Thursday, 30 December 2010

Recipe: Tandoori Chicken Thighs with Fragrant Saffron Rice

In my photograph (bottom) for this dish you will notice the chicken is not the familiar red colour you may get in an Indian restaurant. That is because I have omitted the optional red food colouring. You can include it if you wish but it will not change the flavour, just the look. 

This is delicious with the fragrant rice. Serve it with yogurt, chutneys, or as a starter with salad instead of rice. The options are endless. And remember, the longer you marinate the more the marinade will break down the protein in the chicken; flavouring and moistening the meat.

Tandoori Chicken…

150g live yogurt
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp freshly grated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp Chilli Powder (Preferably Kashmiri for red colour)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
4 cloves – ground
6 Cardamom Pods, Seeds only – ground
½ tsp red food colouring (optional)
4 chicken thighs

Saffron Rice…

4 Tbsp Veg Oil
6 Cardamom pods (slightly split)
1 Cinnamon Stick (about 3 inches long)
3 Cloves
1 Small-Medium Onion (very finely chopped)
1 Tbsp Butter
½ Turmeric
1 Cup of Basmati Rice
1 Cups of water
tsp Saffron Threads (soaked for 10 mins in 3 Tbsp Hot Water)


Freshly chopped coriander
Lemon Wedges


Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade thoroughly in an ample sized bowl. Marinate the Chicken for at least 5-6 hours covered tightly with cling film. 8 is preferably and overnight is ideal. Do not marinade for more than 2 days.

Pre-Heat the oven to the absolute maximum (usually around 250c).

Wash the Basmati rice in several changes of water and then soak, immersed in fresh cold water for 30 minutes. (This is very necessary for this cooking method so that the grains do not stick and so that they absorb some crucial water)

When the rice has about 10 minutes left to soak, shake excess marinade off the chicken thighs and place them into the pre-heated oven, on a rack with a tray beneath. This will help cook them evenly and prevent them from stewing in their juices. It also helps if you tie them up or wrap each thigh in a little bundle so that the fat protects them from going dry. Use the remaining marinade you have in the bowl to brush onto the meat wherever it looks to be turning a little too dark, too quickly. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 180c and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your oil for the rice in a pan that has a nice tightly fitting lid. If you do not have this, place a double layer of foil round the top of the pan, then put the lid on (once all your ingredients have gone in). It needs to be tight fitting for this way of cooking the rice. When the oil is hot, add your whole spices to the pan and stir them for about ten seconds or until the start to smell aromatic (careful not to burn them). Add your chopped onion and turn the heat to medim-low. Stir the onion frequently until it turns translucent and loses its raw scent. Next, melt in the butter and add the turmeric. Stir for 20 seconds. Turn the heat back to high and add your rice. Stir for a couple of minutes. Then add your water. Bring to the boil; add the saffron infused water and threads.

Next, cover the rice tightly and put the pot on your smallest burner on the lowest heat (very very gentle). Basically you have very little rice to water ratio in this cooking method. You are half steaming the grains. This will be worth it as they come out lovely and fluffy and not sticky, just like the Pilau at your local Indian.

Remove your meat from the oven when ready. Serve the rice next to the chicken. Garnish with freshly chopped Coriander and a Lemon Wedge to squeeze over the meat and rice.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Drinks Review: Sharp's Abbey Christmas Cornish Beer

After being presented with the old Yorkshire staples of Black Sheep & Timothy Taylor, as well as this new boy, it was a no brainer to try Sharp’s Cornish interpretation of Christmas.  This dark beer has been referred to as a ‘stout’ but given it isn’t particularly thick or bitter and has a sweetness to it, it feels like drinking a mild.

Back in the Middle Ages a flowering plant named ‘Yarrow’ was used to flavour beer, when Cornwall had a shortage of hops. Many centuries later, Sharp’s head brewer Stuart Howe has used this very ingredient in ‘Abbey Christmas’. This has helped to produce a beer, not too dissimilar from what medieval monks would have produced at the time.

I often find that Christmas themed beers serve their purpose of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, just like the festivities themselves. However, this beer is subtle and balanced in its flavouring. Drinking it brings to my mind, thoughts of a brewery who have gone back to the drawing board multiple times to perfect their Christmas gift.

That festive feeling may be beginning to fade, but there is still time to ring in the New Year like our medieval mates. No bald noodle necessary.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Book Review: Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey

Rick Stein describes south-east Asian cuisine as the rock & roll of the food world and I agree with him. All the food in this book is a multi-sensory experience that makes you want to plug-in, fire up and dance around the room.

