Monthly Archives: September 2011

Beggars Can’t be Choosers


When I first arrived in Paris, I was very surprised to see in every corner of my neighbourhood, a community of homeless people.  Some have come to stay and are a permanent fixture to the landscape, making their ‘living’ from the centimes that many kind Parisians or tourists hand out to them.  Some are transitory, here only for a day or two before moving on to greener pastures.  The old timers I have come to recognise, like the lady with a bandaged foot who sits across the Cocteau Society.  RN and I see her every morning on our to the métro at Trocadéro.

Then there is the ‘shaking man’ as RN likes to refer to him as.  He can be found within the métro Trocadéro when it rains and on dry days just a few metres from the entrance of the métro, outside one of the many bistros, kneeling and shaking profusely, hat in hand, asking for a centime or two.  RN was pretty impressed (by his performance) when she first came across the ‘shaking man’ but now she is just as immuned by the sight of him as the many residents of the neighbourhood.

Here is a link I found on a blog about poverty in Paris and indeed France:

http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com/2006/07/homeless-in-paris.html 

 

Legend has it that a beggar in the Qing Dynasty fell upon a chicken due to his good luck.  The stolen bird was then hidden, feathers and all, in mud found by a muddy riverbank, to be retrieved once the beggar had managed to steer clear from his pursuers.  His captors allayed, the beggar  then placed the mud caked chicken whole into the fire that he had made for this purpose.  The fire caused the mud to form into a clay crust which cooked the chicken so well that upon breaking the crust, its feathers and bones came away and the meat was tender and juicy.  The aroma emitted from the chicken attracted the attention of Qing Emperor who was travelling incognito (as all Chinese Emperors tend to do) and he stopped to dine with the beggar who kindly shared his precious loot with this stranger. Just as well as he did, because the Emperor was so impressed by the dish that he elevated the beggar’s status to that of court chef, specialising in cooking Beggar’s Chicken.

Through time, the dish has evolved to become more kingly.  Inside the carcass of the chicken, one can find a filling of various ingredients from chestnuts, to shrimps to bamboo shoots, minced pork and Yunnan ham.

It takes a good 8 hours to cook this special bird.  The chicken is firstly boiled to remove any impurities.  This has to be done without cooking the chicken. It is then stuffed with the above ingredients mentioned and then wrapped tightly in lotus leaves, to be steamed before being encased in a non-toxic clay crust and finally baked in the oven.  The baking process helps to retain the juices within the lotus leaves, thus preserving the aroma of the spices and herbs.

That Crusty old Thing

This was how Beggar’s Chicken is served in Shang Palace where I discovered this royal dish, courtesy of AB (MD of Shangri-La Paris) and CB, friend and fellow blogger and wife of AB.  (You can find her blog in my blog roll.)  Note the surgical instruments accompanying the dish.

Of course, in order to taste the tender morsels of chicken, someone had to have the honour of breaking the clay crust….. and the honour fell on……AB.

I'm Gonna smash you in the Crust, I am

Once broken, the crust was removed piece by piece to reveal a layer of lotus leaves.  This was then delicately cut open to reveal the chicken resting within it. The aroma was intoxicating, kawan kawan.  I had the honour of standing next to the waitress who was in charge of the operation.  Whilst she was peeling the leaves back one by one, she also explained to me where Beggar’s Chicken originated.

Beggar’s Chicken hails from the Hangzhou area in Zhejiang province.  There, you will find many restaurants serving beggar’s chicken.  Due to its lengthy cooking process, many restaurants ask that you pre-order the dish at least a day before.

This is what it looks like once the leaves and bones have been removed:

Et Voilâ! The encrusted bird

In researching this dish, I found many blogs teaching one how to cook it. Some recipes call for only a couple of hours cooking time. However, I believe that the flavours of the chicken is retained in slow cooking it under a low heat, as any advocate of slow cooking will tell you.

