Chinese Five Spice and Cider...
Whilst perhaps not two ingredients considered a culinary match made in heaven, this weekend we decided to taste some ciders that we'd been given and, at the same time, found ourselves too lazy to venture out in search of supper ingredients. I had lots of pork that needed using up and the makings of a simple Chinese stir-fry, so I ended up making my own version of Chinese Five Spice and enjoying an odd starter of leftover sausages whilst sampling cider with one hand and shaking noodles around a Wok with the other!
We worked our way through some still organic cider, Wyld Wood 2011 Vintage Organic Cider from Westons; one of my favourite dry, sparkling ciders, Aspall Premier Cru Suffolk Cyder; and a Surrey cider produced using an interesting garden apples donation scheme. In between sipping and swilling we nibbled some pork chipolatas and roast pork with French mustard, smoked cheese and pickled gherkins. All of the ciders were perfectly adequate partners for the food, with the light Surrey cider being the best to drink on its own.
This is a run of the mill, supermarket-stocked cider from a well-known cider supplier producing many varieties from the Wye Valley in Herefordshire. Full-bodied and dark in colour, this still cider is easy-drinking but lacks any tang or sparkle and is a little too aggressively fruity for my tastes. Determined to give "proper" cider another chance, rather than reaching straight for the crisp, sparkling ciders that I love, I tried a pint of Welsh Black Dragon Scrumpy cider at the The Elm Tree pub after Sunday lunch. It was too much for me: too strong, too raw, and too flat (although their delicious, fragrant coriander ale certainly cheered up my afternoon).
One of my favourite locally produced ciders, the Dry Premier Cru is an award-winning cider from the Aspall orchards. Light gold in colour, with hundreds of Champagne-like bubbles, the cider is light, crisp with just enough fresh apple tones to make it easy-drinking whilst each mouthful remains a subtle, refined treat. I've found it to be a great and multi-talented food partner, too, with pork, spicy food, meaty fish and antipasti. It is, of course, best enjoyed in the sunshine, on its own or with a BBQ.
Surrey Garden Cider
The first cider from The Garden Cider Company is deliciously light, subtly flavoured with Surrey garden apples, and has a fascinating story behind it. Its not as dry and crisp as the Aspall Premier Cru but it is still a very easy-drinking and refreshing cider. The food completely overpowered the delicate floral and fruity tones but the cider's low alcohol content (4.5%) makes it a great Sunday afternoon tipple or summer aperitif. I've saved the best 'til last: the producer is part of a cider co-op and the Surrey Garden Cider is made from local apples, which can be donated from garden apple trees in return for a crate of the cider! The contribution of apples each year produces a different and unique cider each time. Find out more here. (P.s. you don't actually have to live in Surrey to exchange your apples!).
All of this cider tasting definitely helped work up an appetite for our quick supper of Pork Stir-Fry with Five Spice. My version of Chinese Five Spice and the stir-fry recipe is quick, easy and much tastier than bought sauces.
Chinese Five Spice
1 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch of ground dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp finely ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground sea salt - I used a generous helping of Best Friend Jess's homemade sea salt with lime, fennel and chilli
Pinch of ground ginger
Pork Stir Fry
Fry a little crushed garlic in groundnut oil in a Wok, add diced pork loin steak and seal. Toss in Chinese Five Spice until evenly coated and stir fry until slightly golden. Add a generous squeeze of tomato puree, soy sauce and mix to a paste-like consistency to cover the meat. Next, add your sliced vegetables, such as red pepper and sugar snap peas, and stir fry for a minute or two. I like to mix in about 100ml of chicken stock to create a sauce. Let it bubble away and reduce down before adding thin noodles to the Wok for the final 2-3 minutes. Stir in sliced cucumber and a little more sliced red pepper and sugar snap peas. Garnish with crushed cashew nuts and sesame seeds.