A 41 Year Flash Back and Smoked Prawn Salad from the Big Green Egg

Forty one years. It’s not a very auspicious anniversary. If it was a marriage you would find it hard to identify the appropriate gift – land I believe. In China the number would probably be regarded as unlucky because it includes a four. But the thought struck me when I woke up this morning. Forty one years ago to this day I crossed the threshold of the Civil Service Commission and joined the Irish civil service.
I had just turned 17 (I know you can do the sums but I don’t mind). I had no real intention of becoming a civil servant, I just did the “Junior Ex” exams to get a day off school. I travelled up from Wexford with my Mammy and Daddy, my three younger brothers, my Granny and Grandad and my Great Aunt Bella. All of them were crying about the prospect of leaving me behind in Dublin, clueless about how to get around from my hostel in Ranelagh. They were right – the first time I tried to walk home from my office in Hume House in Ballsbridge I ended up in Ringsend because I turned right instead of left at the canal.
I remember every detail of that day – the drab beige walls in the Commission’s office in Parnell Square, the cramped waiting room, the cursory interview – They: “What kind of job do you want to do?” Me: “I want to work with people” (so they put me in the Revenue Commissioners) – pulling up in the car outside Dublin Castle and poring over a map to make sure that we had the right location, trying to figure out what bus I would take to town and what small change I would need to pay for my ticket, running to leap on the  back step of the 46A for my first ever journey alone, the unfamiliar “ding ding” to alert the driver, meeting my new friend Mary from Tipperary, she even younger than me and sharing our terror at the world of work, but excited at the same time at the heady prospect of freedom and a wage packet of our own.
That was the year Ireland joined the European Community. Dublin was a sleepy place catching up with the sixties, the civil service was about to be lurched into action by the impact of our EC membership. The marriage bar was still intact. My pay was less than the guys taken on at the same time as me. I only planned staying a year…
The next 37 years passed in a whirl. Over that time Ireland changed as we grew in confidence with our EU membership, shook off the shackles of dependence on our nearest neighbour, found our feet as a nation and almost lost them again. I changed. I went from being a naive culchee to a city slicker (well kind of), to wife and mother, to senior civil servant and now, four years out the other side, I’ve had fun reinventing again. And it all seems to have happened in a flash. As for the one year that became 37, I don’t regret a moment. For all the knocking it gets, the public service gave me a fantastic career across eight government departments and a huge learning opportunity.
Anyway all that came to mind because I’ve been trying to put together a paper to deliver at the Beijing Forum at the beginning of October on how Europe has transformed itself in an ever changing world and working on it has triggered a trip down memory lane. More of that when I get to Beijing in a little over a week’s time (and to see Shane and Shan and my gorgeous grandson Dermot. Wheeeeee….). But meanwhile my cooking has suffered as I get lost in research.
So here is just a simple recipe to keep you going while I find time to write up my other culinary experiments of recent weeks. This is the starter I plan serving to 17 of us on Christmas day including 9 of Shan’s family over from China. Continue reading A 41 Year Flash Back and Smoked Prawn Salad from the Big Green Egg

Turkey on the Big Green Egg

Turkey on the Big Green Egg
Turkey on the Big Green Egg

Safety gate on deck? Check. Breakables out of reach? Check. Floors scrubbed and vetted for hazards? Check. Box of matches in hands of toddler with cheeky grin? Oops I missed that one! How come toddlers have an unerring ability to find the one dangerous item you overlook?
Last weekend in Duncannon was a trial run in more ways than one. If our little yellow house could withstand the onslaught of 14 month identical twin boys it will surely cope with a 10 month old Dermot’s first Christmas. And if I could cook a 9 kg turkey on the Big Green Egg for our Italian friend Solange, her Argentinian husband Agustin, their twins Oli and Fredi and 11 of my family who are always willing to be guinea pigs for my culinary experiments, then I should be able to cope with the same number of guests from China and Australia on Christmas day. At least that’s the theory…
"Ooh, crab..."
“Ooh, crab…” Beijing, China

While I cooked up an early Christmas dinner in Duncannon, Shane and Shan prepared shellfish for friends in Beijing and Claire and Mike ate an anniversary meal at the fabulous Spice Temple Chinese restaurant in Sydney. So our multi-cultural family food odyssey continued on three continents, our very own version of fusion dining.
"Ooh Spice Temple" - Sydney, Australia
“Ooh Spice Temple” – Sydney, Australia

As for the turkey – well with the patient assistance of Liam from A Room Outside in Limerick who supplied our Egg, it was a great success. He even answered my texts on Sunday morning when I began to fret about the temperature level in the Egg (note to self: I really will have to stop running in and out to the deck to check every few minutes once the temperature drops from the balmy 17 degrees of the weekend to something approaching our normal Christmas lows. Or at least I will have to wrap up in a warm scarf.)
I’ve cooked turkey using my tried and tested Delia Smith recipe for more than 30 years. I needed to take a deep breath and make a leap of faith to cook it in a very different way on the Big Green Egg. I can honestly say that Liam’s technique resulted in a bird that was succulent, moist and tender with a beautiful even skin colour. It held its heat wrapped in foil for nearly two hours after it was cooked. My favourite stuffing recipe also cooked to perfection inside the cavity.
We served the turkey with the apple and rosemary stuffing, maple roasted parsnips, buttered leeks, carrots and peas. With lots of oven space in the kitchen, it was easy to time the roasting of the potatoes and parsnips.
A big thank you to Liam and also to Seamus in Wallace’s SuperValu Wellington Bridge who tracked down a fresh turkey and sold me the large 9 kg one, which was the only one he could find, at the price of the smaller one I had ordered. We are still on turkey leftovers in our house tonight.
Now that I know what to expect, I can look forward to Christmas Day. And my biggest wish is that the next time I serve this meal our little far flung family will be united in one place to enjoy it.
Big Green Egg Turkey
Christmas in October
“Ooh turkey” – Duncannon Ireland

Ingredients:

  • 1 large turkey at room temperature (the large BGE can easily handle up to a 10 kg turkey)
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • A few carrots, onions and cloves garlic
  • A few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves
  • 500 g of your favourite turkey stuffing*
  • 100 g softened butter

Method:

  1. Fill the Egg with sufficient lump wood for a 5 to 6 hour cook – BGE Lump Charcoal is best for this as it gives a lovely even heat – and set it up for indirect heat with the plate setter legs up at a temperature of 170ºC.
  2. Peel and roughly chop a few onions and carrots and bruise a few whole cloves of garlic. Place the vegetables and herbs in a deep roasting tin, fill it almost to the brim with water and place on the plate setter. Place the stainless steel cooking grid over the roasting tin.
  3. Wipe out the turkey cavity and stuff with your favourite stuffing. Butter the turkey legs and season the turkey well with salt and pepper. Cover the turkey legs with foil to slow down their cooking.
  4. Place the turkey directly on the grid, making sure the Egg’s own temperature gauge is not touching the meat as this would distort the temperature readings. Place a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the breast.
  5. Note: The temperature of the Egg may drop to about 150ºC at this stage and rise only gradually over the next few hours. Don’t worry about this. The turkey will still brown beautifully even at that temperature.
  6. Remove the foil from the legs after about 2 hours. Keep an eye on the level of water in the roasting tin and do not let it dry out. Top up as necessary with boiling water.
  7. Cook the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 75 to 78ºC – in the case of my 9 kg turkey this took about 4½ hours but it could take up to an hour longer.
  8. Let the turkey rest covered in foil for at least 30 minutes before carving. Any water left over in the tin can be strained to make gravy with the turkey resting juices.

My Favourite Apple and Rosemary Stuffing
Ingredients:

  • 500 g fine white breadcrumbs
  • 1 large cooking apple or 2 small cooking apples, finely diced
  • 1 heaped tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 100 g butter melted
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • Onion salt (or Maldon sea salt)
  • Ground black pepper

Method:
Mix the breadcrumbs, apple and rosemary with melted butter and beaten egg and season well with salt and pepper.
 
 

Pork with Pearl Mountain Black Fungus

It’s been a while since I wrote a post lovely blog followers. Life and work got in the way. Meanwhile, over in Beijing, my grandson Dermot has just turned 8 months today and in the past week he has gotten his first tooth and learned how to pull himself up to standing.
Standing man!
Standing man!

Say hello to Dermot who I will get to see in Beijing this day 3 weeks. Yeah!

And hello to all my new subscribers to the blog. I suspect many of you have joined because of my experiments with all-year round barbecuing on the Big Green Egg. Well I’m at the kitchen table in Duncannon at the moment getting excited at the prospect of cooking my first ever pizza on the Egg later today, helped by my Italian friend Solange. On Sunday I’m going to have a trial run at cooking a turkey outdoors, practice for when Dermot’s Chinese family come to stay. About every second weekend I hope to try something new on the Egg, often with an Asian twist, but in between times I will continue my experiments with traditional Chinese recipes. I hope you enjoy both.

Part of my motivation at the moment is a slightly panic stricken planning ahead for my seven Chinese visitors in December – my daughter-in-law Shan’s MaMa and cousin, her bother his wife and child and first auntie and second auntie who will join us to celebrate Christmas and Shane and Shan’s Irish wedding. None of them have been outside China before and they will be relying on me to feed them for most of the two weeks they are here. There will be between 11 and 13 of us at our small kitchen table most evenings and I lie awake at night trying to dream up manageable meals for us all including some western and Chinese specialties. All suggestions and practical tips that don’t involve ordering in a Chinese takeaway are welcome…
Inspiration came in small packages recently when my young Chinese friend Tiedong brought me a gift from his home town of Harbin in north eastern China. Tiedong is studying for a PhD in Dublin and I first met him during the Dublin City Chinese New Year Festival earlier this year. He managed the website for the Taste of China which I helped coordinate. He is one of those very bright Chinese young people who make such a great addition to our increasingly multi-cultural country. He returned home to visit his family during the summer and he brought me back some boxes of Pearl Mountain Edible Black Fungus Block, a foodstuff for which Harbin is famous. It is found in the forests near Harbin where it grows on wood at the base of trees.
I had tasted black fungus in China where it is sometimes known as “wood ear” or “cloud ear”. It is packed full of nutrients and well known for its health giving properties as it is higher in iron content than green leafy vegetables and is also rich in calcium and amino acids. It is particularly good for clearing the lungs . Tiedong tells me that in his home town back in the 1950s barbers ate black fungus very often as it helped clear the dust they breathed in each day. It is also good for the digestion and circulation – in Chinese Traditional Medicine it is regarded as increasing the fluidity of the blood.
Apart from its medicinal properties, black fungus is prized for its crunchy texture and the “mouth feel” it adds to soups and stir-frys. It is purchased dried and, when soaked in water it swells to several times its volume and the dark frilly clumps resemble “ears” or “clouds”. The texture becomes silky, slippery and almost translucent, a bit like sea weed but without the associated flavour. In fact the fungus has no real flavour of its own but it readily absorbs the sauces and seasonings it is cooked with.