Kawan kawan, if you are ever in Paris, you must go to the Shang Palace for this dish.  It is really worth it.  Trust me! 🙂 But remember, you may have to call in advance if you are after this bird.

Beggar's Chicken

 

Footnote:  Daddy actually cooks this chicken dish chez lui.  He wraps the bird that has been marinated in a herby wine with chinese red dates, goji berries and gingko nuts in tin foil or lotus leaves, if he can find any, to be steamed on a low heat for about an hour and half.  The funny thing is I never knew that it was called Beggar’s Chicken because daddy calls his dish, Herbal Steamed Chicken.  lol!!!

Shang Palace, Shagri-La Paris, 10 avenue d’Iéna
75116 Paris

 

Liking the Latkes


Latkes are a traditional Jewish dish served during Hanukkah.  It has gained popularity as a Hanukkah dish because of its method of cooking.  Latkes are fried in oil, commemorating and reminding the Jewish people of the oil that provided light for 8 days.  Hanukkah is in essence the Festival of Lights, a Jewish celebration that lasts for 8 days, of the rededication of the Temple as depicted in the Bible or Torah.

A Hanukkah Favourite

I came across this recipe from a mother at the girls’s school.  My daughters, one big, one small, both go the International School of Paris where they are educated in the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy that celebrates and embraces difference.  Of course, mathematics, science and PE, amongst other academic subjects, are taught too, just in case you’re thinking that the IB is a strange religious sect that only teaches the children to eat, love and pray.

Jokes aside, we love the IB way of education.  My children are learning to be citizens of the world, they are beginning to understand that we are all different and also the same in the human race and that it is our responsibility to observe, preserve and conserve peace in the world.  They are beginning to see that dialogue is so very important in the pursuit of peace and that language is no barrier to communication.

Latkes:  I wanted to make something with the potato that I had in the fridge.  I had a packet of Latkes flour which I’d purchased from the Jewish boucherie on the corner of my appartement.  It had been sitting on my dry goods shelf for ages and was speaking to me in a language that only I understand….. Eat me! Eat me!, it said.

Well, what actually happened was that the packet of Latkes mix miraculously jumped off the shelf when I was pacing my kitchen floor for some inspiration as to what I can do with 4 potatoes.

Well, it required grating the said potatoes, leaving it to dehydrate whilst I sliced up a small onion and minced a clove of garlic.  It is important to squeeze every bit of H2O from the shredded potatoes in order to make beautiful latkes.  Water will cause the oil to spurt and spurting oil is UGLY! (in Mrs M’s favourite word! Don’t you just love it? A single word that gets to the point! Thank you Mrs M.)

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 medium size potatoes, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion or a small onion
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Latkes mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional if using Latkes mix)
  • 3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil for frying

Directions

  1. Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much water as possible. It also works by simply squeezing hard with your hands sans cheesecloth.
  2. In a mixing bowl stir the potatoes, onion, garlic, eggs, flour and salt together. No salt if you are using the Latkes mix.
  3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet or le crueset frying pan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Using your hands to form a patty, place the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them with a flat wooden spatula  to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Allow to drain on paper towels. Serve immediately!
Latkes was originally made with grated cheese as the potato is a New World food.  But since the discovery of the New World, Latkes has been made every Hanukkah with grated potatoes. It is less salty and heavy.
I ought to have allowed the patties to brown a little more.  So, do unlike me and let them brown.  They are delicious served with grilled sausages and a simple salad.  A really easy thing to whip up for a Sunday brunch or late lunch.
Try, kawan kawan! Then tell me how it went!

Sausage and Spud

I like it a bit charred, darling!


La Rentrée is the month when the whole of France returns from their summer away.  Parisians return bronzed by the summer sun spent in far flung countries or simply on the beach in the Mediterranean.  Paris is brimming with glee, the tension that had set in before the long summer break has been eased with plenty of R and R and les Parisennes are quite contented to be back in the City of Light. The first week of September begins with a frenzy of getting school supplies, reminding the children that the vacation is over and that school will start again this week and most of all, getting the little ones off to bed earlier.  They’ve had 2 months of late nights, tons of ice creams, lots of days spent building sand castles and running bare foot in the sand.  Well, it’s reality check time. School starts now.

