Sunday, January 10, 2016

Spanish chicken with garlic (pollo al ajillo)

I'd become a bit bored of cooking over the last couple of years and it took me a while to figure out why. The answer was surprisingly simple: I was no longer making the dishes I wanted to make but was instead trying to second-guess the somewhat more conservative tastes of my children. Chicken is a case in point. Whenever there was a whole chicken in my fridge, I felt under pressure to do roast chicken, but what I really wanted to make was a chicken curry with handfuls of fresh coriander, some Szechuan fried chicken, or this Spanish chicken cooked with garlic. Oddly enough, my more selfish approach to cooking doesn't seem to have an impact on my kids, who enthusiastically ate the risotto that I hadn't made since 2014 for fear of offending their delicate palates!

I thought I already had a recipe for this on my blog but was surprised to find that I didn't. Then I turned to Moro (by Sam and Sam Clark) and there was my recipe - in the form of a heavily annotated version of the original (including annotations, additions and deletions). The Moro recipe is actually very good but I feel it is a little too restauranty (a few details that don't add much but help make a simple recipe seem daunting). And my version is definitely closer to the pollo al ajillo that I used to eat in a bar off Plaza San Antonio in Madrid back in the late 1980s with my friend Richard.

1 medium chicken (approx 1.5 kg)
black pepper
olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic
6 bay leaves
200 ml of white wine


  1. Cut the chicken into small pieces and season with plenty of salt and black pepper. (I use a cleaver, so I cut the thighs and drumsticks in half and even get a few meaty portions from the back. If you only have an ordinary kitchen knife, then satisfy yourself by cutting the legts through the joints and cutting the breast lengthwise and then crosswise to get about 10 pieces, including the wings.)
  2. Separate the garlic into cloves but don't peel or chop.
  3. Put plenty of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, add the garlic, and gently fry until the garlic is golden.
  4. Remove garlic to a bowl, turn up the heat, and fry the chicken in batches until it is crispy and golden.
  5. Remove the fried chicken, pour off most of the oil, return the garlic to the pan, add the bay leaves and wine, and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  6. Return all of the chicken to the pan, stir well, cover and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes.

Prawns and garlic stewed in olive oil

This is a really simple dish. There is only one trick to it, which is to start with cold oil so that the prawns stew slowly, rather than frying quickly.

olive oil
200g of peeled prawns
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

Put plenty of olive oil in a medium sized saucepan. Add the prawns and the garlic and cook over a medium heat until the prawns are cooked. (Don't overcook them; they should be juicy, not tough.)
Sprinkle with a little salt and some parsley and serve.

Salt cod fritters (bolinhos de bacalhau)

This recipe is adapted from a rather charming comic-strip version by Len Deighton (the spy author). I've tweaked it a bit as the proportions in the original were slightly wrong, causing the fritters to fall apart on contact with the hot oil! The salt cod comes from our local Portuguese cafe, Casa Amiga, where I often go with Sammy to read the papers, drink coffee and eat custard tarts.

500g salt cod
500 ml milk
2 bay leaves
1 kg potatoes
4 eggs
1 handful of parsley
1/2 tsp salt
plain flour

  1. Wash the salt cod well, and leave it to soak in plenty of water, in the fridge, for at least 48 hours, changing the water every 24 hours. (It will keep like this for several days, so don't feel obliged to use the cod on Wednesday just because you started soaking it on Monday.)
  2. Put the rinsed cod in a small saucepan with the milk and the bay leaves, bring to a boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes, until the cod is soft. Remove the cod from the milk.
  3. Peel and dice the potatoes, add to the fishy milk, bring to a boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.
  4. Strain the milk off into a jug, remove and discard the bay leaves..
  5. Beat one of the eggs, add it to the potatoes together with a little of the reserved milk and mash the potatoes.
  6. Chop the parsley and add it to the potato, together with the salt.
  7. Remove the skin and any bones from the cod, break the cod into flakes, add to the potato and mix well. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk.
  8. Beat the remaining three eggs.
  9. Use two dessert spoons to shape the cod and potato mixture into quenelles.
  10. Coat the quenelles in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally in breadcrumbs. (See photo below.)
  11. Fry the fritters in plenty of oil until they are golden on the outside.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Risotto with Italian sausages and dried porcini

Every cook has a repertoire of dishes and techniques that grows and changes over time. I can't always put my finger on when I started cooking a particular dish, but I know that this is one that I first cooked when we spent a few months in Bagni di Lucca in the autumn of 2009. It was a regular for a while, and then my kids became less than enthusiastic about it so I stopped making it. I was reminded of it the other day when I spotted a packet of arborio rice in the cupboard, so I decided to give it another go. The original recipe is from Maxine Clark's Flavours of Tuscany, although I have tweaked it a little bit.

