Tourin à l’ail (French Egg Drop Garlic Soup)

Tourin à l’ail

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The Dordogne is a department located in South-west France and is named after the river Dordogne that runs through it. The land that encompassed the Dordogne is the exact same land that was once known as the county of Périgord. The name Périgord of course, is synonymous with France’s most luxurious ingredients, from the very highest quality goose foie gras to the elusive black truffle. Périgord is also famous for its duck products, from duck foie gras to confit de canard. The region is divided into four areas each named after a specific colour- Périgord Noir (Black), Périgord Blanc (White), Périgord Vert (Green) and Périgord Pourpre (Purple).

It is here in the Dordogne that the dish Tourin à l’ail (French Egg Drop Garlic Soup) was invented, and rose to fame due to the use of duck fat in the dish. Every February, there is a competition in Villeréal, south-east of Bergerac (the wine-producing region of Dordogne), to see who can produce the best tasting Tourin à l’ail. This soup is traditional made from a flour roux containing garlic and onions fried in duck fat. Chicken stock is then mixed in with the roux and the soup is then thickened with a mixture of egg yolks and vinegar. The final step of to complete the dish is to slowly drizzle in egg whites while whisking extremely rapidly to produce long strands of cooked egg whites suspended in the soup, similar to Chinese egg drop soup.

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Chateau Lafite, Pauillac, Bordeaux

 

The traditional story surrounding Tourin à l’ail is that the soup has the ability to cure hangovers and provide energy. Thus this soup is traditional served to newlyweds the night of their wedding as well as to vineyard pickers during grape harvest season. The soup is also eaten the day after parties and banquets with heavy drinking as a hangover cure.

An ancient tradition in South-west France surrounding drinking soups including Tourin à l’ail is faire chabrot or faire chabròl (to drink like a goat), which is the practice of adding a bit of red wine to your soup towards the end of the bowl of soup, before drinking the soup straight from the bowl. In the Périgord region, this practice is known as fà chabroù, while it is known as cabroù in Provence. Today this traditional is obsolete and is considered an old and rural gesture only performed by the older generation in France. Today however, chabrot is sometimes still performed in the spirit of connivance and friendliness.

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Tourin à l’ail

  • 20ml duck/goose fat (can be replaced with olive/vegetable oil)
  • 25 cloves of garlic + 5 cloves for garnish
  • 1 large onion
  • 30g flour
  • 3 duck eggs
  • 1500ml chicken stock/vegetable stock
  • 10ml of white vinegar (or vinegar of choice such as sherry or red wine vinegar)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Butter and sliced baguette
  1. Dice the onions and slice the garlic cloves. In a stock pot, melt the duck fat over medium heat and sweat the onions and garlic cloves. Do not brown them.
  2. Add in the flour to the pot and stir well so that the flour and fat combine to make a roux. (Stir for a minute without browning the roux)
  3. Add in the stock and a few springs of thyme. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the thyme before pureeing the soup with a hand blender.
  5. Separate the eggs and mix and egg yolks with the vinegar.
  6. Slowly add the egg yolk mixture to the soup while stirring the soup constantly to mix well.
  7. Bring the soup up to a boil, switch off the heat and slowly drizzle in the egg whites  into the soup while stirring gently to cause thin strands of cooked egg whites to be suspended in the soup.
  8. Fry the remaining garlic in butter a frying pan. Remove the garlic from the pan and toast the baguette slices in the frying pan with the remaining butter. Top the baguette slices with the garlic and remaining thyme leaves and serve with the soup.
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Freshly laid duck eggs

Notes:

  • Duck fat gives the soup its unique and traditional flavour but can always be replaced with any frying oil
  • Remember the cook the flour so that it is able to absorb more stock.
  • A roux is usually butter and flour whisked together to form a paste that serves as a base for many sauces such as béchamel sauce.
  • If you don’t remove the thyme stems before blending the soup, the soup will have bits of hard to bite thyme stems mixed into it which are rough on the tongue.
  • When adding the egg yolks to the soup, make sure the soup is not boiling if not you risk curdling the egg yolks.
  • The egg yolks and vinegar mixture are used to thicken the soup.

Wine Pairing:

The classic wine pairing advice that food and wine that originate from the same place go well together hold true here. A fine example of a true Périgourdine wines include white wine would be wines from Bergerac. The Bergerac wines represent 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) recorded in 1936, with only 2 of the AOCs producing white wines, namely Bergerac White and Montravel. Bergerac White is produced from the blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle, Ondec and Chenin Blanc, while Montravel is produced from Sémillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon. This combination of grape varieties is similar to Bordeaux whites (with the exception of Chenin Blanc) and the wines have high acidity, with aromas of white flowers and occasionally, have a herbaceous note to them. They are light bodied with moderate alcohol. This high acidity and fresh style of wine goes well with Tourin à l’ail as the high acidity pairs with the fat from the duck fat and egg yolks, while the herbaceous notes pair with the thyme and garlic. Alternative wine pairings include Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, France, or New Zealand.

Le Chat Noir
Le Chat Noir, Montmartre, Paris

With Éric Alfred Leslie Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 gently playing in the background whilst I write this post, I realise how this song pairs well the characteristics of this dish. The song’s enchanting slow-paced tune has the ability to bring you back to the the melancholic and romantic Paris of the early 1900s, interpreted through a impressionistic style of music. Satie moved from his father’s residence to lodgings in Montmartre in 1887, and was soon to start rubbing shoulders with the artistic clientele of the Le Chat Noir cabaret, which included the then not yet famous Claude Debussy. The Le Chat Noir was thought to be the first modern cabaret and was founded by Rodolphe Salis. A cabaret at that time was a somewhat precursor to the modern restaurant, where wine was only sold and served with a meal on a tablecloth. At Le Chat Noir, entertainment was also provided in the form of music and political satire, and it was here that Éric Satie composed his most famous pieces, his Gymnopédies.

Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest (Almond Choux Pastry with Crème Mousseline)

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The Paris-Brest-Paris was a long-distance cycling event (1200km) that was first organised in 1891 by a French Journalist by the name of Pierre Giffard in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, as a circulation aid for parisian newspapers. It was Pierre Giffard, who requested that Louis Durand, the pâtissier of Maisons-Laffitte in Yvelines, create a pastry to commemorate the start of the Paris-Brest-Paris race. This pastry was soon to become known as the Paris-Brest, and consisted of a circular choux pastry ring with an almond cream filling, topping with toasted almonds, which represented the wheel of a bicycle. The pastry gained popularity among cyclist very quickly due to its high calorific value and is now available all across France.

Paris-brest is made from Choux pastry (pâte à choux), which is a dough made with butter, water, flour and eggs. This is unusual compared to most french pastry dough as it does not contain sugar or any rising agents. Instead, it uses the high amount of moisture in the dough from water and eggs to cause to pastry to rise. During baking, the steam released from the dough is trapped inside the dough and causes the pastry to puff up, similar to yorkshire puddings. Choux pastry is the same pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs.

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View of Paris from the Sacré-Cœur, Paris

The main filling traditionally used in Paris-brest is crème mousseline, which is a derivative of pastry cream (crème pâtissière) made by the addition of butter and praline paste. Crème pâtissière is prepared by whisking hot milk with a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch, before cooking it on the stove top. The milk used in crème pâtissière is usually flavoured with cointreau or vanilla and can be flavoured to your personal taste (some people even add coffee). To make crème mousseline, butter and praline paste is then whisked hard into crème pâtissière until a fluffy smooth consistency is achieved. The crème mousseline is then chilled until it is ready to be piped.

