Monday, 8 December 2014

Tea-smoked salmon

For my second (entree) course in my four-course meal, I decided to take on an unfamiliar cooking technique. I thought this would be quite a challenge as I could not for the life of me think of a technique I hadn't tried before, and that was interesting enough to write an assignment about (I've never deep fried food before but I wanted something more exotic for some bonus marks)!

Luckily a Google search of "unusual cooking techniques" came up with some absolute winners, from recipes with an intriguing back story (Beggar's Chicken - in which the chicken is covered in mud and then baked) to new ways of using household appliances (salmon in a dishwasher, anyone? how about an ironed cheesed sandwich?). I was surprised at how many techniques there actually were to try!

The technique that I eventually decided on was tea-smoking - it had a nice balance of being unusual enough but still within the realms of my abilities (and it gave me an opportunity to try out a new cooking method for my beloved tea!). This method originates from Sichuan province in China, and uses tea leaves to create smoke. Normally duck is used, but I chose to do salmon because I love smoked salmon, and I also thought it might be a bit easier!

What got me about this method was that I had always thought of smoking as being some sort of very caveman-like, primeval experience, requiring a big smoking shed and a wood fire, and filling the air with great big billowing clouds of smoke. But with tea-smoking you don't need to bother with all of that fuss, as the smoking can be done completely inside, in a regular kitchen, with just a wok or a pot!

Luckily, the end result was perfectly cooked salmon with a lightly smoky flavour, and most surprisingly the tea leaves did impart their unique fragrant aroma to the dish. I used green tea to keep with the Chinese theme, but I think it would be a nice to experiment with different types of tea leaves to see how it changes the flavour.

My family taste testers enjoyed this dish overall, commenting that the salmon had an unusual but nice taste, and that the tea taste was in fact quite noticeable. The only quibble was from Mr Duckie, who said that it was missing some flavour - of course in my hurry I had forgotten to put some salt on!

I was rather nervous about making this dish, as I had images of myself smoking out the whole house and setting off the fire alarm. In fact, this turned out to be a very easy dish to make . Basically you just put some tea leaves in the bottom of a steamer, heat up for a while to create some smoke, then pop the salmon pieces on top! I should warn you though that this will create some strong smelling smoke - in fact Mr Duckie kept asking me whether I had burnt something - I reassured him multiple times that it was supposed to smell smoky, although I’m not sure that either he or I was convinced!

Overall, I think this dish definitely gives you bang for your buck. There are plenty of healthy omega-3 fats from the salmon and no other fats or oils need to be added. Adding a simple side salad can easily turn this into a complete meal. The process is quite quick and straightforward (although do make sure to open your windows!). And you can easily impress your family and friends by pretending you had to use some fancy smoking equipment to create the unique flavour!

Now onto trying some more unusual cooking techniques!

Tea-smoked salmon

Serves 6


600g salmon fillets, skin on
8 tbsp jasmine rice
8 tbsp soft brown sugar
4 tbsp green tea leaves
3 carrots
4 radishes
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Cut salmon fillets into six pieces, or so they will fit into a steamer basket. Place salmon, skin down, into steamer basket (the skin protects the fish from sticking to the steamer).

Line a pot with 4 layers of foil. In a small bowl, mix rice, sugar and tea leaves. Place in the bottom of the pot and spread it out so it covers the base evenly. Cover with a lid, place over a low heat, and leave to smoke for 5 minutes.

Remove lid and place steamer basket over the pot. Replace lid and smoke for 10 minutes (or until cooked to your liking). Once cooked, remove salmon from basket. The salmon flesh should lift away easily from the skin.

Meanwhile, combine carrots, radishes and vinegar.

Serve salmon with carrot and radish salad.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Chicken meatball satays - for the whole family!

Food plays an important role for so many in bringing people together - we celebrate special occasions with big dinners, or catch up with loved ones over tea and cake. So what happens when you can't just eat and enjoy freely, when your diet has to meet strict guidelines, or when different people have different dietary needs?

