Friday, 29 February 2008

Simple vegetable stir fry with broccoli and peppers

A vegetable stir fry does not have to consist of only 'Asian/Chinese' vegetables like beansprouts, bak choy or choy sum. Almost any vegetables can be stir fried.

This stir fry consists of only three ingredients: broccoli, red pepper and garlic. A drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil and you have an attractive, healthy and delicious dish for the table.

Broccoli and peppers stir fry with garlic

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 small head of broccoli, separated into florets
1 red pepper
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling water for a couple of minutes so that they are partially cooked. Stir frying is a quick method of cooking and the broccoli stems would take too long to cook properly. Drain and set aside.

Heat some oil in a large frying pan or wok on medium heat. Add in the garlic and stir for 30 seconds to fragrant the oil before adding the peppers and broccoli. Stir fry for a few minutes until the peppers are cooked (you will see a change in colour). Drizzle soy sauce and sesame oil at the end, mix well, and serve immediately.

~ ~ ~

I have been tagged by My Cooking Hut for a meme of 5 things, but I have already done a very similar one last month of 7 things. But do check out her lovely blog with mouth-watering photography.

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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Wilted spinach with bacon bits

Wilted spinach with bacon bits

Even as a kid, I never needed Popeye to convince me that spinach is delicious and good for you. I like them as a veggie stir fry, in soups, quiches, tarts and salads. Strangely enough, I've never actually eaten or seen the stalks of spinach since moving to the UK. All the packets of spinach that I see at the supermarkets only have leaves - what happened to the stalks?? I love the stalks and leaves in a stir fry (spinach stir fried with garlic, mmm...) and I miss the crunchiness of the stalks.

On another note, apparently the smell of frying bacon is the one thing most likely to turn a vegetarian back to eating meat. Other than featuring in a fry-up for breakfast, or in a sandwich (BLT, bacon and brie), bacon can also be very useful as an ingredient. Its salty and intense flavour go well with plainer ingredients and really liven up a dish.

In this case, I have combined bacon and spinach in a vegetable side dish. Am I making the spinach less healthy or making the bacon more healthy? Who knows, but it sure tasted good. This might also be a way to convince your friends or kids who don't like spinach to give it a go.

Ingredients (serves 2):

1 rasher of bacon, finely chopped
150g spinach (or however much you like. Remember spinach will wilt and shrink A LOT when cooked)

Method:

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large pan and fry the bacon bits until they are slightly brown and starting to crisp at the edges. Then add in the washed spinach and cover the pan with a lid. Leave for a minute for the spinach to steam and reduce in bulk. Remove the lid and stir the lot until the spinach has just wilted. Remove from heat immediately and serve.

This takes all of 5 minutes. It also works well with chopped up chorizo sausage with its strong flavour. Just remember not to use too much bacon or chorizo because they are very salty. No additional seasoning is needed.

Note: Spinach releases water when cooked. I sometimes just leave the excess water in the pan when dishing up if I want a dry serving. I have also done a 'wet' spinach stir fry where I left the liquid in with dish as a tasty stock base. Just remember not to overcook spinach to avoid turning it into a slimy pulp, which is what turns many people off spinach in the first place.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Chicken and leek pie

Chicken and leek pie 1

This recipe has been adapted from the one in Jamie's Dinners. The addition of the meatballs adds a special touch to an old favourite. I made this as two individual pies. You could do this on a medium sized pie dish and serve up two portions, or just double the amount and cook in a large dish for four.

To be honest, I seldom make my own pastry. Unless I am making something special where the pastry is the highlight, there's just too much other food preparation and cooking to do for a meal. The ready-made pastry that you find at the chilled or frozen section in supermarkets do work well. Puff pastry in particular, I have never bothered making. It's all just too delicate and fussy. (And Jamie Oliver agrees!) I find that the ones that you have to roll out yourself seem to handle and taste slightly better than the ready-rolled ones. It's a little bit more work but still takes less time than making your own.


