Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tricks to crispy pan-fried fish, and...Chicken & Rice is out in German!

I must admit it’s not been easy keeping up with the blog, but once in awhile, on a long lazy bank holiday weekend with hardly enough sun to be outside in the park, it’s wonderfully relaxing to have the laptop open with a steaming cup of tea on the side. I reopen all the half-finished blog posts and photos that never got to see the light, and here I am.

First up, new news.

I've been bursting to share this ever since my little fingers got hold of the first copy: Chicken and Rice is now available in German. Danke Dumont Buchverlag for taking my baby on, and the Penguin sales team for making it happen. To any of my German friends and readers out there, please have a look out for it on the shelves; or if you'd like to buy a copy online, I've linked up details below too.

And now, the unfinished post about fish.

While my preference for cooking fish is always whole, the reality of reaching home at 7pm after work means that the fishmongers are shut and my next best option is the fish counter at Sainsbury’s. I mostly give up and happily eat vegetarian (ish) on weeknights. However, if I really want fish on a Wednesday night, I have to make do with fillets, sometimes fresh sometimes frozen from my last trip to the fishmonger’s. This doesn’t really match up to the glamorous ideal that food writers tend to paint of their grocery shopping; but I’m guessing this too is the situation an everyday cook faces. 

I do like fish fillets; they just require a bit more attention to timings and techniques, especially if you’re pan-frying them. You’ve probably learnt at some point in your cooking journey that impatience/ carelessness leads to the fish falling apart. The flesh tough and overcooked. The skin sticking. I thought then to share this simple recipe for pan-fried hake that I did one evening. Treat this not so much as one recipe, but rather, a little set of tips for getting perfectly cooked fish with crisp, golden skin.


serves 2
2 fish fillets, I used hake in this case
2 tablespoons groundnut oil, for frying
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of sea salt

For the marinade

4 tablespoons Kikkoman low-sodium soy sauce* 

2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1 teaspoon sesame oil

To serve

1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped

*While I tend to go for regular soy sauce in most of my cooking, I like the low-sodium version in marinades that I’m leaving delicate fish in. This prevents it from being a salty disaster even when I leave the fish to steep for a few hours.

  1. The trick to getting crisp golden skin is to make sure the skin is completely dry. This is trickier if you’re using defrosted fish – make sure to pat dry and leave in the fridge, uncovered, for a little while. Another tricky scenario is if you like your fish a bit more interestingly seasoned than plain old salt and pepper. For this marinated hake recipe, I stir together the ingredients for the marinade, and pour into a small baking tray, before adding the fish fillets, skin-side up. Place in the fridge uncovered for at least 15 minutes, during which you can go prepare the rest of dinner or even go have a shower.
  2. This extra step is a special one specific to this recipe. I add a bit of oil to a pan and fry chopped garlic over medium heat till they are golden, before removing and setting them aside to let them cool and crisp up. Leave the oil in the pan.
  3. Remove the fish from the baking tray, reserving the marinade. Pat the skin dry with a kitchen towel and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Heat the oil until it is very hot, but not smoking. Place the fish in the pan, skin side down.
  4. Press firmly down on the fish with a spatula until it relaxes and lies flat. Alternatively, score the skin of the fish lightly after Step 2.
  5. Turn the heat down to a medium and cook until the flesh is nearly opaque. While that’s happening, the bottom will get all nice and golden brown and crisp but DO NOT flip to check, or you risk the fish breaking up into pieces. That’s how curiosity killed the cat’s perfectly pan-fried dinner.
  6. Slide your spatula under the fillet, and using your other hand as a guide, flip it over, away from you. Remove the pan from the heat and let the other side finish cooking in the residual heat of the pan, it will only take a minute or less, depending on how thick your fillet is. Err on the side of undercooking, remember it will continue cooking in its own residual heat.
  7. Remove the fish from the pan and pour in the reserved marinade. Place the pan back over the stove and bring it to a boil, letting it simmer for a couple of minutes before pouring over the fish. Finish with the crispy garlic, chilli and spring onions.
  8. Serve straight away with your choice of sides – plain steamed rice and vegetables are perfect against this. 

This recipe is incredibly versatile, and can be used for various other kinds of fish and with different sides, e.g. salmon, over noodle soup.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Cantonese Sizzling Steamed Whole Sea Bream

The indulgent days of roast turkey and crispy fat-drenched potatoes don’t seem very far away at all, but it’s another period of extravagant feasting for those around the world who celebrate the Lunar New Year.  This year it falls in the month of January – all too soon to go off the good intentions and resolutions set at the start of the year. Luckily, aside from the rich lard cookies and candied goodies your aunties and uncles cram gleefully into your hands, the traditional New Year dishes for the reunion dinner table can quite happily fit into a healthy eating plan.

