Lechon Asado - Cuban Style Slow Roasted Pork with Citrus Flavours
In Cuba and in much of South America, the Caribbean Jerk flavours and heat shade away to more subtle and softer spicing, often mixed with a tang of citrus to perk up fatty meat. Slow cooking is a great way to get the best value out of a cheaper cut and is also highly convenient for the chef. The dish can be made ahead and warmed up to feed your multitude on a special occasion. You would find Cubans eating this at Christmas or New Year as part of their festive feasting, along with black beans and yucca cooked in mojo sauce.
Serves 8 Timings: overnight marinade, then 4 ½ hours slow cooking
If the pork is tied up, snip the strings and unroll the meat. If the rind and skin are on the meat, slice it off, but leaving a good layer of fat.
Blend the ingredients for the mojo marinade until you get a creamy light sauce. Reserve about 1/3 of this and use the other 2/3 to rub into the meat.
Marinate the meat in the fridge overnight, turning occasionally.
Pre heat the oven to 160°C. Place the meat in a roasting tin and cover well with foil. Cook the meat for about 2 hours at 160°C and then turn up the heat to 180°C and roast for a further 2 hours. Every now and then pour off some of the dripping from the meat, baste, and re-cover the pork.
About an hour from the end of cooking, use some of the fat from the meat drippings to start frying the sliced onions. Fry until softened and transparent but don’t let them brown or catch, you need them quite softly cooked. When cooked, let them cool a little and then blend them up with the reserved mojo.
After about 4 hours cooking, remove the meat from the oven. Pour off any excess cooking liquid but leave a few spoonfuls. Shred the meat with two forks, tearing it apart and tearing it off the bones. Take out the bones. You will be left with a pile of lovely tender cooked aromatic pork meat. Now mix the mojo and onion sauce through the meat, turn with another spoonful of pan drippings and put back in the oven for the final half hour at 200°C. If you leave the meat uncovered, you will get some crispy bits around the edge and the sauce will cook down, or you can leave it covered for a juicier result.
Mix again before serving and eat with plain rice, black beans and maybe some carrots cooked in citrus glaze.
Chicken Scrunchers with Gochujang Dipping Sauce
A family favourite, deservedly so. Easy to do either in a frying pan or in the air fryer if you have one. I have recently acquired one and I love it for the substitution of deep frying with healthier lighter air frying. You can whip this up for an easy kids’ lunch in 20 minutes.
I have written previously about my son’s fondness for Korean spicy flavours and his Mother’s Day gift of a tub of gochujang paste. We’ve used the spicy salty paste a lot and it’s still in the fridge and going strong. A little goes a long way. You can tone down the spices as suits your own family’s taste but this combination of sweet, salt and spice is a winner. I think we based the sauce recipe on Joshua Weissman’s (joshuaweissman.com) sauce for wings, but you can use it on any crunchy finger-type food.
Serve with a platter of vegetable batons alongside the chicken for extra dipping and you have a great healthy meal.
Serves 4 for a light meal Timings: 30 minutes
Vegetables for dipping: red or yellow pepper, carrots, celery etc. Whatever’s fresh and to your taste.
Dip the chicken strips into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat and leave them on a baking tray in the fridge to set the coating.
In a small saucepan, warm the oils together and briefly fry half the garlic and all the ginger until sizzling, but don’t brown them. Add in the soy, vinegar, rice wine, sugar and gochujang paste. Stir and simmer to blend. In a cup, mix the cornflour with 2 tablespoons water, then dip up a spoonful of the simmering sauce, mix into the cup, then tip the whole cupful back into the saucepan. Stir and bring to a simmer as it thickens. Let it cool a bit but keep warm.
Fry the chicken pieces either in a frying pan with a small amount of oil or in the air fryer until cooked through and the coating is browned and crisp.
Prepare the vegetable batons.
Serve the chicken, vegetables, and the sauce together and allow everyone to dip to their heart’s content.
Chicken Pesto Papardelle
Noodles, what’s not to love? Top them with grilled chicken marinated in home made pesto, and a pesto-butter sauce. How could life get better? Or easier? I love pappardelle, the wide ribbon pasta; it goes very well with any rich and well flavoured sauce like this or a deep warm ragu. I can’t forget the most wonderful wild boar ragu with pappardelle we had on a freezing May evening in a hillside town in Tuscany many years ago. The ribbons of pappardelle just held the strong meaty sauce as the mouthfuls slithered down our throats. I’ll have to research a real Italian ragu for the blog, but in the meantime, try this summer-time delight. I tried both grilling and griddling the chicken strips, but the oily marinade made them stick horribly to the griddle and frying gave a much better result as that also contributes to deepening the flavour of the sauce with all the nice juices that come off the chicken.
