Monday, 30 September 2013

Recipe: Duck Dim Sum

I've probably mentioned before my love of dim sum. I adore pretty much any type of food that involves a little bit of everything, whether it's called a picnic, a smorgasbord, a tasting platter or an antipasti selection. I am irritatingly indecisive when it comes to food, so it's not really a surprise that I am a fan of   being able to avoid it.

One of the best things about living with my old flatmate was that we'd regularly share meals. She is just as indecisive as me and always game for trying something new. We still tend to get together over food - chatting and catching up while cooking together, or trying a new cafe or restaurant after work. It just so turned out that neither of us had plans for Saturday night, so we decided to resurrect the old tradition of food and a film. Dim Sum was suggested, and we thought we'd venture out of our comfort zones and attempt to make our own dumplings.
A note for the purists - I have no idea how "authentic" these are. They're probably more like a cross between a Chinese guoti potsticker dumpling and a Japanese gyoza than a true version of one or the other, but either way they were delicious, and incredibly easy to make.

Most of the ingredients are fairly easy to find in large supermarkets, with perhaps the exception of the wrappers. I found these in the frozen section of my local chinese supermarket. We bought both the large square ones and the small round ones. If you can, get the latter as they're much easier to seal the filling in. We used a food processor, as it was infinitely easier but if you're desperate you could dice the meat very finely into very small pieces with a large knife - or you could use high quality pork mince.
Duck Dim Sum Dumplings
Makes 35

2 duck breasts, or 3 thighs
3 spring onions, or half a leek
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
1 teaspoon ginger
1 medium hot chilli
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely diced
1 generous tablespoon hoi sin sauce
1 egg
pre-made dumpling wrappers
oil, for frying

Skin your duck breasts or thighs and remove any visible fat. If you're using thighs, pull off all the meat, leaving behind the bone, tendons and any sinew. Chop into rough pieces, and pop into the food processor.
Chop up the spring onions or leek into thin rounds, and add those in to the food processor - blitz with the duck for a few seconds, until the duck is starting to become like mince in texture and the leek is finely diced.
Add in the remaining ingredients - except for the wrappers or oil - and blitz again to mix through.
Next up: the assembly stage.
Place your wrapper onto a nonstick surface. Using two teaspoons, place a small amount - about half a teaspoon - into the centre of the wrapper. Dip the end of your finger into a mug of water and run it around the edge of the wrapper - that will help it to stick together. Fold the circle over into two, to make a half moon shape, and squeeze the edges together. Set aside and repeat.
To cook: there's a couple of ways to cook them but I find using a really good non-stick frying pan or wok with a lid (you could improvise with a wooden chopping board if needed!) is easiest and reduces likelihood of them sticking as they steam.
Heat up a small amount of oil - about half a teaspoon, tilting the pan so that it covers as much of the surface as possible.
Using chopsticks or tongs so you don't burn yourself, add the dumplings to the pot. Move them around a little so they don't stick, then fry for a minute. Carefully - throw a cup of water into the pan. It will sizzle and spit. Allow the dumplings to steam for 2 or 3 minutes with the lid on (add more water if needed) before removing the lid and boiling the water off. They will start to stick to the pan once cooked, going crispy on one side. Don't let them burn!
Best eaten straight away, but if you need to keep them warm while they are batch cooked, keep them on a hot plate in an oven at it's lowest temperature.

Serve with a dipping sauce made of half rice wine vinegar, half soy sauce, with garlic and fresh chilli to taste.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Recipe: Pea and Ham Hock Soup

I love Autumn. It's my favourite of the seasons: knitwear, boots, colourful trees, fireworks, and the promise of Christmas when it turns really cold. What's not to like? Mostly though, it signifies the start of Proper Food. I'm not a salad girl (I like my carbohydrates) and I love a comforting hot lunch on a blustery day.

This soup is a perfect autumn comforter. Ham hocks (or houghs) are incredibly cheap, mostly because they are time-consuming to cook. They've fallen out of fashion because of their association with poverty food, but like so many cheap cuts of meat, they're full of flavour. Mine was under £1.50 for an outdoor reared one (I'd strongly suggest getting a British outdoor reared, free range or organic one if you can - partly because of welfare standards, but partly because you really do want something with a high meat content for this recipe). I've adapted this recipe from half a dozen variations. If you can't be bothered faffing with the hock to make stock, then you could miss out that step, and use good quality liquid ham stock and rashers of bacon or diced gammon. If you have a slow cooker though, it's especially worth the effort, as it would quite happily bubble away overnight.
Pea and Ham Hock Soup

For the stock:
1 smoked ham hock
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
a bouquet garni (if you have any handy)

For the soup:
10g butter
1 diced clove garlic
1 finely chopped large onion
2 diced carrots
400g dried split peas
1 litre fresh ham stock
175g ham, finely diced 

To make the stock:
Soak the hock for about 12 hours, or overnight in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if you can. This will help to draw out some of the saltiness from the smoking. 
Roughly chop the onion and two carrots, and add to a large pan.
Add in the ham hock, bay leaves, peppercorns and bouquet garni and cover with fresh cold water, about 2.5 litres.
Bring to the boil, skim off any froth, and then simmer for an hour. Make sure that the hock stays covered, adding more water if needed (if you have a slow cooker, this would be great to do overnight).
Drain, reserving the liquid. Cool at room temperature until it stops steaming, then refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or overnight).
Allow the ham hock to cool to holdable temperature, before picking off the meat and setting aside. Discard as much fat as you can, along with the skin.
When the stock is cold, skim off the fat and strain before use.

To make the soup:
Rinse the split peas (check that the packet doesn't require overnight soaking - mine didn't but some apparently do).
In a large pan, melt the butter, and fry the onion, carrots and garlic. 
Mix in the split peas, and cover with stock. 
Bring to the boil, and simmer for an hour until the peas are soft and starting to break up. You may need to add a bit more hot water to keep the peas just covered.
Take off the heat and allow to cool before blending until smooth. You will need to add more water as you continue to blend - it's a matter of preference how thick you want the soup, but add the water slowly, blending to mix it in before adding more.
Mix in 125g of the ham to the soup and bring back to the heat.
Serve with a sprinkling of the remaining meat, freshly ground pepper, and crusty bread and butter.