Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Rhubarb Triangle 1: Hot and Sour Soup With Chicken and Rhubarb

50 Shades of Rhubarb

I live in West Yorkshire, in the heart (actually, it's really more of an apex) of The Rhubarb Triangle, so called because they grow arguably the world's best forced rhubarb here which comes into season in February, around the time I'm writing this blog entry. We are so proud of it in these parts that weeven have an entire festival dedicated to it. You see, although we might not have much to be proud of, what we are proud of will fuck up your kidneys and kill you if you eat the wrong bit (how fucking Northern is that?). OK, so rhubarb's not got the risk of fugu, but it's still fucking great to eat: long, deep pink stems with a unique tartness.

It's a traditional British thing to have your rhubarb in sweet dishes, like rhubarb crumble for example, but if you've read much of this blog you'll know that's not my style. Where's the spice, the chilli, the fucking profanity in that? No, I decided to get some rhubarb at the Festival and do my own sweary rhubarb triangle of three recipes, starting with this hot and sour soup. It's an Asian-based dish that I'm adding a bit of northern grit to*. Stick this one up your arse, Jamie! Fusion recipes? I shit 'em!

Hot and sour is one of the common soups you get from your average local Chinese takeaway in the UK, though usually in the UK the version we get is about as authentically Chinese as the late, great Christopher Lee yellowing up to play Fu Manchu (yes, this actually happened, for five films in the 60s). It's a great dish all the same, and you can put just about anything in it. So much so, in fact, that you do wonder if, sometimes, the less ethical establishments might gather the ingredients from the sweepings of the floor round where they prepare their food. Anyway, the point is that the throw-together nature of hot and sour soup, along with the sourness that gives it its name and the touch of sweetness it has, means that it really does suit the tart flavour of rhubarb really well.

Preparation: 10-15 minutes chopping plus1 hour to prepare the stock base
Cooking: 30 minutes

Stock base
2 litres water
3 or 4 chicken thighs with bone in
1 thumb-sized lump of root ginger,
1 stick of celery
half an onion, quartered
4 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 tsp whole black pepper corns

1 tbsp vegetable oil 
1 carrot cut into julienne strips
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
100g mushrooms, sliced
3 or 4 spring onions, sliced
2 stalks of rhubarb, leaves removed and thinly sliced
2 red chillies, finely chopped (including seeds)
4 tbsp vinegar
5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornflour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Vegies chopped
(clockwise from top left: ginger, mushrooms, spring onions, red chilli, rhubarb, carrot.
Oh, and that's my favourite knife at the top of the chopping board)

Put the water in a big pan and start heating it on the hob.

Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken thighs and throw this and the thighs they came from into the pan, along with the other stock ingredients.

Heat to a rolling boil, cover and simmer for 60 minutes.

Remove the skinless thighs and shred the meat off the bones and set it aside.

Strain the stock and return it to the big pan.

In a small pan heat the vegetable oil then add the garlic, ginger and carrot to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the mushroom and cooking gently for a further 2.

Add the sauteed ginger, carrot, garlic and mushrooms, as well as the spring onions, rhubarb and chillies to the stock and allow to mix for a couple of minutes.

If only pictures had smells

Add the rest of the ingredients, apart from the cornflour and egg, to the pan and allow it to simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.

Add a little water to the cornflour in a cup and mix into a thin paste. Pour into the soup, stirring constantly.

Stir the soup so it swirls and dribble the beaten egg into the pan to make thin strands of cooked egg as it meets the boiling broth.

Serve up and enjoy. This made enough to make at least 5 hearty lunches or is a good starter for 6 people.

*Despite being regarded as Northern as cloth caps and whippets, rhubarb actually originates in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for literally thousands of year so, technically, this isn't actually a fusion recipe at all. It took the West a further couple of millenia to get to the stage of civilisation where we had developed custard in order that we could claim rhubarb as our own.

Where I mention "julienne strips" for the carrots, it's another wanky foody word for "matchstick sized pieces".

The vinegar used in this recipe would traditionally be rice vinegar if it was an authentic Chinese soup. I've never bought any rice vinegar in my life and wouldn't know what it looked or tasted like even if someone rectally assaulted me with a bottle of it. I'd usually use white wine or maybe cider vinegar instead. However, in the instance I wrote up for this blog I discovered, after buying the rest of the ingredients for the soup that I needed, that I'd ran out of wine vinegar and had to make do with some white pickling vinegar I had in the store cupboard. The soup still tasted fucking great so it's not that critical what form your acetic acid comes in. I'd probably draw the line at malt vinegar, mind and balsamic vinegar probably wouldn't work nor be worth the expense. The same thing goes for the sherry. In an authentic version it would be rice wine. As my local supermarket is in Yorkshire and not Canton, a dry sherry is (apparently, according to the cookbooks) a suitable alternative.

