an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Sichuan fried potatoes with ginger and chilli

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! I saw this recipe on ‘Exploring China: a Culinary Adventure’, an excellent and very interesting TV show that was on a few months ago with Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang. The majority of the food we think of as ‘Chinese’ is actually just from one province (Guangdong), and the food from the other provinces is all really different. Sichuan province is in Southwest China, and mainly very damp and cold (sounds familiar). As the weather is so miserable, their cuisine is packed full of chilli and Sichuan pepper, to keep them warm. So of course, Sichuan pepper was something I needed to investigate. And luckily, my superpower of ‘dork’ came to the rescue.

I love organising things. I have always been the kind of person to alphabetise their bookshelf, and my DVDs are organised by genre, and then director. Sometimes, like the guy in ‘High Fidelity’ I re-arrange everything on my bookshelves as an enjoyable way to spend an evening. So when my amazing flatmate Claude said that I could organise her/our spice cupboard, I was over the moon. It was like a treasure trove. When I found Sichuan peppercorns I was so excited, because it meant that I could make this recipe.
The spice cupboard, organised
Sichuan pepper (花椒) also known as ‘flower pepper’ is not closely related to either black pepper or chilli pepper – it is part of the rue or citrus family. It has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like peppercorns or chili peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth (caused by its 3% of hydroxy alpha sanshool). The tingly numbness has been described as being a little like the sensation of drinking a fizzy drink, or licking the top of a battery (I am told that people who grew up with older brothers will know what this feels like). If you aren’t lucky enough to live with a Claudie, you can buy Sichuan flower pepper at The Spice Shop – either online, or at their stores in Notting Hill or Brighton (they also make excellent spice blends).

*update* I just found Sichuan peppercorns in my local suparmarket - Schwartz brand I think.

This is a really interesting recipe – I don’t think I had ever eaten Chinese-style potato before. The pickled ginger gave it a really interesting zing, and the Sichuan pepper was just incredible – making the whole dish really delicious and totally different from anything I had ever eaten before. Although the potatoes were definitely cooked, they were much more ‘al dente’ than I am used to potatoes being. The next day however, I put them back in the wok with a little soy and more pak choi, with a fried egg. And it was completely heavenly.

Serves about 4. It is best served as part of a Chinese feast with many other dishes.

450g/1lb potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (the recipe doesn’t specify, but I used salad potatoes, thinking that floury spuds would just disintegrate and burn at the bottom of the wok)
1 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tbsp finely chopped pickled ginger
1 - 2 de-seeded and finely chopped fresh red chillies (to your preference, but the dish is supposed to be spicy)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry or sake)
1 tsp chilli oil – use more if you want to be more authentic
1 head of pak choi, stalks and leaves separated (optional)
1½ tsp roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stack the potato slices and cut them into matchsticks. Soak them in a bowl of cold water with a teaspoon of salt for five minutes, then drain thoroughly and dry with kitchen paper or a tea towel.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is hot. Add the groundnut/ vegetable oil, and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic, gingers and chillies, and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper, then add the potatoes (and pak choi stalks if using) and gently stir-fry for a minute or two until they are well coated with the spices and flavourings.

Add the sugar and rice wine and continue to stir-fry gently over a high heat for five minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated and the potatoes are cooked. Add the pak choi leaves when this is mostly done. When the potatoes are cooked, add the chilli oil, sprinkle on the peppercorns and serve at once.

Reheated the next day with a little soy, more greens and an egg. Bliss. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

While I'm cooking, I'm dancing

Yesterday there was an article in the Guardian about what the best kind of music to listen to while cooking is. I pretty much always have music on when I'm cooking, so I thought I would compile a playlist on Spotify of the kind of music I love to listen to while I'm cooking. Its great to sing along with, and to dance to. I have pretty much perfected the art of dancing while chopping onions, stirring pots and washing up, without breaking anything or injuring any body parts. Yeah I am that awesome.

So here it is. Let me know what you think of it, and what you like to watch/listen to while you are cooking.

Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes
Alphabeat – Fascination
Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood
Aretha Franklin – Respect
Aretha Franklin – Think
The Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian - Album/Single
Blondie – One Way or Another
Bruno Mars – Runaway Baby
Bruno Mars – Locked Out Of Heaven
Chaka Demus and Pliers – Murder She Wrote
The Chordettes – Lollipop - Squeak E Clean & Desert Eagles Remix
Chuck Berry – You Never Can Tell - 1964 Single Version (Mono)
The Coasters – Down In Mexico
The Coasters – Smokey Joe's Cafe
The Contours – Do You Love Me
Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha - The Norman Cook Remix (Single Version)
DJ Fresh – Golddust
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home
Ella Fitzgerald – The Lady Is A Tramp
Ella Fitzgerald – Too Darn Hot
Ella Fitzgerald – When I Get Low I Get High - Single Version
Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup
Gabby Young & Other Animals – Ones That Got Away
Gabby Young & Other Animals – Ask You a Question
Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know
Groove Armada – But I Feel Good
Jace Everett – Bad Things - Soundtrack Version
Jackie Wilson – (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
James Brown – Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
Jessie J – Price Tag
Lightning Seeds – The Life of Riley
M.I.A. – Paper Planes
Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Marvin Gaye – Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Maverick Sabre – No One
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Milan & Phoenix – Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - Radio Edit
Minimatic – No Diggity - Minimatic Remix
Molotov Jukebox – Tick Tock
Molotov Jukebox – Double Dare
Muse – Feeling Good
Nina Simone v Groovefinder – Ain't Got No - I Got Life - Remix - Radio Edit
OutKast – Hey Ya! - Radio Mix/Club Mix
Paul Simon – Late In The Evening
Peggy Lee – Fever
Plan B – She Said
Prince & The Revolution – Kiss
The Proclaimers – I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
Queen – Radio Ga Ga - 2011 Remaster
Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack
Santana – Smooth
Sister Nancy – Bam Bam
Slave – Don't Leave Me This Way
Stealers Wheel – Stuck In The Middle With You
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)
Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything's Alright) - Single Version
Stevie Wonder – Superstition - Single Version
T Bird and the Breaks – The Clap Hands Song

with love,

*cook always with a smile, and a boogie.*