Sunday, September 29, 2013

Will's Red Braised Lion Heads

I'm finally writing this one up after sitting on it for a while--it's a good one! Remember that red braised lion head (hongshao shizitou) recipe from a while back? Well, I've made further modifications, pulling in some insights drawn from a certain "Japanese-style hamburger" (wafuu hanbaagu) recipe and my reactions to another shizitou dish at a restaurant in Richmond, VA (that one wasn't red braised).

The key difference is that I mix in tofu with my ground pork to make the meatballs. However, I think it's important to use medium to firm tofu rather than silken. This makes the meatballs very tender--without feeling insubstantial. This was the thing I didn't like about that Richmond restaurant's shizitou; you didn't feel like you were biting into anything.

Also, I think the dusting with starch in the previous version I posted is an extra hassle that doesn't really add to the dish. I include some starch to help bind the meatballs, but they don't need a coat of starch on the outside to hold together.

Here's my new version:

Will’s Braised Lion Heads 紅燒獅子頭

lion heads
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. soft tofu (but not silken)
(8 water chestnuts or 1 carrot, large mince, optional)
3 scallions, minced
1 TBS ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
4 TBS water (one for each quarter-pound of ground pork)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 TBS rice wine
1 tsp salt
2 tsp tapioca starch

1 TBS peanut oil

braising soup
1 TBS dark soy sauce
3 TBS light soy sauce
1 TBS brown sugar
1 1/4 cup chicken stock

potato flour slurry
2/3 tsp potato flour
2/3 tsp water

Sliced scallions for garnish
  1. Combine potato flour slurry ingredients in small bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine braising soup ingredients in another container and set aside.
  3. Wrap tofu in a non-terry kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze out as much fluid as possible (discard the fluid).
  4. Combine lion heads ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well and form into large meatballs about 2.5” in diameter.
  5. Heat skillet or wok over medium heat with peanut oil. When oil slides easily over the cooking surface, add meatballs carefully and brown on all sides, rolling and turning very gently.
  6. Gently add the meatballs to a 2- to 3-quart pot (or sand pot, sha guo) and pour in braising soup ingredients. Simmer on low for 1.5 hours, turning meatballs halfway through.
  7. When done, carefully remove meatballs to a plate. Reduce braising liquid to taste. Stir potato flour slurry to re-suspend the flour in the water, and add slurry in a stream while stirring the sauce until liquid is thickened, coating spoon thickly, but still runs.  Pour sauce over lion heads and garnish with scallions.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ribs However You Like 'Em

In the process of trying out Marcella Hazan's (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) broiled pork rib recipe, I did some looking around at other people's methods of choice in roasting pork ribs (there are infinite variations and opinions, of course) and was reminded of this basic truth in cooking:

People will say that this or that way of cooking a dish is the right way to do it, but when it comes down to it, the best way to prepare a dish for you is the way that tastes best to you.

Some people wrap their ribs in foil and go for low and slow. Others say you must parboil the ribs before you roast or grill. Some say the silverskin must be removed from the backs of the ribs while others cut slits, and yet others prefer to leave them intact. (I happen to like gristle, and there are nutrients there not present in the meat, too.)

I'd kinda fallen into the assumption that low and slow was superior since, well, "proper" barbecue must be done low and slow over many hours, large roasts need to be cooked low and slow over several hours to break down, and braises of tough cuts also need to be gently simmered over long cooking times for the collagen to break down into rich deliciousness. But sometimes you like more body to your meat. One internet commentator's description of foil-wrapped roasts as resulting in "mushy" meats reminded me that it's all really very individual and subjective. De gustibus non est disputandum. Case in point, my brothers prefer cooking noodles to a very soft consistency rather than the ever-hyped al dente. (I happen not to prefer mushy noodles.)

What brought all this about was that Hazan's recipe called for broiling the rack of ribs for a mere 25 minutes, turning it several times. It seemed like rather a short time to cook a cut of bone-in meat. (Pork short-ribs need to braise for longer if you want the meat to almost fall off the bones.) So that's why I did a lot of looking at other people's approaches. In the end, I decided that I already knew how wrapping in foil and going low and slow would turn out, so this time I'd trust Hazan and see what her approach yielded. And Hazan's approach yielded utter deliciousness in a relatively short time. The loin-back ribs I had really did only need 25 minutes to be done. The meat wasn't falling off the bone, but was tender and juicy, and had a little crispness at the edges thanks to not wrapping in foil and cooking under a broiler. (Though, I wonder how things would have turned out with spareribs, as Hazan's recipe called for, rather than the loin-backs I had. Loin-back ribs are less fatty and more tender, meaning they'll cook through more quickly...)

