Roast turkey

Only twelve months early for your Christmas turkey, and eleven months early for your Thanksgiving turkey, here’s a roasting technique that will make even the most fibrous, leaden bird a moist, crisp-skinned joy. (Not that this one started out either fibrous or leaden – Dr W’s parents bought it from Lishman’s in Ilkley, which is one of those butchers that has almost as many awards as they do pork chops on display – and with good reason. This was a beautiful turkey.)

Turkey is a troublesome meat. It seems that whoever designed the bird constructed it to be difficult and dry – the fibres in the meat are very long and can tend towards stringy; and any bird this large (ours was 14 pounds, which is heavier than both of my cats put together) is at risk of drying out while you try to make sure it’s cooked through. There are, however, some features of the turkey which make it really worth cooking at least once a year, not least its fantastically delicious skin, which, if cooked like this, will turn mahogany-brown, caramelised and crisp. I caught several members of the family peeling skin off the carcass and eating it standing up in the kitchen, which is always a good sign. The bird’s liver is also excellent. It’s rich and creamy, and is really worth saving to enrich your gravy with (of which more later).

So what’s the trick to achieving a moist flesh and crisp skin? It’s as easy as anything – remember that post from 2008 about my experiments with brining? I scaled things up from the jointed chickens I’d been working with earlier, and brined the whole turkey in a savoury, Christmas-y, spicy mixture for two nights. You’ll need a big vessel to do this in. I bought a cheap dustbin from the hardware store, and thought I was being original and clever until Dr W’s Dad, whose own father was a butcher, said that bins were the brining vessels of choice when he was a boy in his Dad’s shop, helping to brine huge cows’ tongues. There’s nothing new under the sun. The really good news about the brining is that it makes the flesh so moist you won’t have to turn the turkey onto its breast partway through cooking. (Anybody who has ever tried to turn a searingly hot turkey partway through cooking will be punching the air with joy on reading this.)

Put your turkey in the brine two nights before you plan to cook it. This amount of brine should be sufficient to cover turkeys up to 20+lb – and if you’re cooking a turkey bigger than that, I have news for you. That’s not a turkey. It’s a pterodactyl. Ours was 14lb, and was submerged nicely. To make the brine, you’ll need:

9 litres cold water
325g salt
300g sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1 orange
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
8 tablespoons maple syrup
8 tablespoons honey
1 large onion, grated
1 large knob ginger, grated
6 cloves garlic, squashed
1 handful each oregano, parsley, tarragon, chives, ripped and squashed with your hands
10 peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground in mortar and pestle
1 large tin pineapple in juice, crushed with masher

For the inside of the bird, the glaze and the giblet stock you’ll need:

1 large onion
1 lime
1 tangerine
1 lemon
200g salted butter plus a tablespoon for frying the liver
4 tablespoons maple syrup
giblets from the turkey
1 shallot
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon flour
1 glass red wine
salt and pepper

Combine all the brine ingredients in your carefully cleaned bin, and stir with a wooden spoon until all the salt and sugar have dissolved. The pineapple is important. It has an enzymatic action on the protein of the turkey, making the flesh softer and more moist – it also tastes fantastic. Lower the turkey in carefully (don’t drop it in – it’ll splash and you may tear the skin) and leave the bin, covered with a sheet of cling film and its lid, in a cold place until the morning you want to cook it. Outside the back door should be fine in cold December, unless you live in an area with foxes, in which case the coldest part of the garage is probably preferable.

Turkey, brined or otherwise, is at its best when cooked quickly. Don’t stuff the bird (not even the neck) – this will just make the cooking time unacceptably long. I’ll be providing a recipe for stuffing cooked separately later this week.

Remove the turkey from the brine two hours before you intend to cook it to allow it to come to room temperature. Push a quartered large onion, a halved lime, a halved tangerine and a halved lemon into the bird’s cavity. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) when you are ready to start cooking, and make a stock by simmering all the giblets except the liver (which you should save in a bowl until you make the gravy) in a litre of water in a covered pan with some salt, a halved shallot, a peeled carrot and a bay leaf while you cook the turkey. Melt together 200g of salted butter and 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, and use the mixture to baste the turkey before it goes into the oven. Cook at this high temperature for 30 minutes. The turkey should already be turning golden brown. Baste again, cover with tin foil, and lower the temperature to 180°C (350°C), basting every twenty minutes or so with the butter and maple syrup mixture. For the last 15 minutes of cooking, remove the foil and baste again.

