beef

Daging Kicap Manis (Beef with Sweet Soy Sauce)

It’s hardly surprising given the circumstances, but just six months in and I think we can all agree that 2020 is officially the Year of Comfort Food. Whether it be baking, barbecuing, or brewing, many of us have sought solace through one of the few things left we can control – food.

Under Lockdown, my own desire to wring comfort from food has meant making a lot of  my favourite Malaysian dishes – specifically those from my childhood, which naturally leads me back to my grandmother’s cooking. A prolific feeder, Amah was a classic agak-agak cook – meaning there were never any recipes, and her cooking was always a case of “a little of this, a little of that“. Of course it made for some great food, but unfortunately it meant that many of my favourite childhood dishes were lost when she passed. Undeterred, and with the taste of her food still fresh in memory, I have tried over the years to recreate some of Amah’s best dishes, and I have finally cooked my way to what is perhaps my all time childhood favourite – Daging Kicap Manis (Beef with Sweet Soy Sauce)!

A simple dish, for a simple palate; daging kicap manis is often considered a child’s dish as it is both sweet and salty, without any notable spiciness to speak of. It is the prefect choice for a fussy eater – which explains why it was a regular feature at Amah’s dining table! As a kid I was incredibly picky, and this (along with green bean omelette) was one of the few dishes I would eat without the need for bribery…or threat!

Unlike most other “chunkier” versions, Amah’s daging kicap manis was always made with thin strips of beef, and the only semblance of a vegetable was a whole lot of sliced onion. As a result, her version was pretty much devoid of any real nutritional value, but I suspect her motivation was altogether basic: she had a fussy grandchild to feed, and all else was padding. Indeed, who hasn’t had a childhood favourite ruined by an errant chunk of carrot! After all, agak-agak isn’t always about “a little of this” – sometimes its actually about “a little less of that”.

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Galbi-jjim 갈비찜 (Korean Beef Short-rib Stew)

Winter is almost upon us here in South Africa, and with that fresh Northwesterly blowing through the valley, comes the knowledge that it’s time to start thinking about bowls of stew in front of the fireplace again.

Unlike most people I know, I revel in colder climes, loving the darker days and promise of icy rains. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising to know that I enjoy nothing more than spending such days fussing over a bubbling pot of hearty concoctions. Epitomising winter food for so many of us, the humble stew is perhaps arguably the most universal form of cooking. Across the globe, from Inuit blubber stew to the Seychellois fruit bat civet de chauve souris, almost every culture has a stew or two in their collective repertoire.

Though typically regarded as fermenters and grill masters, Koreans are no exception with an array of stews designed to get them through their harsh winters.  Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken) and kimchijjigae (pork & kimchi) are both classics examples and a bowl of either would warm you right up. Their spicy nature, however, isn’t to everyone’s taste. Traditionally milder in flavour, galbi-jjim is no less hearty, but without the heartburn.

Sweet, rich, and savoury, galbi-jjim is traditionally made with beef short ribs, which are braised till fork-tender and the beef has rendered its flavour into the sauce. Simply served with a bowl of steaming rice and some aged mak kimchi on the side, this stew is a cure for even the darkest winter-blues.

It may be true to say that both dak-dori-tang and kimchi-jjigae ignite a fire in your belly, but equally galbi-jjim is like finding a hot water bottle at the bottom of a chilly bed.

Now to my mind, that’s my ultimate winter-bliss – Korean-style.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here.

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Cantonese Beef Steak

Cantonese Beef Steak

Some days you just wake up with a hankering for a really nice bit of steak, but if you are anything like me, that beefy craving is usually for steak of an altogether different variety: Cantonese beef steak!

Growing up in Penang in the early 80s the only time I really ate steak was at Chinese restaurants, where it was invariably prepared Cantonese-style. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate Western-style steak. Unnaturally tender and served with an addictively sweet soya-based pepper sauce, Chinese beef steak was undoubtedly the steak of my childhood! Of course, like all middle-class families in 80s  Penang we occasionally ate at the Eden

Steak House on Hutton Road, with its glorious coral décor and outlandish flourish of curly parsley (as children we were unconvinced that the parsley was, in fact, edible!). Looking back, we actually used to visit the Steak House quite often, but strangely enough I don’t recall ever actually ordering the steak. I’m pretty certain my father might have had it on occasion, but that was “dad food”. At any rate, who wanted steak when you could have lobster thermidor and prawn cocktail instead? This was, after all, the 80s…

So what makes a piece of steak Chinese?

