Monday, 30 December 2013

Seoul food - Korean Fried Chicken

Korean fried chicken - differing from its more famous American counterpart by being twice fried, forming a paper-thin coating which should shatter as you bite into it  - is something I've enjoyed before (rather incongruously while visiting Berlin's Kreuzberg district), but it took a recent trip to K-Town (or, more prosaically, New Malden) to finally spur me into dusting off the deep fat fryer to attempt making some of my own.

While I doubt there are many wings I wouldn't get along with, there is something terribly disappointing about giant, flabby pieces of poultry. To counteract this, I jointed my chicken into 'wingettes' and 'drummettes' (off-loading the remaining wing tips in to the cat's bowl); this helps to increase surface area and produces more delicious crunchy bits. Smaller pieces also mean the wings should cook quicker, keeping the inside juicy and succulent. In Korea, chickens tend to be much smaller, and the whole bird, cut into joints, is often used.

While Serious Eats have a seriously through piece on KFC here, I wanted something I could easily knock up, while keeping the vodka in my cupboard for my tonic and not my batter mix. In the end I decided adapt the basic premise by covering the wings in a coating of flour (I used potato flour) before dipping in a thin slurry of flour and water and frying off in two parts. Firstly at 180c, to cook the chicken through, then upping the temperature to 200c to finish browning the outside. Finally, I made a spicy glaze from Korean Gochujang pepper paste, Japanese soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and rice vinegar to douse the cooked chicken pieces with. 

To finish I gave the chicken a quick toss in the piquant sauce before serving with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and a glass of cold Hite alongside. Not only were these crisp nuggets of deliciousness a cinch to make, they were right up with the very best wings I have eaten. 

Korean Style Chicken Wings

500g chicken wings, jointed
1 cup potato flour/cornflour
2 tbsp Gochujang (Korean pepper paste)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
Vegetable oil to deep fry

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and toss in a large bowl with 1/4 cup of the potato flour until well coated. Spread on a wire cooling rack placed on top of a baking sheet. Set aside at room temperature while you make the sauce and batter.
Mix together the pepper paste, honey, soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil in a bowl and set aside.
Mix the rest of the potato flour with enough water to make a thin batter.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer/wok/saucepan until it reaches 180c
Dip half the chicken in to the batter, allowing the excess to drip off, and fry for 5-6 minutes until light brown. Remove to the wire rack and repeat with the second lot of chicken.
Heat the oil up to 200c, place all the chicken back into the fryer and cook for a further 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is a deep golden brown.
Drain the chicken thoroughly and tip into a large bowl, add the sauce and toss well to coat.
Finish the wings with a sprinkling of sesame seeds or some finely chopped spring onion.
Serve while still hot with cold beer, pickles and plenty of napkins.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A Tale of Two Slices: The Bournemouth Pizza Co. & Pizza Pilgrims

In one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite films, Kevin McAllister finally gets his 'lovely cheese pizza, just for me'. It's a big moment for an 8 year old boy who's been left home alone; and being the same age myself when the film was released, it made a big impression.

Years later, and no matter however much I convince myself that I have sophisticated tastes, I still haven't found many better things than a hot, crispy slice of pizza fresh from the oven (or even a cold one left over from the night before); especially when you don't have to share.

I have to admit I've got pretty Catholic tastes when it comes to this Italian export - enjoying most examples ranging from supermarket frozen jobs with their sparse scattering of frozen cheese and metallic tomato, right through to the giant, crisp Romanesque varieties served in a back street just off the Pizza Navona.

While I may be pretty easy to please sometimes I get a craving that only a wood-fired pie will fix. Thankfully, I now can find one pretty close to home (in a classic Chiltern pub, no less; blog to follow at some point soon), but that doesn't mean it isn't useful to have a ship in every port, and I was pretty pleased to find a pizza in the Bournemouth budget eats article in the Guardian just before my latest jaunt down south to see the girls.

This find was even more convenient knowing that they are a stone's throw from the travel interchange, meaning would could visit for a restorative Sunday lunch lunch and Stealth could easily waddle back across the road to catch her early ride back to the Big Smoke (her assertions that there would be leftovers for tomorrow's lunch being wildly optimistic).

The decor is clean and utilitarian; all blonde wood and white walls, with a choice of communal benches in the middle and counter seats in the windows. Although we were the only diners eating in they seemed to be doing a fair trade in take out orders, and, although recently granted a licence, you can BYO booze, too.

