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.

Roasted Garlic

garlicpHave you ever wondered what to do those with beautiful garlic heads you see in spring on farmers’ markets? Roasted garlic spread is apparently the best when soft young heads are used, so I thought it was the best moment to prepare it for the first time. After reading different – all quite easy and similar – recipes, I finally proceeded in my own way. I had no idea how to handle the heads once they were out of the oven, so I hesitated a bit before squeezing the soft baked flesh onto a piece of crunchy baguette. This is how I discovered one of the most luscious bread spreads I can imagine. Maybe it’s due to young “age” of garlic, but in my opinion the taste mellows enough to recommend it even to those who are not big garlic eaters (though of course, those who hate it, will not appreciate even its wonderful smell).

TIPS: You can also roast “old” dry garlic heads, but the flesh will probably have a stronger taste and maybe you might have to adapt the baking time too.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients:

4 young garlic heads

thyme, salt, olive oil

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Place garlic heads in a baking dish. Cut off their tops, cutting also the tops of cloves.

Sprinkle some olive oil, season generously with salt and thyme and bake for about 40 minutes.

Serve hot with good quality bread, squashing the entire heads to retrieve the soft flesh (you will probably need to sprinkle some more salt on your spread).

It’s best when warm, but you can also serve it cold.

(You can also season it with ground pepper just before serving).

Kohlrabi Saengchae (Korean Salad with Kohlrabi)

kohl_sae_I think I have already mentioned that I grew up eating kohlrabi, but uniquely as a snack. If you have never had it (or if you were unlucky to have it only cooked), raw kohlrabi is a more delicate and juicier version of pink radish. This year I have tried to include kohlrabi for the first time in an actual dish and loved it as a green papaya substitution in the famous Vietnamese salad. I have kohlrabi in my fridge quite often, so I knew there would be a second experiment one day. Kohlrabi replacing white radish (daikon) in a Korean salad or side-dish (saengchae) was not only delicious, but (here I might get angry looks from Korean readers) I actually preferred this version because kohlrabi has a much more delicate taste.

If you have already been in a Korean restaurant, you might have tasted saengchae, fresh spicy salads served in small portions as side-dishes.  Apparently they are served in Korea practically with everything and from my own experience I can assure you that at least this saengchae goes well with anything, of course as long as you like spicy food. Given a relative texture similarity between daikon (white radish) and kohlrabi, naturally I have used the moo saengchae (daikon salad) as the model for this version. I found many moo saengchae recipes on web and in my cookery books, some including ginger or garlic, but finally for this delicate vegetable I chose the simplest one, from my regular Korean cooking companion: Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song. As usually, I have slightly changed the proportions and some ingredients, but I hope it still keeps a Korean touch.

TIPS: If you buy kohlrabi (also called “German turnip” and “turnip cabbage”) for the first time, it looks like a cross between a turnip and a very light green apple. Choose the smoothest one and not too big because it might become tough and fibrous. The smaller it is, the juicier and the crunchier it will be.

This salad keeps very well for about two days in the fridge, so you can make a double portion in advance and add to your lunch box the following day (as I did).

Preparation: about ten minutes+chilling

Ingredients (serves two):

1 medium kohlrabi, peeled

Marinade:

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

salt (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon Korean chilli powder (or any other medium hot chilli powder)

toasted sesame seeds

chopped green onion or chives

1 teaspoon sesame oil

shredded fresh red chilli pepper

Cut the kohlrabi into very fine, matchstick-like pieces (a julienne grating tool is very handy here).

Combine the ingredients of the marinade (sugar, salt, chilli powder and vinegar).

Coat the kohlrabi with the marinade and put into the fridge to chill (this step is not necessary especially if your kohlrabi was already very cold).

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds, chives/green onion, fresh red chilli pepper (I didn’t have it, since its absence in the photograph) and a splash of sesame oil.

Seven-Hour Lamb Roast with Garlic

sevenhl3pMy rudimentary photography equipment requires natural light, so, just like every year, I had waited for long months until days became long enough to feature on my blog also the dishes I eat exclusively for dinner. I was particularly impatient to write about this seven-hour lamb roast, one of the most exciting discoveries not only of the past winter, but of my long cooking experience. The arrival of spring means young lamb’s season and its particularly tender delicate meat made this dish unsurprisingly superior to all the previous winter versions I already considered extraordinary, so now I’m even more eager to share it with you.

