Friday, November 20, 2015

Braised Pork Belly - Hong Shou Rou

My goal in making this recipe was to explore Asian recipes that would translate well into American holidays. I think this would be a great recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas, as it has a rich, special-occasion quality to it, as well as spices such as cinnamon which are traditional at the holidays. It turned out great, and really wasn't that difficult. Maybe not an everyday meal, but certainly worth making a few times a year. The pork becomes glazed with a sweet, flavorful sauce, and the meat is fall apart tender, with the fat completely melting in your mouth.

There are many versions online, and mine is primarily based on this video. You can add puffed tofu or hard boiled eggs at the end for more variety in texture.

Finished product, with stir fried Chinese broccoli and scallion pancake.
Towards the end of the cooking time, before you add the sugar and cook down to create the final glaze.

The assembled ingredients. The pork has already been blanched and is ready for browning.
1.5 lbs pork belly, sliced into 1.5" pieces (pick a piece that offers a good combination of fat and lean, according to your preference)
1 Tbsp oil
1/3 c. rock sugar, divided (or brown sugar)
6 cloves garlic
1" piece ginger, sliced
3 scallions
2 pcs. star anise
2" piece cinnamon stick
~2 c. chicken stock or water
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce (I recommend Pearl River Bridge brand)
1 Tbsp. Shao Hsing cooking wine
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
4 eggs, hard boiled and peeled

The pork belly should first be blanched to remove impurities, and then rinsed well. Place the pork in a saucepan with cold water to 1" over the meat. Bring to a boil and boil 3 minutes. Rinse well under cold water and drain well.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy pot, such as enameled cast iron. Add 2 Tbsp. of the sugar and stir constantly as it caramelizes. When it is a nice caramel color (do not burn!), add the pork chunks, searing the edges and tossing frequently to coat with caramel. Pour off any excess oil.

Add the dark and light soy sauce and cooking wine. Add the chicken stock so that the pork chunks are ~80% submerged. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the garlic, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. Cover and simmer for 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The liquid should be reduce by now to at least half of its original amount. Remove the aromatics from the pot as best you can. With the lid off, increase the heat, stirring occasionally, until there is only about 1/4" of liquid in the pot. Add 2-3 Tbsp of rock sugar to taste, and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce is reduced to a glaze on the meat (there should still be some liquid left to spoon over the meat chunks for serving). The hard boiled eggs should be added just before the end to coat them with the glaze, but take care not to break them when stirring the meat.

Serve garnished with scallions, with fluffy white rice.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Baeckeoffe - Alsatian Hotdish

We had this wonderful, hearty dish during a brief stop for lunch in Mulhouse in the Alsace region during our Europe trip this year. Using a recipe from an actual Alsatian, Hubert Keller, we found that our version actually far surpassed the simple fare we had in Mulhouse. The principle of the Baeckeoffe is similar to the Jewish cholent tradition: make a casserole in a earthenware or enameled dish, seal tightly, and allow to cook untouched for several hours (traditionally, by leaving in a baker's oven Friday before sabbath, then retrieve Saturday after sundown, when you are allowed to pick things up again). I opted not to seal the pot with dough because my lid has no vent (see original if you want to try). The heavy cast iron lid provided a plenty good seal. This dish takes some pre-planning because it should marinate overnight, but it is well worth it. Also, amazingly, I was able to find Alsatian Riesling at Total Wine!

Protective and delicious layer of potatoes.

The final product is not much to look at, but is packed with savory flavor and the meat is ultra tender.
The town hall of Mulhouse as viewed from our lunch cafe!

Marinade

  • 2 yellow onions, minced
  • 2 small leeks, white and tender greens sliced
  • 1 carrot, cut into 18" slices
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. juniper berries
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 c. dry white wine, such as Alsatian Riesling
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. white pepper

Meat

  • 1 lb beef chuck roast, cut into 1.25" cubes
  • 1 lb boneless pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1.25" cubes
  • 1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1.25" cubes
  • 1 lb pigs feet (optional--you can substitute one more pound of one of the above meats)
  • 2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8" slices
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. butter

The Day Before

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add all the meats and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate overnight or longer. After it has marinated, remove the bay leaves, juniper berries, and thyme sprig.

Cooking Day

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter a 4.5 qt or larger enameled cast iron pot or casserole. Arrange 2 layers of potato slices in the bottom, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper. Place the marinated vegetables and meat into the casserole, and pour over the remaining marinade liquid. Arrange another 2 layers of potato slices on the top, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper. Dab with butter and cover with a heavy lid. (Using the pastry seal is optional at this point.

Place in the oven and bake for 3.5 hrs. I recommend putting a tin-foil covered baking sheet on the rack below the casserole to catch drips.

Potatoes should be cooked through and golden brown, and meat should be tender. Serve with crusty bread and more Riesling!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

My wonderful siblings got me a cookbook in Morocco that is both inspiring and idiosyncratically translated. The quantities are along the lines of "heaping coffeespoonful" and "one teaglassful". Many of the dishes have combinations of sweet and savory, fruit and meat, which intimidate me. I should try out more of these recipes than I do, but I thought this relatively simple one would be a good start.

Moroccans must be quite fertile, as these recipes often begin with "take 2 whole chickens, add 11 pounds of tomatoes...", so I scaled this one back for our 2-person family. The result was a deeply hearty, warming, satisfying stew, and I am finally reconsidering my dislike of sweetened meat dishes.

A thoughtful gift from Alex and Melanie for a food-obsessed person like me!
This dish has a wonderfully mellow, warming character. Almonds are supposed to be whole and blanched, but I couldn't find those.



1 whole cut-up chicken
1 stick butter
1 28-oz can of tomatoes, drained, and then diced
1 large onion, shredded (i.e. chopped finely in food processor)
2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. saffron (*see below)
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. honey
1/4 c. blanched almonds
1 Tbsp. oil

*My understanding is that in Morocco saffron often comes in a packet, mixed with marigold flowers for color. My substitution for this was one packet of Sazon Goya con Azafran + a pinch of real saffron.

Melt the butter in a heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot). Brown the chicken for a couple minutes on each side to add some flavor. Honestly, I remove the skin before I do this because neither of us likes to eat jiggly chicken skin.

Add the diced tomatoes. You can use fresh, but they are supposed to be peeled and seeded, and seriously, who has the time? Stir in the shredded onion, pepper, and salt, and bring just to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender. Stir occasionally.

Remove the chicken pieces and set aside. Increase the heat and cook off much of the remaining liquid until the butter and schmaltz rises to the top and the tomato sauce is thickened. Add the honey and cinnamon and simmer a few more minutes to combine the flavors. Salt to taste.

At this point I removed the chicken from the bone and added it back to the pot, but the original recipe says to put the whole chicken pieces back in before you add the honey and cinnamon. I think it's easier to eat with the chicken off the bone.

Top with some blanched almonds that have been lightly toasted in oil. Serve over fluffy, buttery couscous.