Off The Wall – Chicken Parmigiana

My Italian sister-in-law sent me her recipe for Melanzane alla Parmigiana, which I have thus far failed to accurately reproduce – My version continues to be, though delicious, pretty heavy, while hers is light as a cloud and full of incredible fresh flavours. When I figure it out, I will post here. However, in the meantime, add some brined, breaded chicken into the mix and we have a pretty substantial Chicken Parmigiana (which means, incidentally, ‘in the style of Parma’, rather than anything to do with the ubiquitous cheese, although this recipe has plenty of that in it too).

(Title music found, not by Youtube but by the marvellous Vtuner Internet Radio which lets you listen to radio both online and ‘real’, from all over the world. You can tune into Blues radio from Gabon, or Blues radio from Malaysia, or probably some other types of radio that are not blues – but why would you do that? )

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The keen-eyed among you may notice the lack of a second layer of chicken. In fact it’s there, but I failed to remember to take a photo before slathering it with sauce.

This will take a bit of time and assembly, but the end result is worth it. Good dish for a day off, serves 4 realistically or maybe 6 if you‘re feeling parsimonious have some sides

Ingredients:

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts, butterflied (see photo)
  • flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Panko or similar breadcrumbs
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Sauce:

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3-4 sticks celery
  • 6-8 big tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tins Italian tomatoes or 1 tin and one jar of good quality pasta sauce
  • dried thyme and oregano

Melanzane:

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil

2-3 large handfuls grated cheddar or mozzarella

1 large handful grated parmesan

Salt and black pepper

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Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c. Slice the aubergines lengthwise, about 1/2cm thick. Lay them flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake until browned and softened, about 30-40 minutes.

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The sauce is a fairly standard thick red sauce for baked pasta. You’ll need an immersion blender, or you can leave it chunky if you prefer.

Dice the onions, carrots and celery. Saute in olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes, until the veg have softened. Finely slice the garlic, add to the pot with the bay leaves and cover. Stir occasionally for twenty minutes. Meanwhile chop the tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes, saute another five minutes and then add the tinned tomatoes/sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about two hours or until the sauce is thick and delicious. It really is worth waiting that long. Taste and adjust seasoning, add a few pinches of dried herbs. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for ten minutes.

Remove the bay leaves (I nearly always forget this bit) and blend with an immersion blender until thick and smooth. If you have some, add a dash of double cream or creme fraiche.

When the sauce and the aubergine are done, set them aside. Grate the cheese and set that aside too, except for a handful of grated parmesan which you can mix with a plateful of panko breadcrumbs.

Butterfly and beat out the chicken. To make it more tender and juicy, even the next day, stick it in a ziplock bag covered with water and a tablespoon of salt. Leave in the fridge for half an hour, then continue as below.

Beat the eggs together in a shallow bowl, with the breadcrumbs and parmesan in another. Douse the chicken breasts liberally in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Fry in about 1cm depth of oil until golden brown. Don’t go any darker, because they will be cooked more in the oven. Drain on kitchen paper.

Now begin assembling the Parmigiana as shown in the incredibly helpful and professional gif shown above okay, below too – layers of sauce, cheese, aubergine, chicken. If you have leftover breadcrumbs, scatter them on top with the majority of the cheese.

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Bake for about 25 minutes at 180c, until the cheese is browned. Devour with fresh bread, salad and wine.

Midnight Rider – Gyoza

Standard White Boy Disclaimer: I am neither Japanese nor have I ever been to Japan – I have only a half-formed idea how to make gyoza (small, crispy-fried dumplings) and the filling doesn’t contain the traditional cabbage, so these are inauthentic at best.

(Title music by the late, great Gregg Allman – a laid-back version of the classic)

Nonetheless….

For a tutorial on how to fill and fold gyoza, see this excellent picture set on Steamy Kitchen, after scrolling past the now inevitable four pages of backstory (actually not bad for a cookery blog, side-eyeing you The Kitchn).

Find gyoza skins at any Asian supermarket, usually in the freezer.

