Category Archives: Grains

Thai Curry Pork, Forbidden Rice and Watermelon

Thai curries are one of my favorite south Asian foods that I don’t cook as much as I should. Every time I make it at home from scratch by pounding (actually, usually I use the food processor and then finish the paste in the mortar) together chilies, lemongrass, shallots, galangal and a host of other ingredients I tell myself that I really should do this at home more often. This time with this dish it is no different. It’s a piece of crispy fatty pork, black sticky rice (I like its other name though: forbidden rice), a nice salad of marinated and seasoned watermelon and a rich red Thai curry paste in coconut milk.

The watermelon salad here was inspired by a post on the Ideas in Food blog. It’s a take on the Thai green papaya salad. That’s usually made by finally shredding unripe papaya when the fruit is still green, crunchy and a little tart. It’s then mixed with mashed garlic, some dried shrimp and fish sauce. To make it more substantial, David Thompson in his book Thai Food, tops it with caramelized pork belly! For the watermelon version here, I used the part of the fruit that has a lot of that white pith closer to the green peel. I cured it by sprinkling the slabs of the watermelon with salt and Thai palm sugar and vaccum packing it in FoodSaver bag. After sitting in the fridge for a good 12 hours, I sliced it thinly and dressed the fruit with fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chopped peanuts.

To make the pork, a tasty shoulder from a free range pig, I seasoned it with salt and sugar and cooked it sous vide for a long time (about 48 hours). Right before plating it, I cut the meat in long thick strips and crisped it in hot lard. Good quality pork cooked like that is tender, juicy and delicious. I enjoyed a couple of pieces on their own before picking the few I was going to actually plate.

The rice got a good soaking and then it was steamed to cook it. The rice ends up perfectly cooked with a nice toothsome texture. The taste is very nutty and can stand up to the strong flavors of the curry and the watermelon salad. This rice also makes a wonderful traditional south east Asian dessert when cooked with palm sugar and coconut milk.

The curry paste is also adapted from Thompson’s Thai Food. His recipe for a traditional red paste includes a lot of dried chilies that give it its red brick color. Since my wife does not like spicy food I cut down the quantity of the chilies significantly and used a large red bell pepper instead. That kind of messes with the balance of the paste and to make up for it I upped the amount of lime juice in there as well as adding a tablespoon or two of paprika. Not very traditional additions, but the paste was very nicely balanced in the end. To prepare the curry  sauce I needed to separate the coconut cream from the milk and use that fat to cook the paste before adding the rest of the milk into the pot. To do that I chill the can of coconut milk so the cream can solidify on the surface slightly. Then it’s a matter of spooning the cream off and heating it in a pan until the oil separates. I added half the paste (the rest went in the freezer for later) and fried it for a few minutes. Then I added the rest of the coconut milk along with a little stock to thin it. That transforms the red paste into a nice deep yellow sauce.

The pork, curry, nutty rice and watermelon with a garnish of chilies and cilantro made for a delicious dish but I still had a good bit of curry sauce and rice leftover. I wanted to use it that same weekend with a fish or shrimp dish. Fresh water fish like catfish or Tilapia work really well here and I used the latter. I cooked the fillet sous vide to the perfect tenderness. I plated the fish on top the black rice in a pool of the curry sauce and several dollops of a green cilantro sauce. The sauce made with blanched cilantro and a little basil, pureed with very little water and Ultratex-3 to thicken it. I did make a little pungent garnish for this one with thinly sliced shallots, lime juice, chilies, and fish sauce. It was every bit as good as the pork dish (well, almost…Tilapia cannot compete with great porcine!). Too bad I did not have my camera when I made this one, so all I got is this phone photo.

Yogurt Flatbreads with Barley and Mushrooms

This delicious vegetarian dish comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty. The chef is much better known in the UK where he runs a chain of “deli” shops that serve a huge variety of creative dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. He also has a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper. The website has a lot of his recipes and the book is actually a collection of these recipes. Plenty has quickly become one of my favorite books for recipes and inspiration. All recipes are vegetarian, very creative and full of Mediterranean (mostly) and exotic flavors.

This dish combines a rich stew of barley and mushrooms with quick flatbreads made with yogurt. The dish is topped with Greek yogurt and -my addition- sour plum paste. The barley mushroom stew is done by separately cooking the barley in plenty of water until tender but still a little chewy. Then I cooked a bunch of fresh mushrooms (brown, white button) with a handful of soaked porcini mushrooms and their soaking water. To that we add thyme and white wine and let the whole mixture cook and meld. Then the barley is tossed in along with chopped parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.

