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The pressure’s on in Hong Kong, when it comes to food, as so much of it is so expensive, particularly meat and fish which we buy imported from Australia or the US. If you mess up a roast chicken, hard I know, that’s twenty quid down the drain. Apparently much of the local stuff is full of pollutants, or hormones, or who knows what. It’s a shame because hunkered down beneath the skyscrapers, the banks and the big-brand mega stores are thriving markets. The classic one to go to for food is in Wanchai, east of the financial district, near the immigration department. I went there yesterday morning early to catch the good stuff and was the only Westerner in sight. Sadly they see the blonde giraffe coming a mile off and prices double. At the flower stall I asked the price of some lillies and was told $25 per stem (about £2), the Chinese customer next to me asked in an audibly shocked voice ‘$25???’ and I’m pretty sure the stall holder said, ‘no, no, not for you’ so we moved on.

I let my helper do the bulk of the shopping just pointing out stuff I like the look of or need. She haggles, squeezes fruit and veg with a trained eye and checks the scales before they weigh them, which it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try. She announces certain things ‘no good’ and we move on to the next stall. There is a sort of flick of the chin which means ‘OK I’ll take it’ which I must learn to perfect. Everything looks clean and abundant; there are stalls with simply heaps of bok choi, pak choy, choy sum – they all appear the same to me but some are better for stir-fries, others for dumplings, some for fish. There are stalls of incense, medicine, loo rolls, nuts, clucking chickens, rose petals… I have so much to learn. Never more so than when staring at a tank of live fish. Again I defer to my helper who looks each fish in the eye and pronounces it ‘maybe good’. If they have any damage to the scales around their mouth, they have been nosing the sides of the tank for a while and are ‘old’. She can’t imagine buying a fish fillet in a plastic tray – how would you know how fresh it was? We bought a fish, again expensively, which I didn’t see die, it just appeared in a plastic bag of ice. We ate it steamed with ginger, spring onions, coriander and soy sauce and it was delicious. Apparently you can taste the pollution from the Pearl River delta in the delicate flesh of the fish but I honestly couldn’t. I will try buying fish online, as I’m sure there’s truth in the rumours of metal pollution, but it’s so much more fun to buy like this.

I didn’t see any alligators on my trip to the market so substituted (Australian, imported) skinless chicken breasts for this recipe, you can also use pork loin or prawns. It’s from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie’s America’, the inspiration for this recipe coming from Louisiana. The bright colours and sharp salsa appealed to me as the weather has been cloudless and warm after weeks of grey and cold. Judging from the popularity of the the sweet potato gratin featured on this site it should be a hit, it is heartwarming and comforting. It’s also really easy and requires very little preparation. Do marinate the chicken for as long as you can, I definitely felt it made a difference. I didn’t see any green tomatoes, but had a punnet of cherry tomatoes in need of eating so used those. I didn’t deseed them and Jamie was right that it made the salsa a bit wet. Over to you on whether you can be bothered…

Cajun chicken with sweet potato and salsa

Serves 4

4 sweet potatoes (approx 200g each), wrapped in foil

750g alligator tail, chicken breasts or pork loin, cut into 1cm thick slices

For the cajun marinade:

1 level tsp cayenne pepper

1 level tsp paprika

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a small bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked [I didn’t use any]

a small bunch of thyme, leaves picked

1 fresh bay leaf, spine removed, leaf torn into pieces [I used a dried one]

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

For the salsa:

3 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped

1/2 a fresh red chilli, or to taste, deseeded and finely chopped

2 green tomatoes, finely chopped

1 red tomato, deseeded and finely chopped

a small bunch of fresh curly parsley, finely chopped

2 tbsp cider vinegar

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Start by making the marinade. Whack [so Jamie to say that] the cayenne, paprika and a pinch each of salt and pepper into a pestle and mortar with the fresh herbs and grind them together. Add your garlic, olive oil and mustard and grind again – the oil will help all the flavours come out. When you’ve got a thick treacly paste, transfer it to a large bowl and toss your pieces of meat in it until they are completely coated. Cover with clingfilm, then pop the bowl into the fridge and leave for at least 20 to 30 minutes or, if you really want those flavours to do their work, for a few hours or even overnight.

Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and pop your foil-wrapped sweet potatoes in to roast for about 1 hour. When they’re nearly ready, make your salsa. It’s lovely and fresh, with the right amount of heat, crunch, herbiness, acid and salt to bring it all to life. Put all your salsa ingredients into a bowl, with a good pinch of sea salt to bring out the flavour of the tomatoes. Give it all a good mix.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, take them out of the oven but leave them in the foil so they stay warm. Put a large pan or wok on a high heat and get it ‘screaming’ hot. Quickly but carefully add your pieces of marinated meat and let them cook for a few minutes on each side so they get some nice colour.

Unwrap your sweet potatoes and put them on plates. Score them down the middle, then gently squeeze them so they pucker up. Serve your lovely cooked meat on top, and cover with a few spoonfuls of fresh salsa. And that’s it – beautiful meat, soft sweet potatoes and fresh lively salsa!

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jamies-America-Jamie-Oliver/dp/0718154762/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297402889&sr=1-1

 

 

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