Posts Tagged ‘culture’

IMG_1415Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles.  Ramen was made for slurping.  It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience.  In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt!  Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup.  But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions.  Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.

Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.

Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen.  But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better.  Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.

Unapologetically absolutely delicious!

However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance.  If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!

ramen10Momofuku

If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking

BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.

There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.

Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines.  So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.

Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2

Ingredients:
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock                      1 carrot
4 spring onions                                                                Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms                                        Bean sprouts
Pork belly                                                                           Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs                                                                      Nori
Seasoning

To make the tare:
Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic

Method:
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.

6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.

Ramen1

ramen

10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this.  Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup.  Spoon some of the tare over the noodles.  Serve with a nori rectangle.

I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.

Ramen6

ramen

 

 

 

 

 

The recent Horsemeat scandal has left farmers incensed as meat sales have plummeted, supermarkets have lost billions in profits and governments struggle in vain to draw a line under the scandal over horsemeat being sold as beef.

horsemeat

So with consumers ditching beef for veggie ready meals it makes me question why people feel that creating vegetarian dishes can be difficult.  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to buy ingredients to create a vegetarian dish than buying a microwave pre-packed one?

By creating your own dish, you control the quantities, the amount of salt, volume… So why don’t some people cook their own vegetarian dishes?  Simple:

 Vegetarian = Boring!

If you try to convince a non-vegetarian that a meat free meal is delicious and exciting then you’ll just be faced with the deadpan certainty that they are awaiting the punchline in your joke.  Either that or they think you’re going to resurrect the vegetable stir-fry.  It is just a case of changing a mindset.  Question: how can culinary giants such as Italy and Spain create amazing vegetable dishes without the ridicule of their respective nations?  Answer: by never compromising on flavour.

The key to a great vegetable dish is to keep it simple.  Let the product speak for itself such as aubergines and honey; a simple Starter to any meal:

IMG_2337

Aubergine and honey

1st: Heat a griddle pan for approximately 8mins before you start cooking.

2nd: Slice the aubergine however you wish; I tend to favour cutting them in half along their length and then slicing into thin strips along the length of each half.

3rd: Pour olive oil into a dish and soak both sides of the aubergine slices in the oil.  Aubergines are like sponges and will soak up a lot of oil so try not to leave them dunked in the oil for too long.

4th: Griddle until scorch marked and softened from the griddle.

5th: Drizzle honey over just before serving.

Use ingredients to compliment your vegetable:

Mushrooms with garlic, chillies and butter IMG_23271

1st: Make the Garlic, Chillies and Parsley butter found on the recipes page.

2nd: Share between the mushrooms.

3rd: Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake at 180°C for 20mins.

Disclaimer:  The butter retains a lot of heat so take care when eating as you don’t want to end up with your palette blistered to shreds!

For the more adventurous cook why not try a Roast Vegetable Lasagne or an impressive melanzane alla parmigiana where instead of using lasagne sheets you use slices of aubergine with plenty of parmesan.  

Toptip: When roasting vegetables don’t add salt until the end otherwise they braise in their own cooking liquid.

Or if you want to impress:

Aubergine rolls filled with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts: 

aubergine rolls

Photo taken from bbcgoodfood.com

1st: Soften the aubergine slices by either griddling or cooking them in the oven.

2nd: Mix the wilted spinach leaves with the ricotta cheese and add a good shaving of parmesan.  Season to taste.

3rd: Either use tomato passata from a jar or create your own.

Start to assemble the dish:

4th: Place a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce into the bottom of the oven dish.

5th: Add a teaspoonful of the mixture to one end of the aubergine slice and roll it.  Repeat this for the remaining aubergine slices.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  To make this a dinner party indulgence why not cover in bechamel sauce before sprinkling with parmesan cheese.

Most of these vegetable dishes make a great accompaniment to any meal.  For example both the mushrooms and the aubergine rolls can be a side dish to meat or chicken if you so wish.  But celebrating them as a main course with some crusty bread is just as rewarding.  Remember, there are plenty of health benefits from eating more vegetables, they are tasty and good on the budget.

Buy vegetables at the height of their season as this will mean you’ll get the best quality product at the best price.  Buy what you need as they have a limited longevity; buy small but buy often.

No, I am not a vegetarian, but I hope through this blog entry I may have given you some ideas as to how to take the jump and cook up simple meat-free dishes that you won’t find boring or predictable.

Give them a try!

The Neanderthal in me; challenged as I strategically pile the charcoal around the fire lighters, comforted as I watch the sunset-red flames dance around the coals, rapturous as I fan the fire to make sure the black coals are turning white. BBQ season is upon us. And in my household (i.e. me!) it means being as adventurous grilling as it does cooking in my kitchen.

Yes, grilling. Not barbecuing. In much of the English-speaking world, “barbecuing” and “grilling” are used interchangeably. However, in USA’s South “barbecue” describes a cooking method in which food is cooked slowly over the indirect heat and smoke from a charcoal or hardwood fire. The food is never placed over the hot coals hence closing the lid helps to create an oven-like environment to retain the heat.

