Monday 28 June 2010

What is Tofu?

At Zuma, we regularly use tofu, we make fresh tofu and also serve tofu deep fried in a flour mixture which includes shichimi pepper, black sesame seeds and Katakuriko (a fine potato starch). But what actually is Tofu? I know that it is made from Soya milk and that it is really good for you, but that's about all I knew, until now! So I done some research and here is what I found.
It actually originated in China over 2000 years ago! Where its use spread throughout the Far East so far that even today from Indonesia to Korea and Mongolia no national cooking does without it! Tofu, or bean curd, as it is often known, was probably introduced into Japanese cuisine around the 18th century. Nowadays the ''regular'' Japanese type of Tofu is made to suite Japanese tastes, it is softer, whiter and has a more delicate taste than the Chinese variety.
''Regular'' Tofu is soft and easily digestible. It is an ideal food for dieting, having an extremely low ratio of calories to protein, an average 180g portion contains only 100 calories, but 6% protein. Tofu is low in carbohydrates and completely free in cholesterol!
So how is is made????????????? Tofu is made from dry soya beans, which are soaked in water until they turn soft, then they are crushed , then boiled. Then the crushed material is separated into pulp and milk, the pulp becomes a tofu by-product called ''Okara'', a food in its own right. To the soy milk is added a coagulant to make the milk separate into curds and whey. Fresh warm curds are then poured into moulds and then left to settle for a few hours to take shape, the tofu is then soaked in water to firm even more, to cool and to keep fresh.
In Japan, Tofu is usually eaten fresh on the day that it is made, as daily shopping still exists as a part of Japanese life. Shopping habits are now different in most countries nowadays, and here in London we find tofu in plastic tubs, date stamped like milk, in order to give the consumer an indication of freshness, It should be consumed within 5-7 days of being made, and must be kept under refrigeration.
So I hope that my research has cleared up a few of the mysteries of Tofu!

Art Muay, a piece of Asia in Earls Court!

At Nahm, there would frequently be problems with our delivery of Thai produce (it isn't easy transporting all of those ingredients from a Market in Thailand to a small Hotel in Belgravia!), usually because of a Riot, Protest or some other form of demonstration in Bangkok, so as all of the dishes used authentic ingredients and strict recipes were followed, no compromise was ever made, only Thai herbs, spices and other amazing ingredients were ever used. So when this problem did occur, we (the chefs)would take it in turns scouring London for the little Thai produce available. Most of the time we would head over to China town, along with the other thousands of Thais living in London! Until we came across Art Muay, a small shop, down a small street in Earls Court. They always seem to have great quality produce, usually at a reasonable price. So here are a few pics I took on a recent trip.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

What a mental day!

Mental Day in the kitchen, England playing and I'm on a double! So I arrived at work at 7.30 in the morning, 2 cigarettes, 1 bottle of Lucozade and a panini, then worked my nuts off all morning, racing round so that I could get out to watch the game, fucking busy lunch, then found another load of jobs that needed doing, then eventually slipped out to watch the second half, all the posh pubs in Knightsbridge were without telly's, so I ended up watching it in a bookies, with a load of working men , or not so working men! Good atmosphere though, well for a bookies, full of a load of divorced Irish men with drink problems! No, it was a good result for England, we actually looked like we could be arsed for once! So anyway, ran back to work, quickly got changed back into my chef whites, then set up and straight into a very busy service! Cleaned down, then it was 1 in the morning! Arrived home about 1.30, now I am shagged out,time to hit my bed, 2 days off, wahoooooooo! Might go to Vijiante on friday!

Monday 21 June 2010

The ''Patriotic'' Smithfield Meat Market.

London has so many great food markets, yet unlike most other markets in the cities of Europe, London's main food markets are open during the hours that most of us sleep! So most of us rarely get to see what they have on offer, forget the expensive, yet trendy, farmers markets (although these are great!), I am talking about the real, hustle and bustle markets, where a real bargain can be found, and the traders really are passionate and knowledgeable about what they sell such as New Covent Garden vegetable market, Billingsgate fish market or Smithfield meat market, which I recently visited.

Originally known as ''Smoothfield'', there has been a livestock market on this site for more than 800 years! As early as the 12th Century it was used as a vast recreational area where jousts and tournaments (and no doubt, the occasional cock fight!) took place. By the middle ages the area had become the most famous livestock market in Europe.
There is also a darker side to the market, as from the early 13th century, it was used to execute criminals! Some 200 people have been executed there,mainly for their religious beliefs, most of them burned to death! Those executed include Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants revolt and more famously Scottish hero William Wallace, in 1305.
It was also the location of the Bartholomew Fair, 3 days, which over the years became the most debouched and drunken event in the holiday calender, even so it lasted over 700 years, until it was closed in 1855.

