Thursday, 18 April 2013

VLOG (cringe): Wild Garlic Foraging, and Wild Garlic Fried Beehoon!

There was a 75% chance this post wouldn't be written.

See, on Saturday I went wild garlic hunting. I have always loved the whole idea of foraging, of getting (free) food off mother nature. I've gone on about it beforeI've cooked with weeds before, but I've never really foraged for anything on my own besides the odd summer blackberry. My mum has taught me never to trust strangers, and certainly not to put them into my mouth.

But I did (sorry mum), and hey, I'm alive!

Wild garlic, also known as ramsons, is actually quite easy to identify. A gentle rub of its lush green leaves releases the unmistakeable heavenly (this is subjective) scent of garlic. The tricky part is finding The Secret Location. Chefs and greedy people in general get really excited about wild garlic season, and a bit protective about their 'stash'. I was lucky to get a tip from James (thanks) about A Secret Brook somewhere in zone 4, with "lots of wild garlic and mosquitoes". So I happily set off on my wild garlic mission, half expecting to come back with nothing but a broken foot maybe, given my reputation as a complete klutz, but well, surprise- we managed to lug home a full bag of wild garlic.

Back at Charlene's, we made fried beehoon with wild garlic. Fried beehoon is fried rice vermicelli, perhaps best known in its shocking yellow form in the dish 'singapore fried noodles'-- a dish which I never heard about until I left Singapore. Fried beehoon is probably the inspiration for this bastardised dish, a homely one-pan stirfry done by mums to get rid of leftovers and hungry whining kids. This is singapore fried noodles, the way we really do it at home. Garlic chives or spring onions are often added towards the end for some obligatory greenery and wonderful allium-y pungency. But wild garlic works even more wonderfully here with its delicate taste and silky texture. I've done it before so I know.

I thought I'll do it Mum's way this time i.e. a 30 minute soak in cold water till soft and pliable before frying. (The other way was a parboil-and-steam, more chef-y) Both are good. Done right, there should be no sticky clumps, only loose flowing strands of noodles plump with umami flavour from the shiitake-shrimp stock. And tangled within these strands, will be the crisp beansprouts and tender leaves of wild garlic-- oniony, garlicky and just altogether amazing.

Here's the recipe again, with a few more tweaks.

serves 3-4
200g dried beehoon (thin rice vermicelli noodles)
2 free-range eggs, beaten
2 handfuls of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 handful of dried shrimps
100g shallots, chopped
1 bunch of wild garlic
1 bunch beansprouts
1/2 cup warm water
cold water

2-3 tbsp good dark soy sauce (traditionally fermented)
1 tbsp good oyster sauce (naturally fermented)
unrefined sea salt
LOTS of white pepper
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp lard from a happy pig or groundnut oil

1. Soak the noodles in cold water for 30 minutes, plus minus 10 minutes depending on how thin your noodles are, till soft. Drain, discard water.
2. Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water along with the oyster sauce. You are essentially marinating the mushrooms so they become plump with sweet savoury juices later. Soak the shrimps in warm water for 15 min.
DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER. This shiitake-shrimp-flavoured soaking water will form the most amazing broth for your beehoon to cook in later.
3. Make a thin crepe-like omelette. Beat egg with a pinch of salt and pepper, then pour into a small heated frying pan, let set then flip when golden. Slice into strips. Drain the mushrooms and slice too.
4. Over a medium-hot pan, fry the chopped shallots and shrimps in lard till fragrant, then add the mushrooms, stir-frying for a min or so before adding the soaking liquid, seasonings and plenty of white pepper.
5. Bring everything to a bubbling simmer and then add the drained beehoon, keep jiggling and tossing with the chopsticks* all the while as the thirsty noodles soak up all that delicious broth and finish cooking.
6. Toss in the wild garlic towards the end to wilt. Then add the beansprouts and omelette strips, give a quick final few tosses and dish up. 

