Happy Days and Back to the Future, and ersatz British versions of US diners – think Wimpy and Ed’s Easy Diner).

Anyway, I’ve adapted Lebovitz’s recipe a little. A curious thing in The Perfect Scoop is that although the author expresses his preference for ice creams made with a ratio of 2:1 double cream and full-fat milk, quite often the recipes instead call for 2:1 double cream and single cream. If you use malt powder like Horlicks (which contains wheat so this isn’t gluten-free) this causes the recipe to become rather thick, and so I think milk is a better bet.

I made this yesterday and it was thought to be a little too sweet, so perhaps dial down the sugar a little. I would like to substitute the Horlicks for malt syrup or maltose powder in future to see how it affects the texture. A great tip in the book is to add salt to sharpen up the flavours, which really is miraculous.

Malted milk ice cream

250ml full-fat milk
500ml double cream
150g sugar (try 125g)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
good pinch of salt
6 yolks from large eggs
90g malt powder (Horlicks)

Put most of the cream and the malt powder in a separate bowl, whisk thoroughly and place a wire mesh sieve on top. Combine the milk, a little of the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla essence in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Separate the eggs and whisk until well mixed in a separate bowl. Allow the milk mixture to cool for a minute or two and add to the whisked eggs, keeping the mixture moving so you don’t accidentally make scrambled eggs. Add the mixture back to the pan and on a medium heat until you have made a thick custard (the mixture should cling to your spatula), stirring all the time so bits don’t form. It’s really important that you make a thick, “custardy” tasting custard and don’t quit too early otherwise the ice cream won’t have the flavour you want. In my experience being a bit wimpy and pulling the mixture off too early during this stage is the main reason for less than stellar ice cream. Quickly add the custard to the bowl of cream-malt mixture and stir until well mixed.

If you have an ice cream maker with a refrigerated unit like I do, there’s no reason not to add the mixture straight into the machine and churn until set (takes about 50 minutes from warm on the Cuisinart). If you don’t have one you need to chill the mixture down first.

Serve with a load of maltesers smashed on top.

An Ode to the Reuben Sandwich

What’s your favourite sandwich? It’s the eternal question with an infinite number of answers. If you can eat it then you can put it atop or between pieces of bread. A sandwich can be anything your heart desires; a Bánh mì bursting with savoury pork and fresh coriander in a crisp light airy Vietnamese baguette, a beef burger crusty on the outside but pink in the middle with it’s juices soaking into a toasted light brioche bun, or for me the mighty Reuben Sandwich. That combination of corned or pastrami beef, melted cheese, sauerkraut, russian or thousand island dressing and rye bread. It’s a combination that’s hard to find in the UK, where are you going to get good corned beef or pastrami from huh? No, the first Reuben sandwich I ever ate was in the near legendary Katz’s Deli on East Houston St in New York City. Giant slabs of the softest juiciest pastrami topped with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese. The bread is a side note just there to fool you that it is a sandwich, honest! These are the mythological sky-high NY deli-style sandwiches that your friends have told you about in their holiday stories. Their expressions become manic as they describe to you the heft and wonder of these beasts.

A pastrami Reuben from katz’s

At Katz’s the server slices the freshly steamed pastrami thickly in front of you before laying on a piece of rye with sauerkraut, russian dressing and swiss cheese. He microwaves it to make sure the cheese is nice and melty before topping it off with another slice of rye smeared with mustard. There’s no doubt here that the pastrami is the star of the show. The bread is there to keep your fingers clean initially but at the end of the sandwich you’re just shovelling slabs of savoury cured beef into your gob with careless abandon. That’s why napkins were invented.

So coming back to Blighty after that first trip to New York I just had to try and smoke my own pastrami. It’s quite a straightforward process really, buy brisket, brine it, smoke it, steam it. But achieving the level of pastrami excellence that you find at Katz’s is not simple at all. The biggest barrier is the meat, you just can’t get the heavily marbled stuff here unless you really look for it. An epic grail quest that Nick has been on and returned triumphant! Myself? After a number of less than satisfying attempts at smoking brisket I gave up trying to recreate that Katz’s sandwich though the yearning for it never left me.