Cooking times for different weights of turkey are as follows:

  • 5lb – 1½ hours
  • 8lb – 1¾ hours
  • 10lb – 2 hours
  • 12lb – 2½ hours
  • 15lb – 2¾ hours
  • 17lb – 3 hours
  • 20lb – 3½ hours
  • 25lb – 4½ hours

Poke with a skewer behind the thigh joint to make sure the bird is done (if it is, the juices will run clear – nay, spurt, if you’ve brined it – they should not be pinkish), and rest the finished bird for 20 minutes before serving. This will give you time to make the gravy. Sauté the liver in a tablespoon of soft butter until it is just cooked, and use the back of a spoon to push it through a sieve into a bowl. Skim all but a few tablespoons of fat from the pan juices from the turkey and discard, and with the roasting pan on a low heat on the hob, whisk the flour into the remaining fat and the meat juices. When the flour is blended with the fat, tip in the wine and whisk as it bubbles up. Add a couple of ladles of the giblet stock until the gravy is the texture you want, then whisk in the sieved liver. Add any more juices which have come from the resting turkey, and season to taste.

Over this week, I’ll be posting all the trimmings you need to go with your Christmas dinner – bread and cranberry sauces, stuffing balls, chipolatas in pancetta, some really fantastic roast potatoes and (cough) sprouts. I realise it’s early in the year, but these are all fantastic with roasts year-round, they’re fresh in my mind, and you have a bookmark button if you want to save all this to read for Christmas 2009.

Twice-cooked aromatic pork hock

I mentioned earlier this week that I’d found a pork hock, big enough to serve three, for a recession-busting £2.30 at the butcher. Now, as with a lot of the more knobbly bits of a pig, my favourite thing to do with this cut is to stew it slowly, for a long time, with rich and aromatic Chinese flavourings like soy and star anise. That said, there are already a couple of recipes on this blog which show you how to stew a piece of meat like this (see the braised pork belly or the Malaysian braised pork with buns), so I decided to ring the changes by turning this into a twice-cooked dish. The soft, braised meat has its bones removed and is cooled before being deep-fried whole, then shredded. Served with the thick, reduced cooking liquid and a sprinkling of herbs and chillies, it’s just gorgeous – crisp bits, soft bits, all with fantastic rich flavour that penetrates all the way through the meat.

The Japanese, who have a word for everything foodsome, call the mouth-feel you get with a dish like this umai – the sauce is umai because its thickness comes from the gelatin in the meat. (You know the kind of sauce I mean – it’s the sort that turns into a set jelly if you leave it in the fridge.) If you enjoy the rich, silky texture of sauces like this, it’s worth reducing and freezing any that you have left when you’re done cooking and eating, and saving it to use as the base of the stock you use next time you cook a similar Chinese pork dish. You can do this indefinitely, and a master stock like this will just get better and better. Just follow your recipe as usual, but add the defrosted master stock to the dish at the same time you add any other liquid ingredients.

To serve two ravenous and unfortunately greedy people or three ordinarily-hungry people, you’ll need:

1 pork hock
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
5 cloves garlic
4 shallots
3 stars of star anise
1 stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
6 spring onions
1 in piece ginger, sliced
3 tablespoons dark soy
5 tablespoons light soy
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
4 teaspoons runny honey
2 teaspoons salt
250 ml pork stock
1 glass Chinese cooking wine
Water to cover
1 handful fresh coriander
1 red chilli
750ml peanut oil (use a flavourless oil if you can’t find any)

Blend the shallots, garlic, five-spice powder, 2 stars of anise, the sugar and the spring onions together in a food processor, and fry the resulting mix in a small amount of oil in the bottom of a heavy saucepan until it is turning a light caramel colour. Add the pork hock to the pan and brown on all sides, then pour over the stock, Chinese wine, honey, sauces and salt. Add three of the spring onions, the ginger and remaining star of anise to the pan with the cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces. Add water if necessary to cover the meat.

Put the lid on the pan and bring to a very gentle simmer. Continue to simmer, turning occasionally, for 4-5 hours. At the end of this time, the hock should be soft and aromatic, and the bones falling out of the middle. Remove the meat to a plate and, when it is cool enough, remove both bones from the hock (they’ll slip out very easily – you won’t need a knife). Don’t remove the skin – it’s the best bit.