Whether you have a large family-sized terrace, garden or 2m x 1m balcony, cooking over a live fire is neither a weekend ritual nor a professional technique. Everyone can do it. And in Gibraltar, during the Summer months, everyone does. As you walk around the different housing estates, you can smell the characteristic chemical smell produced by firelighters or alternatives and burning charcoal. But if you’re really lucky you also get to smell the delicious offerings the grilled meats and fish fill the stifling, summer evening air with.

“Pinchitos, burgers, sausages, steaks, ribs, lamb kebabs, seafood…”

BBQ Rack of Maple-Glazed Ribs

1st: Once the flames have died down on the barbecue, place a saucepan onto the grill and add butter, maple syrup and dark muscovado sugar. Mix together.

2nd: Rub olive oil, salt and pepper onto the rack of ribs and place onto the grill. If your bbq set has a lid on it then you can choose to “barbecue” it. Make sure to place the ribs on the coal-free area as you are cooking indirectly.

3rd: Regularly baste the rack with the maple syrup glaze.

4th: Once the ribs are cooked, it is always a good idea to split the individual ribs to give it one final basting on all sides.

Fork test: stick a large fork into whatever you’re cooking and try to pick it up. If the fork slides out of the meat without grabbing onto it, it’s done; otherwise, keep cooking.”

Essential Grilling Tools

Having the right tools will undoubtedly make the task easier. A pair of heavy-duty, long-handled, spring-loaded tongs are the undisputed number one grill tool. Like an extra hand that doesn’t get burned, they are ideal for placing food on the grill, moving it around whilst it’s cooking, picking it up to check for doneness, and taking it off the grill. Don’t buy those cheap supermarket barbecue kits with tongs & spatula as they are both disastrous to use!

Convenience is the order of the day, especially if there are guests. Use disposable skewers for pinchitos and kebabs and disposable foil trays. Foil trays have many uses other than being disposable. Whilst grilling, they are ideal for covering thick cuts of meat or bone-in chicken that’s not quite done but that you don’t want to burn to a crisp. Without the use of a lid you can create a mini-oven.

Next to tongs, your favourite beverage, may be the most indispensable grilling tool. It helps keep you calm and collected while you’re tending the fire – a key to success.

So why not relish in the near-mythic social ritual that is the barbecue and stand, like Homer Simpson, with tongs in one hand and beer in the other.

Do it alone, invite people round, keep it cheap or go crazy at the supermarket – either way light the fire, open a beer and grill away… come on…unleash your inner caveman!

“Good company, good food and good wine!”

That was the welcome and introduction that we received at El Capote’s 5th wine and food matching held Thursday 7th June.

The theme for this evening’s dining experience was Italian.  As pretty much everyone had already been to at least one of the previous four evenings, they knew the ritual that we were about to partake in.  And a most enjoyable ritual it was!  From the familiar board advertising the wines and food we were to enjoy to the charismatic interaction from Ian Gareze (and ourselves) about the sumptuous offerings we were about to be treated to.

To get our Mediterranean pallets going we were welcomed to an aperitif of sweet mosto (Manilva).  We all know this was not Italian but it most certainly got everyone in the mood for a great night of delicious food and wine, and we were proved right, once again.

1) Prosecco Teresa Rizzi with Gambones Frito and a Pesto Dip

The Prosecco, light, floral and fruity was very well suited to the gambones.  Admittedly I could drink sparkling wine as if it were water!  However, they were very well matched.  The Prosecco’s citrus notes cutting through the fried gambones almost cleansing the pallet with each sip (glug!).

The homemade pesto was delicate but heady with basil; bringing out the Prosecco’s floral notes.  I would have perhaps added more olive oil to slacken this and it would have gone a lot further, leaving it on the table to accompany several of the other dishes.

The gambones (King Prawns) were beautifully cooked.  Crispy on the outside but ever so delicate in the centre.  Every mouthful a feast!  The only downside of this was that there were only two gambones per person.  My voracious appetite desperately wanted more but the next course was nothing to be sneered at.

“Every mouthful a feast!”

2) Santi Pinot Grigio de Venezie with Calamares a la Plancha served with a tomato and olive salad

Simple; the natural culinary beauty and taste of this dish’s only ingredient was sublime.  Fresh, succulent and beautiful; to top it off caught be a local fisherman!

What an exultation of a dish – calamares a la plancha (grilled squid).  From cooking to tasting this dish was delicious.  The smell of grilled squid permeating every corner of El Capote; arousing the senses as we chatted and even attracting passers-by to venture inside to marvel at the delicious spectacle.

When it finally arrived to the table, with everyone in the room salivating like Pavlovian dogs, it was heralded by a metaphorical sounding of trumpets.

The calamares were so good the wine had no choice but to know that it was not the star of the show – hence keeping a very low profile throughout this pairing.  After discussing this dish with the other diners at my table – the tomato and olive salad, although fresh and light, also went severely unnoticed.  When considering the time spent on food preparation as part of the whole evening’s menu, the calamares a la plancha needed nothing else to make this a triumphant dish, therefore tumbling some lemon wedges around the dish would have been the way to say,

“Calamares a la plancha – enjoy!”

