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Clay Pot Cookery; Asian Vegetables with Chinese Sausage

Clay Pot Cookery; Asian Vegetables with Chinese Sausage

 

Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.

Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.

Japanese donabe

Japanese donabe

I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.

A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are also porous and requires pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.

If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out this selection of Japanese donabes  (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.

When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once heated you can then raise the heat gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.

The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. Throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us! 

 

Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong       serves 4

  • 4 lop chcheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
  • 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
  • 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
  • hot stock to just cover ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
  • ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste

As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)

Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.

Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.

Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked  sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.

Check the level of the stock iwhich should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, and cook for another 30 minutes

Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.

Serving:

Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.

 

Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)

AJVAR: Balkan Roasted Red Pepper Relish

AJVAR: Balkan Roasted Red Pepper Relish

 

Ajvar is a traditional roasted sweet red bell pepper relish from the Balkan Peninsula with many regional variations. In the south eastern Balkans roasted eggplant is also included in the ajvar. Adding dried ground red chile is customary throughout the region although more as a flavor note than adding a discernible heat. Ajvar is slathered on local flat breads or served with grilled meats, sausages, fish, or just about any other application that strikes your fancy. It is a real favorite of mine and easy to prepare. Well… that is when flame roasting peppers and eggplants has become second nature. The roasting process is really not that difficult and a ritual I quite enjoy while taking in the intoxicating aroma of roasting peppers. That little extra effort turns out beautifully sweet and smoky flavored peppers and eggplants for a multitude of applications. Ajvar is very similar to an Eastern Mediterranean roasted red pepper Muhammara with walnuts and pomegranate which you also might like to try. (See recipe here)  It’s always a big hit when served with drinks.

Imported traditional Balkan Ajvar is available at some specialty food shops and online, but why not make your own with locally grown organic peppers. It really does make a difference and you are free to veer from tradition using various other vinegars and chilies. Try using a Jerez sherry vinegar and a smoked paprika paired with grilled Spanish sausages. It’s a flavor bite you will not forget!

 

Ajvar   makes about 3 cups

Ideally, make the Ajvar a day before you plan to use it. This allows the flavors to develop.

  • 3 large vine ripe red bell peppers, roasted
  • 2 to 3 small long eggplants, roasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons pure ground red chile powder

Blacken the red bell peppers and eggplant on an outdoor grill or over a gas flame on the stove top. For full instructions on flame roasting (click here) .

Once the peppers and eggplants are evenly charred and quite limp transfer them to a bowl and seal the top of the bowl with cling film and set aside.

Once the peppers and eggplants are cool enough to handle remove the charred skin and discard it.
 Note: Do not be tempted to peel off the charred skin under running water. It may seem like a good idea, but you will be rinsing away all the flavor you developed during the charring. Better to rinse your hands instead.
It is fine if there are some bits of charred skin left behind here and there. It will add a nice smoked flavor to the ajvar.

Open up the peppers and eggplants and remove the seeds and membranes and discard. This will reduce the volume of the eggplant considerably but you should still end up with about a cup of flesh.

Tear the peppers apart into bits and place them in the food processor or use a mortar and pestle if you want a truly authentic ajvar. Add the eggplant, garlic, and salt and pulse or grind until the mixture is broken down. Add the vinegar, ground pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and pulse or continue grinding until the mixture is to the texture you prefer, either coarse or quite smooth. Then stir is the ground red chile powder and pulse or mix until combined.

Taste and make any adjustments needed. Transfer the ajvar to a glass jar and add a little olive oil to just cover the surface. Seal the jar with the lid and refrigerate.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

 

Cashew Chicken is an American take on, or is it a take out of,  not  dissimilar regional chicken dishes found throughout China. There certainly are like dishes in Cantonese and Szechuan cooking (see recipe for Szechuan Gong Bao Chicken here). Whatever the version, cashew chicken has found popularity the world over. Always considered a reliably  safe bet for the unadventurous when faced with iffy Chinese food choices. Even here in Thailand cashew chicken is more often than not a numbed down version that is mild and palatable for farang (foreign) visitors. For Thais however it’s got to be a fiery cashew chicken spiked generously with chopped small green sky pointing chilies. Keep in mind the smaller the chilies the more intense their heat.  Locally grown cashews are added to the dish to somewhat tame the heat of the chilies. 

