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November 11, 2010 / amyjmcintosh

Chicken soup

Don’t be mistaken by Turkish chef Ismail Tosun’s tough exterior. He may have bulging biceps, a bevy of tattoos and a gravelly voice, but this talented foodie isn’t as tough as his looks might suggest. Tosun is one of 30 top chefs and food personalities from Australia, France, the US, Britain, Asia, Turkey and Lebanon who descended upon Sydney in October for the World Chef Showcase, one of the 600 events during the Crave Sydney International Food Festival.

Thanks to Tosun’s revitalisation of traditional Turkish food, he has Melbourne diners spilling out the door of his much-loved Collingwood restaurant, Gigibaba. The restaurant’s signature dish is the star of the show at Tosun’s cooking demonstration at Sydney’s Star City casino. Known as ‘Sultan’s Delight’ (or Hunkar Begendi), this slow-cooked lamb stew is said to have been developed for the sultan in the 16th century. Rumour has it the sultan fainted with delight when he tasted it … and who could blame him? It’s just that good.

Tosun recommends seeking out Turkish specialty shops in Sydney’s western suburb of Auburn for the dish’s more obscure ingredients, such as Maras chilli, salca (red pepper paste) and kassar cheese (milder and younger than parmesan). Authentic Turkish ingredients lie at the heart of Gigibaba’s menu, and each day Tosun changes the menu based on what his suppliers provide.

“I like to eat,” he says while painstakingly peeling the skin off some piping hot eggplants that he’s charred whole on the stove top. “I used to be very fat as a kid.” There’s not a trace of fat on the chef these days, his muscles flexing as he lovingly stirs the chopped eggplant into a big saucepan of cream with cheese and nutmeg.

The audience happily samples small bowls of the lamb stew as the shy Turk recounts stories of being raised by his grandparents in Melbourne. These days, his gran makes haloumi for the restaurant while mum can be found in the kitchen every day. Tosun says she’s very quick at skinning tomatoes, which is probably a good thing since he reveals the skin is very hard for your stomach to digest.

It’s with a sigh of relief that Tosun wraps up his demonstration and heads off stage. It’s clear this talented foodie is more at home in the kitchen than on centre stage. “I’m just a village boy trying to make a living,” he says.

Kylie Kwong is another star of the show at the World Chef Showcase. Instantly recognisable with her trademark thick-rimmed specs and black glossy hair, the Australian celebrity chef commands instant attention as she walks on stage. In stark contrast to Tosun, here’s a chef who’s just at home in the spotlight as she is behind a chopping board.

As Kwong cooks up a big pot of her favourite comfort food — Vietnamese-style chicken soup — she tells the story of each of the ingredients and how they’ve come from paddock to pot. She believes in knowing the story behind her ingredients — it just makes them taste better. For her new book, appropriately titled It Tastes Better, Kwong has travelled the Australian countryside to meet producers, staying on their farms and hearing their stories.

The chicken which Kwong uses for the stock, for example, has been lovingly raised on an all-veg diet in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. “Soup rests on the quality of the stock,” says Kwong. The fresh galangal that she adds to the stockpot is sourced from the Byron Bay Farmers Market. With roots in tact, it looks like it’s just been plucked from the ground.

As she stirs the broth, Kwong talks about pushing ingredients in terms of the technique and cooking process in order to enhance their flavours. As she arranges the bountiful herbs on a large white platter, she says “It’s like having your own forest.” And without further ado, she dishes up the finished product to the crowd. “It’s a celebration of our amazing Australian produce.” And she’s right, you’re unlikely to taste chicken soup as good as this.

Sultan’s Delight
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon baharat (sometimes known as ‘seven spice’)
2 kg boned lamb’s neck, trimmed
2 tbs Maras chilli (Maras is a town in Turkey)
2 tbs salca (red pepper paste), plus 1 tbs extra
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
150g butter
2 Spanish onions
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp honey
6 large ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
salt and pepper
600 ml chicken stock
flat leaf parsley, chopped, to garnish
Begendi (creamed eggplant)
3 eggplants
200 ml thickened cream
15 to 200 g grated kassar cheese
a pinch of ground nutmeg
sea salt
ground black pepper
squeeze of lemon juice

1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 tbs ground nutmeg
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs ground coriander seed
2 tbs dried and sieved mint
2 tbs dried and sieved oregano
2 tbs black pepper
4 bay leaves
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tbs ground mustard seeds

To make the baharat spice mix, combine all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Store in an air-tight container for up to two months.