A dish of, very garlicky, olives were bought gratis, to munch while we we perused the menu. To drink I chose ice cold San Pellegrino Aranciata - A.K.A nectar from the Gods when you're still feeling slightly delicate from the night before.

I picked the, rather exciting sounding, Al Cinghiale (wild boar salami and spring greens) to split with the Ewing. This was a decent, if unspectacular pizza. The crust was very good, but the wild boar salami and sprinkling of greens, while tasting fine, seemed slightly ordinary after promising much. The chilli and herb oil supplied was properly poky, though.

The Ewing's choice, a bolognese calzone from the special's board, was great. When I was a teenager a favourite late night drunken snack was a slice of my Mum's lasagne stuffed into a baguette and this was rather like a more sophisticated version; the rich, mushroom-studded filling topped with pools of melty mozzerella being just what the doctor ordered.

The lovely Leona (jumper model's own) with her Fiorentina (fresh spinach and an egg).  although I am an avowed egg hater in its natural form, even I could see the appeal of the perfectly soft orange yolk bursting as over the puffy crust; and, despite assertions that she wouldn't be able to finish this beast, there was barely a crumb left at the end.

Stealth, too, wanted some hangover-busting protein on her pizza, and so chose the Capriciosa (artichokes, mushrooms, black olives, cooked Italian ham and Oregano) with an extra egg. Another great looking pie, and bonus points for the handy Ikea pizza wheels supplied to each of us ,that negated the need for the hopeless hacking that most pizza eaters descend into after cutting a couple of slices.

Fabio's homemade tiramisu - 'with booze', is there any other kind? - was sadly off limits for the designated drivers who still had the long trek home to think of, and I couldn't even find a willing volunteer to divvy up the banana and Nutella calzone with me.

Disappointingly wishy washy cappuccinos couldn't provide the kickstart that was needed to lift us out of a carb-coma, but overall a small quibble that didn't detract from what was a very good provincial pie.

Bournemouth Pizza Co on Urbanspoon
After Bournemouth, my pie itched was momentarily scratched, but Christmas trip to see Stealth and visit Sloan Square for carols and mulled wine meant another cheeky pizza stop was on the cards. This time it did mean navigating the hell known as Oxford Street on a weekend just before the big day, but it seemed worth it to try the new Sunday opening at Soho's Pizza Pilgrim's.

While the corner sight may look bijou from the street level - the ground floor being almost entirely taken up by the oven and some counter seating, perfect for people watching - there is plenty more room downstairs; they've even got a fussball table and a bar.

Decor is traditional Italo-American (it reminded me of our trip to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn) complete with wipe down gingham tablecloths and menus and  a mix of retro film and advertising posters on the walls.

I drank an Aperol Spritz (they also serve prosecco on tap), while the Ewing honed her liking for bitter, appetite-whetting aperitifs with the Campari con Bianco (with white wine). They also have Moretti, Oro di Milano, a short list of Italian wines and limoncello and grappa to round the night off.

The Salsiccia E Friarielli, a beautiful looking pizza with a diameter so large it hung well over the edge of the plate it was served on. Unlike the Bournemouth number, this version of greens and sausage came as a pizza bianca, without any tomato. In fact, it was very similar to the version I first tried at Santa Maria, Ealing, with its generous scattering of iron-rich, soft sautéed broccoli rabe and (slightly anaemic) chunks of sausage.

This was a very fine pizza, strewn with plenty of sweet, milky mozzerella and a wonderfully puffy, chewy crust with just the requisite amount of char. With the richness of the beast I could have done with the house made chilli oil having a bit more punch, but really that's a minor quibble for what was a great pie.

The 'Bloody-Mary-Nara' sauce was fabulous, a fresh blend of tomato and celery seeds with a back of the throat tickle coming from the Tabasco, Lea and Perrins and vodka, and finished with a liberal dusting of  razor thin garlic, al la Goodfellas, and fresh basil.

Of course the negative consequence of the liberal amounts of sauce on top did cause somewhat of a soggy bottom.While normally this is a bit of a bugbear, with a sauce this good I actually didn't mind it too much; the Ewing agreed, finding it her pick of the two pizzas and happily managing to scarf every last pizza bone.

Sadly - for the second time, almost unheard of - this meant she couldn't contemplate a pudding, not even the famed Nutella and ricotta ring, a mincemeat calzone (as part of the very worthy, @mincepieproject) or festive Christmas pudding ice cream (supplied by Gelupo) stuffed inside pannetone. Still, all the more reason to return in the New Year.

Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon

And, just in case you were under any illusion that it was easy to churn out decent pizza, here's how the lovely Stealth recently, and very inventively, 'pimped' a bog-standard supermarket offering; yes, those are frozen peas....

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Black Rat, Winchester

With first my sister and now some good friends living down in Bournemouth, I've bombed past Winchester on the M3 countless times, but never quite seemed to have the opportunity, or pick the right day (lunch is only served at the Black Rat on weekends), to pull off the motorway and call in.

So I was very excited when, after what feely like an age of trying, we finally managed to book in for some early afternoon repast on the way down for a weekend of spirit hunting (vodka rather than ghosts, on this occasion) with the girls.

Winchester is a charming place and the Black Rat is a charming restaurant. Set on Chesil Street, at the edge of the city centre, this converted pub has retained many of its original features and possesses a wonderfully ramshackle charm, complete with uneven steps; bookshelves crammed with legal tomes; walls hung with anatomical drawings; and, by the inglenook fireplace where I was seated, a full sized wooden leg.

While it may sound like a twee interior overload, there is a natural easiness to the place that feels genuinely welcoming - in contrast to some botched attempts at ‘historical’ that can leave you feeling as if you’re dining in a Ye Olde world theme park.

Our welcome was friendly, despite our late appearance - traffic coming in to the town for the annual Christmas markets put our very best laid plans out somewhat – and we were soon supping a Hampshire Rose ale local Itchen Valley Brewery.

The lunch menu is short and sweet; three courses with three choices for each and priced at a very decent £22.95/£25.95 for two or three courses respectively. Most importantly, I wanted to eat it all.

House made bread (a workmanlike granary and a puffy, rich fociaccia-style white) were served with good, plain salted butter and an even better version that had that had been burnt, whipped and sprinkled with sweet burnt onion powder.

My starter of steelhead trout, beetroot meringue and puree, horseradish and pink fir potatoes was one of the prettiest (and tastiest) plates I've eaten all year. Everything was sublime; from the pop of the fish roe on top the quenelles of baked trout and the crunch of the cucumber batons to the gentle hit of dill and lemon.

Most impressive was the beetroot elements, with the smoothest, sweetest puree and the shards of meringue, cleverly imbued with the rich earthy note of the root veg, that melted on the tongue.

Despite her starter envy, the Ewing enjoyed her celariac and apple soup, garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and crowned with a venison scotch quail's egg that was, despite its diminutive size, still gloriously gooey in the centre.

Again, the textures were superb with the silky tuber soup being offset by the sharpness of the apple and the crunch of seeds. Simple, but very well considered.

My Jimmy Butler pork belly with Black Rat pudding, pig's ears and carrots was an autumnal riot. For the second course, the puree threatened to steal the show, being so sweet, light and well seasoned that you could have given me a bowlful and a spoon and I would have been quite happy.

Not to say everything else wasn't spot on; the pig's ears being both crisp and cartilaginous; the pork belly gently wobbling, it's rich fat infused with fennel; and the vibrant purple carrots and iron-rich black pudding providing strong supporting cast.

The Ewing chose the seared pollock with a pine nut crust, burnt butter parsley spatzle, cuttlefish and alexanders. A very good looking plate that married the grassiness of the veg with the bitter ink, toothsome cuttlefish and pearly flakes of sweet fish. Clever cookery that showed plenty of skill whilst managing to keep all the flavours clean and distinct.

After the magnificent highs of the starters and mains, pudding was somewhat of a let down. My plate of Middle Eastern inspired sweetmeats was as pretty as a picture, but the golden raisin studded baklava looked very dark, and tasted unforgivably burnt. I should have sent it back, but instead persevered through the layers - hoping it was just caught on top and I'd soon reach squidgy, honeyed depths - only to find it crisp and charred all the way through.

The rest of the plate was better, the ethereal pistachio ice cream being the highlight, especially when combined with the sharp pop of the fresh pomegranate. The Turkish Delight was also interesting, being citrus sharp and jelly-like, rather than the chewy, rose scented and sugary confection I'm more familiar with.

The Ewing's peanut butter parfait fared better. While the peanut butter taste was rather restrained, the texture of the parfait, like my ice cream, was divine and worked in perfect tandem with the tart cranberry jelly. White chocolate 'snow' added a fun festive touch, and the praline and popcorn an element of crunch.

I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at the Black Rat; the food being considered, well executed and good value and the staff friendly and conscientious. And while Alfred - whose hulking statue dominates the top of Winchester High Street - may have had a hand in my burnt pudding, overall, like the man himself, it was still great.

