Category Archives: Chinese

General Tso’s Tofu

Tofu – somewhat unfairly – gets a bit of a bad press. Whenever I’ve posted on Twitter that I’ve just scoffed an alarmingly huge portion of the stuff, I’ve had reactions ranging from “Ewwww! Tofu!” to “If you want me to ever read your blog again, you’ll stop posting recipes which contain this vile product.” My answer to this is simple. a) You’re wrong and b) don’t ever tell me what I can and can’t cook in my own kitchen kthxbye.

Where people slip up with tofu is by treating it as a meat substitute rather than an ingredient in its own right. I may be a fully paid up member of the meat-eating classes, but sometimes there’s nothing better than sinking your teeth in a delicious piece of deep fried tofu- that delicious crust yielding to reveal warm, custardy innards. And Mapo Tofu is the ultimate comfort food for both the ill and the ridiculously hungover.

Which leads us to this recipe for General Tso’s Tofu. I’m not entirely sure who General Tso is, but I know that his chicken is a staple in pretty much every Chinese restaurant across the USA. This is a recipe I’ve made more times than I care to remember, mainly because it’s ridiculously tasty and also because I will crawl over broken glass to get to anything which has been deep fried in chilli oil. The cubes of tofu soak up all of the deliciously savoury-sweet sauce, until they practically burst with a fragrant ginger and garlic flavour. If you’re totally averse to the idea of cooking with tofu, it can easily be subbed for chicken thighs. But, take it from me – you won’t know what you’re missing.

GENERALTSO’S TOFU (Serves Two)

Recipe adapted from “Mastering the art of Chinese cooking” via Serious Eats

You will need:

  • 1 large egg
  • 280g (or one pack) tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A good grind of black pepper
  • 5 to 6 tbsp cornflour divided
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp hoisin
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (you can use dry sherry if you can’t find this)
  • 1 tsp red chilli oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (I used garlic paste)
  • 1 tbsp peeled and minced ginger
  •  2 tsp sugar
  •  3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 small dried red chillies
  • 3 spring onions, white parts only, sliced 1/2-inch thick

Make It!

  1. Crack the egg into a medium-sized bowl, and lightly beat it with a fork. Add the salt, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the cornflour, and stir until combined. Add the tofu, and toss well. Set mixture aside for 15 minutes. (If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the rice whilst your tofu is doing its business).
  2. Meanwhile, in a second bowl, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, rice vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine, red chilli oil, garlic, ginger, and sugar. Whisk until smooth.
  3. After the 15 minutes, pour the oil into a large wok set over high heat. Heat the oil up until it begins to spit slightly. While the oil warms up, place a sheet of baking paper on your countertop and add 3 tablespoons of the cornflour. Add the pieces of tofu on top, and toss until they are completely coated. Add an additional tablespoon of cornflour if needed.
  4. When the oil is ready, shake off any excess cornflour on the tofu, and carefully add them to the wok. Cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, for two-three minutes until the outside of the tofu becomes brown and crispy. Turn off the heat,  remove tofu pieces with the slotted spoon, and drain on some paper towels.
  5. Remove all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Turn the heat to high, and when the oil is just starting to smoke, add the dried chillies, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the spring onions, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu pieces back to the wok, and toss constantly for a minute until the pieces are coated in the chilli and spring onion oil. Pour in the sauce, and stir-fry for a minute and a half until all of  the pieces are evenly coated. Turn off the heat.
  6. Serve immediately with rice.
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Red Chilli, Portland Street, Manchester

Dan Dan Noodles

It was Sunday, I was cold, it was raining, and I was a tad hungover after a night on the sauce with Dad Cay and Mr. Cay. There was only one thing for it. Chinese food – and lots of it.

Apparently the night before, after more than one bottle of red booze, I had promised my beloved that I would take him to Red Chilli – arguably Manchester’s finest Szechuan restaurant – for his lunch. It was a promise he was determined to hold me to. Hear me now, and hear me well. Be careful of the promises you make when you’re shitfaced. People will often try and make you keep them (well, it’s how I managed to get a hamster off my parents when I was 10 anyway).

Luckily for me, Red Chilli is a gem, and just the thing for when your head is aching and your belly is craving spice. I had been there once before, in 2007 with (vegetarian) ex Mr. Cay. He wasn’t impressed by the numerous offal-based dishes I ordered which came swimming in a soup of peppercorns and dried chillies, whilst I felt as though I had died and gone to an exceedingly fiery heaven. Thinking about it, it’s no wonder that we weren’t really meant to be.

Current Mr. Cay however, is well aware of my love of foods which set your mouth on fire with joy, and your heart on fire with acid reflux. Indeed, he has often joined me in scoffing down huge plates of chilli laden food which would make a lesser person weep for the health of their downstairs area. Reader, to paraphrase Jane Austen, there is a reason I’m marrying him.

