In his book Spice Odyssey, Paul Merrett, chef-proprietor of the Victoria near Richmond, takes us on an exotic journey through the spice world. Here, we take a look at some of his inventive recipes, with images by Jan Baldwin
BRAISED PORK CHEEKS WITH COCNUT AND LIME LEAF SERVED WITH SOURED MANGO "NOODLES"
12 pork cheeks, trimmed of all fat and sinew
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5cm piece of fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, roughly chopped
3 small hot green chillies, sliced into rings
6 kaffir lime leaves
10 curry leaves
2½tsps Sri Lankan-style curry powder
½tsp ground turmeric
½tsp chilli powder
800ml coconut milk
Juice of 1-2 limes, to taste
2-3tbs liquid palm sugar, to taste
Up to 2tbs fish sauce, to taste
Soured mango ‘noodles' and sticky rice, to serve
If you don't have Sri Lankan-style curry powder, make some using the ingredients shown in the panel opposite. This can be done a few days ahead of the braised pork cheeks, and the quantities given will provide more than you need, so store what's left in an old spice jar.
To prepare the curry powder, heat a frying pan but don't add any oil. Tip in the rice and toast until browned, but don't let it over-colour or it will blacken. Transfer the rice to a plate and set aside to cool. Now do exactly the same with the spices: tip them all into the pan together and dry-roast them until they start to darken slightly. Your kitchen will smell like a tent at the Glastonbury Festival, but don't worry. Transfer the spices to the plate with the rice and allow to cool. Mix the rice and the spices together and grind them to a powder in either an electric spice grinder or using a pestle and mortar.
To make the braised pork cheeks, heat a casserole pot and pour in a little vegetable oil. Place the pork cheeks into the hot pan and sear until well coloured on all sides.
Remove from the pan and set aside. Don't wash out the pan; just add a little more vegetable oil and carry on cooking.
Chuck the onion, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and chillies into the pan. Allow everything to slowly fizz away and caramelise slightly. This should take 10-15 minutes. Add the lime leaves, curry leaves, two and a half teaspoons Sri Lankan-style curry powder, the turmeric and chilli powder and stir. Pour in the coconut milk and the water and return the pork cheeks to the pan. Slowly bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook slowly for one and a half hours.
Fish out a pork cheek and put it on a plate. If the meat is tender enough to cut easily with a spoon, the cheeks are ready. If not, return it to the pan and continue to cook for a few minutes longer. Once the cheeks are cooked, remove them all from the sauce and set aside.
Increase the temperature to high and bring the sauce to the boil. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced a little, then pour through a sieve to remove all the bits.
Return the pork cheeks to the sauce and either cool down and refrigerate until required or finish the sauce and serve up.
When you are ready to serve, stir in the lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce until you feel the taste is right. Serve three pork cheeks per person and pour over some sauce.
Place a pile of soured mango noodles on top of the pork cheeks and serve with plain boiled sticky rice.
SOURED MANGO "NOODLES"
2tbs sesame oil
2tbs white wine vinegar
3tbs fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
25g caster sugar
1 red chilli, finely chopped
30g galangal, peeled and finely grated
2 green mangoes (but normal ripe yellow mangoes would be fine)
1tbs black sesame seeds
Whisk together the sesame oil, white wine vinegar, fish sauce and lime juice. Add the sugar, chilli and galangal and chill in the fridge overnight. This is your pickling liquor.
Prepare and marinate the mangoes about an hour before you wish to serve up. Thinly slice the mango flesh and then shred the slices into noodlelike strips. Add the strips of mango to the pickling liquor and leave to stand for about 15 minutes.
Drain the mango ‘noodles' of any excess liquor, stir through the sesame seeds and then serve.
INGREDIENTS FOR SRI LANKAN-STYLE CURRY POWDER
1tbs uncooked basmati rice
3tbs coriander seeds
2tbs cumin seeds
2tbs fennel seeds
7.5cm cinnamon stick
10 green cardamom pods
½tsp black mustard seeds
1½tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp black peppercorns
3 dried chillies
Vegetable oil, for frying Increase the temperature to high and bring the sauce to the boil. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced a little, then pour through a sieve to remove all the bits. Return the pork cheeks to the sauce and either cool down and refrigerate until required or finish the sauce and serve up.
When you are ready to serve, stir in the lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce until you feel the taste is right. Serve three pork cheeks per person and pour over some sauce. Place a pile of soured mango noodles on top of the pork cheeks and serve with plain boiled sticky rice.
ALMOND, CINNAMON AND CRANBERRY WANTONS
At the restaurant we serve these wantons as part of a bigger, more glamorous dessert, but I think they are great served simply with a ball of ice-cream. Wanton wrappers can be bought, usually frozen, from Asian supermarkets.
40g dried cranberries, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, then squeezed dry
½tsp ground cinnamon
8 wanton wrappers, about 9cm square
1 egg, beaten
400ml vegetable oil
Icing sugar, for dusting
4 scoops of your favourite vanilla ice-cream, to serve
For the almond paste
125g ground almonds
125g icing sugar, sifted
75g flour, sifted
3 small eggs
If you have already made the almond sponge paste, skip this bit. If not, read on. Beat the butter using a hand-held electric whisk or an electric mixer for about five minutes or until pale and fluffy (if you are mixing by hand, this will take considerably longer). Tip in the ground almonds, icing sugar and flour, and beat for a further five minutes to form a dry paste.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and break up with a fork. With the mixer at low speed, gradually add the eggs to the paste, whisking after each addition until well combined.
chill in the fridge for at least one hour. Weigh 160g of the paste to use for the wantons and freeze the rest.
To make the wantons, place the almond paste into a bowl and mix in the cranberries and cinnamon. Lay a wanton wrapper on a clean work surface and place a walnut-sized dollop of almond paste in the centre of the wrapper. Lightly brush the edges of the wrapper with the beaten egg. Then place a second wrapper over the almond paste and gently flatten it down a bit so that the two wrappers meet and the egg glues them together. (I think it's nice if you don't quite match up the wrappers, meaning the second one goes on at a slightly different angle, giving a star-like appearance.) Repeat to make four wantons in total. Store in the fridge on greaseproof paper until you are ready to cook.
Pour the oil into a large pan to a depth of at least 10cm and heat to 170°C. Carefully place the wantons in the hot oil and fry for five minutes or until golden brown and crispy, turning them over occasionally. Dust with icing sugar and serve with vanilla ice-cream.