Friday, December 17, 2010

Heron Thai restaurant London review

I am very rarely impressed with Thai restaurants abroad. Most of them are run by people who got into cooking simply because they could not find any other job. They are also often guilty of watering down tastes to suit the local palate. And some use pre-packaged sauces to cut down the operational costs. Boo! Boo! Boo!

That said, there are lucky exceptions. I saw an advert for this place in London's Thai-language newspaper. It is normally a sure-fire sign of authentic fare.

My gut was right. North-Eastern sausages (krok Lao) were perfectly done: crunchy on the outside, juicy and spicy inside. The sticky rice was expertly cooked. And the yam (a kind of spicy escoveche) of raw crab was nothing short of revelation. I have never had anything like that even when I lived in Thailand.

It was hard to do it all justice though, as the waiters refused to turn down the blaring karaoke, despite there was no other clients in the restaurant. Cheesy tunes were echoing unobstructedly in the empty room full of garishly bright plastic tables and chairs, bouncing off the walls into our poor ears. Very soon our throats got sore from trying to outshout the electrically amplified voices of Thai pop stars and we just kept drinking water that was pushed on us at a pound a bottle against our will.

Pro's: Fantastically tasty food.
Con's: Obnoxiously noisy. Horrible interior. Rude sour service. Pricey.
In a nutshell: Thai food connoisseur's paradise if you know how to switch all your other sense but the taste.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moo guk: Korean radish soup recipe (무우국)

White and juicy daikon radish gently boiled into a still crunchy softness - that is the highlight of moo-guk (무우국) the Korean radish soup. Don't even get started on phallic connotations: in soup, daikon ends up chopped to bite-size chunks!
  1. Cut 50 g of lean beef or chicken into thin stripes.
  2. Marinate them in a 1 tsp of sesame oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Peel half a daikon (aka, mooli or Chinese white radish) and cut into bite-size chunks.
  4. Stir-fry the beef in a well heated pot, then add the daikon and stri-fry a couple more minutes.
  5. Add 3 cups of water - and, if you so wish, a handful of pre-washed bean sprouts and /or half a chopped leek - and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the fire and allow to simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  7. Serve with a wee drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
Serve as a starter or an accompaniment to a Korean main dish such as jaeyuk bokkeum (spicy pork stew).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jeyuk bokkeum: improved recipe

While my jaeyuk bokkeum (재육볶음) recipe is apparently a big hit at Barclay Russia's Moscow HQ, I have kept working on it and developed an improved version of this classic Korean dish, which I call "dry" jeyuk bokkeum.

The difference with the "wet" jeyuk bokkeum is that here the meat and veg get grilled and eaten with a gochujang dip instead of getting stewed with gochujang, in which process both kind of lose their most interesting flavours.

To avoid that, I divided the process in two parts: grilling and making the dip.

  1. For the marinade, mix 2 tablespoonfuls of mirin, one tablespoonful of soya sauce, one tbsp rice wine, wee glug of sesame oil, white and black sesame seeds, half a teaspoonful each, a few drops of liquid smoke.
  2. Marinate 200g thin stripes of best beef for about 20 minutes. Better get the stripes from a good butcher or a very good Asian supermarket.
  3. Cut 8 pre-soaked (better overnight) shiitake mushrooms into thin stripes.
  4. Do the same with carrots.
  5. Grill the meat and veg on a ribbed skillet or whatever grilling equipment you have.
Now for the dip. I am very proud of it. I invented it myself, it is a deeper, richer and more intense version of the classic liquid gochujang they carry in Korean restaurants. For the dip you will need to mix in a bowl:
  • a few generous spoonfuls of gochujang;
  • a few cloves of garlic, crushed;
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated;
  • a tablespoonful of finely toasted white sesame seeds (easy on this one as it tastes bitter in big doses);
  • a tee-wee glug of fish sauce;
  • when necessary, some water to achieve the desired consistency.
Serve the meat and veg on separate plates, the dip on the side, a big bowl of freshly steamed rice (here's how to cook rice to perfection) and a platter of Little Gem lettuce leaves or, alternatively, cut Cos (Romaine) lettuce to appropriate size. Wrap a few slices of meat and veg in in a leaf, dunk into the dip and chase with a mouthful of rice. The ultimate winter heart-warmer.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Miyeok guk: Korean seaweed soup recipe (미역국)

iyeok guk (미역국), Korean seaweed soup, is packed with essential nutrients that are hardly ever present in your daily 5. That is why in Korea it is given to pregnant women and students about to sit for an exam.

