Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken

Unfortunately, things haven't gotten better since I last posted about the power of a warm pot of chilli. I've finished one project, but am onto two new ones. It has now even started raining these days and the skies are perpetually grey. There are some things that you just crave when you feel cold, stressed, and blue, and for me, that's usually soups, stews, and my mum's cooking.

When I first came to London, I got pretty homesick in the first few months. My mum used to send me ridiculously large parcels which I complained about because the fact that they were ridiculously large meant that, for her, they were ridiculously expensive, and for me, they were ridiculously heavy (I had to carry them from the post office in the snow). Secretly though, these parcels of love made things just a little better, and though most of the things were pretty useless (she sent me toothbrushes once), some things I've still kept as treasures, one of which is a handwritten list of some of her recipes. Sesame oil chicken is one of them.

Extremely detailed instructions in a mix of Chinese and English, with tons of annotations

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken
serves 2
2 chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks (you can use whichever parts you like, but they must be bone-in)
1 tbsp ginger juice (peel, smash/grate ginger, squeeze. reserve the ginger.)
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce (traditionally brewed and fermented)
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp groundnut oil

1. Marinate the chicken in the ginger juice, sesame oil and soy sauce, for about 1 hr, or even longer.

2. To a medium hot wok/pot, heat the oil, and add the reserved ginger, fry till aromatic.
3. Add the chicken pieces, drained of their marinade, to brown slightly, about 1 min, then add in the Shaoxing wine, followed by the marinade, and cook for a few more min.

4. Add in the water, cover and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Serve warm with rice.

The ingredient list is really simple, just Chinese store-cupboard essentials, and the method's really simple too. But the results are so worth it. While cooking this, the kitchen filled up with the familiar heavenly aroma of ginger, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, and the end results are just as therapeutic- tender braised chicken sitting in that fragrant broth. Thanks mummy (:

Note, you can sub the rice wine for hard liquors like DOM (especially 'warming' and great for post-natal recovery according to traditional chinese medicine, just fyi).

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps

The best part about autumn– other than the excuse to snuggle up in warm sweaters with embarrassing prints– is pumpkin and its many other squash friends. I love how they look and all their cute names: butternut squash, crown prince squash, munchkin (aw, sigh!), kabocha squash. They all taste similar to the normal pumpkin, but with slightly different textures and sweetness.

The kabocha squash is a dull green on the outside, but has a super bright orange-yellow flesh. It's got a really strong sweet flavour, and a fluffy texture in between that of a pumpkin and sweet potato, so it's ideal for this slow-simmered recipe. It's adapted from my mum's recipe i.e. it's really good but also i.e. the proportions are heavily estimated.

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps
serves 2-4
1 small kabocha squash (slightly less than 1 kg), peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup of dried shrimps 
8 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
unrefined sea salt
1 tbsp groundnut oil + 1 tbsp butter from happy cows

1. Soak the dried shrimps in about a 1/2 cup of warm water for 15 minutes before cooking. Drain and reserve the soaking liquid; it will be the stock used for simmering later.
2. Over medium high heat, add the oil and butter. When foaming, saute the garlic and dried shrimps till fragrant, then add the chopped squash. Add salt, cook till slightly caramelised around the edges.
3. Add the shrimp stock, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or till squash is just tender.
4. Increase heat and let the cooking liquid reduce till it's kind of dry and even sticking to the pan a little. 

This looks really plain, perhaps even ugly, but it's delicious. I was sorely tempted to add a few sprinkles of chopped spring onion to make this look less ugly, but really, you don't need anything on this.

All the garlicky, salty, shrimpy flavour is concentrated and absorbed by the sweet kabocha squash. The edges are just coming apart and the inside is tender. Though not much to look at, the mushy bits of mashed up, slightly burnt shrimp and garlic is the best part. I love this with congee, its mild watery sweetness a perfect match to the salty candied starchiness of the squash, but have it whichever way you want, even just as is. 

If you use pumpkin, add a pinch of brown sugar. You can probably use other squashes too, but taste and adjust sugar levels accordingly.
The tablespoon of butter is my own touch– because browned butter makes the world go round. You can just use an extra tbsp of oil, or if good ol' (school) lard.