Thursday, 5 September 2013

Homemade Tabasco style hot sauce

Tabasco sauce has been a constant companion in my life, from being a quick way to add a lovely light heat to any dish to enlivening Bloody Marys on the plane and spicing up dull meals when travelling. I have always been curious about how it is made and an article in the Telegraph in July gave me the perfect excuse to try making my own version.

I roughly followed Edmund Mcllhenny's original method -

'...crushing the ripest peppers, adding a cup of Avery salt to every gallon of crushed pepper, and letting the mixture age in crockery jars. After 30 days he added ‘the best French wine vinegar’ and let the sauce stand for another 30 days.'

But used ingredients that are easily available in London. So the long red chillies you can find in most supermarkets or Asian corner shops. These are fairly mild but tasty. Maldon sea salt is a home favourite and a sharp flavourful apple cider vinegar from Core Fruit Products at Oval farmers market.

Keeping the proportion of 1 cup (236.59ml) of salt to 1 gallon (4.54 litres) of chilli mash I blitzed a big bag of chillies to make a chilli mash and added the same ratio of salt.

I left this mix in a cool dark place for a month to ferment, and then strained the mash through a fine sieve and added enough apple cider vinegar to give the sauce a sour lift.

about 500g red chillies
Maldon sea salt
apple cider vinegar - to taste

Sterilise a measuring jug, a container with lid for your mash, a large metal spoon and a knife or food processor blade and bowl. I did this by putting them in a big pot of boiling water for a few minutes. Dry well with paper towels.

Wash the chillies thoroughly and remove any green stalks and nasty bits. Either chop them finely, seeds and all, or blitz in a food processor to a coarse mash.

The ratio of salt to chilli mash is 1 cup (236.59ml) of salt to 1 gallon (4.54 litres) of chilli mash. I spooned my mash into a measuring jug and added about 36ml of salt to 700ml of mash. Mix well.

Leave covered in a cool dark place for a month to ferment, then strain through a fine sieve, pressing out the liquid. Discard the leftover pulp. This left me with 250ml of fiery red liquid, to which I added 50ml apple cider vinegar.

This chilli sauce has been incredibly versatile - delicious in everything from drinks, soups and sauces to grilled meats, stews and fish.

I simmered the liquid with butter, sugar, more vinegar and flour, reducing it by half to make a gorgeously piquant hot sauce that is a classic with barbecued or deep fried chicken wings but also worked really well with some smoked prawns instead of aioli or mayonnaise.

Homemade buffalo hot sauce

200ml chilli liquid
50g unsalted butter
half a tablespoon of sugar
a teaspoon of flour
half to one tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Gently heat the chilli sauce in a small saucepan with the butter until it comes to the boil. Stir in the sugar and half a tablespoon of vinegar.

Sieve the flour into the lightly bubbling mixture and whisk out any lumps. Keep an eye on the flame and allow the sauce to simmer gently as it reduces, whisking occasionally to stop any sticking.

When the sauce will coat the back of a spoon have a taste and add more vinegar and/or sugar if you would like it sweeter or more piquant. Reduce again until you have a nice consistency without it being too thick.

Serve warm as a dip or drizzle over cooked meat, fish, grilled vegetables. Anything that takes your fancy really!

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Shiori 15.5.13 and 13.6.13

I love The Shiori. I love its quiet, tiny interior. The two cosy tatami matted booths are my favourite place to sit. Chef patron Takashi Tagaki's quiet but intense pace of work is fascinating to watch. And his wife Hitomi's friendly and at times entertainingly kooky approach to guests is a nice counterpoint to his silent concentration. The service is laid back - don't expect to arrive, eat in a hurry and leave quickly. This is the kind of evening that should not be rushed. The delicacy of the flavours and the beautiful balancing of textures and tastes deserve to be enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully. To me it is a wonderfully romantic evening, a perfect way to spend time together and enjoy something exceptional.

