Hot sour chicken shawarma

The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is one of my favourite things to do with a kilo of dead sheep. It’s rich and deep and tasty, and a great workaround for not having a rotating vertical spit. With its four hours of cooking time and day of marinating, however, what it is not is especially practical.

Chicken is a fuck of a lot quicker to cook, so here’s a rich, spicy, kebab-style dish that’s lightened out a bit to play nicely with chicken thighs and a more realistic timetable. You still need the long marinade, but the cooking’s much shorter. Oh, and the spices are remixed with an achari-influence to be kind of lighter and hot-sour.

Obviously, at this point, everything that would qualify it as shawarma has been reinterpreted, worked around, modified, or otherwise engineered out, leaving only a vague shell of the concept, an association in mind and palate. It’s the wrap of Theseus, if you will. And for those who quite rightly won’t, it’s a tasty thing to put in pita bread with a load of peppers and green bits.

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Garlic & ginger beef with pak choi

A combination of going out for Chinese on Friday, and some stubbornly-tough stewing steak cluttering up the fridge left me mulling over tenderizing techniques. Stir fried beef in restaurant Chinese food often seems oddly tender given a taste that implies one of the cheaper, tougher cuts. I was curious.

A little leafing through McGee, and some idle Googling suggest there’s little enough mystery. A blend of acidic marinades, beating the fuck out of it, cutting across the grain, and occasional freezing or additives seem to be largely responsible. Nonetheless, it seemed worth a go.

Acidic marinades break down the meat tissue, and McGee pointed me to ginger as another source of chemical assault. Cornflour seems hotly debated. Half the internet is convinced it’s just for thickening, the other that it has a softening effect. McGee is oddly silent on the subject, and it turns out I don’t own a Chinese cookbook with which to cross-reference. This is a troubling oversight.

In any case, I decided to just do everything I could think of and see what happened; then add garlic.

Ginger garlic beef with pak choi

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Barbecuing in the rain

Yesterday we decided to eat all the meats. Being a bank holiday weekend with the promise of rain, it seemed like the British thing to do. So we made ready.

I don’t have all the recipes for everything that was made, but here’s a run down:
  • Slow-smoked pork ribs
  • Slow-cooked brisket
  • Burnt ends
  • Pork burgers with garlic & Parmesan
  • Red cabbage coleslaw with garlic & tahini
  • Aioli-marinated aubergines
  • Double blue cheese dip
  • Skewers of prawns in lime & garlic
  • Miscellaneous grilled vegetables
  • The obligatory halloumui

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How I learned to stop worrying and love barbecue

A few days ago, one of the supplements in The Guardian did a little ‘Barbecues – For Or Against?’ piece that utterly failed to wow me. On the one hand there was the ‘Most barbecues are awful, but…’ argument, which had me sold on pretty much everything before the ‘but’. On the other was a few columns of socially contentious guff about burnt freezer sausages, liberally immolated offer accelerant-laced hell pits, and tended all the while by burly, topless men, fending off the nigh-indistinguishable feral dogs and children snapping at their ankles. I should say something pithy and sympathetic here really, mention my own council estate childhood rather than making me sound like a dreadful sneering twat. But I’m not going to.No, the barbecues I grew up with typified by the gormless, rather vacant confusion with which much of Britain seems to greet food.

Ok, so the Australian solution touted in the article made me throw up in my mouth a little, but there’s only so much parboiling that even a man who likes to cook Mexican can take. Back in Blighty, we take probably our most unusual, certainly our most unfamiliar and seasonally fragile means of cooking, and put it in the hands of a chef selected purely on the basis of body-mass, then scratch our big manly chins over the process of making fire, before liberally littering it with the worst produce available. My parents, bless them, had got a little further, but were wedged firmly in the eighties. Theirs was a land of skewered pork with a mushroom at the end, and oily mustard marinades which smoked like all hell.

It’s no huge surprise, then, that my reaction to an ebullient “Let’s barbecue stuff!” from Mr C (who is, after all, a broad-shouldered man with a beard) followed a rough trajectory from “Thrice-sodomised Moses, have I not put that shit behind me,” through to “Fine [sigh] but I want it in writing that you wont take your shirt off.” Three or four attempts later, all more or less untroubled by pasta salad, bare nipples, or gang violence, I’m ready to recant.

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