I kept on reading about seven-hour lamb roast for many years, but somehow I was put off the long cooking process and the limitation to those weekend days when I was certain to stay at home. Meanwhile, I never managed to get my lamb roasts right: they ended up too dry and slightly tough at the same time. I don’t remember why, but one Sunday I simply decided to give the slow method a go. I added my usual lamb seasoning, briefly browned the meat and then put it into the oven for the whole day. The result went well beyond all my expectations: I had never tasted so amazingly tender lamb! Moreover, it’s so effortless… Now I cannot imagine roasting it in any other way. While I am still fond of briefly grilled rare cutlets, when it comes to roasts, the seven-hour lamb is the incontestable winner.

TIPS: You can use here any lamb cut, as long as it’s not too lean. My favourite are those with bones (shoulder or leg) which largely improve the flavours. Lamb is quite fatty, so I must admit I cut off most of the visible outer fat and, in spite of this, the result is juicy and tender.

Slowly cooked lamb “melts” much more than a quick roast, so you need to buy more meat. Moreover, if you buy meat with bone for the first time, it’s difficult to say how many portions you will obtain. It depends on the size of the bone (I often buy half a leg and if it’s the lower part, it often has more bone…), on the amount of fat, which will partly melt and partly be left aside (see above), on the side dishes (if you serve potatoes and not a salad, obviously you’ll eat much less…), on the starters… and most of all on your appetite! It’s always better to ask your butcher or even safer, to buy more and then reheat the rest another day (it’s delicious warmed and then eaten in a sandwich with chilli sauce/chilli jam – and pickles). 

I always roast lamb in a casserole (aka Dutch oven) which is also adapted to stovetop cooking, but if you don’t have it, brown the meat in a pan and then transfer to a baking dish with a lid.

Most people swear by cooking lamb with white wine, but I have noticed that both red and white wine are good, though I wouldn’t advise very tannic red wine with young lamb’s delicate meat. The wine has to be drinkable, not corked, etc., but keep a good bottle of wine to drink afterwards. (I only drink red wine with this hearty dish).

Make sure there is plenty of liquid in the casserole. The “sauce” shouldn’t be as thick as with a normal roast (in my opinion, it’s best very “thin”…).

This is a highly garlicky and fiery version, so if you are a moderate garlic eater and aren’t used to hot flavours, cut down on both.

Preparation: 7 hours

Ingredients (serves three – four, but the portions depend on many things, see the TIPS above):

1,3-1,4 kg (2.8-3 lbs) lamb shoulder or leg, both with bone (if you buy a cut without bones, 1 kg should be enough, but it depends on many things, see the TIPS above); if the cut is covered with a thick layer of fat, count even 1,5 kg or more

1-2 heads of garlic

a couple of dried red chillies, deseeded

2 glasses (2×100 ml) dry wine (white or red)

rosemary, thyme, powdered garlic, salt, powdered chilli

300 ml (about 10 oz) chicken/vegetable stock or water

I always start by cutting off a big part of the outer meat fat, but you can keep it of course.

Peel the garlic cloves. Take five cloves and cut them into 4-5 thin strips lengthwise. Leave the remaining cloves whole.

Make thin cuts in your roast (lengthwise) and stuff them with garlic strips (do this after each cut, so that you remember well where you did them).

Rub the meat with the spices and leave to reach room temperature.

Heat the oven to 120°C.

Heat the oil in the casserole you will use in the oven.

Brown briefly the meat on both sides at high heat (it’s mainly for aesthetic reasons… otherwise the meat will be greyish).

Pour the wine and quickly put the casserole aside.

Add more spices (I always add some more thyme, rosemary and chilli), some more salt and water or stock.

Throw the remaining garlic cloves into the casserole and the dried chillies.

Cover and leave in the oven for 7 hours.

Check every hour if there is still enough liquid.

After six hours, flip the meat over. Flip it back just before serving.

