Home cooked Chinese Food and Hot Pot Dining on Cold Blustery Days

 

January is a month for nesting. The weather tends to be so cold and blustery, with the odd rain or snow shower, that I like to hibernate, wear thick wooly jumpers and keep warm. It’s the perfect time to cook hearty food, bake and make those chutneys, marmalades and pickles (I made a batch of my carrot and daikon pickle) that you’ve been meaning to do. I did venture out earlier this week however to try my first hot pot at a restaurant that opened last year by the same name. They have over 150 restaurants in Asia but this is their first foray on British shores. It’s at the gate of China town, near Soho, so is very easy to find. Hot pots are in many respects the Chinese version of fondu, although with fondu of course there is no broth to eat with your meat or cheese. They are a great social way to dine with family and friends as a great big pot of steaming broth is the centrepiece of the whole table. I guess they would also be a great date idea, as it’s a fun way to eat and there would always be something to talk about! From a health perspective, broths are a perfect way to strengthen your immune system, which often tends to be quite low at this time of year.

We were welcomed by friendly staff who were on hand to talk us through the menu. Now the menu can be a little daunting at first glance folks, but do not be phased by this hurdle. First you need to decide on which broth you want to go for. You can chose one or  two, the latter coming in one giant bowl with a clever partition in the middle (see photo below). We obviously went for the two option. There are 8 choices and they all sounded delicious.

They ranged from the non-spicy to the kickass spicy. We decided to opt for two non-spicy ones – the vegan “longevity mushroom broth” – made up of a host of mushrooms and cordyceps flowers. It has a high content of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin D. Our other choice was the “herbal drunken chicken”. With a name like that how could we resist? It’s made from British free-range chicken that has been cooked in a broth for 4.5 hours with a range of herbs and tonics.

Next you need to choose what to put into the broth. There are a number of platter options, as well as individual plate options, which come in half plate or full plate sizes. We chose everything in half plate, which was more than enough for two people. We went for the sea bass fillets, the spicy marinaded pork, some king prawns, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, emerald spinach noodles and some fried tofu puffs. Whilst our order was being prepared we went over the self serving sauce station (now say that quickly 4 times ;o) where you can get as creative as you wish. The floors over in this section of the restaurant where rather instragramable don’t you think?

There were so many choices that we took a couple of little plates back to the table: soy sauce, chilli sauce, peanut sauce, garlic, spring onions, chillies, sesame seeds to name a few.

This was my favourite that I ‘created’ (see photo above). The waiting staff will turn on your hob on the table and then let the stock bubble away gently for a few minutes. You then start by adding your vegetables and some of your noodles and leaving them for a very short while before fishing them out and placing them in a small bowl to then dunk in your sauce and eat. Delicious. If you order the winter melon, don’t leave them in there for too long or they will begin to disintegrate, a mistake we made.  You can take a little broth as you go to slurp away, it really does warm you to your inner core. The longer the broth cooked, the more the flavours intensified. We then added the sea bass and prawns for a couple of minutes max before dunking in the pork  (which in fact didn’t taste spicy) for around 4-5 minutes cooking.

Both broths tasted really good and distinct from one another. I would happily choose both again. If I had to choose one over the other I think the herbal drunken chicken had the edge, but it really was a hard call. We ordered the right amount and couldn’t quite finish all of the broth. My dining companion lived in Hong Kong for many years and is in fact half Chinese and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious both broths were. A real accolade if ever there was one.  The restaurant is over two floors (and sits up to 150 apparently), although only the downstairs tends to be open in the day time, largely owing the the footfall. The clientele ranged from families, couples, friends and Chinese business man, so I think it would appeal to anyone of any age. There is also a number of Thai food options as well as the hotpots, if someone in your party would rather eat Thai. I think my children would love it and perhaps it would make an ideal lunch spot after a morning at the British Museum.

Hot Pot Restaurant, 17 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PJ 

Tel: 020 7287 8881 (open facility from noon-12.30am)

http://www.hotpotrestaurants.co.uk / @hotpotlondon_

Thank you to Hot Pot Restaurant for my complimentary lunch. All opinions are my own and I would happily return again.

Back at home I have been working on my Chinese braised oxtails, which I cooked over Christmas for the whole family and wanted to improve upon. Now don’t get put off by the word “oxtails” folks. Ok, perhaps if you are vegan or vegetarian you can stop reading from now on, but for everyone else, they taste really good but there are a few tricks you need to know about when cooking them. The secret is to cook/braise them for a long time in a low oven – 5h30 mins at 150 degrees centigrade. You need to have it so that the meat is literally falling off the bone.

 

I served it with some brown rice, cavolo nero/pea/garlic medley and some roasted butternut squash, which I had coated with some freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. It’s a complete crowd pleaser with all the family really enjoying it. I am sure it would work equally well in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one so cooked it in the oven in my trusted Le Creuset pot.

