Sunday, August 29, 2010
As crazy as it may seem, there was a dark time in my life when I gagged at the thought of eating a piece of meat with any visible fat or skin on it. The texture of fat and the thought of eating something that could contribute to heart disease scared the crap out of me. Being a fat kid who loved to eat in my youth, this aversion perplexes me now that I think about it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the past few years that I started liking siu yuk: Chinese roast pork. I feel like I really missed out all the times my family would get Chinese BBQ, which always included an order of Chinese roast pork.
The first step in making Chinese roast pork was to make my own freshly ground five spice powder. I’d never used Szechwan pepper before and frankly didn’t know what it looked like, so it was exciting to utilize them for the first time. They’re the deep red pods seen above.
Typically the entire pig is roasted for Chinese roast pork, but I wanted to concentrate on what’s considered by many as the most sought after part of Chinese roast pork: the belly. In order to get the skin extra crispy, it’s heavily salted to draw out as much moisture as possible and let to sit overnight. The skin and meat are also rubbed with five spice powder. During roasting, the skin is brushed with vinegar to promote the crackling and bubbling of the skin.
The alternating layers of fat and lean is what makes the belly so desirable, while the crispy skin adds much needed texture to the bite. Sometimes it can feel a little too fatty though, and I’m not afraid to trim off a layer or two of fat.
About a year ago, I heard of Momofuku’s now infamous pork belly buns. They reminded me of the traditional preparation of Peking duck, but with pork belly instead of duck. Taking that as inspiration, I made my own steamed bao from scratch and slapped a couple pieces of the roast pork, green onion, and Hoisin sauce in between the bun. Needless to say, it turned out to be a winning combination.
Friday, August 27, 2010
With my impending third meal at Alinea coming up in a couple days, I thought I’d finally finish up the series of posts that I started back in October 2009. I realized I was indulging myself by writing way too much about each course, so I’ll simply present each course with a short description this time around. Anyways, it should go without saying that most everything was amazing, set a new standard for me, and changed the way I think about food.
BLACK TRUFFLE – explosion, romaine, parmesan
If Achatz has a signature dish, this may be it. The ravioli burst with truffle broth upon mastication.
TOMATO – fig, nicoise olive, pine nuts
Served with tomato leaves resting on hot stones to release tomato aroma. The white thing on the tomato on the right is olive oil snow, and a slice of bacon bread accompanied the dish.
BACON – butterscotch, apple, thyme
SWEET POTATO – bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon
The bacon and sweet potato were served together. I was afraid that pulling the bacon off the wire too hard would make a piece of bacon fly into the air. My fears came to fruition. The sweet potato, which reminded me of sweet potato or pumpkin pie, was skewered on a smoldering cinnamon stick which slowly released its aroma.
MUSTARD – passionfruit, allspice
This was a “time sensitive” bite, and I almost waited too long because the pin started slipping out of the thing as I pulled it up to my mouth.
HOT POTATO – cold potato, black truffle, butter
Another “time sensitive” bite in which I stupidly failed to heed the advice of the servers. Sadly, I experienced warm potato – warm potato. However, it was still probably my favorite dish of the night. I would be redeemed on my second meal at Alinea in which I ate the bite right away. The contrast in temperatures from the hot potato and the cold potato soup added a whole new level to the bite.
YUBA – shrimp, miso, togarashi
I never knew the word for what I grew up knowing simply as “tofu skin.” The shrimp was wrapped around a stick of yuba.
FOIE GRAS – peach, fennel, shiso
The peach broth was the peachiest essence of peach I had ever had, and it went really well the the foie.
CRAB – carrot, five spice, duck
The crab parfait challenged my taste buds as I’d never tasted anything like it in my life.
WAGYU BEEF – powdered A-1, potato, chips
A liquid was poured into the cold centerpiece and it released the aroma of meat sizzling on a grill. The potato cube consisted of a potato puree covered in small pieces of potato chips, which gave it a smooth and crunchy texture. The powdered A-1 (anchovy, raisin, tamarind, and clove) came in a plastic package and gave the dish a nice zing. A dinner roll accompanied the dish.
WATERMELON – lime, nasturtium
LEMON SODA – one bite
BUBBLE GUM – long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche
TRANSPARENCY – of raspberry, yogurt
The next 4 bites were presented at the same time. The watermelon liquid was encapsulated in a waxy ball-shaped shell. The powdered lemon soda came in what I think was a rice paper wrapper just like White Rabbit Candy. The bubble gum was to be slurped out of the glass tube and was filled with tapioca balls. The transparency was somewhat pliable and not as brittle as I thought it would be.
RHUBARB – goat milk, onion, lavender air
Another dish that challenged me but steadily grew on me after each bite and tasted like cheesecake with onions. The combination of sweet (from the cotton candy) and onion was completely new to me, but made sense after I thought about it for a while: people do love sweet, caramelized onions. The dish rested on a pillow filled with lavender scented air, which was steadily released as we ate.
CHOCOLATE – blueberry, tobacco, maple
The final composed dish of the meal was prepared by Chef de Cuisine Dave Beran on a mat that was placed directly on the table. The chocolate mousse was frozen with liquid nitrogen and cracked open on the table, the amber balls were filled with maplewood consomme, the dollops of cream were infused with tobacco, and the blueberries were pickled. Other garnishes included malt ice cream, blueberry syrup, blueberry jam, freeze-dried blueberry chip, walnut shortbread, frosted walnuts, and thyme leaves.
POUND CAKE – strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean
The final bite of the night was a strawberry pound cake skewered on a vanilla bean. If I recall correctly, the pound cake was held upright on the plate by some sticky lemon stuff and surrounded with powered vanilla.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
There was a time when I strongly considered naming this blog “Beng, Me.” It was a play on banh mi, but I quickly realized that most, if not all, non-Vietnamese speaking individuals pronounce banh mi as “bawn mee” rather than the correct pronunciation that most closely sounds like “beng mee” or “ben mee.” For the linguist, the official IPA pronounciation is [ɓǎːɲ mî]. I find it funny how the Western world can get the pronunciation of pho down pretty well (approximately “fuh”), but butcher banh mi.
Pronunciation aside, my favorite style of banh mi is the classic combo typically filled with cold cuts, headcheese, pate, homemade Vietnamese mayo, and the standard fixings. However, I was craving some Vietnamese meatballs and decided to make meatball banh mi and use the bretzel that I made that day instead of a baguette.
The meatballs consisted of freshly ground pork shoulder seasoned to taste with garlic, fish sauce, and sugar. If you’re unsure about the seasoning levels and don’t like the idea of licking or consuming raw pork, simply take a small blob of meat and microwave it a little until its cooked and taste it. The meatballs can be grilled or broiled in the oven on a broiler pan.
In addition to the bretzel, another departure from tradition was the use of giardiniera in place of jalapenos, pickled daikons, and pickled carrots as I love giardiniera and sometimes find raw jalapenos overpowering. Also, I garnished the sandwich with avocado to add a rich creaminess in lieu of fresh Vietnamese mayo. Unfortunately, I was out of eggs that day and unable to make Vietnamese mayo. If you’ve never had Vietnamese mayo, it tends to be eggier and richer than your typical mayo. I personally much prefer Vietnamese style mayo.
So in the end, my Vietnamese-German-Italian hybrid banh mi turned out well. Usually the hard crust of a baguette tears the roof of my mouth up when biting into the sandwich. The bretzel totally eliminated this problem and added another layer of sweetness to each bite. The giardiniera and avocado were worthy substitutes for classic fixings, but I there is just not competition when it comes to using fresh Vietnamese mayo versus something from a jar.