Of course the great popularity of Thai food rests on the extraordinary artistry of balancing opposing fiery, sweet, sour, savory, and salty flavors that literally tease the senses and ignite the taste buds in completely unexpected experiential ways. Not Unlike the Thai language, Thai cookery has its own unfamiliar and quirky flavor vocabulary, but once you have grasped the essentials the rest is an adventure in Thai cookery just waiting at your kitchen door.

Making the fiery Thai cashew chicken recipe that follows is relatively easy to prepare and uses many of the basic flavor combinations that reappear again and again in Thai cookery. Caution not required. Fire up those chilies for a lusty meal that will not disappoint.

 

Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken     serves 4

For the chicken:

ngredients Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

ingredients Fiery Thai Cashew Chicken

  • 1 kilo/2.2 pounds chicken thighs with skin on, deboned
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 large red shallots, quartered and thinly sliced
  • a 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
  • 4 large fresh Thai red chilies, halved, seeds removed, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and very finely minced
  • 1 cup lightly roasted cashew nuts
  • fresh Thai basil leaves (garnish)
  • fresh coriander leaves (garnish)thai chicken and Cashews 007 400pix 8 AMKT

For the sauce:

  • 2 ½ oz palm sugar (hard or soft) or light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 5 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 6-8 fiery small fresh Thai sky pointing chilies, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

 

Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and cut each thigh into 3 equal pieces and set aside.

Rather than discarding the bones place them in a large sauce pan. Add 1 small peeled and diced yellow onion and 4 whole fresh kaffir lime leaves. Fill the pan with water and bring to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients for the recipe. The liquid should be reduced by about a half. Pass the broth through a fine mesh strainer, discard the bones and lime leaves, and set the broth aside to use later.

Slice the onion and shallots and set them aside in a bowl. Likewise, julienne the ginger, mince the kaffir lime leaves, and slice the red chilies, setting each aside in separate bowls.

To prepare the sauce place the palm sugar in a small sauce pan with 2 tablespoons water. Place the pan over low heat and slowly melt the palm sugar until it is completely dissolved, caramel colored, and bubbling up. Take the pan off the heat and add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, and light soy sauce. Swirl the pan to combine the ingredients and put the pan back onto the heat. Add the sliced fiery chillies and swirl the pan. Once bubbling set aside to use later. Reheat the sauce to a boil and stir in the lime juice just before adding it to the chicken.

Heat the coconut or peanut oil in a large skillet set over medium high heat. When nearly smoking add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Promptly turn the chicken and cook another couple of minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter lined with paper towels and set aside to drain off excess fat.

Drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat from the skillet and return it to the heat. When the fat is hot add the onions and shallots and saute them until they are soft, about 3 minutes. Promptly add the ginger and the sliced red chillies and saute about 2 minute. Then add the minced kaffir lime leaves and stir to combine.

Promptly reheat the sauce and stir in the lime juice. Return the browned chicken to the skillet and toss with the other ingredients. Then pour the bubbling sauce over the chicken mixture in the skillet and toss the ingredients to evenly coat them with the sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes until the sauce is quite thick and sticky. Then add just enough chicken broth to reach the top of the chicken. Stir to combine and cook at a boil for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the cashew nuts. Mix the corn or tapioca starch with water and add to the bubbling chicken. Gently sir for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and glosses the chicken and cashews.

Serving

Transfer the Chicken with Cashews to a large platter. Garnish with fresh Thai Basil leaves and bunches of fresh coriander leaves. Serve with Thai Jasmine white or brown Rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.

Ham Loaf Supper

Ham Loaf Supper

 

I am still surprised when I offhandedly mention ham loaf to friends, even American friends, who more often than not look puzzled and ask “what is ham loaf?” I always just assumed ham loaf was standard American fare, but I have been duly enlightened.

