Chinese food day three – spicy Shanghai noodles

Yes, today is the third day in a row where I am having Chinese food for dinner. Tonight it is noodles again, big fat fresh Shanghai ones that look a lot like Japanese Udon.

The recipe is spicy Shanghai noodles with pork and it pretty simple stuff. Again, there are loads of variations, so mine is a compromise once more.

Instead of pork, you could use thinly-sliced beef, chicken breast meat or, for a vegetarian version, shitake mushrooms.

First, marinate some lean pork, cut into thin strips in a paste made from potato flour and Shaoxing rice wine for about 30 minutes.

While the meat is marinating, cook the noodles until al dente and then drain them and dress then with sesame oil to stop them sticking. This shouldn’t take more than four or five minutes.

For your vegetables you can use beansprouts, julienne carrots, thinly sliced peppers and shredded Chinese cabbage, either singly or in a combination. I am using beansprouts and carrots. I am not sure how authentic beansprouts are in this, but I like them, so they are going in.

You will also need garlic, ginger and spring onions, the holy trinity of Chinese food, light and dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, hoisin sauce and chilli bean paste.

First, get the wok smoking hot and heat up some groundnut oil until hot.

Fry the chopped garlic, ginger and spring onions for around 30 seconds and add in the julienne carrots and beansprouts. Fry for a minute or so longer and then add the pork strips, saving the marinade for later. Keep everything moving around in the wok.

When the pork is coloured and no longer raw, add in a teaspoon of sugar, some salt, two teaspoons of soy sauce (one each of light and dark) and a teaspoon each of hoisin and chilli bean paste. Stir well and add some water to stop it sticking in the wok, if necessary. To be honest, it will probably need it.

In a couple of minutes the pork will be cooked, so then you add in the noodles and reheat them. Finally, thicken the dish with the reserved marinade and serve.

This is a really rich and “meaty” dish, because the sauce is rich and full of umami flavours. I think it is therefore better served as a dish on its own rather than as part of a meal with many dishes.

Shanghai-style rice

There seems to be a fair few variations on this dish, so mine has taken on some ideas from different recipes.

Apart from the rice, I’ve used pak choi, shitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic and Chinese sausage to give a nice variety of textures and flavours.

What you do is cook some plain rice in a covered saucepan and, when it is almost done, put your previously stir-fried extra ingredients on top and allow them to steam while the rice finishes cooking.

Here is what I did;

First, bring some Thai fragrant rice to the boil, uncovered, on a medium flame, with twice the volume of water as rice.

While this is coming to the boil, prepare and cook the vegetables and sausages. Separate the stalks and leaves of the pak choi and cut the stalks diagonally and shred the leaves across. Remove the stalks from the shitake and discard, and slice the caps. Cut the sausages into thin slices.

Heat your wok and add 2 or 3 teaspoons of groundnut oil and get it nice and hot. When the oil is ready, add some chopped ginger and garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the sliced sausage, fry it for a bit and then add the mushrooms and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.

Push the mushrooms and sausages to the side and heat some more oil, if necessary, in the middle. Add the pak choi, stalks first, and then the leaves. Stir in about a tablespoon of light soy sauce, a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine and stir-fry on high heat for 1 minute.

Add a splash of water and simmer for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir a good splash of sesame oil.

Leave aside while the rice cooks.

When the rice comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low. Cover the saucepan and simmer until the rice is nearly done, say for about 10 minutes. When you can see holes in the surface of the rice, put the vegetable and sausage mix on top. Replace the lid, turn the heat to the lowest flame and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.

To serve, stir the vegetables into the rice and fluff it up.

It doesn’t really need anything else, but you could drizzle over some chilli oil for an extra kick. I decided to garnish it with some sliced spring onions.

You could use chicken instead of, or as well as the sausages, or maybe some king prawns.

Seafood with choi sum and noodles

It’s been a while since I posted anything, must try harder!

This dish is based on something I saw on the telly, on a Hairy Bikers in Hong Kong programme.

Theirs was a bit different, so I am happy to claim this as my own.

It has the following ingredients. Note that you can use fresh or frozen seafood, but make sure that if you use frozen it is properly defrosted. Chinese supermarkets are great for frozen seafood.