3) Melini Sangiovese, Toscana 2006 served with Sarde a Beccafacio & Caponata

A good unobtrusive red wine to be complimented with fish.  There is much wine snobbery that fish should only be matched with white wine.  Whilst the command is ridiculous, the sentiment is not.  Reds tend to be slightly more full bodied and overpowering than white hence its partnership with fish needs to be carefully monitored.

The food served to complement this red was rolled sardine fillets with a pine nut stuffing.  Never having heard of this before I discussed its origin with Ian (who having done his homework) explained that it was a Sicilian dish and were meant to represent birds.  Were they served with mouths pointing upwards and gaping at the diner?  No.  My research explained that warblers (beccafacio) were hunted in ancient time from Sicilian nobles and cooked with their own entrails. Common people began to copy this luxury dish adapting it with sardines and swapped the entrails with the filling that is currently used.

I thoroughly enjoyed this but would have preferred this served with the pesto as it would have matched the sardines’ pine nut filling, with its lemon backnotes cutting through the richness of the sardines.

Many of the other diners were raving about the Caponata.  I have to say, whenever I make Caponata, I take the easy way out and plonk all the veg into a saucepan and let it reduce gently until I’m happy that it’s the consistency that I like.  Ian, I could tell, followed the stages properly.  The aubergine was fried before being added to the onion and tomato mixture.  There were also acidic tones to this so I imagine that vinegar must have been used to help this dish develop the depth of flavour that is required of its simplicity.  However, what we were all in agreement with was that the Caponata was a dish in itself.  It just needed some bread sticks or Italian crostinis.

“This was a double-dish.”

4) Prunotto Dolcetto D’Alba, Piemonte (2005) served with Polpete al Forno

What wasn’t to like in this pairing?!  Meatballs in tomato sauce with penne pasta and finished in the oven with a soft, fruity red to go with.

Sadly we were all so full by this stage many of us could not eat another bite.  Everyone would have been happy to have finished on the previous course and go straight to the last pairing.  The noise levels in the room dropped a bit whilst everyone considered how full they were and realistically how much more they were going to be able to eat.

Nonetheless people did manage to eat and drink their way through this course.  Myself included!

I dare say that as a result of us taking a bit too long on the previous courses this overcooked in the oven.  I say this as I found the meatballs on the dry side of cooked.  Oh and some grated parmesan at the table would have earned some brownie points, but considering the veritable banquet we had just gorged ourselves with this was an error we were all more that willing to forgive.

5) Antinori Peppoli, Chianti Classico (2007) served with Roasted Rack of Cerdo Iberico and Patatas a lo Pobre

As I watched Ian bring this joint of meat out and carve it infront of us I was once again taken over by greed.  I immediately forgot how full-up I was.  I also pushed to the back of my mind how Spanish this part of the menu sounded!

The pork was succulent and flavoursome.  Rubbed and sealed with herbs and seasoned well.

I could imagine this dish served as a main course at a wedding.

The Chianti; rich, fruity with vanilla on the nose was a beautiful wine to drink in support of this dish.

6) Limoncello and Biscotti

My first comment to Ian as this came to the table was that these were not biscotti!  In fact they were clearly amaretti biscuits as the smell of amaretto filled the air and was present in every bite of these delicious biscuits.

Traditionally, biscotti are oblong shaped almond studded biscuits and dry from being baked twice in the oven.  Limoncello is served with the biscotti as they absorb the alcohol without it changing the flavour of the biscotti.

Indeed it was a shame that they were amaretti biscuits as I do have a fondness for biscotti, and ending the evening dunking my biscotti into a glass of chilled limoncello would truly have been Italian bliss.

Not that I didn’t drop several of these into my glass and sip the limoncello whilst having them bobbing around my upper lip!  Delicious!!

“Less really is more.”

As always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at El Capote.  Ian once again outdid himself with the food he cooked for us and the whole evening was great fun but I have to be honest; there was too much food.  I can’t believe I’ve just said that.  The polpete al forno was one dish too many.  In reality the Sarde a Beccafacio should have been served independently from the Caponata as these were two dishes which were tasty, delicious and could have stood proudly by themselves.

Not very often but sometimes, less really is more.

Well done to Ian Gareze and everyone at the Capote who made the evening possible.  I honestly can’t wait for the next one.

Gastro

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Introduction
Tags: , , , , ,

The name of this blog suggests that perhaps this is going to be another one of those frivolous wittering blogs written by somebody who pretends to know about food.  I wish to immediately push that idea out of your head.  It is no such thing.  This blog is a culinary voyage (so to speak) my journey with food.

As people who meet me soon realise: if I am not eating, I am talking about food.  Not just talking about food and its preparation but savouring the moment; recalling the sensory ritual of eating.  Whether it be fine dining or street food, gourmet or grub.  Food is at the centre of our cultural lives.

Through this blog I will attempt to share with you my passion for food.

Bon appetit!