Modern interpretations of Paris-brest include much smaller versions of it that no longer include the famous hole in the middle that symbolises a bicycle wheel. Furthermore, a version of Paris-brest made using hazelnut paste and topped with toasted hazelnuts have become increasingly popular (instead of the traditional almonds). All in all, the main appeal of the Paris brest has been the crunchy outer texture from the choux pastry and toasted nuts, paired with the rich nutty and creamy filling on the inside.

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Paris-Brest

Choux Pastry:

  • 150g flour
  • 140ml water
  • 90ml milk
  • 90g butter
  • 4g salt
  • 4-5 eggs
  • sliced almonds/nibbed hazelnuts (for topping)
  • Icing sugar (for dusting)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)
  2. Add the butter, water and salt into a pan and melt together on high heat.
  3. Once completely mixed together, add in all the flour in one go and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to form a thick paste (panada).
  4. Cook the panada on low heat for 2-3 minutes, constantly stirring.
  5. Take the panada off the heat and add a single whole egg to it. Mix very vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough becomes smooth.
  6. Continue adding eggs and mixing one at time until the pastry is slightly glossy and hangs down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon. The amount of eggs required is not fixed and serves more as a guide.
  7. Fill a piping bag equipped with a round nozzle with the choux pastry
  8. Draw a 20 cm circle on parchment paper on top of a baking trap and pipe the choux pastry following the 20cm ring.
  9. Pipe another ring inside the first ring, with both rings sticking to each other.
  10. Pipe a final ring resting on top and in between the bottom two rings.
  11. Brush the choux pastry with egg wash and sprinkle on the almonds/hazelnuts.
  12. Bake for 28-30 minutes (the pastry should be firm and golden).
  13. Immediately after baking, slice the ring horizontally into two layers before allowing it to cool.
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Louvre Museum, Paris

Pastry Cream (crème pâtissière):

  • 70g sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 25g flour
  • 25g cornstarch/cornflour (or replace with more flour)
  • 450ml milk
  • 1 vanilla bean/1 teaspoon of vanilla essence.
  1. Pour milk into a pan and add in the vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod by scraping out the seeds using a pairing knife. Bring the milk to boil.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar mixture until the egg yolks are pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Whisk in the flour and cornstarch into the egg mixture.
  4. While constantly whisking the egg mixture, pour in half the hot milk in, all the while mixing well.
  5. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk (all the whole mixing continuously).
  6. Turn on the heat and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken to your desired consistency. At this point, the pastry cream is done and should be refrigerated until cool enough to use.

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Mousseline Cream (crème mousseline):

  • Pastry Cream
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 150g praline paste
  1. If the butter comes straight from the fridge, cut the butter into small cubes and place into a pan.
  2. On medium heat, gently heat the butter until just under a quarter of the butter is melted.
  3. Immediately take off the heat and whisk the butter heavily so that the melted butter combines with the remaining unmelted butter to give you soft butter.
  4. Alternatively, use room temperature butter.
  5. Whisk the butter vigorously into the pastry cream, before adding the praline paste into the mixture and continue whisking.
  6. Once whisked until soft and fluffy, the mousseline cream is ready to be used and can be filled into a pastry bag equipped with a star-tipped nozzle.
  7. To assemble to Paris-Brest, pipe some mousseline cream into the bottom layer of the choux pastry before piping the cream in a uniform pattern all around the bottom layer of the choux pastry.
  8. Gently place the top layer of the choux pastry on top of the mousseline cream and dust the Paris-Brest with icing sugar. Chill before serving.

 

 

Notes:

  • Remember to mix the flour/cornstarch into the pastry cream and choux pastry well and vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Similarly, whisk the choux pastry well when cooking it on the stove top to prevent the bottom from burning. Boiling the milk for pastry cream also runs to risk of the bottom of the pot scorching so remember to mix well.
  • Pastry cream can be flavoured with chocolate or coffee if you don’t like the taste of praline.
  • If you’re mousseline cream is lumpy after the addition of the butter, it means that the butter was too cold when you added it in. You can fix this by letting the mixture warm up a bit, or even slightly heating it up over a bain-marie.
  • A wooden spoon for mixing the choux pastry is better than using a whisk as the mixture is extremely sticky.
  • The panada for the choux pastry is cooked in order to allow it to better absorb the eggs.
  • A lot of mixing is required to incorporate the eggs into the panada so don’t give up if the dough looks split.
  • Adding eggs one at a time allows you to control the final texture of the choux pastry, remember- the pastry should be glossy and hang down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon.
  • The choux pastry ring should be cut immediately after baking as it is the easiest to cut whist it is still hot. Cutting it immediately also releases steam and allows it to cool down faster.
  • After adding the vanilla seeds to the milk, don’t throw away the pod! You can boil the pod with the milk or add the pod to you sugar jar to make vanilla sugar.
  • The pastry cream recipe can be used already after chilled if you do not intend to make mousseline cream.
  • You can gentle soften the butter for mousseline cream in a microwave as well.
  • The mousseline cream can also be chilled in the fridge before use but should be clingfilmed to prevent a skin from forming on it.
  • Remember to whisk the mousseline cream again before use if making the day before.

Milanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Watermarked Risotto

Risotto alla Milanese is a rendition of risotto which is just flavoured with saffron, and is arguably the most famous dish that originates from the Lombardy region of Italy. The Lombardy region of Italy is the richest of the twenty administrative regions of Italy and encompasses Milan, the second biggest city in Italy. It was here in Milan, that the Risotto alla Milanese was invented. The exact origin of this dish is unknown and is surrounded by many stories, some which contradict each other. The first known recorded instances of this recipe started appearing in books around the 1800s. Prior to this, recipes for cooking rice in Italy usually consisted for the rice being boiled, compared to the risotto we know nowadays, where rice is first cooked in a soffritto of onions and butter in order to coat each grain in a film of fat (known as tostatura), before deglazing the pan with white wine. From the recipes from the 1800s, we know that Risotto alla Milanese back then was cooked with stock slowly being mixed in, with the gradual addition of cervellata (a beef and veal sausage stuffed with cheese), and coloured with saffron. The dish today however, is made without the traditional sausage and is instead enriched with bone marrow.

The widely told story of how Risotto alla Milanese was invented begins with the construction of the Milan cathedral, now the third biggest cathedral in the world. In the 1700s, the daughter of Valerio della Fiandraleads (the painter of the great glass windows of the Milan cathedral), was getting married. During that time, saffron was widely used to colour stained glass gold as a symbol of prosperity. The story goes on to attribute one of Valerio della Fiandraleads’ assistants decided to surprise him by adding saffron to the risotto served at his daughter’s wedding, and the rest is history. This story is likely to be a folklore than has been spread by word of mouth over many generations and is unlikely to be true as records of the dish only appeared during the 1800s.

Watermarked Collections flowers

Rice first entered Italian cuisine in the early 1200s when the Moors (the muslim inhabitants of southern Italy), settled in Sicily. From here, the cultivation of rice spread northwards to the Po Valley river, which provided enough water for semi-aquatic rice to grow all year around. This spread northwards was made possible by the strong political connections between the two powerful royal families that ruled at that time, the House of Sforza in Milan and the House of Trastámara (Aragon) in Naples. As rice dishes evolved into risotto as we know it today, risotto started to be served as a first course (il primo). Risotto alla millanese however, is usually served together with ossobuco alla milanese (a dish of braised cross-cut veal shank) as a second course (il secondo).  