This is also the month when most stay at home mothers like myself heave a sigh of relieve.  After 2 months of kiddie activities and other child related things on a trot with no respite, I am glad to be sending my off-springs (one big and one small) back to ecole.  Aren’t you? 🙂

The first morning that the kids went back to school, I had a coffee at my favourite café in Paris – Yamazaki.  I was pleasantly surprised upon entering the café to see that it had been given a face lift…. big time!  The entire café had been ripped apart during les vacances ( some people were working!),  new tables and chairs replace the dated ones that had been there since the 80s and the new glass display counter for their gâteaux and delightful pastries make them look even better than before.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of shops have replaced old furniture with new ones or have been given a lick of paint.  Ah!! so this is what happens during the month of August when literally the entire Parisian population leave town: other resourceful Parisians take the opportunity to revamp themselves in the tranquility of the month.  Delightful!  I love changes.  To me, a change when positive, is a symbol of growth, of the ability to move forward, to modernise.

I found inspiration in this for my cooking this September, having also not cooked very much during the vacation. I vacation with my family on both sides and the mother and MIL do most of the cooking or we tend to eat out, especially in S E Asia where hawker food is so readily available, economical and yummy!

Inspired that I was, I decided to make a change too.  I will be more adventurous, not worry about cleaning up the kitchen too much post cooking and simply go with the flow, let my fancy guide me.  And kawan kawan, I fancied myself some Char Siu during the weekend, a week into the start of the academic year.  And guess what?  I made myself some!

Char Siu is Cantonese char grilled pork that has been seasoned in dark soya sauce, honey and a little garlic.  This is eaten over a bed of steaming white rice in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand for lunch or dinner.

We all love Char Siu in the family.  What’s there not to love?  Succulent pieces of grilled pork charred to perfection that leave a sweet/savoury taste in your mouth; white rice drizzled with the syrupy Char Siu marinade that has been used to bast the pork loin as it grills in the oven.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1. 5 kg  filet mignon de porc or pork loin (cut into 4 or 5 pieces)

1 clove garlic (finely chopped or minced with a garlic press)

1 1/2 tablesp sesame oil

Char Siu Sauce:

1 1/2 tablesp honey

2 tablesp granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablesp hoisin sauce (optional)

1 1/2 tablesp dark soy sauce (add 3 if not using hoisin sauce)

1 tablesp Chinese Cooking wine (I used Shoa shing but if you can get Chinese Rose wine, even better)

2 dashes white pepper powder

3-4 whole star anise or 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

Method:

Add all ingredients in the Char Siu sauce in a pan, heat whilst stirring well until liquid becomes slightly thickened and sticky.  (This should  yield 1/2 cup char siu sauce.) Set aside to cool.

Marinate the pork pieces with 2/3 of the Char Siu sauce and the chopped garlic overnight for maximum results.  If not at least 2 hours before cooking.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C and roast the char siu for 30 minutes. With a pastry brush, bast the remaining char siu sauce every 10 minutes or so whilst roasting until the meat is cooked or slightly charred at the sides. Depending on how thick your meat is, it is vital to check if your meat is cooked thoroughly and adjust cooking time to suit.  I used a fork to check, as I don’t have metal skewers. When the fork goes through the meat with no tension, I know then that it is done. When the meat is cooked, turn the grill on in your oven and grill the meat until it chars a bit more.  This step is optional if you prefer not to char the meat too much. Remove from oven and slice the Char Siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Notes:

This marinated cut of meat is perfect for BBQs.  In effect, Char Siu is BBQed meat as the original method of cooking it requires the meat to be skewered with a S-shaped hook, and grilled hung over a charcoal fire.  The meat is basted several times until cooked since the umami comes from the Char Siu marinade and the meat gets charred from the sugar in the it.

