Stop, You’re Making Me Hungry!

fat1I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, based on the book of the same name and hosted by its author Samin Nosrat. It’s one of those inspiring cooking documentaries that makes you want to rush into the kitchen and start taking food seriously. Samin Nosrat is a delight — funny, warm, passionate. Her enthusiasm about food is infectious.

I am now also reading the book and here is an excerpt, about fat. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learnt from Nosrat about the ‘four elements of good cooking’ and trying some of the recipes too.

(The book is beautifully illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton.)

Used as a main ingredient , fat will significantly affect a dish. Often, it’s
both a source both of rich flavor and of a particular desired texture. For
example, fat ground into a burger will render as it cooks, basting the meat
from within and contributing to juciness. Butter inhibits the proteins in flour
from developing, yielding tender and flaky textures in a pastry. Olive oil
contributes both a light, grassy flavor and a rich texture to pesto. The amount
of cream and egg yolks in an ice cream determine just how smooth and
decadent it’ll be (hint: the more cream and eggs, the creamier the result).
The role fat plays as a cooking medium is perhaps its most impressive and
unique. Cooking fats can be heated to extreme temperatures, allowing the
surface temperature of foods cooked in them to climb to astonishing heights
as well. In the process, these foods become golden brown and develop the
crisp crusts that so please our palates. Any fat you heat to cook food can be
described as a medium, whether it’s the peanut oil in which you fry chicken,
the butter you use to sauté spring vegetables, or the olive oil in which you
poach tuna.

Certain fats can also be used as seasoning to adjust flavor or enrich the
texture of a dish just before serving: a few drops of toasted sesame oil will
deepen the flavors in a bowl of rice, a dollop of sour cream will offer silky
richness to a cup of soup, a little mayonnaise spread on a BLT will increase
its succulence, and a smear of cultured butter on a piece of crusty bread will
add untold richness.

whatshouldicook
From Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.
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Tofu in an Earthenware Pot

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I have been reading Hiromi Kawakami’s fiction and came across the following description of yudofu in the novel Strange Weather in Tokyo. Such a simple dish, but so delicious and comforting. Reading it, I craved some simple tofu, drizzled with soy sauce and fresh onion oil, then sprinkled with finely chopped spring onion and deep fried shallots.

On the third day of the new year, when my brother and his family had
gone out for a round of well-wishing, my mother made me yudofu for lunch.
Yudofu had always been one of my favorite dishes. It’s not the kind of thing
children usually like but, even before I started elementary school, I loved my
mother’s yudofu. In a small cup she mixes saké with soy sauce, sprinkling it
with freshly shaved bonito, and then warms the cup along with the tofu in an
earthenware pot. When it’s hot enough, she opens the lid of the pot and a
thick cloud of steam escapes. She heats the whole block of tofu without
cutting it, so I can then ravage the firm cotton tofu with the tips of my
chopsticks. It’s no good unless you use tofu from the corner tofu shop, and
they always reopen on the third, my mother chatted away as she cheerfully
prepared the yudofu for me.

It’s delicious, I said.

My mother replied with obvious pleasure, You’ve always loved yudofu,
haven’t you?

I can never seem to make it the same way.

That’s because you use different tofu. They don’t sell this kind of tofu over
where you live, Tsukiko, do they?

After that, my mother fell silent. I was quiet too. Without speaking, I
demolished the yudofu, dousing it with the saké soy sauce as I ate.

A Mellow, Sweet Taste Unfurled

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I was recently in Singapore for six days and it’s taken me more than a week to catch up with life and start blogging again.

Whenever I’m in Singapore I eat dry fishball noodles or mince pork noodles. It tastes much better there than it does here. (I’m sure this declaration will send most Malaysians into a rage, but, on the whole, I prefer Singaporean food to Malaysian food. Or maybe it’s my home state, Johor’s food I remember and love, and Singapore is close enough to Johor for its food to be similar, while KL is a totally different world.)

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When in Singapore I also try to have coffee and kaya toast at Yakun. It’s a chain, but the toast is consistently well made at all its outlets, as far as I can tell. This time round, my best friend Jenny (She’s Singaporean) and I had Saturday breakfast at the Yakun at Fortune Centre on Middle Road. We had kaya and butter toast as well as buttered toast sprinkled with sugar. We drank kopi C kosong, which is sugarless coffee with evaporated milk.

I haven’t had good kaya toast in KL so I look forward to my visits to Yakun in Singapore. I wonder if anyone has described this traditional kopi tiam breakfast (coffee and kaya toast) in a book.Read More »

Apple-and-Condensed-Milk Sandwiches

chunky coverToday’s delicious excerpts are from The Adventures of Chunky by Leila Berg, with illustrations by George Downs.

The book was first published in 1950, but it was a 1965 Oxford Children’s Library hardback edition that my father rescued (from his school library’s garbage heap) and brought home for me. Unfortunately, I lost that copy, but I managed to replace it in the late 90s.

Chunky’s real name is Joseph but he’s called Chunky because he enjoys food, like chocolate and bread and toffee, in chunks rather than neat slices or squares.

Chunky’s parents are scientists. They are always off experimenting on something or other so Chunky gets left to fend for himself quite a bit. However, he has his best friend Mike, the widow Mrs Spriggs and her niece Tangie to keep him company.

More than thirty years after I had first read this book, I still remembered many of Chunky’s adventures, like the time he taught a pig to be a music conductor, and when he found himself being followed by hordes of stray cats. I also remembered that when Chunky’s parents are off on one of their working trips, they always leave Chunky the most yummy-sounding packed lunches, teas and dinners.