Like all Korean recipes it is straightforward, simple and yields amazing results. The beef stock lends the seaweed a depth of flavour, while the aromas of garlic and sesame oil make the melody of this soup a fully harmonised one.
  1. Soak 2 tbsp of dried seaweed (miyeok in Korean or wakame in Japanese) in plenty of cold water. I also use kombu/dasima but that is optional
  2. In the meantime cut 50 g lean beef into thin strips and marinade them in 1 tbsp of sesame oil and a modicum of freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Heat a wok and quickly stir-fry the beef.
  4. When the beef is nicely browned, reduce the fire and add the seaweed. Make sure to wring it out as dry as possible. Stir-fry very briefly.
  5. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a simmer.
  6. Add 3-5 cloves of garlic, sliced, and soya sauce to taste.
  7. Simmer until the garlic is soft.
  8. Serve with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper , a drizzle of sesame oil and a pinch of finely sliced scallions.

Kongnamul guk: veg soups can be fab too! (콩나물국)

This is a surprisingly simple and flavourful soup. Kongnamul guk (콩나물국) is made from truly basic ingredients and takes just a few minutes to cook, yielding a remarkable combination of healthiness and taste.

  1. Bring to a boil 3 cups of water.
  2. Add 2 generous handfuls of bean sprouts, pre-washed, and 2 tablespoonfuls of fish sauce.
  3. Let simmer for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add 1 chopped spring onion, one finely sliced de-seeded chili pepper and 3 finely sliced garlic cloves.
  5. Let simmer for another couple of minutes.
  6. Season with sesame oil and freshly ground black pepper.
  7. Serve!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dakdoritang: chicken stew for wintry days (닭도리탕)

hen the city is snowed in and the frost bites your cheeks, you learn to appreciate the warmth of your home and the satiating qualities of your food with all your physical being. Nothing like hearty spicy stews on a cold December day.

Tonight I cooked dakdoritang (닭도리탕), a Korean chicken casserole. Because it sounds too Japanese, there is a movement in Korea towards renaming the dish dak-bokkeum (닭볶음). A good example of how even gastronomy can be politicised.

As a rose by any name is still a rose, let's get on with the recipe:
  1. Peel 3 large potatoes and cut them in bite-size cubes. Leave them to dry in a sieve: that will help them keep shape when cooked, without disintegrating into mash.
  2. Do the same with 1 large carrot and 2 large onions.
  3. Mix 3 crushed cloves of garlic, a dab of fish (or soya) sauce, 1 tbsp of finely grated ginger and 2 tbsp of gochujang to make marinade.
  4. Chop 2 organic free-range (they do taste better!) chicken legs or breasts into bite-size chunks and fold into the marinade. Leave for 15-20 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, fry the vegetables in a cast-iron pot until half-ready. Remove and set aside.
  6. Fry chicken until golden brown.
  7. Put the veg back into the pot and add 3 cups of mushroom stock or water. Simmer for 20 minutes on a low fire, gently stirring once in a while.
  8. Add salt or fish sauce to taste.
  9. Turn off the fire and wait until the bubbling stops.
  10. Blend in 2 tbsp of gochujang and 2 tbsp of finely grated ginger into the stew. Let stay on the stove for 10-15 minutes (although, ideally, overnight to let the flavours to mingle well!).
  11. Serve on whole lettuce leaves with a sprinkle of chopped scallions and freshly cooked rice.