The flat breads are done from start to finish in about an hour. The dough is a quick bread, meaning it is not a proofed bread dough with yeast. Instead it uses a chemical leavening agent, specifically baking powder. The dough consists of whole wheat and white flour and is flavored with a little chopped cilantro. After leaving it to “rest” for 30-40 minutes, I divided it up into 6 pieces and rolled them into rough circles. I cooked those on my cast iron griddle using a little clarified butter.

After plating the bread and the barley-mushroom stew I topped it with a heaping spoon of Greek yogurt and that aforementioned plum paste. The paste is such a unique and delicious condiment from Barbara Massaad’s book about Lebanese traditional Mouneh. I bought her book when I was in Lebanon a month ago and it is really an amazing piece of work filled with Lebanese pantry items, preserves, pickles, fermented and dried items. It’s the type of regional food that all grandmothers used to put up for winter and some still do. It’s great that Barbara went through the painstaking trouble of recording these procedures and recipes. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from it just because it looked interesting and new to me and because there are a bunch of plums in the market now. It’s really the equivalent of tomato paste but made with plums that are cooked down with nothing more than salt. The taste is tart, fruity and deep. It was great on top of this dish and I’m sure it will add an excellent dimension to meat stews and vegetable dishes.

65-Hour Beef Short Ribs, Vegetable Fried Rice and Glazed Ginger Carrots

In the Momofuku cookbook, the source for this recipe (or most of it at least), David Chang calls it 48-Hour Short Ribs referring to the time he keeps the beef in the water cooking sous vide. He serves it with the reduced marinade/braising liquid from the sous vide bags that the beef is cooked in, braised daikon and scallions. Well, due to some timing issues and because I like the 72-hour short ribs (as recommended by Modernist Cuisine) I ended up cooking the meat for around 65 hours. Sous vide, if you know what you are doing, is very forgiving and this made a fantastic weeknight dinner.

The marinade which doubles as a braising liquid is made by simmering together a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, scallions, carrots, garlic, fruit juices and sesame oil. The marinade is cooled and divided up in the bags with the trimmed beef short ribs. The beef is then cooked for 48 to 72 hours at 60 C (140F) until most of the collagen is melted and the beef has the texture of a tender aged steak. At serving time, I shallow fried the beef in grape seed oil to crisp and brown the exterior. I decided to forgo the braised daikon and opted for a more substantial carb-heavy side for the ribs. I made fresh fried rice loaded with vegetables and eggs. I also cooked carrots sous vide with ginger and then sliced them and glazed them with butter before serving. The rice worked perfectly to complement the ribs and sop up all the sauce. As a garnish, I topped the meat with a few dollops of pickled mustard seeds. They don’t just look really neat but they also add a lovely pop and their tart bitterness rounds out all the rich flavors very nicely.

Yellow: Tomatoes, Saffron, Corn, Virtual Egg

A while back I was making a chicken stew that included saffron, a Tagine really. The saffron needed to soak and flavor a portion of chicken stock that I had put in a white bowl. The color was so pretty with the deep rich yellow of the saffron threads slowly diffusing and swirling into the clear liquid. I decided then to make a plate of yellow food. Usually I go for the opposite and try to get a contrast of colors on a dish. This time yellow it will be and if it works out I might try my hand at different colors. I’m thinking blue might never make the cut though. As opposed to the many wonderful yellow foods, you just don’t see a ton of blue edibles. Anyways, yellow worked out perfectly.

I started by making a list of whatever yellow foods I could think of and started thinking of combinations that could work. Pretty soon I was sure that yellow tomatoes would be the centerpiece. Since saffron was what got me thinking about this whole theme, that was certainly going to be included. Corn was also a no brainer and to garnish it all I was using the virtual egg I made recently.

The tomato tart, like the virtual egg, is another recipe from Happy in the Kitchen, by Michel Richard. I did not follow the instructions exactly. My main deviation was to cook the tomato custard and the crust separately. I did that mainly to keep the crust crunchy and fresh, since the tomato filling might make the tart crust soggy if it was baked some time in advance. I made the filling from pureed yellow tomatoes and eggs with a few seasonings. The taste is pretty much pure tomato. I cooked the custard in a small loaf pan lined with plastic wrap to make it easier to remove later on. The crust is a straight forward 3-2-1 pie dough with the addition of yellow corn meal for part of the flour. I rolled it and baked it between two baking sheets. At service time, both the crust and the fragile tomato filling were layered, cut to shape and plated.

The corn was quickly cooked with butter and thyme. The combination of corn, butter and thyme works amazingly well, even in corn bread. Lemon also was part of the dish. I made a quick preserved lemon sauce of sorts. The sauce was quick, not the preserved lemon. These guys had been curing in the freezer for a few months. Curing in the freezer might sound odd, but with the amount of salt (and a bit of sugar) used, the lemons never freeze and they remain a brilliant yellow color. The recipe for the preserved lemons is from the Alinea cookbook. To make the thick sauce, I just pureed some of the lemon quarters with a touch of water and put it in a squeeze bottle.

