I have always loved the idea of matching simple ingredients with each other – finding foods that seem to belong together because their flavours complement each other in some intrinsic way. But I rarely throw together combinations unless I've tested them first and am pretty sure the flavours are a good fit; there are far too many restaurants chucking things together just for the sake of it. I find that mad combos rarely work – with the notable exceptions of those dreamt up by Mark Edwards and Nobu Matsuhisa at Nobu, Peter Gordon who was first at The Sugar Club and is now at Providores and, of course, Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck. These guys are the best exponents of fusion food – but so often their style is badly imitated and misunderstood.
International ingredients getting together from around the world is no new thing; spices, for example, were used for trading and that's how the likes of cinnamon and mixed spice worked their way into apple pies and other desserts. To celebrate the magazine's travel issue this week, I thought I'd contribute some of my own favourite fusion recipes.
Szechuan steak au poivre forestière
I have often used Szechuan peppercorns in cooking and regretted it afterwards because their intense heat tends to stay with you. It wasn't until I went to Bar Shu in Soho, a restaurant specialising in Szechuan cooking, that I learnt to enjoy the sensual heat that these innocent little peppercorns give off.
Steak au poivre is, of course, a classic French dish that doesn't often find its way on to restaurant menus these days. I don't know why because it's a bloody good dish and I'm going to give it a little Asian twist here – instead of using wild mushrooms, which aren't in season right now, I'm going to use a selection of Asian mushrooms that are readily available, fresh and dried, in supermarkets and Asian stores.
I've opted for my favourite steak here, butcher's steak or onglet, as it's known in France. It is next to the flank or bavette and hangs just below the kidneys, which gives it a really special flavour. It's called butcher's steak because it was the butcher's treat. You will need to ask your butcher to save these for you as there are only two per animal and you can normally get two to three portions out of each. If this fails, then use flank steak, rump, sirloin or rib.
4 butcher's steaks, each weighing about 200-250g
1tbsp Szechuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
1-2tbsp sesame oil
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tbsp grated fresh root ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
250g fresh mushrooms like shiitake, inoki, black fungus, king oyster, etc, or dried & reconstituted
2tbsp rice wine
1tbsp soy sauce
200ml beef stock
1tbsp chopped coriander
Trim the mushrooms and cut them into even- sized pieces. Gently cook the shallots, ginger and garlic in a tablespoon of the sesame oil for a minute or so then add the mushrooms. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally and add the rice wine, soy and stock, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir in enough to just thicken it, then simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-based frying pan or two with the remaining sesame oil. Season the steaks with salt, and pepper them fairly heavily. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, keeping them rare, then remove from the pan and leave to rest on a plate for a minute or so.
Pour any juices from the steak into the sauce then slice the steak 4 or 5 times on the bias. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce on to warmed plates and lay the steak on top.
Bacon chop with chickpeas and ginger
I've been doing a bit of curing at home recently and I'm wondering why the hell I've never done it before. When you cure your own ham and bacon there is just nothing to beat it and the great thing is you can tweak the cure to suit your taste. You immerse the meat in a solution of salt, sugar, and spices and just leave it for a few days depending on the size of the meat. It can then be smoked, boiled, etc.
I've cured a piece of pork belly with the bones in here to make my bacon chops. If you can't wait for the curing process to take place, then ask your butcher if he can get hold of bacon chops, or you could use a piece of whole streaky bacon. Thick bacon chops can be a bit on the salty side, so I would recommend simmering them in water for 3-4 minutes before pan frying.
4 bacon chops weighing about 180g each
1tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
A piece of root ginger weighing about 40g, scraped and peeled
A couple of good knobs of butter
200ml chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can good-quality chickpeas, drained and washed
2tbsp chopped coriander
Gently cook the onion, ginger and garlic in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the flour, then gradually add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, season and simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened, then add the chickpeas and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently fry the bacon chops in the vegetable oil for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden and cooked through.
Finish the sauce with coriander, spoon on to warmed plates and place the chop on top.
Pollack sashimi with English mustard and Gentleman's Relish
Serves 4 -6
Yes I'm still flying the pollack flag, although we do need to be careful that we don't wipe them out, too. I reckon before long its close cousins saithe and coley will also be bidding for places on restaurant menus, which won't be a bad thing because, like pollack, the larger fish have pretty firm flesh and eat very well.
Julian Biggs, the chef director at Urban Caprice, created this little gem as a canapé and the mustard works in the same way that wasabi would.
Gentleman's Relish is a type of anchovy paste, but I've always wondered who eats it because I've never actually seen it passing anyone's lips. You can buy it from Waitrose and posh delis.
250-300g very fresh pollack fillet from a large fish
A couple of teaspoons of English mustard
A couple of teaspoons of Gentleman's Relish
With a very sharp knife, slice the pollack into wafer-thin slices and lay them on a sheet of cling film. Smear a little of the mustard on to the pollack and roll the slices up. Secure with a cocktail stick and put a small amount of Gentleman's Relish on with the point of a knife.
Make these as close to when you're going to serve them as possible.
Carpaccio of cauliflower
I was in Munich for the first time last month, staying at Rocco Forte's Charles Hotel, and I managed to nip out for lunch at the Brenner brasserie. This carpaccio of cauliflower was a clever vegetarian (well, almost) starter.
1 medium cauliflower, simmered in boiling salted water for 5-6 minutes, removed and left to cool
3-4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
120g Parmigiano Reggiano, thinly shaved
8 good-quality anchovies, halved into thin strips
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slice the cauliflower as thinly as possible and lay on to serving plates and season. Dress generously with the olive oil. Scatter the parmesan over and lay the anchovies on top.
As well as unusually large catches of anchovies off the Cornish and Devon coastline, there are also large numbers of octopus being landed – what next? A toban is a ceramic dish that the food is cooked and served in and this recipe is from Mark Edwards' latest book, Nobu West.
1-1.5kg octopus, cleaned
1tbsp olive oil
2tbsp ghee or butter
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
16-20 pieces of okra, halved lengthways
4tbsp yuzu juice, or the juice of 1 lemon
4tbsp dried miso, dissolved in 600ml hot water
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Remove any hard suckers and the eyes from the octopus and wash thoroughly in cold water. Cut into 2-3cm chunks and dry with kitchen paper. Place the octopus into an ovenproof cooking pot with the other ingredients, except the okra, and cook in the oven for 30 minutes or until it's tender. It's difficult to put a time on braised octopus; sometimes you may find you need to cook it for around an hour. Then add the okra and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so or until the okra is tender. Serve as a starter or main course.