Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)

Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)

Have I mentioned how good Food Safari is? Every week Food Safari profiles a different national cuisine by going right to the source: the home cooks and local chefs who have been cooking it all of their lives. There's no manufactured slickness, it's just honest food by Australians from different backgrounds and it completely rocks. What makes it even better is the fact that 80% of the videos are available online. You could easily lose an evening on that website, and I recommend you do.

When I saw them make this red duck curry on the show, it didn't jump out at me as something I have to try. I love both duck and pineapple but rarely buy them, and lychees are hardly a kitchen staple. Then I went to the Star of Siam on Gouger St (it's a hell of a street) and ordered a serving of this curry that blew me away. It was the perfect Thai balance: the gravy was hot and salty, the fruits sweet and sour, and the duck juicy and tender. Once the restaurant's serving bowl was licked clean, I immediately ran out of the restaurant and dashed home to make this for myself.

Red curry paste

The curry recipe is a great one but I wasn't completely satisfied with the curry paste, it seemed to be missing something. I'm not sure what, but I'll find out and get back to you.

Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)

Ingredients:

  • 300g roast duck meat
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 3 tbsp red curry paste
  • 300ml coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp lychee juice1
  • 1.5 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 canned lychees
  • 8 small pieces of fresh pineapple2
  • 100g apple eggplants
  • 100g pea eggplants3
  • 1 long red chili, sliced finely
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 large handful of thai basil leaves

1. Cook the curry paste in peanut oil over a high heat for about 1 minute. Stir through about half of the coconut cream and cook, stirring, until oil begins to bead on the surface.
2. Add the lychee juice, fish sauce, lime juice, duck, lychees, pineapple, remaining coconut cream, and 1/4 a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplants and chili and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the eggplants still have a little bite.
3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the kaffir lime and basil leaves. Serve with steamed rice.

(1) Don't pull your hair out trying to find a bottle of lychee juice — it simply refers to the syrup that canned lychees come in.
(2) Fresh pineapple is important as it brings some necessary sourness that canned just doesn't have.
(3) If you can't find these (or apple eggplants, either), by all means substitute with some regular eggplant or zucchini.

How to make pies: Beef & guinness pie

Beef & guinness pie

It's tough writing a food blog when you're in a different hemisphere to 90% of your readers. While you guys drip with sweat I'm roasting chickens, and in a couple of months when you're covered in snow I'll be posting pictures of watermelon and lime smoothies photographed in the stark 7pm sunlight. But like a brave little steam engine, I push on nobly.

With winter in full swing here, I was feeling a distinct lack of pies. You know that feeling you get when you haven't had a pie in a while? The sweating, the nausea, the irritability and vague sense of paranoia? Classic pie withdrawal. The only cure: a good pie. Pot pies are great, but to achieve a state of true nirvana a hearty stew encased on all sides in buttery pasty — that is, a proper pie — tastes as good as it sounds. Can you tell I like pies?

While the recipe is for a beef & guinness pie, this entry is about pies in general. If you do everything from scratch it might take you an afternoon, but with pastry and stew in the freezer you can easily knock out a pie on a weeknight. There are 3 basic steps that you can read about after the jump: The pastry, the filling, and then bringing it all together.

Spice advice: Coriander seeds

Coriander seeds

For most Western cooks, European herbs and spices are manageable: if you don't like parsley you can leave it out, and pepper fans will add it to taste without batting an eyelid. The more 'exotic' spices, however, are another story. When a recipe calls for a mixture of these spices many will follow it unquestioningly, amassing a catalogue of recipes with very little understanding for what they're actually doing.

This might not be you, and perhaps I'm addressing it to the wrong crowd. However I know heaps of people who "love cooking Indian food" yet couldn't pick fenugreek out of a spice lineup. This is okay; we're not all obsessive about food, and with so many good recipes out there it's easy to make tasty meals from obscure spices. But that said, nothing's more freeing than having the confidence and experience to improvise.

With that in mind, I had a crazy idea: to profile all of my favourite spices over a series of posts. For each I'll try to describe how they taste, and give a recipe that showcases that ingredient's best qualities. It's ambitious and I make no promises about how far into this journey I'll get, but hopefully I can inspire you to experiment with spices and learn a thing or two myself. Here goes nothing.

No wait, here goes coriander seeds.

