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.

Savoury Egg Custard (Chawan Mushi) with Kimchi and Chicken

kimchi_chawI prepare Japanese egg custards (chawan mushi) and modify them so often, I was sure I had posted one of the versions earlier this month. Luckily, it was in March, so I hope it’s not too early to talk about them once more. The egg custard I’m presenting today started with a Japanese base, but ended up combined with kimchi. I have read about Korean savoury egg custard (gaeranjim), but have never seen kimchi as its ingredient and, most of all, I have never tasted or made it, so I’m not sure to what extent this dish is Korean… Whatever the country I attach it to, I now consider kimchi among the best ingredients to put into an egg custard.

Even though I prepare chawan mushi also in colder seasons, I do this much more often in spring and summer. Maybe because I’m not Japanese, I consider this dish as one of the best ways to use up leftovers (grilled chicken, mushrooms, different vegetables…) and am rarely disappointed with accidental versions I obtain while cleaning up the fridge. This one was a bit risky and I have put kimchi only into half of the batch, just in case… As in every dish including old, matured kimchi (see Kimchi Fried Rice or Kimchi Canned Tuna and Tofu Stew), its presence ensured an incredible complexity of flavours. The smell was strong (typical of kimchi), the looks were not particularly attractive, but the custards were perfect. I particularly appreciated their tanginess, pleasantly cooling on a hot June day.

A small reminder about chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し), it is a light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in individual cups served both hot and cold. Chawan means “tea cup” and “mushi”: “steamed”. I have never managed to source the ingredients necessary to make the traditional version, so this is how my experiments started. I definitely prefer it made with chicken or vegetable stock rather than the Japanese dashi. (The chicken stock version was suggested by renowned Shizuo Tsuji in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, the source of this custard recipe, so I feel entitled to say this without feeling I spoil it). 

In case you don’t have/like kimchi, here are some other chawan mushi versions I have already posted here:

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

Chawan Mushi with Chanterelle

Chawan Mushi with Chanterelle

Chawan Mushi with Grilled Enringi (King Oyster Mushroom)

Chawan Mushi with Grilled Enringi (King Oyster Mushroom)

TIPS: You can prepare this dish with newly made kimchi too, but it will certainly taste better with at least two weeks’ old one. (I have tested this custard only with Chinese cabbage kimchi, so I’m not sure how other vegetables would behave here, but I guess it’s worth trying!)

As I have mentioned above, I prefer by far chicken stock rather than Japanese dashi, but you can use whichever you prefer. Obviously, homemade chicken stock is the best here since, contrary to more elaborate dishes, you do feel its taste clearly here.

Even though chawan mushi is easier to prepare in a steamer, Shizuo Tsuji’s suggestion to use a water bath in the oven gives excellent results, if you don’t have a steamer. I have been preparing it for years this way before I finally bought a stovetop steamer.

If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. You can also use ramekins or mini-soufflé dishes, tightly covered with aluminium foil.

Chawan mushi can be served with a salad and bread (or rice and pickles) as a light main course, but it’s also a fantastic starter, a delicious breakfast or snack for any time of the day.

Chawan mushi can be reheated in a microwave. Depending on the ingredients it will lose more or less of its flavours, but it’s still delicious and handy as a quick snack or breakfast the following day.

Mistuba is the traditional herb used in chawan mushi. It goes perfectly practically with every version of this dish, but if you cannot get it, use green onion, chives or any fresh herb that you like (or nothing).

A pinch of turmeric is my own invention. It doesn’t drastically change the taste, but it does bring a yellower hue, especially if your eggs are pale.

Special equipment:

individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high, with a 7,5 cm diameter) with lids or without lids + aluminium foil to cover them

Preparation: 45 minutes

Ingredients (yields 4 cups):

4 heaped tablespoons chopped matured Chinese cabbage kimchi (drained)

4 teaspoons of kimchi “juice”

1 chicken breast cut into bit-sized pieces

(mitsuba leaves or green onion or other fresh herbs)

Custard:

2 eggs

300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock or dashithe Japanese stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

(a pinch of turmeric)

Preheat the oven to 220°C or prepare your steamer.

If you use the hot water bath method boil a lot of water and prepare a big baking dish at least as high as the heatproof cups.

Mix the eggs very delicately in a bowl. In another bowl combine the chicken stock, salt (it depends on how salty your stock is), sake/mirin and soy sauce. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.

Divide the kimchi and the chicken breast equally into the four cups. Add the kimchi juice.

Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups (make sure there is at least 1 cm free space at the top because the custards will slightly rise).

Cover the cups with aluminium foil or the lids if you have special cups with lids.

If you use the oven, place the cups in a big baking dish. Fill the dish with hot water (not boiling). The water should arrive up till 3/4 of the cups’ height.

Put the dish in the oven and let the custards bake for 15-20 minutes until they are wobbly but already set.

If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes. Check with a toothpick if the custard is set below the surface.

Garnish with fresh herbs.

Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.

