It’s been almost two years since I’ve written a blog post. Where did that time go? I have my excuses. With Shane and Shan relocating from China to Ireland, weekends have been dominated by spending time with Dermot, now aged 4, and his little brother Conan just 9 months old. It’s hard to find time to blog when two little ones are careering around the house, even if Dermot is a willing sous chef and loves to help his Nai Nai cook. Yes, beyond my wildest imaginings, Dermot loves to hop up on a step beside me or his Mum and have jobs to do. It’s not just Chinese food he loves, it’s the magic of making pasta from scratch, the fun of identifying different herbs and spices, the pleasure of seasoning a dish from a height and maybe, sometimes, there might even be dessert…
Meanwhile in Australia Caitlyn is 22 months old and her baby brother is due to arrive around her second birthday. To her I’m “Granny” at the end of a FaceTime connection or for short joyous visits here in Dublin or in Sydney. Being a long distant grandparent never gets easy but it has it’s wonderful moments.
And then there was the “grand projet” – after over 30 years of trying to cook in a cramped kitchen space we finally bit the bullet last June and extended the back of the house to create the kitchen of my dreams. So after 5 months of living in “a squash and a squeeze” while the building works were underway, I now have my island, a gas wok burner, a walk in pantry and a lovely light airy space in which to rediscover my cooking mojo. It’s also a wonderful communal space where several of us can prep and cook food side by side or where Shane and Shan and other family members can gather on stools to chat over a glass or two while I cook. Sometimes I just hand over the cooking to them and wait happily for it to be served.
I had almost given up on writing but for the occasional nudge on line or in person from those friends who still dip into this blog from time to time and enjoy the recipes. You know who you are. Thank you for your patience. And then over the Chinese New Year I attended a masterclass in Chinese cooking by Kwanghi Chan and Mei Chin of slaintchi.com in Cooks Academy and I was bitten by the bug once again.
So below is a recipe for Three Cup Chicken that I served as part of Dermot’s 4th birthday meal earlier this month. I first tasted a variation of this dish in a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Sydney and since then I’ve been trying to track down an authentic recipe.
I asked my daughter-in-law Shan to trace the origins of the dish. The oldest and slightly gruesome version of the story links the recipe to Ningdu in Jiangxi Province and relates to a Chinese national hero, Wen Tianxiang, a general in the late Song Dynasty (960AD – 1279AD). According to the story, General Wen was captured and imprisoned due to his efforts in fighting against the Mongolian invasion. An old lady came to visit General Wen when she learnt he was about to be executed, and she only brought a clay pot, a chicken and a jar of rice wine with her. One of the prison guards was impressed by her compassion and let her visit the General. In prison, she set up a small fire and cooked the chicken with the 3 cups of rice wine in the clay pot with low heat for two hours. Later General Wen was beheaded.
When the prison guard retired and returned to his hometown Ningdu, he cooked the chicken dish on each anniversary of General Wen’s passing, however he changed the recipe from 3 cups of rice wine to 1 cup of wine, 1 cup of lard and 1 cup of soy sauce. The dish became famous over they years and was nominated as one of the main dishes during the 2008 Beijing Olympic banquet.
Nowadays there are many variations of the recipe and the most modern include some or all of the following ingredients – rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil (instead of lard), sugar, ginger, garlic, spring onions, dried chilli and thai sweet basil. Over the years the Taiwanese seem to have made the recipe their own and I suspect it was they who introduced basil into the recipe.
I found a few recipes on line and adapted them to produce a Shananigan’s version for Dermot’s birthday dinner. It may not be authentic but it follows the wonderful Chinese tradition of adapting recipes to the ingredients at hand. One of the great joys of this recipe is that it can be cooked a little more slowly than stir-fry dishes and let simmer gently while you get on with preparing the rest of the meal. It’s not a particularly spicy dish so it suits young palates and the dried chilli can be reduced or eliminated to taste. It’s a very easy supper dish that’s packed with flavour despite its few ingredients.
I used boned out chicken thigh and leg as I prefer the flavour, moisture and tenderness of the leg meat but you could use breast meat (which I find can be dry). As I couldn’t get hold of thai basil that weekend, I used ordinary basil. The whole garlic cloves add a delicious sweetness to the dish. I don’t normally cook with sesame oil – I just use it for seasoning as it has a low burn point – but if you don’t let the heat get too high it gives a subtle nutty flavour to this dish which I loved. Three Cup Chicken – San Bei Ji
Serves two as a main course or four as part of a multi-course meal Ingredients
450g boned out chicken thighs, skinned and chopped into bite size chunks
3 tbs toasted sesame oil
A thumb sized chunk of ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
4 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 2 cm pieces
3 or 4 dried chilli peppers crumbled
1 tbs sugar
½ cup Shaoxing rice wine
¼ cup light soy sauce
a bunch of Thai sweet basil or fresh basil leaves.
Heat a wok over medium/ high heat and add the sesame oil. Allow it to reach the point where it shimmers but doesn’t smoke.
Add the ginger, garlic, spring onions and chilli pepper and stir-fry for about 2 minutes until the aromas are released.
Push these ingredients to the side of the wok and add the chicken pieces, allowing them to sit and sear on one side for a minute before stir frying for 5 or 6 minutes until the chicken pieces are browned and just beginning to crisp on the edge.
Add the sugar, rice wine and soy sauce, stir to combine and bring to simmering point where the sauce is just beginning to bubble.
Lower the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Turn off the heat. Tear in the basil and stir it into the dish. Serve with rice.
It’s a girl! No not the gorgeous little princess born this weekend on the other side of the Irish sea but our very own Caitlyn Alice Bloor, our Katy, who arrived in a hurry four weeks ago today making an unexpected entrance into our world. Her early arrival in the suburbs of Sydney deprived her Mum, my daughter Claire, of pre-natal maternity leave and some much needed sleep but spared me three weeks of fretting, jumping at every phone call and wondering if every silence longer than 24 hours meant that something was stirring.
It’s a surreal experience when your daughter, your first born has her first born and a daughter of her own on the other side of the world. It brings up every memory of those early tentative days of motherhood, the nervousness and the joy, the exhaustion, the fretting and the wonder. More than 35 years dissolve into a rush of vivid memories of those first six weeks. Suddenly dislocated from the world of work into the foreign and at times lonely territory of being a beginner again with no script to work from, no “how to” guide that really prepares you for the challenge no matter how much you have longed for it, no matter how competent you have been in your professional career, no matter how supportive your partner. The powerful rush of love that sometimes comes like a thud to the heart and sometimes sneaks up on you over days or weeks until this little person feels as if she has always been there and you know she will never again be far from your thoughts.