As this dish is relatively plain, the quality of ingredients used in the dish matters even more in making a truly exceptional dish. The most common variety of rice used to cook risotto is Arborio rice, while Carnaroli rice on the other hand is usually considered more superior as it has a higher starch content which is vital in making a creamy risotto. Of all the different estates that produce Carnaroli rice, the most sought after Carnaroli rice is made by the Acquerello farm in the Piedmont region. The Acquerello rice farm was first started in 1935 by Cesare Rondolino and rose to fame due to its use of aging and heating techniques to produce rice of superior quality. During production, harvested grains are aged under temperature control for 1.5 years, with 1% of the grains being aged up to 7 years. This aging process allows the rice to develop a deeper and richer flavour similar to aging wine. After aging, the rice is unhusked and polished down in a process similar to polishing japanese rice for sake. In a process unique to Acquerello, the germ layer removed from the rice is not thrown away, but instead slowly heated up and gently mixed back into the rice grains, combining the nutrients contained inside the germ with the white rice. This produces a white rice that has the nutrition of brown rice, while also being enrobed with a layer of starch. This mean that when cooking Acquerello rice in risotto, one does not need to constantly stir while adding stock. The stock can actually be added all at once, with the vigorous mixing due to boiling motion of the stock being enough agitation to create a rich and creamy risotto.

Watermarked Aquarello rice
Acquerello Rice aged for 7 years

Saffron, which is the key ingredient in Risotto alla Milanese, is the world’s most expensive spice, costing up to 7000 British Pounds per kilo, with Vanilla coming in as the second most expensive spice, costing up to 500 British Pounds per kilo. This can be explained by the amount of labour required to obtain saffron combined with its extremely low yield. Saffron is derived from the stigma (female part) and styles (male part) in the flower of Crocus sativus. The stigmas and styles are carefully removed from the flower and dried before being sold. As each flower contains 3 stigmas or styles, it takes as much as 300000 in order to produce a kilo of saffron. Thus making an extremely labour intensive spice to produce. This in turn has generated an underground industry of fake-saffron, using strands from turmeric flowers or bits of hay in an attempt to dilute genuine saffron in an attempt to increase yield. This is especially common in Iran, which is responsible for 90% of the world’s saffron production. Saffron production in Iran is made possible due to the low-cost of mainly female labourers, combined with a suitable sunny climate. Saffron itself grows best in the sun, with flowers grown in the sun producing lower quality saffron. However, saffron needs to be harvested in the early morning in order to protect the harvest from the heat and therefore workers start their days as early as 3 or 4 in the morning. 

The taste of saffron is like hay-ish iodine caused by its two main chemical compounds, picrocrocin and safranal. Some people describe it as floral and honey like but in my opinion the flavour of saffron is hard to describe, with nothing that taste close to it. If you want to taste true authenticity in your Risotto alla Milanese, there really isn’t a substitute. Saffron of course, is more famous for the bright yellowish-gold colour that it impart in food due to the high concentration of the carotenoid pigment, crocin, it contains. Not all saffron is of the same quality, with the highest quality saffron being grown in the Navelli Valley in Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila, as it as the high concentration of safranal and crocin. To get the most out of your saffron, it should not be added directly to a dish, but instead soaked in luke warm water in order to extract the flavour and colour from the strains before adding it to the dish.

My take on Risotto alla Milanese is the same base recipe you find everywhere, including the addition of bone marrow into the risotto itself, with the difference being the addition of additional bone marrow served as it is (not mixed into the risotto). This allows you to enjoy the flavour of bone marrow on its own and makes the dish more substantial to eat on its own without other dishes such as osso bucco. I also add some ikura (salmon eggs) on the side, as the burst of salty acidicness from the ikura helps balance out the bone marrow.

Watermarked Saffron
Spanish Saffron sold in 1g packets

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

  • Ikura
  • 50g Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 700ml Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock
  • 1 medium sized shallot
  • 250g 7 Years aged Acquerello Rice (or normal Carnoli/Arborio Rice)
  • 30g Unsalted Butter
  • A dash of olive oil
  • 100ml White wine
  • 2 pinches Saffron
  • Bone marrow still in bone (beef or veal)
  • Red Amaranth as garnish
  1. First, add the saffron to warm chicken stock to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. While the saffron is steeping, Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the bone marrow in a tray and salt with salt and pepper before covering each bone marrow with tin foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Reserve some bone marrow in bone for plating the dish.
  4. To start the risotto, scoop out the bone marrow from the bones and add this to the butter in some olive oil, heat the mixture before adding the minced shallots to sweat.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Acquerello Rice and toss in the butter for around a minute until well coated. (A process known as tostatura)
  6. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and continue to cook until all the alcohol has evaporated (when you can no longer smell alcohol).
  7. If using Acquerello rice, pour in 600ml of stock (including saffron strands) into the pot and set to a rolling boil. Once most of the stock has evaporated, use a spatula to stir the rice to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Taste the risotto and add more stock if it is not cooked enough for your taste.
  8. If using any other rice, add in the stock (including saffron strands) one ladle at a time, only adding another ladle once the previous ladle has been absorbed into the rice. Remember to always stir the rice constantly. You do not have to add all the stock into the pot.
  9. Taste the risotto once in a while to see if it is cooked to you’re taste. If not, continue to add stock to the pot and cook until soft enough for your taste.
  10. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it. 
  11. Just before the risotto is done, add in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mix till melted.
  12. Plate and serve the risotto with a tablespoon of ikura and a bone marrow still in bone at the centre. Garnish with red amaranth.

 

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Street Performer, Milan

Notes:

  • Making your own stock at home can be incredibly time-consuming so feel free to use stock cubes at home. Some of the best chefs I know use stock cubes at home themselves.
  • If you’re in Asia and can’t find risotto rice, sushi rice is a possible substitute for risotto rice.
  • The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  • You do not have to stir the rice constantly if you’re using Acquerello rice as the agitation from the boiling is enough to cause the rice to release its starch.
  • We cover each piece of bone marrow in tin foil the prevent the bone marrow from burning.
  • The goal of cooking the shallots in the fat is to reduce the water content in the shallots and concentrate its flavour. We are not trying to caramalise the shallots so try not to brown them.

 

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Elio Altare’s Barolo

Wine Pairing:

As Risotto alla Milanese is quite a rich and fatty dish, I would pair this dish with wines of high acidity that are lighter in style in order to balance out the weight of the dish. Wines without new oak would also be preferable to not drown out the taste of saffron. Sticking with regional wine pairings, for white wines I would suggest a Pinot Bianco with the not overtly fruity nature but high enough acidity to match the dish and bring out the flavour of the saffron. 

For red wines, I would suggest a good Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Nebbiolo tends to be in a very light style similar to Pinot Noir from burgundy, with similiar notes of undergrowth and red cherries. The main difference however is that Pinot Noir has relatively low tannins while the tannins in Nebbiolo tend to be overpowering. However, with such a rich dish full of cheese, the tannins in the Nebbiolo would definitely pair well. When considering a Barolo vs a Barbaresco, I would go for the Barbaresco, which is typically harvested a fortnight earlier and thus would be slightly lighter in style. Old style producers of Barolo would also be recommended over new style producers who tend to use new french oak barrels compared to the traditional large oak botti which impart less oak flavour over many years of use. The strong oak flavour will overpower the taste of saffron. A Valpolicella from the Veneto region might just work with this dish as it can be light and fruity but I would advise against choosing a Ripasso or Amarone to pair with this dish. 

Unagi-don (鰻丼), Japanese Style Grilled Freshwater Eel on rice

Unagi-don (鰻丼)

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Unagi, or Anguilla japonica (日本鰻 ), is the name of the Japanese freshwater eel that’s grilled over a charcoal fire whilst being coated in sweet soy sauce glaze, a style known as kabayaki (蒲焼). It’s always been one of my personal favourite dishes and it’s what I’d usually order in a restaurant when I feel like having something soulful. Seeing how expensive a bowl of Unagi with rice usually costs, I wanted to see if it where possible to make yourself and this post explores that. Other than its usual preparation method, Unagi is sometimes grilled with salt alone and served with wasabi, a style known as shioyaki (塩焼き).

