Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Kimchi jjigae with pork belly and tofu

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog

My fridge has been host to a variety of unusual foodstuffs and ingredients over the years. Bits of animal that you might not normally consume, exotic and erotic shaped vegetables grown under the sun, and cling film covered jars of viscous, jellified gloop; yes Freddie the fridge has seen it all. But I am not too sure that it has ever been home to anything quite so mysterious and volatile as kimchi. Now for the uninitiated, kimchi is a sort of pungent, fermented pickle that is sour and spicy and delivers a veritable kick to the old taste buds. Citizens of Korea have been living off kimchi for centuries as it forms a central and daily part of their cuisine. Boasting a high nutritional value, they eat the stuff by the bucket load and it is meant to be especially good for aiding digestion.

Typically made with cabbage, although lots of other different vegetables can be used, the other central component is gochugaru or Korean chilli flakes, which lend a bright red colour and fiery pokiness to the pickle. There are of course loads of variations of kimchi, depending on region and season, and even as I type this I am imagining some people are thinking - “OK Dan, tell us something we don’t already know.” Because Korean food is, pardon the pun, so damn hot right now.

So wanting to get in on the action with some of this new, trendy, funky ingredient (which is funky in the most literal sense of the word) I decided to have a chat with food writer MiMi Aye, who explained to me over a bowl of noodles, the ins and outs of making it. By her account, the number one rule was to try and get the proper chilli flakes if you can. Standard Schwartz doesn’t really cut the mustard, nor do they deliver the inherent fruitness of Korean chilli flakes. Although Turkish red pepper flakes are apparently a good substitute if you can’t find them.

Rule number two was to free my mind with what I could actually do with the kimchi when it was ready. MiMi stressed keenly that it was very versatile and having researched on t’internet a ton of recipes, that really does seem to be the case. She followed up by suggesting that I should made a Budae-jjigae, or ‘Army Base stew’, which is very much a Korean-American fusion. But seeing as I have a repulsive aversion to Spam, I quickly binned that idea.

The third and most important rule was to leave it fermenting for at least two weeks, maybe longer, so that it has time to develop it’s signature flavour. “But beware,” she warned in a manner akin to Yoda from Star Wars. “You will need to release any gas that builds up, otherwise explode it could.”

Which brings me back to the apprehensive vibe of dealing with kimchi, stored in glass jars and left in my fridge. Over the last fortnight opening the door has been dealt with the quiet precision of a bomb disposal expert. Wide eyes, framed and lit by the inner glow, have witnessed tiny bubbles fizzing upwards and almost on a daily basis, shaky, sausage-like fingers have popped open the lids, with a silent sigh often punching the air afterwards. A silent sigh often coming from the seat of my pants.

But it has been worth it. I used my kimchi to make a delicious stew recently, with slivers of pork belly and wibbly wobbly tofu, the recipe of which will follow. Interestingly, you can imagine that this would be the sort of dish that blows your head off but that really isn’t the case as the heat is more peppery, rather than chilli hot. And plus the sour cabbage sort of tempers and the balances out the overall flavour. Still good for a cold though.

For guidelines on making your own kimchi at home and to keep things short, I will refer you MiMi’s very easy to follow guide which can be found on her blog here. Although you could go to a Chinese supermarket and buy it ready made.

But then your journey wouldn’t be quite so thrilling now, would it.

Kimchi jjigae with pork belly and tofu - serves 4


300 gms pork belly, skin removed and sliced thinly
400 gms regular tofu, cut into cubes
300 gms kimchi
2 tbs of Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
2 white onions, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbs of soy sauce
1 tbs of rice wine vinegar
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru)
1 tbs of groundnut oil
600 mls of water
Spring onions, white parts sliced into thin rounds, green part shredded
1 fresh red chilli, sliced
White rice, to accompany


First marinate the pork belly by placing into a bowl and add the ginger, soy, rice wine, sugar and Korean chilli flakes. Mix together and leave on the side, covered, for 30 minutes.

Put a large pot or wok on the hob, over a high heat and add oil. Heat the oil up and then add the onion and quickly stir fry for 5 minutes until the slices soften. Then add the Korean pepper paste and again stir for a minute or so. Repeat steps by adding the pork, then the kimchi (along with any juice from the jar) and garlic and then finally add the water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Whilst that is bubbling away, put your rice on to cook.

Just before serving, finally pop the tofu cubes into the pot, gently patting down into the stew and cook for another 5 minutes.

When ready, ladle the stew into deep bowls with an equal amount of pork belly, kimchi and tofu in each one. Scatter the spring onion whites and chilli slices all around and top with the shredded green part of the spring onion. Serve with bowls of white rice alongside.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Apple and Quince Hat with Bay-infused Custard

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog.