Charring ever so nicely

Kawan kawan, I really recommend that you try making Char Siu.  It is really not difficult, if I can, so can you.  Then, if you live in Paris, like me and miss good Chinese grub, you can always make it yourself.  My good ole pa always says:  Self sufficiency is the best policy!  So there, I am passing on to you a very golden nugget of advice, brought to you all the way from Singapore, where else? 😉

Char Siu à la chez moi

Family Magic in a Potion


Every year I make a pilgrimage toward the East to eat, play, live… in my childhood home under the auspices of my folks.  These are days I refer to as my flip-flop days, where my toes wriggle free in a pair of havaianas and my legs get tanned by the Eastern sun.  These are happy days, kawan kawan.  These are days where I bask in the love of my parents, becoming once again their little girl, although I am the elder of three daughters.  You know, one’s children never really grow up.  My parents refuse to recognise that I am really a woman with 2 girls of my own and that most crucially, I have passed that important birthday milestone in a woman’s life.  They pamper me with good food, nuggets of advice (all Chinese parents are wiser than their offspring, it must be remembered) and refuse to let me do the washing.  My mother thinks I am incapable so every opportunity she gets, she bundles up the children’s and my dirty clothes to pile them into her state of the art washing machine.  My father fires off strings of advice, like how to deal with pick pockets to the way corn on the cob ought to be eaten.  These are bonding moments, kawan kawan.  I haven’t lived at home for over 20 years.  I only see the folks back home once a year.  So they store up their love, tuck it in a treasure box, ready to dish it out again every year.

My father has always been the foodie in the house.  It is because of him that I have come to love my grub.  He cooks, does the food shopping and cleans the 3 bed maisonette that they have lived in for the past 26 years.  And he is 80 this year.  An old new man, in my books!

This year, being home again was an extra special treat because in order to support me and my new found writing eating career, he offered to share with me that secret recipe he has guarded for so many years – his special chilli sauce.

It’s no easy job making this spicy potion.  Family legend has it that this is the stuff longevity is made of.  The chilli sauce contains so much antioxidants because of the garlic content that it guarantees an immediate boost in the immune system of anyone who partakes of it.  Daddy has to rise early in order to get the ingredients at the basha (market) near his home.  Anyone who cooks will tell you that  all ingredients used should be fresh.  This is what the equation looks like: early rise = freshest ingredients = yummy spicy potion.  That done, he then has to peel the garlic, de-stalk the chillies, skin the ginger and assemble the blender.

Antioxidants

De-stalking  the chillis is no small job: there’s 400 g of chillis to do.  The two types of chillis here are: thai chilli pepper  which is of the African birdseye variety and red chilli pepper.  The smaller the chilli, the stronger the piquancy. Good things come in small packages, kawan kawan and it is no difference with chillis.  If you can’t take too much spiciness, then you can lessen the amount of the Thai chillis and increase that of the larger red ones proportionately.  Here take a look at the Thai chilli pepper:

Hot Chilli Pepper

A lot of lime juice is needed to give the potion its citrus character.  This has to be extracted manually from kalimansi limes found only in Asia.  This lime is known as limau chuit in Malay.  The kalimansi lime is the size of a ping pong ball.  It is yellowish green with a floral lemony scent.  In Europe, you can substitute this with green limes or citron verts or lemon, if you prefer.

Kalimansi limes make very delicious lime juice.  It is best served sweetened and chilled. Kalimansi juice is consumed in large amounts in the Philippines, I was told.

The ginger has to be skinned and cut into blendable pieces.

A piece of blendable ginger

When these ingredients have been prepared, it is time to assemble them into the blender:

Assembly of Chillis

Notice that daddy uses a pair of scissors to cut the bigger chillis into chunks for easier blending.  Then in go the sugar and salt.

Sugar and Salt

Then…..

