By Prudence Wade
As far as working lunches go, homemade noodles swimming in a hot, spicy broth and topped off with pak choi, spring onions, flavoursome mince and chilli oil is certainly a step up from a bland sandwich or sad salad.
Food writer and cookbook author Pippa Middlehurst is teaching me how to make tantanmen with fresh ramen noodles over Zoom. The dish is from the Best Home Cook winner’s second book, Bowls & Broths.
The topic of bowls makes Pippa’s eyes light up. “I just like everything being together and being able to sit with it,” she says matter-of-factly.
“I like to be settled – it’s ritualistic. I like to be comfy, no restrictive clothing, pyjamas on. This is the ideal, with a bowl of something delicious. I think having variety within the bowl is great.”
We start by measuring flour, salt and water for the noodles, and this is where Pippa’s background in molecular biology comes into play. She’s meticulous with her measurements – and you really need to be, to get the perfect noodles.
We spend 10 minutes in near silence rolling out the dough. Pippa can’t recall the first time she ate noodles, but she can remember the feeling. “My granddad used to take us for dim sum when we were children,” she reminisces. “So my love for Chinese food began with Chinese restaurant food.”
But back to the task at hand. Once the noodles are dusted with corn starch and set to one side, it’s time to start on the tantanmen itself. We cook up some mince (beef for her, soy for me) in sweet bean sauce and five spice and get our stock on the go, at which point Pippa reveals the biggest secret of her recipes.
Instead of making a complicated new broth for every dish, Pippa’s hack is to have a freezer full of master stocks. “I’m not going to make the stock into a specific broth,” she explains. “Instead, what I do is I season my bowl”. The stock then goes on top.
This means that, depending on what she ‘seasons’ her bowl with – for us it’s ground Sichuan peppercorns, light brown sugar, Chinkiang black rice vinegar, soy sauce and Chinese sesame paste – you can have a completely different dish each time.
In under an hour, I’ve come out with a bowl full of flavour – my partner described it as “fancy Pot Noodle”, which I thought somewhat undersold it.
Miso Chocolate Fondant
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1½ tbsp white miso
50g dark chocolate (70+% cocoa solids)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
60g golden caster sugar
50g plain flour
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan.
Add the sesame seeds to a mini food processor, or using a pestle and mortar, crush to form a coarse powder. Butter four seven centimetre ramekins or pudding moulds and sprinkle the crushed sesame seeds inside, coating the bottom and edges of the ramekin completely.
Add the butter, miso and chocolate to a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just-simmering water, ensuring the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Melt and combine the mix until smooth, then set aside to cool.
Beat the egg, yolk and sugar in a separate bowl until the mixture is thick, pale and airy. Fold in the chocolate miso mixture with a large metal spoon. Sieve in the flour and fold this through.
Divide the mixture between the four ramekins and place on the middle shelf of the oven to cook for 12 minutes. Remove and leave to cool for two minutes. As they cool they should shrink away from the edges of the ramekins slightly.
Carefully invert the fondants onto a serving plate and serve with your favourite ice cream or pouring cream and a small handful of raspberries.
Bowls & Broths by Pippa Middlehurst is available now