At the end of the day, you should cook things how you think they taste best. Of course, it's good to listen to other perspectives; maybe you'll like them, too. But if your preferences don't link up with the generally accepted "best practice", whatever. This is where new ideas and developments come from. And where family and personal recipes come from.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Appreciating Texture in Food

Chef Ming Tsai makes a very interesting point about the importance of textures in Chinese food in a way that doesn't really exist in Western cuisines:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ramen Field Guide

A thorough guide to the range of ramens out there, for enthusiasts and neophytes alike:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pineapple and Thai Basil Muesli

Pineapple and Thai basil are a good combination. Try it!

Above was my crazy idea for my post-run snack. I've taken to letting some rolled oats soak in soy milk and a bit of water (the water keeps the resulting muesli from being too thick and almost sticky) while I run so I can have a bit of carbs immediately ready to eat when I get back. This bridges the time until I can shower and eat a fuller meal.

This was another one of those moments when I look at what's on hand and it just strikes me that, "Huh, that seems like it'd work well." I was thinking along similar lines to adding mint to fruit, though Thai basil adds a more complex twist than mint, which I think is less of a flavor stretch from the sweetness of fruit. The touch of sourness in pineapple works particularly well with the Thai basil.

Next time I'd cut the pineapple into smaller chunks, but otherwise it was great.

(The proportions in the recipe below are for a full serving. I have half of that for my post-run snack.)

Pineapple Thai Basil Muesli

50g rolled oats
100g soy milk (sweetened, or unsweetened soy milk + your choice of sweetener to taste)
splash of water
bite-sized chunks of pineapple
Thai basil leaves
  1. Combine rolled oats, soy milk, and water in a bowl and let sit in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to let the oats absorb the fluid and soften.
  2. Add pineapple and Thai basil to the bowl and enjoy.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Creamy Frittata

I've always liked frittatas, along with similar dishes like quiche and omelettes. But the eggs turned out so creamy in my own first attempt at a frittata* that I've become a new devotee. That frittatas' ingredients and technique are pretty simple to execute is another point in their favor. I've been exploring Italian cuisine via Marcela Hazan's compendium, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and her method, I must say, is my favorite that I've tasted (not that I've had a ton of frittatas). Basically, you need to cook the egg gently so that it doesn't get overcooked and dry out and firm up. (Similarly, the time I first got the timing and technique right on scrambled eggs was a revelation for me, too.)

In contrast with Hazan's approach, however, a "mistake" I made with my zucchini actually turned out to be a plus in my opinion. I'd absentmindedly tossed my uncooked zucchini in with the other ingredients in the egg mixture rather than letting them cook through and brown first with the onions. However, as a result, the zucchini was tender but still had a little body to them at the end rather than just being soft like everything else. I thought it was a great textural contrast, though the extra flavor from browning would have been nice, too. It's a trade-off.

Looks like there are several different approaches people take with cooking the top part of frittatas, though: baking, flipping it and staying on stove top, and broiling. Any one have thoughts? Broiling makes sense to me--it's easier to cook the top without overcooking the rest of the frittata, which has already been cooking on the stovetop, and maybe looks neater at the end than if you flipped it.

Here's what I did:

Frittata with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Basil

1 onion, thinly sliced
2 zucchinis (medium-small), sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 plum tomatoes, peeled raw, seeded
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces
5 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
olive or other cooking oil

skillet with all metal body required for broiling step so the handle doesn’t melt
  1. Heat 2 TBS olive oil over medium-low heat until oil slides smoothly over skillet. Add onions and some salt, cover, and cook until onions have softened and begun to brown and turn golden.
  2. While onion is cooking, prep other ingredients, beat eggs with a little salt, mix tomatoes (and zucchinis if not opting to cook them with the onions first—this results in zucchini with more body at the end)
  3. [Optional: add zucchini to onions in pan and continue cooking until zucchini has become tender and started to brown.]
  4. Remove onions (and zucchini) from skillet and mix in with the egg mixture.
  5. Return skillet to heat over low heat. Add another TBS oil and heat (or butter to melt and just begin foaming) before adding egg mixture into skillet. Cook until egg has set except the top surface is still runny.
  6. Place skillet under broiler about 6” away from the heating element, and cook until top of frittata has set and edges have just begun browning. Remove from oven and serve out of the skillet in slices.

Yes, I ate my frittata over steamed white rice. What?

*unless you count a Filipino torta I tried making once, which is basically the same thing.