Distance makes it all the more surreal, especially when this little girl has quite literally peopled your dreams for so long so that you felt you knew her before she was born, even before she was conceived and were so utterly certain she would be a girl that you feared how you might react if you were proved wrong. And yet you don’t know her. You’ve studied her photos, several a week, noticing that she is already beginning to lose the sleepy, new baby look. You’ve tried to make “conversation” with her on FaceTime realising that she can’t yet focus on your face on a screen but watching the way she tilts her head towards your voice, hoping she will recognise that voice when you get to hold her at last. And in some ways you are still more focussed on your daughter and all the new experiences she is going through than on this little person who is not yet quite real to you because you haven’t felt her slight weight against your shoulder or smelt her milky breath or the scent of the soft folds at the nape of her neck.
And so for the second time in a little over two years you pack your bags to traipse across the world to meet a new grandchild. You are a little bit wiser and more confident now that you’ve learned how to get to know a toddler grandson through FaceTime and intermittent holidays in a way that has provided the basis for you and Dermot being devoted to each other now that he is living just down the road. You are a little bit less of the rookie NaiNai and ready to be a Glammy Granny to a little girl. But still you are filled with nervous anticipation about how you will form a relationship with her.
Into your bags go a suitcase of gifts for Katy. Family and friends are unable to resist the urge to press a bit of pink or strong, vibrant colours, into your hands – “just a little something, it won’t take up much space”. And then there are the books because every child needs books and their parents need them to lull themselves and their baby to sleep long before she can understand the words.
Katy herself hasn’t had her big reveal yet. Her parents have her cocooned in a social media free zone, keen to keep her digital footprint to a minimum in these early weeks. Maybe if I ask really nicely they will let me share a photo when I finally get to meet her in person.
We arrive in Sydney at the start of next week just in time to take a little of the pressure off Claire and Mike, at least in the kitchen. I will travel armed with a folder of laminated recipes, some from the blog, some from Shan, some from favourite cookbooks. Since Dermot and I started baking together every weekend, I’ve been revisiting some of Claire and Shane’s childhood favourites – the taste memories of school lunches and the kitchen scents of batch-cooking weekends. I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of working with yeast and these yeasty granary baps made with a mix of spelt flour and barley and rye granary flour taste every bit as good as they did 30 years ago. I visualise myself serving them up to Claire for lunch filled with good things while she curls up on the sofa feeding Katy, passing on to her through Claire the nourishment and the traditions from one generation to the next in that most essential of ways, the making and breaking of bread. Granary Baps
Makes 16 Ingredients
450g granary flour
450g spelt light or wholemeal flour (or a mixture of both)
2 tsp salt
4 tsps fast acting dried yeast
300 ml warm water
300 ml warm milk
2 tbs malt extract
2 tbs sunflower oil
Spelt wholemeal flour for dusting
Mix the flours, salt and yeast together in a bowl.
Add the warm milk, war water, malt extract and oil to the flour and mix to a soft dough.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes until smooth and elastic. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place such as the hot press for about 1½ hours until it has doubled in size.
Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface, punch it down. Knead it again for a few minutes and divide it into 16 pieces. Knead each piece into a ball then roll it into a 10 cm round and place on a floured baking sheet leaving plenty of space between them.
Cover each baking sheet with a light cloth and put in a warm, draught free place or back in the hot press to rise for about 30 minutes until they have doubled in size.
Meanwhile heat a fan oven to 220 degrees C. Dust the tops of the risen baps with a little flour. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until they sound hollow when tapped underneath. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
It’s a waiting game now, waiting for grandchild number two to arrive in Australia as Claire spends her last few days in the office and prepares for what she hopes will be a few weeks of rest and calm before the onslaught of her baby’s arrival. We don’t know if its a boy child or a girl child, nor do we care. I just long for her to hold this much longed for baby safely in her arms.
I’ve never felt the distance between us so keenly; not during her first J1 Visa trip to the USA when I cried to her the night before she left (much to her amusement) over my lingering guilt at missing her first ballet display; not when leaving her behind in a dodgy apartment in London which we she shared with strangers and we had helped her clear of the detritus of other’s lives with many trips to the local tiphead; not when gulping back tears and fears after we waved her and Mike off on their round the world trip of a lifetime; nor wondering what she was doing or where she was at a given moment somewhere in the remote reaches of India or Cambodia or Vietnam; not when saying goodbye to her and Mike after our first visit to them in Sydney content that they had truly found each other in their quest for adventure in their lives and relieved that they would stay in one place for awhile, a place I could visualise in my mind’s eye, even if it was on the other side of the world; and certainly not when, six years later, celebrating their Australian citizenship from afar with pleasure and pride in the lives they have made there and that rueful awareness that our lives will be forever full of joyous reunions and tearful partings.
Nothing compares to this, this waiting game – the memories flooding in of her own arrival in this world; the visceral need to be there with her in spirit as she encounters motherhood for the first time; the vivid recall of driving home from The Coombe Maternity Hospital with her tiny, beautiful, swaddled and oh so dependent in a moses basket on the back seat of a mini and mine, mine, mine – mine to love, to worry about, to marvel at, to have an extraordinary mother daughter bond with for the rest of my life. Mine and yet not mine, very much her own person. About a year ago she sent me Tina Fey’s beautiful poem “A Mother’s Prayer for her Child” and I read it often these days, halting at the line “for Childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day. And adulthood is long…” Be safe Claire and Bump and Mike. And Bump… now we just want to meet you and get to know you.
Somehow spending more time with grandchild number one – Dermot – is making the waiting and the distance both easier and harder. Easier because the fun of being with him several times a week is a joy completely unlike my recollections of early parenthood when the worries, insecurities and juggling of home and work life overlaid the unbridled pleasure of watching them grow and learn. If I could have scripted Dermot like a character in a novel when I started to write this blog nearly three years ago he would have had a love of food and cooking. But I dismissed that a wishful Nai Nai thinking, half expecting him to be the kind of child who would be picky about his food (like his Dad was!) and not in the least bit interested in goings on in the kitchen.
And yet… nature and nurture will out in strange ways and here he is, not long turned two, liking nothing more than pulling his little step to stand beside me at the butcher block and make cookies or help prepare dinner. Well ok cars and buses and trucks and bikes and aeroplanes and anything with wheels are this budding little master chef’s other preoccupations. But we’ve taken to having Nai Nai play dates once a week which consist of him “helping” me cook or bake. So far we’ve made ginger biscuits, flapjacks, prepared meat for the big green egg and filled turkish stuffed peppers. And at home with his Mum and Dad he has made bread from scratch and pizzas and cookies. For a little guy that rarely sits still for an instant when awake, his concentration in the kitchen and the precision of his movements and his glorious are a marvel to behold. He rushes to the door in glorious, garbled excitement to tell him Mama and Dada in his own unique Chinglish what he has just made. He even enjoys washing up, making sure every piece is thoroughly rinsed and clean before it it placed in the drainer. Ah well, what child doesn’t love the chance to play with water with adult approval. Let’s call it productive play rather than child labour!
