Main Meal

Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄

Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄I love food that you can just gooi into a pot, forget about for a few hours and it still comes out tasting like heaven. Thankfully, Asian food is abound with such dishes, particularly so in Chinese cuisine.

Whilst synonymous with the much hackneyed “stir-fry”, Chinese food does love a jolly good braise. Beef ribs, pork belly, chicken feet – it would seem that the Chinese maxim is clear: if you have a pot big enough for it, then it’s good for a braise. Thankfully, it seems, pork hock fits both the maxim and the pot!

Richly flavoured, red-braised pork hock is an old school Chinese classic and is the perfect way to cook an otherwise troublesome cut of meat. Slowly simmered in what is essentially a classic master stock, the meat and fat is rendered meltingly soft – so much so, one can “cut” through it with just a chopstick. Stained a redish brown from the dark soya sauce, the silky sweet meat is tempered with depth, whilst the aromatic sauce is enriched with the rendered juices from the braised pork.

Admittedly, however, like most home-style Chinese cooking, braised pork hock isn’t the most aesthetically appealing dish. Resembling something of a gelatinous heap of meat, skin and bone, it is hardly a feast for the eyes. Rest assured, however, once you’ve taken your first bite you will quickly forget what it looks like.

Indeed, this dish is a triumph of flavour over style.

Note: the stock quantities may initially seem excessive, but the Master Stock can be kept indefinitely and develops depth of flavour each time it is reused. Simply strain the stock and store in the freezer until needed. Add a fresh set of aromatics to the stock and you are good to go.

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Makhani Murgh (Butter Chicken)

The chances are, this recipe is nothing like the butter chicken you’ve ordered countless times from your local Indian takeaway. I too have ordered it more times than I care to admit, so I know what passes for butter chicken these days and most of it is pretty dismal. So much so, I have actually stopped ordering it altogether, for fear it would put me off Indian food completely.

Makhani Murgh (Butter Chicken)As you might have gathered, I’m somewhat disillusioned about the state of butter chicken these days – especially when I consider what a wonderful dish it truly is! Unfortunately, this venerable dish has largely been reduced to being the poster-child for unimaginative and pedestrian Indian fare. When made well, however, butter chicken undoubtedly deserves its place amongst the great Indian classics. Rich, decadent and wonderfully spiced, this dish is a real winner and should feature in any Indian feast.

As tasty as it is, the real appeal of butter chicken is how easy it is to make! Primarily cooked in the oven, the dish frees up valuable stove space – a godsend when you’re trying to juggle up to six dishes on a 4 plate hob! Like most curries, butter chicken can also be made in advance and gently reheated before serving. In the case of butter chicken though, it should be placed under a grill to be heated through and lightly browned, rather than on a hob.

Note: Please do not ever be tempted to make butter chicken with anything other than chicken thighs, especially not breast meat, which will come out completely dry and taste terrible.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Chilli con Carne

Chilli con Carne NachosBelieve it or not, but there was a time when I was completely at sea when it came to cooking and Chilli con Carne was my only lifeline!

Admittedly back in my university days, my Chilli’s “secret ingredient” was a packet of Knorr Chilli con Carne flavouring, but given the dish was also made with cheap soya mince, the dubious origins of its flavour-base was the least of its problems! That said, my Chilli was still the stuff of legend in my digs and its fame wasn’t without merit. In spite of its shortcomings it still tasted pretty damn good, but given my only real competition was marmite on toast, my culinary supremacy was pretty much a given!

Mercifully, my cooking has improved somewhat since those dark days and my Chilli con Carne has since had a much needed makeover. Rather unsurprisingly, the soya mince and glorified packets of MSG have fallen to the wayside and have been replaced with more natural ingredients, but don’t be fooled – this is still good eating, just on a slightly improved budget!

Aside from the exclusion of various e-numbers and MSG, key to the elevation of my Chilli from student fare to tex-mex bliss is the inclusion of some dark chocolate. By simply adding a bit of chocolate, this dish develops a depth of flavour that is hard to beat…give the Chilli sufficient time to mellow and you’ll have an overnight sensation!

There are many ways to eat Chilli. You can simply serve it with some plain white rice, topped with a spoonful of sour cream and snipped chives or you can use it as a filling for burritos by wrapping it up in a tortilla with salad and guacamole. These days, however, my favourite way to eat Chilli is by making nachos! Simply add the chilli to a pile of tortilla chips, sprinkle with all your favourite toppings and voilà: nachos’fantastico!