Pearl Mountain Black Fungus
Pearl Mountain Black Fungus

I have found black fungus in the Asia Market in Dublin and other Asian supermarkets where it comes in bags like dried Shitake mushrooms and can be reconstituted in warm water in 15 minutes or so. Sometimes the grittier part where it has been attached to the bark of a tree needs to be trimmed away.
The compressed Pearl Mountain variety that Tiedong brought back to me is of the highest quality. It is packaged in little boxes no bigger than a matchbox and Tiedong recommended soaking a portion in lots of luke warm water for a few hours, then rinsing it several times. Once reconstituted it was ready for use without further trimming.
Tiedong gave me the recipe below which is how he prepares it at home. The end result was full of flavour despite involving only a small number of ingredients and being very fast to prepare. We enjoyed the slippery and chewy texture the fungus added to the dish. My niece Jodie decided that it felt a bit like eating balloons, but in a good way! This dish will definitely feature on the menu for my Chinese guests and could be served alongside other spicier dishes as part of a Chinese meal.
Pork with Black Fungus

Pork with Black Fungus
Pork with Pearl Mountain Black Fungus

Ingredients:

(serves 3 people)
  • 1 compressed black fungus (or a large handful of dried fungus)
  • 2 – 3 carrots
  • ½ a Chinese cabbage
  • 1 pork steak
  • 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil
  • A thumb of ginger (about 3 cms)
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 – 2 tbs light soy sauce
 Method:
  1. Soak the compressed black fungus in a large bowl of warm water  for several hours until it has puffed up and expanded in volume. Rinse several times under cold water and set aside.
  2. Slice the carrot at an angle and  blanche by plunging in boiled water with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes or by steaming for 2 – 3 mins. Rinse with cold water and set to one side.
  3. Slice the Chinese cabbage and blanche by plunging in boiled water  with a pinch of salt for 5 min or by steaming for 2 – 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set  to one side.
  4. Slice the pork steak into 1 cm slices and then, across the grain, into thin strips.
  5. Heat 2 – 3 tbs groundnut oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork, then add the ginger and garlic and cook over high heat until the pork has changed colour and the garlic and ginger have softened and released their fragrance.
  6. Add the carrot and cabbage and stir-fry over high heat until the pork is cooked through.
  7. Add the black fungus and stir -fry over high heat until heated through.
  8. Put the lid on for 2 – 3 min, stirring regularly.
  9. Add a pinch of salt salt and a good dash of soy sauce. Stir until very little juice is left , then taste to adjust seasoning and serve with boiled rice.

 

Planked Salmon with Soy Honey Glaze and Stir-fried Broccoli


Autumn has arrived in Duncannon. It announced itself with a drop in temperature of 10 degrees, a cutting breeze that slices in from the sea and a cold drizzle forming puddles on the deck of our little yellow house.
The beach is quiet, just the occasional walker and his dog. Families have left their mobile homes and holiday houses and returned to their towns and cities. The Sandy Dock has served its last lemon meringue pie of the season, ending my summer ritual of coffee and cake after a long Sunday walk. The sand blows in drifts up the tiny main street, caught by the unexpected wind and hiding in corners and doorways as if trying to escape its fate. An occasional fishing boat docks at the harbour and unloads its catch, seagulls wheeling overhead. And suddenly, unexpectedly, the sun comes out again for a few minutes as if to say “Hello, fooled you there didn’t I!”
I love this time of year in Duncannon when the village is returned to its residents after the bustling trade of summer. The sand-scupltors and the kite-surfers have gone along with the knot of youngsters perched on the wall over-looking the beach eating ice creams from Peggy’s shop, the tables sprawled out onto the footpath outside Hal’s bar as friends drink pints and listen to the Sunday sounds of GAA matches echoing from within, the teenage girls, always in groups, wandering the beach road in shorts and sunburn, the cars parked bumper to bumper on the beach forming make shift wind-breakers as the sand gets into sandwiches and infants toddle the long trek to paddle at the water’s edge, the chatter, laughter and music from Roches’s Bar. All is now quiet.
Now is the time for us regular “blow-ins” to savour the silence, the ever-changing light and cloud formations over Hook Head, the walk interrupted only by a tractor bringing in the last of the harvest. Now is the time to layer up for the winter, cranking up the heating for a few hours when we arrive rather than rushing to open dormer windows to let the stuffy, warm air out and donning a rainproof jacket over an apron to cook outside on the Big Green Egg. Because I am determined that cooking on the Egg will be a year round thing, come hail, rain, shine or snow. It has to be. There won’t be room to cook the Christmas turkey inside this year with the entire family home including 10 visitors from China so I’d better get used to it.
So yesterday evening, when we arrived  in Duncannon in the dark and rain, I put a cedar cooking plank in water to soak for an hour along with the broken up charred bits of the first Cedar plank I had used, lit the Big Green Egg and tried out a new recipe with the last of the wild salmon of the season.
I adapted the recipe from one I found in a book called Slow Fire by Dr. BBQ, that I had downloaded on Kindle, and served it with potatoes baked on the BGE and stir-fried tender-stem broccoli. The salmon, slow cooked at low temperature was a deep pink in colour and had picked up just a hint of smokiness from the cedar. It was firm but flaking and tender. The sweet, sour, salty, sticky glaze enhanced the delicate flavour of the fish and had us scraping the plank it was served on to savour every last drop. You can serve the plank straight to the table, just have something heat proof ready to rest it on. It makes for a dramatic and attractive presentation.
Whenever I give a Big Green Egg recipe I will suggest an alternative way of cooking it that doesn’t require access to an Egg. You could cook this recipe, for instance, on any BBQ that has a cover at any time of the year – just keep the temperature low and the time slow for the best result – and of course you can use any good quality salmon fillets. Leftover glaze will keep in the fridge and would also work well with pork and chicken.
Planked Salmon with Soy Honey Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 cedar cooking plank*
  • 4 salmon fillets – about 600g to 700g in total
  • Sea salt

For the glaze

  • 125 ml hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 ½ tbs runny honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Black pepper

Preparation

  1. Soak a cedar cooking plank for at least one hour (Butler’s Pantry recommend soaking theirs overnight).
  2. If you have a cedar plank that is charred from previous use, break it up into pieces and soak some of those pieces in water for at least an hour – this will enhance the hint of wood flavour in the salmon.
  3. Prepare the BGE for direct heat with the stainless steel grid and pre-heat to 120C. I used plain lumpwood rather than oak on this occasion so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the wild salmon. When at temperature add a handful of the soaked cedar pieces allowing a little extra time for it to come back to temperature.
  4. Drain your plank and place your salmon pieces on the plank, skin side down and evenly spaced. Salt them lightly. Place the plank on the grid, close the BGE and cook for 30 minutes. You can pop scrubbed potatoes on the grid around the plank at the same time.
  5. Meanwhile make your glaze by combining all the ingredients and mixing well.
  6. After the fish has cooked for about 30 minutes, brush with a thick layer of the glaze, coating evenly. Cook for another 20 minutes.
  7. Spread more glaze over evenly and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes until the fish is firm.
  8. Serve immediately on the plank (although any leftovers also taste delicious cold).