1.35 litres of hot chicken stock
150 ml of white wine
10 g dried porcini
100g butter
450g fresh Italian sausages
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
150 ml of sieved tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
500g arborio rice
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan


  1. Soak the dried porcini in the hot stock. Remove the skins from the sausages.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, gently melt 50g of the butter, add the skinless sausages and fry slowly, breaking the sausage meat up as you go.
  3. When the sausage meat has browned, add the onion and garlic and fry gently for another 10 minutes until the onion is golden.
  4. Add the tomatoes, fennel seeds, thyme and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the rice and stir thoroughly.
  6. Remove the porcini from the stock and add them to the rice.
  7. Add a few ladlefuls of the stock and the glass of white wine to the rice, and stir gently until the liquid is almost absorbed.
  8. On a low heat, add the rest of the stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring while you cook, until the rice is tender but not mushy. (This should take about 20 to 30 minutes).
  9. Remove from heat, add the remaining butter, stir well, cover and leave to sit for 2 minutes. Serve sprinkled with black pepper and Parmesan.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Roasted pepper dip

The internet is a great resource for cooks (well, I would say that) - particularly if you are looking for a specific recipe or need to find out how to cook an exotic or unfamiliar ingredient. When I wanted to track down a recipe for the spicy fried chicken at my favourite Chinese restaurant, I quickly found a dozen different recipes, compared them, and picked the one I liked best.

But books have their place too. In search of inspiration for what to do with a bag of peppers that were reaching their sell-by date at the bottom of my fridge, I reached for my dog-eared copy of Claudia Roden's Mediterranean Cookery, published to accompany a BBC TV series in 1987. The first item in the index for peppers was pepper relish - a Tunisian dish called slata m├ęchouia nablia. So that was what I made.

3 red peppers
3 tomatoes
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons of chilli sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Wash the peppers, cut them in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and roast in a hot oven (225oC) for half an hour. Roughly chop them.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the tomatoes. Peel the garlic and chop it finely.
  3. Put all of the ingredients except the black pepper in a food processor, whizz so that it is finely chopped but not pureed, and transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and grind some black pepper over it.

The revolution will be televised
British food has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 50 years and continues to do so. Because the change is ongoing, it is tempting to assume that it is also recent - so people talk about the 1980s as if they represent the bad old days of British cooking. Having learnt to cook during that decade, I remember it as an exciting time when lots of new ingredients, cuisines and cooking styles were being introduced to the UK (a bit like today). And a lot of the credit must go to the BBC, which produced shows presented by the likes of Delia Smith, Keith Floyd, Madhur Jaffrey and Claudia Roden, and the books that accompanied them.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Szechuan fried chicken

When I go to the Wing Sing Inn in Edinburgh, I always order the spicy Szechuan chicken - little pieces of chicken, on the bone, fried with vast quantities of dried chillies and Szechuan pepper. The chillies are spicy and the Szechuan pepper provides a tingly, numbing sensation.

Tired of roast chicken, I finally decided to have a crack at making it at home. The following recipe is adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop's version of this dish. Although none of the stages is particularly difficult, it's quite involved as it requires you to dismember a chicken, chop it into small pieces (with the bone still in) then double-fry it, in batches, (You will need a cleaver to chop the chicken into small segments.) The quantity of chillies looks a bit scary, but the Chinese ones are not as spicy as their Indian cousins, and they are not meant to be eaten, just to impart flavour to the chicken pieces.


1 chicken (approx 1 to 1.5 kg)

30 ml Shaoxing wine
40g ginger, thickly sliced
1 tsp salt
2 spring onions, roughly chopped

500 ml vegetable oil (preferably groundnut or rapeseed), plus 4 tbsps
1 tbsp Szechuan chilli bean paste
20g ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
4 spring onion whites, sliced
100g Chinese dried chillies
25g Szechuan peppercorns
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 spring onion greens, sliced
2 tsp sesame oil


Part 1: chopping the chicken

  1. Mix the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Separate the wings and legs from the body of the chicken.
  3. Cut off and discard the wing tips and ends of the legs. (I use them to make stock.)
  4. Separate the wings into two pieces by cutting through the middle joint, and separate the legs into thighs and drumsticks by cutting through the middle joint. With a cleaver, chop each wing piece and each leg piece crosswise into 2 cm segments.
  5. Separate the breast from the back by cutting through the ribcage. Lay the breast section side down, cut lengthwise through the breastbone to separate it into two, then chop the breast meat crosswise into 2 cm segments.
  6. Lay the back flat, skin side down, and cut lengthwise through the ribs as close to the backbone as possible. Discard the backbone or set it aside to make stock. Chop the two meaty back sections into 2 cm segments.
  7. Place the chicken pieces in the bowl with the marinade, mix well and leave for 15 minutes.
Part 2: frying the chicken
  1. Heat the oil in a wok until it is very hot (about 190oC).  Add chicken pieces to the oil, one at a time, discarding the ginger and spring onion as you go. Don't overfill your wok - depending on the size of your wok, the size of your chicken and the size of your segments, you will probably need to fry the chicken in three batches, bringing the oil back up to its original heat before adding the next batch. Cook each batch of chicken for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden, remove from the wok and leave to drain in a wire strainer or on a wire rack.
  2. When you have fried all of the chicken once, reheat the oil, fry each batch again until crispy, remove from the wok and leave to drain in a wire strainer or on a wire rack.
  3. Transfer the used oil to a heatproof container, and brush the wok clean to remove any burnt pieces of chicken. Add 4 tbsps of fresh oil to the wok, and return to a medium heat. Add the chilli bean paste to the oil, stir and fry for 30 seconds, Add the ginger, garlic and spring onion whites, stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the dried chillies and the Szechuan peppercorns, stir and fry for another minute or so. Add the chicken pieces, Shaoxing wine, salt and sugar, and stir well to coat the chicken.
  4. Remove from heat, drizzle the sesame oil over the chicken, sprinkle with spring onion greens, and serve.