Chicken and leek pie 2

Ingredients (serves 2):

Olive oil
Knob of butter
200g chicken, cut into slices
1 medium leek, washed and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small carrot, diced
2 stalks of rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
1-2 good quality sausages
1 tbsp plain flour
1 small glass of white wine (optional)
150ml of milk
Salt and pepper
1 pack shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten

Method:

1. Heat a large pan or casserole dish and add some olive oil and a knob of butter. Fry the garlic, chicken, leeks, carrots and rosemary for a few minutes on high heat.
2. Add the flour and white wine and stir until everything is coated. Pour in the milk, stir to mix evenly and turn the heat down to a simmer. Let the chicken and leek mixture continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and the sauce has thickened (but still loose). Season with salt and pepper, spoon the mixture out onto one or two pie dishes and let it cool slightly. (At this stage, after the dish has cooled down, it can be kept in the fridge to continue cooking the next day.)
3. In the mean time, preheat the oven to 200 C/gas mark 6. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings and roll them into small meatballs. Heat some olive oil in a small pan and brown the meatballs until they are sealed all over. No need to cook them through at this stage. Sprinkle the meatballs over the chicken and leek mixture.
4. Dust a flat surface (either a suitable counter top or large chopping board) with flour and roll out the shortcrust pastry. Make either one or two pieces large enough to cover the top of your pie dish(es), about 0.5cm thick.
5. Brush the edges of the dish with beaten egg and drape the pastry over. Press down at the edges to seal and trim off any excess. Crimp the edges with a fork if you wish. Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash (so that it turns lovely and golden). Cut a steam vent in the centre of the pastry (just stab it once with a knife). Cook in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes.

Chicken and leek pie 3

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Monday, 25 February 2008

Click! February 2008: Flour

wontons
(Little bundles of love)

I love food and I love photography. The monthly Click! event combines both beautifully by showcasing gorgeous food photography as well as introduce me to even more food blogs and websites.



The theme for the month of February is 'Flour'and it immediately made me think of the wontons that I made right at the beginning of the year. Although this photograph wasn't taken specifically for this event, I liked it enough to enter it for this month. I like swirls of the edges of the wrappers, and the little creases and indentations made by the pressing of fingertips as each wonton were lovingly shaped by hand.

Pork and prawn wontons

Pork and prawn wontons

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Saturday, 23 February 2008

Chinese new year market in Singapore

I love going to regular food markets and craft markets, but festive markets are extra special because they only appear during special occasions (such as Christmas, Chinese new year, Dewali or during other major holidays) and often have food and other products on sale specific to the occasion. They often play a major role in the build up to special holidays as people buy special ingredients and items in preperation for the festivities, or just to soak in the atmosphere and look forward to the celebrations.

Every year, the Chinatown in Singapore has a festive market in the weeks running up to Chinese new year. Stalls would line both sides of the streets, covering about 4 to 5 streets in total, hawking everything from decorative items, sweets and new year goodies, to flowers and clothing. My parents always go every year, not just to buy new year goods -- they insist that it does not feel like the new year if they do not go to the Chinatown market to experience the 热闹 (renao; literally: hot and noisy). I, too, went for a walk to get into the Chinese new year mood when we went back to Singapore on holiday recently.