It literally cooks itself so you can get on with other things whilst it slowly cooks away. Easy cooking, albeit one that takes time.

 

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Serves 6

2 tbsp of oil

2.6 kilos oxtails, cleaned and dried

45g ginger, chopped into thin batons

12 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

10 cloves

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

240ml Shaohsing rice wine (you can pick this up in large supermarkets and small Asian grocers)

6 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar

700ml water

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. On your hob, add oil to a large ovenproof pot and then add some of the oxtails and brown all sides before removing and placing on a plate whilst you do the next batch.
  3. In the same pan, keeping the heat low, add the ginger, garlic, cloves, bay leaves and star anise and move around the pan for about a minute before adding the soy sauce, Shaohsing, sugar and water. I do not add any salt as I feel that enough comes from the soy sauces.
  4. Add the oxtails to the pan and coat in the sauce. Add a little more water if necessary and transfer to the oven.
  5. Cook for 5hours 30 minutes, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone. Over the course of the five hours move the oxtails around a few times. If it is looking dry simply add a little more water.
  6. Once it has cooked. Allow to cool before removing the oxtails – keep all the juice – and then using your hands allow the meat to fall off the bones. When all the meat has been removed return it to the pan and then rewarm before cooking and serve with brown rice, roasted butternut squash with some ground Sichuan peppercorns and some greens. Warming food for this cold weather.

 

 

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Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

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There is a dish that I always order when I visit Silk Road restaurant in Camberwell. The main ingredient is cucumber. Yes cucumber folks. I think they even call the dish ‘cucumber salad’. Doesn’t sound that appealing does it at first glance, but let me assure you that cucumber that has been delicately softened or rather smashed with a small ‘s’, then doused in Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce and sichuan pepper marinade elevates the humble cucumber to something quite extraordinary.

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It is quick to rustle together and is the perfect snack when you have the munchies or if you want to accompany it with perhaps Chinese spiced roast pork or chicken, ginger and spring onion jiaozi or dan dan noodles. Give it a go next time you find a cucumber lurking in your fridge. Chinkiang vinegar (also known as Chinese black rice vinegar) you can get at the larger supermarkets, or you can get online here . Sichuan peppercorns can also be found here.

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I adore the different textures and tastes dancing around on my tongue. Sichuan pepper is seriously addictive – in a good way, so it is worth sourcing it if you can.

Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

1 cucumber, bashed lightly with a rolling pin

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

1 tsp salt

50g red peanuts

  1. Using a rolling pin gently bash the cucumber so that it begins to soften slightly. The reason for doing this is to create a slightly softer texture which will then absorb all the delicious flavours of the marinade more easily.
  2. Cut the cucumber lengthways and halve it again and then cut it on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl add all the other ingredients, aside from the red peanuts, and stir so that they are all mixed together well. Add a little more sugar or salt as needed.
  4. Place the red peanuts into the cucumber bowl and then add the marinade and throughly mix it together so that the cucumber is fully coated with it.

You can prepare this ahead of time or eat it immediately.

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Cold Spiced Soba and Cucumber Noodles

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When it’s hot I like nothing more than a bowl of spiced cold noodles. If you have only ever eaten them hot before you are going to have to trust me when I say that cold noodles are seriously good. The whole meal takes 10 minutes max to prepare, which is even better when the sun is shining and you don’t really fancy spending too long over the stove.
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The crunch of the cucumber noodles and nuts (from the crunchy peanut butter) really compliment this dish. I decided to use dragons back chillies which you can purchase from World of Zing here. The chilli gave the dish a kick without being too overpowering. The spring onion and garlic also adds other wonderful flavours running through this dish. The star of the sauce in my mind is chinkiang vinegar, which is also known as Chinese black vinegar. I adore the stuff and if you love Chinese cooking it is an absolute must for your store cupboard. You can easily pick is up in any Asian food store.

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The sauce is salty, sour and sweet and mixed through the noodles it is absolutely heavenly. It’s a perfect meal to take to work as it is easily transportable and can be prepared the morning or night before and then stored in a fridge until lunch. Remember to take it out of the fridge around 30 minutes before eating so that it has reached room temperature.

IMG_1354Cold Spiced Soba and Cucumber Noodles 

Serves 2 or (1 if you are feeling a little piggy)

85g soba noodles

1/2 cucumber, noodles if you have this or thinly chopped into sticks if not

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

1 dragons back chilli, halved or quartered

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp chilli oil

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp black sesame seeds

1 tsp salt – optional

1. Place the soba noodles in boiling water and boil for around 5 minutes or according to the packet. Drain and run under cold water so that the noodles are completely cold. Place to one side.