While he busied himself with washing up our baking trays yesterday, I put together this fast beef curry for his Mum and Dad and Derry who were battling April showers on their way home from the city centre. My Twitter friend Siobhan sent me the recipe which she learnt recently on a visit to Gioan Cookery School in Hoi An, Vietnam. These days I’m constantly looking for new ideas to tickle Shan’s Asian tastebuds with echoes of her Chinese home but something a bit different going on with the warming spices of India and Thailand and the lemon grass tang of Vietnam. This quick and easy week night recipe certainly hit the spot on a wild and windy first day of April. Siobhan tells me that it tastes even better on day two – ours didn’t last long enough for me to find out. Thank you for sharing Siobhan and Claire I look forward to cooking it for you soon on a winter’s day in Sydney. Gioan Vietnamese Beef Curry
Serves 2 to 3 as a main course or 4 as part of a multi-course meal Ingredients
Slice the beef very thinly across the grain (you will find it easier to do this if it is chilled or lightly frozen) and mix it with the marinade ingredients.
Set the marinaded beef to one side for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Chop the onion into large chunks, thinly slice the carrot, slice each mushroom into thick slices.
Heat a tablespoon or two of cooking oil in a medium hot wok. Add the onion, carrot and mushroom and stir-fry for about one minute until softened.
Increase the heat, add the marinated beef and stir-fry for about one minute until the beef changes colour.
Add the boiling water and peas and allow to cook for about 2 minutes over a high heat until the sauce thickens and reduces slightly.
Serve with boiled rice.
Notes and options
Siobhan prefers to make this recipe with thinly sliced chicken fillet which is equally delicious.
Her recipe specified the smaller quantity of vegetables. I doubled the amount to cater for Chinese and our tastes. Go with your instincts, just don’t overcrowd your wok. Mushrooms are optional.
Tinned tomatoes or tomato puree or paste can be substituted for fresh tomatoes in the marinade.
I used Thai red chilli paste and organic vegetable stock. Use what ever you have in your store cupboard. I will also try this recipe with coconut milk instead of condensed milk to see what impact that has on the Thai/ Vietnamese flavours and to cater for dairy free preferences.
My daughter in law Gao Shan and I have a good thing going on now that she’s my neighbour down the road in Bray. At least once a week she cooks a meal for us in her house and at least once a week I cook for her, Shane and Dermot. While I experiment with new banneton baskets and shawarmas, she cooks wonderful Chinese meals for us and increasingly tries her hand at preparing western dishes. Meanwhile Dermot wanders around under all our feet, “helping” and giving his two year old views on hao chi – good food. He is already a determined carnivore and has become fascinated with my Big Green Egg, helping me sprinkle rub on cuts of meat, salivating as we check at regular intervals to see how the internal temperature is coming on and proclaiming that the Egg is “hot”. He loves his “big egg”.
Last Friday night Shan served us a fabulous dinner of a starter of grilled prawns with mushrooms followed by a main course of spatchcocked quail to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I have never attempted to cook quail – I’m a bit squeamish about the finicky work of preparing them – but Shan found information on line that taught her how to do it and the result was delicious. I wondered what to do for a reprise.
The glorious weather over the weekend encouraged me to fire up the Big Green Egg again and try out my Chinese take on pulled pork on her. Although pulled pork had taken off among the ex-pat community in Beijing before they left, this was the first time Shane and Shan had tried pulled pork cooked at home and served with Chinese pancakes, apple sauce and hoi sin sauce. They and Dermot gave it an overwhelming seal of approval. Dermot seems to have decided that apple sauce is his new favourite thing.
I’ve finally cracked the secret of cooking pulled pork – low and slow for about 9 hours and the time it takes is so worthwhile. You will find my recipe for Duncannon pulled pork and the story behind it here in the blog archives. Yesterday I didn’t bother with injecting the meat but the five spice rub and spritzing it frequently with the apple juice and cider vinegar spray infused the pork with plenty of melting flavour. A €12 shoulder of pork cooked like this goes a long, long way.
We were wondering what we could do with the leftovers and Shan suggested that I could use them in a variation on my recipe for duck spring rolls. So that is just what I did. Although tired after a long day at work, I enjoyed the calming ritual of preparing the ingredients. The result was Monday night flavour bombs that got this weeks cooking off to a good start.
Now my next trick is to teach Dermot and his Mum how to make ginger biscuits although Shan is ahead of me on that one having made her first ever batch of cookies this weekend. Competitive? Me? Never… 🙂 Pulled Pork Spring Rolls
(Makes about eight spring rolls serving eight as a starter or four as a tasty weekday supper.) Ingredients
About 200 – 300 g of shredded pulled pork – simply bulk out the mix with more of the shredded vegetables if you have less pork)
1 large carrot cut into thin julienne strips
1 large red onion thinly sliced
150g bean sprouts, washed and patted dry
2 tbs oyster sauce
2 clove garlic, finely chopped
30g pickled sushi ginger, finely chopped
A lage handful of chopped coriander plus additional coriander to garnish
Salt and pepper to season
12 sheets of spring roll pastry 215 mm/10’’ square*
Sunflower oil for deep-frying
Sweet chilli jam to serve
*available in the freezer section of your local Asian market Preparation
Shred the pork shoulder or cut it into thin matchsticks and mix with all the other prepared ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Take 1 ½ sheets of pastry for each spring roll. Place a full sheet down and a half on top from one corner.
Fill the doubled-side, near the centre with some pork mix. Starting at the doubled corner, roll to half way then fold in the sides and continue rolling to the end.
Brush some water on the far corner to stick the pastry together if necessary.
Fill a wok about a third full with sunflower oil and heat until a cube of bread turns golden in a few seconds. Deep fry the spring rolls two at a time until golden.
Slice each spring roll in two on the diagonal and serve with chilli jam and garnished with coriander.
My daughter Claire sent me a random morning thought from Sydney earlier this week. It read “Most people’s first word of the year is ‘happy'” – a cheerful notion evoking images of clinking glasses and reminding me of our celebration of the arrival of 2015 in Australia and, more recently, of Shane, Shan and Dermot’s first Chinese New Year in Ireland.