Stalls line both sides of the narrow street. The existing shophouses also contain stores of all kinds so there's plenty to choose from.
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Plenty of red, a lucky colour for the Chinese, to welcome the new year.
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Take your pick of new year decorations for your house
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Can you tell that it is the year of the rat? At only S$1 (£0.35) each, nobody has any excuse not to put up some decorations.
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Traditional Chinese paper cut
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Calligraphy scrolls with auspicious characters and sayings
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Melon seeds are popular snacks. With so everyone making so many visits to family, relatives and friends, one must always be prepared to have plenty of food, drink and snacks on hand to serve one's guests. Therefore, food shopping is an integral part of the new year preparations.
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More varieties of sweets and jellies than you could shake a stick at. Is it any wonder that kids love Chinese new year?
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Business was so good that they didn't even have time to clear the boxes!
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More new year decorations for only $1.
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These cost a lot more than $1! They are Japanese carps but the Chinese love fish during Chinese new year. The word 'fish' (鱼) sounds similar to the word 'leftover' (余) and a common blessing is to wish that someone would have leftovers every year, meaning that they would have more than enough and would live well.
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A traditional snack on sale, preserved persimmon (sharon fruit). They have been dried and then dusted with icing sugar.
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It was two days before Chinese new year. Since celebrations start on new year's eve, some stalls would shut by then and have started to offer their goods at absolute bargain prices.
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There's always time to grab a bite at the ubiquitous food stalls. This one sells hot dogs and Taiwanese sausages (the red ones towards the back).
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A fortress of biscuits... "Mum, can we have this one?"
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These are sold as 'lucky bamboo', so called because the way the bamboo twists and turns is supposed to be able to turn or change one's luck. So if you think you might have bad luck, buy a lucky bamboo to change your fortunes.
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Pomelo for sale. They are rather like giant grapefruit, with the pulp being pale yellow or pink. The outer skin is thick and has to be peeled away, leaving the individual segments. Only the flesh or pulp (the sacs) are eaten.
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Many different types of fruit, vegetable and nuts are dried and preserved with sugar and then served as snack. For example, lotus root, citrus peel, water chestnut, winter melon, dates, figs, mango and so on. Yes, there's a lot of sugar going on here. No one ever said Chinese new year was healthy (ditto for Christmas, Thanksgiving etc.)
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More biscuit varieties that one has never heard of or seen before. New ones seem to appear every year.
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With so many stalls selling sweets and biscuits, often in close proximity, competition is intense. Many use loud hailers to verbally promote their goods and prices. This stall had people literally singing and dancing and standing on chairs to attract attention/customers. Being the last days of the market, everyone was eager to get rid of their goods.
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Not all food sold are for consumption. Many items are sold for decorative purposes, because they look pretty, or because of their symbolism. This is a type of gourd, called 'Buddha's hand' (佛手). They are only used for decorative purposes and people buy them for the blessing of buddha's hand to be on them and their household.
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Mini gourds, also for decoration
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Tiny pumpkins the size of mandarin oranges. In Cantonese, their name translates as 'golden melon' so they are very popular for those in search of wealth for the new year.
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A tiny variety of madarins, popular due to their symbolism of good fortune.
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* - * - *

This post has been submitted to the To Market, To Market event. If you have access to a local market, or visited one elsewhere recently, why not send in an entry? It's great fun to see what markets are like around the world.

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Back to bento and Daiso shopping in Singapore

A sure sign that I am unwell is when I don't feel like cooking, or eating, or even think much about food. I have been sick for almost a week after being away in Singapore for 2 weeks. The Chinese new year festivities was fantastic and meeting up with friends and relatives everyday meant eating more than I thought was possible for the entire 2 weeks. The husband and I put on at least 1kg each. I suppose I should be thankful that it was only 1kg given how much we've eaten! He very helpfully pointed out that 1kg for me is proportionally more than 1kg for him. Hmph.

Anyway, the throat infection that I caught on the last day or on the plane trip back maent I've been feeling completely rotten. Thankfully I'm feeling better today, with enough energy to make my first bento since the holidays. Nothing fancy for this one. Just plain rice, vegetable gyoza, and grilled peppers and asparagus, with a side car of strawberries.

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One of the things that I was looking forward to was hitting the Daiso stores in Singapore. All the products are from Japan and the idea is based on the popular and ubiquitous 100-yen stores found across Japan, where every item is 100-yen. In Daiso, every item is S$2 each (around £0.70). (In November last year, Daiso opened a small store in London at the Japan Centre. Most items are £1.50 (which is a bargain for London but a bit of a rip-off compared to 70p!) with some items costing a few pounds more.) It was a pleasure just to walk around and look through the products on offer (and thinking OMG only 70p each!! Heh.). I didn't get as many things as I thought I would. Someone please pat me on my back for my self-discipline. Yes, not even more bento boxes. Such heresy. But I did come back with some bento items and other small tableware. At 70p each, they are absolute bargains whichever way you look at it.

daiso_IMM
Daiso store at IMM, Singapore (picture taken from this blog).

Some things that I bought:

A couple of kinchaku (bento bags). The blue one has an insulating lining. Also a range of chopsticks, such as a pair in a carry case (keeps things clean before and after use), short ones that fit inside my existing bento boxes, and normal length ones for everyday dining (not pictured; 6 pairs in one pack, awesome).
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Individual-sized pie dishes and bamboo ramen ladles.
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Matching sugar bowls (for white and brown sugar) and a tiny soy sauce bottle to join my salt and pepper shaker on the dining table.
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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nice Matters

nice_matters

I had the 'Nice Matters' award passed on to me by both Pixie of You Say Tomahto, I Say Tomayto and Julie of A Slice of Cherry Pie. Thanks, ladies! They were the two people I would have on my 'Nice Matters' list to pass the award on to as well but to in the interest of spreading the luurve around the food blogging community, I would like to pass this very pink award on to the following folks:

Little Corner of Mine - her blog always feels very homey and anyone who could serve up such delicious and creative dishes and maintain a food blog with two little girls demanding her attention certainly deserves an award!

