It’s snowing outside here in Shankill – well just a flurry but it is real snow. In Urumqi it’s -19 degrees C, too cold for Dermot to venture out but Shan tells me he loves to play with the texture of a snowball gathered from the window ledge and stares in intense concentration as it dissolves in his warm fingers. Shane is already back working in Beijing where it is a mere -7. The Spring Festival is drawing to a close this weekend and China is grinding back to it’s normal winter rhythm.
I’ve had many Chinese meals over the past two weeks including the superb New Year’s Banquet at China Sichuan Dublin where we celebrated both the Chinese New Year and, in his absence, Dermot’s first birthday on 5th February. But I had this notion that I wanted to create a Chinese Pizza to mark the arrival of the Year of the Horse, one that I could cook on the Big Green Egg.
I love making pizza dough and normally use the recipe in this post for the base but, thanks to my Italian friend Solange, I’ve recently discovered Pizza da Piero by the Artisan Pizza company whose products are hand made in Rathmines. These thin, light bases short-circuit the work of preparing a pizza, especially on a stormy Monday night when the rain is teeming down outside. They come in resealable packs of three and cook in about 10 minutes to crisp perfection.
I had decided to build my topping around confit duck and I had consulted Twitter about what else to include in it. I got lots of interesting suggestions and my favourite came from Tom Walsh, head chef at Samphire@theWaterside. And so Confit Duck Pizza with Chilli Jam, Sweet Pickled Peppers, Goats Cheese and Rocket was born.
For ease of reference, I’ve set out all the steps in the recipe below. But in practice I make this pizza the day after I’ve cooked a batch of confit duck legs. I roast some off in the oven that day and serve them with puy lentils or duck fat roast potatoes and pickled red cabbage. I save the rest to make confit duck hash and pizzas.
Tom Chef’s chilli jam and sweet pickled peppers can also be made well in advance and these days I always have some of each in the fridge in kilner jars. You will find you can put them to all sorts of uses in Asian and western dishes.
With these ingredients to hand it takes just moments to make up the pizza and you can relax while your oven heats to temperature. In my case the most challenging bit of preparing the pizza was the dash outside to the Big Green Egg in the lashing rain. But then I delegated that… and proved, once again, that the Big Green Egg can cope with any extremes of weather, even if I can’t! Confit Duck Pizza with Chilli Jam , Sweet Pickled Peppers, Goats Cheese and Rocket
(makes 3 pizzas) Ingredients
3 Pizza da Piero bases
2 confit duck legs
Tom Chef”s Chilli Jam
Tom Chef’s sweet pickled peppers
1 log of soft goat’s cheese
a large red onion thinly sliced
3 large handfuls of rocket
If using a Big Green Egg, place your pizza stone on stainless steel grill over the plate setter legs up and heat to about 220 degrees c. Alternatively heat your oven to 250 degrees c.
Shred your duck legs including some of the crispy skin.
Spread a thin layer of chilli jam on each base.
Scatter over pickled peppers, confit duck and sliced onion.
Break up some goats cheese and dot over the top of the pizza.
Bake for 7 to 12 minutes depending on your oven temperature until the base is crispy and the goats cheese just melting.
Scatter with rocket and serve.
Confit Duck Legs Ingredients
6 duck legs
Enough duck fat to cover the duck legs when melted (about 4 jars)
About 6 cloves garlic
about 4 Star anise
Some springs of rosemary and thyme
A few bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Dry out the duck legs at room temperature. Tuck the cloves of garlic, star anise, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves around them, season with salt and pepper and cover with melted duck fat.
Slow-roast them in the oven at 120 to 130 degrees for 3 to 4 hours until the meat is melting off the bone. Allow them to cool until the duck fat has set.
When ready to use, gently prise the duck legs out of the fat, saving the infused fat for glorious duck roast potatoes. Reheated the confit duck legs in the oven for about 15 minutes by starting them at 170 degrees C and crisping off the skin at 230 degrees C.
Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam Ingredients
6-8 red chilli peppers chopped roughly
300g castor sugar
300g white wine vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook gently to reduce to a syrupy, jam-like consistency being careful not to burn.