Ingredients:

1 packet gyoza skins (they are round, but you can use wonton skins and cut them with a biscuit cutter if needed)

300g good quality pork

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 cloves garlic

2-inch piece ginger

4-5 spring onions

8-10 green (French) beans

1 lemongrass root

 

Method:

Very finely mince the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Halve and finely chop the green beans. Peel the two outer leaves off lemongrass, select a 5cm length from the middle of the stick and chop it finely – into four sticks lengthways and then chopped across, is my usual method.

Add all these to a bowl with the minced pork, soy sauce and sesame oil. You may want to use a glove for the next bit. Combine the mixture by hand and when it is reasonably together, pick it up and toss it into the bowl repeatedly. Splatting it against the side of the bowl like this helps with cohesion, it should stop the mix falling apart. Do this ten or eleven times until you have a sticky ball of filling.

With each gyoza wrapper, place a teaspoon of mix in the center – really a teaspoon, not very much at all – and fold the wrapper in half, pinching it in the middle. Then pleat the wrapper as described in the blog above.

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From bottom-left: first gyoza made with the plastic thing shown at top (better for pierogis, turns out), then a series of getting-the-hang-of-pleating-these gyoza until, at top middle, I almost got it. Then I ran out of gyoza skins and made the rest of the filling into spring rolls.

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, get about a tablespoon of oil ready. Add as many gyoza as you can fit, leaving about a centimetre between each one. Fry until the bottoms are browned and crispy, then add half a mug nope, two tablespoons of hot water. Seal the pan with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes.

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Too much water, as it turned out. About two tablespoons is probably fine.

Serve with vinegared soy sauce for dipping (add a pinch of chili flakes)

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Matching dish and dipping bowl, the height of sophistication

On another note, if you’ve ever wondered how to butcher an entire cow – here, the internet provides: How To Butcher An Entire Cow

 

 

Breakfast Burrito

No title music this time, as I’m writing in the past and don’t know what I’ll be listening to then. As I write, however, it’s J.J. Cale again – surprise.

Had a bit of a brainstorm this morning re: breakfast – this has been known to happen on my days off, and usually means I don’t end up eating til 11am because why settle for a bowl of cereal when you could spend a couple of hours farting around with the ingredients of a pretty decent brunch.

Luckily this burrito doesn’t take a couple of hours. Twenty minutes at most, if you have all the stuff. It’s also not a burrito at all, except in the common-cultural-currency sense of being eggs and stuff inside a flat bread thing. I used frozen paratha toasted in a dry pan, because that’s what we had. I hope you didn’t come here for quantities and exact measures because it’s breakfast time goddamit.

Ingredients:

1 egg per burrito

1 flat bread thing (I don’t know. It’s your breakfast.)

Green onions

Tomatoes

Garlic

Red chilli

Kale or chard leaves or spring greens etc

Sazon goya or other generic seasoning

Milk

Butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Wash and loosely dry the greens (I find the ‘vaguely waving over the sink’ method works well).

Finely slice a garlic clove and add to a pan with a slug of oil over medium heat. (Adding the garlic while the oil is cold will allow it to heat up gently and hopefully prevent burning.) Roughly chop the leaves and add to the pan. Stir and toss for a few minutes until wilted. Set aside and press under many paper towels to remove excess water.

Roughly chop the green onions, tomato, chilli and more garlic. Fry over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile beat the eggs with a little milk and salt and pepper. Add some butter to the pan with the vegetables and a shake of Sazon. You could also add cumin seeds or more dried chilli, your call.

Stir and toss the vegetables with the seasoning, then turn the heat down low and add the eggs. Gently shake and toss the pan to scramble the eggs, breaking out the spatula when they get feisty. Toast your flat bread thing of choice in a dry pan to warm it through, then layer on the wilted greens and the eggs. A dab of what Julia Child calls ‘finishing butter’ won’t hurt either.

