Category Archives: Chinese

Chilli Lovers’ Preserving Reminder

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

In many countries imported fresh chilli is available all year round, but the most delicious aromatic local ripe chilli – the best for preserves – is sold only for a limited time. In my part of Europe the beginning of August is the best moment to start thinking about preserving this fresh aromatic chilli, find the most interesting farmer market stalls, check the stock of empty jars, lids and, most of all, make a list of the fiery treats that will fill one’s pantry or fridge this year.

I have chosen here my favourite fresh chilli pickles and condiments, successfully tested every year (some short-term preserves are made even dozens of times a year). All of them are easy to prepare and guaranteed as addictive. Some can become long-term preserves, some keep for a limited time in the fridge. I hope my fellow chilli lovers will find at least one of them worth trying and those who cannot stand the heat might substitute chilli with sweet peppers. Write to me if you have any questions or problems.

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Sichuanese Chicken Salad with Chilli Oil

chickenchillioilI always like being positively surprised by recipes I don’t expect much from, particularly if they are as simple as this one. You steam or boil a chicken breast, slice it, add some green onion, drizzle it with chilli oil sauce and you obtain a light, cooling summer dish with a spicy kick that completely transforms the delicate white meat. When I took the first bite I couldn’t believe such a complex taste can be obtained in such a short time, with so few ingredients and with hardly any effort.

This cold chicken dish that I have allowed myself to call a salad is another discovery from Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, a book written with a huge passion for the culinary heritage of this Chinese region and full of fascinating recipes that always give delicious results. Sichuan Cookery contains several cold chicken dishes and I want to try them all this summer, so I simply started with the first on the list. I have slightly changed the amounts, so check her book to read the original recipe. Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe doesn’t contain lots of oil (I still have reduced the amounts a bit…), but from what I see on internet, this Sichuanese cold chicken is often served literally drowned in oil. If you like this dish more greasy, feel free to adapt the oil sauce’s amount.

TIP: Since my homemade chilli oil (Japanese, but definitely Chinese-inspired Taberu Rayu) is made partly with sesame oil, I have used only chilli oil, but if your hot oil is different, make sure you add some sesame oil too. It makes a huge difference in taste.

If you don’t have chilli oil with sediment, it’s very easy to prepare its simplest version: pour very hot oil (not boiling!) over chilli powder or flakes and let it cool down. The oil with have more taste every day, but you can use it as soon as it is cold.

You can used here either boiled or steamed chicken breast or sliced meat from a whole chicken.

I find this salad very flexible: it is as good served with rice as it is with bread or any carb you choose (cold noodles, tortillas, crêpes…). It works perfectly as a “topping” in a bowl of green salad leaves and as a sandwich filling.

Fuchsia Dunlop says the chicken and onion bits should be equally sized, but as you can see, I haven’t managed to do it.

Since the oil goes immediately down to the bowl’s  bottom and you are left with sediment on top of chicken pieces, I would advise serving this dish on a flat plate or adding oil at the table.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 small chicken breast (boiled or steamed) or the equivalent of parts from a whole chicken, cooled and sliced diagonally

Sauce :

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar (agave syrup or honey)

1 teaspoon chili oil with sediment (but if your oil is without sediment, just use your clear oil)

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (or double the chilli oil amount if it contains sesame oil too)

1 spring onion, cut into bite-sized pieces

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl stirring until the sugar is well dissolved (if using sugar).

Combine the sauce with the chicken and spring onion and serve.

Salt Brine Pickled Chilli (Fermented Chilli)

salt_chillippA big affection for chilli peppers combined with preserving addicition leads me every year to new experiments. Chillies rarely disappoint me and this previous summer’s discovery is no exception. Simply pickled in salted brine, these chillies developped complex flavours and an amazing aroma, proving a fantastic taste-enhancing ingredient in both Asian and Western meals.

Unlike vinegar-pickling, salted brine-pickling is probably the most international preserving method (maybe only drying beats it). Actually, when I saw, in a tv program about Sichuan food, a huge jar of salt-pickled homemade chillies, it reminded me of Polish salt-pickled cucumbers. Instead of looking for a Sichuanese recipe, I simply copied my cucumber pickling method, limiting however the seasoning to salt and garlic. The traditional Polish pickling brine consists of 3 g salt per 1 liter water. This ratio worked perfectly with chillies too. I am not sure if they are similar to pickled chillies used in Sichuan, but they taste so good, I no longer care.