Blend with a stick blender.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
Tom Chef’s Sweet Pickled Peppers Ingredients
4 to 6 long pointy red peppers
400g white wine vinegar
400g castor sugar
6 star anise
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Slice the peppers into thin strips.
Pace the vinegar, sugar and star anise in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, add the pepper strips. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slowly.
When cool add a drizzle of olive oil to taste and store in a sealed container in the fridge.
The birthday boy
On Dermot’s first birthday he fulfilled the Chinese tradition of choosing his “destiny” from an array of objects – a ritual remarkably similar to the Romanian one we witnessed for twins Oli and Fredi at their first birthday party and which I wrote about in Images and Flavours of Tuscany last August.
From the array of items on display, Dermot first chose a golden pig (wealth), a statue (power) and then a jade bracelet. So much for literary pursuits (sigh). Ah sure go on Dermot… at this stage of your young life, you may as well aim to rule the world.
There are two women with whom I feel a common bond. Susana lives in Argentina, Elena in Romania. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Elena here in Ireland last year, I hope to meet Susana before the year is out. Meanwhile we occasionally exchange comments on Facebook. Even if I don’t always understand the words, written in three different languages, the sentiments shine through.
Because in recent months we three have acquired grandsons. Susana and Elena are grandmothers to Domenic and Frederic, the 7 month old twin sons of my lovely friend Solange (she who took the great photos at Taste of China at Cooks Academy).
NaiNai, nonna, abuela, bunica, call us what you will, we are the long distance grannies who share the joy and the longing of getting to know our grandchildren through Skype and social media.
Elena and Susana I salute you and share your pride in your grandsons.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past four weeks about how being a granny changes you:
There is a subtle shift in what matters. Suddenly climate change seems much more important, for instance, as you contemplate the world into which your grandchild will grow up.
You become addicted to Facebook, checking regularly in case your son or daughter has posted a new photo of the baby and because you don’t like asking for a new photo every day.
You trace the outline of your grandson’s mouth on the screen of your iPad during a Skype call, marvelling at his little sounds and snuffles. You are amused to find yourself unconsciously making the sign of the cross on his mouth when he yawns, just the way your own granny once did.
You save his photos in chronological order, studying them for signs of little changes that even his parents might not notice being so close to him on a daily basis. Already he’s losing that new baby look and you zoom in close to try and sense the texture of his skin, the feel of his hair.
You tell everyone you meet “I’m a granny now you know”, and feel sheepish immediately afterwards. You still seek out any excuse to show off his photos but know that you risk boring people.
You get into trouble with your son for posting a photo on Twitter or Facebook that was only meant for you (three strikes and I’m out!!)
You cuddle your friend’s babies, whom you also love, drinking in the sweet smell of the soft skin at the nape of their necks and imagine what you are missing.
You feel visceral envy of friends and relatives who live close by him and get to see him often.
You long to hold him.
Well in just over a week’s time I hope to do just that. This day next week Shananigans goes on tour. We travel to Beijing to meet Dermot and spend time with Shane, Shan and MaMa. From there we head to Sydney for a week to catch up with our daughter Claire and then back to Beijing for another week. You can expect tales of food and family. I might even manage to fit in a few cookery classes in between baby cuddles and perhaps, if I ask nicely, MaMa might even give me a some lessons. And in Sydney Claire is lining up a kind of impromptu cooks tour of the city and environs. The adventure continues.
Meanwhile I want you to do something for me. Make up a batch of the fish-fragrant marinade below. Lace it with vodka. Put it away in the back of the fridge and forget about it for at least 3 weeks. When I return from my travels, we will share a virtual meal of fish fragrant pork shreds, chicken shreds or aubergine – whichever takes your fancy – while I regale you with tales from afar.
The marinade is the one used by the chefs of the China Sichuan last Sunday. It is the sweet base which complements the salty and sour notes of the vinegar-based sauce you also add to this famous dish from Sichuan province. I’ve made fish fragrant chicken this week and I like to finish it off by adding a good dash of homemade chilli oil to bring out spicy notes and add a brilliant orange-red colour.