Today, Unagi is not only eaten all year round, but also throughout the entire world, so much that it has become a staple dish that one expects in any Japanese restaurant outside of Japan. This in return, has caused a decline in freshwater eel stocks to almost endangered levels. To counter the problem, the Unagi industry has switched to commercial farming of freshwater eel to meet the demand of various restaurants around the world. This solution however has not stemmed the problem of declining wild stocks as the current eel breeding technology is in its primitive stages and thus eel farming requires baby eels to be caught from the wild before being raised in captivity. While Unagi live their whole adult life in freshwater, they actually return to the sea to spawn and lay eggs.

Historically, Unagi used to be eaten on the midsummer day of the Ox (土用の丑の日), which falls on the 12th day before the start of autumn, as the protein and vitamin rich Unagi was said to provide strength and energy to workers for the coming year. Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture, is said to be where the best freshwater eel in Japan as the eel here is said to have superior flavour. As almost all of the eel eaten in Japan today is farmed, some farmers are trying to farm eel in a way that mimics wild in as close as possible as wild eel is supposed to have superior flavour due to its fat composition. Unagi naturally feel on plankton during the summer on order to grow as quickly as possible, before slowing down during the autumn in order to start storing fat. In the winter, these eels start to hibernate. These farmers try to mimic the seasons as close as possible in their farming ponds, even going the extra mile to store the Unagi in barrels which are placed in ice-cold streams during the winter months to facilitate hibernation. This process is repeated over several seasonal cycles before the eels are harvested.

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Unagi itself has an intrinsically rich and strong flavour, which is why the kabayaki style by which it is traditional prepared is so suitable for it as the mixture of caramelised sweet sauce pairs very well with it. The methods for preparing Unagi is so ingrained in Japanese culture that the recipe for making the sweet sauce is kept secret from restaurant to restaurant. While the base of the sauce is said to be made from a mixture of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar, the exact proportions vary from restaurant to restaurant, with the head of the restaurant only passing down the secret recipe through the family line. These particular restaurants specialize only in the preparation of Unagi alone and the pot of sauce bubbling away in the kitchen is their most prized possession. This is because the pot of sauce in each restaurant is never allowed to run dry, but is constantly topped up everyday when it starts running low. This causes the flavour to concentrate overtime and the remaining of the previous batches sauce are mixed into the new batch and allowed to slowly caramelise again. It is said some of these sauces have been kept going for over 5 generations and well over 100 years, never being allowed to run dry. In addition to this, some restaurants dip the entire skewers of Unagi into the pot of sauce between periodically while grilling, compared to brushing the sauce unto the Unagi on this grill. This means that some of the juice from the Unagi is mixed into the sauce everyday. Having been repeated everyday for over 100 years, causes each pot of Unagi sauce to develop its own individual complex flavour.

The method for preparing Unagi is also unique compared to other fish. In almost all other fish, the belly of the fish is slit open to remove the guts. In contrast, Unagi is prepared using the kejime method (活け締め), which involves, driving a meuchi (目打ち)  or nail directly through the hindbrain of a live eel, which causes immediate brain death as well as paralysis. This method is superior because it immediately causes the muscles in the eel to freeze, preventing any further use of energy in the body. If you were to kill the eel using any other method, the body of the eel would continue to trash about, causing the consumption of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As the eel can no longer breathe (because it’s dead), ATP is broken down through anaerobic glycolysis without oxygen, thus forming lactic acid which would give the eel a sour taste.

After dispatching the eel, the eel is filleted by cutting the down the backbone all the way down the entire length of the spine, splitting the eel open from top while leaving the belly untouched. This method is unique as it causes the belly to be positioned in the middle of the fillet, compared to conventional methods where the belly is cut in half. The innards are then scrapped away and the spine removed by inserting in knife underneath it and running it down the entire length of the eel. The eel is them skewered using bamboo skewers, ready for grilling.

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The entire process of grilling Unagi is actually quite complicated. After being skewered, the Unagi fillets are grilled for a short period of time before being steamed. The initial grilling starts of the mallard reaction while the steaming that follows firms up the meat. The now firm Unagi fillet can then be deboned by hand. After deboning, the fillets is then dipped into the Unagi sauce and finished off on the grill before being served hot, with the skewers removed.

If we were to consider the preparation method for Unagi compared to other fish, it could be easily said that the Japanese overcook their Unagi as seafood usually only requires a short cooking time. However, this method of grilling, steaming and grilling actually creates a melt in your mouth texture. This is because the meat of Unagi is rather firm to start of with, and thus a fast cooking method such a pan searing would result in the Unagi becoming tough and rubbery. Furthermore the blood of the Unagi is poisonous if not cooked and thus this method of cooking ensures that the Unagi is safe to eat.

Grilled Unagi is more commonly served in a bowl, which is known as Unagi-don or Unadon (鰻丼) but can sometimes be served in a lacquered box, or Unaju (鰻重).

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Unagi-don (鰻丼)

  • 1kg of salt
  • 500ml Water
  • 500ml Tamari Soy Sauce
  • 250g Granulated Sugar
  • 250ml Mirin
  • 200ml Sake
  • 2 live Unagi, about 800g each
  1. Kill the 2 live Unagi by hitting each Unagi on the head with a mallet. Alternatively, if you have a nail or meuchi (目打ち) and hammer, drive the meuchi down the back of the head of the eel to kill it immediately.
  2. After dispatching the eel, clean the eel by rubbing it with the salt, one handful at a time before washing off with water. The goal here is to remove as much slime as possible from the eel using the salt. This process requires a lot of salt. Repeat several times until clean.
  3. Reattach the eel to the chopping board if using a meuchi. Insert your filleting knife or debabocho (broad-bladed kitchen knife) right behind pectoral fin. and slide the knife along the entire spine to open the back.
  4. Remove innards by scrapping the knife along the eel.
  5. Remove the spine by inserting your knife under spine and running it between the spine and flesh.
  6. Place the fillets flat on the board and scrap the fillet gentle with the knife to remove any dirt.
  7. Wash gently with clean water.

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    Red hot Charcoal Embers
  8. To make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, mirin, water, sake and sugar together in a pot and bring to a boil while stirring constantly to fully dissolve the sugar. Bring up to a vigorous boil to evaporate the alcohol from the sake.
  9. Reduce the sauce to your desired thickness. Add more sugar or soy sauce to taste.
  10. Cut the Unagi fillet into 4 equal portions and skewer each portion with 4 to 5 skewers.
  11. Place the skewers of Unagi over a charcoal grill for 5 to 6 minutes before rotating and grilling for another 5 to 6 minutes
  12. Place the skewers of Unagi in a steamer and steam for 15 minutes.
  13. Dip the skewers of Unagi in the sauce, grill on each side for 2 minutes.
  14. repeat 2 to 3 times.
  15. Remove skewers from the fillets and serve over steaming hot rice.

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Notes:

  1. It is possible to use this recipe starting with pre-filleted eels but I have yet to see it sold anywhere. The taste of fresh eel is still the best.
  2. Cleaning the eel requires a lot of salt and scrubbing so it is best to wear gloves.
  3. Remember to cook the eel well as uncooked eel blood is poisonous.
  4. The innards of the eel should come out in one go if the eel is fresh.
  5. This recipe also works on catfishes.

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aioli

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aïoli

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Nothing brings back memories of a visit to the seaside more than a bite into light but crispy battered fish, fresh out of the fryer. The combination of the first crunch when you sink your teeth into the batter, accompanied by the steaming hot firm flesh of fish, together make the epitome of comfort food. Everybody has their own preference on how the perfect battered fish is made. Some people prefer a thick beer batter while some people prefer it coated with breadcrumbs. Then comes the debate on what is the best fish to use. Is it questionably now sustainable cod? Or is it the now commonplace hake? Maybe you prefer a more premium fish to be used in your chippy, like halibut or turbot.