We have been twice to far, the first time in May -

Late afternoon light and we are the first arrivals 
The short menu
Sparkling sake with wild strawberries - the heady aroma of fruit combined with sake lacking the acidity of sparkling wine, creating a hint of vanilla in the aftertaste
Taro potato stems with sesame vinegar - delicate translucent shoots almost reminiscent of white asparagus 
Simmered bracken wrapped in yuba skin with aromatic sancho pepper leaf - a little leaf but packing a punch in flavour 
Clear soup with sea bass, shreds of smokey grilled aubergine, soft simmered broad beans and watershield - a extraordinary plant with a jelly-like coating  
Sashimi plate, clockwise from left - horse mackerel, sea bream, tuna with sweet potato and seaweed sauce and sweet shrimp
Taro with crushed rice cracker, stuffed with prawns, shitake mushrooms and ginkgo nuts - dense squidgy pastry with savoury stuffing
Fried then lightly pickled snapper
Nigri from left to right - toro with wasabi stem, salmon with seasoned seaweed, turbot with Japanese spices and yellowtail with spring onion
More nigri - Japanese scallop with black truffle, Crystal Bay prawn with shiso leaf paste and lightly seared squid with ginger 
Yuzu sorbet - deliciously refreshing
And the second time in June - 

The long menu! 
Japanese kamiage yuba with wasabi and seaweed
Potato somen noodles with grated ginger, ginger shoot, spring onion and oscietra caviar 
Clear soup with red mullet, okura (a sticky leaf in a star shape) and that entertainingly crazy watershield again
Sashimi, clockwise from top left - a type of clam, lobster, sea bream, seared squid,  a seared fish I can't remember and mackerel
Lemon sole kawari-age - deep fried in a delicate rice cracker crumb batter
Slow simmered aubergine with peas and diced duck breast - the aubergine tasted rich and savoury thanks to its meaty sauce, and retained its structure despite being meltingly soft
Palate cleansing baby peach jelly 
Nigri sushi - fatty tuna with wasabi stem, yellow tail with spring onion and a white fish I forget...
More nigri - excellent scallop with wasabi and black truffle and sweet shrimp similarly dressed
And finally - rare, red beef fillet nigri - bloody delicious 
Tomewan - simmered crab soup
I am already looking forward to our next visit.

The Shiori 
45 Moscow Road
London W2 4AH
Tel: 020 7221 9790

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Oriental Dragon

From the outside, this little restaurant looks just like its casual Chinese neighbours - there is no design-led interior, brand consultancy styled menu or PR hype. There isn't even a website. There is your standard Cantonese menu with its roll call of salt and pepper squid, crispy seaweed, prawn toasts and so on. But there is also another menu, accompanied by photographs, with a range of regional dishes that one would never have found offered in the past.

Here you will find Sichuan specialities, full of chilli fire and numbing spice, Shandong dishes which emphasise seafood and more adventurous Cantonese classics like jellyfish and duck tongues. Much loved noodle dishes from Taiwan and Beijing make an appearance, as do charred cumin spiked skewers from Xinjiang and there is plenty of offal, whether sizzling hot or garlicky cool.

This is amazing. It is exciting to see regional Chinese cuisine becoming so commonplace in London that the need for new restaurants to shout about it appears to have passed. It is simply part of what is expected now in the London food scene. Regional Chinese cuisine has arrived, it is not a fad, it is here to stay. And that makes me very happy indeed.

We enjoyed a very good dinner. Despite over ordering on such a grand scale that our table became a source of amusement for our waiters, the three of us managed to ensure that there wasn't even a sliver of tongue left for me to take home in a doggy box. While this is not supposed to be refined cuisine, there was a skilled level of knife-work evident, along with excellent wok control - nothing was greasy. Contrasting flavours were well balanced and married with vibrant, distinctive sauces. There are many more dishes I would like to go back and try.

