Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tonkotsu Stock Trial 2


I made another tonkotsu (pork bone) stock trial going for a simpler ingredients list for the bone simmering part than the last time, and a longer simmering time as well. The two big things I learned from this time around:
  1. It really does take 14-15 hours of simmering to get the stock to the right (opaque) state. (Start early or do what I did and finish it the next day.)
  2. While you can just simmer bones in water to make the stock base and add all your flavoring ingredients after the fact, as this abbreviated recipe does, I think there are some things that are better included in the slow simmering phase to better draw out and infuse the stock with their flavor. Ginger's one such thing, as it also helps to balance out the pork flavor as the stock is rendering. Konbu (aka kombu) seaweed seemed like a helpful addition when I added it, and also doesn't discolor the soup. Shiitake mushrooms also are great in adding flavor to a soup over a slow simmer (or to anything). The other things found in recipes I've looked at, like fried garlic or charred onions are probably great flavor enhancers, but if they've charred, I imagine that'll darken your soup if it's something you're worried about.
Other observations:
  • Soy sauce quickly darkens the soup, so you'll want to use salt to some extent if you want to keep your soup lighter in color.
  • The rice noodles I had actually worked very well in the tonkotsu soup.

After ~2 hours

After ~6 hours

After 14-15 hours

Strained

Seasoning the soup further, heating the pork belly, cooking the seaweed



What the heck is that stuff?? This is that floating matter you can see starting to float around in the "6 hours" pic above--bone marrow. It comes out of the bones gradually over the course of long simmering. And yes, you can eat the marrow! Since marrow is mostly fat and protein, it is very rich and gelatinous. In Italian cuisine, they spread marrow on crostinis, which sounds like an excellent crispy, crunchy platform for marrow to play off of. But I avoid gluten, so I just had mine with rice, which also was helpful in spreading out the marrow's richness. Crostini would have been better, though, for textural contrast. ...I still find marrow to be a little too rich for my taste.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Slow Cooker Fancies

I've been thinking about possibly getting maybe a slow cooker perhaps, forever now. The imagined time savings are enticing. But when I think about it, I don't know how much time it actually saves if you want to get great results and aren't satisfied with just okay food getting done conveniently. It seems that you still have to brown things before hand, precook various ingredients, bring things to heat in advance, all before tossing things into the slow cooker and finally letting it do its thing. Doesn't seem like a great time saver...but I suppose you don't have to watch it once it's going.

I'm not yet convinced it's worth the money and space for me to get one. As such, the idea of using a rice cooker as a substitute for a slow cooker was intriguing as well. I finally went and looked into the idea a bit and learned some interesting things about rice cookers and why they're not ideal as slow cooker substitutes. Basically, rice cookers cleverly take advantage of the boiling point of water in order to automatically shut off at the right time. Once the water reaches its boiling point, the inside of the rice cooker will get no hotter until all the water has boiled off. When the rice cooker senses that the temperature has risen above the boiling point, it knows there's no more water and that its time to shut off the heat so as to avoid burning the rice (or whatever you've got cooking).

This is a problem for slow cooking, though, because it means you can't cook at higher temperatures than 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 Celsius. Now, to stretch out the cooking time, you can manually switch to the "keep warm" setting early and just rely on residual heat to cook slowly, and then turn it back on to bring the temperature back up to boiling point again, etc., as described in this article. But then, that defeats the purpose of using a slow cooker instead of a very low flame on the stove: convenience/not having to watch the food.

Well, that stopped my most recent bout of curiosity about slow cookers. Not that getting one's permanently out of consideration for me. I may yet want to learn more about using one when my life gets busier. And the other thing is that I'd be really happy if they work well for making stock like pork bone stock for tonkotsu ramen or sullung tang. Really for tonkotsu stock rather than sullung tang, clearly. 15 hours of simmering? Yeah, not convenient in the least. (What? You smell a future blog post updating my previous first stab at tonkotsu? Hmm, I think your nose does not deceive you...) And lamb stock, too...

Thoughts? Anyone use a slow cooker for making stock?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crisp Dumpling Membrane 2


It works! On both counts!

I'd previously written briefly about Serious Eats' post mentioning how to get that crisp connective sheet of extra "skin". I tried to find another word, since it's not part of the dumplings' own skin. Admittedly "membrane" doesn't seem right either, but I decided to go with it to try to be clear that I was talking about a different thing...well whatever. I'm open to suggestions. Or just relying on context to talk about the "skin"...

Anyway, I tossed my dumplings in corn starch before pan-frying them, and then let the fluid thoroughly evaporate, waiting through the sticky-goo-period, until the starch fried and crisped up. Transferring the dumplings to a plate was a little tricky. I ended up first shaking loose the dumplings/membrane before inverting a plate over the pan and flipping the pan over again. The dumplings plopped right onto the plate, though the membrane shattered on impact. Maybe a slightly smaller plate that could fit into the pan, directly on the dumplings would avoid the membrane-shattering drop.



Also discussed in my earlier post was concern about whether pan-frying sticky rice dumplings would work. Using a non-stick skillet, I had no trouble with releasing either the membrane or the dumplings proper. I'm not sure if their being frozen helped things, too; maybe freshly made dumplings would stick more easily.



I will say, though, that if you pan-fry your sticky rice dumplings, maybe fry them both top and bottom. Without soup to moisten and flavor the outside, I found the dumplings to be a little too sticky on the uncrisped sides, their presence too strong relative to the filling, without flavor to give the stickiness some kind of meaning (as nian gao and mochi are sweet).