Remove the spring onions and ginger from the stock and discard, and boil the stock to reduce it to about half its volume. Dice the chilli, chop the coriander and remaining fresh spring onions finely, and put them in a small bowl.

Heat 750 ml of oil in a wok to between 175 and 190°C (345–375°F). Fry the cooled hock for four minutes, then turn it over and fry for a further four minutes. Drain and remove to a plate, and use two forks to shred the meat. Serve over rice, with some of the thickened stock poured over, and the spring onion, chilli and coriander mixture sprinkled liberally on top.

Oxtail casserole

With the collapse of the global financial system, I notice my local butcher is displaying some less expensive cuts, like lamb shanks, oxtail and pork hock, more prominently than usual. The meat in this dish, which would have comfortably served four, cost £3. (That pork hock is in the freezer, and it cost £2.30 – I think I’ll cook it in a Chinese style later this week.)

Oxtail has a very distinctive, rich, dense flavour, unlike other cuts of beef. It’s well worth making good friends with in winter – slow-cooked, it’s one of the most warming dishes I can think of. A casserole made with oxtail will be pleasingly dense without adding any thickening agents; the gelatin in the meat thickens the sauce with no need for flour.

Cooking on a budget needn’t mean a life of porridge and baked beans. I cooked this delicious oxtail until its meat became meltingly soft in a red wine and beef stock sauce (cheap red wine, home-made stock – buy a tub from the supermarket chiller section if you don’t have your own), with some new potatoes I’d walloped with the side of the rolling pin and roasted with some whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and plenty of salt and pepper. There was sauce left over, gelatinous and rich, and studded with vegetables and butter beans. I warmed it through and spooned what was left over a baked potato for lunch the next day.

To serve four, you’ll need:

1kg oxtail, joints separated
150g smoked lardons
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
4 stalks celery
5 cloves garlic
1 bouquet garni
1 bottle red wine
150ml beef stock
2 generous tablespoons tomato purée
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 can butter beans
Salt and pepper
Parsley to garnish
Olive oil

Dice the onion, carrot and celery into small, even cubes, and slice the garlic finely. Set aside. Heat some olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and brown the oxtail carefully all over. Remove the oxtail to a plate. Fry the lardons in the pan until they start to crisp and release their fat. Lower the heat to low/medium and add the diced vegetables and garlic to the pan. Sauté, moving around vigorously, until the onions and celery are softening and have turned translucent. Return the oxtail and any juices to the pan, stir well to mix, and pour over the wine and stock with a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of pepper. (You are allowed to subtract a glass of wine from the bottle before you add it to the pan if you really want: cook’s privilege.) Add the bouquet garni, tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar to the pan and bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat right down, pop the lid on and leave to cook gently for four hours, stirring every now and again.

At the end of the cooking time, reduce the sauce with the lid off a little if you’d like it even thicker and richer. Drain the can of beans, and add them to the casserole, simmering for fifteen minutes. The meat will be falling away from the bone easily. Serve with plenty of starchy potatoes to soak up all the delicious sauce.

Spaghetti bolognese

Four hundred-plus posts on this blog, and there are still some really basic, popular things I’ve not written about. Would you believe that I haven’t cooked a spag bol since 2005? I spent yesterday evening remedying the problem – here’s a recipe for a rich, savoury, gorgeously gloppy version, full of wine and herbs.

As any self-respecting Italian will tell you, if you ordered what we call spaghetti bolognese in Italy, you would get a funny look. In Italy, this sauce is called ragù or ragù alla bolognese, and it’s not usually served with spaghetti – you’re more likely to find your ragù as a layer in a lasagne or served with tagliatelle.

Back in 1992, the folks in Bologna decided that they had had enough of the world’s bastardisation of their hometown sauce, and the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina issued a proclamation. From that point on, bolognese sauce would be defined strictly, and could only be called ragù alla bolognese if it was made with a limited set of ingredients: beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, passata, beef stock, red wine and milk.

Inevitably, I’ve strayed away from the strict letter of the Accademia’s law here in (cough) a few details, but I don’t think you’ll be too saddened by this, because what results is damn tasty. Please use the anchovies even if you don’t usually like them – they add a subtle depth to the sauce, but they don’t make it taste fishy.