The juicy goodness

…..the hand pressed lime juice goes into the blender too.

Give the button a push and see it all being churned up inside.

Listen to the whirring sound

Notice this funky blender, kawan kawan.  It only costs daddy 20 Singapore Dollars.  At 1.70 Sing Dollar to the Euro, this makes the blender….. you can do the math….very cheap, indeed!  I just love the Hermés orange handle, don’t you?

Give the mixture a whir a few more times until the ingredients run smooth.

Smooth rider

This chilli sauce goes very well with Hainanese Chicken Rice, minced meat stir fries, vegetable hot pot and lots more dishes.  I eat it with everything and if I weren’t married to the Italian, I’d even say it would go so well with bolognese sauce….. ooops, don’t say I said that!

Here’s the recipe:

300 g Fresh Large Chillis

100 g Fresh Thai Chillis or Birdseye Chillis

150 g Peeled Fresh garlic

120 g Freshly squeezed lime juice.

80 g Chinese white vinegar

30 g Fresh ginger, cut into small chunks

1 tsp Table salt

2 tblesp White sugar

Method:

Cut large chillis into small chunks. Place half the amount of chillis, both Thai and large, into the blender. Add half the amount of garlic and ginger, sugar and salt. Pour in the lime juice and vinegar.  Blend until smooth.  Then finish blending the other half of the ingredients.

There, this recipe is no longer a family secret, thanks to daddy’s generosity.  That is so like my father; he has such a big heart and loves to share.  The more the merrier is his motto.

I did say in my previous post that this recipe grew from daddy’s aghak-aghak method.  But through the years, he has found perfection in precision.  That is also very much my father’s style.  He never stops learning and I am so glad to be the recipient of such a healthy attitude towards life long learning.

I hope you’ll give this a try, kawan kawan.  It is really very delicious.  The recipe makes about 200 ml of Chilli sauce.  This amount lasts me a while since I rely on my yearly summer visits to taste its spicy goodness.

The chilli sauce is best served the next day after it has been refrigerated and it keeps for at least 8 weeks in the fridge.

Gotta Get the Temperature Right


Kawak kawan, what do you do when you’ve got yourself soooooo excited about cooking a particular dish that you forgot the only thing that you needed to make that dish work?

A friend and culinary soulmate lent me a recipe that always works, so he says, if the temperature is at 65 degrees C. For that I will need a meat thermometer, kawan kawan and at present, I don’t have any.  Rien!

So off I trot to BHV, Paris’s famous home-ware store where one can find everything home related, including beautiful underwear.  That was when I got distracted, kawan kawan.  My eyes spied a beautiful soutient-gorge from Calvin Klein which led me to inspect it for boob support functions which led me to dream about how good it’ll look under a new blouse I’d just bought which led me to stray from my intended purpose of buying this darn thermometer.  I caught myself all too quickly and turned left toward the escalator for the kitchen ware department.  There, I got distracted again, this time by knives.  I’ve coveted a good kitchen knife for ever so long and my eye caught the glimmer of a sabatier blade. It was too tempting, kawan kawan and I had to have it.  I pictured slicing onions with this blade, I imagined what my julienned carrots would really look like as a result of this blade and I knew that I had to have this masterpiece.

It was only on the métro home when I remembered that darn thermometer.  So there, I returned home sans bra and worst of all sans thermometre!

I had to resort the plan B, my friends.  Luckily for me, I always have a couple of packs of minced beef in the fridge, if not in the freezer.  I had sent manny Ted shopping this morning and he had come home with the two staple packs of minced beef moins 20 % fat.

I quickly resorted to seasoning the minced with a dash of soya sauce, a sprinkle of sugar, a guzzle of sesame oil and a good glug of shoashin wine. That I set aside to let the marinade soak in whilst I chopped up a red onion, minced a couple of cloves of garlic, make that 3 cloves, I think.  I was thinking on my feet, kawan kawan all whilst marvelling at how my chopped onions were looking at the end of my sabatier blade.