In actuality ham loaf’s roots reach back to various German speaking religious groups, including Amish and Mennonite farmers, who emigrated to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe. They, as farmers, chose to settle in Southeastern Pennsylvania with its rich fertile soil that was ideal for their old world farming methods. The area became known as Pennsylvania (Deitsch) Dutch country which is where I grew up. These pristine family farms have been passed down for generations so a good bit of the rural countryside has remained, thankfully, mostly untouched by modernization.

Pennsylvania Dutch cooks have probably been making versions of ham loaf for a couple of centuries. The recipes have been passed down and have remained pretty much unchanged over the years judging from recipes I have looked at. The recipe here I found in one of my mother’s handwritten recipe notebooks to which I have added a couple of  optional seasonings. The resulting ham loaf is every bit as comforting and scrumptious today as it was when we were kids back in Lancaster county.

Typically in Pennsylvania farm communities the big meal of the day is still served family style around noon during the busy summer months. Ham loaf would most likely be served along with several homegrown vegetables and potatoes  freshly plucked out of the garden. Nothing fancy mind you, just a beautifully fresh and hearty meal that mirrors the balance of a considered way of life.

As pictured, the ham loaf is served with steamed young Brussels’s sprouts, including the outer leaves, spritzed with  olive oil and lemon juice. Boiled potatoes are tossed with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. The horseradish cream is my own choice for an accompaniment as horseradish is also locally grown in Lancaster county and adds a refreshing flavor note.

 

Ham Loaf      serves 6

Equipment: 1 loaf pan: approximately 10” x 6” x 3”

  • 1 ¼ pounds ground ham
  • 1 ¾ pounds ground pork
  • 1 cup finely diced onions
  • 2 finely minced garlic cloves
  • 1 cup tomato sauce ( pureed tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or sage leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder (optional)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • milk to soak bread crumbs
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 3 bay leaves (optional

Glaze:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard powder
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water

It is best to marinate the seasoned ham and pork mixture overnight to develop flavor.

In a large bowl combine the ham, pork, onions, garlic, 1/3 cup tomato sauce, thyme or sage, marjoram, ground clove, 1 teaspoon salt or more to your own taste, pepper, and chile powder if using. Knead the mixture with you hands until the ingredients are well combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.

The following day remove the ham pork mixture from the fridge. Briefly soak the breadcrumbs in milk. Squeeze out the excess milk from the breadcrumbs and add them to the ham pork mixture.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add to the ham pork mixture. Using your hands kneed the mixture to completely incorporate the breadcrumbs and eggs into the ham pork mixture.

Lightly oil the loaf pan and fill it with the ham loaf mixture evenly without overly compressing the meat into the pan. If the meat is too firmly packed the meat will tend to be dense and rubbery rather than soft and tender when cooked. Press bay leaves into the top surface and set aside for baking.

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

While the oven is heating you can prepare the glaze for the ham loaf

Combine the brown sugar, mustard powder, cider vinegar, and water in a small stainless saucepan. Set the pan over medium low heat and bring the mixture to a boil while stirring. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook a couple of minutes until the glaze thickens slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Brush the top of the ham loaf with the glaze and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

Open the oven door and glaze the top of the loaf again and bake for another 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes remove the loaf from the oven and once again glaze the top of the loaf. You will notice the loaf has separated from the sides of the loaf pan leaving a small gap. Spoon tomato sauce (puree) into the gaps around the loaf until nearly filled. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.Remove the ham loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Keep in mind you do not want to over bake the loaf as it will tend to dry out! 

Once the loaf is cool enough to handle, pour out excess liquid in the loaf pan into a small bowl and set aside. Run a knife around the edges of the loaf. Place a sheet of parchment over the loaf and invert the pan onto a cutting board. If the loaf is sticking a bit, grip both the cutting board and the pan together and give the pan a firm downward thrust. This should release the loaf.

Once the loaf is released, place a serving platter over the loaf. While gripping both the cutting board and the platter together, turn the loaf upright. Remove the parchment and discard.

Serving

Slice the ham loaf into generous portions crosswise. Spoon reserved pan juices over the slices of ham loaf and serve along with horseradish cream at the table.

Horseradish cream

  •  ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard (Dijon)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh prepared horseradish

Combine all the ingredients in a stainless bowl and whip until combined and smooth.. Chill until serving time.

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