Friday, 27 May 2011

A fragrant Chinese marinade & its many uses (yes, I know - more noodle soup!)

I’ve been using a combination of any or all of these ingredients as a marinade for many years, and often use them as a base for a beautiful fragrant broth.  To my mind, this marinade works best with pork belly, whether slow roasted as in the recipe below or cooked very fast & hot on a BBQ for a crunchy, sticky crust.  It works beautifully too with chicken, salmon, prawns, tofu or anything robust enough to carry the strong flavours.  

Wherever possible, use whole spices and grind or bash them yourself for optimum flavour .  Substituting one or two here & there with the powdered versions is absolutely fine too.  It is such a complex combination of flavours and textures that quantities of each ingredient are entirely subject to mood & particular taste – if you know you don’t like cloves for example just leave them out. If you are chilly & need something punchy and warming, ramp up the Szechuan pepper, cloves and chilli or for something lighter and subtler, dial them down and add more star anise.

Combine as many and as much as you like of: ground cloves, ground Szechuan pepper, chopped ginger, chopped garlic, ground cinnamon, ground star anise, chopped red chilli, tamarind paste, good strong soy sauce, nam pla, soft brown sugar (palm sugar is the ideal but can be hard to find) and a splash of sesame oil.  Rub this sticky mess all over whatever you choose to marinate and leave for at least one hour but ideally three or more. 

For an amazing broth, marinate a piece of belly pork, scored gently on the meat side, for a few hours.  Put in an oven-proof pan and cover with about a litre of water and the goo leftover from the marinade and bring to the boil.  Transfer the pan to the oven and roast it uncovered, long & slow for around 3-4 hours. Add water as & when required to maintain the broth and stop it burning.  There’s no reason at all not to do this in a slow cooker and  forget about it as you go about your day but you will need then to crisp the crackling either under the grill or in a very hot oven before serving.  To serve as a soup, layer noodles, greens, mushrooms (or anything you fancy) and the shredded pork (it should just fall apart by now) in a deep bowl and ladle the liquid (be sure to taste before you do this so you can add water to lighten or reduce to strengthen) over the lot. Scatter the crunched up crackling and some finely chopped spring onions over the top and serve at once.

Marinated tofu in very light broth

Marinated, slow roast belly pork in spicy, heady soup

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