I took out a bunch of basil, thinking that if it was a bunch of sweet holy basil, I could make a Thai inspired dish.  But then I thought, who am I kidding? I live in Europe.  Sweet holy basil?!?  I have to improvise, create and re-invent the wheel here.  So I chopped the basil up into strips, again with the coveted knife that is now all mine, to sprinkle into my minced beef creation later.

The stuff that all beef are made of

I needed greens and what better vegetable can there be when one needs to throw everything together than green beans chopped finely.  Yes, again with my sabatier. 😀

Out came the le creuset frying pan with lid.  In went a glug of huile de colza, rapeseed oil and the chopped up red onions and minced garlic.  Under a low heat, (remember temperature is everything, here) I sautéed the onions and garlic until the onions are almost caramelised and importantly, not burnt.  I thought that if I were to bring out the sugar in the onions, my beef would be sugar coated and would therefore taste dishy.  Remember, I am still on the creative path here and it’s whatever goes, since I forgot that darn meat thermometer.

Well, it is important to note that the chopped green beans went into the frying pan when the minced beef was still pink in parts.  This is to ensure that when the beef mince is done, the greens beans are still al denté. I wanted to keep the greens crunchy.  There is nothing worse than overcooked vegetables, in my books.

Pink - sign of health

I added more shoashing wine, juice of half a lemon, a good dash of fish sauce and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  That should bring out the subtle flavours of sweet and sour.  I then added the chives which I had cut into 0.5 cm strips and gave the pan a good hearty stir. When the mince was cooked through, I added the slices of red onion that I had kept aside with a pinch of freshly minced garlic and lowered the fire to allow the red onions and garlic to cook a little in the releasing steam .  To that I also added the thinly sliced basil.

Minced Beef Creation

This dish was received by both RN and SS with whoops of delight.  I served it over a bed of fluffy rice, made from both white and red grains.  Needless to say, the girls gobbled up their dinner with relish and even asked for bis.  I was a proud mamma tonight!  SS requested the same for lunch tomorrow.  Double proud!

Since I had recently learnt about wine pairing in Asian cuisine, I cracked open a bottle of red.  Light and fresh, this red is perfect for summer and the dish that I’d just invented. Santé!

The Perfect Red

Kawan kawan, I didn’t get that darn thermometer but I was saved by the packets of mince and this red.

Plenty of Polenta


Your Honour, I bring to your attention Exhibit A in the the case of Nava vs Polenta.

Exhibit A

You will see before you the photo of the victim, La Polenta.  She has been the property of i Nonni Nava for some years, enslaved in their mountain home that is perched on a hill in the village of Verrand just a kilometre from Courmayeur.

The Mountain Home

La Polenta has been at the disposal of many a Nava grandchildren who fight incessantly at each meal time to rest their little Nava bottoms on her soft cottony fabric.

This yellow cushion has been named after the most popular dish in the Italian Alps. Polenta is a staple in the mountainous regions of Italy, a dish that the Italian has grown up savouring.  Polenta is cornmeal, kawan kawan.  It is eaten accompanied by various stews, both vegetarian and meat filled.  Polenta is to North Italy what noodles are to Northern China.

Polenta is a word borrowed from the Italian language, referring to a dish which consists of boiled cornmeal*.  Before corn was introduced from the New World, grain mush, a gruel like dish from which polenta derived and commonly eaten in the Roman times and after, was usually made with either millet, faro, spelt and also chickpeas.  These starches were subsequently replaced by  ground corn.

Polenta is usually classified as a peasant dish but more and more Italian restaurants are now adding it to their menus.  There are virtually no restaurants in the Italian Alps or Piedmont region that do not serve up a dish of polenta with accompanying sauces and accoutrements.  Some fancy restaurants have even deconstructed the dish and serve polenta beautifully plated with the polenta moulded into a neat mound served as an accompanying side instead of potatoes.