This was the topic of one of my assignments this semester. Actually this was the most fun assignment I've ever done  - not only did it involve cooking new recipes, but I could appreciate just how important it would be to understand and respect individual requirements, cultures, and beliefs in providing useful and appropriate nutrition advice.

The assignment involved making a four course meal, with each course following a particular theme to challenge our cooking and menu planning abilities: (1) therapeutic modification (e.g. to meet requirements of people in hospital); (2) unfamiliar cooking technique; (3) unfamiliar culture; and (4) social modification (e.g. religious, ethical, economic).

For my first course (appetiser), I chose to take on a therapeutic modification, which would involve changing a recipe to meet certain therapeutic guidelines. What I wanted to do was to make a meal that everyone could enjoy - for those of you who have to cater to different needs, I'm sure you're familiar with having to cook multiple meals so that no one gets left out. Having one meal that everyone could happily share would be the perfect antidote to all this fuss!

This was my favourite challenge, as in Mr Duckie's family there are a couple of people with special needs. At the time, Mr Duckie's grandpa had recently returned home from hospital, and had been put on a texture-modified diet due to swallowing difficulties (swallowing is actually quite a complex process requiring multiple muscles and nerves!). This requires that he eats only soft-textured foods that can be easily chewed, so as to reduce choking risk.

In addition, as I mentioned in a previous post, my sister-in-law Anita is fatally allergic to nuts. She is so sensitive that she can even smell when someone has eaten peanut butter in her vicinity! So, my task was to make a tasty, nutritious meal that the whole family could enjoy.

I decided to take on what would normally be a no-go recipe, grilled satay skewers with peanut sauce. I chose a meat-based dish as people with swallowing difficulties often have difficulty eating enough protein as it tends to be more tough.

To modify the meat, I used chicken mince and added tofu for extra softness. I shaped the mixture into meatballs to increase the visual appeal, as usually soft food tends to pretty much big lumps of pureed mush (we had the opportunity to try some of these foods in class, actually I found the pureed meal quite tasty!). I also poached the meatballs instead of baking or frying them, to make sure that there would be no hard surfaces.

An example of a pureed hospital meal and some thickened fluids for people with swallowing difficulties, actually all yummier than they look!

To modify the peanut sauce, I used tahini (sesame seed paste) instead of peanut butter, as I found that this had a similar consistency and also gave a pleasant nutty taste. The addition of the sauce to the meatballs was also aimed at keeping the meat moist, making it easier to swallow, and adding some extra calories in to ensure Grandpa's energy needs were met (with swallowing difficulties it can be hard to get enough in because the process of eating is so much more troublesome).

Not so peanut sauce!

So, how did these family-friendly chicken satays go? Luckily, everyone was very impressed by the sauce. My father-in-law said “If you had said it had peanuts in it, I would have believed you”. The funniest comment came from Anita who exclaimed “so that’s what peanut tastes like!” The meatballs themselves were nice and soft, and were easily mashed up with a fork.

My main guest-of-honour, Grandpa, decided that the meatballs were “very nice”, which given his speaking difficulties, I took as high praise! Most importantly, he had no difficulties in eating his meal.

Overall, this was an easy to prepare dish that happily brought the whole family together, showing that having special dietary needs does not mean anyone has to be left out! I was really glad to have been able to make a meal that everyone could safely eat but also enjoy. Stay tuned for the next post on my second course - a new cooking technique!

Chicken meatball satays

Serves 8


Chicken meatballs

300g silken firm tofu
600g chicken mince
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
10g fresh ginger, finely grated
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
2 eggs, beaten
60g wholemeal breadcrumbs

Satay sauce

1 cup tahini
300ml coconut cream
3 tbsp kecap manis
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

For the meatballs: Wrap the tofu with paper towel and let it drain for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine chicken mince, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, and eggs. Break drained tofu into small pieces and mix into mince mixture. Add breadcrumbs and stir well to combine.

Shape 1 tablespoon full of mixture into meatballs.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil. Drop meatballs carefully into water and poach gently for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Thread cooked meatballs onto skewers and serve with satay sauce.

For satay sauce: combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until combined and heated through.