Getting in hock: Ham hock and broad bean slow-cooked soup

 

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Our favoured local value meat supplier at Mui Wo Meats has a classic budget cut on their lists. A mere HK$40 gets you a tasty Spanish ham hock – the part of the leg below the ham itself. As with most budget cuts, this doesn’t look that promising – it’s got skin, fat and bone and not that much meat. But with hours of slow cooking it turns into something magical. The skin and bone add a rich flavour (you get rid of the actual skin and bone before serving after they relinquished all their goodness) and it’s actually not that fatty after all.

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The classic soup combination for hock is with peas – the saltiness of the hock combining with the sweetness of peas. Niki Segnit is the queen of flavour pairings and in her wonderful Flavour Thesaurus she reports that Swedish institutions use to favour a thick pea and ham soup called arstoppa on Thursday evenings to ward off the hunger pangs during Friday fasts.

We’re going for a slight variation with broad beans whose chunkier nature I think suits the dish and the other vegetables we’re adding in. Broad beans are available frozen from many local supermarkets. Some people peel broad beans – the skins do have a slight grey drabness about them and supposedly are bitter. But I just throw them straight in frozen – either broad beans are getting less bitter through cultivation or the savouriness of the ham is working to counteract it.

The choice of vegetables is up to you but you do need beans or peas or something close in there to get the classic flavour combination.

Soup is something of a misnomer for this recipe- it’s more of a stew although I suppose you could put everything bar the meat through the blender if you want a smoother result.

It’s actually a very easy recipe with the only slight faff being the need to skin and bone the hock towards the end of cooking. I used a slow cooker and cooked for about six hours – as you can see, this made the hock very tender and the skin came away easily in one piece with the meat easy to shred from the bone.

 

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If you don’t have a slow cooker (or a rice cooker or something similar with a low setting) then you could cook this, covered, on the stove-top in a heavy bottomed pan or in the oven on a low heat. In both cases it would need less cooking time and you would probably need to add a little more liquid – the slow cooker keeps the liquid in.

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Watch out for the seasoning – the ham hock is already salted so go light on added salt until you’ve tasted the final result.

Getting in hock: Ham hock and broad bean slow-cooked soup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A slow cooked delicious soup using a budget cut.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ham hock – about 550 – 600g (defrosted if it comes frozen)
  • 1 onion – finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
  • 1 carrot – diced
  • 2 sticks celery - diced
  • 2 medium potatoes – diced
  • Broad beans 125g (frozen)
  • Stock – about 750ml (from a cube is fine; water makes an adequate substitute)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
  • I small leek or 2 large spring onions, thinly sliced (optional for garnish)
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1. Heat a glug of oil and add the onion. Cook gently for about 15-20 minutes until it starts to take on some colour. You can do this in the container you are eventually going to do the main cooking in if it will go on the stove-top or alternatively in a frying pan or wok.
  2. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes and ham hock and heat gently for a few minutes.
  3. If you’re using a different container to the main cooker (like a slow cooker), transfer all the ingredients from the pan to that. Add the stock and some ground pepper. You want the liquid to almost cover the ham hock. Don’t add any salt at this stage
  4. Cook slowly, covered, for about 4 hours in a slow cooker; about 2-3 hours on the stove top or in the oven. If the stove=top or oven, check periodically whether you need to add liquid if it is going dry.
  5. Add the broad beans and return to the heat for about one hour more.
  6. Check the meat is tender. If not, cook for a little longer.
  7. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary.
  8. Remove the ham hock to a chopping board and use two forks to strip the skin. Then shred the meat away from the bones. Return the shredded meat to the soup.
  9. Serve, garnished with the optional thinly sliced spring onion or leek if desired.
Notes
Serves 4 generously.
It’s great served with some crusty bread or you could serve with rice if you’d prefer.
Extra can be frozen. If freezing, re-heat thoroughly before serving.

 

 

 

 

(Almost) no knead to know: Easy but slow bread baking

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There’s something very satisfying about making your own bread…when it works. My sole childhood memory of my mother baking bread was during one of the numerous bakery strikes that happened in the 1970s in the UK. Sadly, her effort was pretty unpalatable. As for me and Mrs CookWithNoName, we’ve had quite a few disappointing attempts between us. However we’ve both found saviours espousing very different baking techniques and from very different backgrounds.

Mrs CWNN has had success with the methods of the English-based Breton baker Richard Bertinet. He favours the French “slap and fold” method of kneading. His book Dough is excellent and comes with a short DVD which you can watch on YouTube. (The kneading demonstration starts at around 4.30.) This produced a great loaf and only one complaint – from our neighbour upstairs, annoyed about the noise of the slapping on a Saturday morning.