*Available from A Room Outside or The Butler’s Pantry
Stir-fried Tender-stem Broccoli
Ingredients

  • 350g tender-stem broccoli, ends trimmed
  • 1 tbs finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbs finely chopped ginger
  • About 100 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbs toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
  • Groundnut oil for cooking

Preparation

  1. Mix the stock and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a wok over a medium-high heat and stir-fry the broccoli for about one minute to coat with oil.
  3. Clear a space in the middle of the broccoli and add a dash more oil. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds to release their fragrance before mixing in with the broccoli.
  4. Add the stock and soy mixture to the pan, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the broccoli stems are tender but still firm.
  5. Remove the broccoli to a bowl with a slotted spoon and reduce the remaining liquid over a high heat to about 2 tablespoons. Add back the broccoli to heat through briefly. Turn off the heat, add a teaspoon of sesame oil and the sesame seeds (if using) and toss before serving in a warm dish.

 

Last of the Summer Barbecues – Xinjiang Street Food


We are getting along better my Big Green Egg and me. I’m beginning to get to know his moods and temperament. He’s hot stuff, he can turn out a large number of perfectly seared steaks in jig time. But last weekend in Duncannon, on a glorious late summer Sunday, I wanted to get a sense of just how versatile he is and how many different cooking techniques I could use, in the course of an afternoon, and still serve the results at one meal.
The lovely people at A Room Outside in Limerick had received a new consignment of Eggs and accessories so I took delivery of a ceramic pizza stone, a half moon cast iron griddle and some cedar planks to experiment with plank cooking. With these new tools, I had a go at re-creating the kind of street food I had in China last summer, particularly the street food of Xinjiang province. I also added Pork Char Siu to the menu which would not, of course, be served with lamb by the Muslim Uighur people of Xinjiang.
On the menu

Xinjiang Chilli Lamb with Spicy Tzatziki Sauce

***

Planked Pork Char Siu

***

Spiced Griddled  Courgettes and Potatoes

***

Naan Bread

The recipes I used are below. I cooked the Naan bread first and kept it warm in a low oven, then the Pork Char Siu and finally I ramped up the heat to cook the lamb chops and vegetables quickly while the pork was resting.

Xinjiang Chilli Lamb

I found the recipe for this addictive, mouth-numbing marinade on line here and it could be substituted for the marinade used to make kebabs in my lamb chuan’r recipe. The marinade was developed by Christina Soong-Kroeger who writes a blog called The Hungry Australian. She lived in Shanghai for three years and this was one of her favourite takeaway meals from her local Xinjiang restaurant. You wont always find Sichuan pepper used in Xinjiang lamb but Shan’s Mum, who comes from that province, adds it to her lamb dishes all the time.

Ingredients

  • 6 – 8 lamb cutlets

 Marinade

  • 2 tbs groundnut oil (or sufficient to loosen the marinade)
  • 2 tbs ground cumin
  • 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • A thumb of fresh ginger finely chopped or 2 tsps ground ginger
  • 1 tbs chilli flakes or a large chilli finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 ½ to 2 tsps salt
  • Ground black pepper

Method

  1. Smash all the dry marinade ingredients in a pestle and mortar or grind in a food processor and add enough oil to create a loose paste.
  2. Mix thoroughly with the lamb and marinade over night in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Prepare the BGE for direct heat using the cast iron griddle and heat to about 220C.
  4. Grill the lamb chops, covered,  for 3 to 5 minutes each side depending on their thickness and whether you like them pink or well done (about 4 minutes each side for skewers).

Note
These lamb chops can also be cooked on any grill or conventional barbecue.
Planked Pork Char Siu
Pork Char Siu is something you come across as street food in Beijing and other parts of China. It is not normally cooked at home as Chinese households don’t usually have access to barbecues. This special way of rapidly roasting or barbecuing meat that has been marinated is typical of the southern Cantonese and can be applied to all good cuts of meat. Every Chinese cook has their own variation of a Char Siu marinade so feel free to use your personal favourite.  This time I used Rozanne Steven’s Barbecue Sauce from her Relish BBQ book. You could also use a jar of Pat Whelan’s great new BBQ sauce available from James Whelan Butchers in Avoca, Monkstown and Clonmel.
Cedar planks are available from A Room Outside. They can also be picked up from The Butlers Pantry for €3.95 each. These planks create a subtle smoky flavour when used with fish and meats that reminds me of the aromas and flavours of a Beijing street market. For me the big discovery was that cooking on a plank also has the effect of making the meat melt in the mouth tender. The outer skin of the pork doesn’t get crispy when cooked in this way but the meat is moist and delicious. When sliced across the grain, the rapidly cooked pork has a darker rim of well cooked pork with a dark crust of marinade surrounding a more lightly cooked and tender centre.
Ingredients:

  • 2 large pork steaks
  • 1 cedar plank

For Rozanne’s Chinese Sticky Marinade and Basting Sauce



  • 8 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 thumb sized pieces of ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 250 g dark brown sugar
  • 200 g honey
  • 250 ml hoisin sauce (a good shop bought version such as Lee Kum Kee)
  • 250 ml Shaoxing rice wine
  • 200 ml light soy sauce
  • 200 ml sweet chilli sauce
  • 50 ml groundnut oil (or sunflower oil)
  • 2 tbs Chinese five spice powder

 Preparation

  1. Soak the cedar plank for at least an hour or preferably over night.
  2. Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a pot and simmer, covered, on gentle heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Once cool use sufficient to cover the pork steaks and marinade in a ziplock bag or dish at room temperature for at least an hour or preferably overnight in the fridge. [You can use the remainder as a marinade for pork or chicken or to baste chicken wings, sausages and vegetables on the barbecue. It keeps well in an airtight jar in the fridge.]