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Sang Choi Bao 生菜包

Sung Choi Bao I have always been slightly obsessed with Sang Choi Bao, but in a world gripped by LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) & Banting diet fever, this classic Chinese dish has found a renewed appeal. Literally translated as “lettuce package”, Sang Choi Bao is made with fatty pork mince which is then eaten encased in crisp lettuce leaves, making it a great option for those of us who are avoiding traditional carbs like rice – something that is quite hard to do with Asian food!

Like most Asian recipes this one does have a few specialist ingredients, all of which are readily available from good Chinese supermarkets, but feel free to leave out whatever you can’t source. The key to the dish is actually in the sauce and the various vegetables, rather than the recipe’s more exotic inclusions. Okay, so this recipe does call for a small amount of sugar (not strictly Banting, I know), but you can just leave it out if you are so inclined.

Substantial and satisfying, this tasty dish scarcely feels like a meal that forgoes anything; and although it certainly isn’t conventional, Sang Choi Bao is also delicious when eaten with rice.

Traditionally eaten with your fingers, Sang Choi Bao is great fun to eat, making it a good dish for sharing. I suggest serving it up in a big bowl surrounded by the lettuce leaves and just let everybody tuck in. You can expect lots of sticky fingers after dinner!

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Assam Prawns (Tamarind Prawns)

A common complaint about many Malaysian recipes is that they are usually complicated and often have a long list of intimidatingly exotic ingredients. Whilst the resulting meals are invariably worth the effort, for the most part this particular gripe about Malaysian food isn’t completely without merit.

Assam PrawnsLike most expat Malaysians, I am forever seeking out viable substitutes for ingredients that we just take for granted at home. Candlenuts (buah keras) get substituted with blanched almonds, galangal (lengkuas) with ginger, bokkoms for salt fish and so on. For the most part the integrity of the dishes are rarely compromised, but there are some ingredients for which there are simply no substitutes and the meal invariably suffers for their subsequent omission.

Thankfully, however, there are some great Malaysian dishes that defy these inherent pitfalls and are surprisingly easy to make, Assam Prawns being a case in point. Requiring just a few basic ingredients and a very short cooking time, Assam Prawns pack quite a punch for its meagre effort level. Provided you can source some tamarind pulp, this dish offers an authentic taste of Asia without any of the usual hassles and exotic ingredients associated with Malaysian cooking.

Beyond being ridiculously simple to make, Assam Prawns are a true Nyonya classic and were, with good reason, a firm family favourite at my grandmother’s dinner table. This dish has it all! Sweet prawns, slavered in a simple tangy tamarind coating; what more could you want? This is truly finger-lickin’ good food, Malaysian style!

Note: Whilst the thought of it might seem strange to non-Asians, part of the joy of this dish is eating the prawns with their shells on. Encrusted in all that lovely sweet tamarind sauce, the prawn’s soft shell is perfectly edible and is, in fact, a great source of calcium. A word of warning though, don’t eat the sharp tail-shells and don’t forget to suck the prawn’s head. I’m serious, the tail-shell will totally choke you and the head is amazingly sweet and tasty when sucked. Trust me, your ultimate enjoyment of this incredible meal depends on both of these tips, so get sucking!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)

Arguably the most famous curry in the world, Green Curry is, for many of us, the poster-child of Thai cuisine. Disarmingly unintimidating, delicious and rewarding to make, it is hardly surprising that Green Curry has the equivocal honour of being as synonymous with Thailand as Spaghetti Bolognese is to Italy.

Thai Green Chicken Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan Gai)In spite of the fact that it is a true Thai classic, Green Curry is actually remarkably easy to make at home. The first thing to consider is your curry paste and the eternal debate between homemade or store-bought. Whilst there are a wide range of fantastic ready-made pastes available, many recipes and chefs wax-lyrical about the absolute necessity of making your own, insisting, “that’s how its done in Asia”. Poppycock!

Now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t make your own, I’m just saying you mustn’t get too hung up on doing so. The truth is that the only Asians making their own curry pastes are those who’s job it is to do so.

Okay, so whilst I do concede that a homemade curry paste is almost always nicer than store-bought, they invariably require a long list of ingredients that are difficult to source and often impossible to substitute. As part of this recipe I have included a homemade curry paste and the final dish is all the more rewarding for it, but if you can’t be bothered making it or you don’t have the ingredients, don’t despair – there is no shame in using a store-bought paste instead (as I often do). Thankfully, as with most curries, the success of the dish actually relies more on technique than ingredients; so rather focus on how you make the curry and less on the provenance of your paste. The chances are your curry will still turn out great!