2. Mix the chinkiang vinegar, light soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil, chopped garlic*, sugar and crunchy peanut butter in a bowl and stir to form a dressing. Taste and add salt if required.

3. Prepare the cucumber noodles or chop the cucumber into thick sticks.

4. Heat a small pan and when it is hot add the dragons back chilli or other dried chilli so that it darkens slightly in colour. I keep all the seeds, but if you like it less hot you can reduce these. Then add 1/2 tsp of chilli oil and add the spring onions for a minute. Take off the heat.

5. In a mixing bowl add the cold soba noodles, the cucumber noodles, the dressing and the dried chilli and spring onions.  Gently fold in together and place in two bowls. Sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top.

* if you prefer to cook the garlic add it to the pan with the spring onions so that it softens slightly.

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Gong Bao Ji Ding – aka Chinese Chicken with Facing Heaven Bullet Chillies

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So the story goes that back in the Qing Dynasty the governor of Sichuan, ‘Gong Bao’, had a deep fondness for this dish so they named it after him. The ‘Ji Ding’ part translates as “chicken cut into small cubes” and to this day it is one of the most ubiquitous Chinese dishes eaten in both mainland China and in the West. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Kung Pao Chicken’ so keep a look out for this name as well.

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The lovely people over at World of Zing sent me some dried chillies recently with fabulous sounding names: Dragons Back, Facing Heaven Bullet and Chinese White Hunan. I pondered for some time over which one to sample first and facing heaven bullet won out. They are so called because the pepper grows with the fruit pointing upwards to the ‘heavens’ unlike most chilli peppers, which face downwards.

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Bullet in shape, they are often kept whole in cooking or cut in half once. Removing some or all of the seeds prior to cooking reduces the heat of the chilli, whilst still retaining a tantalising zing.  To give you some idea of heat, it is far milder than a Thai birds eye chilli.  It won’t be the case of running to the fridge for a glass of milk!

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This dish wins prizes on speed of delivery and flavour. Seriously even if you are shattered after a hard days slog this will raise your spirits. Give it a go and remember to come back and comment to let me know how you got on.

Gong Bao Ji Ding – Chinese Chicken with Facing Heaven Bullet Chillies

Serves 2-3

420g chicken breasts (works out as 3 breasts) skin removed, cut into strips then into 1 inch cubes

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 inches of fresh ginger, skinned and roughly chopped to the same size as the garlic

5 spring onions, white part only chopped to the size of the chicken cubes

10 facing heaven bullet chillies, halved and seeds removed

1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns

80g peanuts, dry roast them for 5 minutes

2 tbsp ground nut oil (or equivalent)

****

Marinade

3 tsp light soy sauce

2 tsp Shaoxing wine

2 tsp cornflour

****

Sauce

1 and a half tsp cornflour

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp cold water

1. First prepare the chicken and then place in a bowl. Prepare the marinade in a separate bowl and then pour onto the chicken pieces and leave to rest whilst you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. Dry roast the peanuts in a frying pan for 5 minutes so that they bronze slightly.

3. Next prepare the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli and place to one side.

4. Prepare the sauce ingredients in a bowl and place to one side.

5. Heat a large pan or wok with the oil and when it is hot add the chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. Move them around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the cubed chicken. Keep the chicken moving around on a high heat so that it cooks through completely.

6. After a couple of minutes, and the chicken has whitened, add the spring onions, garlic and ginger continuing to move all the ingredients around the pan/wok. After 3 more minutes the chicken should be cooked completely. Cut through a large piece to check it is cooked through (if it needs a minute more continue cooking at a high heat), before adding the sauce and mixing it through completely.

7. Cook for a further minute before adding the peanuts. Coat them in the sauce and stir through a couple of times.

Serve immediately with some steamed rice.

Thanks to World of Zing for providing me with the chillies. 


Chinese Spiced Roast Pork – An Alternative Sunday Roast

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As an alternative to a typical English Sunday roast I thought I would tempt you with a Chinese spiced alternative that is sticky, sweet and balances perfectly with the saltiness from the pork and crackling. It’s a real family crowd pleaser and I can guarantee you all the plates will be completely clean after everyone has devoured their portion. This time I served mine with pak choi and some white fluffy rice, but you can equally serve with mangetout, green beans, Chinese greens, noodles – the list is endless.

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Take a look at these close ups and you can almost smell the five spice and the honey from looking at these glorious hunks of meat. With the juices from the meats you can quickly make a little sauce to run all over the meat and rice (the sauce was made just after these photos were taken so you are going to have to imagine the meat with a little bit of dark sauce running all over it).

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The meat requires as much marinading as you can manage. This time I only managed about an hour – kept at room temperature, but if you are super organised you can prepare it the night before and leave it in the fridge over night and then bring it out in the morning so that it is at room temperature when you place it in the oven.

