Monday, November 07, 2005

Paper chef #12

Lamb, Orange, Basil and Fish Sauce

My thoughts when reading the list of ingredients for this edition of Paper Chef:

“Lamb, basil and orange… sure I can do something with that!”

“Basil, fish sauce and orange… Yeah! That sounds alright too!”

“Fish sauce and Lamb!? Argh! Don’t let me tell you want kind of repulsive tastes I am imagining right now!”

“Ok! I have to come back to my senses and work on something now. When imagination fails, it is good to look at what tradition has to offer.”

“Lamb and anchovies are found together in many recipes. Could anchovies be replaced by fish sauce in some cases? I guess it could. There are also some fermented fish (anchovies again) in Worcestershire sauce. But let’s admit it, these ingredients (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce) are not really related: they taste different, smell different and are from very different culinary traditions (although I’ve heard somewhere that Worcestershire sauce originated in India where many fish sauces are produced but none are as famous as the Thai and Vietnamese ones).”

Faced with such dilemma, the best option available to me was a South-East Asian inspired curry dish. After all, citrus fruits, herbs and fish sauce are great flavouring accents to curries. The only problem was that I had never prepared a curry in my whole life… or when I did, I simply used ready-made curry pastes. I have to admit that it was a bit intimidating to re-design traditional recipes from cultures I am not too familiar with. This is why I did a bit of research and placed a lot of thoughts on improvising this curry which I ended up quite proud of.

First of all, I had to keep my budget as low as possible; I spent way too much money last month on food. I had in mind a nice piece of lamb shoulder to make a stew but ended up buying a few tiny lamb medallions instead. It is hard to buy small quantities of lamb shoulder here, so using smaller portions of meat was a way to cut the costs. My curry would simply have to be translated into a sauce instead of a braising liquid. Not a bad idea.

My first task was to prepare a curry paste. Here are the ingredients I used. The numbers indicate an approximate ratio. I didn’t measure anything, so forgive me for any imprecision.

- 1 x coriander seeds
- 1 x cumin seeds
- 1 x curcuma
- 1.5 x chopped and seeded chilli peppers (mix of Thai chillies and Scotch bonnets)
- 1 x re-hydrated chipotle pepper
- 2 x pistachio
- 1.5 x salt
- 2 x basil
- 1.5 x mint
- 1 x shallot
- 1 x orange zest
- 1 x oil
- 1 x fish sauce
- 0.2 x pepper corns

After toasting the spices, I simply placed all the ingredients in my mortar. I soon realized however that I had too much ingredients in my mortar and that it would take me hours to make a nice paste. I then decided to use my mini food processor in order to save some time. The result was better than what I first expected: there was still a nice texture to my curry paste and the smell was just awesome!

At that point, it was time to take care of my lamb medallions. In compliance with the theme ingredients, I decided to marinate them in orange juice, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Thai chilli sauce and chopped basil.

When I was finally ready to prepare my dish, I simply added a spoonful of my curry paste to some coconut cream along with a chiffonade of basil and a few extra drops of fish sauce. I seared my lamb medallions and let them cook until medium-rare.

I then plated everything on a bed of Napa cabbage and puffed wild rice. I garnished the whole dish with the sauce, a few orange segments, some chopped pistachios and a chiffonade of basil.

An alternative presentation using the same ingredient would be to mix the cabbage, the rice, pistachio and sauce to make a warm salad and sit the lamb medallions on top.

I now have a good quantity of curry paste left so my next personnal paper chef challenge will be to use it in different ways.


mrs d said...

Oh my, that makes me want to dig in! Thanks for entering Paper Chef!

menoum_menoum said...

This meal is of hte best I've ever had the chance to have!

Original, tasty, a bit spicy, colorful, tender with crispy rice, etc.

I loved it.

Please, treat yourself and try it!