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Oriental

There are things that I love about food descriptions and things that I hate. In Oriental cookery, many of the descriptions are truly evocative and allude to history and culture in equal measure. Great examples include “General Tso’s Chicken”. This evokes thoughts of the great Zuo Zongtang, a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader. That’s as far as it goes as there is no known connection to him or the dish in his home province of Hunan. This dish is punching above it’s cultural weight as it really is just a sweet, sticky American chicken with rice. Then we have “Man and Wife Beef”, “Squirrel Fish” and the classic “100 Year Old Egg”. Great names all. But, sometimes possibly going wide of the trade descriptions act.

“Fancy a quick one?” There was a time when one could ask that without drawing the ire and raising the hackles of half the planet. It’s an innocent question. If it has been misinterpreted in your cesspit of a mind, that really is your problem, not mine.  I’m talking about a Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry. It’s really easy (You could misinterpret that too.) and quick. Try giving it a lash.

Back in the day, in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, pork belly futures were traded. It was a market that made sense. Year round, pork was produced, the bellies were frozen and in the summer, when demand was high, bellies were defrosted and bacon was produced. So, there was a time lag between the expensive end of production and eventual consumption. This created an opportunity to turn a couple of quid. Weather patterns, political and social attitudes and even religion could have a marked effect on the future price of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Traders in brightly coloured jackets, worked the floor of the ‘Belly Pit’ in the Mercantile right up until 2011, squeezing a profit out of pork belly futures.

A tandoor is a type of traditional Indian oven that generates huge heat. Using a tandoor requires a deft touch and really accurate timing. Using my barbecue in the back garden is a lot more forgiving. I really enjoy a good Tandoori chicken. But, not being armed with the right equipment could be a handicap.

One other handicap many of us in the western world face when preparing ‘authentic’ Indian dishes is the pretty awful marinades and spice blends available. This is very often the fault of the sauce manufacturer’s marketing department (SMMD).

I am a very lucky guy in lots of ways. Both professionally and socially, I know more than my fair (or should that be fare) share of chefs and restauranteurs. Over the last few years, they have all, in various ways, been inspirational for me in developing my blog and the food that I prepare here. Kevin Hui, the affable and talented owner of China Sichuan here in Dublin is one such person. Recently, I told him that I planned to prepare Bao, the delicious steamed Chinese buns. I was surprised by Kevin’s reaction; “Don’t prepare the buns yourself. They are a pain to make. I’ll give you some.” This, of course had the opposite effect to that intended by Kevin. I had to make them.

This little delight might just as well be titled “Mantis Prawn V Monkfish – The battle of the uglies.” In truth, I had intended doing Mantis Prawns and Black Beans”. Never having cooked the crusty, ugly little crustaceans before, I didn’t reckon on them being so difficult to cook. The cooking bit is pretty easy (boil the blighters). But, getting the meat out of the shells proved to be impossible. 

“I can’t believe he said that!” But, I did. I said it and I intended to. I know you are a sensitive soul and are easily offended. But, I just had to say it. I said it so you would recognise yourself and say “Yes, perhaps I am a ‘lazy B’. That’s why I don’t cook any of Conor’s lovely recipes. I like to look at the nice pictures and imagine how the food must taste. That’s satisfaction enough for me.” If you do, then this is a dish for you. I’ve even named it for you “Lazy Bastards’ Ginger Chicken“. It is simplicity itself to prepare and is a total delight. Who knows, it might make a cook out of you too.

Thai Beef Stew (2 of 9)I’ve been writing this blog for a few years now. Like all endeavours, it has it’s ups and downs. There are weeks when I am overflowing with ideas for stories and recipes. There are the fallow periods when I haven’t either a recipe or story idea that makes any sense. I have been through a thin patch recently and was beginning to think that perhaps I should park the endeavour for a while (That’s a euphemism for give it up entirely). Then, along came a thought; “What about a Thai style Beef Stew?”. Without thinking about it, I was thinking about it. I rummaged in the press and the fridge. Yes! lime leaves, coconut milk, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, garlic, potatoes and palm sugar. I just needed the beef and the spinach. Then I got to thinking about my motivation. Why do I write this blog? Why do I take the photos, process and publish them? Why do I devise and cook these recipes? 

Meatballs – they are not the most challenging thing to produce. Start with great meat, add some decent aromatics and be sure to serve them in a tasty sauce. If you do that, everything is bound to turn out fine. Fine, that is, if you don’t ask your daughter to choose between Thai and Italian. I made that mistake and she punished me for it. When I mooted the meatballs idea, she immediately said “Mmmmmmm, in a nice tomato sauce”. As I have already posted Italian style meatballs, my suggestion that I needed something new for the blog didn’t go down well. But she didn’t leave it there. 

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