When it comes to battered fish, I prefer to use any sort of flatfish, with my personal favourite being brill. Flatfish encompass a wide range of fish such as turbot, halibut, brill, plaice and soles. They are characterised by having a flat underbelly, with both eyes having evolved to be on the same side. All flatfish live on the seafloor, feeding off crabs and small fish while blending in with the sand and sediment to avoid predators. From a culinary perspective, flatfish are excellent as their flesh is firm and flakes of in large pieces when cooked. Furthermore, unlike other fish, flatfish do not have scales and thus are much easier to prepare. Flatfish come in all sorts of varying shapes and sizes, from the fairly small lemon sole to the sometimes humongous halibut which can reach sizes of up to 200kg a fish. For this recipe, a large flatfish fillet would be the most optimal, as it would be fairly thick, ensuring that the fish will not overcook before the batter is cooked to a delicious golden brown. A thick fillet also means that there will be a greater texture contrast between the crispy batter and the soft firm flesh inside it. In addition, a thicker fillet also translates to a smaller surface area to volume ratio, preventing too much loss of moisture when cooking, allowing the fish to retain some of its flavourful juices.

Among the different types of flatfish, the most prized flatfish favoured by chefs is the turbot, which as well as having the characteristic firm flesh found in flatfish, also has dense meat and a subtly sweet taste. As mentioned above, my preferred fish of choice for this dish is the closely related brill, also known as Scophthalmus rhombus. In comparison to turbot, brill can be said to be its undervalued brother, selling for much cheaper and affordable prices. It has an identical firm texture while only tasted slightly less sweet. And in all honesty, after being deep-fried in batter, this difference would no longer be noticeable. I still believe that a turbot’s taste is more superior than brill’s taste. But unless you are cooking a dish that emphasised the quality of ingredients as well as the delicate different in taste, it is not worth it paying the price premium for a turbot in comparison to brill.

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Brill is a brown coloured fish with light and dark patches that can be found up to 2kg in weight, thus making its fillet the perfect thickness for deep frying. When buying brill from the fish monger, I prefer to buy whole brill as the bones of any flatfish are the best bones for making fumet (fish stock), as they are packed full of gelatin. When choosing fish, the best indicators of fresh fish are clear and not bloodshot eyes, as well as bright red gills. Further tell tale signs of the freshness of a fish is the firmness of its flesh, which should be able to bounce back to shape after being pressed lightly. A fresh fish should also smell of the sea without any musky aromas. When holding up the fish, it should also be able to hold itself without going limp. Unique to flatfish, one trick to when choosing which fish to buy is to flip the fish over to it’s white underbelly and look for blemishes caused by bruising to the fish.

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aioli

  • 2x 200g Fish Fillets (I personally prefer using Brill), do not use any oily fish such as tuna or salmon
  • 7g of Fresh or 5g of Powdered Yeast
  • 100ml of Vodka
  • 200ml of Beer (freshly opened)
  • 400g of Plain Flour
  • Rice Flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil/Rapeseed Oil/Canola Oil
  • 10g of Beef Dripping or 5g of reused oil
  1. To start off the batter, add in the plain flour, salt and yeast. Mix well together.
  2. Add in the beer and vodka and whisk together for a minute and not any longer. It’s okay to have lumps. The batter should be think enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the amount of flour or beer if necessary. (Do not add more Vodka)
  3. Let the batter chill in the fridge for around 30 minutes or place the bowl in an ice bath to quickly cool it down.
  4. Season the fish fillets with salt and let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  5. To prepare the deep-frying oil, fill a pot with vegetable oil and add in the beef dripping. Alternatively add in the reused oil.
  6. Heat up the oil to 180℃ (356℉).
  7. Remove the fish fillets from the fridge and pat dry with a paper towel.
  8. Coat the fish fillets with rice flour.
  9. Dip the fish fillets in the batter and coat well, wiping off excess batter.
  10. Transfer to the hot oil and fry until it is a crispy golden colour.
  11. Remove and pat dry the excess oil using a paper towel.
  12. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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Notes:

  • The batter should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, somewhat like the consistency of a hollandaise sauce. Too thin and it won’t be crispy and too thick and the fish will not cook properly and the taste will be doughy.
  • A light a crispy batter is made with an aerated batter, which can be done using yeast, baking powder or a carbonated liquid (beer)
  • Using a carbonated liquid like beer losses their fizz the longer you leave them. To compensate for that, I add a little yeast to the batter to keep the fizz up while the batter is resting
  • Whisking the batter together for more than a minute causes gluten strands to form as two of the wheat proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin start to bind together. While this is useful when making bread, it cause the batter to become heavy.
  • Resting the batter causes the small amount of gluten strands that form to relax. Counteracting this problem.
  • Adding vodka to my batter also helps makes the batter light and crispy as the alcohol in the vodka interacts with the glutenin and gliadin in the flour and prevents them from binding together. Preventing gluten strands from forming.
  • This of cause means that the batter now has a very high alcohol content, which may prevent yeast from growing. As such, I dilute the vodka with beer to lower the alcohol below 13% (which kills yeasts).
  • Keeping the batter ice-cold also gives an extremely crispy batter due to the huge differences in temperature between the oil and batter, a technique from making tempura.
  • When deep frying, I prefer to use a neutral oil such as rapeseed oil or canola oil so that it does not impart any flavour into the fish. However as these oils may be harder to find, it would be easier and cheaper to just use vegetable oil.
  • In terms of improving the flavour of the fried product. It helps to add a tablespoon of beef dripping which helps give a final product a richer taste. Food cooked in oil that has been previously used in frying taste better in fresh oil. This is because as you fry oil, compounds in the oil start to oxidize and make the food taste better. So adding a bit of used oil into the fresh oil adds a lot of flavour.
  • When deep-frying, the most optimal temperature is around 180℃ (356℉). Any lower than that and the batter takes too long to cook, causing the fish to overcook before the batter becomes golden and crispy. The batter will also be slightly chewy and soggy. Any higher and you risk the oil starting to smoke and the batter browning too fast.
  • Salting the fish and letting the fish rest in the fridge causes the water to be extracted from the fish, allowing the fish to have a firmer texture when frying.
  • Coating the fish with rice flour before dipping in batter into them gives a more even batter coating.
  • If the fillet stops bubbling, the fillet is already over cooked as there is no longer any steam leaving the fish fillet and the oil will start to enter the crust, making it extremely oily.
  • Do not add too many fillets into the pot at once as it causes the temperature of the oil to drop.
  • The most premium fish used for battered fish here in the UK is Halibut and Turbot which are both flatfishes. Brill is also a flatfish and in my opinion is an underrated fish which is much cheaper compared to Halibut and Turbot. Flatfishes have a firm texture which makes them perfect for deep-frying.
  • Other common fish used for Fish and Chips here are cod, haddock and pollock. Cod is the most traditional fish used but due to unsustainable farming is not so common anymore. The more famous alternatives nowadays are haddock and pollock which are relatively cheap but have a rising price due to their increased popularity.

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  • Onion Rings
    • White Onions/Yellow Onions
    • Pako Breadcrumbs
    • Rice Flour
    • Remaining Batter
  • Garlic Aïoli
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Garlic
    • Salt
    • Egg Yoke
    • Lemon Juice
 
To make the Panko onion rings, cut the onions crosswise and separate out the individual rings. If possible, remove the membrane in-between each ring. Coat the rings in rice flour before dipping in the rings in the excess fish batter. Place the batter coated rings in a bowl of panko breadcrumbs and coat well before frying until golden brown. Again make sure the oil reheats to a 180℃ (356℉).
 
