Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thit Ga Bop Rau Ram- Hue Chicken Salad

A love story, or why did the chicken cross the road? Hmmm, sometimes, the road finds us.  A lovely woman came back into my life, and when she brings you a chicken, make chicken salad! If it slaps you into tomorrow, hang on and marry her!

I have spent more than half my life in a kitchen, so when An and I began dating, I figured I could woo her with dinner (or lose her, pending my cooking skills!) With a little luck, I was able to steal her heart! Eventually, she chose a special night to cook.  Her mother taught her this dish, and I was hooked.  

I have eaten many Vietnamese chicken salads, but the herbs and zesty onion make this my favorite.  I am not including any measurements as it is all to taste.  I prefer a huge amount of herbs and lime juice.  You can add other garnishes also, including thinly sliced chiles, fried onions, or cracked black pepper.  I add all of the above.  

When I make this, it is not as good as hers, but then again the student rarely passes the teacher.

1 Whole Chicken, rinsed and rubbed with lemon
Red Onion, thinly sliced
Green Onion, thinly sliced
Rice Vinegar
Rau Ram
Roasted Peanuts

In a large pot of boiling water, add ginger, peppercorns, and garlic with the chicken.  Poach for about 30 minutes until cooked through.  While the chicken is cooking, toss the onions with a small amount of rice wine vinegar.  Remove the chicken and let it cool.  Strain the liquids and chill quickly.  Save this for a nice light chicken stock.

When the chicken has cooled, remove the skin and shred.  Then continue shredding the meat.  When all the meat has been picked, toss some of it with the onions and skin.  Add some herbs and nuoc cham.  Continue the process until you have a nice salad.  Garnish with peanuts, lime juice and more nuoc cham.

While eating or cooking, we love music.  Sometimes it appears that our life revolves around music and concerts.  We scan the national tours hoping to find the next groups to visit New Orleans, also looking forward to the upcoming festivals trying to relive our youth through music!  

We enjoy debating on which song or band rules certain genres or decades.  Power ballads are a favorite topic, and the discussion never ends.  So in honor of the John Cusack movie High Fidelity, I will make a list of my top five power ballads in order of greatness.  An will disagree, but that will only lead to a grand discussion about Sebastian Bach's greatness or the vocal ability of Klaus Meine!

Top Five Power Ballad's

1) Home Sweet Home- Motley Crue
2) I Remember You- Skid Row
3) Still Loving You- The Scorpions
4) November Rain- Guns N Roses
5) Don't Know What You Got Til Its Gone- Cinderella

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Belly

Across the world, Asians began consuming this wonderful cut of meat centuries ago, possibly as early as 5000 B.C., and it is neither trendy nor unusual to find pork belly eaten throughout households of Asian-American families.  Scholars believe the Chinese were the first to domestic the wild boar and bring us the culinary use of pork.  Roasted whole pig adorns many tables during the Lunar New Year and other Asian celebrations.  The crispy outer layer of skin delights, and the entire animal is cherished for its sweet meat and wonderful hue.

Recently, a trend throughout America rages on in kitchens manned by everyday, workman chefs to the haute cuisine of the Napa Valley. Pork belly! Glance at almost any menu and the belly will hold a prominent spot as the pork option either in appetizer or entree form.

From Okinawa to China to Vietnam and back, the pig holds its place among the culinary treasures of the Orient. I would guess it is almost as wonderful as the "hand-carved alabaster bathing vessel" that Marcus Vindictus gifted to "Julius Caesar" in History of the World.   

Many Vietnamese versions include coconut water or milk and caramel sauce.  I was researching something different, and I adapted this from Charles Phan's Vietnamese Home Cooking.

Caramelized Pork Belly

1-2 lb. pork belly skin on
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp fermented red bean curd
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 Thai chili
4 pieces star anise
4 inch long pieces ginger
4 cloves garlic, mashed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pork belly.  Cook for 5 minutes, and remove the pork. Using a fork, poke holes in the skin and rub with half the soy sauce.  In a heavy bottomed pot, on medium high, heat the oil, and add pork, skin side down.  Lower to medium and cover the pot for about 10 minutes.  While this cooks, mix the remaining soy, oyster sauce, fish sauce, red bean curd, and sugar to make our braising seasoning.  The bean curd should be mashed to form a paste.   

Flip the belly over.  It should be nice and brown.  Cook on the other side for an additional 4 minutes.  Remove the pork and place it in a pan.  Pour the pork fat into a jar and reserve. Cover the pork with cold water allowing the skin to bubble.  Remove the pork and slice into 1/2 inch or so strips.  

In our pot, add a couple of tablespoons of pork fat and sweat the garlic and ginger.  When fragrant, add the braising paste, star anise, Thai chili and cook for another minute, and add about 2-3 cups of water.  Add the pork, mix well, cover and simmer for about one hour and thirty minutes.  

