My Kung Pao Chicken

Chinese New Year and Kung Pao Chicken

Chinese New Year and Kung Pao Chicken.  Today we welcome in the Chinese New Year 2019 the year of the pig. This year to celebrate I have made a trio of Sichuan inspired dishes. A vegetarian Mapo tofu, spicy Sichuan Salt and Pepper Prawns and today’s recipe the classic Kung Pao Chicken. Now you should beware many western versions of this lack the serious dual hit of fiery red chilli and the mouth tingling Sichuan pepper. In fact Sichuan peppers were banned from America for quite sometime? The US version is often just a variant of General Tso’s Chicken with carrots, onions and bell peppers in a sweet and sour sauce. You will find Western versions are often much tamer than the authentic dish.

Why is it called Kung Pao Chicken?

Kung Pao chicken (  宫保鸡丁 ) is believed to be named after a Governor of Sichuan province who held the official title ‘ Gongbao ‘ or palace guardian. I’m sure you have seen the similarity already. Because of this Imperial connection it was renamed during the famous Cultural Revolution. The new name was the rather less catchy ‘ fast fried chicken cubes ‘. It’s more famous name was restored in the nineteen eighties.

Authentic Kung Pao Chicken

You make real thing from stir-fried soy marinated chicken, leeks and raw peanuts. Your flavour comes from Sichuan peppercorns and red chillies. They are first heated in hot oil with perhaps some ginger and garlic. Then you serve the finished dish with simply steamed rice.

Sichuan Pepper
Sichuan pepper

Happy Chinese New Year

If you find my Sichuan recipes a little too fierce remember you can always reduce the amount of Sichuan peppercorns and / or red chillies. If you you like something less spicy altogether why not try some of my other Chinese recipes over the celebrations? Classic roast Char sui Pork, my version of sweet and sour Cantonese Pork, and the perfect bowl of rice. Or what about delicious Beef in Black Bean and Garlic sauce and slow-braised Lamb with Ginger. Whatever you choose I wish you a prosperous Chinese New Year. Watch out it won’t be long before I post another recipe from one of my favourite cuisines.

My Kung Pao Chicken
My Kung Pao Chicken
You can exchange the thighs with chicken breast if you prefer just cook a little less.
Crepe

A Crepe for Candlemass

A crepe for Candlemass. I don’t really need an excuse to make pancakes at home, but this is one of those festivals with a food connection that I adore. So I am indebted to a foodie friend for posting about having crepes today in Paris and the Candlemass tradition. It is a pity I couldn’t quite get to Paris but the girls were happy with Daddies efforts.

Candlemass

Candlemass is a Christian Holy Day celebrating when Jesus was presented at the Temple. It is celebrated on the second of February and is the last feast of Christmas. In some countries the Christmas decorations are taken down on Twelfth Night in others they remain in place until Candlemass. Many Christians take candles to be blessed in a church which are then used for the rest of the year. The candles symbolise Jesus as the ‘ Light of the World ’.

A stack of Crepes
A plate of Crepes

The tradition of eating crepes is attributed to Pope Gelasius distributing pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome. The round golden pancakes are also said to be symbolic of the sun and celebrate the arrival of Spring. This tradition could date back to Roman times and offerings of made of cake. Today in France when making the pancakes they are flipped from the pan in the right hand while holding a gold coin in the left to ensure household prosperity for the rest of the year.

Crepes and Pancakes

A crepe griddle
An electric Crepe griddle

A crepe is a very thin pancake which can be made in a pan or on a cast iron griddle plate. These plates were placed over a fire but now are electrically heated. Crepes are cooked across France, Northern Europe, and North Africa. Crepes can be sweet and served with sugar and lemon juice, fruit, whipped cream, Nutella and Maple syrup. The classic recipe is Crepe Suzette with the pancakes skilfully made and served at the table. They are flambéed in a sticky caramelised sauce of sugar, butter, orange juice, and zest and orange liqueur.