To make the garlic aïoli, smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife. Remove the skin and add the garlic into a bowl. Add in the salt and egg yolks. Start whisking the mixture until the egg yolks are mixed with the garlic. Continue to whisk while slowly adding in oil, a few drops at a time, building up to steady stream. Add enough olive oil till the sauce has reached your desired consistency. Add in a squeeze of lemon juice and adjust the seasoning to taste. A shortcut here is just to use a blended and blend the garlic and egg yolks together and continue to blend the mixture while slowly adding in the olive oil as the point of whisking is just to agitate the mixture to promote emulsification.
 
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When deep-frying, I prefer to use a neutral oil such as rapeseed oil or canola oil so that it does not impart any flavour into the fish. However as these oils may be harder to find, it would be easier and cheaper to just use vegetable oil. In terms of improving the flavour of the fried product. It helps to add a tablespoon of beef dripping which helps give a final product a richer taste. Food cooked in oil that has been previously used in frying taste better in fresh oil. This is because as you fry oil, compounds in the oil start to oxidize and make the food taste better. To enhance the flavour of your battered fish. It is also possible to mix a tablespoon of older oil into your fresh oil when deep frying. When deep frying, the most optimal temperature is around 180℃ (356℉). Any lower than that and the batter takes too long to cook, causing the fish to overcook before the batter becomes golden and crispy. The batter will also be slightly chewy and soggy. Any higher and you risk the oil starting to smoke and the batter browning too fast.

The best fish batter to me is one that light and crispy. In order to do so, we need to aerate to batter. This can be done using a raising agent such as yeast or baking powder, or simply using sparkling water or beer. My preference is to use both a mixture of yeast and beer. The explanation is as follows. When flour is mixed with water, it forms gluten strands as two of the wheat proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin bind together. While this is useful when making bread, it cause the batter to become heavy. Resting the batter causes the gluten strands to relax. This is because it allows the batter to remain light and crispy. However, if using a carbonated liquid like beer or sparkling water, they lose their fizz the longer you leave them. To compensate for that, I add a little yeast to the batter to keep the fizz up.

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Llandudno, Wales

In addition to this, I also like to add vodka to my batter, as the alcohol in the vodka interacts with the proteins in the flour and prevents them from binding together. Preventing gluten strands from forming. This of cause means that the batter now has a very high alcohol content, which may prevent yeast from growing. As such, I dilute the vodka with beer to lower the alcohol below 13% (which kills yeasts).

Keeping the batter ice-cold also gives an extremely crispy batter due to the huge differences in temperature between the oil and batter, a technique from making tempura.

When cooking the onion rings, I prefer to use Panko breadcrumbs compared to normal breadcrumbs as they have a larger surface area thus give a more crispy finish but if you can’t find them than normal breadcrumbs work as well.

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Marseille, France

An Aïoli is a sauce that originates from the Mediterranean countries. It’s name literally means garlic and oil in Provençal and the original recipe for it does not contain egg yolks. With the rise in popularity in mayonnaise, modern-day recipes now contain egg yolks and added lemon juice to help cut the richness of the sauce. When making sauces such as aïoli, hollandaise or mayonaise, we need an emulsifier, which prevents a mixture of oil and water from separating after being mixed together. This is because non-polar oil molecules have a greater affinity for each other. The same goes for polar water molecules. An emulsifier works by having both a hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water hating) chemical group. The hydrophilic group sticks into the suspended water particles while the hydrophobic group sticks to oil and prevents the two from joining.

Examples of emulsifiers are lecithins which are found in egg yolks, and compounds found in garlic, which is why it is possible to make an Aioli without egg yolks.

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

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Ah the sweet smell of fermentation, the technique used to preserve food for centuries before the invention of refrigerators and freezers. Fermentation allowed food to be kept for longer periods of time, especially important during the winter when food was scarce, while also allowing people to eat fruits and vegetables outside their seasons. Making kimchi yourself even has a certain satisfaction to it, the feeling of reenacting a processed used by humans from so many generations before. Then there’s that small sense of pleasure popping open a jar of newly fermented of kimchi, the small hiss when all the carbon dioxide produced from fermentation is released from the jar, followed by that characteristic sweet and sour but yet so pungent smell that people either love or hate.

The word Kimchi is actually the general term of any traditional Korean dish made of vegetables that were salted, this included spicy and non-spicy dishes, as well as fermented and non-fermented dishes. Because of this, They are almost an uncountable different variations in Kimchi, coming from different parts of Korea. My favorite version of Kimchi by concept is actually Sachal Tongpaechu 사찰 통배추 김치, which is the Kimchi made by monks in the Korean Buddhist Temples. These Buddhist monks do not believe in eating meat as they do not want to harm animals, and are also not allowed to eat the five forbidden vegetables (五荤) which are asafoetida, garlic, green onion, shallots and leeks due to their pungency. Because of this their version of Kimchi is extremely simplistic and light but still contains a lot of flavour.

The most famous version of Kimchi however, is Tongbaechu-kimchi (통배추김치), made by fermenting salted cabbage in garlic and radishes with hot pepper flakes (Gochugaru). This version of Kimchi has become so ubiquitous that it is now assumed that you’re talking about Tongbaechu-kimchi when you say the word Kimchi. Tonbaechu-kimchi is also sometimes called baechu-kimchi.

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Garlic from the Marché Bastille in Paris

Other than the increased umami caused by fermentation, Kimchi is also sometimes called the “World’s healthiest food”. This claim of course is subjective and can never be proved. However, Kimchi does contain quite a substantial amount of vitamin A, B and C. Kimchi also undergoes lacto-fermentation which means that it also contains a lot of lactobacillium, the same kind of bacteria which is found in our gut- the so-called ‘good bacteria’ (with the most famous being Lactobacillus kimchii). While the effectiveness of these so-called ‘good bacteria’ is still up to debate, one benefit of kimchi that is undeniable is that Kimchi is made almost entirely of vegetables, which are definitely good for you, providing nutrients and dietary fibre.

As mentioned above, the main process that give Kimchi its distinctive taste and flavour is lacto-fermentation. When people think of fermentation, they usually think of beer and wine which is fermented using yeast. Lacto-fermentation is not carried out by yeast but by a strain of bacteria called lactobacillium. Under anaerobic circumstances (no oxygen), they convert sugars into lactic acid, giving them Kimchi its sour taste. The increase in lactic acid also means a reduction of pH which is extremely important as it prevents the growth of some of the most deadly bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum which causes Botulism that can kill you in a few hours. Because of this lacto-fermented products are one of the easiest and safest to make. This also includes sauerkraut.

When people think of the term lacto-fermentation, the sugar than comes to mind is lactose, the disaccharide sugar composed of a single galactose and glucose molecule bound together found in dairy products.  This being said, lacto-fermentation does not only work on lactose, but any kind of sugar. In order to start lacto-fermentation, you first want to kill of other bacteria before creating an anaerobic environment. When making Kimchi, this is done by first rubbing the Kimchi in salt and soaking it in brine to kill of other bacteria through osmotic creation. The salt also draws out water from the Kimchi, thus flooding the jar the Kimchi is made in with water, removing space for oxygen to build up and creating an anaerobic environment.

The salting of kimchi is also extremely important in terms of taste and texture. For one, the lack of water in the cabbage hardens a protein called pectin that occurs naturally in the cell wall of most fruit and vegetables. This gives the cabbage in the kimchi a nice crispy texture, preventing the cabbage from going soggy and limp.