I’ll give the recipe for home made pesto shortly, but you can also buy very good Pesto Genoese – the one made with fresh basil, which is best for matching to the chicken, rather than the kale and walnut based pestos.
Serves 4 Timings: Pesto takes about 20 minutes to make, then 4 hours to marinade the chicken. Final dish takes 30 minutes to put together.
Put a pan of water on to boil for your pasta and heat up a large deep frying pan.
Fry the chicken strips in a splash of oil as your pappardelle boils for its recommended time. Fry the chicken until nicely browned and cooked quite through, keep turning it to brown on all sides. It only takes a few minutes.
Add the butter to the pan, allow it to melt and then add in the additional spoon of pesto.
Turn the contents of the pan to mix well and add the squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper.
Drain your pasta when cooked as you like it (I prefer a touch beyond al dente) and keep a cup of the cooking water. Loosen the sauce in the frying pan with some of the pasta water and add the pasta into the pan. Mix well, scooping up all the pan juices into the noodles.
Serve with some torn basil leaves and a sprinkle of grated parmesan. Dive in!
Lamb Kofta Kebabs with Tahini Garlic Sauce
Lamb is the traditional meat for Kofta, although inventive people in the on-line cooking community have been doing their own versions. Thanks to #food_obsessed_girl on Instagram for the inspiration, she did a beef kofta in July and it reminded me of lovely holiday food in days gone by, so I re-created a meal I had in Athens a few years ago. Very popular with the men, especially, for some reason. Maybe it’s just my men, but it seems as if they particularly enjoy getting their hands into their food, building their own wrap just as they like it, drizzling over the exact amount of sauce.
You could use a mix of beef and lamb mince if you like and you can add different chopped salad accompaniments as you like and according to what you have around. Chopped tomatoes with onion and oregano would go well, as would grilled peppers.
I’ve also eaten these with chips instead of bread or rice and with a tangy lemon sauce. They’re so versatile, let loose your imagination! You really can’t go wrong.
Serves 4 Timings: 1 hour
For the tahini garlic sauce: 3 tablespoons light tahini, 1 clove garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon ground cumin.
To serve with the koftas: flat breads, chopped cucumbers, yoghurt mixed with fresh mint, long peppers in brine, lightly pickled red onions, saffron rice
Soak some wooden skewers in water for about 20 minutes as you make the meat mixture.
Using a stick blender, blitz up the onion, 2 cloves of garlic, fresh chilli, fresh parsley, and the lemon juice to make a thick paste. It will make your eyes water so try not to breathe!
Add the paste to the lamb mince along with the ground spices, oregano, tomato puree and Worcester sauce. Add a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Mix well with your hands. Form into short cylinder shapes about the length of your thumb around the wooden skewers and put into the fridge for 30 minutes to cool and firm up. You can get about 2 koftas on each skewer.
While they’re cooling, make the sauce by blitzing all the ingredients together. Taste, adjust seasoning if needed. Get the accompaniments ready – slice cucumbers, pickle sliced red onion in red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar and salt, mix the mint and yoghurt, warm up the flatbreads and cook a pot of plain rice with a pinch of saffron added.
When the kebabs are cool and a bit firmer, grill them under a hot grill for about 4-5 minutes per side until the outside is browned and slightly crisped and the inside is still moist and fragrant.
Pile the kebabs up on a platter and let everyone serve themselves as they like.
Turkey Keema – not just for the kids!
Why do all kids like mince with peas? Big kids too. This is the ideal “kids’ curry”, not too spicy or in-your-face but pleasantly warming and easy to eat. It’s a great mid-week staple, simple to put together, not too high in the calories and hiding some good portions of vegetables within the sauce. Freezes well too, without the peas.
Traditional Keema is made with lamb mince, which can be both expensive and rather fatty, although it does have a wonderful flavour. Using turkey mince just lightens up the dish. It’s not authentic, but it’s tasty. You can adjust the heat level by adding more chilli powder for those of more mature tastes.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Fry the mince gently in a heavy pan for a few minutes with a little splash of oil, turn and bash with a wooden spoon to coat all the mince with the oil. Add the onions and fry for a few minutes, then add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Continue to fry gently until the vegetables are softened and you can see all the mince is cooked.
Put all the ground spices in a glass and add a tablespoon of water, mix to a paste and then scrape out into your pan. Stir into the meat as the spices release their aroma. Add the tin of tomatoes, and maybe half a tin of water, the tomato puree, the marmite and the Worcester sauce. Mix well and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the frozen peas into the curry and stir in as they cook for about 2 minutes.