When Mishkin’s in Covent Garden opened to rave reviews I couldn’t help noticing that they had Reuben on their menu too. It’s very different to the Katz’s version as you can see.

A Mishkins’s Reuben Sandwich

This one is much slimmer, the pastrami has been sliced thinly and the whole lot looks to have been put in a panini press. But the revelation is that I actually enjoyed this more than Katz’s version. Mishkin’s Reuben is a grilled cheese sandwich, all the component parts are in balance and fused together. Although the thinly sliced pastrami looked less impressive it still tasted wonderful, every bite had a little bread, sauerkraut, cheese, dressing and a hint of caraway seed. It was just a completely different eating experience to the mile-high sandwich at Katz’s. I knew that I had to try and recreate this. Luckily a Reuben topic cropped up on egullet at around the same. Apparently to real Reuben aficionados the mile-high offerings are abominations, Reuben purists insist that it should be a thin grilled cheese sandwich made with corned beef not pastrami. Well, I wouldn’t call myself a purist but I’m certainly a grilled Reuben convert and so with a freezer full of beef cheeks I decided to make pastrami with them so I could feed my craving. Why have corned beef when you can make pastrami with it?

Here’s my brine recipe, heat all the ingredients together so that the salt is dissolved. When the brine has cooled put 4kg of trimmed beef cheeks in it and fridge it for 3 days:

7 litres Water
780g Salt
175g Sugar
44g Pink Salt (#1 cure)
4 Cloves Garlic minced, 6 pieces Mace , 15g Coriander Seeds, 20g Whole Black Peppercorns, 6 Fresh Bay Leaves, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, 1 Cinnamon Stick, 6 Cloves, 1 Star Anise

After 3 days rinse and dry the cheeks. Grind equal quantities of black peppercorns and coriander seeds enough to cover the cheeks evenly. Let the cheeks rest uncovered on a rack overnight for a pellicle to form, this will help the smoke to adhere to the meat. Set up your smoker and hot smoke the cheeks at around 100C for 3 hours. I like quite a heavy smoking as I think beef can take it. Also, a heavy smoke is preferable because after 3 hours the cheeks are wrapped in several layers of foil and steamed in a 130C oven till they are tender, test it after 3 hours – a knife should slip straight in.

Beef Cheek Pastrami

The cheeks are a lot easier to slice thinly when it’s cool and you want to slice them as thinly as possible for the perfect Reuben sandwich. But not only that you have to squeeze dry your sauerkraut first before gently frying in a dry pan with some caraway seeds. This will cook out the sauerkraut, if you use it uncooked then it can be wet and stringy. You are now ready to make your Reuben sandwich.

Generously butter the outside of your bread before assembling, preferably rye but sourdough is a great alternative. Lay the pastrami on first then the sauerkraut, Russian dressing next and finally the Swiss cheese. Remember balance is the key, no one component should overpower the other, though I will forgive you if you lay the pastrami on just a little thicker. You are only human after all. Griddle (grill) the whole lot in a frying pan pressing it down till it’s all crispy and the cheese and pastrami is hot and melted together.

My Reuben Sandwich

Beef cheeks make a lot of sense for the home cook, they’re easy to handle and portion. Half a cheek is usually enough for one sandwich. But above all else beef cheeks give an extra sticky juicy quality to the sandwich giving it another dimension of awesomeness. I’m proud to say that it’s the best Reuben I’ve ever eaten and it’s my perfect sandwich.