 

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In terms of how long to ferment the Kimchi, after I have packed the fresh kimchi in the jar, I usually allow it to ferment for 1 day at a temperature of around 24°C (75°F) before storing in into the fridge. Personally, I find 1 day of fermentation long enough for the kimchi to reach my desired level of sourness. Of course the duration of fermentation also depends on the temperature of where you live in. Whilst placing the kimchi does not stop fermentation, it greatly reduces the speed of fermentation and I personally enjoy eating my kimchi over a period of time and tasting how the flavours turn stronger and stronger. This of course leads on to the question of how long can you keep your kimchi for and the honest answer to that is that it depends on your own personal preference. When you think about fermented food, it helps to realise that fermenting food is actually allowing food to go bad in a controlled manner and that fermentation can be viewed as a spectrum, where at one end of the spectrum you have fresh food, and at the other extreme end you have rotting food. In this spectrum, fermented food lies somewhere in the middle, and the level of fermentation that food can undergo before people consider it to have gone bad varies from person to person, culture to culture. From my personal experience, cultures that have traditional food made from fermentation usually have a higher tolerance to it other cultures that do not. I have even heard of famous restaurants serving year old kimchi! So to the question of how long kimchi keeps, the best answer to that is to trust your nose and to throw it out when you can no longer handle the smell or if it starts to smell rotten.
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Kimchi itself can be eaten raw as a side dish, also known as banchan (반찬) or cooked in stews and soups. When using Kimchi to cook, my preference leans towards using stronger and more fermented Kimchi, and to save the fresher Kimchi for eating on its own.
 

For my take on Kimchi, I believe the best secret addition to an incredible Kimchi are freshly shucked oysters! By adding oysters to Kimchi, you add a dimension of flavour to the Kimchi. Kimchi made with oysters has the very refreshing smell of the ocean that makes you feel like you’re basking on the sandy beach on a sunny day. That, added to the salty punch provided by the oyster’s juices and supple mouth feel the oysters contributes to the Kimchi makes it worth the additional cost. From what I could find, fresh oysters used to be added tobaechu-kimchi before the cost of adding oysters became so high that people stopped adding it. This, coupled with the fact that most people started buying commercially made Kimchi, which didn’t have oysters added to keep the cost low, meant that adding oysters to Kimchi became a thing of the past. If you are unable to find fresh oysters to shuck and add to your kimchi, a much cheaper and more viable alternative is using frozen oysters. I personally have tried using canned oysters and honestly it was not worth it as it does not contribute any flavour at all.

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In terms of safety, after a lot of painstaking research, fresh oysters are actually safe to add to Kimchi and this same Kimchi can be kept for many months without going bad. The most important factor be careful of is that the oysters must be submerged under the Kimchi brine. So here is the reasoning behind it. Most oysters in the first place are eaten raw, so just by themselves they are safe to eat. In a normal scenario, you would eat a raw oyster after its been opened for more than a few hours. However when added to Kimchi, the lactobacteria in the Kimchi prevent other types of bacteria from developing, thus protecting the oyster and keeping it safe to eat. The juice of the oysters also have an extremely high salt content, which helps to salt and preserve the Kimchi. After a few days, the oysters themselves will also start to ferment, changing their flavour.

There are also Kimchi recipes that include prawns and fish, but for safety reasons these recipes require you to ferment the Kimchi for up to a month before it is safe to eat as unless the prawns and fish are sashimi grade, they will only be safe to eat after fermenting for a longer period of time, compared to the normal 1 day.

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Llandudno, Wales

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

  • Cabbage Preparation
    • 3kg of Napa Cabbages (배추), which is about 6 medium-sized ones
    • 400g of Fine Sea Salt
    • 2.5 litres of water
  • Vegetables
    • 200g of Carrots
    • 400g of Korean Radish/Daikon/Mooli
    • 150g of Green Onions
    • 150g Asian Chives (부추)/Garlic Chives/More Green Onions
    • 150g Water Dropwort (미나리)
  • Porridge
    • 500ml of Water
    • 30g Sugar
    • 60g of Glutinous Rice Flour/Potato Flour
    • 150g of Garlic Cloves
    • 40g of Ginger
    • 200g of Yellow or White Onions
    • 70g to 150g Korean Hot Pepper Flakes (고추가루), depending on how spicy you want it
    • 200ml of Fish Sauce
    • 150g of Fermented Salted Shrimp (새우젓) or Dried Sakura Shrimp
    • 40 Freshly Shucked Oysters
  • To finish
    • Black and White Sesame Seeds
  1. Gives the Napa cabbages a wash in water to remove any dirt and soil.
  2. Cut the cabbages cross-section-wise, each into 4 evenly sliced parts, removing some of the root and core at the end. Using your hands, roughly separate the cabbage layers from each other.
  3. Dissolve the salt in the water and add all the cabbages into the water, mixing together so that the salt water coats each leaf and stem. Try to submerge as much of the cabbage as possible.
  4. Leave to soak from 1 to 2 hours, mixing every 30 minutes so that the cabbage gets evenly salted.
  5. After salting, wash the cabbage thoroughly and drain off the water. The cabbage does not need to be totally dry.
  6. While salting the cabbage, start preparing the vegetables by julienning the carrots and radishes into matchstick size pieces. Then, finely chop up the green onions, chives and water dropwort. Mix together and set aside.
  7. Mince the garlic cloves and ginger and dice the onions.
  8. Make the ‘porridge’ by dissolving the glutinous rice flour and sugar in the water before slowly bringing the mixture up to a boil.
  9. Stir constantly to prevent the flour from burning and be ready to take the saucepan off the heat the moment the mixture starts to solidify as this occurs rather suddenly.
  10. Once the mixture has become a paste, add in the fish sauce, minced garlic gloves, minced ginger and diced onions, fermented salted shrimp and hot pepper flakes. Mix well.
  11. Add in the rest of the vegetables as well as the shucked oysters into the porridge and continue to mix.
  12. Add the salted cabbages into the porridge, using your hands to coat the cabbages with the porridge well. This is a very important step.
  13. Finish with a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds before packing into three 2 litre jars. Do not fill the jars up to the brim and leave space for the kimchi to expand overnight.
  14. Leave the jars out of the fridge overnight or longer with the lid closed to ferment.
  15. After each day of fermentation, use a fork to press out the air from the kimchi before storing into the fridge.

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Notes:

  • Kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, whereby simple sugars are converted to lactic acid by Lactobacillum in an anaerobic environment (an environment with no oxygen)
  • The increase in levels of lactic acid lowers the pH value of the kimchi, giving it its classic sour taste. The low pH value combined with an anaerobic environment means that other dangerous bacteria such a botulism are unable to grow there, making kimchi extremely safe to make.
  • Fresh oysters can be safely added to kimchi and eaten straight away in the same way that you would eat a freshly shucked oyster. After a few months however, it is still safe to eat kimchi with oysters as the environment created by the lactobacillum keeps the oyster safe from other bacteria. This is also aided by the salty brine that comes with the oyster. One important issue to note here is that to keep the oysters in this protective environment, the oysters must be kept submerged in the kimchi brine.
  • Kimchi recipes that incorporate other seafood also exist but require up to a month’s fermentation time before being safe to eat and therefore I do not recommend them. The reason why kimchi with added oysters do not require as long a fermentation is because oysters can be eaten raw originally.
  • You can replace fresh oysters with frozen oysters but not canned oysters as canned oysters no longer contribute flavour to the kimchi.
  • Salting the kimchi is important for two reason:
    1. It kills of other bacteria present on the cabbage, allowing the good bacteria (lactobacillium) to grow.
    2. It hardens a plant protein called pectin that occurs in the cell walls of the plants, giving the kimchi its characteristic crispy texture, preventing the kimchi from going soggy and limp.
  • One day of fermentation is enough for my kimchi to ferment enough for my taste but if you would like your kimchi to be stronger, feel free to ferment for longer. The average temperature where I live is 24°C (75°F).
  • Placing the kimchi in the fridge does not slow it down but greatly reduces the rate of fermentation. I personally enjoy tasting the kimchi slowly over time as its taste evolves.
  • Traditional kimchi is made using whole cabbages of halved cabbages. In my recipe I have decided to cut up the cabbage to make packing the jar and eating the kimchi more hassle free. I have tested using whole cabbages and have not found any variation in taste.
  • As the stems are thicker than the leaves, it helps to add more salt on the stems.
  • The porridge is extremely important in kimchi as due to its vicious nature, it is able to stick to the cabbage and infuse the cabbage with the taste of the herbs and spices.
  • I store my kimchi is several 2 litre kilner jars but it is possible to buy specialised fermentation jars that have built-in air-release valves. I prefer kilner jars over these jars as they prevent the whole fridge from smelling of kimchi.
  • After a period of fermentation, be careful when opening your jars as the kimchi is liable to explode due to the build up of carbon dioxide generated by fermentation.
  • Because of this, I recommend not filling up the entire jar with kimchi, and opening the jars once a day when fermenting out of the fridge. When the kimchi is stored in the fridge, the fermentation slows to a point where you no longer have to release the gas.
  • Wearing gloves is advisable when mixing the porridge with the cabbage as the hot pepper flakes might sting.
  • In this recipe I dissolve the cabbage in a salt water solution compared to dry salting the cabbages. * I prefer this method as it keeps the cabbages slightly more moist, which means your kimchi will have more brine compared to a dry salting method.
  • I cut of some part of the root of each cabbage as I feel this may be too hard to eat.
  • It is possible to use any dried shrimp if you can’t find fermented shrimp as this is added only for the flavour.
  • The word kimchi is actually a general term for any Korean dish made from salted vegetables, whether fermented or not. However, the Tonbaechu-kimchi variety is so famous that this is what people usually mean when they say kimchi.
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Borough Market, London