So theres a bit of history, now to my visit. Well Smithfield opens its doors to the general public at, so you have to be a bit loopy to visit a market at 3 in the morning to save a few £s on some chicken legs! or be a chef, therefore you are used to never sleeping anyhow! Well, I had just worked two 16 hour shifts , back to back, but I wanted some meat for my World cup party, so we finished at 12.30 and therefore had 2 and a half hours to kill, so me and a few of my fellow chefs from Zuma marched off down to China town in the early hours to kill a bit of time.
then jumped on the bus and arrived there at 3, the market was already buzzing, full of stereotypical butcher like blokes, think fat, bald, cockney characters wearing butchers aprons, laughing and joking with one another, they all had time for me and answered all questions that I had to ask them, throwing the odd jokes in, here and there.
We spent a few hours browsing around the market, which is full of bargains, some of the best on offer were 50 chicken legs for £20, and a whole four rib of beef for £30! Bargains Gallore!
I picked up 2 Farmed Rabbits, 2 Veals kidneys and 2 kg of English diced chuck beef, all for about £32!
So I will definitely be visiting as often as I have the energy to and soon I Will do a post on New Covent Garden vegetable market and Billingsgate fish market.

Rabbit, Tarragon and Aspal Casserole with Tarragon Dumplins.

So I wanted to cook something a little adventurous, yet still stodgy and not to fancy for my World cup party last weekend, so I found these lovely Rabbits in Smithfield Market and at only £6.50 each , a true bargain! Rabbit is quite adventurous for 6 burly football fans, yet everyone loves stew and dumplings!
This recipe uses farmed rabbits as they are raised for size rather than flavour and this casserole is so packed with the flavour of Tarragon and Cider, that the taste of rabbit would be lost anyhow, and to be honest there isn't that much meat on a wild rabbit (they are about 3/4's of the size of a farmed one).

So the recipe, to serve 8 (0r 6 hungry, drunk, footie fans!)

2 1.5-2kg Farmed Rabbits, skinned an jointed, fat and offal reserved
800mls of Aspal Cider
500g of small shallots, peeled
1/2 bunch of tarragon
2 tbspns of wholegrain mustard
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dumplings:
115g of self raising flour
115g of fresh white breadcrumbs
115g of suet
2 eggs
1/2 bunch of Tarragon, chopped
Again, salt and freshly milled black pepper

Heat some olive oil (a few tbspns) in a large, heavy pan, add the reserved rabbit fat and brown, then add the pieces of jointed rabbit, brown and add the meat to a casserole, now brown the shallots and then the reserved rabbit offal, then add them to the same casserole, add the 1/2 bunch of tarragon and cover with the Aspal Cider, stir in the wholegrain mustard and season, bring to the simmer and cook very gently for 30 minutes on top of the stove.
Meanwhile make the dumplings by putting the flour, breadcrumbs, suet and chopped tarragon in a large mixing bowl, mix thoroughly and then make a well in the centre. Beat the eggs with a folk and pour half into the well, mix with a folk, to form a dry dough, then add the remaining eggs, season and its ''get your hands dirty time'', combine well with your fingers, but do not knead to much!
divide the mixture into 12 dumplings, and add them to the top off the casserole, which now goes into a pre heated oven, at 180, GM 6, and cook, lid off, so as to form a lovely crust to the dumpling's, for a further 25 minutes, allow to rest for 20 minutes, rested food always taste better! And serve! Ideally with peas and lettuce, and baby carrots with chopped curly parsley ( see the connection, Rabbit, lettuce and carrots)!

Friday 11 June 2010

The Great Guinea Pig Adventure!

