Category Archives: Food

Vietnam Days 2-3: Mekong Delta

“Never get out of the boat.” Apocalypse Now references are in particularly poor taste, but hard to resist while in a small boat on the a tiny branch of the Mekong delta.

Despite the delta’s claim to be an easy place to live, where a man can fish for an hour and catch enough to eat for a week, there are glimpses of young families doing it tough in shanties among the French Colonial remnants.

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Our local guide had a rosy view of her home, and explained its cornucopia of local produce in minute detail.  The whole of Minh Island was pretty much devoted to fruit. Jak fruit, mango, durian, rambutan, pineapple, grapefruit, guava, and so it goes. We saw them in nurseries, on plantations and in gardens We ate them in restaurants, in  tea rooms and fresh-plucked from plants beside the paths.

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Despite the many cliched opportunities to see women in conical hats and girls on bicycles, some of the families living on their boats did not appear to share the idyl. I did not feel comfortable invading their lives with a camera.

We were taken to many factories, and while I feel this was done mainly to fill our tour with quantifiable experiences, what struck me most was the energy and material cycle driven by the sun. Photosynthesis in rice plants drove industries that would be powered by fossil fuels in the west. When the rice was harvested the rice husks provided fuel for just about everything. Large brick kilns are fired with rice husks, baking bricks formed from the clay taken from rice fields; the ash then being returned to the farmers to fertilise the next crop.

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Apart from fruit we ate fish – the ubiquitous elephant-ear fish steamed and fried, shrimp, cockles and snails. Freshness in places free of refrigeration was not a problem, as the fish and animals were kept alive until they were needed.

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The markets of were pretty full-on, particularly the seafood. The vendors tended their small quantities of live produce; fish, snakes, eels, shrimp, turtles, frogs, clams, snails – chicken and ducks also live, their feet tied together to prevent escape…

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This was more than enough market for me. Rats were skinned and boned out, but these were special rats that lived in coconut trees and so tasted of coconut and were thus more expensive than other meats; they had to be caught – one guy goes up the tree and scares them out with a stick, two others stay at the bottom with a net to catch them. “Rats are very fast!” explained our guide.

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Portuguese Chicken

Portuguese Chicken

Can it be true that I’ve not posted a recipe for Portuguese Chicken before now? It’s a mainstay of the grill, getting a run at least once a week. The reasons will become obvious once you try it – it’s easy, delicious, and has a broad appeal.

Now, let me be clear – I make no claims for its authenticity. I’ve refined this recipe from a fair bit of research and it is in fact not terribly authentic, but it has enough of the key features of Portuguese Chicken for me to name it thus, and I’m pretty happy with the taste.

The keys are lemon juice, paprika, herbs and chilli. Take any one of those away and it becomes something else. I generally use chicken thigh fillets. Thigh chops (with bone) are fine too, but the bone does not add a lot in terms of taste and add extra hassle. It also makes the dish less versatile, as the fillets are easy to slice for serving and the chicken can be added to other meals. It’s a mistake to use breast fillets though; the thigh has much better flavour and the slight fat content keeps it all moist.

I allow two fillets, or roughly 200g per person. Trim any obvious excess fat, but do not attempt to remove it all. Place the pieces in a bowl and add the juice of one lemon per kg of chicken. add a good covering of smoked paprika, a covering of mixed dried herbs and a couple of lugs of sweet chilli sauce.

Mix well with your fingers and allow to stand for half an hour to one hour before it hits the charcoal. Cooking time is the standard 30 mins over low coals, covered if you are able.

Portuguese Chicken

Portuguese Chicken – as it hits the charcoal

The variation comes with the type and amount of chilli you use. I’ve suggested sweet chilli sauce as the sugar allows the chicken to blacken up nicely as it cooks, and the sweetness is good as long as it’s not overdone. For more authenticity use unsweetened chilli paste, or add some of this in combination with the sweet chilli. My recipe provides a decent starting point though, that you can change as you wish. Be generous with the paprika; it’s expensive if you buy it in little jars from the supermarket, but very cheap in bulk, so seek it out.

It can be served with just about anything; a salad, rice, couscous or roast potatoes. Any leftovers will make great chicken sandwiches.