In Bergamo, where the Italian hails from, polenta is accompanied by a side dish of small birds that have been oven baked.  In Courmayeur, I had polenta with roast lamb, sausages cooked in a tomato sauce, grilled sausages, oven baked trout, ratatouille and finally, cheese.

One of the best things to do food wise in Italy is to visit a restaurant that has been set up in the owner’s home.  Agriturismo as this is referred to in Italian is an agriculturally based enterprise that brings people to farms for activities such as fruit picking, wine tasting or horse back riding and last but not least, food tasting. In our case, we drove half an hour up the mountains to stuff our faces with polenta and stew with no activities whatsoever except to sit in the sun after a hefty meal.  What bliss! 🙂

This was what we had:

Polenta with slow cooked lamb

The meal was eaten at about 1500 m above sea level, at a small holding with their own goats, sheep, geese, ducks and chickens.  They even had a shetland pony thrown in for entertainment and a sheep dog that herds the pony back down the hill when it so much as dares to saunter up to the fountain for a drink. The meat of the day depends on what the chef decides to prepare.  The pony was off the menu by the way. That day, we had lamb that had been slaughtered and left to hang for 3 days to ensure that the meat becomes tender.  The tenderised meat is then marinated with olive oil, herbs, salt and tomatoes and then oven baked slowly on a low temperature setting until the meat yields easily with a tug between your fingers and teeth.  A dream dish and well worth the bumpy ride up the mountains for.

The Italian showed me how to eat polenta the proper way.  You make a dent with your serving spoon to make a well whilst simultaneously tipping the spoon ever so slightly to allow the liquid to slide into the said well.

A Polenta Well of Sauce

For good measure, I added a bit of tomato and a piece of meat that had fallen off the bone.  Yums!

Polenta can also be eaten with this:

Wild Boar Stew

This stew is made from wild boar cooked its own stock and flavoured by red wine bottled in the Aosta Valley.  The sauce is rich and flavoursome and best eaten with polenta nature or plain.  The types of meat served with Polenta are usually gamey meats.  SS ordered a rabbit stew once .  The meat was bathed in a creamy curry sauce, flavoured with fresh herbs.  There were hints of curry when I had a taste so if you are thinking curry like creamy Korma Chicken, rest assured that it is not.  Although I don’t see why that can’t be eaten with Polenta either.  Hmmm, might be worth a look into.

Stewed Rabbit

RN likes her polenta oven baked with layers of Fontina, a type of medium hard cheese eaten in the Aosta Valley.  Polenta Concia can be eaten on its own or with the stews mentioned above.

Polenta Concia

Occasionally, she would ask for an accompanying dish of sausages stewed in tomato sauce.

On another occasion, I decided to eat my polenta with trout grilled in a sage infused butter.

The Splayed Trout

This came with a dish of ratatouille.

Ra Ra Ratatouille

Needless to say, it was very sedap, my friends!  I am, as you know, a firm believer in 5 fruits and veg a day. I can’t call a meal complete unless it has some fibre in it. This was indeed un repas complet, kawan kawan.

Polenta is a heavy side dish, I concur.  However, it does not engorge my stomach like pasta or rice.  I discovered this only about 3 years ago whilst on a ski trip to the mountains.  Eaten after a morning of skiing, it both helps to regain your energy and to fuel you for the rest of the afternoon on the slopes. And all this with no bloated feeling.  I feel as light as a feather even after a heavy polenta lunch.

Polenta flour comes either finely ground or coarsely ground.  It all depends on your preference.  Polenta is usually prepared slowly over a low fire.  It requires plenty of stirring and can take up to 3 or 4 hours.  Italian women in the mountains have benefitted from generations of cooking polenta.  They have formed arms strong enough to carry hoards of grandchildren up and down mountain trails.  Usually cooked in copper pots and stirred with wooden spoons, restaurants have taken to cooking their polenta in a pot that has a mechanised stirrer. This saves on the manual labour and leaves another pair of hands available to help in the kitchen.  Very practical, indeed.

