Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 3: Veg, Stock and Condiments

I'm not hardcore enough (yet...) to go boiling bones and water in a pan for hours to make "proper" stock, so I cheat horribly and use stock cubes and other off-the-shelf concentrates. Kallo vegetable cubes work really well, and I find Knorr chicken cubes to be far too salty.

I similarly find myself lucky enough that my local Tesco stocks Yutaka, Amoy and Blue Dragon products, so I'm able to keep stocked-up on Miso paste, ready-to-wok noodles of various grades, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sweet chilli and teriyaki sauces, etc as part of my regular shopping.

I also have a cheat up my sleeve in terms of Lee Kum Kee dark chilli soy, as sourced in San Francisco - if things go a little wrong, I've found (with one exception, when I overdid it on raw chillies when putting my first ever beef ramen together) that the addition of something savoury with a chilli kick is to my cooking what forgiveness is to sin. It's as well I like my food spicy.

Yutaka stuff I'm very new to, but the Miso paste serves to add a lovely oriental flavour on top of any other stock base. I typically add it to any Western stock I'm working with. I also have a small bottle of their Mirin, which I have yet to experiment with.

I find Blue Dragon Nam Pla sauce (and wonton soup, which makes a delightful starter) to be thoroughly excellent - if you take a small dish and finely slice finger chillies into it across their section (don't remove the seeds first) before just covering with Nam Pla sauce, you get Nam Pla Prik, which (ideally after a day to marinate) makes the most awesome Thai-style table condiment I know :-).

Amoy deliver the goods well and truly when it comes to tinned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Be sure to give them a good wash first, though. Their light and dark Soy sauces are also my first choice (others may favour Kikkoman, but this is just my own taste preference).

However, Amoy "straight to wok" noodles, IMHO, vary. Their Ramen noodles are lovely, although I find that when it comes to serious Udon noodles, I'm fussier than I ever thought I'd be. Wagamama's Udon noodles - and ones I've had in restaurants in the Bay Area - have a square cross-section, which is easy to heft with chopsticks and also holds sauce really well, whereas the Amoy Udon noodles have a circular cross-section that doesn't pass muster so well in either department.

Naturally, a good sweet chilli sauce is worth having in the armoury of table condiments. I'm currently working my way through a bottle of "Cottage Specialities" product (very British, but rather good).

Obviously, you also need to get your veg right. Spring onions are Japanese to begin with, so piling them in is a good idea (slice them on an angle, in sections maybe a centimetre long); and I've always been a huge fan of baby corn (slice once lengthwise). You also can (almost) never go wrong with mushrooms, and many supermarkets stock both Shiitake and Oyster varieties. Slice 'em up coarsely.

Basically, bring 'em on; in fact, before now, I've made a rather pleasant soup out of nothing more than stock and veg (but more of that later).

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