Category Archives: Food

Pok Pok: Wild Duck Laap, Thai Pork Fried Rice, Cucumber Salad


duck laap 4

I travel a lot for work typically for a project in one city that could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. Travelling every week for a few days to the same city can be weary. The upside to this latest particular engagement is that it is in the lovely city of Portland, Oregon. The weather is just perfect for me, the scenery is beautiful and the food is brilliant. I honestly have not had a bad meal in this city. One of the places that I had on my list to visit in a city full of good eats is Andy Ricker’s Thai place, Pok Pok. I’ve eaten several fantastic meals over there so far so getting the book and trying a few of the dishes at home was of course to be expected.

galangal paste

We’ve enjoyed several meals from the book and all have been very good. The papaya salad I tried first was pretty much identical to what I had at Pok Pok. The stir fried rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli and soy sauce (Phat si ew) was an excellent one dish meal. So, I was very pleased when Nathan chose a few recipes from Pok Pok for our Friday dinner. The recipes are pretty simple but involve a lot of chopping and prep work. The fried rice, like all stir fries, really needs all the ingredients ready to go in order into the very hot wok or else you end up stressed and the your stir fry crappy!

Thai mise

Pok Pok refers to the sound cooks make when using the mortar and pestle. That’s where many of the “salads” are prepared like this cucumber salad. Strictly speaking this is my version of Ricker’s cucumber salad (Tam taeng kwaa). I simplified it a bit and removed the noodles he serves with it since we are already having rice. I prepared it like I do the papaya salad in the granite mortar by mashing some garlic, limes, palm sugar and salt together. Then the sliced cucumber goes in and gets a bit bruised along with cherry tomatoes before being seasoned with more lime juice and fish sauce. I garnished the salad with crushed peanuts for texture and because they taste wonderful with the cukes and the rest of the menu.

cucumber salad2

Laap is another dish that in typical Thai menus in the US is referred to as a “salad”. I’m not sure why that’s the case honestly, but really these are mixtures of minced meat (pork, chicken, fish or game) that are cooked fairly quickly with lots of traditional Thai aromatics. This version is labeled as Isaan minced duck salad (Laap pet Isaan) and is a bit more complex than previous versions I’ve cooked. Typically Laap is flavored with lime juice, shallots, lemongrass and some herbs with a sprinkling of toasted rice powder for crunch. This Isaan version adds more spice in the form of a galangal-garlic-shallot paste. I first broiled the sliced galangal along with the shallots and garlic then wrapped them in foil and let them bake and soften. These were then pounded in the mortar to form the paste.

duck laap2

I still had boneless skinless wild duck in my freezer from my hunt in the fall. It made perfect sense to use those in place of store-bought ducks. The wild duck’s gamy flavor worked great in this heavily spiced and fragrant dish. I used my cleaver to slice and mince the duck meat to maintain a nice texture and it’s quiet relaxing really. It took maybe 10 minutes to reduce the duck from breasts to minced meat.

duck laap

The duck is cooked with the paste and sliced shallots until just cooked through then flavored with sliced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, dried chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. Before serving I tossed in plenty of herbs (Thai basil, basil, mint) and toasted sticky rice powder. It’s a very exotically flavored delicious dish with more toasted rice powder sprinkled on top for more crunch.

duck laap3

The Thai fried rice is really simple, but like I said before it works much better if you prepare all the ingredients and have them ready to go into the wok (or large skillet).  The whole cooking process takes maybe 6 or 8 minutes and you do not want t be chopping shallots in the middle of that. I’ve really been enjoying using my outdoor propane burner (a.k.a turkey fryer rig even though I’ve never fried a turkey) for stir-frying in my large carbon steel wok. I use that same rig to brew beer and whenever I deep fry anything. Using the wok on it though is such an exciting way to cook and feels like playing with fire! I get all my ingredients on the outdoor table next to my wok and start tossing them in one after the other sizzling and charring where needed before getting the sauce in to bring everything together. It’s quiet the rush! For this recipe first goes the shallot oil, then the egg followed by shallots and garlic. Everything gets tossed with pork…stir…toss (up in the air if you feel like it) until the meat is cooked through. In goes the rice and gets fried for a minute then a sauce goes in made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and some lime. Done and delicious with fish sauce marinated chilies.