Thomas Keller's roast chicken

Thomas Keller's roast chicken

There was a question on Ask Metafilter last year calling for good recipes with the fewest possible ingredients. There's some great stuff there, but where's the roast chicken? Roast chicken is the ultimate basic meal. It's filling enough to be dinner, and served with some mustard and potatoes or crusty bread you've got a complete meal with only four ingredients.

As is always the case with such basic recipes, you simply can't get away with using low quality ingredients. I understand the budget-conscious mindset and will buy cheaper chicken if it's going into a heavily-flavoured curry, but for roasting you have to buy the best. Free range is a sign of quality, but if you can, ask a trusted butcher to help you choose.

There are loads of techniques out there from compound butters to multi-temperature roasts, but who'd have thought the most straightforward recipe would come from Thomas Keller? Not surprisingly, it's also the best. I'm sure that at Per Se and The French Laundry he roasts his chickens suspended mid-air in a pressure-controlled bunker exactly 154 meters below sea level, but for home cooks the Bouchon method is very accessible. It will smoke out a kitchen that isn't well-ventilated, but some carbon monoxide poisoning is worth it for the crispy golden skin and juicy flesh.

Thomas Keller's roast chicken

Ingredients:

  • One small/medium (900g-1.35kg) chicken
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp minced thyme

1. Preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF. Rinse the chicken inside and out, and dry well with paper towels. Sprinkle all over with the salt and black pepper.
2. Truss the chicken and roast in the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Test by piercing the thigh with a sharp knife — when cooked through, the juices will run clear.
3. Mix the thyme with the juices that have collected in the roasting pan, and baste the outside of the chicken with this. Rest for 15 minutes, then carve and serve.

Stuff white people like: Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Lucy and I were at an Indian festival a few years ago when we ran into an Indian fried from uni. When I mentioned that we were about to get something to eat, she looked at us and said, "Oh, you should get butter chicken. White people love butter chicken!" I felt vaguely offended at the stereotype, but when you think about it, white people kinda do love butter chicken. It's on the menu of every western Indian restaurant, and its close cousin tikka masala has been called England's national dish. If you ask me, the stereotype is accurate. I can say that, too — some of my best friends are white!

With such a popular dish, everyone has an opinion on how it's meant to be made. This recipe belongs to Alfred Prasad, the head chef of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Tamarind (that's how you know it's good). I first saw him teach a chef how to make it on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and a bit of googling turned up the recipe and an instructional video online. I find those videojug recipes dreadfully slow to watch, so I've reprinted the (slightly modified) recipe here and broken it down into its separate stages. Give it a go, you'll have white people falling to your feet in no time.

Spices for murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

The chicken

Ingredients:

  • 500g boneless chicken, cut into pieces
  • 50g ginger & garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients except the chicken together, then add the chicken and mix well to ensure it's completely coated with marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
2. Fire up your tandoor, or much more likely your oven grill/broiler. Spread out the chicken in one layer on a baking tray, and cook under the grill for 5-10 minutes until the outside is well browned (a bit blackened in parts is fine, encouraged even). Set the chicken aside for the final stage.

The sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 g/1-inch piece of ginger, peeled & sliced finely
  • 5 whole green chilies
  • 400 g canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (optional, add to taste or not at all)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), ground1
  • 50 g cashew nuts, ground in a blender/food processor with a little water to make a thick paste
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the oil to medium heat then add the cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and chillies and cook for another minute.
2. Add the tomatoes, chili powder (if using), honey, and tomato paste, 1/3 cup of water and cook for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes break down and thicken. Remove and discard the cardamon, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks and blend what's left until smooth.
3. Return the blended sauce to the pan and add the kasoori methi and cashew paste. Salt to taste and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Bringing it all together

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • The chicken made above
  • 25 g cashew nuts
  • The sauce made above
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 50 g butter

1. Melt the butter in a hot pan, then add the chicken and cashews and fry for 3 minutes. Cover with the sauce, the cream, and simmer together for 3 minutes.

Chicken and cashews for murgh makhani

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter which should melt into the sauce. Decorate with a drizzle of cream and serve.

(1) The easiest way to do this is in a mortar and pestle with some coarse salt. However it should be fine to add them whole.

This is not a bolognese

Spaghetti almost-bolognese

Only a fool would be stupid enough to lay claim to a "traditional" Italian recipe. In Sicily they kill you for saying that sort of thing, by way of old Italian women hitting you with rolling pins. Even in Italy, the idea of what's authentic changes from one kitchen to the next.