Taste and test for seasoning – depending on the curry powder you used you may need to add salt, some pepper and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve with plain rice or naan bread and some simple fresh relishes such as chopped tomato and red onion, cucumber with mint and yoghurt or a jar of mango chutney.
Chipotle Shredded Chicken Tacos
A spicy saucy meat wrapped in soft warm taco, sprinkled with cheese and dolloped with avocado cream. Really, something to make you feel optimistic and friendly to the world.
It’s worth getting a can of chipotles in adobo sauce from the specialist section of your supermarket or on line. I promise that once you’ve used them, you will keep on. The chipotles are a preserved chilli which is slow cooked in a tomato and spice sauce and then canned and matured. They have a sweet depth of flavour and are spicy but not burning. They mellow down into a sauce and give it a genuine flavour which your family will certainly appreciate. It’s one way to keep them from demanding an expensive and unhealthy takeaway on a regular basis!
A lot of people think they have to buy one of those all-in-one packs to make Mexican food. They’re fine but because the spice blend is made up for you, you don’t get the chance to personalise the recipe or use the fresh ingredients such as lime juice or a spoonful of chipotle in adobo that make all the difference. Try it from scratch and see.
You don’t really need vegetables with this as you have lots in the recipe but you could serve a salad or grilled corn if you like.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes, overnight marinade then 1 hour on the day of cooking
A little chopped fresh coriander to serve
Blend all the marinade ingredients together with a stick blender to a paste. Add a splash of vegetable oil. Massage into the chicken thighs and leave in a covered bowl in the fridge overnight.
Take the chicken out of the marinade and in a large heavy casserole pan such as Le Creuset, fry each thigh in a little vegetable oil. The marinade will crisp and brown a bit but that’s fine. When you’ve fried each of them on both sides for a few minutes to brown and set the outer surface, put them all back into the casserole with the remaining marinade and 1 teacup of water. Simmer for about an hour until the juices are much reduced but a few tablespoons still remain in the bottom of the pan. Let the pan cool a bit and then using two forks, pull the chicken pieces apart into shreds. They will be tender and easy to pull apart. Add the lime juice, stir everything through the sauce, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.
Warm your tacos in a frying pan or griddle, giving each a minute or so on each side and then wrapping the stack in a teatowel to keep warm.
Blend the flesh of the avocado with sour cream, add salt and lime juice. Stir in some chopped fresh coriander if liked. This is avocado cream and not a true guacamole which would also contain chopped red onion, chopped chilli, chopped tomato and be much chunkier.
Make your tomato/onion salsa by mixing chopped fresh tomatoes and onions together with a little salt.
Warm your refried beans if using. I’m giving a recipe for home made refried beans later in August which are so delicious you could eat them by themselves.
Everyone can assemble their own taco wraps, spread with smoky beans, filled with spicy chicken, topped with cheese and drizzled with avocado cream or tomato salsa.
Noodles are a world staple, and a comfort food for many. A mild curry-spiced noodle dish using whatever protein you have to hand is a very useful recipe to have up your sleeve. You can make this as complicated or easy as you choose, and it’s very tasty whatever you use.
The traditional protein to include with Singapore Noodles are: chicken, for its soft texture; Char Siu pork for its barbeque tang and interesting red colour; and little shrimps for that added salty sea taste. You can make it with only chicken or only seafood if you prefer, just adjust the quantities accordingly and add some hoisin sauce to the noodle mixture for the barbeque sweetness. I left out the chicken in the recipe below as I felt that the pork and shrimps were quite enough.
For a special treat, I made the Char Siu pork myself – which is quite straightforward to do and gives you several meals worth of meat which freezes very well so it’s all extremely convenient. You can buy Char Siu from Chinese groceries, but I’d rather trust my familiar butcher and know that my meat comes from well raised pigs on local farms. Some recipes add red food colouring to the marinade for extra intensity, I’d rather not but it’s up to you.
To make the char sui pork: Timings: 10 minutes then overnight marinade, then 1 hour in the oven
700g pork shoulder in one piece – makes enough for 8 portions of Singapore Noodles and a bit extra for adding to stir fries etc. You could make a smaller quantity but doing it this way and freezing the extra is highly economical.
Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl that will fit in your fridge. If you need to, cut the pork into two long strips which should each be about 6cm wide. Massage the marinade into the pork, cover the bowl and leave overnight in the fridge.
Next day, pre heat the oven to 180°C. Wrap the pork pieces in kitchen foil and roast on a baking tray for about 20 minutes. Take them out, baste with some of the marinade, wrap again and roast for another 20 minutes. Take them out again, remove the foil, baste with marinade again and roast for another 20 minutes.