It is also possible to buy specially made containers to store your kimchi, such as jars with in build air-release valves which release the carbon dioxide when the pressure builds up to high. When using normal jars, be careful when you seal the lid, as the pressure that builds up is sometimes enough to cause the jar to explode, especially when opening the lid. I personally just use normal 2 litre Kilner jars and release the air carefully after the first day of fermentation. After placing the kimchi in the fridge, I only release the air once every fortnight The main problem with using other vessels in my opinion is that the fridge will start to smell of kimchi, which is why some Korean families have specialised Kimchi fridges. If you are extremely enthusiast about making Kimchi, you could also buy an Onggi (옹기) which are traditional Korean earthenware pots used for fermentation.

 

Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

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Onigiri, the Japanese equivalent of the sandwich, consist of balls of rice stuffed with tasty fillings, wrapped with a crispy piece of nori seaweed. They are extremely popular snacks in Japan and can be brought from almost every convenience store. Other than store brought Onigiri, it is also very easy to make it at home, with mothers making their children different types Onigiri for school lunches. Onigiri comes in different shapes and flavors, with the most common shapes being either triangular or spherical. Examples of classic filling for them are tuna and mayonnaise, spicy cod roe and chicken karraige but really anything goes into them, particularly left overs from the day before. Contrary to what most people believe, Onigiri is not a type of sushi, as it is neither seasoning with rice vinegar, nor does it use short grain rice. The most traditional Onigiri is only seasoned with salt and shaped with hands dipped in salt water. In Korea, an identical dish exists called Samgak-gimbap (삼각김밥) is also eaten as a snack or portable meal with the main difference being the filling, which instead is korean themed.

Here we will be making Umeboshi flavored Onigiri. Umeboshi is a japanese special made by pickling a particular species of plum know as the Japanese apricot or Prunus mume. This fruit is more closely related to the apricot than the plum despite being called a plum in english and is usually harvested early in the summer, around June, before they have ripened and are still a vibrant green color. Traditional Umeboshi Onigiri is made by wrapping rice around some Umeboshi, in my take on the recipe, I have decided to mix the Umeboshi paste into the rice to get a more uniform taste throughout the Onigiri, giving me the option to pair other fillings with the sour taste with the Umeboshi.

20844971713_d6577fff0c_kBesides being the Japanese national flower, one of Japan’s most celebrated symbol is the cherry blossom, also known as sakura. The cherry blossom however, is not the name of one singular species of tree, but any tree species under the genus Prunus. This genus includes the apricot, almond, peach and of course cherry trees. As such, the tree of the Japanese apricot flowers during the start of spring and is celebrated as an indication of the arrival of a new season. Another traditional Japanese belief is that the Japanese apricot wards off evil and misfortune when eaten for breakfast.

A Japanese specialty, the first step to making Umeboshi is by pickling Japanese Apricots in coarse salt along with purple shiso leaves. The flavonoid pigment compounds are extracted from shiso leaves due to the salt and color the Umeboshi, giving them their characteristic reddish-purple color while also imparting the taste of shiso in the Umeboshi. As the name is self-explanatory, boshi means ‘to dry’, and thus the Umeboshi is finished being dried in the sun.

To prepare the Umeboshi for the Onigiri, I usually buy whole Umeboshi and grind it up using a Suribachi and Surikogi. The Suribashi is a Japanese mortar but unlike the traditional heavy stone mortar, the a Suribashi is made from pottery that is glazed on the outside. The unique feature of a Suribachi is that the inside of it is lined with many grooves that makes it an efficient surface to grind food into very fine pieces. A Surikogi on the other hand, is the Japanese version of the pestle, which is made from wood. With the Surikogi being made from wood and the Suribachi being made from pottery, this mortar and pestle is not used to grind up ingredients in the conventional pounding motion, but in a circular movement, where the Umeboshi is ground against the grooves of the Suribachi.

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Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

  • Rice
  • Furikake
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Nori (Japanese Dried Seaweed)
  • Whole Umeboshi
  • Suribachi and Surikogi (Mortar and Pestle)
  1. To cook the rice, the easiest way is to use a rice cooker, adding 1.5 times the amount of water to rice in weight.
  2. When the rice is done, use chopsticks or the back of a spoon to mix the rice, which helps give the rice a fluffy texture. There is no need to soak the rice before hand.
  3. Allow the rice to cool down to room temperature before using it to form the onigiri.
  4. Cut the Nori into small rectangles.
  5. Using a small knife, remove the seed from the centre of the Umeboshi. Alternatively, you can use a cherry pitter to remove the seed.
  6. Place the remaining flesh in the Suribachi and use the Surikogi to grind up the Umeboshi using a circular motion.
  7. Add the now ground Umeboshi paste into the rice and mix together evenly. Add a little Umeboshi at a time and taste frequently until the rice is seasoned to your taste.
  8. Next, dissolve some salt into a bowl of water. Dip your hands in the water before shaping the Onigiri to prevent the rice from sticking your hands. The salt in the water helps flavour the Onigiri as well.
  9. Carefully take a handful of rice in one hand and first shape them into a ball. At this point, you can wrap the cut nori around the spherical Onigiri or shape the Onigiri into a triangle before adding the nori. To do that, shape one hand into a U-shape, with your fingers forming one side of the U and your palm forming the other.
  10. Using the other hand’s middle and index finger, form an inverted V shape and press on top of the U-shape formed by the other hand, carefully molding the Onigiri to a triangular shape. Be careful to use just the right amount of pressure of that the Onigiri holds its shape. if too much pressure is used, the rice grains will be crushed and go mushy.

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Once you have shaped the Onigiri, sprinkle on some furikake on them. Alternatively, it would also have been possible to add the furikake directly onto the rice mixture. Furikake is a type of japanese seasoning that contains tiny pieces of shredded seaweed, sesame seeds, dried Katsuoboshi, and sometimes freeze-dried egg or fish roe. Japanese people sometimes just eat Furikake on plain rice but it works very well with Onigiri.

Once done, enjoy the Onigiri right away or wrap in clingfilm to enjoy later. If eating later, I highly recommend you add the nori only when you eat it, as it would go soft and lose its crispness.