With that in mind, I make no claims that this is a traditional ragu alla bolognese. It's not served with fresh tagliatelle and it does contain tomato. If that offends your orthodox sensibilities, either cover your eyes or polish your pitchfork because you won't be happy with the anchovies or star anise. But isn't it possible that this wide world of food might just be big enough for more than one Italian meat sauce? Let's make a deal: I won't call this real bolognese, if you concede that science and the expertise of Heston Blumenthal (oh, only the man behind the best restaurant in the world) might possibly, you know, maybe, make for a recipe that isn't so bad?

If you can get past the big deviations from tradition and understand why they were made, you'll find that this recipe (based on Blumenthal's from the Times) really isn't so inauthentic. Consider this:

  1. When star anise is cooked with onions, a chemical reaction occurs producing a substance that enhances the 'meaty' flavour of a dish. It's true, Heston says so. It's effect isn't simply limited to beef either.

  2. Anchovies are rich in glutamate, which is umami central and the 'active ingredient' in MSG. Like any taste umami can be overpowering and unpleasant when used to excess, but used judiciously it boosts the flavour of savory food. In case there is anyone who doesn't know this yet: beyond the baseline expected rate of hypersensitivity to any ingested substance, glutamate or MSG is not bad for you.

  3. Pork makes everything better. If you are pork-averse, replace the pork with beef for veal mince but be sure to use a fattier cut like chuck. Bolognese is much more a meat sauce than a tomato sauce, so for this bolognese-inspired recipe use good quality meat. Because you're using tougher and less presentable braising cuts, even from best-quality animals it will still be pretty cheap.

  4. You can't make this when you get home from work and have it for dinner — this sauce takes at least 7 hours to cook. Thankfully most of that time is slow-cooking in the oven, so you can go and do something else. It tastes great freshly made, but even better the next day.

  5. Eat your sauce with whatever the hell you want to eat it with. The bolognese were definitely on to something pairing ragu alla bolognese with fresh tagliatelle, but spaghetti or rigatoni are a different and equally enjoyable alternative. Have it in a toasted sandwich with cheddar cheese, I don't care. This isn't about creating an authentic cultural experience, it's about making food you want to eat.

A recipe for food you want to eat is after the jump.

Showcasing green chilies: Thai green chicken curry

Green chicken curry

Did you know that chilies start out green before they go red? Like tomatoes? What's that, you did know? Because you're not an idiot? Oh. I didn't. In fact I so didn't know that, that I asked the lady at the garden shop for some red chilies because I felt I had enough green chilies. She laughed, kindly explained to me how chilies work, then patted me on the head and gave me something shiny to play with. It was all shiny and stuff, I enjoyed it immensely!

Despite overcoming that knowledge gap, I still don't have any red chilies. I go through so many green ones cooking Indian food that it's only the rare chili hidden away amongst foliage that gets a chance to turn red. Apparently green chilies, being the unripe fruit, have a less developed flavour and sweetness but more intense heat compared with the reds (is this true? Please correct me if I'm wrong). They aren't pure heat though, and do contribute their distinct flavour to a dish. In none other is this more obvious than green chicken curry, using a freshly-made Thai green curry paste.

Green chili

So what are you doing? Make some!

Wherein I forsake tradition: Beef & potato vindaloo with saffron rice

Beef & potato vindaloo with saffron rice

Time surges on, and now it's only two short weeks before Lucy's off to Japan. I cooked dinner for her relatives who were visiting Adelaide, and at her request: beef & potato vindaloo. I know, I know, vindaloo is made with pork. Even if it were made from meat other than pork, Indian Hindus would disapprove of beef. And despite the presence of "aloo" in the name, the dish traditionally doesn't contain potatoes either. But when traditional Indian cooking is leaving the country for a year, then I'll make it the way traditional Indian cooking likes it.

My Mum's side of the family are Portuguese-Indian from Goa, which would be an excellent launchpad to talking about how much this classic Goan dish means to me and my cultural identity. That stuff would kill. Unfortunately I've never actually had a proper vindaloo outside of a restaurant, so like most regular schmoes I used a recipe. Be careful when selecting a recipe — it shouldn't contain tomatoes, yoghurt, or god forbid, cream (really it shouldn't contain beef or potatoes, but that aside...). The recipe that I used (below) suited making it with beef and potato, but the best and most authentic vindaloo I've ever made was from this recipe on eGullet (pictorial here). Try both, you won't be disappointed.