On those rare occasions when I’m in Australia at the start of a New Year I have my own special way of marking it. I head to the Royal Botanic Gardens before I return home to find the “I wish” statue. There can hardly be a more beautifully located botanic gardens on this earth, perched as they are over Sydney Harbour and providing a still place, a peaceful escape from the noise and searing summer heat of the city and a breathing lung at its heart. The simple sculpture I go in search of is by Czechoslovakian artist Arthur Fleischman and has been in the gardens since 1946 where it marks the site of the first Wishing Tree.
The first time I stumbled on my wishing girl was on a visit to Sydney in 1999. That was long before I had a daughter living in Australia or a son in China and I doubted I would have an opportunity to return to Australia in my life time. But something about the simple sense of yearning the statue conveyed struck me like a powerful memory of the future and I tried to capture it in a tiny photo that has sat ever since on my window ledge in Duncannon.
Since then, as my children’s lives took their own twists and turns, my wishing girl has become a symbol for me of the conflicted emotions of longing for home and missing those we leave behind in an adopted country. I’ve returned to Sydney several times and each time I seek her out, touch her cool stone and pause in the still shade that surround her to reflect on what is important in my life right then. This January my prayers were many and heartfelt… that Claire will have a safe delivery of a healthy baby in April and enjoy the happiness of motherhood… that Shane, Shan and Dermot will settle into their new life in Ireland despite missing the family and friends they leave behind in China… and for well-being for other friends and family important to me.
Fast-forward to early March and Claire’s baby is due just seven weeks from today. The waiting, wishing and hoping have become an urgent knot in the pit of my stomach. At the same time I’m adapting to the joy of having SS&D living just down the road and the ordinary, extraordinary pleasures of grand-parenting. It’s time to start writing the blog more regularly and to capture the moods and moments of a special time.
One of my best memories of our Christmas/ New Year trip to Australia is of ringing in 2015 at Culburra Beach on the South Coast of New South Wales while celebrating our son-in-law Mike’s birthday which falls on new Year’s Eve. We had decamped down there to two beach houses overlooking the ocean where dolphins cavort in the evening sun – our house was called “Sea La Vie” while Shane, Shan, her MaMa and Dermot were down the road in “Time to Unwind”. Various friends of Claire and Mike, couples with young children, had taken other apartments nearby and the combined New Year and birthday celebrations were held on our deck.
For a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a New Year’s Eve with all of us together including Shan’s MaMa, it seemed fitting to import some Chinese new year traditions into our celebrations. So Shan and MaMa took charge and put together a Chinese inspired barbecue which featured platters of Chinese pot-sticker dumplings, lamb chuan’r kebabs flavoured with cumin and chilli and Yunnan style, barbecued whole barramundi fish. The boys manned the barbecues in true Aussie style.
Dumplings symbolise good luck, fortune and family togetherness. They are served as the first meal of the New Year and before members of a family depart on a journey to remind them that family wraps itself around you wherever you are. This time MaMa made up two kinds of filling – traditional pork and cabbage and beef with carrot. – She, Shan and Shane wrapped the dumplings at their house and brought them along in tray loads for me to cook pot-sticker style just before serving. You will find lots of similar dumpling recipes on the blog starting with the link here.
MaMa’s delicious lamb kebabs combined the excellent flavour of Australian lamb with the the spices of her home town in Urumqi – the diced lamb was marinated in onion and tomato and scattered with cumin and chilli before serving. We will try them out on the Big Green Egg soon.
My contribution to proceedings was to make the desserts. The birthday cake, a special request from Mike, was a chocolate cheese cake. I used this recipe by Nigella Lawson and also made a back up Chocolate Ripple Cheesecake from a Mary Berry recipe and a large summer berry pavlova.
But it was Shan’s barbecued fish which was the highlight of the meal. As Shan says:
“Having a whole fish at the Chinese New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day is very important. It has an auspicious meaning that sharing a whole fish with one’s family will bring luck and fortune to the whole family for the coming new year. This is because Chinese word for fish ‘yu‘ has the same pronunciation as the word ‘abundance’. It is important to have the whole fish including the head and tail which means a good year from start to end. Superstition really but it is so common that people don’t even think about it, it is just a ‘must have’ dish for new year or any big family reunion events.” Another part of the tradition is that the whole fish is never turned over on the plate once served because of the negative association with the turning over of a fishing boat and flipped fortunes.
Shan calls her fish recipe Yunnan Xiang Mao Kao Yu. Yunnan is a province in the very South West of China which shares a border with Burma,Vietnam and Laos, hence you see lemon grass, a common ingredient in South East Asian countries in this dish. Xiang Mao is the Chinese word for lemongrass, Kao means barbecue or grill, Yu is fish.
Now that spring is in the air here in Ireland and it’s time to dust off your barbecue or Big Green Egg, I thought you might like to experiment with Shan’s recipe. It doesn’t have detailed measurements for its ingredients. Chinese cooks don’t work that way so Shan has written down below the principles of what she did and the rough amounts of ingredients she used. Feel free to play around with it until you get the balance of flavours that suits your preference and liking for chilli heat.
Belated happy Chinese New Year from myself and Shan – xin nian kuai le – 新年快乐 Shan’s Yunnan Barbecued Lemongrass Fish – Yunnan Xiangmao2 Kao Yu – 云南香茅烤鱼 Serves 3 – 4 as part pf a multi-course meal
A whole sea fish with a body length of 25 to 30 cm (body length excludes head and tail), gutted and scales removed but leave the head and tail intact – you can ask your fish monger to do this bit for you.
For the stuffing
3 sticks of lemon grass
2 packets of coriander
1 big chunk of ginger (3 thumb fingers size)
4 spring onions
½ of a bulb of garlic
2 green chillies (depending on the spiciness of the chilli and your personal preference, use less or more)
The above measurements are indicative, the aim is that you have enough mix to stuff the whole fish, in its body and slits on both sides. For cooking
2 banana leaves large enough to wrap the whole fish neatly, preferably in two layers.
Wash the fish clean then cut slits at 3 cm intervals on both sides – this is for stuffing the seasoning mix into slits so the whole fish body absorbs the flavour, if you are testing with a small thin bodied fish, then this procedure is not necessary.
Peel away the tough outer layer of the lemon grass, trim your spring onions and peel your garlic. Then finely chop all the stuffing ingredients and mix in a bowl, add salt. You will have to taste the mix, the flavour you are aiming for is robust, wild flavour dominated by coriander, lemon grass, garlic and ginger, spiciness is personal preference. And it should tastes almost a bit too salty.