Bertinet is a classically trained artisan baker and his books demonstrate a great variety of loaves. His kneading method is quite a bit of work however and there’s been a trend to no-knead bread that is allowed to develop over a much longer time period than conventional modern baking. As well as saving on effort, the long ferment allows superior flavours to emerge.

The baker I’ve found whose guidance is the most reliable and easy to follow is the American, Ken Forkish, whose book Flour Water Salt Yeast gives very precise, detailed instructions. He is unusual in a number of respects – his breads mainly use all purpose (or plain) flour rather than the strong bread flour normally favoured for its higher gluten content which supposedly gives a better rise. And he bakes his bread inside a container – by preference, a large cast iron Dutch oven – which helps keep the shape and keeps in moisture allowing the bread to rise more before forming a crust. His sole book has essentially one basic method which he then develops into a variety of different recipes around a common theme.

Forkish’s recipes generally make two large loaves – each roughly a 2lb loaf as a traditional British baker would have seen it. But you could easily halve the recipe and produce one of these large loaves or even two smaller loaves. Below, to keep things simple, we’ll make one (roughly) 2lb loaf (or two smaller 1lb loaves).

You need to do quite a bit of planning around the timetable – his method does not need much active work but it does require being there to do things at a few key moments. In his book, he discusses how to vary the timetables and gives alternative recipes like an overnight loaf but again, we’ll keep things simple here.

He is very precise about the temperatures before the actual baking. This is something of a dilemma in Hong Kong where our ambient temperatures in the summer months are significantly higher than he is working with. Perhaps even more importantly, we have very high humidity. I’ve adjusted his recipe to slightly reduce the amount of water to allow for our higher humidity and not warmed the water as well as slightly reducing the time to reflect the temperature. If your kitchen is air-conditioned, that will lower both the temperature and humidity to closer to his assumptions.

Forkish’s method requires no kneading – neither the conventional British way (of pushing with the heel of the hand) nor the French slap and fold. Instead there is a brief mixing of just the flour and water to “autolyse” the mixture and later a very quick folding two or three times after adding the yeast and salt. He has posted videos on YouTube which are very useful

One thing I’ve found is that the shaping phase is very important and perhaps the most neglected element of getting a good rise. Both Bertinet and Forkish demonstrate in their videos how you can build strength into the dough before it goes into the oven so it rises well. .
Forkish bakes longer than most to achieve a very dark crust. Mrs CookWithNoName prefers a slightly less thick crust so we don’t go as far as him.

Equipment
You need a container to mix the ingredients. Forkish recommends very specific large plastic tubs which are great if you plan to do a lot of baking. I bought some of these via Amazon US. But really anything roughly bucket shaped (or quite a bit smaller for the quantity below) would do. Ideally they’d have a lid or you could substitute cling film I guess. I used a very large Tupperware-type container when I first did this. Round ones are better than square ones because you don’t want corners that bits can get stuck in.

You also need something in which to do the final proofing. This will help in the shaping and contribute to the rise. The classic container is a specialised “banetton” or proofing dish. Traditionally made from cane or basket-weave, they help to dry out the surface of the dough which might assist in forming the crust. But these are hard to locate in Hong Kong and, messy to clean if your dough turns out too sticky as it may do sometimes when you experiment. So you can substitute anything which is roughly bowl shaped – a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl will do fine

It is possible to bake these directly on a baking tray on the shelf of the oven but Forkish’s method is big on using a lidded cast iron container and I’m sure that contributes significantly to the result. Sogo sell a range of nice but expensive American Lodge cast iron ware and I use one of their large Dutch ovens. One disadvantage of this is that, unless you have a range of different shapes and sizes, all your loaves will come out pretty much the same shape. I have a couple of largish cast iron enamelled casserole dishes which I have also used for 1ln loaves and that gives a bit of variety

Forkish recommends baking at a high temperature of 240C. Our previous oven would only go to around 220C and, even if yours says it goes higher, it may be lying to you. But it seems, as long as you can get it above 200C, you’ll be OK although you may need to bake a little longer. If you’re using the cast iron container, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a fan oven or gas or electric or whatever because the bread is going to be within in its own hot little world. A fan oven will get hotter quicker however and recover the right temperature more quickly after you open the door.

You’ll need some accurate scales. Other optional extras are a baker’s knife to make a nick or two in the top of the dough to help it break open for a nice finish. (Forkish doesn’t use this, relying instead on it happening naturally in his method.) A cooling rack would help. But you can turn the loaf upside down to cool on a worktop if you don’t have one. A dough scraper helps – these are available cheaply in lots of stores like City Super and the specialist baking stores like Twins.

