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Royal China, Queensway

I seem to have got out of the way of meeting friends for tea and cake once a week and developed an obsession with Asian food and jasmine tea instead. After whetting my appetite at Pacific Plaza the other week, I’ve been craving dim sum daily. Eventually I gave in to these urges and went to visit the highly esteemed Royal China on Queensway for some of the best dumplings in town. Read more

Pork Shank

 

Finished dish

Finished dish

Yesterday I found myself in a branch of Morrisons in search of their Ten Pound Pimms’ offer. Sadly Camberwell was very lacking in refreshing summer beverages, but managed to redeem itself with an abundance of delicious pork products. I resisted the temptation to stock up on pork dripping and bacon ends, but I did succumb to a splendid looking pork shank.

I’ve never seen one of these before, either to buy or on a gastro-pub menu, despite the ubiquitousness of the lamb shank, but the price made me look again. Just over £2 for a kilo or so of shank appealed to my currently lean finances (even if I’m probably going to hell for buying intensively reared meat.) The label suggested roasting it and even at the counter my mind wandered to making something wholesome and hearty with Puy lentils…

Back home, I turned my attention to my cookbooks for a little bit more information on cooking the shank, but found them all somewhat lacking. Google was next up and it also offered surprising little in the way of advice, especially as there seemed to be no distinction drawn between pork shank and ham shank. Having established that as mine was actually pork, so I didn’t need to soak it, I realised that most of the braising recipes required a slow cooker or a tonne of ingredients I didn’t have. I decided to go with what the label suggested and keep it simple!

After leaving the shank out all afternoon to come to room temperature and dry the skin out, I seasoned it and sealed it in a casserole with a bit of olive oil until the skin started to colour nicely. Since I wasn’t planning on eating the skin, I didn’t attempt to get to crackling proportions. I then softened an onion and several whole cloves of garlic in the remaining oil, before adding some home grown sage and oregano and a few cupfuls of gorgeous glistening green Puy lentils. I added a good glug of homemade chicken stock, topping up with water until the lentils were well covered and plonked the pork back on top. Lid on, the whole thing went into a oven at 190˚.

Two and a half hours later, I opened the lid of the casserole to pork and legume heaven. The meat was soft and tender and easy to carve. But the lentils were the star of this show. Shot through sweet morsels of caramelised onion and hints of garlic and rich with pork juices and chicken stock, these were so good I could happily have climbed into the casserole and bathed in these beauties to get maximum enjoyment. Even if I had made twice the amount, I still wouldn’t have made enough of them…

As it was, I have enough lentils for 3 portions and enough pork for about the same, plus a bone to try making more stock or flavouring another dish, making this combo both delicious and economic. I’d like to try making it again with more ethically raised pork as it would make me feel less guilty and would probably be more tasty as well! I highly recommend picking up a pork shank if you happened to be in a Morrisons or a decent butcher. The knobbly wobbly bits of the animal often excel themselves and this cut is no exception!

Ba Shan: Sichuan tastes for a peppercorn rent…

I make it a slightly gluttonous habit to meet friends once a week for tea and cake. This is often preceeded by a dose of culture to make me feel more cosmopolitan. This week’s destination was The Ministry of Food at the Imperial War Museum to get a taste of rationing during the Second World War. Slightly despondant after the thought of Woolton Pie and the reliance on margarine seen at the exhibition, we left in search of cake made with real egg at Konditor & Cook at the Curzon Soho.

Yet somehow we found ourselves turning off Shaftesbury Avenue and onto Romilly Street and straight in Ba Shan, seeking little meaty dumplings and jasmine tea instead. I’m not quite sure how this change of carb craving took place so quickly, but I am very very glad that it did…

Ba Shan is lovely inside, all sleek dark wood and surprisingly airy with well sized tables that just cry out to be piled high with plates and dishes of deliciousness. It specialises in Sichuan cuisine like its sister restaurants Bar Shu and Baozi Inn along with the less oil-infused but equally spicy Hunanese cuisine and if either of those are anything to by, we were in for a real treat of spicy porky goodness like no other.

We were momentarily taken aback by the enormous gaudy menus with their slightly lurid photos of all the dishes. It seemed more in keeping with the all you can eat buffets near Leicester Square tube, but a craving for soft juicy dumplings overtook us and we got choosing. Ba Shan offers both full sized dishes and more dim sum-esque small eats on the menu at all times and it was the small eats that tempted us since you can try more that way.

First choice were the irrestistable sounding Shaanxi flatbread sandwiches or jia mo stuffed with stewed pork. I’ve never seen bread in a Chinese restaurant before and I was eager to see what the texture and taste would be like. Our dumpling craving was sated by the choice of both potstickers and boiled dumplings stuffed with minced pork. An attempt to eat some of our five a day was filled by the exquisite sounding potato slivers with chili and Sichuan pepper and dry fried green beans. The hint of spice and the cleansing jasmine tea we ordered with it were just the ticket for the heat of the day outside.

