By Ella Walker
There are far, far more variations of soy sauce than the average supermarket would have you believe. I spend a good 20 minutes in mine – mask on, intricately designed packets of instant noodles in towers where walls would be – just reading hundreds of soy sauce bottle labels, the umami of them pulsing from behind the glass.
It’s tough not to scoop the lot into a basket and take it all home – which is likely what food writer, and author of new cookbook, Dumplings And Noodles Pippa Middlehurst would do. “If I go to a Chinese supermarket now and I see an ingredient I don’t have in my pantry, I want it, and I want to know what to do with it, and I want to know how it tastes,” she says.
A paean to its namesakes, if you’re brand new to pleating your own gyoza, and making bao, biang biang noodles and ramen, the book will have you tracking down ingredients like Chinkiang black vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine, dried shrimps, shiro miso paste and doubanjiang (broad bean chilli sauce).
And once you’ve loaded up on those, Middlehurst will then have you making huge vats of your own chilli oil – hers is spiked with cardamom, fennel and ginger.
She makes the idea of throwing a bowl of noodles together for lunch seem not only achievable, but wholly sensible. We make her charred broccoli soba – aka hangover noodles – with a crispy fried egg on top (for adequate crispiness, Middlehurst says a wok is a must.
While for quick meals, dried noodles are the go-to, in the book, Middlehurst also explains the science of hand pulling noodles and the graft required to make them, which she experienced at noodle school in China.
Middlehurst’s interest in Asian cuisines – she includes dishes from China, Japan and Taiwan in Dumplings And Noodles – stems from her granddad’s pursuit of excellence. He would take Middlehurst and her siblings for dim sum at a restaurant stacked on top of a Chinese supermarket on an industrial estate: “We’d be the only Western family in there. It was really traditional, with Hong Kong dim sum trollies – he just always knew where to find the best of the best.”
Hangover Noodles – Charred Broccoli Soba
1 handful of tenderstem or purple sprouting broccoli, any leaves removed (around 100g/4oz)
About 100g dried soba noodles (2 nests)
1tsp sesame oil
1tsp neutral oil
½ red chilli, deseeded and diced
½ garlic clove, diced
2 radishes, sliced
1 spring onion, sliced
2tsp sesame seeds, toasted
2tsp fried crispy shallots (store-bought)
1 fried egg, to serve (optional)
For the seasoning sauce:
1tbsp light soy sauce
½tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar
1tbsp chilli oil (preferably homemade)
¼tsp light brown sugar
Mix together all the ingredients for the seasoning sauce and set aside.
Heat a griddle pan on a high heat and lay the broccoli in the hot pan. After two to three minutes, you should begin to smell that lovely charring aroma, at which point you should check the broccoli and turn it over. Keep an eye on it as it cooks and remove from the pan when it is evenly charred on both sides. Set aside.
Cook the noodles until al dente in a pan of boiling salted water for three minutes. Once the time is up, tip them into a colander and rinse under cold water. This removes any excess starch and keeps the noodles bouncy and separate. Add the sesame oil to the noodles while they’re in the colander, to coat them. Leave the noodles in the colander.
Heat the neutral oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium–high heat and add the chilli and garlic. Stir-fry for one minute, keeping them moving in the wok to avoid burning. Throw the broccoli into the pan, followed by the noodles, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the radishes and spring onion, then remove the wok from the heat. Pour the seasoning sauce over the noodles and use tongs to coat everything in the mixture.
Sprinkle over the toasted sesame seeds and crispy shallots and serve with a fried egg, if you like!
Real-Deal Prawn Toast
500g raw peeled king prawns – fresh, or frozen and defrosted
2tbsp lard (or vegetable shortening)
2 spring onions
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp light (soft) brown sugar
1tsp fine sea salt
2tsp sesame oil
5tbsp white sesame seeds
5tbsp black sesame seeds
4 slices of medium white toastie bread
Neutral oil, for frying
1tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise
2tbsp katsuobushi flakes
1 sheet of nori, toasted and ground
Add half of the prawns to a food processor with the lard, spring onions, ginger, sugar, salt, cornflour and sesame oil. Pulse to a paste.
Chop the remaining prawns into roughly 1cm pieces, then add to the food processor and pulse only twice to combine.
Put the white and black sesame seeds in a shallow dish. Spread a quarter of the prawn mixture onto a slice of bread so that the mixture is around 1cm thick. Gently place the bread, prawn side down, into the sesame seeds, so that the seeds coat the prawn mixture all over. Lay the bread, uncovered side down, on a tray lined with baking paper, then repeat with the remaining filling and slices of bread.
When you’re ready to cook the toasts, pour enough neutral oil into a large frying pan to fill it to a depth of about 2cm.
Fry the prawn toasts in batches for thee to four minutes on each side, then drain on paper towels.
Cut the prawn toasts diagonally into quarters and serve topped with Kewpie mayonnaise, katsuobushi flakes and nori flakes.
Dumplings And Noodles by Pippa Middlehurst is available now