Frank Tastes - A lovely blog to read with the stylish design, smooth writing and beautiful illustrations.

Closet Cooking - I'm not sure whether Kevin would hesitate at the pinkness of the award but I love his blog for the wide variety of food that he tries. Very inspirational.

I've only just gotten back to the UK after being away for over two weeks, on holiday in Singapore and Malaysia for Chinese new year. I have eaten way more than I thought was possible just about every single day (heck, it was almost every single meal) and both the husband and I have put on at least 1kg each. I guess that's not too bad given how much we ate; I should be grateful that it wasn't more!

Although I've not had the chance to cook at all for a fortnight, food was an integral part of our trip as I went with a long list of food in mind that I was determined to eat and have my fill off. As Andy said, we pretty much had to eat enough of the food that we love and miss in order to tide us over till our next trip (usually once a year)! Over the next two weeks, I will be posting some highlights of our favourite dishes and cuisine from Singapore, as well as some food items and traditions specific to Chinese new year. Once, I get over my jetlag, that is!

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Saturday, 16 February 2008

Chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg)

I adore chawanmushi. My mum used to make Chinese steamed egg very frequently when I was a child and I love the smooth texture and eggy flavour. Japanese chawanmushi is slightly different in that it is made with dashi stock instead of water and certain ingredients are placed within the bowl as filling. The proportion of water to egg is also higher which results in a more 'wobbly' and smooth texture.

I tried making this at home a few weeks ago and was delighted at the success. I have eaten chawanmushi with all kinds of filling, ranging from chicken, prawns and baby clams to gingko nut, crabsticks, fish cake and mushrooms, so feel free to adapt to individual taste and availability. Don't be alarmed by the amount of water/stock; the egg mixture will set with the right length of time in the steamer.

Chawanmushi 1


Ingredients (serves 2)

3 large eggs
500ml dashi (or chicken stock), cooled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
4 thin slices of chicken, sprinkled with some soy sauce
4 sections of crabsticks,
Slices or strands of Shitake, shimeiki or enoki mushrooms

Directions:

1. Break the eggs into a large ball and beat lightly without foaming the mixture (draw the letter Z on the bottom with the tip of chopsticks). Bit by bit, add the cooled dashi, salt and soy sauce.
2. Strain the eggs mixture through a sieve or net to get a completely smooth texture. Discard the bits of stringy egg white left in the sieve.
3. Divide the chicken, crabsticks and mushrooms into 4 chawanmushi cups or heatproof bowls (e.g. ramekins). Pour the egg mixture into the 4 cups.
4. Place lids onto the chawanmushi cups or cover ramekins or lidless cups with foil. Steam the eggs in a steamer or on a trivet stand with water at the bottom of a wok. Heat for 1 minutes on hight heat and then reduce to low heat and cook for 12-15 minutes. (If the heat is too strong or the steaming time is too long, the chawanmushi becomes spongy in texture and loses flavour.
5. Prick the surface of the chawanmushi with a bamboo skewer, if if you clear liquid, the chawanmushi is cooked. Chawanmushi can be served chilled in summer and hot in winter.

I have read somewhere that chawanmushi can also be prepared in the oven, although I have not tried it myself. Place chawanmushi cups in a large pan (e.g. roasting tray) and fill 3/4 of the pan with water. Bake at 170 C for 20 minutes. To prevent the surface from burning, cover the bowls or cups with a double layer of aluminum foil.

Chawanmushi 2

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Monday, 11 February 2008

Venison sausages with parsnip and potato mash and red onion gravy

After watching Jamie At Home the other week, I really felt like having bangers and mash. Given that we would be in Singapore stuffing ourselves with plenty of non-English/'Western' food, it seemed appropriate to have that for dinner just before we left.