A Guide to Buying Indian Mangoes

Just like a child waiting for Christmas (so I’ve been told), the anticipation builds up months prior to the season of sweetness and joy. I’m talking about Mango season of course, which I love above all other foodie times of the year. You can keep your asparagus, wild garlic, mushroom and Seville orange seasons, there’s only one food item that has me actually drooling at the thought of eating them. Yeah, but, you can get mangoes all year round, like I’ve seen them in Waitrose you may say. Quite frankly I don’t count those green-red Kent varieties from Israel/Cuba/Brazil/Kenya/etc as mangoes, they’re monstrosities. If they’re not from Asia then they just don’t cut it. No, in particular I mean Indian mangoes, the most famous of all being the divine Alphonso. If you’ve never eaten a ripe Alphonso (or Alfonso) at the peak of the season then you’ve never eaten perfection. Nothing can really describe the heady perfume and the juicy sweetness of it. No wonder it’s called the King of Fruit. But it’s not only Alphonso you should seek out, for every King has his Queen, and in the case of Indian Mangoes it’s the most beautiful Kesar. Then there’s Rajpuri mangoes and the most amazingly sweet Badami too.

The photo below shows from left to right; Badami, Alphonso and Kesar. The Badami is much larger and flatter then the other two. Alphonso is usually the smallest. Kesar more elongated with a very distinctive beak:

Three more Kesar mangoes, see how beautiful they are? Gorgeous blushing from the Queen on the right, you can see the profile of her beak:

A Badami alongside an Alphonso, the flesh of the Badami is much paler and firmer than the bright orange of the Alphonso:

This season started on Wednesday for me when I bought my first box of Alphonso and Badami from the usually trustworthy Sujal of Mumbai. At least that’s what they were labelled as, I only gave them a quick inspection at the market to check for rottenness. But upon closer examination at home they were all Badami! Looks like they’re trying to pass them off as their more illustrious little brother. Which actually I didn’t mind because the Badami last season were a lot better quality. That’s one reason for writing this guide so that you can tell them apart. Another is that I love Indian mangoes, like the fruit themselves the season is so short and intense, you must make the most of them!

Cantonese Lobster Noodle 龍蝦麵

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Lobster Noodle is one of the classic Cantonese celebration dishes and there’s much to celebrate this week in smokeandumamiland! The deep red colour of lobster is considered lucky and they also symbolise wealth. Though the latter maybe because a decent Cantonese restaurant will charge you about £40. That’s why I like cooking it at home. I can buy a 1.5lb lobster from the market for about £12 and feel slightly wealthier through some pseudo-thriftiness. The choice of noodles is up to you; crispy or soft, short or long, narrow or wide. They are usually egg noodles though, I don’t think I’ve ever come across rice noodles used in this dish. At home it’s easier to cook soft noodles, long Yee Mein are good and symbolise longevity (I told you this was a classic celebration dish!). But I find that a lot of Chinese egg noodles are dyed yellow and aren’t all that great to eat. Instead I like to use Italian egg pasta, the De Cecco brand Taglierini all’uovo is particularly suited to this dish.

Ingredients – Serves 2

Lobster – 1.5lb
Taglierini – 250g
Shang Tang – 500ml*
Ginger – 7 thin slices
Garlic – 4 cloves halved lengthwise
Spring Onion – 5 medium stalks cut into 5cm batons, keep the green and white parts separate
Shaosing Wine – 50ml
Soy Sauce
Cornflour (cornstarch)
Oil for deep frying
Oyster Sauce (optional)

*Shang Tang is superior stock used in fine Cantonese dishes. I make a cheat’s version with pressure-cooked chicken wings, pork and Iberico ham bones. Chinese chicken stock will do.

Dispatching and chopping your Lobster the Cantonese way.
Insert a long thin chopstick or blunt skewer up it’s anal vent all the way up through the body. When the skewer is removed the lobster will release some unwanted by-product that Cantonese cooks believe causes off-flavours. Rinse your lobster under a cold running tap after you’ve done this and place on a sturdy chopping board. Locate the weak point at the top of the shell near the front and chop the head off across the body at a slight angle following the natural seam of the shell (see photo). Cantonese cooks do it this way as we like to present the head whole*. Remove the claws, separate the knuckles and crack the shells slightly. Now you can split the lobster in half lengthwise. Discard the instestinal tract but reserve any tomally or roe in a separate bowl. Chop each half of tail into three chunks. You are now left with two body halves with the legs attached. In total you will have 15 pieces of lobster; 1 head, 2 body, 6 tail, 2 claw & 4 knuckle.