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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Cider Braised Beef Short-ribs

Being half Asian I naturally adore food packed with flavour and usually in my kitchen that means spicy and exotic, but sometimes I crave the simple home-cooked comforts of my mother’s land. It may be the inner-Brit in me, but there are days when you can just keep your kimchi and beef rendang – all I want is toad-in-the-hole or a proper Sunday roast!

Without a chilli nor spice in sight, this dish is the epitome of what I would call real British comfort-food. Made with just a few seemingly unassuming ingredients, this humble stew seems to come out with more flavour than was put in! Uncomplicated and yet rich with depth, this dish is the perfect example of good food, made simply.

Adapted from Leiths Meat Bible, this amazing braise goes well with just about anything. Feeling sophisticated? Serve it with classic mash potato and some sautéed kale with grapes. Feeling rustic? Just grab some fresh crusty bread and mop-up the delicious sauce!

Kimchi and beef rendang? Lord knows I still love them, but when old-school British comfort-food tastes this good, you could be forgiven for never wanting anything else!

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Gosht Shahajani (Rich Lamb Curry with “Roast” Potatoes)

Gosht Shahajani (Rich Lamb Curry with "Roast" Potatoes)I’m always looking for new curries to make and this one fits the bill perfectly! Rich and tasty, this unusual lamb curry makes a nice change from my tried and tested favourites of rogan josh and chicken kadhai.

Whilst gosht shahajani is in many ways similar to gosht aloo, I love the idea of adding the precooked “roast” potatoes to the dish, instead of boiling them in the curry’s sauce. Of course, the potatoes inevitably lose their crunch when added to the sauce, but they do add a texture and flavour to the dish that sets gosht shahajani apart from similar curries.

My version of this dish has evolved quite significantly from the original recipe, as I found the quantities a tad excessive – 150ml of tomato purée and 10 tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander for 800g of lamb? I adore flavour, but even my palette has its limits! I also prefer to fry my potatoes and onions in ghee rather than oil, as this gives them a fuller flavour and consequently, a greater presence in the dish. If you don’t have any ghee or prefer not to use it, you can just substitute it with vegetable oil.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Cape Malay Mince Curry

Cape Malay Mince CurryA quick and easy to make, Cape Malay Mince Curry is one of the most commonly eaten curries in South Africa.

Typically eaten with rice, mince curry is also often used as a filling in rotis and vetkoeks or eaten on toast with eggs for breakfast; making this curry as versatile as it is tasty! Mince curry is also a popular choice when feeding large groups of people as it is relatively cheap to make and a little goes a long way. The addition of peas and boiled eggs is common, although far from essential. Personally, I prefer to make mine with peas as it makes for a more nutritionally-rounded meal.

As humble as it may be, mince curry deserves to be called a Cape classic!

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Pork, Chickpea & Black Pudding Stew

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a real soft spot for a good old slice of black pudding!

A grim stalwart of a true Full English, black pudding has for many years been perceived as being one of the more unpalatable progeny of British cuisine. Along with the likes of jellied eels and winkles, black pudding harks back to an era when Britain was not unfairly considered the culinary backwater of Europe. Mercifully though, the tide has long since turned and thanks to an army of parading TV chefs, there is a renewed appreciation of local produce and food traditions in the UK. As a result, British cuisine has witnessed an unprecedented renaissance and thankfully, winkles not withstanding, the likes of black pudding have come along for the ride. Unfortunately, the reality is that few ingredients can transcend disgusting to de rigueur, but black pudding is slowly making its way back into the mainstream of British cuisine.

In nearby Spain, however, black pudding has had a far easier time of it. Known as morcilla or blood sausage, the Spanish seem to have none of the hang-ups about eating it that typically plauge its British cousin. Whether it be simply fried and served with bread or used to add depth and flavour to stews and soups, morcilla remains popular throughout Spain, if not the entire Spanish-speaking world.

Which brings me to this delightfully hearty stew!

On the face of it, this is just another typical Spanish stew, but what sets this recipe apart is, of course, the addition of black pudding. One of the last ingredients to be added, the black pudding has a transformative effect on the dish and is an absolute flavour-masterstroke – especially if the stew is afforded an evening to mature in the fridge. First fried and then added at the final stage of cooking, the black pudding melds with the sauce as it simmers, adding a depth and richness that elevates this humble stew to new, delicious, heights! 

For more great one-pot wonders from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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