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!    

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vietnamese Style Meatloaf

"Wanna eat pho?" Common question, don't you think?  Sure, I enjoy steaming, hot, brothy soups, but it is not my first choice when enjoying a quick meal.  Blasphemy you say?  Ha, I disagree!  

The grilled pork chop and rice platter remains my standard in any Vietnamese restaurant.  For an extra charge, one can add a fried egg and/or a Vietnamese style meatloaf/quiche, also known as Cha Trung.  Do not skip out on the additions as the cost is still low for the amount of food.  Once eating this amazing treat, I set out to learn how to cook the Vietnamese style meatloaf/quiche.  

Basically, it is a combination of a meatloaf with eggs poured on top, giving it a nice layer of fluffy goodness and a beautiful look.  It is much lighter than an American meatloaf and can be simply eaten with rice or vermicelli.  Add some nuoc mam, and you will have a great lunch!

Cha Trung- Meatloaf

1lb. ground pork
1 bundle vermicelli, soaked in warm water 8-10 minutes
1/2 cup dry fungus, soaked in warm water 20 minutes
4 large eggs
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp fish sauce

In a large mixing bowl, combine pork, vermicelli, fungus, 2 of the eggs, salt, and fish sauce.  Mix well and pour into a pie pan or loaf pan.  Beat the reserved eggs and pour on top of the meat mixture. 

If you do not have a bamboo steamer, place a grate inside of a pot and add some water to create a stovetop steamer.  Steam for about 30-40 minutes.  Alternatively, bake in a water bath at 375 for about 45 minutes.  Let it cool, then remove and slice.  

In the pictures below, I show one with the pie pan, then the finished product was in a loaf pan.  Both work very well.    


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sweet and Sour Pork

The standard Chinese-American buffet appears to populate every corner of America. Overcooked chicken wings, frozen egg rolls, pizza, macaroni, and other odd creations fill the steam pans and bellies of numerous diners. Many of these dishes correlate to the general public's perception of Chinese/Asian cuisine. 

Among the more popular dishes is one most of us are familiar with- the bizarre, nuclear style of Chinese sweet and sour pork.  Glowing sauce and oddly fried orbs of pork that seem to find every buffet from Augusta to Boise. In the style of a Vietnamese caramelized pork, I twisted a few things around and came up with a nice version of our Chinese type dish but a much cleaner flavor.  

I must admit that the reddish-orange sauce of my youth bring back memories, but I think you will find this recipe extremely easy to recreate and tastier.  

Sweet N Sour Pork

2lb. pork shoulder cubed

2oz palm sugar
2tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp fish sauce
2tbsp black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

2tbsp canola oil
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pineapple, diced
4 roma tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 Thai chili, minced

smoked basmati rice (or regular basmati rice), Thai basil, Mint

Combine all the marinade ingredients and add pork.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours.  Remove the pork from the marinade and reserve the liquid.  We will reduce it in our sauce.  Add oil to a skillet or wok and heat on high until it is very hot.  

Carefully add pork in small batches and sear on all sides until nicely browned.  When the pork is browned, remove to a plate and continue until you have seared each piece.  Then turn heat down to medium high and add onions.  

Brown the onions, then add the pineapple and garlic.  Be careful not to burn the garlic while browning the pineapple.  Add the tomatoes and cook until juices begin to run out, then deglaze with pineapple juice.  

Pour in the reserved marinade and the Thai chili, and reduced the liquid until it can coat a spoon.  Return the pork to the pan and toss in the sauce.  Serve with rice and herbs.   

Plate designed by Gerald Haessig

Friday, January 31, 2014

Ginger Caramel Chicken/ Five Pepper Chicken

Today's culinary ideas and recipes seem to be filled with complicated equipment, hard to find ingredients, restaurant type techniques, etc. etc.  It does not need to be this way.  A basic pantry and any protein can make up a very good meal.  The goal of keeping it simple does not mean keeping it flavorless.  Simplicity can mean using clean, fresh flavors and a basic technique to come up with something wonderful.  Keep the pantry stocked with some solid items, and you can create a myriad of dishes.
We were looking for something easy and familiar for dinner.  I cut up a chicken and tossed it in the marinade, let it sit for about an hour.  Soon after, dinner was served.  Nothing complex or sophisticated about this dish.  Just cook up some rice and serve. 

I did a variation with more pepper.  Chinese-American buffets usually have a dish called black pepper chicken, so I wanted to fool around with a Vietnamese style pepper chicken.  I altered the marinade and added a few things to the sauce changing the name to "Five Pepper Chicken." I like the spicy version, so you can choose between two types of chicken.

Variation- see bottom "Five Pepper Chicken"

Ga Kho Gung- Ginger Caramelized Chicken

Marinade- (reserve 1/2 of the marinade)
3/4 cup fish sauce
3/4 cup grated ginger
3/4 cup garlic, minced
2 Thai chili
1 cup palm sugar

2 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, diced
1/3 cup chicken stock

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and gently add the chicken removing it from the marinade.  Brown it on all sides then remove to a plate.  Add some sliced onions and caramelize.  Gently place the chicken back into the pan and continue to cook.  Pour in the reserved marinade and chicken stock.  Reduce until it forms a nice glaze.

Ginger chicken is served as Ice-T, Chuck D, Dr. Dre, and KRS-One joined my imaginary roundtable. Oh yeah, I am joining the "Original Gangster" for lunch, at least I am thinking about it!  My playlist included amazing classics such as "By the Time I Get to Arizona," "Straight Outta Compton," and many others by the seem-to-be-forgotten old skool rappers.  Where has all the rap gone?  These guys set a stage for what has become something I don't quite understand.  Well maybe I am not in their target audience, but once upon a time I was in the crowd! 

Alternate method-
Marinade- 1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp green peppercorns
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp garlic, chopped

Mash all ingredients into a paste and rub into the chicken.  Let it soak for about an hour.

1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp sugar
2 Thai chilies
1 tbsp red bean curd
1 tbsp red chili paste
1 cup chicken stock

In a heavy bottom skillet, heat coconut oil and sear the chicken skin side down.  Brown the skin nicely, then flip it over and cook for another 3-4 minutes shaking gently every now and then so it does not burn.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on med low heat until the sauce thickens, and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.