Gateway pork: Chinese pulled pork belly

Pulled pork belly fried rice

I'd never get a job in a Chinese restaurant. Sure, I think I'd be a skilled and dedicated employee. I'd work well in a team but have the initiative to work independently, I'd be goal-oriented, and many other job interview clichés would also apply to me. But my biggest weakness wouldn't be perfectionism. No, it would be licking every surface that has come into contact with char siu pork. Fingers, knives, it doesn't matter. That sticky glaze is a drug.

There are plenty of good recipes around for char siu pork, most of them calling for pork shoulder, loin, or even neck. While all I had was pork belly which requires long, slow cooking, I wasn't about to go without the sweet, aromatic flavour of char siu. So like a crack pipe fashioned out of a used spark plug, I improvised this recipe for chinese pulled pork belly. You could eat this simply with rice, stuffed inside a pork bun, or as I had it above in fried rice.

Chinese pulled pork belly

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of chopped spring onion
  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp of shaoxing cooking wine
  • 2 tbsp of honey
  • 1.5 tsp of chinese 5 spice powder
  • 2 tsp of rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of peanut oil
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 800 gram piece of pork belly, skin removed

1. To make the marinade stir together all of the ingredients except the pork belly.
2. Pierce the pork belly all over with a metal skewer or the end of a sharp knife. Rub the marinade over the pork and leave in the fridge overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 140ºC/285ºF. Cook the pork belly with all of its marinade, covered, for 3-4 hours or until completely tender. If the marinade pooling in the baking dish looks like it's over-reduced and is going to burn, add a few more tablespoons of water.
4. Remove from the oven, and pull the meat apart in the baking dish with two forks. Stir to coat the meat in cooked marinade and return to the oven. Uncover, turn the heat up to 200ºC/395ºF and cook for around 15 minutes to start deeply caramelising the edges (watch it doesn't burn).

I think I'm eating Japanese: Oyako donburi

Oyako donburi

In a month my lovely taster will be off to Japan for a year, and to help prepare we wanted to learn how to cook Japanese food. Until this point my vague idea of Japanese food was crisp tempura, amazing fresh seafood, and carefully prepared sushi. Delicious, but not really feasible for simple weeknight meals. So what do Japanese people eat at home? As always eGullet had not just the answers but recipes and a bunch of enticing pictures. And so we decided to make oyako donburi.

With the confidence of a man who didn't just learn about what donburi is on wikipedia, let me teach you about this Japanese staple. Donburi refers to a style of Japanese one-bowl meal where a topping is served over rice in a large rice-bowl that itself is known as a donburi. Oyako-don is tasty, quick, and easy to make even without the traditional oyako nabe. The oyako nabe is a special pan with shallow sides, a vertical handle, and a lid that sits right on top of the food. I made do with a large saucepan and the smaller lid of a different pan, and although I felt deep shame for offending Japanese tradition, the food was great.

Oyako-don

Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

  • 1/2 cup of dashi
  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of mirin
  • 1/2 an onion, in thin slices
  • 200g of chicken breast/thigh, cut into strips
  • 2 eggs
  • A small handful of mitsuba1
  • 2 donburi of steamed rice

1. First make up the sauce. Combine the dashi, mirin, and soy in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer. Taste the sauce and adjust the dashi, mirin, and soy to taste.
2. When the sauce is simmering, add the sliced onion and simmer covered until tender. If it's drying out add a little more water. Add the chicken and simmer until just cooked through.
4. Very briefly whisk the eggs together — they should still look barely combined. Pour the egg mixture over the chicken and sauce, and place a smaller saucepan lid directly over the eggs to create a tiny little heat chamber to quickly cook the eggs for 1-2 minutes. The egg whites should be just set, with the yolks still runny.

Donburi

5. Serve over hot rice and scatter with mitsuba.

1. Mitsuba is also known as Cyptotaenia or Japanese Parsley, and has a fresh and slightly peppery taste. I was going to substitute watercress, but since mine wasn't looking so good I had to use rocket (arugula) instead — as much as the greenery helps the presentation, next time I'd leave the rocket out if that was all I had.