Never boring and always reliable, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers excels much like our beloved pork belly!  This Hall of Famer provides a blueprint on American rock classics.  Their debut album gave us the hits "Breakdown" and "American Girl", which paved the way for standouts such as "You Got Lucky", "The Waiting", "Refugee", and the amazing duet with Stevie Nicks "Stop Draggin My Heart Around."  

Petty churned out hit after hit over the next few years.  Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open  overlapped with his work in the supergroup the Travelin Wilburys (which included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne).  

A huge influence on many of today's rockers, Petty brings FM radio to life.  When the local station becomes boring, just move over to internet radio or go back to 1985 and check out this outfit as he performs Refugee.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Green Tea Smoked Duck

Aside from using proper ingredients, developing regional cooking techniques remain the basis of authentic cuisine. Regardless of a dish's origin--whether it be European, Asian, African, or any other part of the world--it will have certain native characteristics and a combination of flavors that differentiate it from other areas of the same country. When you decide to cook a dish from a particular region, you must be knowledgable about the processes of that region's cooking, such as the breakdown of the meat or fish or the methods of smoking, searing, and poaching as they all vary from one place to the next. All are involved in making food delicious, each in its own unique way. Experimenting with the boundless ways in which different cuisines are prepared keeps cooking interesting and new.

Most of my blog recipes develop as I am cooking dinner or just trying to fool around with a new technique. Imagine my excitement when I decided to submit a recipe for the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Contest! Alas, I didn't place (darn!), but this recipe will teach you how to break down a whole duck. Of course if you wish, you can just buy duck pieces. This dish involves a pressure cooker, a quick stir-fry, searing, and a few other processes that might not be used everyday.

Duck, usually considered a summer dish in Vietnamese cooking, pairs well with ginger, but I did not include ginger in this recipe.  However, you could always serve this with ginger nuoc cham  by just adding minced ginger to the recipe.  I make a pan sauce by reducing the duck leg braising liquid then straining it.  The sauce becomes rich, but it pairs nicely with the rice cake.  

I know, I involves a lot of steps, but if you have the time, it is well worth it! The side items are simple and can be paired with many other dishes. If you try it, let me know what you think--I am always open to hearing how your final product turns out! Even though my recipe didn't place, I am proud of it and I enjoyed working out all the nuances!

As Halloween approaches, I included my thoughts on the Smashing Pumpkins who were vital in my development of this dish.

Break down the whole duck-
1. Using a large cutting board and very sharp knife, lay the duck breast side up with the legs facing you.  
2. Remove any giblets and neck, which should be inside the cavity, and place them in a baking pan.  
3. Grasping a leg, make a cut between the body and leg slicing through the skin while separating the leg from the body.  Disjoint the leg from the socket and make a cut through the area removing the leg from the body.  Trim any excess skin from the leg, and place it in the pan.  Repeat with the other leg.  
4. Turn the duck around with the breasts facing you, and gently run the tip of the knife along the breastbone while slowly pulling the breast away from the body.  Work with a nice short stroke and continue to slice the breast until it is removed.  Trim the skin, and remove the tender from the muscle, and place in the pan.  Repeat with the other breast.  
5. Grab the wing and disjoint it by bending it outward and away from you.  Cut between the wing and body, and repeat the method with the other wing; place them in the pan.

Preparation of Duck Legs
2 tbsp fish sauce
4 oz. palm sugar
3 cloves garlic smashed
1 tbsp lemongrass minced

1 each red onion, sliced
1 each carrot, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 cups water
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
1 each duck neck
2 each duck wings
2 each duck legs

To brine the duck legs:
1. In a mortar and pestle, blend all ingredients until it becomes a paste.
2. Rub the legs with the paste, and place them in the refrigerator for one hour.

To cook the duck legs:
1. In the bottom of a pressure cooker, place the neck and wings.  
2. Add onion, carrot, garlic, water, soy, and mirin.  
3. Stack the duck legs on top of everything and cook on high for 20 minutes, then let it release naturally.
4. Gently remove the legs and place on a plate, cover to keep them warm.  
5. Strain the liquids into a saucepan, and slowly reduce the sauce on medium heat, skimming the fat, until there is 2/3 cup.  Whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time.  Shut off the heat and reserve. Check seasoning, but it should be good.