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Pictured: the author’s heroic failure to close the second burrito

 

Freedom Hangs Like Heaven – Bo Luc Lac

I’ve been tasked with Doing a Blog again and simultaneously making some headway on the freezer. We’re visiting the US in July and already making plans for all the food we’re going to eat (Lobster went to the top of A’s list, the Four Aces diner went to the top of mine. Make of that what you will.) so I’ve been cajoled into making something Vietnamese-ish that will mostly use up what we’ve already got.

(Title music today by the ever-excellent Iron and Wine)

 

That ‘-ish’ is important because Bo Luc Lac (or Shaking Beef) is a Franco-Viet fusion rather than something genuinely Vietnamese, hence the presence of fairly rare things like red and green peppers. In any case, it’s fairly simple and delicious, and I particularly like the lightly-pickled red onions that accompany many recipes.

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I’m going to do this with coconut rice and a banana flower salad. The latter making special use of an ingredient found commonly in SE-Asia and rarely elsewhere, so if you want to try this at home – check your local Asian grocers or just substitute shredded daikon radish, which you should certainly be able to find.

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Green papayas for the salad (front) and purple banana flowers (behind)

One of the good things about these two dishes is that they enable me to go shopping in the local market. Food safety is a bit of an issue in Vietnam and, while I usually buy my fruit and veg from a (loosely-defined) ‘organic’ shop nearby, the local market is often the only place to get certain things without a long and costly trip to the supermarket. I draw the line at getting meat there – the stallholders slaughter and pluck their ducks and chickens altogether too close to the raw pork, beef and dog for my liking. If I knew more about the fish on offer (and trusted the quality of the local water) I would probably get more fish too, but as it is I am happy to stick to stocking up on the fruit and veg, which is abundant and usually pretty cheap.

There is the added benefit of having an elderly Vietnamese lady prepare the banana flower for you, which saved a couple of hours of tedious soaking and chopping.

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Banana flower peeled, sliced and dunked in vinegared water to keep it fresh

For reference, I am using Bo Luc Lac recipes by Helen’s Recipes (really good, simple videos and instructionals on how to make a lot of different Vietnamese foods) as well as this blog by Andrea Nguyen which has a bit of backstory on the dish. For the salad I’ll be bastardising this version which was itself bastardised from the recipe used by Saigon Cooking Class, where I also first learned to make this salad.

Bo Luc Lac

 

450g quality beef (I used some steaks from the freezer), cubed

1 large red pepper

6-8 green onions

1/2 yellow onion

handful of shallots or 1/2 red onion

1.5 tsp sugar

salt and fresh black pepper

2tbsp vinegar

2tbsp water

 

Marinade:

2.5tbsp sugar

1/2tsp salt

1tsp fresh black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 inch piece of lemongrass, finely chopped

3tbsp oyster sauce

2tbsp soy sauce

1tbsp peanut oil

 

Method:

Mix the cubed beef with the marinade ingredients and chill for 2/3 hours

Finely slice the shallots or red onion and mix with the sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar and water. Set aside.

Roughly dice the pepper, vertically slice the yellow onion and chop the green onions into two-inch lengths. Heat a tablespoon of oil over a medium heat and stir-fry the vegetables for 3-4 minute or until slightly softened. Set aside.

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Increase the heat to medium high with a little more oil and add the beef (in two batches if necessary). Fry for four to five minutes, tossing and shaking every half-minute or so to make sure the meat is browned all over.

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Add back the vegetables, toss together and serve topped with the shallots.

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The meat was really tender and juicy here, and the lightly pickled shallots were just enough to cut the creaminess of the rice and rich meat.

Banana Flower Salad

This is something we learned to make in southern Vietnam and it may be more common there – I haven’t seen it as much here up north. I’ve added green papaya for a touch of sweetness and bundles of fresh herbs. As usual, I am incapable of making a reasonable amount of anything, so you can see where halfway through I switched to a bigger bowl.