Here's what we had:
Sliced cucumber and jellyfish salad. I love jellyfish. I love how the translucent, elastic-like bands suggest rubbery texture but snap between your teeth after a little bounce and then crunch. I love the pairing of slippery jellyfish with shards of vinegar-softened cucumber and nuggets of garlic. This refreshing mouthful will awaken your palate, cool fiery tastebuds and give you breath that will knock a vampire dead at sixty paces.  
Undoubtably the star of dinner because this was the best razor clam dish I have ever tasted. The clams were beautifully sliced and perfectly cooked to form delicate curls lightly slicked with sauce. These were combined with crunchy wood ear mushrooms, crisp green peppers, sliced spring onions and fresh and dried chillies that delivered varying levels of heat from mild and fresh to deep and smoky. The whole plate was additively moreish and sparkled with bright flavours and different textures.  
Tofu with preserved egg and spring onion. This dish has been praised by critics recently and is definitely delicious but it is so easy to prepare it is hard for me to see it as worthy of praise for the chef's skill. All you need is silken tofu (the ones in the refrigerated cabinets are best), century eggs and spring onions from a Chinese supermarket - slice, chop and arrange then dress with soy sauce with a bit of sugar, chilli oil and a little sesame oil. That is pretty much it. Delicious yes, but other dishes were much more impressive.  
Pork lungs in chilli sauce. The Chinese on the menu identified this dish by its more familiar name - man and wife offal slices. This is one of my favourite Sichuan dishes of all time, traditionally made from slices of spiced beef offal such as heart, tongues and stomach dressed with soy sauce, chilli oil and numbing Sichuan peppers, garnished with toasted peanuts, Chinese celery, spring onions and sesame. Whether this was a similar version with just pork offal or a mix of pork and beef I cannot be sure, but it was the same winning combination of soft spiced meat and fiercely flavoured dressing that I adore. 
Chinese traditional BBQ skewers - cumin studded beef, bouncy chicken gizzards and tender pig's kidney, charred and intensely tasty.
Steamed spiced pig tongue with garlic and soy sauce. Soft slices of tongue accompanied by a healthy amount of chopped garlic made milder by marinading in the light and dark soy sauces used to dress the dish.
Stir fried sliced pig stomach with hot pepper. We expected slices of pig tripe that were fiery hot with chilli and were surprised to be served a dish with no heat at all and slices of tripe so elegantly cut they resembled oyster mushrooms. Even more delightful was the discovery that these lightly sauced, tender meaty leaves had no trace of offaly funk whatsoever, just a wonderfully soft texture and lovely, delicate flavour.
We also had braised aubergine in brown sauce, stir fried Chinese pea sprouts with garlic and salt and pepper deep fried squid. What a feast.

The bill, with a brilliant lack of any itemisation! 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Azurmendi 31.3.13

It is important to keep in mind that we visited Azurmendi last after a four day extravaganza of eating that began with Arzak, took in Rekondo and featured innumerable pintxos bars, alongside  other wonderful restaurants, snack bars and market stalls.  At the time I think I came close to feeling like I might never need to eat again, despite rationally knowing that one day, far in the future, I might. 

Thinking back, remembering the flavours and looking at the photos, Eneko Atxa's cuisine was truly lovely. True, there were some, perhaps more Spanish (or Basque?), notes that were less well received by our table. And there were rather over dramatic presentation skills from the maître d'. But the tasting menu was well balanced, thoughtfully put together and skillfully executed. Overall it was impressive. 

We opted for the shorter of the two tasting menus available but added in a little lobster course from the longer menu. In my opinion it was too much for lunch, particularly after the four days prior. I would however love to return another time, sacrifice the wonderful views and go for dinner. 