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Before marinading the meat make sure your butcher, or you, has scored the meat so that there is a deep lattice effect running along the top of the fat. Once this is done you can then cover the meat in the marinade. Make sure you use your hands to massage the meat and skin.

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After cooking don’t worry if the crackling looks a little black (see photo below) – it’s meant to. The sauce has darkened the meat and the crackling to perfection. Let it rest for 10 minutes under foil before cutting up.

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 Chinese Roast Pork

Serves 4

800g boned and rolled pork shoulder

*******

pork marinade

1 heaped tsp Chinese five spice

2 tsp garlic paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

*******

Sauce

all the gooeyness from the baking tray post cooking the pork

1 tsp honey

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp boiling water

*******

for the park choi

4 garlic cloves, sliced

4 bundles park choi

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1/2 tbsp sesame oil

rice or noodles to serve

*******

1. First marinade the pork with the ingredients above either for an hour or if you are super organised, overnight. If you are marinading for an hour, leave the pork marinading at room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (180 degrees if using fan) and when the oven is hot place the pork on a roasting tray in the middle of the oven. Cook for 1 hour turning the pork over after 30 minutes of cooking time.

3. If after about 50 minutes the crackling has not crackled sufficiently increase the temperature of the oven to 200 degrees and cook for 10 minutes by which time the fat will have crackled to perfection.

4. Remove from the oven and then cover with foil for 10 minutes to rest on a warmed plate.

5. Prepare the rice or noodles so that they are ready to serve in 10 minutes.

6. Meanwhile to make the sauce, scrape all the gooeyness from the bottom of the roasting tray and add the honey, soy sauce and water. Stir so that all the ingredients mix well together. Simmer for a minute and then pour into a warmed sauce jug.

7. In a separate large pan, gently fry the garlic in the sesame oil for 2 minutes and then add the washed pak choi. The pak choi will wilt slightly within a couple of minutes, but which time it is ready to serve.


The Perfect Steamed Lemon Chicken

I have always been massively underwhelmed when ordering lemon chicken at Chinese restaurants to the extent that I never order it anymore as I don’t want to have further disappointments. It’s always far too sweet and the chicken looks too white and unappealing. So you can guess how delighted I was when I recently tried Neil Perry’s ‘Steamed Lemon Chicken’ recipe that actually tasted really good. I am a HUGE fan of the Australian chef  and his beautifully presented book ‘Balance and Harmony’. It was in his book that I found this recipe that is now one of my absolute favourites.

The beauty of Perry’s ‘Steamed Lemon Chicken’ is that it is really really easy. Seriously it is definitely going to become one of my ‘go to’ recipes that I can rustle up really quickly and yet can also be perfect to offer guests coming around for dinner.  Steaming the chicken really retains the flavour and tenderness through the use of steam and is one of the most healthy forms of cooking. It’s a win win.

The key with a good lemon chicken is to buy thighs and not breast meat folks as it is so much more tasty and tender. Seriously, do not think about buying breast meat for this recipe as it really won’t taste half as good. Trust me on this one.

The only alterations I have made to Perry’s recipe are:

1) As I did not have peanut oil to hand I used ground nut oil as an alternative.

2) Neil Perry’s recipe uses 350g of chicken and I have used 550g so my chicken needed more steaming time. He suggested 25 minutes but mine needed closer to 40 minutes.

Steamed Lemon Chicken

Serves 2-3

550g free-range or organic chicken thigh fillets, skin on (if possible), each cut into 3 pieces

1 1/2 (one and a half) lemons, quartered lengthways

a pinch of freshly ground white pepper

2 spring onions (scallions), cut into julienne

Marinade

1 tbsp shaoxing

1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp peanut/ground nut oil

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp sugar

 1. Place the chicken thighs in a shallow heatproof bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken and add the lemon skins to the bowl.

2. Prepare the marinade and add to the bowl of chicken and mix thoroughly using your hands and leave for at least 30 minutes so that the marinade can infuse the chicken with it’s wonderful flavours.

3. Firmly cover the bowl with foil and place into a large bamboo steamer (you can also use a steam oven if you do not have a bamboo steamer – both work equally well).

4. Place the bamboo steamer on a rack over a pot/wok of rapidly boiling water – you will need to place a couple of  inches of water into the pot. Put the lid on and steam the chicken for 40 minutes.  You will need to turn the chicken once during cooking so be careful when removing the lid and foil as the steam will be very hot. To check the chicken is cooked sufficiently make a small incision into the flesh to see that it is fully cooked and not pink! If it is not quite done, continue to steam for a further few minutes. If you cook with a smaller amount of meat – 350g – steam for 25 minutes.

5. Carefully remove the bowl from the steamer and place the chicken onto plates, or a warmed central plate and sprinkle with ground white pepper and spring onions.  Serve with rice.