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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rick Stein: A Christmas Odyssey

One of my food heroes is on the telly tonight at 9pm and I am really looking forward to what the avuncular chef, Rick Stein, is going to recommend. So, in preparation, I shall re-heat a delicious chorizo stew I made last night, grab a cold ‘Old Speckled Hen’ strong fine ale, from the fridge and eagerly await 9pm on BBC Two.

Chorizo stew with spiced butter beans.

Only two and a half hours to go! Prior to the Rick Stein programme BBC Two are offering The Culture Show and Raymond Blanc in the popular series, The Restaurant. The latter programme promises a soufflé cook-off. Oooh! Is there no end to foodie seasonal delights!?

Last night I watched ‘Grow your own drugs for Christmas’ and then the fabulous ‘The Hairy Bikers’ Twelve Days of Christmas. All, great festive fun. Well, it certainly beat watching 'The Exorcist: the true story’ on the advert crippled Channel Five. On a loosely connected note I notice that the oh-so-lovely Audrey Tautou is now promoting Chanel No5. Yum Yum. A very tasty French Dish, I’m sure. Ahem, I digress.

Audrey Tautou in the new Chanel No5 advert.
Back to Rick Stein. The following is copied from the internet and gives a bite sized version of the programme tonight and a brief historical background inspired by his recent Far Eastern Odyssey.

“Wondering how to ring the changes for this year's Christmas feasting? Rick Stein has some delicious new ideas which he brought back from his recent Far Eastern Odyssey programme. His journey took him to Cambodia, Bali, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Thailand - historically one of the most important regions in the world associated with spices fundamental to our enjoyment of Christmas cake, pudding, mulled wine and mince pies. Although Christmas may not be celebrated to the same level in those countries, their traditional food could brighten up your meals this season.

Stein's suggestions range from Braised Duck in Spiced Orange Juice to Beef Rendang or an aromatic Biryani. But if you still prefer the traditional turkey, he has some new ways of livening up the left-overs. And, to complete the meal, he recommends a very unusual coffee.”

I look forward to adding my additional comments as it all unfolds.

And here we are:

At the onset Rick confided that his Christmas series was filmed in June shortly after his return from the Far East. I did make a few notes as I went along but was mainily entranced by the markets and exotic spices mentioned. I wasn’t able to see all of the original series of Far Eastern Odyssey on tv as I was rehearsing a play at the time. Just naming a few things that whetted my appetite I will include poached ginger and star anise, salad leaves from Vietnam, Chinese leaves or crisp lettuce; described on the programme as something with a bit of bite. We saw and heard about lots of aromatic herbs like Vietnamese mint, coriander and a piquant basil dressing with red chilli peppers. The emphasis always seemed to be on harmonious dishes with textures and flavours all exquisitely balanced.  I felt that the Far Eastern understanding of food resonated with my own.

Then, steaming from the kitchen, came duck stewed in orange juice followed by another dish with loads of bruised garlic and fish sauce, lemongrass and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Rick does love his pepper. Rick said that the Far East cuisine is often influenced by religion; always seeing something good in whatever comes their way and the majority of the folk he encountered on this tour were calm and tranquil people who loved  to eat and cook their national food dishes.

In Bali a roasting piglet on a spit slowly turned over a hot and smoky fire and gave rise to a pronounced anticipation of the meal and the sight and aroma certainly whet the appetite. It is probably a good job I don't subscribe to smelly -vision or I would be licking the tv screen!

There was a brief encounter with Balinese cat poo coffee and a coffee tasting back in Padstow with the restaurant staff. Can’t say I’d be too keen to try this one myself!

The rice fields of Bali got a good promotion and Eastern thought was that rice was believed to be the key to life.

The next Balinese dishes came a bit thick and fast with seemingly dozens of spices and herbs adding many depths of flavours. One I recall was a dish called Nasi Goreng containing fried rice, garlic, onions and two types of chilli. The important aspect was that it had texture as well as lovely colours. Additionally there were green beans and soy sauce, a fried egg and probably a dozen herbs and spices I never had chance to write down.

