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October 22, 2009

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Home cookin' with Jean Georges

IN Shanghai it's easy to forget what an oven and frying pan look like. With the lure or thousands of restaurants, cafes and bistros, the idea of shopping for ingredients and taking the time to cook at home seems more trouble than it's worth.

But according to acclaimed master chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, right now in Shanghai is the perfect time to chuck on an apron and get creative at home.

This year's mild start to autumn means a longer harvest with plenty of vegetables to choose from.

Vongerichten passed through the city last week to share some tips on how to get started in the kitchen.

First tip from the professional: "You don't need an expensive kitchen to do magnificent things.

"Most ingredients can be bought from the supermarkets in Shanghai, so all you need is time."

The first dish Vongerichten made when he started cooking in 1973 was a pate houx, a buttery base that can be used for fritters or desserts.

He recommends a simple batter as an easy first step to help build some confidence in the kitchen before getting more adventurous.

Just bring six tablespoons of water and three tablespoons of butter to a simmer, stir in half a cup of flour and cook until batter comes clean off the pot, whisk it to cool, add two eggs and you're done.

Now with a bit of confidence, you can start on the filling for the batter.

He recommends crab but suggests calling on the professionals when it comes to the tough job of picking the best crab.

Then add one cup of crab meat for every third cup of the pate houx.

Now you can get creative: add celery salt, pepper or Tabasco sauce to taste or make use of the many vegetables available this season. Corn is recommended.

Mix well and fry until golden brown.

To add a Chinese twist, Vongerichten is a huge fan of black pepper sauce.

Just fry three tablespoons of minced ginger - young ginger is best - and two tablespoons of minced garlic until golden.

Add three quarters of a cup of Chinese spring onions and cook over a medium heat until soft.

To give the sauce a kick, add two tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns and cook until you can almost taste it in the air.

Tone it down again with half a cup of sweet soy, a quarter of a cup of light soy, five tablespoons of sugar, and three of lime juice and grape seed oil.

Add one tablespoon of fermented black beans, rinsed, squeezed and chopped.

The dish can be enjoyed family style with everyone having their own little bowl of sauce but serving up a plate full of fritters in the middle of the table, Vongerichten says.

Keeping with Asian flavors, cod steamed with shimeji mushrooms and miso-yuzu broth is another fragrant but relatively simple dish.

The hardest part is finding the fish. Dongchang Road fish market is the destination for the chefs at Three on the Bund's Jean Georges restaurant.

The market is open and the cooks recommend going in the afternoon to ensure the best selection.

For topping, start by mincing six shallots.

"It takes practice to learn to cut them properly, so if you want, you can just go robo chef and chuck them in the blender," Vongerichten says.

Sweat the shallots in olive oil until soft; add five cups of shimeji mushrooms, with the woody part of stems removed and cook covered on low heat until tender.

Mix in one tablespoon of lemon zest, one minced Thai chili and season with salt and lemon juice.

Let it cool before adding one tablespoon of chopped thyme and parsley.

"Don't cut the herbs too small though, keep it rough," he advises.

And then, put your hand-selected six-ounce (170-gram) cod fillet into a saute pan and season with salt and cayenne.

"If you don't have a saut?? pan then you can either steam or slow bake the fish in the oven," Vongerichten says.

Cover with the mushroom mixture and cook.

For the finishing touch, combine half a cup of chicken stock, half a cup of water, a three-inch-by-three-inch (7.5cm-by-7.5cm) lightly toasted piece of Japanese seaweed, konbu and a flake of green Thai chili.

Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and add half a cup of bonito flakes and four tablespoons of chopped fresh dill.

Let it all steep for 15 minutes before straining.

Mix in five tablespoons of white miso juice, not the sweet one, and two tablespoons of unsalted yuzu juice.

"From here you can have it with white rice, steamed rice, or even mashed potatoes for a bit of comfort food," the master says.


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