Ingredients:

2 large handfuls of shredded banana flower (or 1 medium daikon radish, grated)

1 medium carrot, shredded

1 medium cucumber, shredded

1 large handful beansprouts

5-6 lettuce leaves

2-inch slice of green papaya or mango, peeled and thinly sliced

A handful each of  Vietnamese mint (or a small handful of regular mint leaves), coriander leaves, sawtooth

Toasted peanuts for garnish

Juice of half a lime
Dressing:

1 minced garlic clove

1 minced shallot

1/2 red chilli, minced

1.5tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

1tbsp fish sauce

3tbsp vinegar (or 1tbsp vinegar and juice of 1 lime)

4tbsp water

 

To make the dressing: mix the garlic, shallot, chilli, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add vinegar/lime juice, fish sauce and water, and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Get a large bowl of water and add the lime juice. Add the shredded carrot and cucumber, mix well, then remove them, squeeze to remove excess liquid and put them in a large serving bowl.

Repeat with the beansprouts, then the shredded banana flower or radish. Shred the lettuce and fresh herbs roughly with your hands and add that to the large bowl. Toss everything with your hands.

Pour over the dressing, toss again and chill for half an hour or until ready to serve.

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You could probably present this in a fancy way, like in a bowl made from the purple leaves of the banana flower, but we ate it from the bowl with chopsticks watching The Americans. So there.

Call Me The Breeze – Ostrich Stir-Fry

(It seems wildly unlikely, to me at least, that I have not yet named a blog-post for a J.J. Cale song. If anyone ever asks me what my favourite film is, I tend to go into an immediate tailspin and list either nothing or ten films with four substitutions. With music it is much the same, but for a long time  J.J. Cale has occupied one of the coveted ever-rotating Top Three spots, along with Steely Dan and Whoever Else I Currently Really Like. This is an excellent live version with Eric Clapton)

Ostrich Stir-fry

A neat little mid-week supper. Since currently Sunday is the middle of my week, that’s when I’m making it.

You could, of course, use lean beef flank, or chicken breast at a push. It says a lot about the place and situation we are living in that ostrich meat being more readily available than either of the above was not even the weirdest thing about that shopping trip.

A successful stir-fry [he pontificates] relies upon two things: speed, and heat. Accordingly, this is one to do Floyd-style.


[There are surprisingly few pictures out there of Keith Floyd without a bottle or glass in his hand. If you don’t know who this is, stop reading at once and watch this]

By which I mean having everything pre-chopped, marinaded and prepared before you even get the gas on, preferably by somebody else. Rather than getting absolutely shit-faced on whatever the local plonk happens to be during the first take, thus ensuring that there will only ever be one take.

Though that’s an option too, I suppose. Mine’s a pint.

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A selection of pre-prepared ingredients and a suspiciously clean knife.

Ingredients

  • 200g Ostrich breast meat
  • Half a medium carrot
  • One sweet red pepper
  • One leek, or half a large onion
  • 4/5 green onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

For the sauce:

  • 2tbsp Oyster or Teriyaki sauce (I appreciate that these aren’t entirely the same thing, but close enough for government work)
  • 1tsp Sriracha or similar chilli sauce
  • 2/3tsp soy sauce
  • 2/3tsp pineapple juice
  • 1tsp sugar (optional)

Method

  1. Finely slice the meat along the grain and cut into small pieces – about the size of a poker chip. Place in tupperware or a ziplock with three cloves of garlic.
  2. Mix the sauce ingredients together and pour about 2/3rds of it over the meat. Let it marinade for up to an hour, but just the length of time it takes to prep the other ingredients is fine, I suppose (passive-aggressive face).
  3. Finely slice the pepper, carrot and leek/onion. How you do this is up to you, but they should all be roughly the same size at the end of it.
  4. Chop the green parts of the green onions into two-inch sections. Finely chop the white parts.
  5. Get a large frying pan or wok as hot as you dare. Speed is of the essence here. Chuck the meat in, let it frazzle for a minute or two – maximum – then knock the heat down to medium-high and add the veg. Stir-fry for two minutes more, three if you really want to push it.
  6. Heat to medium. Add the sauce, the green and white onions and the last garlic clove. Stir fry for another thirty seconds, then serve with noodles or rice.