Ensure your pork is cooked through, it should be pink but cooked inside and a bit sticky on the outside from the baked-on marinade.
Brush the pork pieces with the honey and water glaze and put under a hot grill for a few minutes to set the glaze. Leave the pork to come down to room temperature before slicing. Slice finely along the grain of the meat so you get round slices which are coloured on the outside. You will also be left with a few scratty bits and pieces which you can bag up and freeze for adding to stir fries.
To freeze the slices, lay them on greaseproof paper and cover with another layer of greaseproof paper. You can fold the paper over itself to give several layers of pork and slide the whole package into a freezer bag. Doing it this way means you can take out just a few slices of frozen meat whenever you want them and leave what’s left for another day.
For the recipe below for 4 people you will need about half the pork slices.
To make the Singapore Noodles: Timings: 30 minutes if using ready cooked pork
Cook the noodles according to the pack instructions. Depending on the thickness some just need to have boiling water poured over them and others need to be brought to the boil and simmered for 2-3 minutes. Drain and drizzle over a little sesame oil. Leave in the colander.
Mix the chilli in oil, soy sauce, fish sauce and rice vinegar together, set aside.
In your wok, quickly fry the ginger, garlic and chilli. Push to the side of the wok, add a little more oil and fry the pepper, carrot and spring onions briefly.
Add the cooked pork and prawns, and cook for just a minute or so, then add in the drained noodles. Pour over the mixed sauce, and sprinkle over the curry powder. Mix and cook for only a minute or two to warm through and allow the sauce to permeate the meat and noodles.
Serve immediately, maybe adding a sprinkle of spring onions if you like.
Chicken Yuk Sung - lettuce leaf wraps
Light, fresh and tasty, these are ideal for a make-it-yourself starter (always the most relaxed way to begin a meal) and even for a light low-carb lunch. Yuk Sung comes from the Chinese word for “fluffy meat” and describes the almost shredded texture of a dried meat you can buy which is used for topping a rice porridge or tofu dish. This recipe has moved a long way from there, and the only fluffy thing about it is the crispy rice vermicelli, which impart a fabulous crunch to the mouthful.
I have used preserved Chinese vegetable in the recipe, which gives a deep sour salty background and a slightly squeaky texture. You buy this in packs from a Chinese grocery or on line, and you can use it in a lot of Chinese food. If you can’t get it, substitute some well chopped firm fresh white cabbage, and soak it in salted water for 10 minutes.
I have based the filling on a recipe from the always reliable Kwoklyn Wan, (kwoklynwan.com) with a few additions from other sources. It went down a treat with my family and we made it into a main course and served rice alongside too.
Serves 4 Timings: 60 minutes – which is mostly vegetable chopping, the cooking only takes 10 minutes
Wash the lettuce well and separate the leaves but keep them whole. You can leave the lettuce in cold water to crisp up while you fry.
Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside in a small bowl.
Put about 2cm of oil in your wok, heat up well and deep fry the vermicelli a few at a time. They will puff up instantly and turn brown nearly as quickly, so scoop them out and put them on kitchen towel to drain. You can salt them lightly.
Remove most of the oil from the wok and start to stir fry.
Fry the ginger, garlic and chilli for 30 seconds to release the aromas, then add the chicken. Stir fry for 5 minutes or more until the chicken is cooked through and the juices have evaporated and concentrated back into the meat. Set aside on a plate.
Fry the onions, carrot, pepper, water chestnuts and preserved vegetable briefly to soften them. Add the sauce to the wok and cook for a couple of minutes to start to concentrate it. Add the chicken mixture back in, stir and cook. There shouldn’t be liquid in the bottom of the wok, you are looking for a fairly dry mix.
Remove the wok from the heat and let cool a couple of minutes while you drain and spin the lettuce and get the vermicelli on the table.
Let everyone make their own parcels of delicious delight, wrapping the filling of spicy chicken and vegetables and a pinch of crunchy vermicelli in the tender lettuce.
Crispy Lemon Chicken
Chicken Drumsticks – everyone’s favourite finger food. Chicken has a mild flavour, so it’s perfect for adding spices, tangy tastes and other extras. Marinate overnight for the best effect, and spike holes into the chicken pieces with a knife to let the lemon and spices permeate through the meat.
The drumsticks are simmered in the marinade for tenderness and flavour, and then cooled, coated and quickly fried. So, you can make these well in advance and fry at the last minute for that crispy coating, knowing they are already cooked through. Easy to get on the table with some oven cooked home-made chips. If you serve a big basket of these, provide plenty of napkins for your guests to wipe the lovely juices from their faces!