The first thing that makes this dish such a Chinese classic is the sauce. Glossy and rich, this sauce is the perfect mix of sweet and peppery goodness – this isn’t a sauce for the faint of heart! The Worcestershire sauce adds spiced depth, whilst the tomato sauce imparts a hint of colour and extra body once everything has been reduced down to a sticky, gooey sauce.

Secondly (and most importantly) is the texture of the meat. Marinated in a batter made with corn flour, eggs and Bicarbonate of Soda, the beef is rendered meltingly tender – almost to the point that the texture of the steak no longer resembles meat. This might sound unappealing, but this technique of tenderising meat with Bicarbonate of Soda is fairly widespread in Chinese cooking where the quality of the meat is not always guaranteed. As unpalatable as it may seem, the use of Bicarb goes a long way in making the Chinese food you make at home actually taste like the cuisine you are striving to emulate. Authenticity isn’t always pretty, especially when making Chinese food!

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

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Japchae 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef & Vegetables)

One of Korea’s most loved dishes, japchae seems to be one of those dishes that can be found almost everywhere and at any time. Be it at breakfast, dinner or at a party, japchae is almost sure to be a feature. Like so many national dishes in Asia, food can represent so much more than just a tasty meal; in the case of japchae it is all about colour and harmony. Translating as “many kinds of various vegetables” japchae is made with the five colours that the Koreans believe reflect obang saek or world harmony to you and me. Each colour symbolises one of the five universal directions – North (black: beef/mushrooms), East (green: courgette/cucumber), South: (red: carrot), West (white: onion) and, most profoundly, the Middle (yellow: egg).

World harmony aside, the best news about japchae is that it is banting and LCHF friendly! Okay, so there is a bit of sugar in the recipe, but at its core japchae’s sweet potato starch noodles are a great low carb alternative to the regular wheat variety and taste infinitely better than courgette noodles.

Noodles without the carb-induced guilt; now what could possibly be better than that?

To be honest I was a bit hesitant about trying japchae when I first encountered it at a breakfast buffet in Seoul. I had tried cooking with Korean sweet potato noodles previously and it was a bit of a disaster, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another go. I’m so pleased that I did! Chewy, beefy and incredibly satisfying; from the first bite I knew japchae was going to be one of the first Korean dishes I would attempt to recreate when I got back to my kitchen in Cape Town.

As it turned out, making japchae at home is relatively easy and aside from the sweet potato noodles themselves, all the ingredients are Asian store-cupboard staples. The only real difficulty is that the numerous components of the dish need to be individually prepared and cooked before being assembled, but other than that it is actually pretty straight-forward. Just don’t be tempted to soak the sweet potato noodles for longer than 30 minutes or overcook them as this will affect their texture.

Most of the japchae I had whilst in Korea actually didn’t contain any meat so if you would like to make a vegetarian version of the dish simply omit the beef. If you do, however, want to make a meat version then you can also substitute the beef steak with some mince instead.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Picanha Steak with Chimichurri

Picanha Steak with Chimichurri

With perhaps the exception of empanadas, nothing screams South America more than picanha steak with chimichurri.

A relatively unknown cut of meat outside South Amercia, picanha is also known as rump-cap or top sirloin-cover. Picanha is characterised by its thick layer of fat and heavy marbling, which gives the meat incredible flavour and succulence, making it one of the most prized cuts of beef to those in the know. Until recently picanha was a cut rarely found outside the Americas, but thankfully that seems to have changed and it is increasingly easy to source locally. Steak-lovers of the world rejoice: picanha is finally here and hopefully it’s here to stay!

So let me not undersell this, picanha and  chimichurri are truly a match made in steak-heaven! The succulent steak and piquant sauce are perfect bedfellows, with the robust and zesty chimichurri cutting through the richness of the steak. Put quite simply, the combination of picanha and chimichurri is pure carnivoristic perfection.

Steak has never tasted this good!

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Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)

Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)

Quick and tasty, phat kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli) is a great dish for anyone who wants some authentic Thai flavour in a hurry! Unlike many other classic Thai dishes, phat kaphrao takes mere minutes to whip up and doesn’t require more than a couple of Thai ingredients, making it a great lunch option or a simple addition to a larger meal.