I purchased this book after watching the television series, in which Rick Stein travels across India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Some would consider Rick Stein a bit of a geek. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that the word ‘geek’ is usually used to describe someone who has a passion for something, that their peers can’t quite grasp the extent of. Of course, it also describes someone who is socially inept. This cannot be attributed to RS as he knows exactly how to bring entire continents to life, just using words. He explores the world around him and is excited by the prospect of any new information he can get his hands on. Often in the series you can feel him feeding off his present company like a leech, which leaves him fat with knowledge. Thankfully, he wrote all of this down. Not just when he got home and wrote this book but as he stood side by side with the cook, eyes transfixed on the pot. Rick can be seen listing and smelling every ingredient as it goes in. Welcome to truly authentic Asian cuisine.

The book begins with a story, where Rick lures you in by conjuring up images of a hectic street, full of food venders and generally sets the scene for the entire book. He does this well given his use of language, like an M&S advert, but with genuinely decent food to promote. It isn't just the language, but the high definition photographs (that don't make too much of an attempt to be arty) that bring the ingredients to life. 

Strangely, the next best place you might find yourself is at the back of the book. Here you will find a huge glossary that talks you through all the weird and wonderful ingredients used throughout. You will also find a few pages dedicated to explaining the basic recipes required to keep a fully stocked larder. These are things such as Asian stocks, spice blends and condiments. The reason these are useful is because they are constantly referred to throughout the book. For example, you can’t have a fragrant Cambodian soup without a good stock behind it. You can’t have good special fried Thai rice without knowing how to make the hoi sin flavoured pork belly that runs throughout the dish. It is these (sometimes hefty) ingredient lists that seem to annoy some reviewers on the website, My advice to them would be, if you don’t want tasty and authentic regional food, then can I recommend a jar of Sharwood’s sweet and sour sauce that is a complete abomination?

People often cite cost as a reason not to pursue culinary greatness. That may be true in the first instance but if you continue to use and build on your larder, every dish you cook from there begins to decrease in value because you are making the most of your ingredients. This can be further aided by gearing your meals towards ingredients that need to be used or things that you have a lot of. But then, that is nothing new, in any cuisine.

I have to be honest. In order to get the most out of this book, you have to want it. You don’t necessarily have to enjoy wandering around Asian supermarkets on your days off. Touching, smelling, discovering. There is a nice glossary of Asian food websites that will deliver right to your door. However, I urge you to approach this book as an adventure. Throw yourself at it from every angle. When I say that, I don’t mean put the book in the centre of the room and hurl your physical self at the book from different directions. That would be silly…. And I doubt you would learn very much. That said, familiar dishes such as Aloo Gobi, Green Thai Curry and Pad Thai, are worth the entrance fee alone. With regards to the Pad Thai recipe; I recently went to my local Thai restaurant in North Yorkshire, which I previously felt was to a very high standard. When I tasted their Pad Thai, it couldn’t have fallen shorter from the version that Rick Stein had taught me. This was a restaurant whose head chef Kenneth Poon, had worked at Michelin Starred restaurant ‘The Oriental’ at the Dorchester in London.

What I am saying is, is that it is all here. You can produce some of the most exciting food out there, using just this book. It has a very complete feel about it. I personally, have never used any other cook book so frequently. As daunting as it may seem, if you approach this is as a learning exercise, it is rewarding. After watching the series, cooking from this book and hearing Rick talk of the people and their cuisine, I feel I understand their way of life and mentality much more intricately than before. That makes this very large and intriguing world of unknowns, become that bit more familiar. I’m not sure about you, but that is what I live for.

Rating: 5/5 Stars.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Recipe: Beef and Ale Stew with Mustard and Rosemary Dumplings

(Serves 4)

Many people use something called 'Braising Steak' for stews, which usually comes from the skirt, flank or shoulder. My favourite slow cooked beef comes from the shin. The flavour is rich and despite a shin sounding like an area with little meat, you are able to buy shin as boneless 'steaks'. This means that nice chunks are easily achieved. It's absolutely freezing here at the moment so warm yourself up with one of the ultimate comfort foods.

For the Stew...

800g Thick Diced, Boneless Shin of Beef
2 Medium Onions
2 Sticks Celery
2 Carrots
2 Cloves of minced Garlic
1 Tbsp Tomato Puree
1 Tbsp Plain Flour
500ml Real Ale, Bitter or Porter (if you want it darker tasting)
250ml Beef Stock
2 Bay Leaves
A large sprig of Thyme
A small handful of Prunes, finely chopped up (only if you’re using a dark ale or stout)
A couple of splashes of Worcestershire Sauce

For the Rosemary and Mustard Dumplings...

175g self raising flour (sifted)
75g Shredded Suet
1 Tsp Mustard Powder or 1 Tbsp Coleman’s Mustard
1 Tbsp Very finely chopped rosemary, preferably fresh, dried is ok
¾ tsp salt
Pepper to taste

For the Stew...

