I’m not sure how I learned about the Japanese doria, a rice gratin that’s quite popular in Japan, but it may have been while browsing recipes on the English language site of Cookpad, one of the most popular recipe sharing sites in Japan. Rice gratins. In a way they’re not too dissimilar to the Hong Kong style baked rices but y’know, with cheese. Now why haven’t I got onto that bandwagon?

As is usual with these fleeting obsessions of mine, I had to have one and I started with a bit of research on existing recipes. They’re all a combination of rice with whatever ingredients stirred or fried in, a layer of bechamel (or some other sauce) and a layer of cheese. While most Japanese recipes online are for small individual portions in cute gratin dishes, I opted to make a giant doria for us to share (and there were leftovers too).

Closeup of the Doria

It all starts with a base of fried rice or rice with some toppings. From what I can gather, most of the recipes either use ketchup as a flavouring or even curry. For my fried rice, I opted to just add a bit of soy and some chicken stock base. I had chicken and vegetables in mine.

Fried Rice Base

A layer of bechamel then goes on top of that rice. Another option would be to use Japanese curry or tomato sauce.

Bechamel on Top

Then a layer of grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and crappy mozzarella – I think parmesan is usually used but I had none at the time).

Cheese on Top and Ready for the Oven

The rice gratin had a spell in the oven and voila, I had a gloriously beautiful doria.

Out of the Oven

And oh yes, it was delicious.

Serving the Doria

While this time, I made everything from scratch for my doria, I can see how it could be created from leftovers – rice, sauces, cheeses, etc. Even random ingredients that need using up could be incorporated with the rice. I see many more dorias in my future.

Top of my must-eat list in Nagoya was hitsumabushi, the Nagoya style of eating unagi (freshwater eel) on rice. With the help of a tourism officer, we booked a restaurant located near Nagoya station and this turned out to be a branch of Hitsumabushi Bincho, a chain of hitsumabushi restaurants in Nagoya and also Tokyo. Most of the hitsumabushi restaurants will only serve eel so do ensure that everyone in your party is happy to eat it!

This is the tray that is presented to you after you order. A bowl of rice and eel, an empty rice bowl, pickles, a bowl of a clear broth, wasabi and spring onions, shredded nori and more dashi broth.

Hitsumabushi Set

Our kind waitress guided us through the process of consuming hitsumabushi. We first took our rice paddles and divided the bowl of rice and eel into four quadrants. We all scooped a quadrant into our rice bowls. This quarter was eaten as is, no toppings added, to really taste the eel. The method of cooking eel for hisumabushi in Nagoya does not include the usual steaming, thus leaving the eel with lots of crispy grilled edges. I loved it.

Unagi on Rice

The second quarter was to be mixed with as much freshly grated wasabi and finely sliced spring onions as one desired. Delicious.

The third quarter was topped with shredded nori and a clear dashi broth, turning the eel and rice into a sort of congee. As tasty as this was, the broth destroyed all the crispy eel edges that I so loved.

With Nori and Tea

The final quarter? We were to eat it in our favourite way of the three! A dab of wasabi and spring onions for me again then!

I loved the whole ritual involved with the meal and I absolutely loved the Nagoya style of straight up grilling the eel without the initial steaming. The meal wasn’t the cheapest in Nagoya but the price for a hitsumabushi meal was pretty consistent across all the restaurants in the guide I was given (about 3000 yen or £20 per person).

Hitsumabushi Bincho
The branch we visited was in the ESCA underground shopping avenue next to Nagoya station.

It took a couple of attempts but I’m finally happy with this recipe for khao kha moo, a Thai dish of braised pork leg on rice. This is apparently one of the most popular dishes in Thailand but I’ve only ever seen it once in London, at my local Thai restaurant and it was only a special that day. I haven’t seen it since.