2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp black peppercorns
¼ tsp insta cure salt #1
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 each duck breasts

Smoking Ingredients-
½ cup rice
½ cup loose green tea
½ cup brown sugar
2 pieces star anise
2 pieces cinnamon

To cook duck breasts:
1. Using a wok or pot, line the bottom with enough aluminum foil to fold over the sides about 4-5 inches.  
2. Place all of the smoking ingredients in the wok, and put a rack or handful of chopsticks on top to make a smoker.  Make sure the hood is on and kitchen is well ventilated.  Turn heat on high until it begins to smoke.  It will make noise and pop loudly.  
3. Once it begins to smoke, place breasts on rack, close the foil to seal the smoker, and leave on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, then shut off and smoke the duck for another 5-8 minutes (depending on the depth of smoke you wish to achieve).  
4. Remove the breasts and gently score the skin. In a low to medium hot nonstick pan, place the breasts skin side down and render the skin until crispy.   The duck will be rare prior to rendering the skin, so this step should not cook the duck much further, but it is absolutely necessary that you render the fat.  Once the skin is crispy, remove the breast to a cutting board and rest.    

Crispy Rice Cake-
¾ cup sushi rice
1 cup water
¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp sesame oil

Baby Bok Choy and Brown Beech Mushrooms
2 cups baby bok choy, washed
1 cup brown beech mushrooms, bottom root removed
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 oz. palm sugar
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tbsp canola oil

To prepare crispy rice cakes:
1. Cook rice according to directions on the package, and when it is finished, fold in the remaining ingredients except the oils, spread about ½ think on a sheet pan and chill.  
2. Using a damp biscuit cutter or knife, cut into rounds or squares.
3. In a nonstick pan, heat up oil and brown the cakes on both sides.
To cook bok choy and mushrooms:
1. Heat oil in a skillet, add garlic and cook until it just starts to brown.  Do not burn!  
2. Add mushrooms and sear on both sides, then add bok choy and cook until lightly wilted; deglaze with fish sauce and soy.  
3. As it begins to reduce, add the sugar and toss until it melts and the vegetables are coated in sauce.

My memories of the 90s are filled with fantastic music!!  The Smashing Pumpkins impacted my life much like this duck recipe.  Filled with hope and joy, I was enthralled with the psychedelic, garage style of the Chicago band.  Gish hit the stores (HA! Something today's youth cannot remember!), and "I Am One" hit my stereo.  The music of my college years changed forever.  

Siamese Dream followed then Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and the end was near.  Like a fading comet, my join with the Pumpkins was ending.  Maybe it was me, but I started losing interest.  However, I rekindled my fascination with Billy Corgan's music while working on this dish.  "1979", "Cherub Rock", "Hummer", and "Tristessa", to name a few, brought back wonderful feelings of excitement.  

However, not winning the contest was a bummer!  "Life's a bummer, when you're a hummer!"  Oh well, enjoy the recipe and turn on some rock!

Steamed Buns

The steamed bun migrated from China and evolving into a staple in the Vietnamese culinary library.  An airy dough is filled with various meats or vegetables and steamed until cooked through.  The result is a wonderful combination of light bread and delicious filling of which I am partial to pork.  However, we made a version with chicken as well as two different pork fillings.  

For the sake of testing purposes, we used two different bun recipes.  For the chicken and pork with quail egg, we used David Chang's recipe (below).  We did not fold them over like tacos.

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, rounded
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup rendered pork fat, bacon fat or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
    1. Stir together the yeast and 1 1/2 cups room temperature water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda and fat and mix on the lowest speed setting for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should gather together into a ball on the hook. Lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough in it, turning it over to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel and put it in a warm place and let the dough rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
    2. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a sharp knife, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams each. Roll each piece into a ball and set them on baking sheets. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise for 30 minutes. While they're rising, cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper.
    3. After 30 minutes, use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a 4-inch-long oval. Brush lightly with vegetable oil, lay a chopstick horizontally across the center of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form a bun. Gently pull out the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and transfer it to a square of parchment paper. Put it back under the plastic wrap and form the rest of the buns. Let the buns rest for 30 to 45 minutes: they will rise a little.
    4. Set up a steamer on top of the stove. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment. You can use the buns immediately or allow them to cool completely, then put them in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to 2 months. Reheat frozen buns in a stove top steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through. Freeze half the buns in airtight bags for another time.

The bun filling is the same pork mixture as the dumplings.  However, I boiled a quail egg then wrapped the filling around it prior to stuffing the dough.  To boil quail eggs- bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, gently place the eggs in the water for 4 1/2 minutes, then remove into an ice bath.  Gently peel them and use as stated above.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vietnamese Rolled Pig's Head

Italian's famously serve wonderful arrays of antipasto platters involving intricate types of salumi, sausages, cured pork, and many, many variations of vegetables and accompaniments.  Porchetta di testa is a deboned pig's head that is marinated with garlic, rosemary, lemon, or various other combinations of aromatics then rolled, sealed, and poached for about 10-14 hours at 195 degrees until it is well adhered with natural gelatin.  The roll is chilled and thinly sliced and served!  

While tinkering with various items for a Vietnamese charcuterie board, I decided to change the marinade to tilt towards the flavors of Saigon.  I think it worked!  