*this is how you know a proper Cantonese cook has prepared this dish. Most cooks will have just split the whole lobster in half.

That’s the difficult part done, the rest is simple:
1. Sprinkle the cut sides of lobster with a little cornflour then deep fry in hot oil till the shell has just turned red. Do this in batches, the claws will take longer. Drain and set aside.
2. Clean out your wok, add a little fresh oil and gently fry the garlic, ginger and onion whites to release the flavour. Add the lobster, crank the heat up, sizzle the wine around the side of the wok then add the stock and the reserved lobster innards. Stir-fry everything together for a couple of minutes and season to taste with soy sauce. Add the green onion near the end of cooking. If you’ve used a light stock you may wish to add a little oyster sauce. There should be plenty of sauce, thicken it with some slaked cornflour.
3. During step 2 you can cook your noodles, drain and plate them up ready for the lobster.
4. Pick out the lobster pieces and arrange them on top of the noodles. Pour over the sauce so that everything is coated.
5. Eat and celebrate.

Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯

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The response was immediate: “Chicken Rice!”, when I asked her indoors what she wanted to eat for Valentine’s Day. Simple poached chicken and chicken flavoured rice. Yet as every good cook knows it’s the care in preparing these simple dishes that really sets them apart from other cooks.

So what sets my Chicken Rice apart? Well, only using the best chicken I can find is a good start and years of refinement also helps. If you make chicken rice with a hormone-fed-2-for-£5-special from T*sco then you’re going to get an insipidly bad result. When poaching a chicken it’s important to start with a good one because you’re not adding any roasting Maillard flavours or marinating it with herbs or spices. I’m a fan of the French Label Rouge chicken, they taste fantastic and have a firm toothsome texture. The French know how to breed chicken for flavour above all else. I would love to make Chicken Rice with a Poulet de Bresse one day – the ultimate French chicken. The other thing about the Label Rouge chicken is that they have a big plug of fat in the cavity. Trust the French to know that this is an essential ingredient, it’s a shame I’ve never found this is any chicken processed in the UK. You see, if you’ve ever tried cooking Chicken Rice at home and was disappointed with the rice, the reason is your stock was weak. It’s only one lightly poached chicken after all, unlike in a specialist shop where they are poaching dozens of chicken and producing deeply flavoured stocks. So it’s the chicken fat that helps the home cook to really bring back the flavour of chicken to the rice. The chicken itself should be moist, the meat just cooked through, the thigh bones still rosy pink. In Hong Kong, they poach their chickens so that the leg bones are still bloody inside. So when they chop the legs you can see the bloody bone-marrow spraying over the pearly white flesh.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken Rice, which a Malaysian friend once proclaimed “Luxury Chicken Rice” because of the way I’ve pimped it!

Serves 3-4

For the Chicken
1 Chicken – medium sized about 1.5kg
Ginger – peeled thumb sized lightly bashed
Spring Onion – 3 stalks
Salt

In a pan that is just larger than the chicken, boil enough water to submerge it. Add the ginger, spring onion and salt. Taste the water for saltiness as this will eventually be used to cook the rice. Lower the chicken gently into the boiling water, dipping it several times breast side down so the skin tightens and won’t split during cooking. Lay the chicken breast side up in the pan and bring the water back up to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 mins covered, turn the heat off and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the stockpot for another 50 mins. To stop the cooking plunge the bird into iced water for 10 mins, hang the bird upside down for at least an hour, preferably more, at room temperature for the flavour to fully develop.

For the rice
40g Chicken Fat
150g Shallot, finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove Large, finely minced
450g Jasmine Rice, rinsed
4 Dried Scallops (conpoy) soaked till soft
2 Pandan Leaves, shredded and tied into a knot
1/2 Sheet Kombu

Whilst the bird is hanging, render the chicken fat and slowly fry the shallots for 15 mins till they are brown, add the garlic and cook briefly before adding the washed rice. Toast the rice in the aromatics before adding the chicken stock and the water used to soak the scallops. Shred the scallops into the rice, add the pandan and kombu and cook the rice in your usual way (I transfer the whole lot to a rice cooker).