1 quite large cleaned squid body, scored on the inside in a diamond pattern and cut into pieces
6 or 7 small scallops
12 king prawns, shelled, cut along the back and cleaned
1 pack of fresh Shanghai noodles
1 smallish bunch of choi sum
1 small red pepper cut into strips
1 large chopped clove of garlic
a piece of ginger about as big as the top joint of your thumb, cut into julienne
3 or 4 spring onions cut into small sections on the bias
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine
1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
1 teaspoon of Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
1 tablespoon of chilli bean paste
3 teaspoons of potato flour mixed with water into a thin paste
a tablespoon or two of sesame oil
groundnut or sunflower oil for cooking

First prepare the seafood and set aside. Then, cut the stalks of the choi sum into pieces about an inch long and blanch in boiling water and drain. Wash the leaves and set aside. Cook the fresh noodles for a couple of minutes, drain and dress them with the sesame oil.

Heat a wok on a high heat until smoking and add some cooking oil. When this is very hot add the squid and stir-fry until the pieces roll up into tubes. Remove and set aside. Wipe the wok clean, carefully, and reheat and add more oil.

Keeping the heat high, stir-fry the garlic, ginger and spring onions for about 30 seconds and add the choi sum stalks and fry for a further 30 seconds. Add the prawns and fry until they begin to turn pink. Then add the scallops. They won’t take long to cook through.

Then add all the liquid items and stir-fry until mixed together. Return the squid pieces to the wok with the choi sum leaves, the shreds of red pepper and the noodles and carry on cooking until the leaves are wilted and everything is cooked through and hot. Add the potato flour paste, which will thicken the sauce very quickly and serve immediately.

Chicken and lamb brochettes

Now it is definitely summer, summer food is required. Grilled meats and salads are much more palatable than roasts and slow-cooked dishes. Mediterranean, North African and Middle Eastern flavours and colours seem so much more appealing.

These brochettes were simple enough to do. The lamb ones were made with lamb neck fillet marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, dried thyme and Aleppo pepper flakes and the chicken ones were marinated in rose harissa paste, tomato ketchup and lemon juice.

As you can see, both meats were threaded onto skewers with pieces of red, yellow and green peppers and cooked on a plancha.

They were served with a simple couscous salad. The couscous was soaked in boiling water until fluffy and flavoured with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped mint, golden sultanas and a variety of different types of tomatoes.

Panzanella (well, sort of)

Roast chicken, fried potatoes and panzanella

I don’t usually have the right sort of stale bread to make panzanella, neither do I usually have a glut of tomatoes but at the weekend, I had both.

Panzanella is a bread and tomato salad from Tuscany which uses up stale bread brilliantly.

There seems to be any number of recipes, not unusual with Italian food, but the essential ingredients, apart from the bread and tomatoes, appear to be olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, something salty like capers, onions and black pepper. Cucumber is often included, as are anchovies and peppers, either fresh or preserved in some way.

There is so much variation

I used a mixture of chopped red, yellow and green tomatoes, chopped shallots and garlic, some finely chopped green chilli, chopped pickled mild red peppers, chopped green olives, olive oil and red wine vinegar, which I mixed together with salt and pepper and chunks of stale sourdough bread and left to macerate in the fridge for a few hours before adding a handful of torn basil leaves before serving.

It can be eaten by itself, but I thought that it would be a great side dish for a simple roast chicken and some fried potatoes.

Fings ain’t wot they used to be

Ah, nostalgia, that fuzzy feeling of a past that was simpler, more noble and in every way better than today. Fings ain’t wot they used to be, but, we should ask, were they ever?

All societies seem to have myths of an earlier period, an age where gods walked the earth and where life was better. The Greeks are probably the exemplar of this for Europeans; they described a sequence of five distinct Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age was first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and then (their) present Age of Iron, which they saw as a period of decline.

In every way, the past was seen as better than the dull old here and now.

We seem to be living through a period where nostalgia for a more glorious past is gripping the nation. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and is also the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which marked the beginning of Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy, which led to the final defeat of Nazi Germany.

These anniversaries are seen as being important events in the history of our nation, which they were, but not necessarily in the way that some might imagine. Britain emerged from the Great War impoverished and in debt to the USA and went through a period of soul-searching and political and economic upheaval that left the nation ill-equipped to deal with the resurgence of Germany and the rise of totalitarian governments elsewhere in Europe.

We survived the Second World War and emerged, once again, victorious and even more in debt to the USA.

From then on, Britain found it difficult to maintain the illusion of Great Power status with the demands of our economic position at home.

If we look at Britain in detail, what we see in economic and industrial terms is a constant decline since the last quarter of the 19th century, linked to a parallel slipping away of Great Power status.

Anyway, I am really looking a little bit closer to the present at the moment.

Since 2008, we have seen a period of economic recession across Europe that has brought nations close to economic collapse and has seen an accompanying rise in political movements that are in stark opposition to the European political mainstream. These parties have different agendas that in many ways cannot be reconciled into any kind of common programme, but there are themes that they share; opposition to European integration, distrust of political elites, nationalism, opposition to immigration, anti-Muslim attitudes, distrust of multi-culturalism, repatriation of political power from the centre and (mainly) right-wing populism.