Our jia mo flatbread sandwiches arrived quickly and comprised soft, chewy slightly sweet bread like a thicker version of pitta bread well filled with tender stewed pork and crisp crunchy lettuce. They were terrific, the sweetness of the meat and bread working perfectly together in flavour and texture. The compact size stopped them from being too heavy and I could have eaten twice as many of them as we’d ordered. I want someone to open a jia mo stall somewhere so I can gorge on these regularly!

Next up were the potstickers. Crisp and fried on the top with the crust just waiting to be shattered to expose the soft succulent dumpling beneath stuffed with minced pork and herbs, they provided excellent mouth feel with the contrast of crunch and juiciness. We had the plate emptied in a trice and were very happy to see the dumpling love continue with our boiled pork numbers arrive soon after.

These were accompanied with the potato slivers and the dry fried green beans, making an excellent main course of sorts. The unbelievably fresh slivers of blanched potato with the aromatic kick of dried chili and heavily scented Sichuan peppercorns enlivened the slightly stodgy meaty dumplings perfectly while the dry fried beans had real umami flavour thanks to the finely minced salted pork cooked through them. We felt smug that we had ordered so well. But if you don’t eat pork, Ba Shan wouldn’t be so easy to navigate!

Greed got the better of me when I used my improved chopstick skills to snaffle up the last few slivers of potato and bit into a Sichuan peppercorn. This was my first experience of these little firecrackers and to say they took me by surprise would be an understatement. My tongue spent the next five minutes going numb and yet fizzing like I’d mainlined popping candy by the handful in a strangely enjoyable fashion.

I think that stray peppercorn and Ba Shan have given me the Sichuan bug. I can’t wait to come back and try some of the main dishes  such as the spiced tripe and the stewed ducks’ tongues for more savoury spicy fun very soon. Our dishes were the perfect amount for a late lunch and while I have no idea how much them came to thanks to my most generous friend who insisted it be her treat, everything seemed reasonably priced on the menu. Calm and unhurried service, along with mouthwatering food, make Ba Shan feel like a real treat in Chinatown.

Chorizo Colombiano

After our epic Colombian lunch the other day, Mister North and I did eventually manage to work up an appetite again and turned our attention to the stunning chorizo Colombiano we had already picked up from Carniceria butcher in Brixton Village.

Chorizo Colombiano is less like the cured Spanish product and more like the great British banger, featuring raw chopped pork, garlic and coriander in a casing. It varies from our sausage in size, looking big and plump enough to use as a draught excluder in a pinch! Slightly greedily we bought 4 of these meaty beauties for a mere £3.60 and decided to make a slow cooked stew with them.

Having been reading the extremely comprehensive The Art of South American Cooking by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi earlier in the week, we agreed that the stew needed long slow cooking, robust flavours and some heat behind it. We bought some black beans and scotch bonnet peppers at the market and decided to make the rest of it up as we went along!

This primarily involved sauteeing a red onion and some scallions over a high heat before adding two of the sausages chopped into chunks along with some chopped carrots and potatoes to brown slightly. Meanwhile we blitzed two scotch bonnets, 3 or 4 cloves or garlic and a good dollop of green seasoning in the hand blender to make a piquant paste which was then used to coat the meat and vegetables as they softened.

Once everything was gently softened, we added a tin of black beans and some liquid with a portion of my homemade home grown slow roasted tomato sauce and a glass or two of water before popping the Le Cresuet in the oven at 140˚C and going out to drink mojitos for an hour or two…

When we came back, the whole flat smelled amazing. On closer inspection the stew had thickened up beautifully as the sauce had reduced and the sausages had broken down to a texture similar to coarse mince rather than remained in chunks. We took the lid off the casserole pot and popped the stew back in for another hour or so to allow the flavours to mingle and mellow nicely.

Kicking ourselves that we hadn’t gone the whole hog and got some quinoa to go with the stew, we opted to serve the stew as it as was without a carb on the side to get the full flavours. And what flavours they were! The sausages were rich and toothsome with a good flavour of garlic throughout while the sauce had a sweet fruity undertone from the tomatoes and the scotch bonnet peppers coming together in a tantalisingly tingle of heat in the mouth. The whole dish was just packed with flavour and texture and was the perfect one pot dish.

We used two of the sausages and got two good portions of the stew each from it, albeit bulked out slightly with rice or couscous on the second night, making this one of the best value meals I’ve had in a while! Despite this frugality, this was a stew that you could serve to anyone for dinner with pride. Simple, hearty and flavoursome; when stew is this good it almost makes me glad the weather is still so miserable so I can indulge in a warming bowful for longer!