However, seeing as we were feeling rather fragile, we decided to start slowly with a starter of poached chicken with a soy & ginger dip, and beancurd skin with spring onion. Both were delicious – the chicken was soft, tender and wonderfully moist – the perfect receptacle for the delightfully sharp and sweet dip. It was impossible to have just one piece of this, and I found myself nicking small slices of it with my chopsticks when Mr. Cay wasn’t looking. My beancurd was equally tasty, although its chewy rubbery texture might not be for everyone. The savoury, umami-rich sauce it was coated in was a delight, turning what can so often be a bland ingredient into a plate of sensory delights.

We’d decided to save the heat for the main courses, and were justly rewarded. My (huge) bowl of Dan Dan noodles arrived swimming in a slick, angry looking red broth. As the waitress was spooning it into my bowl, I could already feel its heat swimming and bubbling away on my tongue. Rich with fatty pork mince, slippery unctuous noodles and smoky fruity chilli oil, I could feel my hangover melting away after just one bite. And by the time I’d inhaled two bowls of the stuff, I felt almost human again (although that feeling was swiftly eradicated when I walked outside in the damp Mancunian afternoon).  The portion sizes were immensely generous to boot – this was a dish which could have easily fed four people.

Mr. Cay’s pork with green beans and crispy noodles (not pictured) was equally as good, although I’m not entirely sure he was as keen on the crispy noodles as I was. I enjoyed the snap and give of the noodles underneath my teeth which provided a nice contrast to the softness of the pork and preserved vegetables. Simple, yet delicious, it was more warming than spicy and a perfect example of unfussy ‘homestyle’ cooking.

Sad as it sounds, for me, the highlight of the meal was the exemplary Spring Onion Pancake we ordered as a side dish. Crispy, flaky, multi-layered and wholly delicious, it was the perfect thing to soak up all of their fiery soup from my Dan Dan Noodles. Despite reading numerous blog posts about this side dish, it was the first time I’d tried it for myself – and it certainly won’t be the last. I ate my portions of this in record time, and am now determined to try and recreate this in my kitchen at home.

In a city like Manchester, where you can easily pay ridiculous amounts of money for mediocre food, it’s nice to see a place like Red Chilli thriving. We only paid £35 for two courses and a whole lot of soft drinks each, and we were both forced to leave food on our plates because our bodies couldn’t physically hold any more noodles. Indeed, if there was one gripe I had about the place, it was that I practically had to chase a waitress around the restaurant for our bill. But, this is only a minor blip in a meal which soothed both my body and my soul. I will be visiting Red Chilli again. And soon. If only because I’m determined to try the rather exotic sounding ‘Dry Braised Frog’s Legs with Onion, Mangetout & Red pepper in Big Grandma’s Chilli Sauce Stew’.

Red Chilli
70-72 Portland Street
Manchester
M1 4GU

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Hot and Sour Soup with Scallops

I love soup, especially at this time of year when Winter decides to have its last big temper tantrum before Spring creeps in. I’m an especially big fan of Hot and Sour soup – that delicious treasure trove of textures and flavours. Packed full of spice and  lip puckering tartness, it’s just the thing to have at your disposal when you’re battling through those fierce February winds.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I live in a city with the oldest established Chinese community in the UK, it’s surprisingly difficult for me to find decent Hot and Sour soup in Bootle. Then again, it’s hard for me to find a decent Chinese takeaway – the only one that actually does good potstickers always gets my order wrong, and let’s not mention the slop they served me the last time I put an order in for Mapo Doufu.

My Dad is fond of saying that if you want something doing properly, then you should do it yourself. So, on Monday night, when my belly craved spice, I decided that there was nothing for it but to make a batch of soup for myself. Hot and Soup soup is great in that you can just throw in whatever you have hanging around in your fridge, from leftover pieces of cooked meat to vegetables which have seen much better days. I was lucky enough to have a a job lot of Isle of Man Queenie scallops in my fridge which were just begging to be used up in a dish like this. If you’ve never had Queenie scallops, I highly recommend that you rectify this oversight immediately. Small, sustainably farmed and gloriously sweet, they’re an absolute joy to both eat and cook with – and their delicate flavour accompanied the spiced broth perfectly.

I tweaked this recipe here and there – an extra dab of sriracha, the merest hint of dark soy sauce – until the finished product was rich, fragrant and just begging to be slurped down my gullett in a decidedly messy manner. It was so good that I ate two huge bowls for dinner, a bowl for breakfast and an even larger bowl for lunch. Hooray for three meal soups. And for decent Chinese food. More of this type of thing please.