Korean Squid with Smoked Streaky Bacon and an Indian Touch

squid_porkpI grew up ignoring the taste of squid and clearly remember the first time I had it, as an adult. The “honey and garlic” squid was sweet, tender, crisp and I ordered it many times in a Thai restaurant which is now very far away. I fell in love instantly and the older I am, the more I am fond of this humble seafood representative. Several years ago I learnt how to make Korean-style squid with gochujang and it used to be my absolute number one until I made this dish for the first time. My kind friend C. – to whom I will always be extremely grateful  – told me about Spicy Pork and Squid Stir-Fry she saw at Beyond Kimchee blog. Barely looking at the name of the recipe I already knew I would like it. I will not bore you with my detailed impressions. I will only say – having cooked it at least five times in the past month – that while Korean squid alone is excellent, squid with smoked bacon is a truly magical invention.

Apart from the truly revolutionary – at least for me – combination of pork and squid, the presence of Indian spices and of caramel (!) slightly changes the typical Korean flavours, but instead of hiding them, it just adds an additional dimension of flavours. In short, it’s a unique dish for different reasons and an exciting new squid cooking option.

Before I pass to the details, I must warn you that, apart from usual slight modifications of ingredients (and changes making it a dish for one), I have used smoked streaky bacon instead of raw pork belly simply because I had lots of it… (but as a big fan of smoked meats, I loved the result). Moreover, since some time ago I had stopped using curry powder, I replaced it here with a mixture of Indian spices I use to roast chicken breast for example. Needless to say, I strongly encourage you to visit Beyond Kimchee not only to check the original of probably the most original Korean recipe I’ve ever read, but most of all to admire highly inspiring and beautifully photographed Korean dishes you will find there.

TIPS: If you have never cooked squid, but found it always unpleasantly tough and rubbery, there might be three reasons for that: either it was cooked a bit too long or not long enough (the cooking time for squid is either very short or very long, nothing in between!) or… it’s simply not your cup of tea. Many people dislike squid because of its texture – slightly chewy, even if perfectly cooked – but those who love it, usually appreciate it a lot (I do!). Here squid should be stir-fried very briefly, but if you are a beginner, check it every 5 seconds because the timing depends on the thickness or size of the squid as well as the temperature of your pan and it overcooks easily.

Some seasonal suggestions posted at the same time in previous years…

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 big squid

1 small carrot, cut into quarters or thick matchsticks

2-3 thin strips of streaky smoked bacon/smoked pork belly, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small onion, sliced

Spicy sauce:

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon rice wine (I have used sake)

1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon Korean chilli powder (or another medium hot chilli powder)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1 green onion, sliced or the equivalent in chives (this is what I’ve used in the photographed dish)

1 teaspoon sugar

oil

First prepare the squid.

Cut off the squid fins and put them aside.

Cut the squid tube lengthwise in order to obtain one flat sheet.

Check if there are any bones to be removed.

Score it diagonally into a criss-cross pattern (the interior side), then cut the whole sheet horizontally in two. Finally cut the two sheets you have obtained into 2 cm strips.

Do the same with the fins.

Cut the tentacles into bite-sized pieces (I usually cut them in half).

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl.
Fry the bacon pieces in a pan until crisp. Remove the excess fat (or not, if you don’t mind!).
Without washing the pan fry the squid pieces until they start curling.

 

Put them aside.

Wipe the pan (wash it, if needed), heat 1 teaspoon of oil and stir-fry the carrot and the onion.

Put them aside.

Heat the sugar in the same pan and as soon as it starts browning, add quickly all the ingredients you have put aside together with the sauce and green onion.

Heat everything at high heat, constantly stirring.

Serve.

 

Unsweetened Strawberry and Blueberry Mousse

lightmousse2_Setting a mixture of yogurt and fruits with a reduced amount of gelatin was a breakthrough in the sweet part of my cooking. Such a tiny change allowed me to obtain a mousse instead of a hard jelly; I went so crazy about this easy dessert, it has replaced the majority of my rich, high-calorie homemade sweets. I’ve been making its different versions for years (see below) and like it also as an afternoon snack or even a refreshing summer breakfast. Made with a tiny amount of yogurt and no trace of any sweetener, this mousse is particularly fruity and lighter than ever. If both strawberries and blueberries are very ripe, why would one need sugar, syrup or honey? For me it was definitely sweet enough. (If you have guests who like very sweet desserts, you can of course put honey or confectioner’s sugar on the table.)

Here are some other versions of this light summer dessert:

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Strawberry Coulis

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Strawberry Coulis

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Light Blueberry Mousse

Light Blueberry Mousse

Yogurt Mousse with Sour Cherries

Yogurt Mousse with Sour Cherries

TIPS: The amounts of gelatin depend sometimes on the brand. Leaves are sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller,  powdered gelatin sometimes contains other products and doesn’t set as well as pure gelatin in powder… In short, I won’t give you the exact amounts and will only say that the aim here is to use here the amount of gelatin which sets 500 ml/2 cups/about 17 oz liquid. (The whole mousse mixture has more than 500 ml, so the mousse will be firm but not hard).

If you use Greek yogurt, the taste will be sweeter because it’s the least tangy natural yogurt, but I liked it with normal yogurt too.