Roast Potatoes

Double-cooked Duck in Chinese Pancakes

Double-cooked Duck

Today’s post comes from celebrity guest contributor Briony Hume. She’s taken time out from her Media commitments to share the following – thanks Briony!

She writes:

“When I’m not being a superstar philanthropist, I love to get into the kitchen.

It’s the best place to find a bucket o’ wine or a hidden stash of Belvedere, then get the hell out of again.

But when Dave generously asked if I’d like to have a go at his wild ducks, well…   who could ignore that call to quaction?

Double-cooked Duck

There’s not quite as much meat on them as a farmed duck, and much less fat, so I decided to try something small but full of flavour. Sorry, there’s no charcoal involved, but you could always throw a chop on the grill during the boring bits.

Double-cooked Duck in Chinese Pancakes.

Feeds 4 as a main, 8 as an entrée.

The ducks are poached in a stock, then glazed and briefly roasted, before being shredded. It’s not complicated, but it does take time; best to start a day ahead.

2 wild ducks, dressed

Stock

6 cups of water
1 cup of light soy sauce*
1 cup of shao xing (Chinese cooking wine)*
½ cup yellow rock sugar*
5 cm lump of ginger, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
4 whole star anise
2 sticks of cinnamon
rind of a mandarin, or take a few strips off an orange with a peeler.

Glaze
15 g palm sugar, grated or finely chopped *
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp fish sauce*
1 tsp sambal, or chopped birdseye chili
1 tbsp grated ginger

To Assemble
1 continental cucumber, julienned
20 Chinese pancakes, in vac pacs*
Hoisin sauce*

* all available at Asian supermarkets

 First, make a Chinese master stock : I’ve adapted Neil Perry’s recipe, which can be used for all sorts of things  later, from poaching chicken to using as a base for noodle soups or adding as cooking liquid to stir fries. Just strain, re-boil and freeze after use.

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Throw stock ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil.
At the same time, bring a second pot of water to a vigorous boil. Put both birds in the  second pot and simmer for a couple  of minutes – this will get rid of the blood, and any  scum, that would otherwise taint your stock.

Drain off the water, rinse the ducks under the tap, then put them in the boiling stock – simmer  gently for 2 hours, then leave  to cool on the stove (overnight if you can), still in the stock.

Take the ducks from the stock, and pat dry.  Heat oven to 180 C
In a small saucepan, heat all the glaze ingredients, making sure the sugar is dissolved. Baste the skin of the ducks and place them in the oven on a baking tray, lined with foil as the sugar gets sticky.

Double-cooked Duck

You only want to bake the birds till the skin turns a nice deep tan colour –  too long, and the sugar will burn and go black, so keep an eye on it – it should only take about half an hour at most.

Then rest the ducks til they’re cool enough to dismember with a knife and your fingers, and shred the flesh fairly finely.

Double-cooked Duck

Heat pancakes according to instructions.

Plate the shredded duck, moistened with a couple of extra tablespoons of stock, the pancakes, Hoisin and cucumber at the table, and let your guests assemble their own.”

Double-cooked Duck

Salmon

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There are those who would dismiss Atlantic salmon as an unworthy fish because it’s farmed,  and I guess they have a point.

But to nip down to the supermarket (yes, I know) and come back with something that is presentable, healthy and easy to prepare is not to be despised. The really fresh stuff from the market is worth the extra effort, but if I can’t get it I’ll make do with what is close by.

Its oily flesh makes it ideal for charcoal. Cooking it outdoors has the added benefits that it does not make the kitchen smell and does not leave salmon oil over everything in sight.

I like to season or marinade it –  chilli and ginger works well:

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A dusting of smoked paprika and dried herbs is good too:

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I cook it on a hotplate over the charcoal, lightly sprayed with oil to start, and then the oil from the fish takes over.

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I’ll often cover it while cooking, so that the heat and smoke from the charcoal is trapped, to even out the cooking and enhance the flavour. This extra heat to the top means that the pieces cook more evenly than they would on just a hotplate, so you can get good results without butterflying it.

Timing is easy – for the set-up above it’s 7minutes, turn, then another 7 minutes, and done.

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