HOT AND SOUP SOUP WITH SCALLOPS

You will need

  • 4 medium sized mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • A large handful of scallops
  • 450ml good quality chicken stock
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
  • 1 pack of tofu (I prefer soft tofu but use whichever type you prefer), cut into squares
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (I used Chinkiang Black Vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. In a medium pot, sauté mushrooms and ginger until the mushrooms are translucent.  Add chicken stock, scraping up any bits of ginger or mushrooms that stuck to the pan. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. In small bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, Sriracha and black pepper, and add to soup(I quite like to add szechuan pepper at this stage to give the broth a bit of a kick) . Taste, adjusting the heat and sourness of the soup with additional Sriracha or rice vinegar, as needed. Feel free to add as much or as little of these ingredients as you like – I tend to find that everyone’s personal preference is different when it comes to these kinds of flavours.
  3. Bring the soup to boil. In a measuring cup, whisk the eggs together. Slowly pour in the beaten egg in a tiny stream, stirring the soup to break up the stream of eggs.
  4. Reduce heat to simmer.  Cook the scallops in a separate pan until they are just beginning to colour slightly. Then, add them, the bamboo shoots and the cubed tofu to the broth. Simmer for five minutes. Ladle in bowl and top with finely sliced spring onions.
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Chinese Broccoli Beef

Hello January, Hello good intentions.I spent most of December in a booze-and-paté induced haze, where it was perfectly normal to me to brush my teeth with Port, eat Pork Pies as a bedtime snack and sit around in my pyjamas watching the Darts for days on end.  Needless to say, my return to work on Tuesday was not a pleasant experience. How my employer expects me to work without indulging in daily afternoon naps is beyond me. And let’s not mention my frustration at the fact that apparently it’s not the ‘done thing’ to sit around your office in your dressing gown and slippers.

With the start of a New Year comes the formation of numerous goals and resolutions. Like most people, I do make a few few every year and inevitably break them within the space of a week. For example, last January, I attempted to quit drinking for a whole month. I lasted four days. Needless to say, I have not attempted anything so grandiose this year. Well, if you don’t view losing a bit of weight as being grandiose that is.

As a rule, I tend not to believe in diets. A bad experience with Slimming World last year and their exhortations that nothing tastes as good as slim feels has made me look upon them as the work of devils, charlatans and people who don’t appreciate the sheer unbridled meaty joy of a good steak. However, seeing as I am a) getting married next year and b) decidedly lardy, something has got to give.  So, I have decided to take up running again, only indulge in booze at the weekends and attempt to eat a healthier diet. For now anyway.

This Chinese Broccoli Beef is my first concession to my new-and-improved healthy lifestyle. It’s simple, it’s tasty, it contains vegetables and – unlike a lot of the recipes I’ve been concocting of late, it doesn’t contain massive amounts of butter, cheese or powdered sugar. Whilst the ingredients contain cornstarch, this is only for the marinade rather than the sauce which simply enrobes each of the ingredients rather than turning the whole meal into a big lump of overcooked, overly sweet gloop. The end result leaves you with crisp broccoli, tender beef, and…I’ll stop now as I’m starting to sound like Greg from Masterchef. I’m sure you all get the picture.

Salt, Sweet, Meat and one of your five a day. Who could ask for more? The leftovers of this also make a cracking lunch too, and brought a scant smile to my face when I opened it up and took little nibbles of it whilst awaiting the clock to strike 12.30 yesterday. With meals like this on my plate, perhaps I could get used to this healthy eating lark after all. Although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

CHINESE BROCCOLI BEEF (Makes two good sized portions)
Adapted from New Asian Cuisine

You Will Need:

  • 460g  of good quality beef, sliced into thin strips

For the marinade

  • 1½ tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
  • ½ tsp vegetable oil

For the Stir-fry Sauce

  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 tsp black vinegar (although you can substitute this for a good quality balsamic vinegar at a push)

For the Broccoli

  • 1 large stem of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • A handful of sesame seeds for garnish (this is optional – I put some on mine because I had some lying around in my cupboards)

Make It!

  1. Marinate the beef in soy sauce, cornstarch, Chinese rice wine and the ½ teaspoon of oil for 10 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together all of the stir-fry sauce ingredients.
  3. Add 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water and salt to a wok or large frying pan, and bring to the boil. You want just enough to cover the broccoli. Add the broccoli and cover to steam for 3 minutes. The broccoli should be bright green, crisp tender and you should be able to pierce the stem with a fork. Drain.
  4. Discard the water in the pan and dry the pan well. Heat the pan over high heat and when hot, add the 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and swirl it around until it fully coats the sides. Add the garlic and fry for 15 to 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the steak strips, keeping them in one layer and fry 30 seconds. Flip the strips and fry the other side.
  5. Pour in the stir-fry sauce and stir to combine. Simmer until the sauce is nice and thick – you want it to coat a back of a spoon. Add the cooked broccoli back into the pan and toss to coat well.
  6. Serve with steamed white rice, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
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