I served the dish with ShuXin tea given to me by my friend Tiedong Yang from Harbin in North Eastern China. Shu means Sichuan China and Xin means honesty and good faith. This particular blend is a jasmine tea called “Falling Snow” after the white flowers of the jasmine. Tiedong reminds me that the Chinese say that all that we eat and drink should balance so it is good to drink the light tea with the hot chicken dish to aid digestion.
As you probably know well by now, there is no fish in this dish which seems to have derived its name from the use of ingredients traditionally associated with fish cooking. For many years China Sichuan restaurant had to call it “Fried Pork Shreds in Garlic Sauce”, in case the name would put diners off.
If you can’t wait until I come back to try it, you will find an alternative version on the blog here which can be made with Lee Kum Kee Sichuan Garlic Sauce. And you will find the rest of the recipe used last Sunday at Taste of China here. Enjoy!
“Fish Fragrant” Marinaded Peppers Ingredients:
500 g bell pepper
500 g sweet red pepper
60 g salt
25 g ginger
25 g garlic
1 shot of vodka (30 to 35 ml)
Prepare and deseed peppers. Dice the peppers, chop the ginger and garlic. Place in a clean bowl and add the salt and vodka. Wrap with cling film and leave to stand in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. Blend roughly with a hand blender before use. The marinade will keep well in the fridge.
Regular readers will recall that I came back from a visit to my son Shane and his wife Shan in China late last July brimful of enthusiasm for learning how to cook authentic Chinese food but with very little idea where to start. Shortly afterwards Kevin Hui, owner of the China Sichuan, Sandyford Dublin invited me inside his kitchen where I got to see his chefs in action. You can read about that day here. I got lots of inspiration from the experience and as a result this blog began to gain momentum. Since then I’ve been encouraging Kevin to put on a cooking demo for a wider audience of food bloggers and home chefs so they too could share the experience of seeing Chinese chefs wield a cleaver and wok and work magic with dough for dumplings.
The opportunity came with a special event in Cooks Academy last Sunday to round off the Taste of China part of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival. Before an audience of around 30 people, head chef Ricky and his assistant Andrew demonstrated how to prepare the famous Sichuan dish “Fish Fragrant” Pork. Then we all did our best to replicate the dish under the watchful eyes of Michelin-star chef Colin O’Daly, Ciaran from Cooks Academy and the chefs from China Sichuan.
Later Ricky showed us how to make Waltip “stick to the pot” dumplings. As the afternoon wore on, and we wrestled with what by then resembled play dough, in an attempt to recreate Ricky’s delicate and perfectly-formed jiaozi, the mood descended into giddy good humour. Efforts were compared, the thickness of the pastry was closely examined, rueful looks were exchanged over misshapen dumplings and there were some surprisingly expert looking results too. Joanne Cronin of Stitch and Bear earned herself a Cooks Academy Certificate and a goodie bag from Asia Market for the best looking dumplings of the day.
It was all great fun but we learned a lot too and got many tips and insights from our skilled, professional chefs. More than anything the afternoon reminded me of the Chinese belief that food is for sharing, in the making of it and the eating of it. Our cheerful celebration of the shared pleasure of Chinese food was a fitting end to this year’s Spring Festival. Thank you China Sichuan, Dublin Chinese New Year Festival and Cooks Academy for making it possible.
These photos of the afternoon, taken by my friend Solange Daini, capture the mood of the day better than words can. Thank you Solange!
PS: You can see all 21 recipes from Taste of China, including the recipes from last Sunday on the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival website here.
When I visited London last week I used the opportunity to get a small taste of the variety of Chinese food on offer and to rue the absence of a wide range of Chinese cuisine in restaurants here in Ireland. I will write up the little I learned in the coming days but meanwhile two dishes caught my eye – one was an unusual dish of a tempura style cauliflower which I had in YMing in Greek Street, Soho. I wrote about my lovely experience in in the restaurant last week. The manager at YMing served the cauliflower to me with prawns.
The second was a dish of chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf which I had for lunch at Yauatcha, Broadwick St, London, an upmarket dim sum restaurant, resembling a night club, recommended to me by Kevin Hui of the China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin.
I set out to try and recreate both dishes at home tonight using Irish cauliflower, squid from my favourite south Co. Dublin fishmongers Roberts of Dalkey and good old Flahavan’s Porridge Oats – the multi-seed variety – which is one of the Love Irish Food brands.