Pour a large glug of vegetable oil (or other) into a medium to large sized casserole pot. Heat high on the hob and put in half of the diced shin. (Not all of it as we want to fry and colour at this stage, not stew.) Avoid the temptation to move the beef round the pan (it will stick straight away). Just let it come away with a little push of a wooden spoon. We want to colour the meat a rich dark brown. Some cooks, not familiar with this will think the meat is burning. It is simply caramelising, which is one of the keys to cramming as much flavour into the stew as possible. Once it is browned all over, add a little more oil if needed and do the same for the second batch. Set the meat aside.

You should now have a brown ‘resin’ round the casserole pot. Roughly chop the mirepoix of veg and add to the pan. Fry, whilst scraping away all the meat juices from the pan for about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and fry for a further 3 minutes. Once the vegetables are have 'deglazed' the resin for themselves, add the tomato puree and stir in for one minute. Then add the flour and stir in for one minute.

Once you can see no more grains of flour, add the ale/porter followed by the stock. Season with some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and add the diced shin back in. Reduce heat, cover tightly and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring infrequently.

Enjoy several beers (optional)...

After 2 hours, add the chopped prunes if using(these won’t stay whole, they will melt. They just help to counter the bitterness of the darker beer and give it a richness). These will be especially handy if you use stout or porter. If you use lighter ale, it isn’t so necessary. At the same time, add in the bay leaves and thyme. Taste the stew and check if it needs more salt. Put in the splashes of Worcestershire sauce. Simmer (covered) for a further 20-30 minutes whilst you prepare the dumplings.

For the Rosemary and Mustard Dumplings...

In a bowl add all your dumpling ingredients. Then add enough water gradually whilst stirring until you have a dough that comes away cleanly from the sides but isn’t sticky. You will need roughly 80ml water to do this. They key here is not to over-work the dough. Just bring it together into a ball or they will be stodgy. Next, tear off ping pong sized chunks and mould roughly into balls. You should have enough in this mix for about 12 dumplings (3 each. Don’t worry, they double in size). Once the beef has been simmering for about 2 and a half hours and a piece of shin can be broken with the thumb and forefinger, you can add your dumplings. Place them round the casserole pot like marking out a clock, put the final balls into the centre. Cover again with the lid and simmer for about 20 minutes. Check the bottom of your casserole before and during the cooking of the dumplings because your stew is reducing here, it may over-thicken and stick to the bottom. Just stir well and add a splash or water or stock as necessary.

Once the dumplings have puffed up and are cooked through, plate up into warmed bowls and serve with lots of buttered crusty bread on the side.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Recipe: Chilli, Garlic & Lemongrass Chicken (Ga Xao Xa Ot - Feeds 4)

If I could recommend a dish that would ease a beginner into South-East Asian cuisine, it would be this one. This is a Vietnamese dish but the flavour it achieves will be very familiar if you enjoy Thai cuisine.  None of the ingredients should be hard to find and most of the flavour is in the marinade which goes in all at once. This is really simple and the flavour is great. I'm confident it will replace your Chinese or Thai takeaway favourites.

Look out for my beginners guide to Thai food that will be posted in the coming weeks.


... Marinade
  • 4 Chicken Breasts cut into 1cm thin, long strips
  • 4 minced shallots
  • 6 cloves of minced garlic 
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, finely mince the tender white end and remove the thin end and woody outer layer
  • 3 to 4 dried medium hot red chillies, ground to a power or minced up with a knife
  • 3  tbsp of sugar (preferably unrefined soft brown sugar/palm sugar but white will suffice)
  • 4 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp of fresh ground pepper

If you can, blend all the ingredients into a paste in a blender or pestal and mortar. Mix with the chicken in a large bowl and marinate the chicken for up to 8hrs but even with no marinating, you will still achieve great flavor.

… And for the rest

  • 3 tbsp Vegetable or groundnut oil
  • 150ml of homemade chicken stock or water
  • 3/4 tsp Salt (or to taste)

... Final Garnish

  • 4 spring onions finely chopped
  • A large handful of freshly chopped coriander
  • 3 Tbsp of plain peanuts toasted in a pan & then crushed slightly (optional)

Mix the ingredients for the marinade and marinate the chicken for about 2 hours or overnight covered in the fridge.

Heat a large wok on the highest heat (with no oil in) until it starts smoking… then put in the oil. Add the chicken with tongs piece by piece, making sure you drain off the marinade back in the bowl. Make sure the chicken is well spaced out in the pan. Avoid the temptation to move it round the pan and allow it to colour on one side before turning it (this will lock in the moisture and cook the chicken faster). Add any marinade you have remaining in your bowl. Now you can begin stirring this mixture around for even cooking.

Do this for 2 mins and then add the small amount of chicken stock or water (you do not want much of a sauce but more something you can reduce to a glaze). Add a little salt but not too much as the fish sauce would have seasoned earlier on.

Stir and reduce until chicken is cooked through (about 3 minutes after adding stock). Cut open the thickest piece to check it is cooking right through.

Serve on top of freshly cooked thai fragrant jasmine rice and garnish each bowl with plenty of the spring onions, chopped coriander and crushed peanuts.