If you use another gelling agent (such as agar) make sure you don’t put too much. Otherwise you will obtain a hard jelly and not a mousse.

Preparation: about 15 minutes + min. 2-3 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

150 g (about 5,3 oz) very ripe blueberries

600 g (about 21 oz) very ripe sweet strawberries

125 g (about 4,4 oz) yogurt or quark or Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt is the least tangy, so the taste will be sweeter)

the amount of gelatin required to set 500 ml liquid

Wash the strawberries and mix about 90% of them together with the yogurt. You shouldn’t obtain more than 600 ml, so keep on adding more strawberries and mixing until you reach it (it will depend on the juiciness of the fruits).

Dissolve the gelatin according to the package instructions.

Mix well in a blender with the strawberry mixture.

Pour the mousse into serving dishes.

Place equal amounts of blueberries into each dish, reserving 1 flat tablespoon per person to put on top just before serving.

Put the mousse into the fridge for 2 -3 hours.

Serve very cold.

Sakana no karaage (Deep Fried Whole Fish)

pagre3_I have deep-fried whitebait and fillets many times, but doing it with a big whole fish was a new surprising experience. In spite of its unappealing look, the result was utterly delicious. The flesh was soft, juicy and the lightly seasoned skin was a pure delight . (In case you are wondering, I did eat it with chopsticks; they are not for decoration only. One has to practice throughout the year to be a bit less ridiculous during future holidays in Japan…). 

If I hadn’t seen it in Japanese Soul Cooking, I’d have never dared even thinking about deep-frying a whole sea bream. I must say I was really happy I had stumbled upon this recipe. First of all, I realised that a big whole fish ended up less greasy than fillets or tiny fish. Apart from that, I think with this method makes overcooking more difficult (the tendency I have…). In short, if you don’t hate deep-frying, I strongly recommend trying this easy recipe!

The only problem was that the whole fish didn’t fit into my widest pan (and I didn’t want to fill half of my wok with oil!), so I had to cut its tail off…  (I did fry it separately though: I love crunchy fish tail and I would never throw it away). UPDATE: I have had deep-fried red sea bream again today and updated the photograph; this time I have fried it WITH the tail! (the fish was slightly smaller and I have found a simple trick… see the TIPS below).

As usually I have made slight changes to the original recipe, so I encourage you to read it in Japanese Soul Cooking, a highly inspiring cookery book.

The author advises to serve it with grated daikon (white radish), ponzu (citrusy Japanese sauce containing soy sauce; check how to make your own ponzu in Japanese Soul Cooking), green onion and red yuzu koshou (chilli and citrus zest condiment). I served it only with my Europeanised lime koshou, ponzu and lemon wedges and it was a fantastic addition.

I like sometimes to look back at my archives, so I thought maybe some of you might be also interested with what I posted more or less at the same time in previous years:

Deep-fried Tuna with Red Onion

Deep-fried Tuna with Red Onion

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes

Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes

Light Matcha Crème Brûlée

Light Matcha Crème Brûlée

TIPS: If you don’t want to use lots of oil (it will have a fishy smell, so you will be able to reuse it only with seafood/fish), you can try shallow-frying.

If your fish is a bit too long to fit into your pan or wok, either cut the tail (you can fry it together, as I did, if you like crunchy tail, or throw it away) or, as I did the second time, first immerse the tail only in the hot oil; keep the fish tightly with tongs and make sure the tail is completely dry, only sprinkled with spices and flour. The tail fries very quickly, so as soon as it becomes golden, you can immerse the rest of the fish.

If you cannot get shichimi togarashi (7-ingredient Japanese dry spicy condiment), use medium hot chilli powder (though shichimi togarashi is easily found at Japanese grocery shops).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a big main dish):

2 red sea breams (or any other fish you find/like) measuring about 15-20 cm, gutted and scaled

 shichimi togarashi (use only medium hot chilli powder if you cannot get it)

salt

1 tablespoon potato starch

oil for deep-frying

Side-dishes and condiments:

chopped chives or green onion

grated daikon

ponzu sauce

lemon wedges

yuzu koshou (I have served it with Europeanised lime koshou, see the recipe here)

Wash the fish, pat it dry.

Score it horizontally from the head to the tail (2 cuts) and then vertically, cutting slightly on an angle (4 cuts), until you feel the spine. Do it on both sides.

Pat the fish dry once more.

Season the fish with shichimi togarashi and salt, rubbing into the cuts.

Dust the fish generously on both sides with potato flour. Shake off the excess flour, but make sure the cuts are covered in flour too.

Heat the oil to 180°C (about 350°F) or until a small piece of bread stays on the surface and becomes golden without falling.

Fry each fish separately 5 minutes on each side. Then turn it and fry for 5 more minutes.

If you feel 5 minutes is not enough, add 5 more minutes just to make sure it’s fried. Everything depends on the amount of oil, the size of the deep-frying pan or wok and on the fish size.

Put the fried fish on paper towels to drain excess oil.

Serve with ponzu, grated daikon, yuzu koshou (or lime koshou), chopped green onion and lemon wedges.