To make enough spaghetti bolognese to serve four, you’ll need:

500g ground or minced steak (ground steak is more authentic here, but if you can’t find it, mince is fine)
4 banana shallots
5 anchovies
2 bay leaves
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
500g passata (pressed tomatoes)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 cloves garlic
5 sundried tomatoes in oil
¼ bottle red wine
1 ladle beef stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large handful fresh oregano
1 large handful fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Parmesan to garnish

Chop the shallots finely and sweat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid over a low heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for about 20 minutes, until translucent but not colouring. Add the anchovies and bay leaves to the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the anchovies disintegrate into the shallots. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the beef to the pan, cooking, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browning all over. Add the finely diced carrot and celery with a tablespoon of dried oregano and the chopped garlic and chopped sundried tomatoes. Sweating off these vegetables will add some moisture to the pan – keep cooking and stirring until the pan is nearly dry again.

Pour the wine into the beef mixtures, bring up to a simmer and add the passata and beef stock with the Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently with the lid off until the sauce has reduced to a thick texture (20-30 minutes), and continue to simmer with the lid on for as long as possible, checking occasionally and adding a little water if things seem to be drying out. Mine was on the hob for four hours – if you have time to leave yours even longer, feel free – the longer the better.

Immediately before serving, stir through the chopped fresh herbs. Cook 100g spaghetti per person according to the packet instructions, and serve with the sauce and parmesan cheese.

Lamb loin fillet with caper butter sauce

I’m having some trouble writing coherently today because I have one eye (OK – two eyes) on the news – I’m obsessing somewhat about the US election, and I really, really hope the polls are accurate. The BBC is currently showing helicopter footage of a queue of voters in Virginia – it’s so long that a helicopter is the only way they can film it.

Here’s a really fantastic lamb dish to serve to someone you’re trying to impress. Loin fillets are seared in olive oil and roasted briefly, so they’re still lovely and pink in the centre, then served with a butter sauce made dense and salty with shallots, anchovies and capers. The anchovies give amazing savoury depth and richness to the dish and go fabulously with lamb, but when cooked like this they don’t taste fishy – in fact, they melt into the sauce so completely that you will be able to serve this to anchovy-haters with no problems.

To serve two, you’ll need:

2 lamb loin fillets
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 shallots
4 anchovies
2 teaspoons capers (use tiny ones in wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon cream
100g salted butter
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Fresh basil to garnish

Crush the garlic and rub it all over the lamb with the lemon zest, a little salt and plenty of pepper. Put aside for an hour at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200° C.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, and sear the lamb all over in it. The pan must be very hot – you’re aiming to brown the lamb to a lovely mahogany colour. Place the whole, seared fillets in a roasting dish and put in the oven for ten minutes.
When the lamb has had ten minutes in the oven, take it out and rest it in its cooking dish in a warm place for another ten minutes while you make the sauce.

While the lamb is resting, make the sauce. Melt the butter in the frying pan (over a lower heat now) and add the finely chopped shallots. Simmer the shallots in the butter for five minutes, then add the anchovies and cook, stirring, until they have melted into the sauce. Still over a low heat, stir in the cream and capers, then use a balloon whisk to beat the lemon juice into the sauce. Start with half the juice and taste as you add more until you have a sauce which is tart and buttery all at once.

Slice the fillets into medallions and arrange on the plate with a drizzle of the sauce and some basil to garnish.

Toad in the hole with onion gravy

Our friend Simon (the same Simon that hates tofu) is a man of set habits. Every Friday, he makes toad in the hole for supper. He has been doing this for about fifteen years now, and has developed some strongly held feelings about how the perfect toad is constructed. I quote directly from a very involved post he wrote about doing the Listener crossword a while ago – the toad recipe pops up somewhere in the middle when he gets briefly stuck on 29 across.

“All these celebrity chefs publish recipes for toad-in-the-hole, and they are, without exception, rubbish. Most involve too many eggs, and end up the texture of leather. So, here is the definitive recipe – bear in mind I’ve made this every Friday night for about 15 years, so I know what I’m talking about…

Get a metal baking tin, preferably non-stick. Rectangular is best, about 30cm by 40cm. Put a pound of Tesco’s Finest Pork & Herb sausages in it, along with a large splash of vegetable oil (or a lump of beef dripping if you’re daring.) Put it in the oven at 200 degrees C (180 degrees if fan-assisted) – no need to preheat, just bung it in from cold.

