Category Archives: Asian (vaguely)

Foie Gras (Fat Liver) with Sake and Chilli

foiegras_sake2pNo matter if we have guests or not, fat liver (foie gras) terrine is the only item I cannot imagine my Christmas without. Undisciplined and messy cook that I am, I never manage it to look as good as I’d like,  the shape is never neat and, in general, it’s far from being perfect. I’m sure professional chefs would consider it unacceptable, but I love my homemade terrine and never even think of buying it already cooked. Now is the best moment to plan a trip to a good duck liver supplier, so I thought I’d share with you my most recent seasoning variation, successfully tested and planned for this Christmas too.

Probably because foie gras is expensive, most people (also in France) think it’s very difficult to prepare a terrine, i.e. seasoned half cooked whole liver. There are different methods, such as poaching it rolled into a piece of fabric or cling film, but I’ve always practiced the most popular one among home cooks: hot water bath baking in a rectangular terrine dish. Seasoning options are endless, though most cooks use only salt or some dry spices and/or aromatic alcohols. The first time I made it I was surprised how easy it was, though I had been scared to spoil the whole liver. It doesn’t require any skills (apart from a bit of patience if you have to remove the veins, but nowadays the liver is often sold deveined) and most of the process consists in… waiting, since you need to prepare it several days in advance.

Apart from those who love cooking and experimenting, people often decide to make this terrine at home because the price is about three times lower (and it’s still costly!), so if you have access to the raw or good quality but frozen liver, do not hesitate (I have no experience with goose liver, so I cannot give any advise on it). Disciplined, meticulous cooks will obtain a beautiful visual result even the first time, but since I’m clumsy and don’t care for the visual improvement that much, I only pay attention to the flavours; good taste is all that counts and it’s very simple to achieve.

I like experimenting with new flavours, but since I’m never sure of the results, I always do it with only a half of my liver (or just one, if I buy two). Last year I prepared half with “safe” Armagnac (see below) and half with a slightly risky mixture of sake and powdered chilli, which reminded me a bit of Korean cuisine. The result was moderately spicy and the delicate sake aroma was still recognisable, so this year I’ll repeat this version, but I have already planned a new experiment for the other half of my liver….

If you prefer a more traditional version of foie gras, you might like the Armagnac seasoning:

foie_gras_a

TIPS: 

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones. Try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course, the fresher it is, the better and even famous French chefs recommend frozen product if one is not sure about the raw liver’s freshness because livers are normally frozen the same day the animals were slaughtered. Obviously, it’s better to buy liver from a local producer and if it’s imported, but some countries don’t have the same level of hygiene/quality/medicine use regulations (or simply don’t respect theirs). The difference in taste will be huge. I always try to look for free-range birds, which are force-fed only during last weeks of their lives.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All my tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

The terrine must spend 48 hours in the fridge before being served. This is obligatory: I once tasted foie gras about 12 hours after cooking and it was awful. I already thought I had spoilt it, but it was just too early to eat it…. Both the texture and the taste really improve with time.

Since it’s a half-cooked product, you should eat it in four-five days after you cook it. If you see you won’t be able to finish it, freeze the remaining part whole or in small portions.

Remember, even if you forget a step, even if you overcook your liver or you make any other mistake, don’t despair. It might prove totally edible! You will be able to learn it only after 48 hours in the fridge. I once forgot mine in the oven and was surprised it was actually quite good.

How to serve it? 

Foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. For me the simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as damson jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast/brunch is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, actually prefer it with red wine).

If you don’t like the shape of your cooked terrine or if it falls into pieces, serve it on small toasts as canapés.