I also happened to spot some 'limited edition' venison sausages from Sainsbury's, which was what Jamie made on the programme, so I grabbed some. They were incredibly meaty and I must say not exactly my favourite, although the husband loved them. Really good meat though. The sausages were cooked in the oven which left delicious juices in the tray for the red wine and onion gravy. Instead of the usual mashed potatoes, I also put in some parsnips which added lovely sweetness to the mash. You could vary the proportion of parsnips to potatoes depending on how sweet you would like your mash to be.

Venison sausages and parsnip and potato mash with red onion gravy


Ingredients (Serves 2):

4-6 good quality sausages of your choice (we had venison)
Half a red onion, sliced
3 sticks of fresh rosemary
2 smallish potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
2 small or 1 large parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small glass of red wine (about 150ml)
200ml beef or chicken stock
1 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Butter (to taste)
Milk (to taste)

Preheat oven to 200 C/gas mark 6. Scatter red onions and 2 sprigs of rosemary on a heavy based roasting tray and place sausages on top. Cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes until sausages are cooked through and and the skin is roasted brown. Turn sausages once in the middle of cooking.

While the sausages are cooking, cook the potatoes and parsnips in a pan of boiling water for about 25 minutes, until tender. Drain the liquid and mash up the potatoes and parsnips, adding some milk and butter to get the desired taste and texture.

To make the red onion gravy, remove the sausages and keep warm (I usually place them on some plates in the cooling oven), leaving the red onions and rosemary in the tray. Place the tray on the hob on medium heat. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir, add the red wine and simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced and stir until there are no lumps. Add the stock and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced and of gravy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Place a dollop of the parsnip mash in the middle of a plate, top with sausages and steamed vegetables on the side. Pour over the red onion gravy and serve.

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Friday, 8 February 2008

French beans and mushroom stir fry

I was going to cook a Chinese dish of french beans with minced pork in chilli bean sauce, and then realised that I had not bought any pork mince. Determined to still make something with the french beans, I decided to substitute the mince with shitake mushrooms instead and make this a vegetarian dish. Thank goodness I always have a stash of dried shitake in the larder.

When stir frying, I like to cut some vegetables such as spring onions, french beans, baby sweet corn, carrots, and mange tout/snow peas on the diagonal instead of just into sticks. A diagonal cut exposes greater surface area to heat when stir frying, which makes the ingredients cook quicker and more evenly. This is particularly well suited to the quick stir frying technique. It also gives the food a slightly different and more attractive look, although it requires spending a bit more time on the chopping board.

Green beans and mushrooms stir fry in chilli bean sauce


Ingredients (serves 2):

100g French beans, sliced on the diagonal
5-6 dried shitake mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp chilli bean paste (or black bean sauce)
Oil for cooking

Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 15 minutes to reconstitute them. After they have softened, gently squeeze out excess water and dice them. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Heat a wok or large pan till hot and add some oil to heat. With the wok on medium heat, add the minced garlic to the pan and stir for 30 seconds till the oil is fragrant. Add the french beans and stir fry for 3-4 minutes until the beans take on colour from the heat.

Add in the diced mushrooms and some of the reserved mushroom water (discard the sediments at the bottom of the liquid). Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the oyster sauce and chilli bean paste and stir to mix evenly. Dish out and serve immediately.

Tip: If replacing the mushrooms with minced pork or beef, cook the minced meat after the garlic and once the meat is browned and separated, add the french beans and then seasoning. Skip the mushroom water if you want a drier texture to this dish.

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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Miso marinated trout

I like salmon but I have also grown to like trout. The flavour is more delicate than salmon and it has less of a 'fatty' taste that some people do not like. So if you don't like salmon, do give trout a try.

I was looking for more ways to use up the miso paste that I bought, other than in soups. Miso could be used as a marinade for all kinds of meat like fish, chicken and pork and trout seemed as good a fish as any. It's a nice variation from teriyaki trout or salmon and the saltiness and soy bean flavour of the miso is a good complement to an oily fish.

Miso trout

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 trout fillets, skin on
2 tsp miso paste
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp sake
1 tsp sugar

Combine the seasoning ingredients and rub into the fillets. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour (while you cook the rice or prepare the vegetables etc.). Lightly grease a baking tray or metal grill. Scrap excess miso marinade from the fillets and cook under a medium hot grill for about 7-8 minutes, turning once midway through cooking. Brush excess marinade onto the fish in the last stage of cooking. The skin should turn nice and crispy under the grill. The salty miso goes well with white rice and a vegetable side dish or soup.

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