Monday, March 11, 2013

Cheap, Very Useful Tools

If you haven't seen this already, Andrea Nguyen has a great post at VietWorldKitchen on 8 cheap and eminently useful metal kitchen tools. I just have it sitting in my browser tabs for when I have the opportunity to use one that I don't already have and want to buy it. I've already got a skimmer, and recently picked up a small roasting/broiler rack that I've already used a lot, both for roasting and for prepping meat or fish with seasoning, even if I'm not going to roast it. It's handy for keeping the fish/meat out of any excess water/juices, and keeping dry seasoning in place when you need to flip it and season the other side.

Small tongs might be handy, but I just use chopsticks most of the time, or large tongs. Tortilla press could make dumpling-making so much quicker (and thus more likely to happen). I've been considering buying one for quite a while. But on the other hand, you wouldn't have the thicker part in the middle which is helpful to avoid tearing. Vertical roaster seems neat. The vertical handle strainer and stovetop grill seem handy, too. Anyway, check it out.

She also had a followup post on mini-tools for the kitchen, but I don't have so much use for the tools featured. Maybe you would, though, so here's the other post.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

New Toy: Hand Blender


For some reason I previously had the misconception that hand blenders were somehow inferior to stand blenders because they were handheld versions of the larger, more powerful thing. Now that I have my own and have played with it a bit, I've learned that for my purposes at least, hand blenders are freakin' awesome, whereas I have little use for stand blenders. Handstand blenders must be crazy awesome.

Being able to wield the blender in your hand means you can blend soups right in the pot. No more painstakingly transferring batches of cooked foodstuffs to a food processor or blender and slowly pulverizing each batch, one by one! Hand blenders are also great for mixing individual servings of smoothies and ice cream shakes or turning tofu into "soy yogurt" (I added the quotes because this is distinct from making yogurt from yogurt culture with soy milk).

The soup making use is particularly awesome. It's so easy to just sauté, brown, and simmer some vegetables with stock and seasoning, and then demolish them into fluid deliciousness. There's a lot of flexibility in the general concept, too. You really have a lot of leeway to add whatever you like. Below are a couple combinations that I thought worked well (leek is so tasty).

[Note: sub out chicken stock for vegetable stock to make it vegetarian/vegan.]

Carrot Leek Soup

1 leek, sliced, thoroughly rinsed, and spun dry in salad spinner if you have one
1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken stock
dash of white pepper
1 TBS peanut, vegetable, olive, or other oil
cilantro, parsley, or what have you for garnish
  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a medium (3-quart) saucepan until hot but not smoking. Add leek to saucepan and turn down heat to medium-low. Allow leek to brown, tossing occasionally.
  2. Once leek has begun to brown, add a quarter of the carrots to brown (don’t crowd the pot at this point). Toss leek and carrots occasionally, until leek is well browned and carrots have browned some.
  3. Add the rest of the carrots and the chicken stock. Turn heat to high and bring soup to a boil before turning heat back down to simmer the soup. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the carrots have softened.
  4. With an immersion blender, blend ingredients in pot to desired smoothness, adding extra chicken if you want a thinner soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can transfer the soup to a food processor or stand blender to blend. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Garnish and serve immediately.

Too tasty. Forgot about taking a picture until I was almost done with my bowl.


Creamy Broccoli Leek Soup

1 leek, sliced, thoroughly rinsed, and spun dry in salad spinner if you have one
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 crowns broccoli, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
dash of white pepper
1 TBS peanut, vegetable, olive, or other oil
cilantro, parsley, or what have you for garnish
  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a medium (3-quart) saucepan until hot but not smoking. Add leek to saucepan and turn down heat to medium-low. Allow leek to brown, tossing occasionally.
  2. Once leek has begun to brown, add the celery. Toss leek and celery occasionally, until leek is well browned.
  3. Add the broccoli and the chicken stock. Turn heat to high and bring soup to a boil before turning heat back down to simmer the soup. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the broccoli has softened. Add soy milk and return to a low boil before turning off heat.
  4. With an immersion blender, blend ingredients in pot to desired smoothness, adding extra chicken stock or soy milk if you want a thinner soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can transfer the soup to a food processor or stand blender to blend. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Garnish and serve immediately.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Technique Tips: Stir-Frying Narrow, Stalky Vegetables


In my last post, I talked about stir-frying vegetables simply. While the tip I'm discussing in this post applies to all vegetables (and stir-frying in general), it becomes even more important when you're stir-frying narrow, stalky vegetables like watercress, the above-pictured Chinese chives (a.k.a. garlic chives), or kong xin cai. Basically, you'll want to remove any excess water from the surfaces of your vegetables so that you don't end up simmering the vegetables rather than stir-frying. And, after washing vegetables, they will have excess water on them, even after draining in a colander. (Though, certainly, a little water can be nice in cooking through the nooks and crannies of vegetables like bok choy and broccoli.)

This becomes more important for narrow, stalky vegetables because they've got so much more surface area between the stalks and leaves to hold on to excess water, making the colander draining less effective. With all the extra water running down while you stir-fry, your veggies will end up swimming in a soup. For this reason, it can be really handy to have a salad spinner to quickly get rid of all the excess water before stir-frying. I use this one. It's a good size, works well, and is collapsible.

[addendum:] Ah, I forgot to add that the simple stir-fry works great with garlic chives, too. Though I tossed in a couple slices of ginger, as well, which was great. Watercress works pretty well, too, but it's slight bitterness asks for a bit of other flavoring (as with bok choy, though to a lesser extent).