Tag Archives: rice vinegar

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Advertisements

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Spring Festival – may the year of the rabbit bring you prosperity, happiness and good health.

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Wood Work

OK, so you’ve consumed your beetroot gazpacho and it’s time for the barbecue – read on…

Unlit Barbecue

Bored of simply placing food directly onto your barbecue grill and worrying about whether the insides are cooked well after the outsides are already distinctly charred? Then you probably need to introduce a further level of potentially anxiety inducing difficulty, the ‘grilling plank’. I don’t barbecue often [see The Never Ending Fillet] which could explain why this particular cooking method has so far passed me by when it seems that some people, many of them Canadians, have been at it for years. Essentially it involves soaking a wooden plank in water for a few hours, placing said plank onto the barbecue grill, and the food onto the plank. The wood begins to char and smoke [hopefully without actually catching fire, hence the pre-soaking] with the intention of both cooking and lightly smoking the food. Various aromatic woods are used, the one I found in my local Waitrose was maple. The aroma during cooking reminded me a little disconcertingly at first of a sauna, but then when people routinely produce recipes for cooking fish in dishwashers or on car engines, a sauna actually starts to look like quite a logical choice. And the end result was in fact nicely cooked fish with a pleasingly subtle smokiness. As with all first attempts I’ll want to return to this and tinker with the details – barbecue lid on or off, how long to pre-warm the plank, exact cooking times, etc, etc, – but something about this has touched my inner lumberjack, and I’ll be back. TIM-BER!

For four

  • 4 individual sea trout fillets of even thickness
  • 2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 tsps soft brown sugar
  • 6 tbsps Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin or rice vinegar
  • 100ml sake, or good fino sherry
  • 2 finely diced spring onions [optional]
  • ½ tsp wasabi paste [optional – leave this out if you want to concentrate on the smoke without too many distractions]
  • 1 grilling plank
  • 1 barbecue – the real thing I’m afraid, those disposable tray affairs won’t cut it here

Soak your plank in cold water for at least 4 hours. You’ll need something to weigh it down. I used a terracotta wine cooler which also needs a good soak – two birds, one stone!

Place the trout fillets into a shallow snugly fitting dish. Whisk together the other ingredients, pour over the fish and marinade for an hour and a half.

Marinating trout

Build your barbecue and set alight, then wait until the coals are glowing red. By the way, cheese crates make excellent kindling and if you’re in the vicinity yellowwedge cheese will happily give these to you gratis. If not try your local cheese monger who will almost certainly oblige.

Drain your plank and rub the cooking [smooth] side with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil, then set it on the grill above the coals for 10 minutes. Now remove the fish from the marinade and carefully place on the plank. Exact cooking times will vary depending on your equipment, so you’ll need to judge by eye and touch – an opaque fillet which springs back from a light touch is done. If your barbecue has a lid then you can use this to increase the smokiness. White smoke means that all is well, black smoke means that your plank is on fire and you will need a water spray to calm it down.

Sea trout fillets cooked on a barbecue 'grilling plank'.

Serving suggestion

We ate this with a salad of pink fir apple potatoes, finely sliced gherkins and peas, dressed with a mustardy French mayonnaise. Cucumber pickle would also go down well.