The real stars of the show are the basil and chilli so it doesn’t really matter what your protein of choice is when making phat kaphrao. Whilst this particular version of the dish uses beef, you can also make it using minced pork or chicken – it really just comes down to your preference and what you have lurking in the fridge at the time. Personally I prefer making it with beef as I find chicken and pork mince can be a little dry – something that the beef’s fat content seems to negate, so don’t use extra-lean mince when making this dish. If you are going to use minced chicken just make sure that it’s made with some dark meat and not just chicken breast.

But back to the all important basil and chilli.

Firstly don’t be shy when adding the basil – use lots…and then add a bit more! I’m of the opinion you can never have enough basil in phat kaphrao! Another thing to bear in mind is that not all basil is created equal and it is important that you use the right kind in the right dishes. Whilst similar to Thai basil, sweet Mediterranean basil isn’t really a good substitute in Thai dishes as it’s far too ‘soft’ to withstand intense cooking and surrenders its flavour all too readily. Admittedly Thai basil isn’t always easy to source so I suggest growing a plant in your garden – it is easy to grow and you’ll have an abundant supply on hand whenever you need it.

Whilst it’s an integral part of the dish’s flavour, the amount of chilli you chose to add to your phat kaphrao comes down to personal preference and tolerance levels. Like most Thais I love my chillies, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when adding them to the dish as the heat of chillies can be notoriously unpredictable. Instead I prefer to serve the bulk of the chillies on the side (chopped and steeped in white rice vinegar) which allows you to add as much heat as you are in the mood for.

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Beef Burgers with Mushrooms, Goat’s Cheese & Miso Butter

Beef Burgers with Mushrooms, Goat's Cheese & Miso Butter

Sometimes you end up making the best food when you’ve got absolutely nothing in the fridge and this delicious burger is the perfect example of exactly that! It all started one evening with an unexpected hankering for a mushroom cheeseburger. Unfortunately I only had the mushrooms available, so I did a bit of fridge-diving and came up with this delectable combination instead.

Luckily I knew there was still a bit of goat’s cheese leftover from when I last made my favourite quinoa salad; so that was cheese covered, but to be honest the thought of just mushrooms and goat’s cheese didn’t quite seem enough. I figured what this burger really needed was a punch of flavour, so I dove a little further and found some miso butter that had been lurking in the frozen depths of my freezer for the best part of a month. I knew the miso butter worked well with beef as I had been topping my steaks with it, so it wasn’t much of a leap to stick it on a burger patty instead. Punch of flavour? Most definitely sorted.

In terms of flavour, this burger just about has it all – the creamy goat’s cheese and fresh chives work a treat with the earthy mushrooms, whilst the salty miso butter with the juicy burger patty is the very definition of an umami moment.

This is definitely a case of fridge-diving come good, oh so good!

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Lasagne

Lasagne

It may not be considered the most exciting meal these days, but lasagne will forever be a dish close to my heart.

Believe it or not I was a painfully fussy eater when I was a child and lasagne was one of the few dishes I really enjoyed. Fuelled by an unhealthy affinity with Garfield the Cat, my youthful appetite for lasagne was as insatiable as  that of the grumpy ginger feline himself! Whenever my mother asked what I wanted to have for a special occasion the answer was always the same: lasagne, lasagne, lasagne!

In a world obsessed with carb-cutting, the humble lasagne has become somewhat of a relic of family style cooking – a dish that your good old mum would make because she doesn’t know any better or hasn’t bought a new cookbook since 1985. A crying shame really, as this oven-baked Italian classic is a victim of its own popularity. Much like the equally misunderstood and shamelessly corrupted Spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne is in fact a dish of noble proportion and should be appreciated as such. Made well and with love, lasagne is truly a paragon of pasta perfection.

Rich and layered, lasagne is to food what a  hot water bottle is to a winter’s bed: the ultimate comfort. To build the perfect lasagne each layer must be generous and distinct, a balanced ménage à trois of punchy ragu (meat sauce), cheesy béchamel sauce and silky pasta.

