Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Happy ThanksGiving!

Wishing all my American readers a very Happy ThanksGiving holiday!  Here is a small gift from our very own Stephen Fry:

Heheheh! Have a wonderful holiday! :-)

Winter cooking part 1: Chinese style cured meats ( 臘腸/臘肉) .

Back to the important matter of food!  :-)

Historically a luxury food item, cured meats  is traditionally prepared at the beginning of November in time for the coming winter.  They provide a wonderfully tasty addition to an evening meal and are highly nutritious.  Traditionally made using pork, (although duck and turkey have also been used) lap cheung and lap yuk were viewed as such treats that you could really only have it at New Year!  Now, the cuts of meat are easier and cheaper to come by. 
Lap yuk (肉) being hung to dry

There are two types that we prepare: cured sausages (臘腸 - lap cheung) and streaky belly pork strips ( - lap yuk).

To prepare lap yuk, you need pork belly strips.  These you can find in your local butchers and supermarkets (remember to shop local!)  Make sure that there is a generous layer of fat on the strips, as this is what gives it moistness and flavour.

For lap cheung, find a cheap cut of pork.  We used pork shoulder joints.  Again, make sure this comes with a generous layer of fat.

To prepare the sausages, you need to separate the fat from the meat of the shoulder joint and then chop these into small pieces.  You then need to marinade the meat in alcohol - a lot of alcohol.  A favourite type to use is Chinese rose liqueur (玫瑰 - mui kwe lo) that provides the fragrance of rose petals but no sweetness.  This can be expensive though, and you can also use others.  We used a cheap brand of gin, the most of one litre.  Allow the meat to absorb the alcohol for at least two hours before adding the rest of the mixture: soy sauce (a lot of this), dark soy sauce (for colour), sugar and a little bit of salt.  Allow this to marinade for at least 24 hours.  To the fat, you need to add a small quantity of alcohol first and allow this absorb in, same as the meat, before adding a generous amount of sugar and a little bit of salt.  The sugar is essential in making the fat hard and crunchy, thus adding texture. 

Pork meat and fat mixed together to make lap cheung (臘腸)

Marinade the meat and fat separately for at least a day before mixing the two together.   Leave for another two hours before putting through a meat grinder and into sausage casing.  Segment the sausages by twisting the casing.  Inbetween the twists you can use string to tie and handle the sausages.  Using a needle, prick plenty of holes into the sausage, as this will allow air to enter and help the drying process.  In a wok, or big pan of boiling water, pass the sausages through the water to shock and shrink the meat and casing.  Then find a place to allow them to hang and dry for a few days.  In a commercial premises they would have rooms especially for this.  We used a long beam supported on two radiator hanging brackets in the kitchen.  The heat from the radiator will speed up the drying process.  You will of course need something to cover the floor underneath!

 Meat/fat mixture being put through meat grinder into sausage casings

Sausages ready to be hung for drying (note: the sausages we made are alot thicker than the traditional ones but that is because we couldn't find sausage casings thin enough! This is British-Chinese Lap Cheung!!!)

With lap yuk, it is essentially the same thing, except you don't separate the fat from the meat.  You marinade the belly slices in the same way as with lap cheung, pass them through hot water and find a way to hang them - we have home-made hooks for this made out of wire.  

Once the meat or sausages are dry you can dry them a little further in a small compartment to force the flavour out.  The best temperature for this is at 50 degrees celsius.  We used an empty tin biscuit box and the oven.  Dry the meat for several hours.

Afterwards, without opening the box, allow the meat to cool.  This is then ready for immediate cooking or freeze storage.  You can serve lap cheung or lap yuk sliced up on its own, or chop it up and stir fry it with green vegetables.  You can also keep chopped up pieces of pre-cooked, dried lap yuk soaked in Vietnamese fish sauce that has been boiled and cooled - when needed you can take out and steam the meat, and serve with rice (note: the meat must be completely dry before putting in to soak; otherwise it will become moldy).

A favourite and famous way to serve is with sticky rice (糯米 - lap mei lor mai fan) where the lap cheung or lap yuk is chopped into small pieces along with Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps and shallots, stir fried and then added to cooked sticky rice.  This can be served with sprigs of coriander and chopped peanuts.

Lap Cheung served with sticky rice (糯米 - lap mei lor mai fan)

Another winter treat involving lap cheung is steamed white raddish cake (糕 - lor bac go)!  I will write about this next time!    

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Support your local businesses on Small Business Saturday - UK 7th December

Here in the UK there is a grass-roots campaign going on that I would like to tell you about - Small Business Saturday.  From the internet I see that this is being derived from a very successful campaign that was held in the US, so I am sure readers based in America will be familiar with this:

From the 7th of December - two weeks from now - a nationwide campaign will start, focusing on bringing small businesses to the attention of the public.  Small to medium size businesses in the UK generate almost half of the private sector's turnover and provides two thirds of private sector employment.  However, with competition from the high street, the internet, supermarket convenience stores as well as the rising cost of supplies, bills and rent, small businesses are in danger of being wiped out from our towns, cities and communities.  Small Business Saturday is the key to fighting back and a chance for small, independent businesses to receive the recognition that they deserve.

Over the years I have seen drastic changes happening to the shops in my local area.  Slowly but surely, independent businesses like the local grocery shop, the tailor, the general store, the cafe, the florist and the baker began to disappear.  Very close to me, a small business set up seven months ago already has its shutters down and a "To Let" sign by its top window.

The decline of independent shops and small businesses fuels the presence of betting shops, pawn brokers and pay-day-lenders.  Skills, liveihoods and the prospect of jobs in the area are a struggle to retain due to lack of diversity, lack of identity and lack of local economic interest.  It is a very, very sad state of affairs.  Hopefully now, things can change.

I believe that this campaign can make a huge difference to the fortunes of small independent businesses and have a positive impact on the communities where they are based.  I hope that if you are reading this that you are encouraged to take part.  On Saturday 7th of December, please do go out into town and visit independent shops in your area - some of them will running special discounts for the event.  Please do out and visit the farmers market/market fairs your community might be hosting.  Through your custom, big or small, and your continued interest we can all help breathe a little life back into our towns and villages and help support our local economy.  This in turn will provide opportunity and growth, jobs and liveihoods.

If you would like to help spread the word online, you can follow Small Business Saturday on Twitter and on Facebook @SmallBizSatUK and you can use #SmallBizSatUK to help take part.  There is also another initiative going on with @LiveShopLocal / #LiveShopLocal.

Thank you very much! And wherever you are - even if you are outside of the UK, please support your independent shops!


Small Business Saturday UK