I incorporated the saffron into a classic beurre blanc. Maybe in this case it’s a beurre jaune? The process is classic and involved simmering some shallots in wine and/or vinegar. In this case the white wine had a good pinch of saffron steeped in it. When the wine, white wine and shallots mixture was reduced to a glaze, I whisked in several generous knobs of butter. The sauce was seasoned and strained and was ready for plating. I garnished the plate with charred yellow tomatoes (I used a blowtorch…), inner leaves of celery, the virtual egg, saffron threads and a sprinkle of black lava salt for some crunch and a color accent. The garnish that looks like caviar is actually mustard. Pickled mustard seeds to be exact, from a recipe by David Chang. I’ve never had those before, but they are very nice. They have a soft but firm texture and the cooking/pickling dissipated their harsh bite leaving just a hint of bitterness and a mild mustard taste. Not to toot my own horn too much, but Yellow was pretty darn amazing. The dish looked beautiful and the flavors worked perfectly. There was just enough acidity, creaminess and crunch to make the dish a success.

Alinea: PORK, Grapefruit, Sage, Honey

This Alinea dish combines some classic combinations in a more or less classic presentation. It’s basically a pork with polenta dish with a few twists…and grapefruit. Why not though? The grapefruit is tart, sweet and a little bitter. That makes for a great counterpoint to the pork, rich cornbread pudding and the honey that is drizzled on the plated food.

I made the sage pudding first, a week or so before I actually needed it. It’s a typical Alinea “pudding” made with Agar, where the sage leaves are steeped in hot water with a little sugar and then the mixture is set with Agar and then pureed in the blender for a pudding-like texture. I had made a mental note a while back to make the next such pudding with Gellan instead of Agar for a change, but I suppose I must’ve lost that “note”. Next time I will try it with Gellan. As it stands this was a good sauce for the dish, it was slightly sweet with a big sage flavor and a good smooth texture.

For the cornbread puree, I first made the cornbread. I’m pretty sure any cornbread recipe will do in this component, but I went ahead and did the book’s recipe. On it’s own it is not such a great cornbread, probably because it uses a lot of white wheat flour in it. the texture is a bit firm and the taste slightly bland. However, to finish it up, the bread gets crumbled and pureed in a good dose of butter and cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. That makes for a rich polenta-like product that is quiet delicious. I chose not to make the puree in my blender (I hate washing it) and instead used the stick blender. That worked ok, but I did not get the good emulsion and smooth puree I would’ve achieved with a powerful blender.

Alinea uses two cuts of pork here and cooks them in very different ways. The pork shoulder gets bagged with oil and cooked SV for 5 hours at about 180F until it’s very tender. I used  a small piece of boar shoulder instead that I salted a day beforehand and bagged it with some bacon fat. I needed to cook it for more like 6 hours to get it to the proper texture and I still think it needed a bit more time. The meat gets shredded into strings then deep fried in loose disks right before it is served.

The other cut of pork is a pork tenderloin. This one I also salted ahead of time then rolled into a cylinder and cooked sous vide at 137F for about 30 minutes. The pork gets cooked to a perfect pink medium. I went ahead and quick seared it in clarified butter to give it a bit more flavor and variation before slicing. It came out perfectly cooked and looked as good as it tasted.

The last few components of the dish were caramelized fennel strips (fennel rounds browned in butter and then cut into strips), grapefruit segments, fennel fronds and small sage leaves. Right before serving it, the dish gets a small drizzle of honey. That honey goes especially well with the crispy boar shoulder pieces and the corn bread puree. The dish as a whole makes for a refreshing and, at the same time, comforting plate of food. We tried getting a variety of tastes and textures in each forkful, that always makes us appreciate the level of detail involved in these Alinea compositions.

I was having a very nice grapefruit-sage margarita while finishing up the cooking for this dish.

Moose Spanish Meatballs and Vegetable Paella

 

A good friend of mine (same one who was generous with the pheasants), was nice enough to also give me a 2 lb. piece of moose meat. I was not even sure what cut of the huge animal it was, but seemed like a round roast. It felt tough and possibly not suitable for a quick cooking method. Not exactly sure what to do with it, I emailed Hank from honest-food and asked him what he would do. He immediately pointed me to the Swedish moose meatballs recipe he had. Meatballs. That sounded good, but another meatball recipe came to mind. It’s a delicious Spanish recipe from Penelope Casas’ book “Tapas”. Last time I made this recipe was for the World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands and it was a big hit.