I based the recipe on Fuschia Dunlop’s traditional Salt and Pepper Squid – Jiao Yan You Yu – which she included in her recent book Every Grain of Rice and I also took into account what I learnt about preparing seafood inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan.
It was only tonight that I realised that the jiao yan of “salt-and-pepper” is three parts salt to one part ground roasted Sichuan pepper and an extremely versatile seasoning and dip.
I also have to admit that I didn’t know what curry leaves were until my Twitter pals enlightened me this evening and then I only managed to find them thanks to a closing-time dash by Peter of Roberts of Dalkey to nearby Select Stores where he grabbed the last remaining pack they had in stock. Now that’s what I call service.
When I was discussing Asian food with Kevin Hui, owner of the China Sichuan recently, he mentioned his interest in Vietnamese food and his belief that it will grow in popularity in Ireland in the coming years. He introduced me to the writings of Luke Nguyen and lent me his book Indochine which documents the profound effect of the French on Vietnamese cuisine. He told me a little of Luke’s fascinating personal journey from being born in a Thai refugee camp, after his family fled Vietnam as boat people, to becoming chef and owner of the award-winning Sydney Vietnamese restaurant, The Red Lantern.
I’ve ordered the book Luke co-authored with his sister Pauline Nguyen, Secrets of the Red Lantern, from Amazon, so that I can get some sense of how Vietnamese food differs from Chinese. I look forward to trying out some of his recipes starting with this one which, in yet another coincidence, @Pat_Whelan passed my way recently. These Red Lantern Crisp Parcels– Cha Gio – are another take on spring rolls and different in filling and dipping sauce to the recipe I used earlier today.
But first I wanted to hear first hand what his food is like.
So, after whetting my daughter Claire’s appetite with a sumptuous Chinese meal at the China Sichuan when she was home in Dublin for a few days recently, I despatched her and Mike for dinner at The Red Lantern, on one condition – that they would review it for me (I love this delegation lark). I will let her take up the story from there. “Review of Red Lantern on Riley
No AA Gill, my review can be summed up in one word, YUMMY!
I was thrilled when Mum (Shananigans blogger, social media guru and slighted obsessed Chinese cooking nut!) asked if she might send myself and my husband Mike off to the Red Lantern so that I could review it for her blog. It ended up being our 2nd Anniversary celebatory dinner following a trip home to the UK and Ireland, where incidentally I ate more Chinese food than on my trip to Beijing in June!
First up I must confess that I booked us into the wrong place. I had thought that we were going to the original Red Lantern on Crown St but we were actually eating in the 4 month old new addition to the the Nguyen clan food empire on Reilly St. The restaurant is the brainchild of TV chef Luke Nguyen, his sister Pauline, brother-in-law and chef Mark Jensen and partner Suzanna Boyd.
My initial disappointment at my mistake was quickly dashed on arriving at the restaurant, cozy and dark with red wallpaper and obvious Saigon influences in the furnishing. Tables are close together but not on top of each other. My husband does not enjoy it when you are sitting on the knee of the person next to you so he was suitably pleased. Best of all the kitchen is glass fronted so you can see the chefs working away and the dance of an Asian kitchen in full flow.
The staff are great and put my inner waitress at ease immediately. They are the right mixture of bubbly, knowledgeable and engaged. They got us started with a cocktail from Red Lilly the funky cocktail bar at the restaurant. Mike had a whiskey sour which he enjoyed and I had a Halong Breeze, yum, I’m a sucker for anything with passion fruit and vodka!
We decided to have the 5 course tasting menu plus wines (thanks Julie and Derry) called ‘Delicious Dalat’ at $135 with matching wine.
The first course was Goi Cha Cuon, soft rice paper rolled with pork and duck terrine, vermicelli, cabbage and pickled carrot and Muc Rang Muoi lightly battered chili salted squid with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. In Vietnam we took part in a Vietnamese cooking class in Hoi An and I can tell you the Red Lantern’s rice paper rolls were a lot better than my attempt! Both the rolls and the chili squid were very tasty and a great start to the meal. Continue reading Unveiling the Secrets of the Red Lantern