Khao Kha Moo

Luckily, it’s very easy to make at home. All that’s needed is time and all the spices in your kitchen cupboards. The pork leg (I used a hock) is quite an economical cut too. Do keep the skin on your pork hock – it has a great texture after all that braising. Some recipes online have you fry your pork hock first but I don’t bother to keep things easier and it turns out just fine. Do serve this with lots of white rice and either a boiled green vegetable (I boiled up some spring greens) or pickled vegetable to have on the side. And the sauce isn’t optional – its strong garlicky tang helps cut through the richness of the pork.

Braised Pork Leg

Khao Kha Moo
serves 2-3.

1 pork hock (approx 800-1000g)
6 cups water
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark thick sweet soy sauce
1 large chunk rock sugar
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp five spice
6 black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
4-5 sprigs coriander
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

for the sauce
3 cloves garlic
1 large green chili
1 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsps rice vinegar

to serve
cooked white rice
boiled greens or pickled greens

Place the pork hock and all the braising ingredients into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to leave it at a simmer and then half cover the pot and let it braise for at least 2 hours or until the pork is starting to fall off the bone.

Braised Pork Leg

In the meantime, blend together the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.

When the pork hock is tender, remove it from its braising liquid and let cool enough to handle. Slice the meat (and the skin too!) and plate with the rice and greens, pouring some of the braising liquid over. Serve the sauce on the side.

Being ill is terrible. We both fell ill the day after Boxing Day and down we went with terrible colds and pounding headaches. Today is one of many with a terrible cough and I’m sure I’ll be coughing over everyone at work tomorrow (apologies in advance). Anyway, I wanted to blog this earlier but it’s had to wait until the new year (Happy new year, everyone!) until I was able to – so here it is. Leftover pork belly biryani. Sure there’s nothing authentic about adding pork (!) to a biryani but gosh it’s good and that’s how we used up the leftovers from Christmas dinner.

Leftover Pork Belly Biryani

I’m not talking about an all in one spiced rice dish but a proper biryani made of layers of curry and rice. It’s not difficult but it takes a bit of time and the result is something that feels quite celebratory. The original recipe on which it’s based is a Pakistani biryani and I’m now keen to try making biryanis from the rest of the region (I do have a Thai biryani recipe on the blog).

Inside the Biryani

If you don’t have any pork belly to hand, this would work with any leftover meat (anything from a Sunday roast would do nicely). Of course, if you have no leftover meat, add about 800g fresh meat cut into chunks and added to the curry after the garlic and tomatoes – you’ll need to adjust the cooking time, of course, to ensure that the meat is tender.

Leftover Pork Belly Biryani
Adapted from this recipe.
serves about 4-6.

For the onions
3 tbsps sunflower oil
3 medium-large onions

For the curry
3 tbsps sunflower oil
2 tbsps garam masala
1 tsp crushed chilli flakes
1/2 tsp turmeric
10 black peppercorns
6 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 medium tomatoes, chopped finely
2-3 green chillies (more or less), minced
thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced
about 500g leftover roast meat and other suitable things, all cut in bite sized chunks (I used roast pork belly and pigs in blankets and sauteed sprouts)
salt to taste
125 ml plain yogurt
a small handful of chopped coriander

For the rice
650 ml basmati rice, washed and soaked for 30 minutes
8 black peppercorns
5 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 small stick cinnamon
salt

To finish the biryani
1/2 tsp saffron threads
a small handful of chopped coriander

Start with the onions. Slice them finely and then fry them in the oil over medium-high heat until dark brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the curry, in a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the first six spices and fry for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the garlic, tomatoes, chillies and ginger and continue cooking, stirring once in a while, for about 3 minutes. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped leftover meat, salt to taste, and continue cooking, covered, for 10 minutes. Finally, uncover the pot and stir in the yogurt and coriander and continue cooking over low heat for another 15 minutes. Take off the heat and leave it in the pot.

Leftover Pork Belly Curry

Crush the saffron threads and pour over about 125ml of hot water. Set aside.

