If I've been out for a night on the town I usually end up in a restaurant in London's Chinatown with a craving for a beef flank hot-pot or a comforting stew made from the cheaper cuts of meat which yield a real depth of flavour when slowly cooked. But these Asian classics are easy to make at home, too; so why not treat your mates to a great dinner party without breaking the bank?
Yu Mei's belly pork stew
This warming stew was a favourite recipe of Yu Mei Lim, who was the Chinese grandmother of my editor Madeleine Lim.
1-1.2kg pork belly
1tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
120g root ginger, scraped and finely chopped
120ml rice wine or medium sherry
100ml light soy sauce
4 potatoes, peeled, uncooked
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Cut the pork belly into 4 even-sized pieces and score the rind a few times with a sharp knife and season. Heat the oil in a frying pan and colour the pieces of pork belly on all sides, then transfer to an oven-proof dish or a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Fry the garlic and ginger in the same frying pan on a low heat for 2-3 minutes then add the rice wine, sugar, soy and enough water to just cover the pork, bring to the boil and pour over the pork. Cover and cook for about 2 hours, until the pork is soft and tender but not falling apart. Add the potatoes and eggs, cover and cook for another 30-40 minutes. Serve with rice.
I was inWaitrose recently and came across boned pheasant thighs – perfect for a gamey curry, as the breasts would be too dry and the drumsticks pretty inedible due to their needle-like bones.
20 or so pheasant thighs
4 onions, peeled and sliced
2 medium green chillies, deseeded and sliced
tbsp tomato purée
1 litre chicken stock; a good cube will do
1tbsp chopped coriander leaves
For the marinade
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
50g root ginger, scraped and finely grated
A good pinch of saffron
200g thick yoghurt
For the spice mix
1tsp black peppercorns
The seeds from 12 cardamom pods
A small piece of cinnamon or cassia stick
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp ground turmeric
2tsp melon seeds
1tbsp peeled pistachio nuts
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
Mix all of the ingredients together for the marinade then mix with the pheasant thighs, cover and marinade for an hour.
Meanwhile put all of the ingredients for the spice mix in a cast-iron frying pan and heat them over a medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, turning them regularly with a spoon until they are lightly browned. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind the spices.
Melt the ghee in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the onions and chillies on a low heat with a lid on for 5-6 minutes, stirring every so often until soft. Add the spices, tomato purée and chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the pheasant and the marinade, cover and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, topping up with a little water if necessary. Take a ladle of the sauce and blend in a liquidiser until smooth and return to the pan. The pheasant should be tender now and the sauce quite thick; if not continue simmering. Stir in the coriander and transfer to a serving dish.
To serve, mix the melon seeds, pistachios and shallots together and scatter on top. Serve with basmati rice.
Mushroom hot-pot with tofu
This is perfect for veggies or as a side dish.
There are many types of cultivated Asian mushrooms on the market these days, both dried and fresh. I always like to keep a little dried selection in my larder such as black and cauliflower fungus and shiitake. Most Asian supermarkets also sell fresh shiitake and inoki, shimeji, etc. You can even add a few seasonal wild ones.
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100g root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp sesame oil
150-200g fresh shiitake/black fungus or 100g dried (soaked overnight); cut them in half if using large black fungus
4tbsp light soy sauce
1 litre vegetable stock
250-300g other Asian mushrooms such as shimeghi, inoki, cauliflower fungus, etc
150-200g tofu, cut into rough 1cm cubes
A few sprigs of coriander
Gently cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the shiitake, black fungus, soy and vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes until the shiitake are tender. Dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir into the stock. Add the other mushrooms and simmer for 10-15 minutes, topping up with water if necessary. Ladle into warmed bowls and arrange the tofu and coriander on top.
Hui beef stew with chickpeas
Hui is the name given in China to the people of Han Chinese ethnicity who are Muslim. Hui cuisine has strong central-Asian flavours, hence the Sichuan pepper I've used here – add more if you wish. You can make this with lamb or beef, but pick the cuts that take the longest time to cook: ox cheeks, shin, flank, etc.
200g cooked chick peas
3tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1-1.5kg oxtail, cut into pieces, excess fat removed
5 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 star anise
1tsp Sichuan peppercorns, ground coarsely
2 medium red chillies
2 litres beef stock
4 spring onions, sliced on the angle
2tbsp chopped coriander
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the oxtail and roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until nicely coloured. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onions for 5-6 minutes until soft. Add the star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, chilli and stock and season lightly. Add the oxtail and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 1-2 hours, skimming regularly and topping up with water if necessary. It's not essential to put an exact time on slow-cooked dishes but check the meat after 1 hours, then add the chick peas and continue simmering until the meat is tender, but not falling off the bone. To serve, add the spring onions and coriander, simmer for a couple of minutes and serve. Serve with rice, noodles or Chinese greens.