In order to make sure I could “advertise” this recipe, I prepared these chillies last summer. After a week of fermenting process, I closed the jars, processed them in order to halt the fermentation and put into my pantry. They were already delicious after several weeks, but after three months my chillies developped an enticing, delicate aroma (especially compared to the harsher vinegared ones) and a very moderate acidity. They stayed crunchy and of course hot, but their strength was slightly reduced. They were also much more versatile than vinegared-pickled chillies and I believe they can be incorporated – whole or chopped – into different dishes. Since the only seasoning I used is garlic, these chillies go equally well with Western as well as Asian dishes. In short, I am doing a second batch this year and strongly encourage all my fellow chilli fans to give this preserve a try.

Here are some of my other successful experiments with chillies you might appreciate:

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Hot Peach Sauce

Hot Peach Sauce

Hot Pepper Jelly

Hot Pepper Jelly

Green Tomato and Chilli Jelly

Green Tomato and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

TIPS: You can use here any chilli variety you like. I have used red, rather medium hot chillies from Spain (the shop assistants had no clue about the variety). Remove the seeds if you don’t want to increase the hotness level.

Depending on your jar shape you can leave the chillies whole or cut them into pieces. Whole chillies will probably be even crunchier.

Remember to wear gloves while washing and handling chillies.

Salt brine pickling is ridiculously easy but since the process involves a “good” bacteria activity, the hygiene is crucial to avoid “bad” bacteria. Make sure the jars are absolutely clean, wash well the vegetables (also the garlic!) and remember that during the fermenting process all the chillies have to be thoroughly covered by the brine. Of course they will have the tendency to float, so use a cup or a saucer (also clean) or anything heavy and clean to maintain them under the brine.

I have no idea why but the best salt for pickling is supposed to be grey rock salt. I always use this type of salt for all my pickles. I’m sure any other type of salt will be ok, but if you have a choice, try grey rock salt.

If white ‘skin’ appears on the surface of the brine, throw them away. It means something goes wrong with fermentation (air access, products not clean enough, fermentation temperature too high, etc.).

Preparation: 30 minutes + four days up to one week + 15-20 minutes

1/2 kg chilli peppers

1 liter water

30 g salt

5-10 whole garlic cloves, peeled

Wash the garlic cloves and the chillies.

If you intend to pickle whole chillies, leave them as they are.

If you want smaller, ready-to-eat pieces, remove the stems and cut up the chillies into bite-sized pieces, removing as many seeds as possible (unless you want to increase the heat level).

Put the chillies and the garlic cloves into one or several clean jars.

Bring the water and salt brine to a boil.

When the brine is still warm, but no longer hot, pour over the chilli peppers, leaving about 2,5 – 3 cm (about 1 inch) empty at the top of the jar.

The chillies will have a tendency to float, so place a smaller teacup or cup into each jar (the size should be big enough to keep the chillies covered in the brine, but of course it shouldn’t drown). Make sure the brine doesn’t overflow once the teacup/cup or another object is placed to keep the chillies covered in brine.

Close the jars (not too hard, so that you can remove the lid easily).

Place the jars at room temperature, covered loosely with a lid (but don’t close them completely!).

During the fermenting process check every day if the fermenting brine doesn’t overflow.

If it does, remove some of the liquid.

After a week (or less; check after four days and if the water got “muddy” and the smell is pleasantly changed, you can stop the fermentation process), remove the teacups or cups.

If the level of the brine is very low, boil some more water with salt (the same ratio) and fill up the empty space in the jars  with cold brine leaving about 2 cm empty space at the top.

Put the clean lids on the jars and close them tightly.

If you want to keep the jars for a few weeks in the fridge (or maybe more, but I haven’t checked it), skip the following steps. If you want to keep them in the pantry for several months at least, process them as follows.

Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling- water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes if the jars have a 500 ml capacity (about 2 cups). If you use smaller jars (half this size), process for 15 minutes.

Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the pickle and don’t forget to mark the date.

Wait at least a couple of weeks before opening the jars. As do most pickles, this one improves with time.

 

 

White Cabbage Stir Fried with Sichuan Pepper

sichcabpThis dish will tickle your palate, tingle your tongue, put your mouth on fire and awaken you from the autumn lethargy. If you like bold fiery flavours, you will fall in love with this exotic cabbage transformation. It will also convince you that this vegetable is not as boring or humble as it seems.

I bookmarked this side-dish quite a long time ago and was reminded about it only last week when MJ (from MJ’s Kitchen) posted her delightful  Sausage with Cabbage and Onions. The recipe comes from the marvellous Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, a wonderful book I strongly recommend to all the Chinese cuisine fans. Just like all the Ms Dunlop’s dishes I have tested, this was an amazing discovery. It takes only ten minutes (cutting included), calls for very few ingredients and is perfect served with any Asian meal. The cabbage softens slightly, but stays crunchy and, thanks to Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilli and vinegar, ends up as a complex exotic dish, particularly appreciated by hot food lovers.