Here are three excerpts describing meals from the book:Read More »

In Sandwiches or Spread on Fingers of Coarse Brown Bread

potted meat 4

I first came across potted meat in one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure stories. Potted meat sandwiches. What were they? I had no idea and could not Google it, but I imagined buttery white bread filled with something resembling mashed up luncheon meat.

omeIt was only when I read Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine that I found out what potted meat was. My introduction to Ms David was a little book published to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Penguin. I’ll Be With You in the Squeezing of a Lemon (named after a chapter in Omelette) collected excerpts from several of her books. It was also my introduction to food and cookery writing in general — David’s books remain my favourite in the genre.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is collection of the writer’s articles that were originally published in The Spectator, Gourmet magazine, Vogue, and The (London) Sunday Times. It contains a recipe for mayonnaise that makes me want to eat mayonnaise, never mind that I actually hate the stuff.

So, anyway, Omelette also features an article called ‘English Potted Meats and Fish Pastes’. By the way, I never did try potted meat when living in England. I can’t remember why I never tried looking for it at delis or supermarkets. Just as well because I would probably have been disappointed. Best I live in blissful ignorance, my imagination, aided by Blyton and David’s descriptions, conjuring the most delicious of sandwich fillings.

Here is David in a sub-section of the potted meat chapter:

pott

When and How to Serve Potted Foods and Pastes

‘A noble breakfast,’ says George Borrow of the morning meal offered
him at an inn at Bala in North Wales, ‘there was tea and coffee, a goodly
white loaf and butter, there were a couple of eggs and two mutton chops – there was boiled and pickled salmon – fried trout … also potted trout and
potted shrimps …’ A few weeks later he returns in search of more country
delicacies. He is not disappointed. ‘What a breakfast! Pot of hare; ditto of
trout; pot of prepared shrimps; dish of plain shrimps; tin of sardines; beautiful
beef-steak; eggs, muffins, large loaf, and butter, not forgetting capital tea…’

George Borrow was writing of Wild Wales in the eighteen-fifties. When
you come to analyse his splendid breakfasts you find that with slight changes
he might almost be describing a nineteen-sixties, chop-house revival period,
West End restaurant lunch. The potted shrimps, the trout, the steak, the pot of
hare (now the chef’s terrine de lièvre), the mutton chops (now lamb cutlets),
the salmon, now smoked rather than pickled, are very much with us still. The
March of Progress has alas transformed the goodly white bread into that
unique substance, restaurateur’s toast, while tea and coffee are replaced by
gin-and-tonic or a bottle of white wine, and for my part I would say none the
worse for that. Tea with a fish breakfast or coffee with beefsteaks have never
been my own great favourites in the game of what to drink with what.

Here we are then with plenty of ideas for an easy and simple English lunch; potted tongue or game followed by a simple hot egg dish; or smoked salmon paste with butter and brown bread to precede grilled lamb chops, or oven-baked sole, or fillet steak if you are rich. For a high-tea or supper meal spread smoked haddock paste on fingers of hot toast and arrange them in a circle around a dish of scrambled eggs. For cocktail parties, use smoked salmon butter, fresh salmon paste, sardine or tunny fish butter, potted cheese, as fillings for the smallest of small sandwiches. Fish, meat and cheese pastes do not combine successfully with vol-au-vent cases, pastry or biscuits, but in sandwiches or spread on fingers of coarse brown bread they will be greeted as a blessed change from sticky canapés and messy dips. Stir a spoonful or two of potted crab or lobster (minus the butter covering) into fresh cream for eggs en cocotte, into a béchamel sauce to go over poached eggs or a gratin of sole fillets. And as Mrs Johnstone, alias Meg Dods, author of the admirable Housewife’s Manual of 1826 wrote, ‘What is left of the clarified butter (from potted lobster or crab) will be very relishing for sauces’ while ‘any butter from potted tongue or chicken remaining uneaten will afterwards be useful for frying meat and for pastry for pies’.

And here is a recipe:

RILLETTES OR POTTED PORK IN THE FRENCH MANNER

This very famous charcutiers’ or pork butchers’ speciality is native to
Southern Brittany, Anjou and Touraine. It could be described as the French
equivalent of our potted meat – although it is very different in texture and
taste.

2 lb. of a cheap and fat cut of pork such as neck or belly; 1 lb. of back
pork fat; salt; 1 clove of garlic; 2 or 3 sprigs of dried wild thyme on the stalk;
a couple of bay leaves; freshly milled black pepper.

Ask your butcher to remove the rind and the bones from the piece of pork
meat (the bones can be added to stock and the rind will enrich a beef dish for
the next course) and if he will, to cut the back pork fat into cubes.

Rub the meat with salt (about a couple of tablespoonsful) and let it stand
overnight or at least a few hours before cutting it into 1 ½-inch thick strips –
along the grooves left by the bones. Put these strips, and the fat, into an
earthenware or other oven dish. In the centre put the crushed clove of garlic,
the bay leaf and twig of thyme; mill a little black pepper over the meat and
add about half a pint of cold water. Cover the pot. Place it in a very cool
oven, gas no. 1, 290°F., and leave for about 4 hours.

Now place a sieve over a big bowl. Turn meat and fat out into the sieve,
so that all the liquid drips through. With two forks, pull apart the meat and fat
(which should be soft as butter) so that the rillettes are shredded rather than
in a paste/Pack the rillettes lightly into a glazed earthenware or stoneware jar
of about ¾ pint capacity (or into two or three smaller jars). Taste for
seasoning. Pour over the rillettes (taking care to leave the sediment) enough
strained fat to fill the jar. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator until
needed.

Rillettes should be soft enough to spoon out, so remember to remove the
jar several hours before dinner. Serve with bread or toast, with or without
butter, as you please.

pork rillettes

 

Perhaps I shall attempt to make potted meat from scratch one day. Until then, I will read and imagine and salivate.