One Chinese New Year classic is a whole steamed fish. The Chinese name for fish (yu) sounds like the word ‘prosperity’ – that alone is reason enough for Chinese families to put it on the reunion dinner menu. But dubious auspicious reasons aside, this is a dish that’s light, delicious, and easily a stunner on the table. Fish is almost always steamed whole back home, and for good reasons.It's harder to overcook fish on the bone, and the results are almost always perfectly moist, tender and flakey. Plus it's easier to tell freshness with a whole fish – more on that below. 
Today’s recipe is for the classic Cantonese-style steamed fish. I love serving this when I’m hosting a dinner party because you can really turn up the theatrics and then bask in the oohs and aahs of your guests. Unlike Teochew-style steamed fish (also a favourite), the Cantonese version is finished with a drizzle of hot oil, so it sizzles and crackles and releases the comforting aromas of ginger and spring onion. Aside from the aforementioned ingredients, the only thing you really need is fish and soy sauce.

Because the ingredients list and recipe are both so simple, I really want to emphasise on the quality of the ingredients here. Taking care in choosing the ingredients is Step 1 (or Step 0 I guess) in this recipe. I’m not the biggest fan of fish that’s already cut up, packaged in sterile plastic packets and stacked on the supermarket shelves – I can’t feel the fish, I can’t sniff it (and if I can, something’s really gone wrong). Visit a good fishmonger you can trust – that’s where you sniff out the best catch of the day, and where you can judge for yourself how fresh the fish is. Fresh fish should have bright eyes, healthy red gills, moist glistening skin and feel firm to the touch. As for the soy sauce, a good one will have the depth and complexity of flavours from the traditional long fermentation process (think craft beer) – there are many quality brands out there now, but an easily available favourite is Kikkoman.

serves 2-3 as a side with rice and vegetables

1 whole sea bream
1 tsp unrefined sea salt
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
3 stalks spring onions, 1 of them finely shredded
3 tbsp good soy sauce
2 tsp unrefined light brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 inch piece of ginger, finely shredded
handful of chopped coriander leaves

1. Wash fish and pat dry, then rub evenly with salt and rice wine. Make sure to rub inside the belly. Place the fish over two chopsticks, or even 2 stalks of spring onions, set over a plate. This will make for more even cooking.
2. Set up a steamer by putting a rack into a wok/pot over boiling water, and set the plate of fish on the rack (make sure it doesn't touch the water). Steam over high heat until just cooked, about 18 min for mine.
3. Carefully transfer the cooked fish to a new plate. This is where it differs from the one-plate Teochew-style. You don't want the old plate and especially not the fishy cooking liquid on it.
4. Stir together the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, and drizzle over the fish. Scatter the spring onions and ginger over.
5. Heat the groundnut oil in a pan until smoking, and then immediately pour over the fish. It will sizzle and crackle delightfully, like this (yes I took a video the first time I did it). Garnish with coriander, and serve straight away with plain steamed rice and your favourite vegetables.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Mixed Mushroom & Cabbage Claypot Rice... and Cookbook Giveaway with London Farmers' Market

It’s times like this when you really understand the meaning of comfort foods. My friend was digging into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s as her eyes stayed glued to the TV screen, transfixed in horror at the red creeping across and edging out the blue on the American map. I’m not going to go into politics on a food blog, but suffice to say, this year has been a nerve-wracking one on both sides of the pond. When the denial, outrage, and despair settles, one goes on – seeking solace in the comfort of familiar things. For my friend, it was Ben & Jerry’s; for me, it’s rice (sorry for being a cliché), in any and every form.

Today’s recipe will be claypot rice – fragrant, smoky and a delicious dish you can adapt with whatever ingredients you fancy. The claypot retains heat beautifully so that the rice steams while absorbing the flavours from the other ingredients; the bottom layer chars, forming a nutty crust– the bit we would all fight over. Traditionally, you'll set a claypot over charcoal fire, but you can get pretty good results at home using a gas stove. The most classic claypot rice includes dried Chinese sausage and marinated chicken, but this is a version celebrating Autumn's vegetables. This wild mushroom claypot rice is one of my favourite comfort one-pot recipes from Chicken and Rice, but I’ve adapted it to fit in even more of this season’s goodness, including the gorgeous savoy cabbage crying out to be picked up.