Crepe Suzette
Classic Crepe Suzette

Savoury pancakes or galettes are often served for lunch and can be filled with ham, cheese, sautéed mushrooms, baby spinach, and ratatouille. Pancakes are commonly made from wheat flour, but you can make them with buckwheat which will make them suitable for coeliacs and people who are gluten intolerant.

Candlemass Crepes
Crepes for Candemass
For a sweet pancake add a dessert spoon of caster sugar to the beaten egg and milk.

Spicy Sichuan Salt and Pepper Prawns

My spicy Sichuan salt and pepper king prawns are the type of recipe I just love to eat and share. So it had to be the next recipe in this year’s celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year. Be prepared, however, even though they have a spicy kick they are very addictive. The prawns are quickly deep-fried in the lightest coating then seasoned with my blend of salt, chilli, and pungent Sichuan pepper. If you like salt and pepper squid, you can substitute thinly sliced Calamari as an alternative. The result is mouth watering and delicious. Enjoy

Sichuan Cuisine

This spicy salt blend is typical Sichuan Chinese cuisine. Sichuan cooking typically uses lots of strong flavours such as chilli bean paste, chilli oil, and Sichuan peppercorns. Authentic Sichuan salt is obtained from local springs and does not contain iodine, but I use sea salt as an alternative and there is no major difference in taste. Sichuan dishes are often very hot, and the peppercorns produce a slight tingling sensation on the lips.

Spicy Sichuan Salt and Pepper Mix

You will find this mix is great as a rub for seasoning pork or chicken, like chicken wings, and can be used as a dry dip as well as with seafood like king prawns or calamari. If you don’t want to deep fry your prawns, you can stir fry them in their shells in a wok and add the Sichuan salt and pepper mix a couple of minutes before serving.

60 gram Sea Salt

10 gram Sichuan Pepper

5 gram dried Chilli Flakes

3 gram ground Star Anise

Heat the Sichuan peppercorns and sea salt in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat, until the salt starts to turn grey. Toss the pan occasionally to stop the peppercorns from burning. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Grind the mixture in a pestle and mortar with the chilli flakes and Star anise. Store in a dry air-tight container and use as required.

Sichuan Prawns
Sichuan Salt and Pepper King Prawns
For this recipe you will need King prawns with the head on, that have had the shells removed and been deveined. You can get these from good fish-mongers or large supermarkets.
Mapo tofu

Vegetarian Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a very popular Sichuan Chinese dish made from tofu, Douchi or fermented black beans, rice wine, pungent Sichuan peppers and a double hit of chilli flakes and Douban, a chilli and bean paste. Classically the dish is made with ground beef or pork and so spicy as to make the diner sweat. In this recipe, I have substituted roughly chopped Shiitake mushrooms for the meat to make a tasty vegetarian option. Last year I posted a serious of recipes from one of my favourite Chinese cuisines to celebrate Chinese New Year including My Cantonese Pork and Crab and Sweetcorn Soup. This year I am going to post some Sichuan dishes to add to the collection.

Mapo tofu
Mapo tofu

Mapo Tofu History

The origins of the dish are a little confusing but one thing is for certain and all of the experts agree on the meaning of the name ‘ Mapo ‘. Ma stands for pockmarks and po is derived from the Chinese for old lady or grandma. So Mapo tofu is a shortening of the name Pockmarked Ma’s Bean Curd. This lady may have owned a restaurant, or been a relative of a restaurant owner, or simply being hospitable. whatever she created a stunning dish packed with flavour. Today there are many variations and recipes that are often adapted with less spice, but you should really give the authentic recipe a try. Enjoy.

Mapo Tofu Ingredients

Sliced tofu
Sliced Tofu

Tofu or bean curd is made from soy milk. In a process similar to making cheese it is first made into curds which are pressed into blocks. The finished product has a soft yielding texture and is quite bland in taste but is often used in really highly-flavoured dishes such as Mapo tofu.

Sichuan Pepper
Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper is not like any of its namesakes the smell and taste is unique. It has a citrus aroma, in fact, it is a member of the citrus family and creates a mild pleasant numbness in the mouth.