Set 1 litre of water to boil in a large pan and add all the ingredients for the rice (salt to taste). Let cook for about 5 minutes until the rice is al dente. A lot of the water will have soaked up. Drain and set aside.

Rice

Now to assemble and finish the biryani. Back to the curry pot. Take out half the curry and set aside. Spread the remaining curry in one layer. Add half the rice and spread that over the curry evenly. Drizzle over half the saffron water and mix it gently into the rice layer. Put the rest of the curry into a second even layer over the rice and finally layer over the second half of the rice and saffron water. Cover and place over low heat and allow to steam together for 10 minutes. Top with the chopped coriander and serve.

Someone told me last year that I should try Senegalese food. I’ve not yet found a restaurant serving the food of Senegal in London yet but imagine my delight when an article on the country’s cuisine appeared in last month’s Saveur. Flipping through the article, it all sounded good – black eyed pea fritters, peanut and chicken stew, an okra and seafood stew (that’s next)…but what I had eyes for was the Thiéboudienne, a rice and fish dish served communally. That’s what I chose to make one weekend.

Thiéboudienne

I’ll be honest with you – I knew very little about Senegal, let alone Senegalese cuisine. The official language in these western African country is French though there are other African languages that are also recognised. One is Wolof, the language of the Wolof people, and the name of this dish comes from the Wolof for rice (ceen) and fish (jën) and the Wolof name for the dish is Ceebu Jën. Kinda like Thiéboudienne if you mumble it and put a French accent on it. The country’s location on the coast means that seafood is a big part of their diet and this fish and rice dish is actually the national dish.

Apart from the fish and rice, there’s a whole selection of vegetables cooked in the same pot too. My thiéboudienne was missing the dried smoked fish that gives it a bit of funk; I just used some Asian fish sauce which I’ve read is used as a shortcut anyway in Senegal. The giant platter of spiced rice, boiled fish and vegetables was delicious and comforting. Despite the inclusion of quite a bit of tomato paste, it isn’t too tomatoey and was someone tangy from the tamarind. Thumbs up to my first Senegalese experience at home!

Fish

Thiéboudienne
serves 2 (with leftovers) – 4.

a thick fillet of meaty white fish per person – I used red snapper

for every two fillets
1 clove garlic
small handful flat leaf parsley
1/4 small onion
2 spring onions
salt
freshly ground pepper

3 tbsps sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
100g tomato paste
650 ml vegetable stock (I used bouillon powder)

3 small carrots, cut in large chunks
1/2 medium aubergine, cut in large chunks
10 okra
1 medium potato, cut in large chunks
1/2 small Savoy cabbage, cut in large wedges

1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp tamarind paste

1.5 cups basmati rice, washed

First prepare the filling for the fish. Chop the ingredients for the filling together very finely (I used my trusty mini chopper). Slash the fillets deeply on one side and stuff these cuts with the filling as best you can. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to about 120C.

Heat a large pot or casserole over medium heat and when hot, add the oil (palm oil is traditional but I used sunflower instead) and fry the fish fillets on both sides until almost cooked. Take them out and set aside.

In the same oil, fry the chopped onion and green pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add the tomato paste and fry, stirring constantly, until it has darkened – this will take a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering and gently lower in the fillets. When they are fully cooked, fish them out carefully with a slotted spoon and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover loosely with aluminium foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

Add the vegetables and cook slowly until they are tender – anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and fish out the vegetables when they’re cooked, placing them in the same ovenproof dish as the fish (and keeping them all in the oven to keep warm).

When all the vegetables have been cooked and have been removed, add the fish sauce and tamarind paste and stir to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Add some water if it has reduced too much – you want about 500-600ml of liquid remaining. Add the rice, stir well and slap a lid on the pot.

Leave to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. After this time, your rice should be cooked and you probably have the makings of xooñ (the crispy bits at the bottom of the pot).

Fluff the rice with a fork and pile it all onto a large platter. Scrape any xooñ from the bottom of the pot and scatter it over the rice. Arrange the vegetables and fish on top and serve.

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