It is my contention that all of these ideas and attitudes are driven by a poisonous nostalgia, a belief in a golden age where each nation was in some intangible way Better Than It Is Now.

The problem is that rational argument cannot defeat nostalgia. People believe what they want to believe, not what evidence tells them is true. We see this in the UK where many voters are turning to UKIP as an alternative to the established parties. Most people don’t actually know what UKIP stands for, apart from getting the UK out of the EU, but that hardly seems to matter. In some way, UKIP represents a Golden Age, when Britain was “free” and bestrode the globe as the victor of Two World Wars (and even One World Cup), and did so without any involvement of foreign Johnnies from Brussels (or Luxembourg) with funny names and dangerous ideas about European cooperation and integration.

UKIP tells us that the UK would be better-off outside the EU. This is, of course, impossible to refute because we do not have a control version of the UK that never joined the EU to compare with, but it has become a very persuasive argument for many people. As far as I can see, it is fanciful nostalgia for a past that never existed. Britain was not a global trading colossus in the decades after 1945 and before accession to the then Common Market. The late 1950s and 1960s saw a series of economic crises in the UK. Living standards declined. I would argue that membership of the Common Market/EEC/EU has been more beneficial to the UK than anyone could possibly imagine.

In any case, this is about nostalgia, not economics. Our current government is nostalgic too. It wants to turn the clock back to the days before the Welfare State, before comprehensive education and before social housing.

Those of us old enough to have lived through those days, or who have parents who did, should be able to see through this particular piece of political conjuring, but do we? Nostalgia is getting in the way again.

It would appear that we want to believe that the past was better, even though the evidence tells us otherwise. Our memories play us false.

There are powerful emotional drivers for nostalgia; fear of the unknown, mistrust of the present, a feeling of being out of control, unhappiness and a dislike of change.

The problem is that those emotional states were always there. I can remember my parents and other adults, in the 1960s, talking about the war years in nostalgic terms. I am sure that during the war, people looked back to an earlier age in similar glowing terms. Mind you, you have to have some pretty powerful issues around change and progress to look back on the Home Front with any degree of fondness.

Immigration is one of the big issues for the reactionary forces we see today, but the issues they raise are exactly the same issues that have always been raised over immigration. Yes, new people arrive, but new people have always arrived. Over time, they end up fitting in. The problem is that the people who instinctively oppose immigration don’t seem to want to recognise this. They just want to oppose it regardless. They are afraid of change and retreat into some nostalgic fairyland.

So, nostalgia. What can I say? I see nostalgia as the most powerful weapon in the armoury of the reactionary, it plays upon fears and allows people to retreat from the present and wallow in some imaginary happy time. The reactionary politicians of today know how this works, they don’t really have to work hard at convincing people. Nostalgia does the work for them. Nigel Farage, the British Pierre Poujade, doesn’t have any answers to the perceived problems of Britain. There is no reason why he should, because the problems are largely imaginary. National problems are themselves an exercise in nostalgia.

Quail biriyani

Surprisingly, there are plenty of recipes for quails in Indian cuisine, and a biriyani seems as popular as anything else.

I’ve written about quails in the past and I think that cooking them with rice is a good way to go, because it stops them drying out.

For this recipe I made a marinade with Greek yoghurt and a teaspoonful each of Kashmiri chilli powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric and ground cardamom seeds, plus salt and black pepper.

I cut the quails in half and marinated them overnight.

Before cooking the rice, I fried the quails in hot sunflower oil until they were coloured on the outside, but not cooked through.

In a separate oven-proof pan, I heated up more oil and frieda piece of cinnamon stick, a couple of dried bayleaves, a black cardamom and four or five whole cloves for a couple of minutes before adding a finely chopped red onion.

When this was coloured and softened, I added in a tablespoonful of garlic and ginger paste and fried this for a minute or two longer and then added in a pinch of saffron threads, salt, black pepper and a curry masala made from a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, a ready-made garam masala and Kashmiri chilli.

Then, once this was frying, I added a couple of diced tomatoes and a measuring cupful of Basmati rice.

Once the rice was coated, I added two cupfuls of hot water and simmered the rice on the hob for a few minutes.

Then, I added the partly-cooked quails and the rest of the marinade, covered the pan and put it in a 150C oven for about 30 minutes before taking it out again.

At this point, the rice was done, so I stirred in some chopped fresh coriander and left it on one side while I boiled a few quail’s eggs.

These were used to garnish the dish, together with more coriander.

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