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

chillijampEven if you have tasted lots of different chilli preserves, pickles, jellies or sauces, you will still be blown away by the extraordinary richness of flavours of this Thai condiment. It is obviously hot, but also smokey, sweet, salty, slightly sour, slightly pungent and, most of all, utterly addictive. At first I wondered why it’s called “jam”, but I quickly understood: as soon as I tasted the first spoonful, all I wanted was simply spread a thick layer of it on a piece of crunchy bread and enjoy every single bite of this astonishing product.

Nham Prik Pao/Nam Prik Pao is a famous Thai chilli paste, available in Asian grocery shops. According to David Thompson (Thai Food), there are two distinct methods to obtain it: grilling or frying and he advises the latter, more versatile, technique which I followed as closely as I could. The presence of dried shrimp, shrimp paste, galangal and most of all tamarind creates an incredibly complex and sophisticated result: sticky, pungent irresistible jam which, according to what I read on different internet sources, is indeed eaten as a bread spread in Thailand. According to David Thompson, this jam can be used as a relish, added to a sour soup (such as Tom Yum Goong), act as a basis for stir-fries and as a salad sauce. I have a friend who uses it all the time, so I’m sure it will not stay forgotten in your fridge. Definitely worth the long cutting and frying process!

I have mixed here two recipes (from David Thompson’s Thai Food and Thai Street Food), slightly changing the amounts of certain ingredients, so check either of these fascinating books to see the original recipe.

TIPS: If you cannot find shrimp paste, skip it. In his other book (Thai Street Food) David Thompson doesn’t include it in chilli jam recipe, so I guess it’s not obligatory, but I preferred the jam with it.

According to David Thompson galangal can be skipped here, but one does taste its presence in the final product and I think it creates and even more interesting taste, so if you can find it, buy it!

If you don’t find dried shrimp, you can easily dry fresh or defrosted small shrimp in the oven set at low temperature.  Check David Thompson’s Thai Food for the exact recipe (that’s what I did and my own dried shrimps were not only ridiculously easy to prepare, but largely superior to the bought stuff).

Tamarind can be bought in different forms: fresh, as a ready-to-use paste or in a square block. I use only tamarind blocks, advised in both Indian and Thai cookery books, so I have no idea how much of it should be used if you opt for the paste instead.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (fills a 200-250 ml jar):

oil for deep frying

150 g Asian shallots (I have used European shallots)

75 g garlic

2 slices fresh galangal

5 dried long chillies (you can use any variety, but I would avoid bird’s-eye chillies or Scotch bonnet or other extremely hot ones)

2 heaped tablespoons dried shrimp

3 flat tablespoons palm sugar

2 cm square of tamarind block

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

Start with obtaining tamarind juice.

Cut about 2 cm square piece of tamarind block and pour 50 ml boiling water over it. Dissolve, stirring with a spoon. Put aside.

After about 15 minutes strain it: you obtain the tamarind juice, aka tamarind water.

Soak the dried chillies in salted water for ten minutes, deseed them (or not, if you want a hotter result) and dry them well.

Heat an empty pan and roast the 1/2 teaspoon of shrimp paste.

Rinse the dried shrimp and dry with paper towels.

Slice finely both the garlic and the shallots.

Heat the oil in a pan and deep fry the ingredients separately (in my opinion the following order is the best): galangal slices, chilli (until it starts looking crispy, but don’t let it burn!), garlic (beware, it starts changing colour very quickly and burns even quicker, so take it out with a slotted spoon as soon as it starts becoming light golden) and finally the shallots until they are golden (this will take a while and you need to do it in two batches at least).

Combine all the fried ingredients and dried shrimp in a mortar and pound them or, as I did, mix them in a baby food processor, adding some oil – as the author advises – to make the process easier.

Transfer the paste to a pan, add several more tablespoons oil and bring to a boil. Add the sugar, the tamarind juice and the fish sauce. Stir for about a minute, taste and adjust the flavours if needed (though it’s difficult while still hot…). Apparently the sugar can easily burn, so don’t heat the paste for too long. Now your chilli jam is ready!

It will keep in the fridge forever (I empty mine in several days…).