Stuff the mix inside of the fish’s body and into the slits on both side of its body; you want the stuffing to pack the fish well. Wrap tightly with banana leave and tie up the parcel with thin slice of lemon grass (preferred) or cotton thread.
Leave the fish to marinate for 20 mins; flip it when after 10 minutes so pressure from its weight will marinate both sides evenly.
Cooking and serving
Heat your barbecue or Big Green Egg to high on direct heat.
Put your fish on the open fire grill for about 5 mins on each side, depending on the heat of your barbecue. The indicator for ‘done’ is that the fish’s body has collapsed on both sides hence looking much more flatter than before and the banana leaves are burnt but still protecting the fish.
Serve it on a platter and allow your guests to unwrap the fish and help themselves, oohing and aahing as the perfume of the stuffing escapes from the package.
Fresh water fish can also be used in this recipe but it usually has a muddy taste and more bones. In Australia we used Barramundi fish. A whole salmon could also be used.
Shan would suggest making the mix slightly less salty if you are using sea fish, as they tend to taste a tiny bit saltier the fresh water fish. Add black pepper into the mix if you are a pepper lover!
When I was young one of our favourite Sunday drives was from our home in Wexford town to Hook Head. My three brothers and I would pile into the back of the car, all elbows and knees and arguments about who would have to sit “in the middle”. Released from the car we would race around the headland and clamber over the rocks as the fierce water surged, going as close to the edge as we dared while the gentle light house stood guard over us. There was no Hook Lighthouse cafe then but if we were good we might stop for an ice-cream in Slea Head on the way home.
As a child Hook Head mesmerised me, the awesome power of the sea, the still place in the shelter of the lighthouse, the steady flashing of the light visible from afar, the slippery flat rocks that felt secure and scary at the same time. It was the wildest and most remote place in my young life, a marked contrast to the calmer beauty of Curracloe and Ballinesker beaches. And the lighthouse – that beacon of hope and security, that sweeping light that scanned the moody sea with yearning and wander lust – I could watch it for hours.
So in 1999 a much older and better-travelled me took just 15 minutes to decide to purchase, on pure impulse, a little holiday home in Duncannon with a view of the sea and a direct line of sight to the lighthouse, a house I had not even been inside. And now that light beats out its rhythm on my dormer windows and I can sit in the kitchen and gaze out at it on a moonlit night when I am down there at weekends. There’s something about it that stills my soul.
My son Shane inherited my love of lighthouses. Like me he searches them out wherever he is in the world and in the 15 years he has been visiting Duncannon, Hook has become his special place. He brought Shan there on her first visit to Ireland. It’s where they took Dermot to mark Shane’s first Father’s Day. On Christmas Day 2013 they took Shan’s visiting Chinese family down to the Hook for a bracing pre-dinner walk. We nearly lost a few of them to the elements such was their fascination with the place, coming as they do from Urumqi, the most inland regional capital in China.
And now it’s Dermot’s turn. Just turned two and recently arrived from Beijing to live in Ireland he remembers it from earlier visits. “Deng ta 灯塔” he calls over and over as he tries to explain its magic to me in his own unique combination of Chinese, English and “Dermish”. “Deng ta” he yells if he sees any photo or painting it, recognising not just any lighthouse but his very own light house. He loves to visit it, hates to leave and wants to return the very next day. When his MaMa had shown him how he could see the light from his Duncannon bedroom window he got sad when day light came and the light was “aw gon”. Back in the city streets of Dublin he searches for lighthouse like shapes in street lamps and buildings and talks about it incessantly.
Yesterday I walked him around our house as he pointed out all the extended family he now recognises – MaMa, DaDa, YeYe, NaiNai, Claire, Mikey, Tai Tai, Jodie, hesitating only when he came to the photo of my Dad. I realised with a jolt how much my Dad would have loved getting to know this little man who loves lighthouses and cars in almost equal measure. What’s bred in the bone…
He is a near neighbour now is our Dermot, living just 5 minutes drive down the road from us in Bray. I still can’t get used to the joy of the proximity, the endless possibilities to plan little outings, the goodbyes that are no longer a wrench from the heart, the sleepovers – he had his first with us this week, the babble and chatter in two languages (or is it three) – as ordinary a grandparent relationship as it gets but for me, after two years of FaceTime and airport partings, extraordinary.
Cooking is bred in my daughter in law Shan’s bones and an unexpected bonus of their arrival to live in Ireland is impromptu invites to dinner in their new home where she puts together meals that set our tastebuds alight and transport us back to Beijing. I suspect Dermot may inherit that from her too. Already one of his favourite things to do is to leaf through my Chinese cookery books licking his lips at examples of hao chi – tasty food – and telling me the names of the main ingredients.
Shan never needs a cookbook of course. She just comes up with the dishes by instinct with whatever ingredients are to hand. Last night she served us a lip-tingling Sichuan style chicken dish that was so good that I got her to write down the recipe before she forgot it. Here it is. Shan’s Tingling Fragrant Chicken – 麻香鸡
Serves two as a main course or 4 as part of a multi-course meal Ingredients
400g skinless and boneless chicken thighs
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
½ a carrot
¼ of an onion
4 cloves of garlic
Small chunk of ginger
1 fresh chilli
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn
½ of one star anise
½ tsp cumin seeds
A few dried chillies
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
Dice the chicken thigh into small cubes about 1 to 2 cm on each side.
De-seed the red and green pepper, peel the carrots into to similar square flat pieces.
Peel the onion, garlic, ginger and cut into thin slices.
Thinly slice the fresh chilli.
Line up your other ingredients.
Heat 4 tbs of sunflower oil in a wok over moderate to high heat. Put 1 tsp of Sichuan peppercorn and star anise and the ginger into the wok while the oil is getting hotter, adding the onions in when the scent of Sichuan peppercorn is oozing out. Stir fry for a minute then add the diced chicken thigh meat and cook until the chicken is well done. Then take the chicken out of the oil and rest it on kitchen paper. Drain your wok and wipe clean.
Heat 2 tbs of fresh sunflower oil in the wok, adding 1 tsp of Sichuan peppercorn, ½ tsp of cumin seeds and dried chillies while the oil is heating up. When the scent of Sichuan peppercorn and chillies starts to ooze, add garlic slices and stir fry for a bit, then add the carrots (don’t wait until the garlic has burned!) After the carrots have had a few moments to soften, add in the peppers and the fresh chillies.
Add 1 tsp of dark soy sauce and stir for few seconds then return the chicken to the wok. Stir-fry for 2 minutes to mix the flavours, then add 2 tsp of sugar and stir for another 2 minutes.