Once the rice is cooked serve the chicken neatly chopped up in the Chinese way and devour with the non-optional ginger-scallion oil and the optional sweet chilli sauce as accompaniments.

Ginger-Scallion Oil
70g Ginger, finely grated
35g Spring Onion (Scallions), equal amount of white and green parts finely chopped
15g Coriander, mostly stalks finely minced
1 tsp Salt
75ml Groundnut or Vegetable Oil
Soy Sauce

Combine the ginger, spring onion, coriander and salt in a heat proof bowl. Heat the oil in a small pan till it is smoking. Make little wells with a chopstick in your ginger mixture and pour the smoking oil all over it. It will sizzle, lots, the little wells will ensure the hot oil reaches all the nooks. The mixture should be a runny oily paste consistency. If it isn’t sizzle some more oil into it. Finish with a merest dash of soy sauce to round the flavour off.

Sweet Chilli Sauce
8 Large Red Chillis – medium hot
3 Cloves garlic
30g Sugar
Fish Sauce
Squeeze of Lime

Blitz the chillis and garlic with enough water to make a loose mixture. Pour it into a small pan, add the sugar and simmer gently for 20 mins. Add more water if getting too thick, add more sugar to taste. Take off the heat and add fish sauce and lime to taste. Let it cool, this tastes better the next day.

Pork ribs dry rib

Keeping with the theme of using the blog as a place to store my notes, some brief jottings on a recent batch of pork ribs.

Pork ribs and slaw

Dry rub

(quantities expressed as ratios)

1.5 – paprika
.5 – smoked paprika (hot)
1 – salt
.5 – pepper
1 – garlic powder
.5 – chipotle paste

Paste makes the rub wet so difficult to apply. Also it’s too hot for Hannah! Too much black pepper (or not ground enough).

Smoke two hours over maple. Put in dish with apple juice and cook tightly covered in very low oven (110C) until done (meat tender but still on the bone).

I tried this BBQ sauce recipe subbing liquid smoke for the smokey juices drained from the meat. This recipe has too much tomato ketchup in. Glaze the ribs in sauce and finish in hot oven.

Slaw

Putting the carrots, onion and cabbage in very well salted boiling water for five minutes, before draining improves the texture and flavour. Dressing is simply yellow mustard seeds and rice wine vinegar. Refrigeration before serving improves the flavour.

Recipe Roundup, Weeks 1&2 January 2012

A round-up of recipes that I have cooked recently, or caught my eye and get added to the “must make” list. I increasingly find myself referring back to my blog for notes and inspiration, so this is an attempt to be a bit more systematic.

Cooked recently:

Chicken broth with matzo balls

Matzo ball soup: good recipe for matzo balls. They do need cooking for a long time to ensure they are cooked through and you don’t end up with a stodgy centre. I use my standard recipe for chicken soup (cooked low and slow).

Ox cheek goulash

Beef brisket goulash: I used ox cheeks instead of brisket (900g – 2 cheeks), only 1 1/2 onions and 2 peppers. Probably could have used another onion for more body. Sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Needed reducing quite a lot. Very nice, Hannah liked this a great deal! The sour cream, chives and lemon zest take this dish to another level, bringing it alive.
“It’s It” (Ice Cream Sandwiches): Made for our San Francisco supper-club (of which more later), these really was a massive faff to make.
Crab linguine: My recipe for a very successful crab linguine.
Simon Hopkinson’s chocolate pots with ginger: Lovely, replaced ginger with cinnamon and no stem ginger as didn’t have any!
Wild sea bass, lentils and spinach: does not need a recipe, but a nice combination. Although must try to remember that Hannah HATES lentils (memories of communal living).
Janssen’s temptation: I used my regular recipe, but cut the potatoes and celeriac into flatter strips on a mandolin, which worked very well.
Pork ribs with slaw

Spotted, on the list:

Pork knuckle kibil
Pork cheek tacos

Soupy twist!