If you look for other original cabbage recipes, you might like:

Korean Squid with Carrot and Cabbage

Korean Squid with Carrot and Cabbage

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

If you are interested in the Sichuan/Szechuan cuisine, I recommend these (all the recipes can be found in the above-mentioned Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop):

Gong Bao/Kung Pao Chicken

Gong Bao/Kung Pao Chicken

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Sauce

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Sauce

Mapo Dofu (Ma pou do fu, Mapo Tofu) for One

Mapo Dofu (Ma pou do fu, Mapo Tofu) for One

TIPS: Sichuan peppercorns are not related to black pepper, have a completely different taste, aroma and cannot be substituted by anything. They are sold in most Asian grocery shops and look like very dark red or brown small husks.

Black Chinkiang vinegar can be replaced with malt or balsamic vinegar, but if you have an Asian grocery shop nearby, do buy it. It has a unique taste and aroma.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish or four if you serve several side-dishes):

1/2 small white cabbage

1 flat teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns

5-6 dried chilli peppers, broken into pieces or whole, if you prefer

salt

2 tablespoons black Chinkiang vinegar (can be substituted with malt vinegar or balsamic vinegar)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Cut the cabbage into squares or slice it.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan or wok.

Fry the Sichuan peppercorns and the chillies on medium heat until they become fragrant (about 30 seconds).

Add the cabbage and stir-fry for 5 minutes.

Add the salt, stir-fry for one more minute.

At the end add the vinegar and the sesame oil.

Give the dish a last stir and serve.

 

Pork Tenderloin Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

tenderloinsoypHave you ever had Short Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise? It’s my favourite way to prepare ribs and also one of the best Chinese dishes I have ever had. Simmered for long hours in soy sauce seasoned with star anise, garlic and cinnamon, they end up falling off the bone, covered in a sticky thick fragrant sauce… In short, a pure delight. You might ask: why fiddle with such a perfect dish? Most of all, to be able to enjoy something similar as often as I wish, without feeling guilty. The other reason is the difficulty to get good quality (read: not antibiotic-pumped) pork ribs because they are not popular here and the better the meat quality, the less cuts are on offer.

Faced with such limitations, I have started to experiment with different leaner and/or more accessible cuts with not completely satisfying results until I tested tenderloin, which proved perfect because it is easy to find, lean and not too dry, even after one hour of simmering. In this particular case the only imperfection is the lack of gelatinous natural thickener for the sauce. Corn flour (aka corn starch), incorporated at the end, was the perfect solution to this problem and the result was just what I had aimed at. I was able to indulge into this marvellous, comforting, fragrant dish without feeling guilty (which doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the full-fat spare-rib version which remains a rare treat). Accidentally, this version is much quicker than the original one which requires about three hours.

The original recipe was taken from “Le Tour du monde de la cuisine. Chine” (China (World Food)) by Annabel Jackson (I’m afraid no longer sold anywhere online).

If you have never had the original version made with pork ribs, I strongly encourage you to try it first:

Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

This has got nothing to do with this particular dish, but I wanted to share with you some hilarious photographs of English mistakes in restaurant menus. I have stumbled upon them on the Telegraph website. Some have really made me cry… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/6193716/Sign-Language-special-restaurant-menus.html?image=1 (Click at the right arrow to see the following photograph.)

TIP: It is very important to use both kinds of soy sauce: the dark one and the light one. They are both sold in every Asian shop and keep for eternity out of the fridge. The dark soy sauce is thicker and is almost black.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two – three): 

500g/about 1 lb pork tenderloin cut into rather big but bite-sized pieces

3 tablespoons dark thick soy sauce

1 whole head of garlic (or more if you are a big garlic fan)

2 tablespoons oil or pork fat

1/2 stick cinnamon

2 star anise fruits

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

175 ml water

2 tablespoons cane sugar (or 3 sugar cubes)

1 slightly heaped tablespoon corn flour (corn starch)

Marinate the tenderloin pieces in dark soy sauce for at least 20 minutes (you can leave overnight too).

Peel the garlic head, separate the cloves, but don’t peel them.

Fry the garlic cloves until they become golden.

Add the cinnamon, the star anise, stir fry for one minute.

Add the pork and let it brown a little.

Pour the light soy sauce, the water, add the sugar and let the dish simmer uncovered for about 1 hour (or more) until the sauce reduced to the required amount (you can increase the heat to accelerate the process). At the end mix the corn flour with 4 tablespoons of cold water and, constantly stirring, incorporate into the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens.

Serve with rice or bread and pickles.