Lasagne also needs time to rest before serving. Allowing it to cool down will afford each layer the opportunity to solidify its presence in the overall dish and not be overwhelmed by the molten maelstrom of flavour that is a lasagne immediately after it’s taken out of the oven. At least half an hour is needed for everything to cool down although a couple of hours would be better, but overnight in the fridge would be ideal.

Lasagne reheats wonderfully in the microwave in just a few minutes or in an oven (covered in foil) at 180°C for about 15 minutes.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Classic Hamburger

Classic Hamburger

Burgers are, without doubt, this year’s sushi.

Yes it is official, the Foodie Overlords have decreed that burgers are just too cool for school and I am, quite literately, lovin’ it. I’m not sure what the exact reasons are for this up-swing in the humble burger’s popularity, but it is way overdue and long may it continue! So to whomever designated 2015 the Year of the Burger, I just want to say a hearty thank you!

So okay yes I am supposedly avoiding carbs these days, but burgers have always been my Achilles Heel and, as such, one of my favourite cheat-meals…but I know I’m not alone. In terms of Western food, there is nothing quite as satisfying or as iconic as a good burger. Their popularity is almost universal and enduring, in spite of fast-food’s attempts at turning us against them (no, I don’t consider a Big Mac a real burger – I scarcely consider it food)!

But what is it about burgers that keep us coming back for more? Is it their irrepressible retro-Americana charm? Maybe its the sheer “junk-food” decadence that burgers came to represent in the 90/00’s; a symptom, if you will, of the “mum says don’t eat it, so I want it more” syndrome? I just don’t know, but I will tell you this: a good burger is damn hard to beat!

Of course, with renewed popularity comes the inevitable desire for ‘reinvention’. It happens to even the noblest of foods: sushi got cream-cheesed & biltonged, smoothies got iced & goji-berried, coffee got lost in soya & hazelnut and now, burgers have become classy.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a classy burger; I even have a few concoctions of my own that I wish to share (wait till you try my miso butter, goats cheese & mushroom burger!).  With hordes of hip burgers-bars popping up all over the place, the market is awash with every kind of burger you can imagine. These days you can’t seem to get away from the promise of wagyu patties, truffled mayo and unmani ketchup – all utterly delicious, but all utterly superfluous to the crafting of the perfect burger. Seriously, enough already. The Fonz lived without chipotle salsa and trice-cooked fries and so will you! So whilst I appreciate the ingenuity of some of the more outlandish toppings offered, burgers are at heart the epitome of unpretentious eating and we must never lose sight of that.

Okay, so what does maketh the perfect hamburger then?

For me it is all about doing the basics well. Sure you can add cheese, gherkins, bacon into the mix, but all that extra stuff comes down to preference and taste. The essential building blocks of a true hamburger are simply these:  a homemade flame-grilled patty slavered in a decent basting sauce, a quality sesame bun which has been lightly toasted and the Holy Trinity of Burger Toppings being ice-berg lettuce, sliced tomato and onions.

Finished and klaar.

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Sticky Beef Short Ribs

Sticky Beef Short Ribs

If I had to pick a favourite cut of beef, it would simply have to be short ribs; cheap, tasty and meltingly tender, I just can’t get enough of them.

The perfect marriage between meat, bone and fat, short rib is my go-to cut of beef for whenever I am doing a long braise, as it is perfectly suited to being cooked for extended periods. Whether it’s for a spicy Mussaman Curry, a comforting bowl of Beef Phở or a simple cider braise beef, short ribs works a treat with just about any style of cooking, so long as it is afforded enough time to work its magic.

Which brings me to this delectable dish! Robustly flavoured and so tender you can literally suck the meat off the bone, Sticky Beef Short Ribs is a great way to prepare this special cut. Although the dish has all the hallmarks of a classic Chinese style braise, the addition of Korean Soybean Paste (doenjang) does muddle the waters somewhat, resulting in a dish that is equally suited to both a Chinese or Korean spread. If you can’t source any doenjang, regular Chinese Bean Sauce would suffice, or, if you wanted to add a Japanese twist to the dish, you can always try some miso. Personally, if you can, I would stick with the doenjang as it adds a distinctly earthy depth to the dish that neither miso nor Chinese Bean Sauce does.  

Note: As with most other Asian braises, this dish is always best if made the day before, but is still delicious if eaten immediately. If you are making the dish in advance then it is best not to reduce the sauce immediately, but rather wait until you are going to eat it to do so.

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