Since we had friends coming over for dinner, I decided to make a meal out of the meatballs and accompany them with another Spanish dish (more on that in a minute). The meatballs are fairly standard. Mix the meat with garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley and form them into balls. These then get browned in olive oil and the sauce gets made in the same pan. That’s what takes this dish to the next level, that sauce. It’s made from a base of onions, carrots, green onions and a handful of whole garlic cloves. To that I add a mixture beef broth, white wine and almonds all blended to a semi-smooth liquid. The meatballs and some frozen peas simmer in that lovely sauce for a good while until the sauce gets thick and creamy.

Another Penelope Casas recipe that I love, this one from “La Cocina de Mama“, is the vegetable paella. Is it still a paella if it does not have saffrom? Casas does use saffron in this dish, but I think it works better without it. I love the saffron in meat or seafood paellas, but in this one it just takes over the mild vegetable flavors. So, I usually omit it and up the smoked paprika amount plus adding a small pinch of turmeric  for color. It’s a delicious dish on it’s own or as a fodder for those fantastic meatballs.

For dessert, we had a version of Thomas Keller’s shortcakes from “The French Laundry Cookbook” with my version of a mixed berry ice cream, vanilla creme fraiche sauce and chopped strawberries.

Barley Miso Porridge, Soft Cheese, Vegetables

Aesthetically, this dish needs work, but I am extremely proud of how delicious it was. The flavors popped and worked brilliantly together. It was fresh, healthy and refined. Cooking from the NOMA cookbook is not an easy feat. NOMA in Copenhagen is the new “Best Restaurant in the World”. Rene Redzepi’s cuisine is fiercely local, and in Scandinavia local means sea buckthorn, spruce, dulse seaweed, bulrushes and whole bunch of other wild edibles. This recipe is by no means from that book, but it was inspired by a recipe from it. I already had the purple and yellow carrots on hand and was wondering how to best serve them in a vegetarian dish and while flipping through the Noma book, which focuses a lot on vegetables, I came across the recipe he calls “Vegetables from Lammefjorden, Sea Buckthorn and Gooseberries“. No sea buckthorn or gooseberries for me at this time. So, I stole the idea for the custardy fresh cheese combined with perfectly cooked vegetables (that are definitely not from Lammefjorden) and a brown butter-chicken glace sauce.

Here are the vegetables I used (Lots of washing, peeling and chopping…good vegetarian food is a lot of work):

Purple Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a teaspoon or so of sugar. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Yellow Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a couple of teaspoons of honey. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Leeks, cut into 2 inch rounds and oven-braised with butter, water and Oloroso sherry. Before serving they were seared over high heat.

Cabbage, cut into thin wedges and blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

Swiss chard, inner smaller leaves blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

The base for the dish is a porridge of sorts, but not a mushy gruel, rather its grains are distinct and the flavors are fresh and savory. This is based on Heston Blumenthal’s famous dish from the Fat Duck. He uses regular rolled oats and tosses them in a mixture of parsley butter. Auldo from “The Big Fat Undertaking” blog cooked and wrote about it here. I used barley because I love its texture and flavor. I also made my own parsley butter sauce that uses a good dose of umami-rich Miso to complement all the vegetables in the dish. The end result is fantastic and I will definitely be making this as a side dish or a starch for future meals. The recipe for it is posted at the end of this entry.

The fresh cheese is from the Noma recipe. It’s made from milk, cream, buttermilk and rennet. It’s allowed to set at a very low temperature until it resembles very soft tofu. To serve, it is just spooned on top of the porridge. The other component from the Noma recipe is the brown butter sauce. That’s made from reduced chicken stock, brown butter, balsamic vinegar, shallots and parsley.

 

Barley Porridge with Parsley-Miso Butter

Barley:

  • 1/2 Cup pearl barley
  • A 3 inch piece of leek, mostly from the greener part
  • Sprinkle of salt

Parlsey-Miso Butter:

  • About a half bunch chopped parlsey
  • 1/2 of a small shallot, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Shiro Miso (white or more like blond Miso)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • About 1/4 cup hot water
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter

Put the barley in a pot with plenty of water and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the barley and put them back in the pot with the leek and salt and cover with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cover. cook on a gentle heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes. When done there should be very little or no water left. The barley should be tender but with a toothsome texture. If not, add a little more water and cook a bit longer.

Make the Parsley-Miso butter by pureeing everything together until as smooth as possible. Pass through a sieve if you want to but I did not.

Finish the porridge by mixing in the Parsley-Miso butter while the barley is very warm and serve it immediately. The barley can be made a day or two ahead of time. In that case heat it in the pot with a couple fo tablespoons of water before mixing in the parsley-Miso butter.