Doubanjiang or douban is a salty spicy paste made from fermented broad beans, soya beans and rice and red chillies. It is known as ‘ the soul of Sichuan cuisine ‘.

Fermented Black Beans
Douchi – fermented black beans

Douchi ( 豆豉 ) are semi-dried fermented and salted black soybeans used in Chinese cooking. The finished taste is both sweet and salty so the beans are used sparingly as a flavouring to dishes. Douchi are one of the oldest know products made from soybeans dating back over two thousand years.

Top Tips

Use a wooden spoon or flat spatula to gently stir the dish when cooking to avoid breaking up the tofu. As both the fermented black beans and the douban are salty check the flavour of the dish before adding any additional salt. If you want a little more Sichuan hit sprinkle the finished dish with extra freshly ground Sichuan pepper.

As you will be making this quickly in a wok it helps to have all the ingredients ready before you start cooking.

My Rhubarb Fool – A perfect Seasonal Dessert

What is Rhubarb Fool?

Rhubarb fool is a great seasonal dessert when fresh fruit in the UK is in pretty short supply. Early in the New Year ( Happy 2019 everyone ) and many of us are thinking about trying to shift the extra weight we may have put on over Christmas. I’m not sure I can go as far as something really healthy, but what I do have is an idea to revitalise any jaded party palettes. As it is time for the earliest of the season’s rhubarb, what about this delicious sweet? Forced rhubarb will be available from good greengrocers but it can be pricey, you can wait for the season’s main crop. The best forced rhubarb comes from the rhubarb triangle in West Yorkshire.

We chefs can sometimes overlook simple classic dishes that have pleased people for a very long time. The fruit fool is a versatile and first-rate example of an underrated culinary star, tart fruits with sweetened cream. You can make them pretty much throughout the year starting with rhubarb, then strawberries, gooseberry and elderflower is delicious and finish with late season raspberries in Autumn.

Trimmed Rhubarb Stems

My Rhubarb Top Tip

I was bought up from an early age by three formidable ladies, my Mum and the aunties Elizabeth and Mary, all incredible cooks. Peeking over the kitchen table I watched them pickle, preserve, knead, ferment, blanch, pluck, peel and chop with carefree abandonment. My guess is a little must have rubbed off on my shoulders. They were all armed with Mrs. Beeton, Robert Carrier, the Bero book and all became particularly big favourites of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Rhubarb Leaves are Poisonous!

I do not remember if my tip for today was in the book, but I remember it was full of beautiful illustrations and lots of old country lore. I am pretty sure most people are aware that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, but they do have a use. If you have a badly burnt pan leave it to soak for a couple of hours with some torn up rhubarb leaves covered with water. The carbonised food should then be easy to shift with warm soapy water and a scourer, please make sure you rinse thoroughly.

My Rhubarb Fool

I’m not sure if the purists would serve a fool on a biscuit base but I like the butter ginger biscuit base which adds a nice little contrast to the softly whipped cream and poached fruit. The choice is up to you if you wish to leave it out. So while I am not going to win any points for calorie-free food I think this is winner on flavour. Enjoy

My Rhubarb and Ginger Fool
You can adapt through the changing fruit seasons with rhubarb, gooseberry, raspberry and loganberries. This recipe is adapted from one by one of my culinary hero’s, Simon Hopkinson. I like the flavour combination of rhubarb and orange with the buttery ginger biscuit base. You can make it with caster or golden sugar but again I like to use soft brown sugar for the added extra toffee / caramel flavour.

the Perfect Christmas Roast Turkey Dinner

The perfect Christmas roast turkey dinner. Most families in the United Kingdom traditionally sit-down on Christmas afternoon for their festive Christmas Dinner. Today you find the centerpiece is usually a roast Turkey served with stuffing, sausages wrapped in streaky bacon ( pigs in blankets ), crisp roast potatoes, parsnips, Brussel sprouts and lots of other vegetables, and cranberry sauce. This is followed by Christmas pudding and brandy sauce, maybe sherry trifle and mince pies. But how have we got here?