*With careful calculations given to avoiding more washing up, you can essentially use that single pair of chopsticks from start to finish-- beating the eggs, frying the ingredients, tossing the noodles, and finally, eating your meal.

And, yes, I made another video. Cringe. I still feel funny (in a not good way) seeing myself on camera, but I thought then that I should make a video in case we die from our foraging adventures.

Related recipes
Fried Beehoon with Wild Garlic (the parboil-and-steam way)
Ginger-Garlic-Spring onion Miracle Sauce (good to try with wild garlic)
Stinging Nettle Saag (more foraged goodness)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Herrings, roasted with hot stuff

As I'm writing this, the snow is falling, not just in little sugary sprinkles, but big white dollops. (Sorry my vocabulary is limited to the edible.) It's April i.e. the 6th month of a painfully long winter. I call this the awkward month. It's when you can't wear five layers without looking idiotic, but can't quite put away your woolly jumpers; when the winter cabbages and roots are getting tired, but the new spring salads are not quite here yet. I wish I had something more green and fresh and exciting to cook with but there's not much that's new on the veg front.

There are, however, some different creatures lying on the fish lady's icy counter at the farmer's market. My latest favourite is herring. It's much like the mackerel and sardine which will only be here in summer (if summer does come) - deliciously oily, healthy, and cheap as chips compared to the more popular, expensive and over-fished cod or salmon. It's great just baked with spices and something sour, but there is something about crispy skin and soft flaky flesh that feels almost essential for an oily fish.

The simplest way to do it is to rub little oily fishes with turmeric and salt and fry them in oil till golden and crispy (see ikan kuning). But the herrings I got were a bit larger and hence trickier to fry whole; also, I had borrowed a pan that looked completely gorgeous and could go into the oven, so it would be a crime not to use it in photos. I roasted them with kaffir lime leaves and bird's eye chillies.

serves 1-2 (depends on how large your appetite/herrings are)
2 fresh herrings
1 lime
6-8 sprigs of kaffir lime leaves
6 bird's eye chillies (less if you're chicken)
big pinch of sea salt
small pinch of turmeric
coconut oil/ groundnut oil

1. To prepare herrings, snip along belly and scrape the guts out. I don't snip the head off because I relish seeing the head on my fish. Run the dull edge of the knife against the skin to remove scales. Wash and pat dry.
2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Season with salt and turmeric, rub especially generously inside the belly.Slice half the lime into thin slices and place inside the belly. I use string to tie the fish up so the lime slices don't fall out but if you can't be bothered, leave it.
3. Add enough oil to cover the base of your gorgeous oven-proof frying pan*. When oil is hot, add the kaffir lime leaves and whole bird's eye chillies to fry. This releases their fragrance/flavour without it being very spicy because the seeds and pith are still contained.
4. Pat fishes fry again (I am terrified of sputtering oil). Slip them into the oil and let it fry till crisp and golden on one side. Chuck the whole pan into the oven to finish it off and get it golden all over, about 5 min, depending on size.
5. Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the lime over. Eat, straight from pan.

*If you don't have a gorgeous oven-proof frying pan, you can use an ugly oven-proof frying pan.
Or, you can roast this in a roasting tray at 200 degrees celsius for 15 min, plus minus,  from start to finish.
Or, you can roast-fry this in a normal frying pan, flipping over after it gets golden on one side, like this. Requires a bit of skill with larger fishes and may result in 6 pieces of herring rather than 2 though.

Midge's herrings were really fresh, caught just the day before, so there was no hint of fishiness, just the delicious rich flavour of the sea beneath their crisp golden skins.  I loved them with that bit of citrusy freshness from the limes and kaffir lime leaves, and chillies of course make everything better. The bonus bits will be the kaffir lime leaves; fried and roasted, they sort of turn into spicy, salty, fragrant leaf crisps. Might even try this with roasted peanuts. Hot stuff for the cold weather.