Thai fried rice

 

 

Smoked Salmon and White Asparagus, Sour Cream and Vattlingon

Salmon-Asparagus-Sour Cream4

There is so much fantastic looking salmon in the market this time of year. Asparagus is also all over the place. Recipes combining these two lovely spring ingredients can be found in many books, sites and on restaurant menus. This recipe based on one from the book Neue Cuisine: the Elegant Tastes of Vienna by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner uses salmon that gets lightly smoked and serves it with the classy white asparagus and a sour cream sauce. It hits all the right buttons. The flavors are harmonious and robust and the plated dish looks refined even though it is very straightforward to prepare.

Salmon Curing

The fish is cured lightly and then smoked. You really do not need a major rig to hot smoke a few pieces of fish at home. I use an old wok following a method that I learned years ago from Barbara Tropp’s book China Moon Cookbook. To smoke the fish (or Chinese-style steamed duck or chicken) put a rack that fits in the wok but remains several inches above the bottom. Oil the rack a bit so the meat does not stick and then put the meat on the rack. Put in some wood chips in the bottom of the wok and any other aromatics you like and allow them to start smoking over high heat. Close the wok with a tight lid and smoke the food as long as needed over medium heat. That’s pretty much the exact process chef Gutenbrunner uses in this recipe. The salmon takes maybe 20 minutes or so.

Salmon-White Asparagus

 

Salmon Smoked

Before smoking the salmon I wanted to make sure it comes out well seasoned and juicy so I cured it lightly. All that means is that I sprinkled the fillets with a mixture of salt and sugar, about a third sugar and two-thirds salt. These then sat for about 30 minutes as I prepared the rest of the meal. I then rinsed the fish and patted it dry. It’s amazing that in only thirty minutes the difference can be both felt and seen. The fish is firmer and has a nice gloss on it.

Salmon-Asparagus-Sour Cream2

I cooked the asparagus simply in a pot of water with salt and butter and kept them warm until dinner. I really should’ve peeled the bottom of the stalks a bit since the bottoms were a bit woody on the outside.  The red orbs in the picture are the Vattlingon. I read about these in the book Faviken by chef Magnus Nilsson from Sweden. He puts up lingonberries in a jar with water and puts them away for a few months. Following Hank Shaw’s idea to use cranberries instead (he serves them with salmon as well) I put some up back in the fridge  around December so they are ready about now.

Smoked Salmon-White Asparagus-Sour Cream1

The sauce is sour cream, dill, chives and some lemon juice. Some more of those cranberries would’ve been good on each plate, but other than that the flavors were spot on and the plates looked lovely.

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Green Pea Agnolotti, Crispy Pork, Consomme

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Spring is here and even in hot humid Houston it’s…well it’s nice. The weather, at least for now, is not brutal yet and feels like spring with cool evenings and days that are not stiflingly humid. This dish is a good bridge between winter and spring. It combines lovely deep flavored “braised” pork and it’s crystal clear consomme with that emblem of spring, bright green peas.

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This meal was a result of buying a whole untrimmed pork shoulder. This includes several muscles that can be separated and treated differently as opposed to the traditional American method of just slicing through the bone and slow-cooking everything (as in barbecue). My purpose was to harvest a whole Coppa which is a cylindrical muscle that is usually cured and air-dried. Then it is served like most Italian whole muscle salumi, sliced thin and enjoyed on its own, as part of a simple composed plate or on top of a pizza. This type of butchering meat is known as seam butchery and is practiced a lot in Europe. Its intention is to leave the muscles whole and divide up the animal’s quarters into manageable pieces without cutting through the bones much or at all.

Lomo-Coppa

I ended up with a lovely looking Coppa (picture above) that is curing right now. The Coppa  has a great shape and really good marbling in it that it got me thinking about doing this again but cooking the muscle instead of curing it. Really it is like a pork loin but with more fat running through it. How bad could that be? After butchering the shoulder I also ended up with a few other nice muscles including a flat one that looks a lot like a thick skirt steak. I believe this is what sometimes is called a Pluma. That’s what I used for this dish.

Pork

As soon as I finished butchering the pork shoulder I tossed the flat piece with some salt and a touch of sugar and let it rest in the fridge. I figured I’ll cook it sous vide with a bit of lard and go from there. Not sure what to do with the meat one it is cooked (tacos are always a good option anyways) I also took care of the resulting shoulder bone. Not wanting it to go to waste I roasted it well along with an onion cut in half until deeply browned. I deglazed the pan with Madeira and then Sherry vinegar, scraped all the browned bits and tossed all that into a pressure cooker. I added more aromatics and water and made a superb pork stock.