To prepare the lamb, cut each neck into four cubes. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the Maras chilli, salca, tomato paste, oil, garlic and baharat. Add the lamb and stir to coat the meat. Chill overnight or let stand at room temperature for at least two hours. If chilled overnight, remove from the fridge and allow meat to come to room temperature before cooking.

Melt butter in a large casserole dish over medium heat, then brown the lamb all over and remove from the pan. If necessary add more butter to the pan. Add onion, garlic, thyme and oregano and sweat over a low heat for around five minutes. Add honey, then increase heat and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the extra 1 tbs of salca and sweat for another couple of minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and cook gently to break the lamb to the pan. Cover the pan and put it into the oven at 180 to 200 degrees Celsius, and gently simmer for 2.5 to 3 hours or until lamb is tender and the liquid has reduce to a thick sauce.

To make the creamed eggplant, sit the eggplants directly on the flame of your stove top. You can barbecue them if you don’t have gas. Set the flame to medium-low and cook for at least 15 minutes, turning constantly until eggplants are charred all over and soft. Remove from the flame and place into a sealed container of plastic bag so the juices can drain off. Allow to cool for approximately 15 minutes. When cool, gently peel away the skin from the flesh, taking care to remove every little bit of skin. Chop finely and set aside.

Bring the cream to boil in a small saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes to reduce slightly. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg, then season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add the chopped eggplants and beat lightly to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

To serve, spoon the eggplant puree into a serving bowl, make a well in the centre and spoon in the lamb. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Serve with a green salad.

Vietnamese-style chicken soup
Serves 6

1 kg fresh rice noodle sheets

6 litres cold water
1 x 2 kg free range or organic chicken, roughly chopped into 8 pieces
2 x 10 cm piece ginger
6 spring onions, cut in half crossways
130 g fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (bottom 5 cm only)
6 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
1 tbs salt flakes
2 cinnamon quills
4 whole star anise
1 tbs fennel seeds
1 tbs cumin seeds
1 tbs coriander seeds
3 tbs peanut oil
100 g garlic (about 2 cloves), crushed
1 medium red onion, peeled and roughly sliced
170 g palm sugar
1 cup (250 ml) fish sauce

Picked carrot and shallots:
1 small carrot, julienne
150 g red shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 tsp salt flakes
2 tsp brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Herb platter:
1 bunch Vietnamese mint
1 bunch mint
1 bunch sweet Thai basil
1 bunch coriander
450 g fresh bean sprouts
2 limes, quartered
4 long red chillies, finely sliced

First make the stock. Place water, chicken, ginger, spring onion, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, salt and cinnamon quills in a 10-litre stockpot. In a dry-frying pan, roast star anise, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds until they start to become aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes, then add them to the stockpot. Pour the oil into the same frying pan, add garlic and onion and saute for 5 minutes or until lightly browned, then add to the stockpot. Bring stock to boil, skim thoroughly, then reduce temperature to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, skimming regularly.

To make the pickled carrot and shallots, place carrot julienne and shallots in a bowl with salt and sugar. Combine thoroughly and leave to pickle for 30 minutes, then add lemon juice and mix well. Place pickled carrot and shallots in a small serving bowl and set aside.

When stock is ready, carefully remove chicken pieces and set aside to cool. Season stock with palm sugar and fish sauce, stirring to combine thoroughly and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Remove stock from stove and carefully strain through a sieve, pressing the aromatics with the back of a wooden spoon. Discard aromatics. When chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones with your fingers.

Cut the rice noodle sheets into 1cm wide strips, easing them apart with your fingers.

Return stock to the pot, bring back to boil, then add noodles and chicken meat before serving — the noodles will only take 2 minutes to heat through. Using tongs and a ladel, divide noodles and chicken equally among six soup bowls. Serve immediately, accompanied by the pickled shallots and the herb platter.

Do you like spicy food? Check out Kylie’s recipe for stir-fried eggplant with homemade chilli sauce.

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