Monday, January 23, 2012

Banh Chung

Recently, I learned eating banh chung is a traditionally eaten during the Lunar New Year.  Previously, banh chung was simply something my Vietnamese grandma would always make around the holiday season and sometimes during other parts of the year.  No matter the occasion or time of year, though, I could never get enough of her banh chung.


Her version is a vegetarian one: glutinous rice and mung bean wrapped in banana leaves.  Personally I don’t mind the lack of meat because for me it’s all about the rice.  When you boil glutinous rice for several hours as you do for banh chung, it takes on a unique texture when you eat it at room temperature and the aroma of the leaves comes through.  The texture is almost between that of onigiri and mochi.  Slightly chewy but yielding.


The texture can take on a drastically different profile when the banh chung is flattened and fried in a pan until golden brown.  In this form, the texture is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  After going back and forth between which preparation I prefer most year after year, I recently came to the conclusion that I prefer the non-fried version.  I find that frying the banh chung kills the subtle flavors of the rice and leaves.


So for my banh chung, I eat it at room temperature.  This time around, I filled mine with leftover pork rillettes from CharcutePalooza that I had in the freezer, and instead of wrapping the banh chung in banana leaves I used lotus leaves simply because that’s what I had in my pantry.

Banh Chung (makes about 3 individual servings)

Mise En Place

  1. 200 g glutinous rice, soaked overnight in water and a few drops of pandan extract
  2. 200 g mung beans, soaked overnight in water
  3. 200 g pork rillettes or some other protein
  4. 3 lotus leaves or banana leaves, soaked in warm water
  5. Fish sauce

Method (for 1 individual serving)

  1. Drain mung beans and place in a pot with enough water to cover.  Simmer until tender and mash, about 25 minutes.  Season with fish sauce and pepper.
  2. Drain rice and season with fish sauce.
  3. Fold the leaf in half so it is doubled.
  4. Place 1/6th of the rice in the middle of a leaf in the shape of a rectangle.
  5. Place 1/3rd of the protein on top of the rice.
  6. Place 1/3rd of the mung beans on top of the rice.
  7. Place 1/6th of the rice on top of the mung beans.
  8. Shape into a rectangle by hand and wrap tightly with twine.
  9. Wrap again in foil
  10. Place in simmering water, weighted down, for about 6 hours.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mugaritz: 9-11-11

Being the third best restaurant in the world (3 spots ahead of Alinea) and having 2 Michelin stars, Mugaritz had a lot to live up to.  However, after a very disappointing dinner at Akelarre and a very good albeit overhyped lunch at Etxebarri, expectations were a bit tempered.  That said, what I did expect in terms of the style of the food was very misinformed.



The Garden

I was expecting a lot of modern flashiness and novelty knowing chef Aduriz apprenticed at el Bulli, but I quickly learned that his vision for Mugaritz is focused on simplicity and regionality.  The first sign of Mugaritz’s ethos was the garden where they grow their own herbs and vegetables.  Later during the meal when we were taken into the kitchen, one of the chefs informed us that 90% of their ingredients are sourced within a 1 or 2 hour drive and that every dish has a maximum of 2 or 3 ingredients. 


Overall, the meal at Mugaritz was a good one.  It was better than Akelarre, but was it better than Alinea, Avenues, Ria, Gelonch (post to come), or DiverXO?  In my opinion: no.  In keeping with the spirit of Mugaritz, each course is presented here simply with its description as written on the menu.


Grilled pueraria focaccia.



Olives, beans, and thyme as a tapa.



Toasted legume beer.



Chive flowers in tempura.



A mouthful of flowers, dried fruits, and salt grains.



Starch and sugar crystal spotted with pepper praline and corals.



Crunchy sauce with peppers.



bulgur soft drink.  Impregnated fresh pickle and the aromas of gin and juniper berries.



Fig, cooked in clay and the scent of tonka beans.



Fragrant fruit in a paper wrap.

apple with cardamomapple with cardamom


Threads of steamed sea anemone with bone marrow…to dip the bread.

sea anemone


Fresh herbs.  Mortar soup made of spices, seeds, and fish broth.



Pork noodles with “arraitxiki” extract and toasted rice.



Silky bread stew, infused with pink geranium leaves covered with crabmeat.



Hazelnut and bean stew.



Portion of hake and milky reduction of stewed turnip sprouts.  Citric cream and salt grains.




Textures of coral fish.

rock fish & sea bream


Bonito belly, grilled on its own skin.  Baby green peppers and almond paste.



Iberian pig tails and the reduction of its own juice.  Crispy sweet millet leaves.

iberico pork tail

iberico pork tail


A cup of chamomile dressed with a cocoa nectar.  Candied fruits from the market.



Sweet grain biscuit with anise and flowers.



A crisp of flax seeds and whisky parfait.



Plate Art



The Kitchen



Ingredients for the Day



Decisions Before the Meal



The Menu