Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hong shao rou

Throughout the eighties, my Mom was on a diet. It wasn't always the same ridiculous diet but it seemed similar enough for me to question my mom's sanity -- why struggle so painfully for something that's just not going to happen? It wasn't until she moved to Hong Kong and away from some of the unhealthy body image surrounding her that she would occasionally allow herself to eat something fatty.

It was around this time I finally got to eat some amazing food. To be fair, she had terrible will power and I had some yummy things growing up, but it was mainly after the debacle of the 80s dieting that things really got going. When she would 'break fast' from the diet, we would get to eat some fabulous food: curried crab, dim sum, Peking duck, fatty beef noodle soup, and my favorite, the beautiful pork dish hong shao rou, or red-cooked pork. Thick, meaty, tender and fatty, it hit every area of the satisfaction sensors in my mouth.

It's a classic high-end northern Chinese way of cooking meat, and this particular dish was one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes in the world. The man may have been a little nutty, but there was nothing wrong with his taste buds. I've seen a lot of different versions of the recipe, but the best one I've tried at home has been adapted by me from a recipe my friend Jenny shared with me from the cookbook Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook.

Part of what makes this dish so good is the different strata of fat and meat layers on each bite, so make sure you get a cut of meat that lets you have the layers you want, like pork back or belly. I used pork back in the particular instance, but I think the belly is more traditional.

Hong shao rou (Red-cooked pork)

2 lbs pork belly (you can keep the skin on) - chop the meat into 2-inch cubes
3 scallions – cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces
2-inch piece of ginger, smashed
5 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbs cooking oil
1 tbs granulated sugar
4 whole star anise
2 tbs Chinese xiao shing wine
3 tbs light soy sauce
3 tbs dark mushroom-flavored soy sauce
¾ cup water
conservative pinch of salt.

Pour oil in the wok and heat over medium until shimmering. Add sugar and stir sugar is caramelized and dark brown.

Turn up the flame and add the ginger and pork. Stir-fry for one minute, stirring the ginger and pork in the sugar and oil until well-coated.

Add the garlic and continue to stir-fry together for another 1-2 minutes. Add the scallions, the star anise, xiao shing wine, both soy sauces, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, without stirring. Cover the wok and continue cooking the pork for 7 more minutes.

Add the water and bring it all to a boil again over high heat and let boil vigorously for 5 minutes before covering the wok. Drop the heat to a simmer cook for 1 hour, or until it pork becomes very soft.

Serve immediately with freshly steamed rice and fried shredded taro.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coq Au Vin

I'd had crappy coq au vin a couple times in my life before I'd embarked on becoming a "serious" foodie. I didn't think much of it because really, the concept of chicken cooked in wine was ridiculous and weird to me. I'm almost certain I'm not alone in that belief. I was very excited, however, that we'd be doing in class last year, because I'd never known how to make it and had always assumed it was only for the very adventurous and hardcore (thanks mostly to Jeffery Steingarten - such a little drama queen). After we'd made it, I finally (1) figured out what its supposed to taste like and (2) realized it's really not as hard as I thought.

I brought home the extras for Jason and it was so deeply flavored and rich that he assumed it was beef (he's a little weird). It went over like gangbusters and anything that I can cook to add a little diversity to our menu, or, cook in advance and keep reheating all week without fear of overcooking, is always a plus, especially as I've started working full time and going to school and he's begun working in real estate where his schedule is no longer his own. It's extremely useful to have something in the oven at 200F so it's warm for dinner, whenever that is these days.

It's probably a little weird that we have proper sit down dinners every night when we don't even have a place to eat, but so far eating off our laps on the couch as proven successful. I digress...

According to JJ, the bizarre little Frenchie that taught me this dish, the depth of flavor and real color all comes from the browning of the chicken, so patience here (as with most things in the kitchen) is important. Unfortunately, if you're anything like me, patience is a hard to come by personality trait, and I can't help but constantly check and flip the pieces of chicken until I either burn myself from the splatter or I get distracted by something else. Regardless, I've made it with lightly browned chicken as well as almost-burnt chicken and didn't notice a massive difference. I'll be more patient with the dish if I ever feed the Pope, but let's be real here, it's amazing I have time to make this, I'm not going to lovingly brown anything. Pfft.