Put 4 oz of cheap plain flour into a glass jug. Add a pinch of salt, and break in an egg. Add about a quarter of a pint of full-fat milk, and whisk to a smooth paste – the best tool is a French whisk, those things that look like a big metal spring. Once you’ve got a smooth paste, add another quarter pint of full fat milk and whisk like mad to get some air into it. Leave to stand for 20 minutes, by which time the sausages should be browning and the fat should be hot.

Rapidly remove the pan from the oven, pour in all the batter, and quickly return to the heat. Leave for about 25-30 minutes, until the pudding has risen and is golden brown. Remove from the tray and serve with lashings of HP Fruity sauce. Vegetables are unnecessary. The quantity above serves one, with a couple of cold sausages left over for breakfast on Saturday.”

I am grudgingly grateful, because Simon’s Yorkshire pudding batter, which forms the ‘hole’ part of a toad in the hole (sausages, for some reason, are the ‘toad’ bit – English food etymology baffles me) is bleedin’ terrific. Simon – your basic proposal is sound, I applaud your use of beef dripping and the batter is, admittedly, fantastic – but HP Fruity? Tesco’s Finest sausages? Vegetables are unnecessary? I made my toad in the hole to Simon’s basic recipe using some sausages from the butcher’s, but stirred a tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of chopped sage into the batter just before pouring it into the tin. I also made an onion gravy to moisten the lovely puffy batter so that I could avoid the HP Fruity, and stir-fried a thinly sliced Savoy cabbage with some lardons of bacon fried until crisp. We found that with the gravy and bacon-spiked cabbage, the amounts above were more than enough for two. (This is not to say we did not clean our plates. Toad in the hole just invites you to overeat.)

Onion gravy is fantastic stuff. It’s a delicious and incredibly savoury way to lubricate those meals that don’t produce much in the way of liquids themselves (try some with a pork chop or over naked, hole-less sausages some time). Just make sure you’ve got some decent stock hanging around. If you don’t have any home-made stock, try Knorr’s concentrated liquid stock in the brown bottles – it’s really pretty good. To make enough for two, you’ll need:

2 large onions
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon beef dripping (or goose fat)
2 teaspoons plain flour
300 ml chicken stock
1 glass white wine
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

Melt the beef dripping in a frying pan and saute the sliced onions with the salt for about half an hour, until they are turning a lovely brown. Sprinkle the flour over and stir well to make sure it’s distributed well around the pan, and pour over the stock, stirring slowly all the time. Pour the wine in and bring to a gentle simmer for five minutes, until the gravy is thickened and the alcohol has burned off. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.

I much prefer to use dark soy for gravy-browning purposes – those browning granules you can buy don’t add anything at all in the way of flavour, where dark soy will give a rich background (which doesn’t taste recognisably Chinese) to your sauce along with its great colour.

Cochinita pibil

This red-cooked Mexican pork is marinated in an acidic dressing, then cooked slowly for hours, with meltingly tender results. It’s a traditional recipe from Yucatan, where pork would be marinaded in the bitter local orange juice with achiote paste, then wrapped in banana leaves and buried in a fire pit for hours (pibil is Mayan for buried). Those of you without a handy banana tree and fire pit can make it in the oven in a dish sealed tightly with tinfoil – banana leaves, although very decorative, don’t really add any flavour, so you’re not really losing out here. The juice of bitter oranges can be approximated with a bit of vinegar and some lemon juice blended with sweet orange juice.

Unfortunately, while you can do clever conjuring tricks with your lemons, vinegar and tinfoil, there’s not really anything you can substitute for the achiote paste in this recipe. Achiote is what gives this dish its lovely red colour. It’s a made from crushed annatto seeds – in the UK you can sometimes find achiote powder (Barts make it and it’s stocked in the spices section in some supermarkets), but the paste is far preferable. The Cool Chile Company, Mexgrocer and Casa Mexico are good UK suppliers of Mexican ingredients, and will mail you some paste.