(Almost) no knead to know: Easy but slow bread baking
 
A 2lb white boule loaf recipe adapted for Hong Kong from Ken Forkish;s Flour Water, Salt Yeast
Author:
Ingredients
  • 500 grams all purpose (plain) flour
  • 360 grams of water
  • 11 g salt
  • 2g instant yeast
Method
  1. Mix the flour and water in your large plastic container. You are simply incorporating the water into the flour. Don’t worry about kneading or anything like that. See Ken Forkish’s video of this stage (but note he is using double the quantity here and a different recipe. The principle is the same though.)
  2. Leave covered in a warmish place for about 25 minutes. (The ambient temperature in Hong Kong will be fine.)
  3. Add the yeast and the salt and mix these into the flour and water by repeatedly folding over the dough and cutting through the mixture with your hand. See Ken Forkish’s method. Cover and store
  4. After about twenty minutes, fold the dough. You need to give a few folds of the dough. This means grasping about a third of the dough from underneath and folding it over itself. You will do this three or four times using a hand that is dipped in a little water to stop the dough sticking to your hand. Ken Forkish’s video shows the method well.
  5. Repeat the folding once more, after about an hour.
  6. After about five and a half hours from when you started, remove the dough from the plastic container onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. With lightly floured hands, shape the dough into as tight a ball as possible. You do this by folding the dough repeatedly in on itself from underneath to the top. Then with your hand underneath the ball you spin it around a little to finish the shaping and place into your proving container. Again Ken’s video shows this very well.
  8. Depending on how long your oven needs to heat up, you’ll need to start pre-heating the oven with the cast iron container inside. Heat to 240C if your oven will go that hot, otherwise, as hot as it will go. (You may get a little bit of smoke coming off the container when you remove it, especially if, like me, you oil the container for storage to avoid rust.)
  9. The dough needs to prove for around one hour in Hong Kong summer temperatures (up to 15 minutes longer in the winter or if your kitchen is air-conditioned). Test the proof by pressing with a floured finger – it should go indented and slowly recover its shape when you remove your finger. If it springs back almost immediately then it still has some proving to do; if it doesn’t spring back at all, then it’s over-proved – you should bake right away but the rise won’t be optimal.
  10. When ready, remove the cast iron container with oven gloves; take the lid off and drop in the dough gently, the other way up from how it has been proving. Take care – this is very hot.
  11. Bake for around 30 minutes and remove from the oven. Again, take care.
  12. Take the loaf out of the container and put it back directly onto the oven shelf for a final development of the crust. I just do this for 5-10 minutes depending in how pale the bread is when it comes out but Forkish goes longer. Test the bake by tapping on the base of the loaf – it should give a nice hollow sound, if not it needs longer.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack before trying.
Notes
The crust sadly goes soft quite quickly in Hong Kong’s humidity. You can re-fresh the crust by putting it back in a hot oven (say 200C) for 10 minutes.
The loaf keeps well inside a sealed plastic bag – we’ve happily kept this for a week or so.
Alternatively you can freeze it inside a plastic bag. Either defrost and then re-heat the whole loaf or, if you are only going to use a slice or two at a time, you can slice it before freezing and then defrost individual slices in a toaster.

 

Lining Up all Your Ducks in a Row: Duck Confit

DSC02265Roast Duck is one of the great triumphs of Chinese cookery – all those lovely bronzed birds hanging up in the windows of local restaurants. But it’s one of those dishes which is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at home – certainly not something where the payoff matches the effort compared with just buying a takeout from the local.

Despite this, western cook books are full of attempts to re-create the Chinese roast duck in a form that can be attempted at home. I have fond memories of seeing Ken Hom on the BBC in the 1980s demonstrating his method for a roast Peking duck. But they were never as good as you can get from a restaurant.

Rather than follow this forlorn path, we return to one of the classics of western duck cooking: the South West France dish of duck confit. Confit is really a method of preserving rather than a conventional recipe but it can give the twin delights of very tender flesh allied to wonderfully crispy skin. For a period, people were worried about the fattiness of ducks and the possible health implications. But the type of fat in ducks seems to be have been rehabilitated and, in moderation, this is a wonderfully tasty dish.

Note confit takes some time – a minimum of one day to prepare although the actual time you’ll be working won’t be very long. And the taste is better if you can leave the duck for longer, once preserved.

You can buy in your own duck legs and duck fat but that’s not as easy as it might be here in Hong Kong and it’s certainly not cheap. For the more economical approach, for which you can also pat yourself on the back and say it’s more holistic, look at the separate post on Duck Butchery.