Vietnamese Rolled Pig's Head
1 deboned pig head
2 pig ears (if they were removed during butchering)
1 pig tongue (optional)

to taste- fish sauce, garlic, Thai chili, lemongrass (chopped and mixed)

1) Rub all the pig parts with the marinade, then wrap and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
2) Lay the head skin side down.  Place the ears and tongue inside, and gently roll into a nice round cylinder.  If the ears are intact, fold them into the head through the eye sockets. 
3) Using butcher twine, tie it nice and tight with all of the pieces fitting inside.  The head should be very secure. 
4) If you have a vacuum packer, seal the head in a bag.  If not, roll tightly with several layers of plastic wrap then place in a ziploc bag and squeeze the air out of it.  
5) Using a large pot (with a thermometer) or an electric roaster (even a crock pot), heat the water to about 195 degrees and place in the pig head.  Cook for about 10-14 hours (pending size) at 195 degrees, then remove and chill immediately. 
6) Slice thinly and serve.   

Here is a picture of the rolled pig's head and gio thu. Add a crock of chicken liver pate, some fresh herbs and crostini, and you have a wonderful platter for friends and family.

Steamed Fish

Summer arrived in full force, and South Louisiana brings beautiful fresh fish to home kitchens.  The intense heat welcomes light preparations of the bountiful seafood.  Steaming fish remains an underutilized technique, but one that allows us to savor the taste of the sea.  An inexpensive bamboo steamer is a great investment, or you can simply create one with a wide pot with a few inches of water and an inverted bowl.  Bring the water up to a boil then turn down to medium.  This allows the fish to cook gently.  Place the fish on a plate and put the plate on the bowl and cover.  The fish should be nicely cooked after about 8 minutes (depending on the size).  

Below is a rub that I use to impart a nice sweet, spicy, tart flavor without overpowering the wonderful fresh filet.  Gently heat up all of the ingredients until the sugar dissolves.  Let them cool, then brush on the filets.    

Steamed Fish
2 Thai chili sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp cilantro
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp pork or chicken stock (or water)
1 ½ tsp palm sugar
¼ tsp white pepper

Garnish with thin sliced green onions, Thai chili, and fresh limes.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Italian Style Meat Stew

Simple cooked meat and pasta remains a staple of comfort dining throughout the world, and in our house, it is true!  Typically, the request is spicy meat sauce with some fresh herbs thrown in at the end.  That's cool, and I was prepared to make some, but I had a jonesing for something different.  So I picked up some various cuts of meat and decided to make a slightly non traditional bolito misto.  

In Italy, bolito misto is a dish of boiled meats, sliced, and served with mostarda or salsa verde or a variety of other Italian condiments.  

I changed it up slightly.  Knowing that I would have spaghetti, I decided to use the idea of bolito misto, but I changed the sauce into a light tomato broth.  There is no real recipe as you would use regular pantry items and any cuts of meat that you desire.  I recommend using some meats with collagen in order to create a nice smooth, viscous broth.  For this purpose, I use a few oxtails, cross cut beef shanks, and beef spareribs, in addition to some hot Italian sausage and a cubed up chuck steak.

Thoroughly, salt and pepper all the meat (not the sausage) and rest for about 30 minutes.  In a large heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil and brown the seasoned meat in small batches.  When the meat is nicely browned, remove to a baking pan and reserve.  In the pot, add 2 chopped onions and 2 chopped carrots.  Scraping up any bits on the bottom, brown the vegetables and remove any residue that has accumulated on the pot.  This is the first step of creating a wonderful rich sauce.  Incorporate a nice handful of minced fresh garlic, and sweat gently.  Add a small can of tomato paste and mix very well.  Stirring frequently, brown the paste into the vegetables and splash in a few shots of fish sauce. 

Using about a cup or so of red or white wine (whatever you have extra at the moment), deglaze and continue scraping the pot.  Add three cans of good tomatoes and crush with the spoon.  When all the ingredients begin to create a nice, aromatic mash, add 2 quarts of chicken or beef stock or water.  Bring up to a simmer and add reserved meat.  Allow this to cook for a few hours, and the sauce should begin to gently reduce and thicken.  The meat will begin to separate from the bone, and add the sausage and a generous pinch of red chili flakes while simmering for another 20-30 minutes.  When you feel the sauce is done, throw in some fresh herbs such as sage, basil, oregano, and parsley.  Any combination will do.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle the broth over spaghetti and serve with a few pieces of meat, grated hard Italian cheese, garlic bread, and a nice Nero D'Avila!!!!  

Nothing beats a giant bowl of meat and pasta.  Various combinations of ingredients can be used including mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, other meats, and herbs.  I used what I had at home, and I might change this dish each time I make it.  Have fun, experiment, work with the seasonings, and just make it taste good!