To serve four, you’ll need:

825g fat pork shoulder
3 tablespoons achiote paste
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons each fennel, coriander and cumin seeds, ground in the pestle and mortar
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 crumbled bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
10 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 pointy peppers
1 large onion
1 tablespoon salt

Start by chopping the pork into chunks about 3 inches square. Don’t trim the fat away – it will moisten the meat as it cooks. Put the pork in a large bowl with the herbs, spices, juices, vinegar, salt and garlic, stir well to blend all the ingredients and marinate overnight.

When you come to cook the pork, chop the onion into large chunks and brown the chunks in a dry frying pan. Chop the peppers into long strips. Spread the pork and its marinade evenly in a shallow dish, layer the onion and peppers on top, and cover tightly with a couple of pieces of tinfoil, making sure you make a good seal all around the edge of the dish. Roast on a low rack in the oven at 150°C (300°F) for three hours.

When the cooking time is up, unwrap the dish and leave to rest for ten minutes. Serve on tortillas (corn tortillas are great if you can find them – again, they’re sometimes hard to find in the UK) with guacamole, a good dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (crème fraîche is closer to the crema you’d eat in Mexico), some fresh coriander and Mexican pickled onions. Those onions are the gorgeous pink things in the picture at the top, and they’re a traditional accompaniment for this dish – I’ll put up a recipe for them later in the week.

Hoi sin beer can chicken

This is an extremely tasty hybrid – American barbecue crossed with Chinese roast chicken. Regular readers may already have read my original beer can chicken post, and it’s worth glancing at it again for more on this cooking method, which is one of my favourites for roasting chicken. A can of beer is – how can I say this delicately? – rammed up the chicken’s bottom, and steams the bird from the inside while the outside roasts to a lovely crisp.

Usually, I make chicken cooked in this way with an American-style dry rub. This time, I’ve made a Chinese paste to marinade and cook the bird in, and I’m very pleased with the results. I served this with some steamed rice and sweetly stir-fried carrot and courgettes – about which you can read more later in the week.

To roast one chicken to toothsome perfection you’ll need:

1 chicken weighing around 1.5 kilogrammes
4 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
3 teaspoons five-spice powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 piece of ginger about the size of your thumb
3 cloves garlic
1 can lager

Make a paste from the hoi sin, two teaspoons of the five-spice powder, 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, and the ginger and garlic, grated. Rub it all over the chicken, both inside and out. Leave to marinade for at least three hours (I left mine overnight).

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F), pour half of the can of beer into a glass and drink it, and use a hammer and nail to knock a few holes in the top of the can alongside the ringpull. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of five-spice powder into the can (be careful – it will fizz extravagantly, so do this over the sink). Put the can in the centre of a roasting tin. Cut the string holding the chicken’s legs together, pull them apart so it looks like it’s standing up, and push the upright chicken firmly onto the can. I use a very cheap stand, whose wires I’ve bent so you can fit them round the can, when I roast chicken this way – it helps keep the whole apparatus from falling over while it cooks.

There is little dignity in death for chickens.

Roast the chicken for 1 hour and 30 minutes (if you have a large enough barbecue with readily controlled temperature, cook it in there instead of the oven), and remove carefully from the can. Pour away the beer in the can – it doesn’t taste great. Rest the chicken in a warmed dish for ten minutes – it will produce plenty of delicious juices to go with any that have dripped into the roasting tin during cooking. Whisk the juices together with a teaspoon of sesame oil, and pour over the carved chicken. Garnish with some chopped spring onion and serve.

Ma-po tofu

Ma-po tofuI write this with two of my friends in mind – Francis, whose tofu disintegrates, and Simon, who, on hearing that I was making something with beancurd in, said: “Ewww! Tofu!” – the sod.

Now, unlike Simon, I’m lucky enough to have spent a childhood being exposed not to the vegetarian tofu-masquerading-as-meat school of cooking, but the Chinese sort, where tofu is a delicious addendum to meat. In this dish (whose name means ‘pock-marked old woman’s tofu’, just to put Simon off even further) the tofu isn’t treated as a blank sponge of protein to absorb flavour – instead, its own flavour, actually rather subtle, delicate and somehow cooling, is a contrast to an amazingly savoury, chilli-hot surrounding of soy, chillies and pork. Totally delicious, and it’s very easy to make – just make sure that all your ingredients are chopped and ready in bowls before you start to stir-fry, because you’ll have to move fast once you begin cooking.