The perfect Christmas roast turkey

A bit of Christmas Dinner history

‘If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly, Master Copperfield!’ In medieval England, if you were very rich you might have eaten venison for Christmas. Killed in your hunting grounds and the bits or umbles – the heart, lungs, liver, tongue, and kidneys would be chopped, mixed and baked in a pie to be given to the poor. The original [h]umble pie. Down the pecking order ( sorry ) you might find goose or woodcock covered in butter and saffron and roasted. For dessert, you would find frumerty a thick, spiced porridge. This was made with currents and enriched with egg yolks. Alternatively there might be a boiled plum pudding. The ancestor of today’s Christmas pudding made with suet and dried fruit. It would be flavoured with clove, ginger, and cinnamon. Plum is an old term for raisins.

A boar’s head would be the centerpiece of the Christmas feast for a Tudor nobleman. It is believed that the tradition is centuries-old. It came from pagan celebrations of the Norse god of the harvest. If you could not get hold of the highly prized head, you would have a ham which is now a staple of many Christmas meals. Sugar, spices, and nuts were considered highly exotic and very expensive. Highly decorated marzipan sweetmeats were a sign of your wealth and importance.

Gingerbread Men

Christmas Traditions

‘My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.’
During the 17th century, turkeys started to become part of the Christmas feast. Although goose would remain the most popular roast well into the Victorian era. It was common for goose “Clubs” to be set up, allowing working-class families to save up over the year towards buying a goose. Sherlock Holmes solves a tricky case involving the theft of a precious stone the blue carbuncle when it is found in a Christmas club goose.

Gingerbread has an incredibly long history, near to a thousand years. Originally it was often sold in monasteries, pharmacies, and markets. Gingerbread was prized for its supposed medicinal properties and was used to aid digestion. It became so popular its manufacture was highly regulated in Germany and supervised by a guild. The guild lifted the restrictions on who could bake gingerbread at Easter and Christmas. By Victorian times Gingerbread men were baked and hung on the Christmas tree.

A dickens of a christmas

In the 18th and 19th century, Twelfth Night, the fifth of January, was one of the most important dates in the festive calendar. Twelfth Night was the last feast of the Christmas celebrations ( Epiphany ). The centerpiece of the parties, which involved eating, drinking and playing games was a cake. A forerunner to today’s Christmas cake it evolved from an enriched fruit bread to a more familiar fruit cake decorated with almond and sugar pastes. A dried bean was included in the recipe. Whoever found it was crowned ‘Lord of Misrule’ or ‘King of the Bean’ and presided over the festivities.

The perfect Christmas roast turkey dinner

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the turkey was still an expensive choice, only for the very rich, for Christmas dinner. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchit a large turkey. In northern England, roast beef was commonly served on Christmas Day while in London and the south of England, a goose was still the favourite. Those too poor to afford beef or goose made do with rabbit. However, by the end of the 19th century, most people feasted on turkey for Christmas dinner.

Mince Pies

Mincemeat was from Tudor times, when chopped meat mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and spices. This recipe continued right up to the Victorian era when less and less meat was included in the recipe. The mince tart you eat today is filled entirely with dried fruits, sugar, spices, and suet to keep it moist. Most premade mincemeat mixtures now use vegetable fats rather than the traditional suet in keeping with mincemeats origins.

Today’s Recipe

Traditional Roast Turkey Dinner

So today’s recipe is for the Christmas centerpiece a roast turkey. I have memories of my mum getting up at 6am to put the oven to prepare a monster of a turkey for the family. As in popular legend, it did seem that we ate turkey leftovers for days after. You should never put stuffing into a turkey cavity as it will not cook properly and could be a health risk but I do like to stuff the breast end of the bird which helps keep the meat moist. I have included my favourite stuffing recipe.

So today’s recipe is for the Christmas centerpiece a roast turkey. I have memories of my mum getting up at 6 to put the oven to prepare a monster of a turkey for the family. As in popular legend, it did seem that we ate turkey leftovers for days after. You should never put stuffing into a turkey cavity as it will not cook properly and could be a health risk but I do like to stuff the breast end of the bird which helps keep the meat moist. I have included my favourite stuffing recipe.