Pork Stock2 Pork Stock-Agar

Now I got a perfectly cooked piece of pork along with a few cups of delicious pork stock. Let’s mangle those two ideas togehter and see what comes out. Ramen? that could work, but I was not sure I wanted a stock flavored with Madeira and Sherry vinegar in that. I like the noodle idea though. I started looking for something more European. Maybe a fresh pasta tossed with the pork? I could shred the pork. Pour some of the stock into the served pasta bowls? That sounds good. Toss in some peas? Yeap! Maybe make it a bit more refined though. I also have that ricotta in the fridge that needed using….

Peas Pea Agnolotti

So I jotted down my initial idea that at one point included making a roulade out of the pork and slicing it to serve, similar to this venison dish. I abandoned that down the line. Crisping the pork chunks in a touch of lard would work and look better as well as give me some great texture. The agnolotti though stuck. The idea of pasta pillows filled with a ricotta-pea mixture contrasting with the flavorful consomme and  the crispy pork was irresistible. I have made those French Laundry-style dumplings a few times since I first posted about them here and now they have become much easier to prepare. The filling is a bit based on the recipe in The French Laundry book for fava bean filled agnolotti and it includes the peas (blanched and shocked in ice water), ricotta as well as a bit of fine fresh breadcrumbs to give it more body.

Pea Agnolotti3 Pea Agnolotti4

Since I wanted a more refined dish I decided to make a clear consomme from the pork stock as opposed to leaving it as is, delicious but slightly “cloudy”. It would still taste great but just would not look as nice. The traditional method for making consomme is the one from the Escoffier days or earlier. It involves whisking egg whites, ground meat and some vegetables into the stock. This coagulates and forms a “raft” that traps all impurities and you strain off the clear stock.

Pork Stock-Agar2 Consomme

I opted for the more modern and much less labor intensive Agar clarification. I first learned about it from Dave Arnold’s Cooking Issues blog and posted about it before. The idea is to gently set the liquid with agar then, through a cheese cloth, squeeze and strain the clear consomme leaving all impurities stuck in the Agar web. I recorded my before and after weights for the stock to see how much I would lose and I started off with close to 750gr of stock. I ended up with around 500 gr of clear consomme. Not a bad yield for a very easy method that produces crystal clear result and pure flavor.

Pea Agnolotti-Pork3 Pea Agnolotti-Pork-Consomme3

To plate, I served the boiled dumplings and topped them with chunks of crispy pork. I added some reserved blanched peas to the plate as well. Then I heated up the consomme and seasoned it with salt and maple vinegar before pouring it around and over the pasta and pork. As a last touch I added a few drizzles of walnut oil and fresh thyme leaves.

Pea Agnolotti-Pork-Consomme

A Trio of Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata

Goat Cheese Truffles2

I’ve made this dish from Mario Batali’s Babbo book several times over the years but I’ve never posted about it. Here’s the post to rectify that because this simple antipasto is so worth it. It never disappoints in the effort to result factor. Guests love the look and the flavor while the effort involved in making them is pretty low.

The most time consuming part of this whole dish is the peperonata. That’s just a fancy Italian word for marinated peppers. In the book, Batali just sautees the peppers and seasons with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve done them like that and they work fine but I prefer to use roasted peppers. So, I broiled the peppers until they are charred and then peeled them. These were then briefly sauteed to heat them through and tossed with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

Goat Cheese Truffles

I have tried many ways to “roast” and peel sweet bell peppers but I use two methods primarily depending on what I need to use them for. My go-to method is to broil them in my oven (or on the grill if I have it going), put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let them steam and cool a bit. I never wash them as some recipes suggest you do to get the peel off. I feel that is not necessary and causes some flavor loss. I can live with a few bits of charred pepper skin on my bell peppers. Another method that I use sometimes is to char the skin all over with a torch. This is good when you want peppers that are pretty much still raw but can also be peeled easily. I also let them rest in a bowl after charring with a torch. These semi-raw peppers work great if you want to stuff them or in any way cook them a bit more.

Goat Cheese Truffles3

The “truffles” are made by mixing the goat cheese with a bit of Parmesan cheese and sometimes a small sprinkle of pepper. The mixture then is formed into small balls resembling truffles and rolled in a variety of seasonings. The typical trio of seasonings I have here is poppy seed, ground up fennel (or fennel pollen if you have it) and paprika. Anything could work though, but you do want something a bit robust to stand up to the sharp cheese and tart peperonata. To plate it I put a layer of arugula and top with the peperonata then on top goes the truffles with alternating colors. I served them family style here for our guests but another elegant presentation is to serve three truffles per person on a plate on top of the greens and peppers. Serve them with toasted rustic bread rubbed with garlic and you have a perfect and beautiful antipasto.