Cooking

  1. Preheat the BGE for direct heat and heat to about 180C.
  2. Place the soaked plank on hot grill and heat for 3 minutes.
  3. Remove pork from the marinade and discard remaining marinade.
  4. Flip the plank and place the pork on the heated side of the plank.
  5. Grill with the lid closed for about 20 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 65C. You do not need to turn the pork during cooking.
  6. Allow to rest on a shallow dish for 5 minutes, tented in foil. Serve, sliced across the grain, with its own juices. It should be pink near the edges and gloriously moist and tender within.

Note – to cook in a conventional oven:

  1. Heat the oven to 220º.
  2. Place the pork steak on a wire rack over a roasting tin filled with 4 cm of water to catch the drips and roast for 20 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to 180°C to avoid burning and roast for another 12 to 13 minutes.

Naan Bread
Naan bread is Asian in origin and resembles pitta bread but is much softer in texture. I loved watching it being made by the Uighur women in Xinjiang Province where they slapped rounds of dough against the walls of  big clay ovens and took it out minutes later golden and steaming. The Big Green Egg’s ability to reach high temperature makes it the prefect environment in which to make this bread and it is great served with lamb and dipped in the spicy Tzatziki sauce.
Ingredients

  • 375g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 2 tbs sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 190 ml warm water (about 40 to 45C )
  • 4 tbs plain Greek yoghurt

Method

  1. Sieve the flour into a large bowl, add the yeast and salt and mix well.
  2. Make a well in the centre, add the sunflower oil, honey, water and yoghurt and stir well until a dough forms.
  3. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth or clingfilm and leave to rise for around 2 hours until doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile set the BGE for indirect cooking with the Plate Setter, legs down and the Baking Stone on top and preheat to 220C. This takes at least 30 minutes.
  5. When risen, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, cut into 8 equal pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece of dough into a ball and, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each ball into a disc about 1.5 cms thick.
  6. Place the discs on the preheated Baking Stone and close the lid. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes on each side until golden brown.
  7. Serve immediately or keep warm in a conventional oven until the rest of the meal is ready to be served.

Xinjiang Vegetables
I cooked the vegetables on a half moon griddle pan while the lamb chops were cooked on the cast iron grid beside them.
Cut courgettes into 1 cm slices at an angle, dip in egg white and  then a little cornflour or potato flour. Dust with a mix of ground cumin, salt and dry roasted Sichuan pepper to taste and grill them on a high heat on an oiled griddle tray on the BGE for few minutes, turning once.
Par-boil potatoes slice them thickly and grill them on an oiled griddle,  plain or scattered with the cumin mix.
Spicy Tzatziki Sauce
This recipe came from the lamb pops recipe on the BigGreenEgg.com website. I didn’t have any saffron last weekend so I stirred in a little smoked paprika for colour and flavour.
Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 125 ml plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
 Method
  1. Pour the water into a small cup, add the saffron, and let sit for 10 minutes, then strain, reserving the water.
  2. Put the yogurt in a small bowl, add the saffron water, mint, lemon juice and salt and stir well.
  3. Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Big Green Egg Peking Style Roast Duck

I had flirted with the idea of getting a Big Green Egg for some time before finally taking the plunge. It was the prospect of preparing a traditional Irish Christmas dinner for up to 20 people that spurred me into making the commitment so don’t give out to me for introducing the topic of Christmas in August. It’s just for a moment!
We hope Christmas 2013 will be a very special gathering of our “clanns” and a good way to mark the end of the year of The Gathering. It will be Dermot’s first Christmas, we will have Claire and Mike home from Australia and all of us together for Christmas for the very first time. We will also have Shan’s MaMa and family from Beijing and Urumqi on their first trip outside China. Christmas dinner will be in our little house in Duncannon just three days before Shane and Shan’s Irish wedding and Dermot’s christening. So while the sun split the stones on Duncannon beach, my thoughts were already turning to how to organise the logistics of the day in a small kitchen dining room that will be too crammed with people to allow me get at the oven.
Then a chance July conversation over coffee in Duncannon with one of my Twitter friends Mary Mc @MsJuly31 about a party being given that night by another Twitter friend @AidanClince where he was doing all the cooking on his BGE led to one of those “Eureka!” moments. I had a sudden picture perfect vision of serving up a 20 lb turkey cooked on the deck in the BGE no matter what the outside temperature, succulent and with a mild smoky flavour… with one bound our heroine was free…
The following weekend my Mum and I took ourselves off to A Room Outside in Limerick, the only Irish suppliers of the BGE and it was delivered to my door the following Monday by PJ, just in time for Claire and Mike’s short holiday in Duncannon before returning to Australia. While PJ assembled it for me he passed on some of his own cooking ideas and expertise including how he uses it to cook fish on wooden boards.

Ta Dah! BGE arrives in its natural state

Now we are at the early stage of our relationship my BGE and I. I haven’t quite got his measure yet. Cue fourteen of my ravenous family sitting at the dinner table in Duncannon last Tuesday night chanting “why are we waiting” (led in the chorus, I might add, by my dear mother) while I hovered anxiously over the beast, wringing my hands and waiting for a slow cooked roast to come to the correct internal temperature and Claire, Mike and Derry rushed around like dervishes trying to keep everyone fed with something, anything…
By this stage Claire’s mental picture of Christmas dinner was getting somewhat less idyllic than mine and she was visualising me, in similar pose, but wrapped in heavy duty  rain gear while she tries to entertain the Chinese guests… Much practice needed. Continue reading Big Green Egg Peking Style Roast Duck

Lamb Chuan'r (Kebabs)

I haven’t been writing much for the last while. Various minor and major illnesses among family and close friends have conspired to interfere with my concentration. But today is my birthday (and my Mum’s, yes we share the same date – happy birthday Mum!) so it’s time to to put the traumas of the first half of the year behind and turn to happier thoughts.
Claire and Mike have arrived home from Australia for a brief visit for his brother’s wedding in England and, with the glorious weather, I’ve been plotting what to have for a barbecue that would evoke memories of our visit to my daughter-in-law Shan’s home town of Urumqi last summer. Those of you who have been following the blog will know that Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the remote northwest of China – a vast, dry, mainly desert region that occupies a sixth of China’s territory and is bounded on its borders by Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan.
What struck me forcibly on that first visit was that, despite the superficial similarities with other Chinese cities, this is a place apart. Streets signs in an Arabaic-based script and the facial features and dress of many of the inhabitants, are constant reminders that the city has a large Uihgur population – a Turkic-speaking people of Turkish origin who are Sunni Muslims. Men dressed in conservative garb of long coats and knee-high boots and women swathed in shawls or wearing traditional dress evoke the mysteries of the old Silk Road.