The Black Rat Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Trinity Kitchen, Leeds

On first impressions, Trinity Kitchen may appear like any other large shopping centre food court, complete with its mix of chain restaurants including Pho, Tortilla, PizzaLuxe, Chicago Rib Shack and Chip & Fish, all set around a communal seating area with the obligatory, uber trendy, neon lights and exposed brickwork.

Only this time there's a little twist; in their own words on the website,‘every month we will be lifting five of the UK's very best street food traders into the Trinity Leeds. Genuine street food vans, carts, sheds and trucks will take residency for just one month each before we lift them back out and bring in another five, ensuring that there's always something new and unique to tantalise your taste buds.'

While it may seem a bit too cool for school, riding on the coat tails of the latest trend for ‘street food’ that seems to be spreading far beyond the Big Smoke and into every suburb, they are working alongside food journalist and organiser of the annual British Street Food awards, Richard Johnson, and promise to have a good mix of traders from across the country offering a wide range of regularly changing snacks and meals. Which must surely beat my childhood visits to Spud U Like at the Harlequin Centre in Watford….

Our first visit was on a quiet Monday afternoon which gave us plenty of time to walk about and suss out the options. It was the opening mount for the street food collective and amongst the first traders were Gurmetti with their Italian Street snacks, London’s famous Big Apple Hot Dogs, Katie and Kim's Kitchen and Manjit's Kitchen

Despite having just eaten copious amounts of cheese and ham and drinking lots of beer we still had room to sample a little more, and John and I were swayed by the Ape Piaggio Classic van and (dashing moustache) of Gurmetti.

John’s pork burger with Gorgonzola was juicy and piquant, with a special mention to the bun that was both pillow-y and substantial all at once.  My torta fritta were a triumph; little greasless fried puffs of dough topped with freshly sliced Italian cold cuts including springy Mortadella and lardo di Colanatta.

My Aunt went for the veggie option from Manjit's, choosing a, deliciously fiery, chilli paneer wrap on wholemeal bread stuffed with salad and veggies. Despite its virtuous appearance this was dirty street food in the best possible way; bouncy, fresh cheese, plenty of veg and a lovely little kick at the end. There was also plenty of it, which was generously shared amongst us all.

The Ewing, with her sweet tooth, couldn't resist trying a couple of Portuguese custard tarts and a coffee from Katie and Kim’s. While it would be a big ask to stand up to the ones we ate warm from the oven in Belem this summer, but these hit the spot with their flaky pastry and just set egg custard filling.

The following day we returned a little earlier to see the place packed out with the lunchers of Leeds. Flagging slightly we both chose some restorative Vietnmese food from Pho, including a green papya salad, bun with pork and lemongrass meatballs and chicken and prawn stirfry with flat rice noodles.

The food was solid, without being spectacular, although I appreciated the huge range of condiments they offered and that my spicy noodles really were served with nuclear levels of heat, with the accompanying nuoc cham was packed full of freshly chopped bird’s eye chillies.

The Ewing also enjoyed the sweet sour flavours from the salad, topped liberally with fresh peanuts for crunch, and the bun came with fresh herb garnish that perked me up after a weekend of cured pork products.

Pho on Urbanspoon

Too full for pud, we ended our lunch with a cappuccino from Notes - the first Northern off-shoot of the London based coffee house - to fuel us on our long trip back down the M1. As well as all day coffee and cakes they also offer a breakfast menu, sandwiches and lunch specials  - including a local hot pot - with charcuterie, cheese, tapas and wine offered in the evening.

The Ewing claimed this was one of the best coffees she had drunk in a long while, and it was hard to disagree. The sweet caramelised notes from the frothed milk complementing the bright, fruity coffee underneath which come from beans processed in their own roastery, light roasted to their individual specification. A variety of their beans are also available to buy to grind at home.

While, overall, Trinity Kitchen has a little too much glitz and gloss for my usual dirty street food tastes, I appreciate the way they have tried to incorporate something different amongst the sea of bland chain restaurants and identikit high streets. And, despite thinking I wouldn't care much for an idea that sounded pretty contrived on paper and is located in the centre of a gaudy commercial vortex, I found myself strangely charmed by the place.

Since our visits, the original five traders have already been replaced by a new bunch - whose likes include BangWok and The Cauldron - making this a great and accessible way to try many different dishes and drinks from traders right across the country, and all without the queues and cold toes.