Here's what we ate:

The shorter Erroak menu with everything but the lobster.
Glass fronted restaurant entrance, maximising gloriously expansive views over the lush green valley below.
The kitchen garden, which turned out to be more for show than function but was lovely nonetheless. 
The light and airy interior, with privacy for tables cleverly created using printed pull down screens.
Fois gras parfait with crushed peanut coating, homemade idiazabal cheese with basil flowers, purple onion skin infusion - little amuse-bouche starters served in picnic boxes in the garden reception before we sat down at our table. The onion infusion was wonderfully intense - like the perfect onion soup.
Egg cooked inside out and truffled. This was a mouthful of pure heaven. Each yolk was carefully separated from the white, before having a portion of yolk removed and replaced with truffle essence heated to 75 degrees Celsius. The hot essence partly cooked the yolk so that when topped with shaved black truffle the whole tasted sublime.
Confit lobster wrapped in Iberian ham with spring onion emulsion and with essential herbs from the garden. Deliciously soft poached lobster paired with meaty Spanish ham. An excellent little mouthful.
Raw oyster dotted with salicornia seaweed, slippery tremella mushrooms cooked in seawater and salty-crisp anemone seaweed tempura...
...with natural aromas from the sea.
The Garden. The 'soil' was earthy dehydrated beetroot coating a mousse-like emulsion of olive oil and tomato which was rich, very salty and quite sharp-sour tasting. When eaten in combination with the other ingredients it set off the vegetables nicely, but on its own I found it too heavy and intense. Ultimately the richness of this dish dampened my appetite for the remaining courses, leaving me annoyed that I hadn't left some on the plate instead. Other vegetables featured were little cherry tomatoes roasted with Provençal herbs, mini potatoes buried in the 'soil', planted tiny cauliflower, peas and pea shoots, Savoy cabbage and a thin curl of courgette. 
Cod tripes and garlic soup - tempura fish maw (as fish stomach is known in Chinese cuisine) and thin slivers of fried leek in a garlic soup. The flavourful soup had a gelatinous texture that seems to be favoured by Basque folk for soups and sauces but was less popular with us. Personally I am not keen on battered foods that are served in liquid as the inevitable oily stodgy mass overcomes other delicate flavours in the dish, and I find it unpleasant to eat.
'Betizu' cow tail raviolis, wrapped in cornbread and legume broth. This was soft shreds of deeply flavourful beef with crisp oily fried bread and a marmite-like thickened broth - a treat for those who love the savoury side of life. The cubes themselves were small, barely bigger than a die, making each little mouthful a delight. One of my favourite courses.
Homemade black pudding, red bean stock, cabbage and lightly spiced flowers. Another favourite course. The black pudding was similar to a richly spiced boudin noir, rolled in more dehydrated beetroot and perched on the edge of a pool of earthy red bean purée, surrounded by crunchy bits of fried leek, cabbage and garlic. The flowers had been steeped somehow in a bottle with sugar and chilli for three days to give them a fragrant chilli note.
Gently smoked red mullet, crunchy mushroom broth. The little parcel of toasted bread contains mushroom purée.  This dish featured yet another gelatinous sauce (not pictured) made from red mullet, which I found unpalatable. The fish itself was very firm, too firm for my taste and quite dry. I enjoyed the raw shaved mushrooms as a partner to the mullet.
Confit baby pig, breadcrumbs, vegetable acorns and meadow aromas. The suckling pig was beautifully tender and lovely paired with a lime avocado 'acorn' and breadcrumbs cooked in pork stock and fat. The scientifically crackled piece of pork skin or chicharrón was light and airy but lacked the piggy joy of a properly fried rind and the actual crackling was chewy by comparison.
A very long, not particularly necessary, story about a chestnut tree...
Well hello there, a box... 
...with chestnuts in it of course. Despite my snarkiness, these were really very delicious. A milk chocolate chestnut shell  with chestnut cream inside, nestled on a bed of 'ash' made from dehydrated chestnut skins. 
Coffee pudding, rum and farmhouse milk. The coffee part was a flavoured tocino de cielo - like a denser, more fudge-like crème caramel and right up my street in pudding town. There was rum ice cream, unpasteurised milk foam and a cube of the same milk but dehydrated. Sweet and custard-gooey, cold and boozy, light and foamy - what's not to like? 
Petit fours - apple purèe sandwiched in salty and sweet nougat-like crisp, a kind of rice flour biscuit with popped rice and nuts, and the winner - a silvered passion fruit filled ball of chocolate.
We came, we dined, we left a lot of glasses.