The wine you use also doesn't really matter. Well, I mean it does, but, you know. I've used a Charles Shaw cabernet at school, a beautiful Agentinian malbec at home and a random blend of leftover wines and it always tasted the same. It's a little ridiculous when people give you wine recipes and say, "use a wine you'd be happy to drink." Well, yes, but when you're poor you're level of acceptable wine is considerably lower than most. I've never really met a free wine I didn't drink, no matter how bad. Not to mention, I live in Brighton and I don't have a kitchen table. I'm using the gallon of table red that I found at the corner store collecting dust.*

Did I mention I also don't have a microwave? Yeah...

Anyway, coq au vin is perfect when cooked at home. I don't think it feels the same when I have it in restaurants so I'm going to stick to my homemade version for now. Just to mix it up though, I'll do Julia's recipe next time to see what happens.

*Of course, just as I write that whole thing about wine, that really cheap bottle of wine resulted in a weird bitter aftertaste in the sauce, and a lack of the deep rich browny purple color I normally get. So the photo below doesn't have the ideal sauce color. Ah well, live and learn.

Coq au Vin
**Adapted from Jean-Jacques Paimblanc

3-4lbs chicken leg quarters
4oz salted pork, 1/4" cubes
2Tbsp butter
20 small pearl onions
1 cup 3/4" diced onion
1/2 cup 3/4" diced carrot
3Tbsp flour
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
1lbs mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup 3/4" diced celery
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dry thyme (or 1 medium to large bunch fresh thyme)
1 handful parsley stems
Salt and Pepper

Cut chicken into drumsticks and thighs. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Parboil pearl onions, drain and set aside. Also, blanch cubed salt pork, drain and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter and add salt pork until lightly browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. In same skillet, thoroughly brown chicken pieces on all sides, place browned pieces in large, deep pot, adding finished pieces on top of the last ones. Still using the same skillet, add the carrots, onions and parsley stems and sauté until golden brown. Drain all excess fat from skillet and add flour, stirring carefully to incorporate. Cook a few minutes over low heat to cook out floury taste.In the same skillet, add 1/3 of the wine and carefully scrape all the little bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once the bottom is cleaned, pour the onions, carrots, parsley and wine mixture over pot of browned chicken. Add the remaining wine, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and celery to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 40 minutes. (Alternatively, you can place it in the oven at 325F for 40minutes.)

Remove the chicken pieces and set aside somewhere warm while the sauce reduces by 1/4. Once reduced, let it stand, skimming the surface for fat, if necessary. Strain the sauce to remove vegetables and bones.

Place chicken, strained sauce, parboiled pearl onions, mushrooms and salt pork back in the pot, bring to a boil and check seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes (or place back in 325F oven).

Serve with boiled and butter potatoes, or fresh baguette and butter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

So you wanna be a food blogger... ?

To be honest, I'm a little torn. I don't know if I really want to be a food blogger. I'm lazy and lack the commitment needed to post as often as possible. My deep-rooted laziness is tragic, really, it forces me to sometimes go that extra day without a shower or hours and hours without food, even though I'm really hungry. On the other hand, I'm clearly content to do little in a day and if I was a more motivated eater, I'd probably be the female version of the one-tonne man, trapped in his bed eating KFC all day.

Mmmmm KFC.

Yeah, so I literally meant it when I said I was a fat girl foodie.

I'll give this blogging thing a crack and see what happens. GAME ON!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Moving on...

Now that I've completed the culinary arts program:

I don't have to actually keep this blog, but I think I will. Expect a bunch of random posts about food that I'm cooking, eating and/or otherwise consumed with (pun not intended, but greatly enjoyed). I'll probably also pontificate randomly on food to make myself think I'm smart or you know, well-versed on the topic, but don't worry, personal "issues" will be kept on my other blog (it hurts my feelings when).

So, hopefully, this doesn't disappoint. You'll likely see a change in the postings, they'll be less formal and much, MUCH shorter because I'm not expecting a grade from you... I don't need your judgement. Geez.

Anyway, welcome moving on and cleaning up. I'll see you next week. Or maybe sooner.