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should be ok too)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but it’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver, weighing max. 500g (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons sake (I have used here really cheap sake I use for Japanese cooking – though not the sweet mirin! – and it was perfect)

5 flat tablespoons (or more) powdered medium hot chilli (I have used here Kashmiri chilli) or sweet paprika, if you prefer it mild

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (you can add 5 if you use low-sodium version)

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (10 g/about 2 teaspoons per kilo, since there is also soy sauce)

(some more medium hot or sweet chilli powder to sprinkle just before serving)

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, chilli, soy sauce and half of the sake (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

You may sprinkle it with some more chilli powder just before serving.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Bacon, Shiso and Pepper Rolls

shiso_baconrollsThis year I succeeded to grow my beloved shiso (perilla) from seeds for the first time. After several years of total failure, in spite of different methods, I was quite pessimistic this spring too, so it was a shock to see dozens of seeds germinate and then the majority growing into beautiful big red and green plants (write to me if you also have problems germinating shiso; I’ll give you – hopefully – successful tips). Now, with a jungle of shiso on my balcony, I could enjoy it every single day, if I wanted, and, strangely, I don’t get tired of its beautiful strong aroma. Apart from the dishes I learnt throughout previous years, I obviously experiment and certainly will do it more throughout the summer.

Since shiso leaves are quite big (and can be as huge as your palm, if you grow them on your own), so they are perfect for wrapping around other ingredients and for being a part of different kinds of cute rolls I’m so fond of. This weekend I found some streaky smoked bacon in my freezer and decided to use it with shiso and sweet peppers. Instead of pan-grilling, as usually, I used my oven broiler and it worked even better, allowing me to eliminate more melted fat. Three ingredients, about ten minutes of grilling and the result was fantastic!

In case you wonder what to do with a big bunch of shiso:

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

or maybe some of these….

Vinegar infused with red shiso

Vinegar infused with red shiso

Japanese raw aubergine salad

Japanese raw aubergine salad

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

TIPS: These rolls taste wonderful with Japanese tangy ponzu sauce, but make sure you don’t buy the cheapest brand because the difference is huge. I can also advise my gochujang and sour cream /yogurt sauce, adding a Korean accent, but frankly these rolls are perfect on their own, if you use smoked meat.

The bacon slices must be really thin (like Parma ham), otherwise the rolls might become soft and soggy.

A tip for chilli pepper lovers: put some fresh chilli among the sweet pepper strips.

Preparation:

Ingredients (makes 10 rolls):

10 big shiso/perilla leaves (red or green)

10 super thin slices of smoked bacon

1 big bell pepper

Cut the bell pepper into thin strips and then cut them in two lengthwise.

Divide into ten equal portions.

Preheat the oven broiler or a grill.

Spread a slice of bacon, place the leaf, then strips of pepper and roll very tightly.

Grill on a grill or under an oven broiler or on a pan until golden brown.

Turn once for one-two minutes.

Place on paper towels to remove excess fat and serve as a snack or as a lunch (with rice for example or bread+salad).

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

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

springrolls_cucshisoA plate of raw spring rolls is one of the most cooling, heatwave-adapted meal I can think of, so I make tons of them every summer. My dexterity doesn’t improve in what comes to the aesthetics, but I’m getting quicker every year and spring rolls have stopped being a special time-consuming and tiring dish. Since I treat them as an ordinary meal, I’ve been experimenting a lot with different fillings based on what I find in the fridge.

In recent years I realised I don’t always need glass noodles inside; I simply add more vegetables instead. Such rolls are quicker to prepare and become really super light! Normally I use fresh herbs to add an aromatic touch  but since I have plenty of shiso/perilla on my balcony, this time I used it both as an aromatic herb and also instead of salad leaves. Its slight pungency is particularly refreshing and goes perfectly with cucumber. In short, one more delicious shiso dish to add to my growing list of recipes!

If you look for spring roll ideas, you might like some of these:

Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast, Carrot and Mint

Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast, Carrot and Mint

Soba Noodles and Cucumber Spring Rolls

Soba Noodles and Cucumber Spring Rolls

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

TIPS: Obviously, you can use any fresh herb you like, but avoid those which might be too strong, hiding all the other flavours (I think of coriander, for example; I’d use salad leaves as a second wrapping layer and some coriander leaves only as an aromatic touch).