By all accounts, I am not doing enough to make sure it snows around our way. Each morning, two pairs of eager eyes have been scanning the map on the telly, with ears listening to the dulcet tones of Carol Kirkwood, weather presenter for the BBC. And each time, demands have been issued that at the very least we should all move north, to where the snow is and then we could all play in the snow and not go to school. Apparently the sleet has been rubbish and it’s been far too cold to go outside (or walk to school) but if it did snow then they wouldn’t mind so much. Because well, it’s snow and snow is great. So Dad, why haven’t we had any snow yet?

Yes, this is the ongoing angst in our house at the moment and at this rate, I am thinking about going out to buy a snow machine (it would be cheaper than moving) but in the meantime, I have been doing my best to keep them quiet by shovelling suet based puddings into their little mouths. Such as good old fashioned apple and quince hats.

Curious surname for a dessert that - ‘hat’. We are all familiar with pies, crumbles, syllabubs, sponges, dicks and tarts but ‘hat’ does seem odd to me and to be honest I am not entirely sure what it means or where it comes from. I should do a bit of digging around and boost my knowledge of food history really.

Although, perhaps it’s because this pudding does indeed look like a hat. Yes, that’s probably it.

What I definitely do know is that these fat-laden, calorific puddings, spicy and succulent are a fantastic remedy to the prolonged barrage of healthy eating that normally occurs around this time of year. Quince can be tricky to find but seek one out if you can, as they lend a lovely aromatic quality to this pudding, which ties in nicely with the bay infused custard and I do like to make individual hats using mini-pudding basins. But you could always make this with a large basin if you like. The dollop of clotted cream on top might be a touch unnecessary, but what the hell, we’ve got to get through February yet.

A treat to eat on a dreary, windswept winter day in other words; especially after going out for a long walk. And if it snows, even better. But don’t tell my children you’ve been out in it.

Apple and Quince Hat with Bay-infused Custard - serves 4


For the pudding
275 gms self-raising flour
150 gms suet
100 mls water
2 Bramley apples
1 large quince
50 gms sultanas
50 gms caster sugar
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of ground ginger
4 cloves
1 lemon, juiced
Clotted cream, to serve
Butter, for greasing

For the custard
450mls whole milk
4 egg yolks
50gm caster sugar
2 fresh bay leaves


First, sieve the self-raising flour into a bowl along with a pinch of salt and then mix in the suet. Add the water, a little at a time and mix with your hand until it begins to form into a soft dough-like pastry that is not too sticky.

Dust your worktop with some flour and roll out the pastry so that you have a nice flat piece that is about 5mm thick. If using individual pudding basins, grease the insides with butter and then divide the suet pastry into four pieces. Line each basin with the pastry, pressing down and easing out any air pockets. You should have some of the pastry overlapping so trim that off and put to one side. Also keep these pieces separate as they will form the lids later. If using one large pudding basin, obviously keep your pastry intact when lining the basin.

Next core and peel both the Bramley apples and quince, quarter and then slice into moon shaped pieces. Not too thick, but not too thin either. Place in a bowl and dress with the lemon juice and then add the sultanas, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix through so that the fruit is nicely covered.
Then place the apple and quince slices into each pudding basin, again pressing the pieces down and filling spaces with the sultanas. Pop in a clove into each filled basin and then take the leftover pastry, rolling each piece into a ball and with the rolling pin roll into a flat circle. Dampen the pastry with a smidgen of water and place the lids on top, pressing to seal and again, trim off any excess with a knife.

Double up some square sheets of foil (approximately 10 x 10 cm) and cover the puddings, wrapping the foil to seal.

 Take a large stock pot and place inside a smaller cake tin for the puddings to sit on and pour in some boiling water. Pop the puddings in, cover and stick on a medium heat on the hob to steam for 2 hours. Check every now and then to see if the water needs topping up.

Meanwhile, make your custard by beating the egg yolks and sugar together in a glass bowl until nicely blended and creamy. Then place the milk and bay leaves into a pan and bring to the boil.
Leave the milk and bay to infuse for half an hour. When the milk is ready, take out the bay leaves and place the bowl with the creamed eggs over a pan of hot water. Slowly pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking as you do so. Keep whisking and slowly the sauce will begin to emulsify and thicken. A good test to see if your custard is ready, is to dip a wooden spoon into the custard. Run your finger through and if a line remains, it’s ready.

To serve, take the puddings out of the steamer and leave to cool slightly. Unwrap the foil and upturn the basin into a dessert bowl, give the bottom a little tap and remove. Your suet pudding should easily fall out.

Cut a small hole in the top and add a healthy spoonful of clotted cream and pour the hot bay custard around the outside.

Enjoy, but beware of that rogue clove though, that can be a touch too powerful when eating and will remind you of visiting the dentist.