In this recipe we are going to confit 6 legs, the yield from three ducks together with the fat we rendered – see the duck butchery post for how to do this, a discussion of how to source the duck and alternatives for the fat.

You can do the recipe with as many or as few legs as you like but there is a certain amount of effort involved in the confit process and, as a preserving method, it works best when you make a good batch and then use what you need, keeping the rest preserved. Also the logistics of making sure there is enough duck fat to cover the legs during the confit process means that it seems to work better with more rather than fewer legs although that partly depends on the shape of your cooking container.

The confit process is actually quite simple once you’ve sourced your legs and fat. Essentially there is a curing phase followed by the cooking itself and then storing. You’ll want some flavorings to add to the curing salt and that’s about it until you’re ready to re-heat and serve.

Some cautions

Remember you are working with raw poultry so need to be scrupulously clean in dealing with knives, cutting boards and anything else that comes into contact with the raw duck. Later, the hot fat is dangerous and there’s a lot of it so, again, be careful handling it.

If you are going to keep the duck confit for some time, you need to be careful with the storing phase. You have to use scrupulously clean equipment, avoid any contact between the legs and the air or any dirt and make sure they are completely covered in fat. If you are going to eat them within a few days, you don’t need to be quite so paranoid – they will keep well in the fridge. I used an oven-proof glass storage container which I sterilized in a low oven (110C) for 20 minutes.

Duck Confit
 
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Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 6 legs (see duck butchery for sourcing)
  • About 1 litre of duck fat (or alternatives – see duck butchery)
  • Salt – about a tablespoon
  • Pepper
  • Five spice powder (optional)
  • 6 Garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 whole star anise (optional)
Method
Curing
  1. In a non-reactive container (e.g. glass, stainless steel or plastic – I used the non-stick container I would later use for cooking) lay the duck legs in as few layers as possible, covering each layer with a good sprinkling of salt and fresh pepper.
  2. I like the taste of five spice powder with duck so added some of that. Traditional recipes would add thyme leaves or maybe bay leaves or nutmeg here.
  3. You then need to cover the container and store in the fridge. Recipes vary on how long – anywhere from about three hours to a couple of days. In my case, I left the legs for a day and a half – longer than I originally planned because if got waylaid by something else. Longer is probably better.
  4. You then need to wash off the curing salt and dry the legs to reduce the amount of moisture going into the confit process. Some cooks (like the Stellar guys) leave the legs uncovered in the fridge for a while to accentuate the drying process but I didn’t bother with this.

Cooking
  1. Lay the legs in a cooking container and throw in the crushed garlic cloves and the star anise if you are using it.
  2. The norm would be a heavy based saucepan that is big enough to contain the legs and enough fat to cover the legs or in an oven tin but it’s difficult to sustain the right low temperature, especially in the oven.
  3. The legs are going to be cooked slowly and I find this is one of those recipes which benefits from a specialised slow cooker (or a rice cooker with a slow cook function) which can achieve a fairly consistent temperature some way below boiling point. If you have one of these, you want to cook the legs for at least three hours. I did it for 5 hours on the low setting and they were very tender at the end, possibly even too tender as the skin broke very easily. I’d do it for 4 hours next time.
  4. If you don’t have a slow cooker, then about an hour and a quarter just barely simmering on the stove-top should be fine - check the legs are cooked through and tender with a knife in the thickest part of the thigh.
  5. Remember the skin at this stage will be soft – it will only get crispy when we do the final re-heat.

Storing
  1. Transfer the duck legs to your sterlised container being as delicate you can, not to break the skin.
  2. Carefully filter the hot fat into a heatproof jug and pour the filtered hot fat over the legs once again to cover them. It’s important to cover all the legs fully.
  3. Allow that to cool, cover and store in the fridge.

Re-heating and Serving
  1. Remove from the fat – you can take out as many as you need but be careful to leave the remaining legs covered with fat.
  2. Scrape off any excess fat and then heat. You can either do this in the oven or in a frying pan. I prefer the latter.
  3. Get a heavy-based pan and heat the legs, skin-side down, on a medium-to-high heat until golden.
  4. Heat a little on the other side.
  5. Serve with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Remember, these are already cooked; you are applying just enough heat to crisp the skin up and warm the meat through.
Notes
The duck legs are very rich in flavour so you don’t need more than one per person accompanied maybe by a light salad. And possibly a little crusty bread to mop up any of that delicious fat.

And the final bonus?
When you’ve finished the last of the duck, you can still use the fat for cooking – the best ever medium for roasting potatoes and the trendy choice for french fries.