Add a little over ½ tsp of salt, adjusting the seasoning to suit your preference. Then stir-fry for another minute or two depending on your preference for how well the peppers are cooked – we like ours crunchy – and serve immediately with steamed rice and a stir-fried vegetable such as broccoli with garlic.
You can use chicken breast meat if thigh is not available and groundnut oil instead of sunflower oil. You can use all fresh or all dried chillies, whatever you have handy and adjust the chilli heat to taste. Thank you Shan for the recipe, the inspiration and getting me blog-writing again, Shane for the photos of Hook Head taken last Monday and Dermot well just for being Dermot.
It was the Friday night before Christmas, the fire glowing in the grate, the Late Late Show on in the background. An ordinary pre-Christmas Friday night, except that for us it was not. It was to be our last night in front of the fire this Christmas, unless you count barbecues. The following day we set out for Sydney to visit our daughter Claire and her husband Mike and to meet up with our son Shane, Shan, Dermot and Shan’s MaMa who had arrived there a week ahead of us from Beijing.
Instead of attending to the last of the packing, I was pulling together a folder of recipes I could cook on the barbecue or in the wok while I was in Australia. I started this blogpost that night and haven’t had a moment to finish it since. Sometimes living life to the full eats into the time for blogging.
A dish that I cook often is Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns. I got the recipe from Chi Asian Takeaway in Galway when I was researching recipes for the Taste of China section of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival Website in 2013. It is a light, fresh-tasting, vegetable rich dish that reminds me of the kind of Asian fusion dishes I’ve sampled in Sydney so I brought the recipe with me.
Fast forward a fortnight and here we are in the steamy heat of a suburban, summer Randwick evening. Christmas day is already a happy memory. We spent five days over the New Year holiday at Culburra beach in southern New South Wales. Now we are back in the Sydney suburbs and, as an antidote to the copious quantities of barbecued meat we’ve eaten in recent days, we had an Asian feast this evening of prawns, di san xiang(earth three fresh), stir-fried Chinese cabbage with chilli and ma po dou fu. Shan cooked the three Chinese dishes and you will find links to recipes for them above. I made a big platter of the prawn dish. Shan’s MaMa declared the meal hao chi – good food.
I’ve many tales to tell of our adventures in the southern hemisphere and of our Australian, Chinese, Irish celebration of Christmas and the new year. Now that I am back in a wifi zone I am hoping to catch up with a few blog posts in coming days.
Meanwhile I hope you enjoy the recipe below as much as we did and happy new year to all my lovely readers. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog in 2015. Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns
Serves 2 as a main course or 3 – 4 as part of a multi-course meal Ingredients
18 large prawns, peeled, de-veined and slit from head to tail
Two slices of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
½ onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 – 2 red chillies finely sliced
a stalk of lemon grass, white part only, finely chopped
½ red pepper, finely sliced
8 mange tout
10 green beans, halved
8 cherry tomatoes
8 kaffir lime leaves
groundnut or sunflower oil
For the sauce
2 tbs Sri Racha hot chilli sauce
2 tbs tomato sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
8 tbs water
1 tsp cornflour
pinch of sesame seeds
A few sprigs of fresh coriander
A handful of roasted cashew nuts
Preparation and cooking
Mix the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
Heat up a wok and add a few tablespoons cooking oil. Once the oil gets very hot remove it from the heat source. Add the chopped ginger, onions, chillies and lemon grass and quickly stir them in the hot oil.
Return the wok to the heat and add the red pepper, mange tout, green beans, cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves and prawns. Continue to toss in the wok.
As the prawns begin to firm up and turn pink, give the sauce a quick stir and add it to the wok, all the time stirring and tossing. Once the sauce has thickened turn off the heat.
The dish is ready once the prawns are cooked and nicely pink. The whole process usually takes less than 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander and roasted cashews and serve immediately with steamed rice.
Around about this time last year I was preparing for a very unusual twelve days of Christmas as we awaited the arrival of my daughter in law Shan’s family from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, China to celebrate her and Shane’s wedding and Dermot’s christening at the end of December. My daughter Claire and her husband Mike came home from Australia to join us, making last Christmas a special time and, with the benefit of hindsight, hectic, exhausting and great fun in almost equal measures.
This Christmas will be different but no less special. This year we gather in Claire and Mike’s new home in the suburbs of Sydney with Shane, Shan, her MaMa and Dermot, to celebrate Dermot’s second Christmas.
As we head into 2015 the waiting takes on a different tinge. Claire and Mike are expecting their first baby in April and Shane, Shan and Dermot are coming to live in Ireland at the end of January. There, I put all that in one sentence but the bare words don’t do justice to the repressed excitement I feel at the prospect of those events.
This weekend we got our first proper glimpse of Claire and Mike’s baby in the making and it only seems like yesterday that we were looking at similar scans of little Dermot.
This weekend too, by complete chance and good luck, Shane and Shan found a lovely place to live, within walking distance of our house and Bray seafront. It means that instead of coming to stay with us for some indeterminate period, they can set up their own home straight away and settle into a new life here, swapping this….
It seems as if the stars are in alignment for my offspring just now and a positive force is at work in all their lives.
Thinking about Claire and Mike’s baby and my grandson coming to live nearby, I found myself re-reading older entries on the blog – my first letter to Dermot and Shane’s post about the day they moved apartment – and getting teary-eyed in the process. Time moves like an arrow as Shane says. Dermot has brought much joy and fun into our lives over the past two years despite the distance and I have to pinch myself to make real the thought that I will be able to see him much more often. This time around, with Claire’s child, I am more prepared for the overwhelming emotion a grandchild provokes but also more confident that it is possible to build a relationship with that little person long distance.
With all that is going on it is all the more special to have Shan’s MaMa with us in Australia, knowing that she will have to take on the role of long distance nainai soon. I have been trying my best to learn a few words of Chinese so that she and I can work side by side in Claire’s kitchen rustling up stir-fried vegetables to go with the protein rich “barbies” prepared by the guys to celebrate Christmas Aussie style while Claire sits back with her feet up and Shan looks after Dermot. Well that’s the mental picture I have anyway.
Which brings me, in avery roundabout way, to today’s recipes for stir-fried vegetables. When Shan and her family were with us last year, nothing went to waste in our house. Left over salad leaves were turned into stir-fries or added to fried rice or noodles. Vegetables were blanched and tossed in the wok with a few simple seasonings. It was Shan who introduced me to stir-frying lettuce. Any bag of mixed leaves that I had forgotten to serve with a steak ended up in the wok. Left-over broccoli or other vegetables got fried off with a little garlic and maybe a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil along the lines of my friend and teacher Wei Wei’s recipe for Sugar Snap Peas with Garlic.