The word rhubarb is apparently spoken repeatedly by background actors on TV as a non-descript word to show them talking without actually saying anything, much the same way that politicians do when they're evading questions, the vacuous twats.

I couldn't do a recipe about rhubarb without mentioning the fantastic silent comedy short by Eric Sykes from 1980 called "Rhubarb Rhubarb" which I've embedded below. It's hilarious and (assuming you appreciate the ethos of this blog) you won't regret watching it, though it has got nothing to do with food.

Look out for further rhubarb-related japery in the next two recipes of my Rhubarb Triangle

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Beef and Orange Tagine

I mentioned when I did a previous tagine recipe that I really have a problem with sweet fruit in savoury recipes. I then completely had an arse-about-face moment and subsequently wrote up recipes for pineapple sambal and pineapple fried rice. However, that doesn't count because the sambal is a relish and the rice is an accompaniment. My blog, my rules. And that same rule is getting bent just a little bit more now with this with its actual orange content. Well, at least it's not apricots, prunes or raisins that not only don't deserve a place in any dish, savoury or sweet, but actually ought to be projected into the heart of the fucking sun because they are the very stones from the devil's own infernal gall bladder.

Regular guest star of this blog, Rick Stein, usually twats on endlessly about how he's made such-and-such a dish for years, after being taught how to cook it when he was staying at a chateau in France or something. Another famous chef, Nigel Slater, also seems to only cook things that he ate as a child just how his Mum made it. Recipes all done and dusted, all ingredients bought and prepared. However, in sweary cooking, you sometimes have to busk it a little, or, in the words of Blackadder, "Needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle". I'd planned on cooking up a nice lamb tagine but, could I find any lamb in my local shops? Could I bollocks! I bought some beef and decided to improvise this and it turned out quite well.

Preparation 15-20 minutes
Cooking 3 hours

2tbsp olive oil
400g cubed stewing beef
1 medium to large onion, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
Zest and juice of one orange
1 courgette, sliced
2 large tsp ras-el-hanout
1 carrot, sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree
pinch saffron
250 ml water
1 chicken stock cube

 Heat the oil in a flame proof casserole dish or tagine on the hob.

Add the beef and brown before removing with a slotted spoon

Turn down the heat, add the onion and garlic to the pot and allow to sweat for 10 minutes.

Throw in the carrot and carry on frying gently for another 5 minutes

Add the courgette and ras-al-hanout for a minute return the meat to the dish then add the rest of the ingredients.

Mix well, replace the pot lid and put in an oven at 150 for three hours, checking every hour or so.

Add a little more water if the dish starts to get a bit dry.

Serve it up with something like couscous, with or without a nice Moroccan flat bread

As I said in my preamble, I had planned to make a lamb tagine but I couldn't get any lamb. I got beef and then figured orange would go well with beef and worked from there. This recipe may actually work OK with lamb but I've not tried it.

Ras-el-hanout is one of those wanky-sounding spice mixes that are listed in ingredients of recipes like this when they appear in the Grauniad. I'm reliably informed that this means "top of the shop" in Arabic because it contains the best ingredients they sell in the local spice shop. In actuality it's essentially a variation on a mild curry powder, with an emphasis on aromatic rather than hot spices It's not that different to garam masala (yes, I realise that is another wanky-sounding spice mix, but it's a little less obscure), though if you do use garam masala, this dish will taste a lot like your regular curries.

You could blend your own R-e-H and there are lots of suggestions of which spices to use online, though I bought some from my fave Asian supermarket Mullaco which I swear by. Actually, given the nature of my cooking style, I swear by pretty much fucking everything

Whilst I actually enjoyed this dish, Mrs Sweary thought it was perhaps had a little too much orange, so you might consider halving the amount of orange zest. On the other hand I suspect Mrs Sweary is actually one of the crows from the Kia-Ora advert below. It's actually quite difficult to believe something like this was not only acceptable on UK TV in the 80s, and yet seems to be remembered with some fondness today. It's actually more racist that a UKIP member's wet dream. Whatever, the point is my beef tagine with orange is too orangey for Mrs Sweary. It's just for me and my dog.

I'll be your dog
More offensive black stereotypes than you can shake a burning cross at. But, hey, it's just to sell juice

Admit it, this the first cooking blog that has used the word "vomits" that you have read.