*Note: While meat-free, this is not vegetarian as I use chicken stock and oyster sauce for extra flavour, but you can tweak it to be so, tips below.

Serves 2

100g mix of fresh mushrooms (chestnut, oyster, shiitake, enoki)
2 large leaves of savoy cabbage, core removed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 ¼ cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

to serve
2 tbsp kecap manis (OR to substitute, equal amounts of light soy sauce and molasses)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
chopped spring onions

1. Soak the claypot in water for about 10 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile, slice the cabbage and mushrooms, and roughly break up the more delicate mushrooms into smaller pieces.
2. Set claypot over medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and when the oil is hot, fry the fresh mushrooms till just golden. Be careful not to overcrowd the claypot, or the mushrooms will end up steaming and not brown; I do this in batches.
3. Rinse the rice twice, or till the water runs clear. Drain well. Add the remaining oil to the claypot and when hot, add the chopped garlic. Fry till golden and fragrant, then add the rice. Lightly sauté for 2 minutes or so to toast the grains
4. Stir together the soy sauce, oyster sauce and chicken stock, and pour the mixture into the claypot. Bring everything to a boil over high heat. Drizzle sesame oil around the edges of the pot so that it runs down the insides. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is mostly cooked.
5. Scatter the cabbage and sautéed mushrooms over the rice and replace the lid. Turn the heat up to a high again and cook, still covered, for about 2 minutes until sizzling and a crust forms on the bottom. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes.
6. To serve, uncover and fluff the rice with a pair of chopsticks. (It will be smokey...) Drizzle kecap manis and sesame oil over, and finish with a sprinkle of spring onions. Have everyone dig in and mix the rice, mushrooms, and seasonings together as they go. 

*You can do this with a small cast-iron casserole pot if you don’t have a claypot.
* For a vegetarians/ vegan version: Skip the oyster sauce and use vegetable stock or even better, mushroom stock from rehydrating dried mushrooms.
* You can also tweak it to be as meaty as you like, throwing in sliced pork belly, or chicken marinated in the same sauce then seared.


Now to explain the London Farmers' Market bit of the title. A couple months back, I met up for a long-overdue pint with Mark, part of the team running this fantastic network of markets connecting growers and producers with real food lovers in the city. Mark was my old boss when I was working as a market manager for Pimlico Farmers’ Market in my early student years. The productive (surprise) pub chat's resulted in me promising to create and share a recipe with the LFM folks and customers in mind – though of course this is available for anyone reading this blog to try. 

It was a dream weekend job – it meant being surrounded by delicious food (and it meant I could pay for more sketchbooks and Adobe subscriptions)! It also meant waking up at ungodly hours on a Saturday and forgoing Friday nights out… but I loved it. Over the 3 years I was there, I made friends with producers who really care about food; and I learnt to anticipate purple sprouting broccoli as a sign of the seasons changing. I got invited to a few of their beautiful farms, tasted lots of beautiful food, and learnt the importance of great produce for flavour and for nutrition. 

While I grew up on – and am still heavily biased towards – the punchy flavours and spices of Southeast Asia, a stroll around my local farmer’s market is still one of my best ways to get inspired in the kitchen. That’s influenced my ideas in the kitchen, and ultimately the cookbook, so I’ve been more than keen to create this recipe for them. We're also giving away 5 copies of Chicken and Rice (yay it’s Christmas), so if you fancy holding more recipes like this in your hands, you can hop over to the LFM website and put your hand up. Here's to a merry remainder of the year.


Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to cook for parties, and Sticky Chicken Skewers with Coriander Green Sauce

It's been 3 months, which is a whole new record for being away from the blog. It's ridiculous, the seasons have even changed. I was writing about blistering weather and asparagus with salted egg mayo back in June, and now I'm looking out of my window at a gloomy sky, curled up with a huge cup of tea. Lots of things have happened since. I've finished grad school (woo!) and back to job-hunting (boo); been on a couple of trips food researching (eating); and believe it or not, I've been writing about food – most recently for Gousto, Great British Chefs and the Japan Centre, which I'll link up to below if you've missed recipes from me.