There was short piece about a cinnamon packer who was shown to have amazing hand skills in packing a bark over three feet long.

Rick mentioned washing salted cashew nuts to get the normally expensive nuts for a beef rendang. Cashew nuts in Asia are relatively cheap whereas over in the UK they are dear – almost a luxury.

The whole programme was very interesting and understandably had a big reference to the Far Eastern Odyssey programme with lots of subtle cross referencing re: Christmas and adapting to Western tastes. I liked Rick’s description of the various vibrant street stalls at night in places like Thailand as being ‘very dramatic with lots of crashes and sparks.’ He also said that amongst all the fantastic foodstuffs on offer he was delighted by the variety of prawns, cockles and crabs. ‘Street food nirvana’, he called it.

Throughout the hour long programme, there was mention of adding lots of salt and white pepper, spring onions, lemon grass and star anise, dried and fresh ginger, garlic, chilli sauce, yellow bean sauce, fish sauce, palm sugar and cucumber. And with the limes one lady recommended massaging the lime fruits pre; halving to get the most juice from them.

He also bumped into an Asian chef superstar called chef Wan who was very lively and a huge favourite with the female audiences in that part of the world. Chef Wan was especially keen on using lots of spices in his dishes.

There was talk of chicken Tikka Masala for Christmas dinner and further on he showed a visual feast of  dozen of really huge cooking pots heated by massive licking flames at the Fakhruddin biryani factory cooking mutton biryani curries. Rick did a piece to camera about how alien this method of cooking must look to Western on-lookers. There were big gas burners for fast cooking and separate charcoal burners for simmering. It all looked like something from another age.

When he reached Sri Lanka, across the Bay of Bengal, he broached the subject of  making a turkey curry adding soft onions, a spoonful of crushed garlic, chilli powder, ground turmeric and a twig full of curry leaves. He also introduced pandam leaf and coconut milk.

If all this has made you hungry; may I also mention reference to bowls of steaming soft white noodles fragrant with star anise, cinnamon and black cardamons, red bird’s eye chillis and stir fries of pork and stiff fresh prawns with ginger and roasted spices. Now I can tell you are dribbling on your keyboard. Get the book. £25 recommended retail price.

As Rick said at the end of this programme, ‘Be bold and try new flavours.’ I personally may try a juicy beef rendang curry as an alternative Christmas dinner! With brussel sprouts and Yorkshire pudding? Don’t be daft!!!


Sanjana said...

I thought Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey was so wonderful- I watched them a few time over on iPlayer!

Gail's Man said...

You do like your food, don't you Phil. I'm surprised you not the size of a bacon pig by now!
How's the jobhunting going?

Marian Barker said...

Your posts are getting rather spicy at the moment!!! *laughs*

French Fancy said...

I liked Rick in the days when Chalkie was around but I've gone off his recipes a little bit. My particular favourite chef is Nigel Slater, although Nigella is okay as well (very okay I hear you say)

Dean said...

I love to watch Rick as its the closest i can get to enjoying Shellfish !

Karen said...

I missed this programme, & might see if I get time to watch it on iPlayer, as I love Rick Stein. ALl the food you've described so well sounds delicious,& its made me incredibly hungry. Like French Fancy, I do like Nigel Slater's cooking (have you read his book 'Toast'? ), but to be honest, most food programmes are enjoyable, & very useful for ideas if not the actual recipes.

Phil Lowe said...

Sanjana: I must check this iPlayer thing out. There could well be programmes on there that I would love to watch.

GM: Yes and Oink!

Marian: It must be the season, or something.

FF: Ah dear old Chalky he knew how to chase a rabbit or two. Haven't investigated Nigel Slater. I'll have a look next time I'm in a bookshop.

Dean: I take it you aren't able to eat shellfish? Allergic?

Karen:I like your notion that food programmes are useful for 'ideas' if not for the actual recipe itself. I too often find that to be the case. And people like Si and Dave, the two hairy bikers can make a food programme such fun to watch as well.