 

Apple Mille Feuille with Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle

The fourth and final course of our Valentine’s Day dinner is one I am very proud of. It worked so well and was a delight to make, look at and eat that I could not have been happier with how it turned out. Well, like everything, it can be improved upon and perfected some more, but really it was a lovely ending to a delicious meal. It’s a take on the traditional French dessert known as Mille Feuille meaning a thousand sheets, a reference to the many layers of flaky puff pastry. Another name for this type of dessert is a Napoleon.

The inspiration of this recipe is from both Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal. Heston has recipes for a dessert with candied apple and puff pastry in at least two of his books and they look spectacular with layers of caramelized apples, cream, apple confits, ice cream and such. Auldo prepared the version from The Fat Duck Cookbook, simply called Cox’s Apple, on his blog a while ago. More recently I saw a simpler but also very refined version in Daniel Boulud’s  latest book Daniel: My French Cuisine. Boulud’s version is a layer of candied apple confit sandwiched between puff pastry and a layer of whipped calvados cream topped with caramelized puff pastry (aka an arlette).

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle4

The apple confit layer is simple to make following Boulud’s instructions. Thinly sliced apples are layered with raw sugar to almost fill a small loaf pan. This is then covered in foil and baked until the apples are deep mahogany caramel color. The confit is then cooled and frozen to make slicing it easier. This process works very well, but next time around I’d rather put a layer of parchment in the bottom of the pan or at least butter the pan. This would’ve made removing the block of apple confit much easier.

Apple Confit2

Apple Confit3

I was hoping to make my own puff pastry but really got tight on time with the other dishes I needed to prepare. So, I opted to buy some good quality all-butter puff pastry. The key here is to buy the puff pastry made with only butter, not the Pepperidge Farm crap. I cut the pastry into large portions and baked some on a baking sheet weighed down with another baking sheet to control how much the pastry rises. These were then cut into even rectangles and formed the first two layers of the plated dessert. The third (top) layer was the arlette, the caramelized thin puff pastry. I used Blumenthal’s instructions to help with this one. The pastry is rolled thin while constantly being dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Then it is baked with additional weights on top to keep it on the thin side as it cooks and caramelizes.

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle9

The ice cream that went with the mille feuille is my own recipe. I wanted something with a tart flavor and almost a bit savory. I knew it would include homemade buttermilk and was thinking of maybe using some yeasted cream as well similar to what I used with this waffle dessert. That’s what brought waffles to mind, specifically yeast waffles, not the quick baking powder ones. I love a recipe for yeast risen waffles from Shirley Corriher’s classic book CookWise that she aptly labels “Crisp-crusted, feather-light raised waffle”. So I made some of that and as usual I used oat flour for about a quarter of the flour in there and used buttermilk instead of milk. I then allowed the waffles to completely dry and crisp in a warm oven eventually ending up with about 100 gr of waffles, crumbled. I soaked these in a mixture of cream and whole milk overnight and then strained them out. Then I proceeded to make the ice cream using my go to method per Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream book. When the ice cream base was cool I stirred in a 100 gr of buttermilk, allowed the mixture to cool in the fridge and then churned it into the most amazing buttermilk waffle ice cream.

Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

The cream under the top caramelized puff pastry layer is simple sweetened whipped cream flavored with Laird’s apple brandy. That goes on the plate in a few dots first to anchor the first layer of pastry, then goes a rectangle of apple confit, then more pastry, the Laird’s cream and the caramelized pastry. The green-ish sauce around the dessert is just Granny Smith apple juice thickened lightly with Xanthan gum and it gives the dish a nice fresh apple flavor.

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle2

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle10

Dry-Aged Strip Steak, Carrot and Sour Onions

Steak-Carrots-Onions3On more than one occasion I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “Oh what’s the big deal with dry-aged beef…I got a couple of steaks and they are not that different that the run of the mill steak from Costco”. Well, these guys are either not really buying dry-aged steak or have some taste buds missing. A proper dry-aged steak is a thing of beauty, expensive but worth every penny for a special occasion like a Valentines Day dinner for two.