The Chinese love to cook lettuce so I wasn’t a bit surprised to come upon a recipe for stir-fried iceberg lettuce in Grace Young’s cookbook The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. It makes perfect sense to me that Chinese immigrants to America would take the humble iceberg lettuce and treat it the way they would bai cai or other Chinese greens.
You will find Grace’s full recipe here on Food52.com or in her book which you can get on Kindle or from Amazon.com. But at its simplest this recipe involves frying off some sliced or chopped garlic in a wok in a little hot oil, wilting in a head of iceberg lettuce leaves and adding a some light soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine and a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. I also like to toss in some crumbled dried chilli peppers with the garlic. It really is that easy so play around with it to get the balance of flavours you like best and use up whatever left over leaves you have in the fridge.
Meanwhile back in my house my Chinese lessons with Wei Wei continue and she has also been teaching me how to cook simple side dishes of vegetables that can add colour and flavour to a meal. One such dish is her mushroom and pepper stir-fry. I’m sure she will post detailed instructions and pictures soon on her own blog Wei Wei’s Chinese Kitchen but here is the basic idea. Stir-fried Mushrooms and Peppers – 甜椒炒蘑菇 – tian jiao chao mo gu
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 spring onion
1 tbs light soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
Wash or wipe the mushrooms, blanch in boiling water and drain. (This step is necessary is so that the mushrooms will cook as fast as the peppers).
Slice the blanched mushrooms and cut the peppers into wedges. Cut the spring onion into sections.
Heat the wok, add 2 tbs cooking oil and when the oil is hot add the spring onion, stir-frying briefly until the flavour is released.
Add in the peppers and stir-fry briskly for about two minutes until they begin to char and. Add the mushroom slices and mix well. They will only need a minute or so to cook.
Season with soy sauce, sugar and salt to taste and serve immediately.
I look forward to Shananigans taking a Christmas detour to the southern hemisphere and to keeping you posted on some more culinary adventures.
The last time I visited China Sichuan Restaurant in Sandyford, Dublin the owner Kevin Hui gave me a book. Now it takes a special kind of restaurateur to know his clients so well that he can surprise them with something they will treasure. For this is no ordinary cookbook. It’s “Hunan – a lifetime of secrets from Mr Peng’s Kitchen”.
Mr Peng is the owner of a restaurant called Hunan in London that opened in 1982. Many regard it as the best Chinese restaurant in London or maybe even in the world. Little is known about Mr Peng who keeps the story of his own provenance close to his heart. He has his own unique take on Chinese food with influences of Taiwan, Hunan, Cantonese, Sichuan and Guangdong cuisine all coming through in his dishes.
At a time when most London Chinese restaurants were Cantonese, Mr Peng set out to show that there was more to Chinese food. He plied his customers with dishes they hadn’t ordered, taking a “leave it to us” approach to a whole new level, until eventually he abandoned a menu altogether. Now each guest is served a selection of small dishes, as many as 15 at a sitting, and encouraged to try out different tastes on every visit.
This is precisely the way I approach a visit to China Sichuan in Dublin. I never look at the menu any more. I just find Kevin, ask him plaintively to “feed me” and allow him and his chefs to do the rest, knowing each dish will be a feast for the eyes and the palate. Perhaps that’s why he knew I would enjoy the Hunan cookbook so much.
Mr Peng is nearly 70 now, his own life story remains untold. But food and travel journalist Qin Xie, who writes her own blog In Pursuit of Food, has captured his recipes and his kitchen wisdom in this lovely book. In it his son Michael Peng who works with him in the restaurant speaks lovingly of a man whose story is that of a stereotypical Chinese immigrant who has never lost the values of his homeland, who remains an enigma and a force of nature to be reckoned with, bolshy, maybe even arrogant and an extraordinarily hard worker and who doesn’t change his approach with the passing of the years.
I have already cooked many recipes from the book and but one in particular caught my eye. As a result of my last blog post on Sichuan Chilli Squid with Black Beans, I’ve struck up an email correspondence with Chinese American food writer Grace Young. Her books Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen are also among my favourites with her tales of her own family and the Chinese diaspora interspersed with wonderful recipes. Grace was enquiring if it is true that the Irish have french fries with their Chinese meals and I explained the post-pub Chinese takeaway of “Chicken curry, half rice, half chips”. So when I came upon the Hunan recipe for “”French Chips”, I had to give it a try.
The recipe was an immediate hit in our house – a bit naughty and not as low in fat as my usual Chinese vegetable dishes but a great treat as a side dish or part of a multi-course meal. I am going to try a similar approach with cauliflower florets, courgettes, carrots and leeks.
As I grow more confident in my own Chinese cooking under the watchful eye of my friend and Chinese teacher Wei Wei, I’m getting more intuitive with the use of ingredients, learning the feel for texture and flavour. I’m going to start encouraging my faithful readers to do the same. So here goes with Mr. Peng’s Chinese Chips.
Meanwhile, the next time I get to London, I know where I will be heading for dinner. Chinese Chips made with Green Beans
Serves 3 – 4 as part of a multi-course meal
The secret is in Mr Peng’s batter which uses self-raising flour and vinegar to give a stiff dough and a tempura like texture. Ingredients
You will need:
300 to 400 green beans – about 100g per person
cooking oil for deep-frying (sunflower or groundnut oil)
For the batter
Chinese white rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
For the seasoning
crushed Sichuan peppercorns
First make your batter. For every 100g self-raising flour add about 200 ml water and 4 tsp vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar) and a good pinch of salt. Beat it well with an electric mixture and leave to stand for about 20 minutes until the bubbles rise to the surface. Chef Peng and Qin Xie say you need a batter that’s quite thick and gloopy. With those proportions I found my batter was a little runny but I liked the tempura like texture with the batter lightly clinging to the beans rather than giving them a heavy coat. You will need about 50g flour for every 100g beans.
Wash, dry and trim your green beans and, if necessary, break into lengths about the size of chips. Irish long green runner beans are great for this dish. Avoid the very skinny imported ones as they need too much batter.
Dry roast a handful of Sichuan peppercorns in a wok or frying pan and grind them in a pestle and mortar when cool (or if you’re lazy like me use a small coffee mill set to coarse grind which I only use for spices). They will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container.
Peel and finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic, the white part of a spring onion and a medium heat red chilli. You can dial up or down the chilli heat to taste.
Heat a few cms of oil in a wok or deep frying pan to about 180 degrees C. You want the oil to be deep enough and hot enough to deep-fry each bean. Chef Robert Jacob has taught me how to gauge this by holding my hand over the pan until I can feel the heat rising rather than by using a thermometer. Test by cooking one bean. It should take about a minute to cook.
