Please don't think for one minute that my kitchen is like Heston's at The Fat Duck, I don't have a team of chefs at my beck and call for one thing; and more importantly, I don't have a laboratory either. But I do have a good sense of taste, smell and an idea of what will go together and what won't. The ability to plate the food in an enticing way, does go a long way too.
After delivering to my lovely clients which took the morning - clearly stopping for tea at two homes has slightly impacted my day's to-do lists. But I do like a natter as much as the next person. I arrived home, looked at the diary and realised that it's 'Date Night' and I've nothing really left in the fridge that would normally concoct itself easily into a larger gastronomic meal. And this has set me pondering along the lines of what do you do when the larder isn't really bare but nothing seems to be gelling that well either.
I pretty much emptied the fridge and laid it on the counter top (see picture) and began to move the items around like you would scrabble pieces when you're looking for a word to assemble itelf. What do you do with lamb, left-over passata, left-over crushed pineapple, spinach and an assortment of peppers? I couldn't think of one meal that actually used all of the above and then I resorted to the interweb. I find that some of the more obscure (or inspired) meals come from looking at restaurant menus/pictures/recipes and trying to guess what it is rather than reading about it. Try it - simply write one word into Google Search and then press 'images' and hey presto, you'll find interesting things pop up.
I stumbled upon some lovely lamb tagine dishes which got me thinking about the sweetness of Spring Lamb. Admittedly a lovely lamb stew wouldn't go amiss tonight but it's so Spring-like and sunny, that I just couldn't enjoy a Winter stew right now. But the sweetness of the tagine and the sharpness of a lemon couscous got me thinking about what would a Sweet & Sour Lamb dish taste like. I know it's not a traditional combination but I'm always game to try something new - when I lived in Hong Kong, I used to have monthly team lunches with my Chinese team, and as a way of bonding, they were allowed to pick my meal. Therefore, I've had some pretty interesting 'food' but most of which I really liked.
Sweet & Sour is a popular dish in many a Chinese take-away or restaurant and I think that most people would choose to eat this dish in a restaurant but it's not necessarily one for home, as it's no simple task to control the ratio of sugar and vinegar. The vibrancy of the sauce can be off putting too, as one does wonder how much MSG has been poured in, but I have found that when making the sauce at home, on most part the colour is beautifully glossy with a dark underlying hew to it. Not to mention the smell that emanates from the pot being utterly mouth watering. For me, the intensity of the flavour means that you don't simply chow-down enormous quantities as it's too rich, so the sugar content doesn't scare me too much.
Of course Sweet & Sour sauces are most commonly associated with Chinese cooking and there are in fact many different versions but generally the dish is either Zhejiang cuisine and Sichuan Cuisine. There are lots of recipes out there that call for dark, light soya sauce, cooking wine, specific vinegars and a number of other accouterments. I tend not to use tomato ketchup when I'm making a sauce but it can be used if you're pushed for ingredients and time. I'm also strangely addicted to pineapple, so often use this as part of the sugar 'quota' for my sauce.
Therefore, back to the top and my Sweet & Sour Lamb - all in all it's turned out pretty well. I wasn't really expecting the lamb to work so well with the sauce but I think cooking it down for an hour or so will help the meat to breakdown and absorb/enhance the flavours. If you want to give this dish a go, the recipe is here and as tonight is Date Night, I will only be able to tell you if the dish was enjoyed tomorrow.
What I will say right now, is that the speed at which this dish can be prepared has almost put me back on time track and I may even complete all my chores. I have already cooked through so that I could review final results but this could be cooked in two parts (meat fried off and sauce created - then 10 mins combining, followed by cooling and then a final cook for 30mins or so) which does seem good for those running busy households.
BTW - this sauce goes really well with homemade Pork Meatballs but that's perhaps for another day!