Uighur’s in traditional dress

The influence of the Uighur culture is strong. Lamb dominates the local diet and the nomadic history of many of the Turkic minorities – the Kazakhs and the Kirgiz – is evident in the food which has echoes of east and west. Their wide flat or pici like noodles, with their resonance of Italian pasta,  link them with the wheat flour – mian – eaters of northern China.
Their spice stalls sell all my Chinese favourites like Sichuan pepper and star anise but also cumin, cardamon, saffron and other aromatic seasonings more commonly associated with Central Asia and the middle east. There are raisins, dates and other dried fruits in abundance. Their fresh fruits, nourished by the short, hot summers include the fattest grapes, cherries, apricots and pistachios I have ever seen.
Fresh fruit in Urumqi

The locals love their tea but their nomadic heritage is evident in their fondness for yoghurt and other dairy foods. Their golden naan bread makes you feel you have stumbled into a Persia of another era. This is a melting pot of cuisines with its own unique characteristics.
On our first day we had lunch in a Uighur restaurant beside the “This and That Satisfactory Chain Supermarket” – lamb kebabs with sesame seeds (chuan’r) a biryani style rice dish with lamb similar to MaMa’sLamb Rice and lamb with pasta like Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti with Lamb. We washed it down with a yoghurt drink and tea.
Shane tucks into the chuan’r in Urumqi

I will forever associate the scent of lamb and cumin lingering in the air on hot dry evenings with Urumqi and I posted a stir-fried Lamb with Cumin recipe recently. Then last weekend Shane and Shan and attended a barbecue in a hutong on the outskirts of Beijing where they had traditional chuan’r kebabs so I set about trawling my recipe books to try and recreate them here. To my astonishment I found the perfect recipe in the Greekish section of Rozanne Steven’s marvellous Relish BBQ book which is my go-to cookbook this summer.
I can only conclude that once upon a time a lonely Greek goatherd came up with this way of cooking fresh goat meat over his campfire as he wandered the hills of his native islands and served it with fresh yoghurt from his herd.  Over the years the traditional recipe travelled, with minor variations, across the world, carried by nomadic shepherds and goatherds through Turkey, Persia and along the old Silk Road to end up as a staple dish in North Western China.
Rozanne’s recipe was too perfect to mess with so I’ve only made one or two minor changes – for instance the Chinese use groundut rather than olive oil and sugar rather than honey. The addition of a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds is also typical of Urumqi. Rozanne serves her kebabs with delicious clumps of grilled grapes bursting their juices whereas in Xinjinag the grapes would usually be served at the end of the meal. I tried this out last weekend in Duncannon. Definitely a winner.
Rozanne’s book is available from her website and all good bookstores and is surely the most inspired cookbook for the summer we are having. If you haven’t got it already go out there and find it before the weekend. It’s packed with hundreds of great barbecue ideas and I mentioned some of them, including my favourite – Norman’s Butterflied Leg of Lamb – in this post.
Now as it’s my birthday I’m going to indulge myself by posting two recent photos of my lovely grandson Dermot now aged 5 1/2 months, one taken before and the other just after his first haircut. His other nai nai adhered to the Chinese tradition of cutting off the straggly baby hair in the hot summer months so that his new hair will grow stronger. Hmmm, I find this idea takes getting used to and I think Dermot might agree…. 🙂
Before….

And after…

What I wouldn’t give for a birthday hug from that little man today.
But it’s fantastic to have Claire, Mike and her friend Diane around to share the occasion for the first time in many years. Time to count blessings.
Celebrating homecomings at China Sichuan Dublin last night

Lamb Chuan’r Urumqi Style 
(with ever so slight variations from Rozanne Steven’s Greekish recipe for Marinated Goat Kebabs and Grilled Grapes)
Preparing the Lamb Chuan’r

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg diced lamb
  • 2tbs ground nut oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds to serve

Marinade:

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 50 ml groundnut oil
  • Juice and zest of a lemon
  • 3 tbs of finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 ½ tbs finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbs finely chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander
  • 1 ½ tbs ground cumin
  • ½  tbs ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tbs honey or soft brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Greekish Minty Tzatziki:

  • 250 g thick Greek yoghurt
  • ½  large cucumber, peeled, seeded and shredded
  • 1 glove garlic finely chopped
  • Juice of ¼ lemon
  • 1 tbs finely chopped fresh mint
  • Salt and pepper

Lamb Chuan’r by candlelight in Duncannon

Method:

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lamb. Mix well and marinade for between 3 and 24 hours.
  2. To make the tzatziki, sprinkle the cucumber with salt and leave in colander to drain off excess moisture then pat dry with kitchen paper. Mix in a bowl with the other ingredients and chill for a few hours before serving.
  3. Skewer the lamb onto metal skewers, pushing together tightly.
  4. Spread out the skewers on a hot barbecue. Grill for about 5 minutes each side to seal well, then continue to grill the chuan’r until just cooked and tender (this will depend on the size of the cubes).
  5. Serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and with the tzatziki. Be careful handling the skewers as they can get very hot.