Dip the beans in the batter to coat and drop them one by one into the hot oil being careful not to splash yourself. I did this using a tongs to move each bean from the batter to the wok and a mesh strainer to remove them from the oil when cooked. I cooked the beans in three to four batches, ensuring they didn’t touch each other and the oil had a chance to come back to temperature between batches. You want them to be golden but not burnt. Drain the beans on kitchen paper.
When all the beans are cooked, drain all the oil from the wok. Dry-fry the garlic, spring onion and chilli briefly to release the aromas. Toss in the green beans to heat through. Season with crushed Sichuan pepper and salt to taste and serve immediately.
Thank you Kevin Hui, Chef Peng and Xin Qie for opening up another new chapter of Chinese recipes for me.
That little ray of sunshine who is my grandson has gone back to China leaving an 0.84m high void in my life and a host of fresh memories. Shane, Shan and Dermot returned to smoggy Beijing the Friday before last. Cue a few days of moping and feeling like a lost soul without my little sticking plaster, a few days of (secretly) relishing a quiet and tidy house and a few more of re-grouping and getting back into the thick of my normal working life.
This last visit was special for the time I got to spend alone with Dermot while his Mum and Dad took a brief and very belated honeymoon and for the chance to get to know his quirky sense of fun, his ability to mimic and, even at this early stage of his life, to poke fun at himself and us. So some of his expressions have already become catchphrases in our house – the way he says “no, no, no” shaking his head ruefully when confronted by something he wants to do but knows he is not allowed to, such as dismantling the contents of a shelf of DVDs, his particular take on “myum, myum” when relishing a new food, his perfect take-off of my niece Jodie’s “atchoo”, head flung back as if he too had hair nearly down to his waist, his hopeful “chu?” at the prospect of going out.
It took a few days of listlessness before I could get into the cooking vibe again. It’s somehow easier to motivate yourself to cook for a bigger gang. But as I leafed through my latest cookbook – Grace Young’s Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge – I came upon a recipe for squid and remembered I had some in the freezer, purchased from Roberts of Dalkey which I had planned cooking for Shan but never got the chance.
Grace’s book is gorgeous. A professional food writer who grew up in a traditional Chinese household in San Francisco, she has always been fascinated by the alchemy of the wok. In this wonderful blend of stories and recipes she traces how Chinese emigrants have carried their recipes and their woks with them around the world and how stir-frying has evolved using the ingredients to hand, wherever the emigrants find themselves, so that their culture perseveres but subtle distinctions emerge in the cooking. She describes the book as being about the “universal longing for home” – a longing understood by everyone who leaves their homeland behind whether by choice or necessity, a longing felt by all of us who know that home is where our heart is, not necessarily where we live right now.
I understood that longing keenly when I talked late into the night recently with my lovely Chinese daughter-in-law about what it will mean to her to re-locate here to Ireland next year, believing that it is best for Dermot but knowing it will mean leaving behind her world, her family and her friends. It seems to be the lot of our generation and the next to always have pieces of our hearts scattered around the sky’s edge.
Anyway I don’t think Grace Young will mind that I took her recipe for squid with black bean sauce, which she in turn got from Chef Danny Chan who has lived in America since 1966, and adapted it to give it a spicier Sichuan kick. There seems to be something fitting about a recipe travelling from China to America and back to Ireland to be tweaked by an Irish nai nai to serve to her Chinese daughter-in-law when she finds her new home from home here. Sichuan Chilli Squid with Black Beans
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as part of a multi-course meal
I’ve tried cooking squid before but have sometimes been disappointed that it has turned out tough. What I learned from Chef Danny via Grace is that marinating squid before cooking is not a good idea as it can make it chewy. It should also have only the briefest cooking time as it can easily become over-cooked and tough. The blanching technique in the recipe below means the squid needs only a minute or two in the wok. It also means you can have most of the preparation done in advance and stir-fry a reasonable quantity of squid in just minutes. The result when I tried this was tender and delicious and packed a heady Sichuan punch for good measure. Ingredients
450g cleaned squid
2 tbs fermented black beans
2 cloves garlic
2 spring onions
1 red chilli
Small thumb of ginger
1 red pepper
Sichuan pepper oil or groundnut oil plus a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Salt and white pepper
1 tbs of Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
For the sauce
2 tbs chicken stock
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp cornflour
Soak the black beans in warm water for a few minutes, then rinse.
Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger. Finely chop the spring onion – you want roughly the equivalent amount of each.
De-seed and thinly slice the chilli. Peel and thinly slice the onion. De-seed the red pepper and slice into julienne strips. Slice each mangetout in two at a steep angle.
Cut each squid tube in half lengthwise. Using your cleaver or a damascus chef knife. If you feel that your knife has lost its sharpness. I would recommend you check out the step-by-step guide on how to do this on the Choppychoppy website. Lightly score the inside of the squid in a criss-cross pattern at about 1 cm intervals. Cut the squid into 4 cm squares and the tentacles, if using, into 5 cm lengths.
Combine 1 tablespoon of the chicken stock, oyster sauce and soy sauces in a small bowl. Combine the cornflour and the remaining tablespoon of stock in another small bowl and set both to one side.
Bring a large quantity of water to boil in a saucepan over high heat and, when the water is bubbling, add the squid pieces and blanch for about 10 seconds or until the squid turns opaque and curls. Drain immediately and set to one side on kitchen paper to blot out any excess moisture.
Heat your wok over a medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of Sichuan pepper oil (or ordinary cooking oil to which you add a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, removing the peppercorns as soon as they release their aroma).
To the hot, flavoured oil add the black beans, spring onions and garlic, stir-fryng for a few moments to release their aroma. Then add the ginger, chilli and onion, stir-frying until they too release their fragrance.
After about a minute, when the onions begin to wilt, add the red pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds until the red pepper just begins to soften.
Add the rice wine, swirling it around the sides of the wok. Then add in the squid and mangetout. Give them a quick stir-fry to combine with other ingredients then swirl in the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for no more than a minute until the mangetout are bright green.
Give the cornflour mix a quick stir and add it to the wok, stir-frying for about 30 seconds until the squid is just cooked. Remove from the heat. Drizzle over a teaspoon of sesame oil and serve immediately.
Frozen squid tubes work very well in this recipe. Just make sure they are well thawed before use.
You can get preserved fermented black beans in any Asian market but a jar of black bean sauce would also work in this recipe. Or you could use a chilli black bean sauce such as Laoganma and leave out the chilli pepper.
For a less spicy dish you could leave out both the chilli and Sichuan pepper but you will be missing out on a umami kick.