To serve six, you’ll need:

500g pork mince
3 tablespoons dark soya sauce
3 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon sugar
50ml Chinese wine
700g firm silken-style tofu (Blue Dragon is good, and it’s easy to find in UK supermarkets)
5 cloves garlic
1 piece ginger, about the length of your thumb
6 dried shitake mushrooms without stems
400ml water
3 red bird’s eye chillies (I like this hot – cut down on the chillies if you don’t)
2 tablespoons chilli bean paste
12 spring onions (scallions)
1 tablespoon sesame oil

In a large bowl, mix the pork (I like quite a fatty mince here) with one teaspoon of the cornflour, the dark soy, sugar and Chinese wine. Set aside for a couple of hours in the fridge.

While the pork is marinading, soak the mushrooms in the boiling water. Chop the tofu into cubes about 2cm on each side and set aside in a bowl. Chop the garlic and ginger into tiny dice, slice the chillies finely, and put them all in another bowl. Chop the spring onions into small pieces and put the pieces from the lower, creamy and pale green half of the stem in the bowl with the garlic, ginger and chillies, and the pieces from the top, dark green half of the stem in a third bowl. When the mushrooms have soaked for half an hour, chop them into dice about the same size as the spring onion pieces, reserving the soaking liquid, and put the chopped mushrooms in the bowl with the garlic, ginger, chillies and the bottom half of the spring onions.

When you’re ready to start cooking, heat a wok with a couple of tablespoons of flavourless oil in the bottom until it starts to smoke. Throw the pork and its marinade in, and stir-fry until the pork has browned and starts to look a little crusty. Add the contents of the ginger and garlic bowl, stir-fry for about twenty seconds, and add the chilli bean sauce. Keep stir-frying until everything is mixed well, and add the tofu with the soaking liquid from the mushrooms. Stir very gently to make sure everything is combined.

Turn the heat down low and bring everything to a simmer – the tofu should be distributed evenly through the mixture. Don’t stir (this instruction is especially for you, Francis), or the tofu will break up – as it is, you’ll notice it breaks up a little, but the vast majority should stay in firm cubes. Allow the mixture to simmer for ten minutes, then add the remaining cornflour mixed with a little cold water (the water must be cold, or you’ll get lumps), stir very gently and simmer until thickened. Throw in the green tops of the spring onions, sprinkle over the sesame oil, and transfer to a bowl to serve.

Chicken devil curry

This is a recipe with a really interesting pedigree. It’s a Malaysian curry, but it’s not a Tamil Indian, Malay or Chinese recipe. This dish is unique to the Kristang, descendants of Portuguese traders who lived in the port of Malacca, and is deliciously different in flavour to the curries you usually find in Malaysia.

Chicken devil curry is a bit like a cross between the vinegar-seasoned curries of Goa and the devilled foods of Victorian Britain. It’s fiery hot, and unbelievably tasty. Serve with plenty of rice – you’ll need it to soak up the sauce, which is serious foretaste-of-the-heavenly-feast stuff, and to temper the heat of the chillies. I served this with some dal and some cooling pineapple and cucumber salad.

To serve 4, you’ll need:

6 chicken joints (your choice), with bone and skin
4 medium potatoes
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic
2 in piece of ginger, peeled
1 stalk lemongrass
10 fresh red chillies
10 dried red chillies
10 blanched almonds (or 5 candlenuts, if you can find them)
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 can coconut milk (use a brand like Chacao without emulsifiers)
1 teaspoon caster sugar
Salt and pepper

Rub the chicken pieces (I used six thighs) with a teaspoon of caster sugar, a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of pepper. Set aside while you prepare the curry paste.

Put the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, almonds and both kinds of chillies in the bowl of your food processor with 2 tablespoons of water, and whizz until everything is reduced to a paste.

Heat 2 tablespoons of flavourless oil in a wok, and brown the chicken all over. Remove it to a plate, and add the curry paste to the hot wok. Cook the paste over a high flame, stirring all the time, for five minutes with a spoonful of the cream from the top of the coconut milk.

Add the mustards, the sugar and vinegar to the paste and stir until the mixture starts to bubble. Lower the heat to medium and slide the browned chicken pieces into the pan to cook in the paste for ten minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk from the can with a teaspoon of salt and the chopped potatoes. Stir well to make sure all the potato and chicken is covered with sauce, put a lid on the wok and simmer over a low flame for 20-30 minutes.