I've also popped up with my apron and knives at various kitchens. There was a Singaporean-Hong Kong hawker food supperclub collaboration at a snazzy cocktail bar in Soho, a lovely private dinner party, and a catering gig at the beautiful London Rowing Club just by the river. I'm also about to help teach a clever, equally food-loving bunch of ADHD kids for a massive birthday celebration this weekend. All in all, I've fed over two hundred people in the past couple of months. That all sounds a bit nuts – and if I think back to the days when I'm used to cooking only for myself, intimidating – but I've picked up some tips over the years on no-stress cooking for a crowd.

Lamb satays with tamarind peanut sauce and unintended product placement; Chef Shu and Olly

1. Go big
My favourite way to do dinner or lunch parties is to have huge sharing platters and have everyone dig in. Any stews, braises or roasts work extremely well for this, the only thing you'll need is a bit of primary school math for upsizing the recipe and a bigger pot/ roasting tray. Salads also translate well to sharing sizes, because you can throw lots of flavours, colours and textures together on a beautiful large platter.

2. ... Or if you're going small, think chilli padi
Birds eye chillies (chilli padi in Malay) are deceptively small chillies which pack an insane fiery punch. Canapés though bite-sized, should pack a mouthful of flavour. It should also catch your guest's eye so I think about colours – a sprinkle of black sesame seeds and a peep of green cucumber and dill over an otherwise dull-coloured smoked mackerel pate; pickled red onions or radishes to add a cute bright pink contrast (and sweet sharp bite) to something green.

Crab, peach and spring onion croustades; Smoked mackerel pate with dill & black sesame; 
Smoked aubergine and pomegranate, salted duck egg mayo & edamame pea mint dips

3. Teach your guests how to make their own 
Aside from significantly lowering the amount of prep on your end, people love getting involved in the process. For the hawker night pop-up, we had a wrap-your-own popiah party featuring a stack of popiah skins and a spread of fresh salads, homemade chilli and sweet sauces, and the traditional braised turnip and shiitake filling, alongside fun extras like crispy roast pork belly. Popiah parties are quite a thing in Singapore and I remember my little sister having roast duck on the table for her deluxe birthday popiah party. I've also done summer (and winter) roll parties. It's fun and everyone gets to be as creative and greedy as they like.

Popiah pick-and-mix galore with my co-chefs J and Cherry; Summer rollin'

4. Lastly, remember to have fun
 I've picked up lots of tips from London's hottest caterer/ my good friend Milli's awesome book on canapés Party Perfect Bites, but this is my favourite. This is not time to get your panties in a twist over what's "authentic and correct". Set aside your pre-conceived notions and foodie morals, and have fun playing with flavours and colours.

Thai-style shrimp glass noodle salad cups with roasted peanut powder, and shredded Teochew braised duck pancakes with cucumber; I like to creep on my guests to make sure they're happy

This is my recipe for a crowd-pleaser from the last event: chicken marinated in soy sauce and honey, grilled till they're all smoky sticky and lovely, and then served with a fresh zesty coriander-based green sauce. I've also sneaked in some green chilli padi for an added kick, feel free to double the quantities if you're feeding spice-loving fiends. It's an adaptation of the sticky soy sauce wings recipe in Chicken and Rice cookbook – which is doing well and has sneaked its way into many strangers' dinners (absolutely makes my day when I get tagged on social media, so please do or otherwise leave a happy review on Amazon).

makes about 25 skewers

1 kg skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cubed

for the marinade
6 tbsp Kikkoman regular soy sauce*
6 tbsp runny honey
3 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
6 cloves garlic

for the green sauce
1 large bunch coriander
3 large stalks spring onions, green parts only
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1-2 limes, to taste/ juiciness of your limes
1 green bird's eye chilli
groundnut oil
sea salt, to taste

to serve
chopped spring onions
toasted white sesame seeds

1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade. Place the chicken in a large ziplock bag and pour the marinade over. Leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Flip the bag around once in a while to make sure they are all evenly marinated. Soak skewers.
2. Preheat oven to 190C. Skewer chicken and arrange the chicken skewers on a greased baking tray. In a small saucepan, bring the reserved marinade to a boil for a full two minutes. Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and caramelised, turning and baste the skewers regularly with the reserved marinade.
3. When the chicken is ready, remove from the oven and let rest. Combine any roasting juices with the reserved marinade
4. Blitz all the ingredients for the green sauce together, adding just enough oil to make a smooth runny sauce, sort of like a pesto. Season to taste with salt. Keep the sauce covered in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours, the longer you do this ahead the more it loses its vibrant green so try not to do this too far ahead. Your prep is basically done until just before the party.
5. When ready to serve, remove the sauce from the fridge and let it come back up to room temperature. Finish the skewers on the grill for a minute on both sides till charred, brushing with the marinade + roasting juices regularly. Finish with a sprinkle of chopped spring onions and toasted sesame seeds, and serve with the green sauce.