Now this post may offend a few people, and I might get beaten up or my house petrol bombed by Greenpeace, but it was all for the love of my art!
Anyhow, a few months ago I visited Ecuador with my Misses (shes from there), and when her Dad found out that I was a chef, he was eager to introduce me to Ecuador's National dish, the food of Ecuador is not up to much, and to be honest, neither is its national dish, well texture and flavour wise anyhow, so what is Ecuador's national dish..... Guinea Pig!!!!!!!!!!
So we visited a market one morning, in the capital, Quito, the markets in Ecuador are amazing, each stall, well I stay stall, more of a blanket on the ground, sells more or less the same fruit and vegetables, as the produce is all organic and is local and harvested from the nearby jungle or mountain! On sale are allot of beans, corn, onions, tomatoes and loads of fruit, papaya, melon, pineapple, etc, etc.
As we delve deeper into the market, through the hustle and bustle, I hear a cute squeaking sound, it gets louder and louder, and then suddenly I spot a fat old ladie with rotten teeth, with a large basket on the ground next to here, my misses dad and the old ladie exchange words, then he gives here a $5 note, she gives him an evil look and mumbles under her breath, he never pays the going rate for anything! Then she pulls the cloth covering her basket to one side, then hands him a live, cute, cuddly Guinea Pig! Then another! He slips them into a yellow sack, then grins, and we follow him back to his car, the yellow sack gets slung into the boot, then we all jump in the car and drive home!
when we arrive home, he gets the yellow sack from the boot of his car and we all follow him into the kitchen, where he unties the sack, and grabs a guinea pig by the scruff of its neck, by this time I am feeling a bit uneasy, as I have seen a few animals killed, a few fish whilst on a sea fishing trip, and the odd chicken, but not an animal that my little sisters used to keep as pets!
So to the slaughter...I found this a bit cruel, but I was in another country and this way of killing an animal has been performed for 100's, probably 1000's of years in Ecuador, which doesn't make it right but it is part of there culture and I am sure that there are things that an Ecuadorian would disagree with if he came to England, like flying food in from all over the world or the amount of fast food restaurants about, binge drinking, etc! I'm trying to put things into perspective.
So the head of the animal is held between the palms of both hands, then squeezed so the teeth crush its brain, it seems to die instantly, then the next guinea pig is killed the same way.
the next step is to blanch the animal in boiling water, then pluck its fur, again, this made me feel a bit uneasy, then the animal is gutted, washed under cold water and rubbed with a mixture of chopped garlic, salt and pepper, then it is put on a spit and grilled over charcoal for an hour or so.
The proof is in the eating......So I take my seat at the table, the rest of the family are really excited about eating guinea pig, it is a real treat for them, they only eat it once a year on really special occasionns apparently.
So I am first up, I am handed a small plate, with a whole guinea pig on it, legs hanging over the side of the plate, it looks like a small suckling pig! So I take my first mouthfull, well quatre of a mouthfull, with the whole family looking at me, mmmmm, I say, this is really nice, everybody looks relieved, and they all dig in themselves.
If I'm honest, it was a great experience, I will try anything once, but there isn't really that much meat on a guinea pig, thankfully, and it kind of tasted like bland chicken (don't so many things), it just didn't feel right eating a childs pet!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

4 doubles and an early!

Been really busy at work this week, since returning from the New Forest last Friday I have worked 4 doubles and an early! We are short staffed at the moment (aren't all kitchens), so we have all been putting the hours in! Today Beyonce and JZ were in for lunch, they arrived at 3.30 (even though last orders is 2.30, but much to the chefs dispare we stayed open....I don't give a fuck who they are, etc, etc and more etc), and when they arrived the whole restaurant sat gazing at them! Last night Ronnie Wood was also in, on a table with 4 hot 20 year old chicks! Rock 'n' Roll! Anyway, gotta dash, cos I got to be at work at 8.30, and its 3.30 now!

Friday 4 June 2010

The World famous Mrs.Tee.

More wild Mushrooms.

Whilst in the New Forest we also found some wild oyster mushrooms, which although I regually use Oyster Mushrooms I have never actually used the wild variety, I have only ever seen the cultivated kind from China!
We also came across another mushroom I have not used in the past, Chicken Of The Wood, according to Mrs.Tee, it tastes, looks and smells like chicken, once cooked!
I cant really say that it looks like any chicken that I have ever served!

Mrs. Tee also sells Perigord Truffles, this bad boy was being sent to London for £114! £1400 a Kilo!

Wild wood Sorrell, found in the New Forest, sells for £80 a Kilo!

Here is some amazing wood sorrell that I found in the New Forest, we used to use it on a Ballotine of Salmon dish we served at Mirabelle, it has a kind of refreshing, bitter, lemon taste, similar to Sorrell, but not quite as harsh, it makes a brilliant garnish as it looks really attractive.

Hunter Gathering with Mrs.tee.

I have just returned from my trip to the New Forest, I spent a few days in the company of Mrs. Tee, she is a legend in the food industry, anything there is to know about mushrooms, she already knows it. She has been selling wild mushrooms to Le Gavroche for 36 years! he customers now include Nobu, Aubergine, Fortnum and Mason, The Dorchester, and the list goes on and on.
I have never met anyone so dedicated to anything in my life, sure, alot of people are really passionate in my industry, we work long hours, and make alot of commitments for our art, but Mrs. Tee is 68, she walks through the new forest each day, searching for wild mushrooms, wild garlic or anything else that a top London restaurant would put on their menu, then she drives home, calls each one of her customers, letting them know what she has foraged, then cleans, costs and packs her mushrooms onto a her van, where her driver will deliver the goods in the early hours of the following morning! She does this each day, and constantly with a smile on her face! she kind of feels a strange connection with them, when we were in the forest it was almost like she knew where the mushrooms would be, ''this way, come on now, no no, not over there, you wouldn't find anything over there''!
Mrs. Tee also stands out for another reason, she is the only person in the whole of the UK to have a licence to pick and sell wild mushrooms, of any kind, at any time and of any amount, the general public are only allowed to pick up to 1.5 kg, and only for self consumption, but after 32 court appearances, £100 000 of tax payers money and 31 years, Big Brother finally gave into this persistant German lady,and let her do what she loves, just picking mushrooms!