Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remainders: Building Blocks of Creativity

I thought I'd close out the year by writing a bit on being creative in the kitchen. I find that working with underlying principles is the way to be flexible and turn out good food (or at least edible) with whatever you have on hand. This is a lot like how with learning a language, you need to learn grammar (cooking techniques, principles, theories) in order to flexibly and creatively express whatever you want to say (dishes) rather than just turning out stock phrases in response to stock situations (just following recipes).

Using excess components or leftovers can be a great way to get yourself thinking more creatively about how to cook with different ingredients. It's when we have constraints that we're forced to be our most creative, and having an ingredient or component you have to use is just such a constraint.

For example, pictured above are scrambled eggs with shrimp-infused chipotle salsa and spinach and duck fat fried potatoes. The salsa was excess from another dish the night before in which it was more of a soup/sauce, and it wasn't a big stretch to look it and think I could use it in a scrambled egg with salsa dish. There was too much fluid for the eggs to scramble right, so I put the salsa in the hot skillet first to cook down some of the soup. After cooking down somewhat, I added the spinach so that it could wilt. Then, in order to get nice curds in the eggs, I pushed the salsa and spinach to the side so that they wouldn't interfere with curd formation and added the eggs, proceeding to scramble as normal in the remaining two-thirds of the skillet area. As the curds formed up, I gently mixed in the salsa and spinach with the egg and finished up.

As for the potatoes, they were leftovers since I generally make enough for more than one meal when I cook (time savings). I just fried them another time to reheat and crisp the skin. Put them together with the scrambled eggs and you have a pretty nice breakfast.

Well, it's been another good year for growth and learning for me. I hope your 2013 was for you, too, and that you continue to stretch in 2014. Happy new year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Crispy Skinned Roast Pork Belly

Here we go! My results with this slab of pork belly were crispy without being too hard (to cut or to eat), so I'm comfortable sharing my approach now. (The black bits are charred bits of the flavoring rub I applied and not burnt belly.)

The last breakthrough was in a skin piercing technique I picked up from a duck recipe, actually (I'll blog about the duck next). I pierced the pork belly skin a lot more than is shown in the duck video. You need to pierce the skin a lot in order to let the fat escape as it cooks, allowing the skin to become crisp as the oil renders out, but you don't want to poke through to the flesh, as then moisture will come into the skin, preventing it from crisping up.

As I mentioned in my post on getting crispy skin on a pork shoulder roast, salting the skin to draw out moisture is another important step. Another thing is allowing the skin to dry, which letting your roast sit in its salt rub in the refrigerator is great for.

Here's a good post over at Serious Eats' Food Lab on what goes on with pork skin in getting crispy. Interestingly, Lopez-Alt doesn't call for any scoring, piercing, or separating of the skin in his pork shoulder recipe. However, his recipe for crisp pork shoulder takes 8 hours of slow roasting before a final burst of heat. I'd be curious to know more definitively about whether the skin piercing is really helpful/necessary or if it allows things to happen in a shorter time frame. In any case, it seems to have an effect just anecdotally at least.

So--this happened. A slice of crispy skinned pork belly with duck fat sautéed cabbage and sriracha sauce on a corn tortilla. Mmmm...

Here's my recipe for the crispy pork belly. Feel free to get creative with what else you add to the salt in your dry rub. With this go-round, my rub was paprika, ancho chili powder, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and a bit of brown sugar.

Crispy Roast Pork Belly

~2 lbs. pork belly
coarse kosher or sea salt
ground black pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
  1. Use a paring knife to pierce the skin all over without cutting into the meat. Do this by holding the knife almost parallel to the skin (flat side facing the skin so the planes of the blade and skin are nearly parallel) and pushing the blade into the skin in a motion that’s almost parallel to the skin. (see this video)
  2. Lightly salt skin to taste (about 1/2 tsp per pound of pork*), making sure to rub the salt into the cuts.
  3. Salt and pepper the meat portions to taste (salt on the meat portions is in addition to the 1/2 tsp per pound of pork that just goes on the skin).
  4. Set pork skin side up in a flat-bottomed dish and put in refrigerator until the skin dries out, or overnight.
  5. Remove pork from refrigerator and leave on counter at room temperature for 15-30 minutes to allow surface to warm up. Pre-heat oven, with a baking pan inside, to 500°F or as high as your oven goes.
  6. Once the oven is at temperature, remove the pan and put pork belly in skin side down. Roast pork for 15 minutes at this high temperature.
  7. Remove pork from oven and flip skin side up. Turn oven down to 350°F and return pork to oven to roast for 1 hour.
  8. After 1 hour, add a little water to the pan (to keep the fat from smoking during this last step) and turn oven back up to highest setting and roast for 10 more minutes. The skin should blister as it crisps up if it hasn't already.
  9. Remove pork from oven, slice, and serve.
*This is a loose measurement, since clearly the thickness of the meat portion beneath the skin varies a lot. The pork belly cuts I’ve been using have thick meat portions attached, though, so 1/2 tsp per pound is probably on the high side of the range of possibilities (pork shoulder has different proportions of meat to skin, of course).

Optional Accompaniments for the Pork
  • Balsamic onion marmalade
  • Ground white and black pepper mix
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha and soy paste or hoisin mix

It's best served immediately, but leftovers are great, too. Interestingly, the skin was still crisp even after resting and refrigerating in a tupperware container, unlike poultry skin which gets soggy as it rests as the moisture escapes from the meat. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because with a slab of pork belly, steam can escape to the sides, while with a whole bird roast the only path of escape is through skin.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Steel Yourself

Success! Pictured above are a whetstone (this one's a waterstone, which uses water as the lubricant as opposed to oil) on the right and a leveling stone on the left, which is for keeping the surface of the waterstone flat.

So after a year's use, my knifes had started to noticeably dull and I started looking into options for sharpening (as opposed to steeling, which you should do at least every couple times you use your knife, with a honing steel). From what information I've found, though, paying someone else to sharpen your knives for you is expensive and often results in their ruining your knives or taking off a lot more material than necessary (leading to a shorter life for your knife). My chef's and paring knives are from Shun, who will sharpen your knives bought from them for free--but you have to ship them to Oregon, which ends up being pricey, too, if you want to make sure things get there and back safely.

It seemed that the best option was for me to sharpen my knives myself--which I wanted to try doing anyway. With the help of some online resources, I bought a medium grit waterstone and leveling stone and gave it a shot, and it seems to have turned out fine for me. At least, my knives are cutting like new again and aside from having lost some cosmetic sheen from the sharpening (I didn't bother polishing), I don't think I did anything bad to them. No chips in the blades.

Here a couple guides I found useful:

Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats has a good overview of what you need to know about the different options for sharpening and the different grits of waterstones. He also gives instructions on how to do the sharpening itself.

However, I found Yoshikin's (they make Global knives) method made more sense to me in getting even pressure along the whole blade. Though, maybe Lopez-Alt's is better for a smoother transition along the curved part toward the tip of the blade? Anyway, Yoshikin's worked for me.

I ended up going with just a #1000 grit stone since that gets you a sharp edge for normal use and cutting meat without dulling too quickly. Korin (Japanese tableware and knife store) discusses (see the note on the side titled, "Benefits of a #3000 Grit Stone") how fine grit stones will get you razor sharp results, but which dull more easily. The finer the grit, the longer it takes to remove material from your knife, too.

[Update:] Also check out Korin's helpful how-to video's on YouTube here. Thanks to Matt for telling me about it!