Keep Stirring the Polenta

Instant polenta flour can be purchased in the supermarkets for those who lack the time but do not want to miss out on the dish.  This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to prepare.   However, I’ve been told that this type of polenta, although serving its function, is not as tasty as the slow cooked one.  That does make sense because no effort usually equates to no gain, for me, anyway.

Your Honour, I rest my case.  Polenta remains the staple food in the Italian Alps and La Polenta remains a fought after favourite butt rest amongst the Nava hoard.

* Courmayeur and the Aosta Valley is bilingual in Italian and French.

*Polenta is also eaten in the American South, Spain, and various other parts of      Europe.

Costoletta alla Milanese


Kawan kawan, I am back, you’ll be glad to know! La Belle France was on les vacances for summer and so was I.  I spent flip flop days in Bali, Singapore and Heidi moments in the Italian Alps. I am now all fed and loved up and all geared up to feed you with more exciting posts on my eating adventures avec la famille.

The MIL makes the most wonderful costolette Milanese style.  This is the girls’s most favourite thing to eat whenever they are at their nonna’s.  I have never made this dish at home because I don’t like the idea of frying my meat in too much oil.  Besides, it is a treat for RN and SS to eat their grandmother’s costoletta alla Milanese.

I asked the MIL to share her recipe with me and show me how she prepares and cooks this dish.  She was over the moon and honoured to be asked which reminded me of the biblical adage: ask and you shall receive.  So for those of you who are too shy to ask, you don’t know what you’ll be missing.  Ask, ask and ask for more, kawan kawan!

We spent a glorious 17 days in the mountains with la famiglia grande.  The veal that the MIL usually buys is absolutely delicious, a result of free range breeding and a diet of sweet alpine grass.

Free Range Veal

In most costoletta recipes, veal cutlets are used.  But the FIL likes the meat thinly sliced and preferably without bone.  Hence the pink slab you see above.

The MIL slices the meat herself with a very, very sharp knife, then baths them in a dish of beaten egg.

An Eggy Bath

Note the beautiful dish, it is at least 40 years old.  The Navas never throw anything out.  I really like that habit.  They will use something until it is no longer functional and then still think twice about whether that thing ought be thrown away.  They would always choose to upcycle rather than throw things out. I love the idea of upcycling where old things that have become useless are remade into new materials for another use. It is kind of like reincarnation, I suppose, where you come back as another thing.  Upcycling really speaks to the Hindu in me!

After giving the sliced meat an eggy soak, it is time to coat them in bread crumbs. The egg binds the crumbs to the meat so they look like this:

Bread crumbed morsels of yumminess

Afterall, the bread crumbs are the essence of this dish without which this will not be called costoletta. In reality, the costoletta is the Italian version of the Weiner Schnitzel.  Actually the proper costoletta as already mentioned is cooked boned-in as opposed to the Weiner Schnitzel. So that makes Mamma’s version the Austrian one.  Additionally, she does thin the meat out with a mallet after slicing them which is exactly what the Austrians do with their Weiners.

The bread crumbed goodness are then shallow fried in the best and lightest olive oil until golden brown and crispy on the edges.

Frying the Weiners

It is important to salt the bread crumbs before coating the meat.

The final version should look like this:

Costoletta alla Milanese di Nonna Gio

At the Nava household, costoletta is accompanied by a chargrilled sweet pepper stew that the Mamma cooks specially for the Italian, her youngest son.  It is also delicious on a bed of rucola or any salad leaves marinaded in a vinaigrette of olive oil and cider vinegar as the acid in the vinaigrette lightens the heaviness of the fried meat.

I also had the opportunity to taste a version of this dish made with fresh porcini mushrooms since it is mushroom season in the mountains.  It was absolutely yummilicious!

The Veggie Version

Tell me, kawan kawan what is your fav breaded dish.  I am asking in anticipation to receive your comments. 🙂