Eighteen days of Dermot – Relished

Goodbye to Shane, Shan and Dermot and safe journey back to the welcoming arms of MaMa.
Goodbye to baby chairs and travel cots and car seats and rattles and noisy toys and all the paraphernalia needed to play host to a four month old baby.
Goodbye to the constant stream of visitors – young friends like modern magi with their  gifts, chatter and wisdom.
Goodbye to conversation and the strumming of guitars drifting from the garden on rare balmy June evenings, to food served as it should be – communally, on platters, for sharing – hot from the BBQ or sizzling from the wok, to catering for an ever changing crowd.
Goodbye to the infectious sound of giggles from the kitchen downstairs as your Grandad Ye Ye teaches you a new game or soars you through the air like an airplane.
And to my own sacred moments, walking the bedroom floor to soothe you while your parents have a rare night out, feeling the unexpected weight of a buggy as I push you around Shanganagh park and show you a glimpse of the Irish sea, reading you your first nursery rhymes, proudly strolling through Stephen’s Green to introduce you to the ducks, a novice Nai Nai on the loose, holding your gaze.and rapt concentration  as you clutch my fingers and wrist from your car seat…
Singing with you each morning and waltzing to the strains of Tiny Dancer, marvelling at how in a little over two weeks your  legs have strengthened, your body lengthened, your attention span and field of vision increased, you’re even more inquisitive and the sounds you make are words in a language known only to you.
That’s what I forgot about babies, how quickly they change, but nothing, nothing in this life had prepared me for the rush of love that goes with being a grandparent.
So goodbye for now to special encounters and unforgettable moments – you  learning to play “clap hands” with your great granny Tai Tai, puzzled as your feet touch the ticklish grass of Irish ground for the first time, meeting countless O’Neill and Corcoran relatives, frowning initially and then relaxing as if to say “I have you now”…
Well Dermot, you certainly have us –  in the palms of your tiny hands…

 
Safe home little one agus go n’eiridh on bóthar leat. May the ancestors you didn’t get to meet – your great granny Alice and your great Grandads Seamus and Sean mind you on your way.
Relish BBQ
Every special time has its own soundtrack or, in my case a cookery book that keeps me company along the way.
For Dermot’s first visit to Ireland it has been my copy of Rozanne Stevens  Relish BBQ book which is already dog-eared and spattered with splashes of marinade from the grill.
I’ve cooked 8 or 9 full dishes from it so far, each one a winner. If you buy just one cookbook this summer make it this one. It’s packed with recipes with Rozanne’s unique  “ish” factor from around the world and is available from Rozanne’s website or in most good bookshops.
I’ve adapted her sticky marinade/ basting sauce below slightly to make it even more Chinesish by substituting Shaoxing rice wine for dry sherry. I made it using homemade chilli jam from the recipe given to me by Tom Walsh chef at Samphire @ The Waterside, Donabate but a bottle of sweet chilli sauce will also do the trick. It’s great with pork ribs and chicken and is already one of my favourite sauces along with homemade chilli jam and chilli oil. My Mum took home the left-over sauce from Duncannon on Sunday and has discovered it works well in the oven too basted over pork ribs that have been simmered in boiling water for 10 minutes then drained.
Thanks Rozanne for helping make our celebration meals special.
Rozanne’s Chinese Sticky Marinade and Basting Sauce

Ingredients

  • 8 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 thumb sized pieces of ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 250 g dark brown sugar
  • 200 g honey
  • 250 ml hoisin sauce
  • 250 ml Shaoxing rice wine (or pale dry sherry)
  • 200 ml light soy sauce
  • 200 ml Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam (or sweet chilli sauce)
  • 50 ml groundnut oil (or sunflower oil)
  • 2 tbs Chinese five spice powder

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a pot and simmer, covered on gentle heat for 10 minutes.
  2. Use as a marinade for pork or chicken and to baste chicken wings, sausages and vegetables on the barbecue.

 

Braised Pork Rib and the Ritual of Bai Jiu

Our little grandson is due to arrive for his first visit to Ireland this day 3 weeks. He has been growing in our absence. Here he is enjoying his first stay in a hotel room after his first plane journey to the city of Changchun where Shan has her hukou and where they travelled to try and sort out the permits for his journey home. I will explain the complex hukou system of household registration and its ramifications some other time when I have figured it out for myself but for now I’m reminded of the biblical journey to Bethlehem to register for the Census, albeit with more comfortable accommodation and not a donkey in sight.

Dermot enjoying his first hotel room

To distract myself while I await his arrival, I’ve been cooking again and tonight I recreated the braised pork rib recipe that Chef Chao taught me when I attended Hutong Cuisine cookery school in Beijing. This is one of the dishes I served at our Shananigans’ Feast in Sydney the following week where it was a big hit.
It is simplicity itself to prepare but needs to be cooked slowly over a low heat to achieve the correct sticky, melt in the mouth texture. The magic ingredient is a few tablespoons of bai jiu – which translates literally as  “white wine” but is in fact a distilled spirit with an alcohol content by volume of between 40% and 60%.
Bai jiu for cooking

In China, the best quality bai jiu is associated with the practice of toasting gan bei style – the Chinese equivalent of “cheers” which translates as “dry glass”. The liquor can be horrendously expensive with a price of a bottle for a special occasion banquet running to €100 or more but you can by a cheap and socially acceptable bottle for less than a euro. It is knocked back in shot glasses.
My first encounter with bai jiu was when we visited Shan’s family in Urumqi in Xinjiang province last summer. During our visit we attended a number of formal family banquets and on each occasion the ritual of formal gan bei toasts was an important part of proceedings. There is a definite hierarchy to these toasts.  The host will toast the most important guest first, then the next most important and so on. The toaster always stands to make the toast and the glasses are filled to exactly the same level (in practice to the brim) as to do otherwise would imply disrespect. The glasses are clinked gently and low in a manner reminiscent of bowing. Sipping is not an option. Each toast involves the proposer walking around the table to stand beside the person proposed too while the rest listen in respectful silence and then cheer noisily. Mercifully only those directly involved in the toast are required to drink.
The first family gathering held in our honour was an amazing experience. Twenty five people gathered in an ornate private room in a local hotel at a big round table with a lazy susan at the centre. A large screen TV remained on at low volume in the background throughout but for the chatty Gao family this wasn’t a distraction. A chandelier hung over the table and a huge flower display, formed the centre piece.
Family gathering in Urumqi