* Kikkoman and most other Japanese soy sauces don't differentiate between light or dark, they just have the one amazing soy sauce, and variations on ingredients/ salt levels. If using other brands of light soy sauce, you might want to add a tad of dark soy sauce too for the colour.

Related reads/ recipes
Great British Chefs Japan Centre feature series on noodles:
  Soba noodles with smoked mackerel and grilled courgettes
  Sichuan-style cold cucumber and shirataki noodle salad
  Miso ramen with poached egg and crispy shallots (aka Pimp Your Ramen)
Gousto chef feature and interview 
  My Khao Tom recipe adapted for Gousto (+ all the ingredients you need to make it, delivered to your doorstep)
Chopsticks Brunch Club
My first supper club experience (nostalgic blast to the past)

Related clicks
Chicken and Rice cookbook on Amazon
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chicken and Rice Cookbook bits and pieces

Out-takes from the cookbook photoshoot and memories of a wonderfully British and grey BBQ: 
Nyonya barbecued quails, sticky spicy soy sauce wings, kohlrabi som tum (photo by Susan Bell)

It’s been more than a month since the launch of Chicken and Rice– and while this means I’m more than a month late with updates, I thought I might get away with doing a cheeky overall roundup of the past couple months of Chicken and Rice-related news. I also thought I'll take the chance to tempt you all with photos of food you can find in the book should that give you the final push to get a copy.

The launch itself was a wonderful rush of emotions, that odd feeling you get when you finish school: excitement, relief and also a bit of wistful nostalgia at closing a chapter of your life. It was also the warmest feeling having friends whom I’ve made through this wonderful world of food over the past years, all gather to celebrate (and for the unlucky few, get roped into kitchen/ door-keeping duties, thank you). I remember Sam, for instance, bringing kegs of his home-brewed “hobby” beer to my birthday party years ago. That night he delivered cases of beers from his craft brewery Pressure Drop, now one of the best in London. “Some things don’t really change,” I remember thinking– as we all swigged bottles of Wu Gang Chops The Tree in between bites of lamb satay dipped in tamarind peanut sauce. I'm not going to bore everyone with details and let photos do the talking this time.

Asparagus with salted egg mayo, caramel pork ribs, cashews roasted with
kaffir lime leaves and chilli, spoons of coconut herb rice, and lettuce cups filled with braised mooli carrots shiitake and fried shallots 

Thank you speeches/ my editor Juliet embarrassing me 

To my mates: Spot yourself (photos of the night by Erik Sellgren)

I can only imagine the feelings a new mother goes through; and while I can hardly compare me writing a book to the miracles of childbirth– I felt very much like a proud mama holding Chicken and Rice in my hands after months of labour (sorry to be dramatic). Later, when I saw my book on the shelves at Waterstones for the first time, I beamed proudly and stupidly to myself– much like a mother would over her toddler’s debut stage performance as a tree I guess.

It’s also the most surreal feeling having other people tag me in their delicious #ChickenAndRiceCookbook dinners on social media– and it’s such a good sort of surreal that I’m going to greedily call for more of you do it if you if you’ve made something from the book, or even from the blog. My editor also wants me to remind everyone that Amazon reviews are very much appreciated.

Same face: Minutes before the launch at Uyen Luu's studio; at Waterstones 

There’s a handful of great media shouts, awkward cooking videos, interviews, cookbook sneak peeks and recipe tips floating around the Internet that I haven’t had the chance to properly share. So here’s a selection of reads, compiled neatly for you to browse lazily through over the weekend:

Cook from the book – loved Juliet's cheeky sub of Fino for Shoaxing rice wine, in the true asian spirit of 'agak agak'


And while this isn’t a recipe blog post I’m afraid, I do have an illustrated recipe for Kai Yaang from the book to share with you all (and recipes/ videos from above). This one is a delicious adaptation of the Thai spit-roasted classic, tweaked for the grey wet British weather and served with a fragrant green stuffing– a killer-breath combination of coriander, garlic, and lemongrass.

To round up the last of the shameless plugs,
Vote Chicken and Rice for Observer Food Monthly's new cookbook award (I know I'm going up against the likes of some ridiculously good authors this year but any votes are greatly appreciated)