Serves 6 Timings: 20 minutes, then marinade overnight. 1 hour cooking on the stove, then about 20 minutes final cooking.
6-8 chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs - leave the bone in. You could do this with just drumsticks if you want, and they would be easier to eat with your fingers if you’re planning an outdoor event. Either way, allow 2-3 pieces per person.
Mix the marinade ingredients together and grind some black pepper over the bowl. Spike the chicken pieces with a sharp knife, add to the bowl, mix well and leave covered overnight to marinate in the fridge.
Melt the butter in a large heavy pan (I use my large Le Creuset dish as it keeps the heat and it’s nice and steady) and gently fry the chicken pieces for a couple of minutes. Tip the rest of the marinade into the pan and simmer for 40 minutes until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Leave to cool. At this stage you can leave the chicken in the fridge for 1 day.
Remove the chicken from the remaining marinade (which is an amazing spicy lemon flavour you can use as the base for a simple lentil soup, for instance).
Have two bowls ready, one with the beaten eggs and the other with breadcrumbs. Roll the chicken pieces first in the eggs and then in the breadcrumbs.
Place on a wire rack to set the coating for a few minutes.
Put 1cm of oil in a deep frying pan - doesn’t have to be a deep fryer but you can use one if you have one - and heat up to medium hot. Carefully fry the chicken pieces a few at a time, turning frequently to brown them evenly. They don’t need much time in the oil as they are already cooked and you are just crisping the coating.
Remove from the oil when they are browned on all sides and keep warm while you finish the batch.
Serve with simple oven chips or a potato salad.
Twice Cooked Pork – Tender Stir-Fry Pork with Wild Garlic
Oh, this is so good. I’ve got lots of friends who say “I’m not that keen on Chinese food” and that’s because they’ve only eaten the high calorie, often fried, maybe too spicy version that some restaurants serve. If you only ate a particular food from a takeaway outlet (apart from the honourable exception of fish and chips and possibly pizza which are both the ultimate street food dishes) do you think you would like it? Give the home cooked, made with love, made with care, made with fresh ingredients version a go. It’s also a high-vegetable low-meat cuisine, which should suit our new attitude to food.
Something that puts UK home cooks off Chinese food is the use of authentic ingredients. I understand that. I’m lucky to live near the UK’s best Chinatown (biased, me? Maybe) and can get my ingredients from the Manchester Chinatown supermarkets. But if you don’t live near a genuine store run by Chinese people, you can get a lot of this online. You can also carefully substitute some British ingredients. For instance, this recipe is often made in China with a green vegetable called “garlic shoots” – like a spinach that tastes of garlic. So use the European Wild Garlic foraged from your hedgerow, and hey presto, fusion cooking at its best.
Honestly, try this one. It’s easy to make the main parts ahead while you’re doing something else so you can finalise the dish in minutes when you get home from that swimming lesson and you need something on the table right away.
Thanks again, Fuchsia Dunlop, for the base recipe and the history.
Serves 6 Timings: Day 1 - 10 minutes preparation, 1 hour simmering.
Day 2 – 30 minutes (which is mostly prepping the veg)
Simmer the pork belly piece in water with the simmering spices added. Cover the pork with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes until it is cooked through. Leave to cool in the cooking water and then remove from the liquid and put in the fridge overnight.
Remove the skin from the top of the pork – leaving as much of the fat as you can. Genuine Chinese cooks leave on the skin, which does contain lots of gelatine for healthy hair and skin, but it may not suit British tastes. Remove any bones or gristle from the underside of the piece.
Slice the cold pork as finely as you reasonably can. Each slice will have a generous top of fat and then a meaty part further down. If you don’t need all the pork in one meal, you can freeze the slices in layers on greaseproof paper and then wrapped in a bag – so you can cook them straight from frozen another day and save all the simmering and cutting time.
Heat some oil in your wok. Quickly fry the garlic, chilli and ginger to release their flavours. Push to the side of the wok and drop in the slices of pork. Fry them briefly – they will sizzle and release their lovely spicy fatty flavour. Turn them once or twice in the oil to be sure they are well cooked and a bit crisp, then push them to the side of the wok.
Stir fry the spring onions, celery and red pepper quickly, then push them to the edge of the wok too.
Spoon the yellow bean paste into the middle of the wok and fry briefly. Add the black beans and crispy chilli in oil and mix in. Bring the meat and the fried vegetables back into the centre of the wok and mix well. Add the handfuls of green leafy vegetables and stir very briefly to heat them and cook through quickly. Add the soy sauce.
Taste and adjust – you might need a little more soy.
Serve with plain steamed rice or over lightly cooked noodles.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.