The family was arranged strictly in seniority order – as honoured guests we were at the top of the circle, Shan’s MaMa to our right, first uncle and wife to our left, 2nd and 5th uncles to either side beyond them with their own direct offspring, their spouses and children if present. Next in order the daughter of Shan’s MaMa’s sister, her sister’s daughter and first cousin and finally any remaining members of that generation. Everyone was addressed by title and family rank rather than name. Nai Nai if you were the granny generation, Ayi for the aunt, Shu Shu for uncle.
The consequence of this table arrangement was that Shane and Shan were a long way away from us leaving us pretty helpless at making conversation as only one of the younger son-in-laws at the far side of the table had any English at all.  Still we got by as the food started to swirl around the lazy susan, hot and cold dishes of local fare and what they called “hotel fare”. Shan’s Mum, who I had only just met at that stage, was trying to teach me the names in Mandarin for tofu, pork, beef, lamb, chicken, noodles, dumplings and many vegetables I didn’t then recognise.
It wasn’t long before the ritual of bai jiu started.
First Shan’s Mum proposed a toast of welcome to us, then, with our permission, she passed the responsibility of host to first uncle. Second uncle repeated the ritual with the same challenge to “gan bei”. And so it continued around the table as, one after the other, each branch of the family said their piece and made us welcome with Shan translating every speech.
Generally speaking only the men were required to toast but Derry was off the hook as he doesn’t drink alcohol. Instead he responded with a perfectly pitched speech on our behalf, and managed to make Shan cry as she translated it. Meanwhile I decided to do my bit for the family honour and quickly earned a reputation as being li hai (deadly) by downing two shots of bai jiu in a row. The truth is that I swallowed the first one fast to avoid the taste and was immediately proffered another one. I quickly migrated to red wine in tiny glasses but by then the Uncles had decided I was good fun and insisted on telling the entire family of my prowess with bai jiu for days to come.
Shane had the bigger challenge. As someone entering the family on marriage, he had to make an individual toast to each of the uncles and male family members present – no shirking for him and I’m astounded he was still standing by the end of 10 toasts and able to walk home in the summer heat.
Toast number one – first uncle

Toast number 9…

Shane ended by toasting Shan, the woman he loves, making her cry again and then her brother Gao Feng spoke in his capacity as head of the immediate family, asking us to take good care of his sister who he loves very much – more tears and by this stage we were all emotional wrecks.
There was much talk of welcoming us into their family and of making their already large family an international one and huge appreciation of our coming such a long way to visit them and saying how easily we fitted in. There was even a toast for me from First Auntie when she realised I had once worked for the Department of Transport in Ireland because she works for the equivalent Department in Xinjiang province.  Another was needed between me and one of the cousins when the lazy susan stopped with the whole fish pointing head to me, tail to the other end of the table. I made a brief toast to Shan’s Mum at the end thanking her for making me feel so welcome and like a sister and saying how special Shan was. Cue more tears.
Eventually we were asked about the proper way to bring a family gathering like this to a close in Ireland and we explained there was none so the honour fell to First Uncle to make a final toast and invite us all to dinner on our last night in Urumqi so that we could do it all over again. He enquired if we were Catholics and if that meant there were any foods we couldn’t eat and on having been reassured on that score they planned another Chinese meal.
The meal below is more like Chinese comfort food than banquet cooking but the use of bai jiu brings back happy memories indeed, especially now that Dermot has arrived to cement the family relationships.
The bai jiu I used is one I picked up for about 70c on my shopping expedition with Shan’s MaMa in Beijing and is 42% proof. If you cant get a bottle of it in your local Asian market, substitute vodka (or potcheen which is closest to the flavour!!) The eagle-eyed among you will recognise it as one of the 10 ingredients featured in the recent competition on the blog.
Braised Pork Rib with Soy Sauce and Sugar – Hong Shao Rou
Pork gently cooking

Continue reading Braised Pork Rib and the Ritual of Bai Jiu

Two different takes on Fish Fragrant Sauce – aubergine and pork

I’ve been enjoying cooking “fish fragrant” recipes since I started this blog and I have discovered several different ways of creating the salty, spicy, sweet, sour yu xiang flavour which the people of Sichuan love to use in their land-locked region to recall the flavours they associate with fish. The description often causes confusion among westerners as there is no fish or fish sauce used in these recipes.
The first time I made fish fragrant pork I used a recipe given to me by Chef Ricky when I went inside the kitchen of China Sichuan in Dublin and you can read it here. That version used chilli garlic sauce and owner Kevin Hui told me that in the early years they described it as Pork in Spicy Garlic Sauce on the menu to avoid putting off diners!

Chefs preparing fish fragrant pork at Taste of China (Photo by Solange Daini)

More recently I’ve cooked fish fragrant pork using fish fragrance marinaded peppers, as prepared by the chefs of China Sichuan at the Taste of China cookery demonstration. Before I left for China I promised to post the recipe for using this marinade and it is now below.
I know some of you have had these marinaded peppers in your fridge for at least 3 weeks now so it should be nicely flavourful. I used my now 9 week old marinade tonight, this time with chicken, and it was delicious.
Fish Fragrant Chicken with a dash of Chilli Oil

When I visited Beijing recently, I learned how to make a classic fish fragrant sauce based on pickled chillies chopped to a puree with a cleaver blade. The recipe for fish fragrant aubergine below is the one taught to me by Chefs Chun Yi and Chao at Hutong Cuisine in Beijing and is the way Chun Yi learnt to make it when she trained as a chef in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
Hutong Cuisine fish fragrant aubergine – yu xiang qie zi
Practising Fish Fragrant Aubergines at Hutong Cuisine

Continue reading Two different takes on Fish Fragrant Sauce – aubergine and pork