Dry aging beef is a process where large primals (like a whole side of strip loin) is left at a controlled temperature in an aging room uncovered. The meat usually hangs from hooks and is left anywhere from a couple of weeks and sometimes up to  months! During that time the meat loses a lot of moisture. This translates to water weight loss (one reason why it starts getting expensive) and concentrating of flavor and minerals in the meat. Another thing that happens is that the enzymes in the meat start breaking down the flesh making it very tender. That is why the meat has to be kept at a specific temperature (again that costs money), too warm and the meat would just rapidly spoil, too cold and the enzymes would not function. Last, but not least is that the aging process is basically a controlled “spoilage” in a way. The meat develops a lovely flavor as it matures and for really long aged beef it is sometimes describes as funky or similar to cheese! I have not had any of the latter, but I can certainly tell that the steak we had was tender and superbly flavorful with a brilliant savory taste due to the aging process.

Steak-Carrots-Onions2

Hopefully my cursory summary of the dry-aging process as I understand it was helpful, but if not there are a lot of good resources out on the interwebs and many books on the subject. So what did we do with this nice steak? The meat was cooked very simply. I cooked it sous vide to medium rare and then finished it off in a very hot cast iron pan with some butter.

The onions are my attempt to try the sour onions from Magnus Nielssen’s Faviken. Magnus gently cooks thinly sliced onions in a mixture of whey and butter until the liquid evaporates and the onions are soft. The onions end up wonderfully tart and very deeply flavored with the whey (I used some from a cheese batch I was making) and butter. Unfortunately I could not manage to keep the onions intact in their original shape of thin rounds. I have no idea how the chef at Faviken manages to do that but I could not.

The other two items on the plate were marble potatoes and pureed carrots with vadouvan (an Indian spice mix heavy on coriander and citrus notes). The potatoes were just steamed and then crisped up in olive oil and herbs. The carrots were cooked sous vide with plenty of butter and a good pinch of the vadouvan spice mixture. When fully tender, I pureed them and passed them through a sieve. I prepared a sauce with reduced beef stock and red wine and finished it off with a bit of butter.

Steak-Carrots-Onions

Fettuccine, Lobster and Marjoram

Fettuccine-Lobster

I wish I have more time to post these in a more expeditious manner. For now, I have to get them up as time permits. Anyways, for Valentines Day this year I planned a four course meal for Diana. Actually I had a fifth course “option” that I was hoping to get to. Four courses though, as good as these were with wine and lovely company is nothing short of a perfect evening.

This was the first course. I stopped by Whole foods with the intention of getting a good dry aged steak (that would be the next post) and scallops for the first course. As luck would have it, due to the rough cold weather hitting much of the US recently, scallops were in short supply. What they did have was frozen and carried a very hefty price tag. However, Whole Foods was apparently running a special for Valentine’s Day. If you buy a dry aged steak you get a lobster tail for free! A quick change of plans and instead of scallops with butternut squash and chestnuts we ended up with this delicious dish.

I first set about making the pasta. This is a classic fresh Italian noodle with nothing but flour and egg. I rolled it thin and cut it into ribbons using the pasta machine. While the noodles were drying a bit I set about working on the lobster.

Fettuccine-Lobster3

I had three tails total (one free with the steak and I bought two more…still cheaper than the damn scallops). I removed the tails from the shell and bagged them in aFoodsaver bag with plenty of butter and some fresh marjoram. I cooked them sous vide for around 15 minutes at 59.5 C per Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure. At that point the tails were perfectly cooked and juicy. To finish them off I seared them briefly in a mixture of butter, garlic, lemon zest and juice and another dose for chopped fresh marjoram.

The sauce for the pasta was built around the same flavors of the lobster. So, I melted butter with lemon zest, lemon juice and marjoram leaves. At the last moment I boiled the noodles and tossed them in the butter mixture. To give the pasta a neat presentation I rolled the noodles on the tines of a long skinny bamboo set of tongs and slid them onto rectangular plates. On top went the sliced lobster and a few leaves of marjoram. I am glad I portion-controlled the both of us. Fresh springy pasta, tender juice lobster seasoned perfectly with herbs, lemon and butter would’ve alone made for a royal dinner.

Fettuccine-Lobster2

Course number two following the pasta was a very nice salad that for some reason I failed to take a picture of! It had a mix of baby greens including red kale and arugula. I used my mandoline to make paper-thin slices of persimmon. The whole thing was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with shavings of Pecorino Romano.