Home Cooking with Inspiring Chefs | Adam Cliff, Samsen
In this ongoing series of interviews with professional chefs, Habitat will take a peek at how they run their kitchens at home, what pantry staples they can’t do without, the dishes that marked their childhood and the ones served most often on their own dining table. Apart from their top tips for hosting at home, they will share a simple yet delectable recipe to add to your repertoire.
This month we spoke to Adam Cliff, chef-owner of Samsen – a Thai street food and noodle bar in Wan Chai that frequently amassed long queues for their wagyu beef boat noodles and reached Bib Gourmand status in 2018 for its authentic traditional flavours. Earlier this year a second location was opened in Sheung Wan, proving Cliff’s tasty Thai fare is winning the hearts of locals. Formerly head chef at Chachawan, the Aussie had trained under the celebrated, fellow Australian chef David Thompson before moving to Hong Kong and has almost 20 years of culinary experience.
Name: Adam Cliff
Lives in: Central
Restaurant(s): Samsen Wanchai & Samsen Sheung Wan
[H = Habitat; C = Cliff]
H: How do you spend your time at home these days?
C: Most time at home is spent with family, trying to stay fit or working on the restaurants. For exercises, I like to mix it up with Thai Boxing, running, skipping and gym.
H: How often do you cook for yourself / order takeaways and where from?
C: As I get older I find myself cooking at home more often than before. I love to cook up a steak and mash dinner, or a roasted chicken – something very homely and not overly complicated.
H: What’s your signature home-cooked dish?
C: I love to cook a lot of roasts or steaks at home for family and friends. I think roasts and steaks remind me of Australia and the food that I had a lot growing up, so in that sense it’s comfort food to me.
H: Where do you go for groceries? Do you plan your shopping in advance with lists or follow your heart?
C: I am very spur of the moment. Shopping is wherever is closest normally for basic ingredients, for more select ingredients I will make a special trip to wherever is needed.
H: Any advice on how to stock our fridge and pantry?
C: I don’t really stock too much in my fridge, every so often we will cook something up that will use all the leftover bits and pieces.
H: Three ingredients/ foods you can’t do without.
C: Garlic, chili and garlic!
H: One dish that inspired you the most or means the most to you.
C: The first time I ate fermented Thai pork sausage was definitely an eye opening experience. The flavours are very unlike anything else I had ever tasted up until that point, and it was at that moment I became hooked on Thai food.
H: What is your approach to entertaining at home – do you cook to impress or keep it casual and fuss-free?
C: The more time that goes by, the more casual it becomes and the more I enjoy it, what really matters is the company.
H: When hosting dinner parties at home, what else do you pay attention to? Tableware, flowers, music?
C: A little background music can definitely be a talking point along with good drinks.
H: What's on your playlist when having guests at your dining table?
C: Normally it's not me doing the music but when I'm working or relaxing I like to jump on Spotify and listen to Lofi-Hip Hop.
H: What's your favourite HK food and why? Can you make (some versions of) it at home?
C: I really love canned fish and black beans, stir fried with “A Choy” and it goes perfectly with steamed chicken and rice! It's yummy and pretty simple to cook up.
H: What do you do to relax and unwind on your days off?
C: To unwind I will normally be fiddling around with my fish tank, although this can end up becoming more of a headache on occasions too.
H: How do you stay inspired and motivated these days?
C: I like to surround myself with inspiring people who keep me on my toes, from my team, family and friends.
Perfect recipe for home entertaining
H: Please share with us a crowd-pleasing recipe for a dinner party at home.
C: Here's a recipe for larb bet, a chopped duck salad. However it can easily be prepared with chicken, pork or squid.
Chopped Duck and Thai Herb Salad with Toasted Rice and Chili Dressing
2 Tbsp Lime juice
2 Tbsp Fish sauce
1 tsp White sugar
1 Tbsp Toasted ground sticky rice
½ Tbsp Dried chili powder
This keeps for some time and is commonly used in Thai salads, so go ahead and toast off a cup or so of rice.
To make your toasted rice, take some raw sticky rice and toss it in a dry pan over low heat until a deep golden color is achieved and that the rice has a nutty fragrance. Place the golden rice in a mortar and proceed to grind until a coarse powder is achieved and set aside.
Once cool, store in an airtight container until needed. Combine all other ingredients with the appropriate amount of rice and set aside.
Meat from 1 large duck leg
3 Tbsp Water
1 tsp Finely diced galangal
2 Shallots, coarsely sliced
1 Spring onions, coarsely chopped
3 Sprigs of mint, plucked Small bunch of coriander, chopped
Big wedge of iceberg lettuce
For the duck, remove the bone and roughly chop the meat, fat and skin to a coarse mince and set aside. In a medium sized pan, add the galangal and water, and bring it up to a simmer.
Add the prepared duck meat and proceed to break it up using a spoon while stirring constantly. Once your duck meat is roughly 50% cooked, and your water and duck juice has reduced by around half, add in your dressing and continue to simmer.
After approximately 1 minute, the juices in the pan should start to thicken and coat the duck. At this stage, turn off the heat and stir in your prepared herbs and shallots until wilted. It should taste tangy and spicy, matching perfectly when eaten with some iceberg lettuce.