When preparing spring rolls I usually broil or bake spicy chicken breasts or legs, but you can use leftover chicken from any dish you have made before (if your chicken isn’t spicy, you may add some hot sauce into the rolls).

You can skip mayonnaise if you don’t like it.

I think this shiso and cucumber version goes particularly well with Japanese ponzu (slightly tangy sauce), but you can serve it also with a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil.

You can use both red or green shiso. Green shiso has a slightly more delicate taste.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (makes 10 medium spring rolls):

10x medium rice paper sheets (22 cm)

10 big shiso leaves or 20 smaller

1 small chicken breast, baked, steamed, boiled or leftover from any chicken dish…

10 small shiso leaves, chopped or cut into threads

half a long cucumber

1 big avocado, cut in two lengthwise and sliced

(mayonnaise)

Cut the cucumber into rather thin strips (their length should be equal to the rolls’ length you aim at).

Cut the chicken breast in two horizontally and then into thin strips.

Fill a big wide bowl with warm (not hot) water.

Divide the filling ingredients into ten equal portions.

Dip rice paper sheets one by one in the water, immersing them delicately so that you don’t break them.

As soon as the sheet softens (after about ten – twenty seconds), put it onto a big chopping board.

Place first one big or two smaller shiso leaves in the middle, then horizontally horizontally (at the edge which is closest to you) the cucumber, a piece of chicken breast, mayonnaise, the avocado and finally the chopped shiso.

Roll tightly starting from the edge which is closest to you.

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Serve them immediately as they are or cut in two horizontally with ponzu or with a mixture of soy sauce, chili oil and rice vinegar.

If you wish to serve them later, wrap them individually in cling film or cover them because they dry out very quickly.

Baby Spinach Salad with Sesame Seeds

spinachsalad_Recently I have been leafing through my old recipe notebook I had used for long years before the existence of this blog. I was surprised – and even shocked – to see so many fantastic but forgotten recipes. This simple salad of Asian inspiration is one of the many dishes I regret not having made for such a long time. I have no idea when and where I found this recipe, but I remember I used to prepare it already ten years ago. At the time raw spinach leaves were a completely novelty to me and most people I knew, not to mention toasted sesame seeds or the presence of soy sauce in the vinaigrette. All this made such a salad appear utterly exotic. Nowadays, raw young spinach leaves seem as natural as a lettuce, while sesame seeds and soy sauce have become a staple in my kitchen, but I’m glad I dug out this old recipe because I still enjoy the mixture of flavours as much as I did ten years ago.

TIPS:

When I prepared this salad ten years ago I certainly didn’t have rice vinegar or sesame oil, but since now I use both products regularly, I wanted to see if they would improve the taste. And they did. If you don’t have either of them, use any oil you like and any vinegar you have.

It is very important to toast the sesame seeds just before sprinkling them onto spinach leaves. It improves the flavours greatly and adds a lovely toasted aroma “old” toasted seeds no longer give.

The ratio of the vinaigrette’s ingredients is the one I prefer. Taste it and adjust to your own preferences (obviously, if using normal soy sauce, you might prefer to use a smaller amount).

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

2 big handfuls of young (baby) spinach leaves

1 tablespoon (or more) white sesame seeds (not toasted)

Sesame vinaigrette:

low sodium soy sauce+sesame oil+rice vinegar in 1:1:1 ratio

freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the spinach leaves.

Place the sesame seeds at the bottom of a clean pan.

Warm the pan at low heat and when the seeds start to pop, cover the pan, wait ten more seconds and put aside.

Place the spinach leaves in a big bowl.

Pour the vinaigrette on them and stir delicately, coating all the leaves.

Transfer to a serving bowl.

Sprinkle with freshly toasted sesame seeds and serve.