Munchie Mania: Sausage Rolls

When I was a little girl, I was quite the snacker (who am I kidding, I’m still a snacker!). Although potato chips and Planters Cheez Curls were readily available, I went for more “local” snack items like Chickadees and Twisties, or perhaps chili-coated tapioca crisps.

As a tween, I realized I required heftier munchies to sustain me throughout the day and that’s when I turned to curry puffs, fried fishballs on a stick, and my all-time favorite, sausage rolls.

one missing

Sausage rolls may sound like a strange snack to grow up eating in Singapore but it’s no doubt a colonial legacy. In fact, when we lived in England for a couple of years, sausage rolls and Devon cream teas were both staples in my diet, much to the detriment of my waistline. Sausage rolls used to be sold at just about every school canteen and roadside snack bar. Sadly, on a recent trip to Singapore I couldn’t spot them anywhere.

A few years ago, I picked up the “Singapore Heritage Food” cookbook and was excited to find a recipe for sausage rolls in there. However, the resulting product was not up to par with my taste memory—or perhaps nostalgia just made it murky.

Thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. Mum is good like that. Since we’ve moved to the U.S., she’s managed to recreate just about every childhood favorite (I’m talking about dishes that we used to go out to eat) from mee siam to chili crab. And every dish has been just as tasty, or even tastier.

One day, after I lamented about the disappointing sausage roll recipe, she decided to experiment and came up with a winner. Unlike the many sausage roll recipes I’ve seen, she uses nutmeg (it’s an Indonesian-Dutch thing) and lots of sugar to satisfy our Javanese taste buds I assume. Plus, she cuts them into smaller two-bite pieces so one is less likely to overindulge, a sensible precaution since it’s hard to stop at one. You have been warned, they are mighty greasy!

I don’t recall what my childhood sausage rolls taste like anymore. Nor does it matter as Mum’s version makes my family and I very happy–perfect for whenever we have an attack of the munchies. Amazing how fickle those taste buds can be!

~~~

Mum’s Sausage Rolls

close up

Pork and puff pastry—I can’t imagine a more sublime marriage. My mum uses the Pepperidge Farm brand of frozen puff pastry but for some reason puff pastry isn’t always stocked at the neighborhood grocery store. I ended up buying Dufour brand at Whole Foods and that set me back a pretty penny–$10 for 14 ounces! Granted it’s made with real butter but still … That’s definitely an incentive to make my own puff pastry next time. If you have a good recipe let me know.

Makes: 20 pieces
Time: 20 minutes, plus cooking time

2 slices white or whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup (2 percent or whole) milk
1 pound ground pork or chicken
3 to 4 teaspoons sugar (my family likes it sweet so add less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated, and feel free to substitute with a different spice, say sage)
1 (14 to 17 ounce) package puff pastry, thawed completely
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten, and diluted with a tablespoon or two water
Black or white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the ground pork with the sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and unfold the puff pastry, rolling out if necessary. Cut into half to form two rectangles measuring 8 x 24-inches.

Add the soaked bread to the pork mixture and mix with your hands.

Divide the pork mixture into half and shape a mound of meat (like a mountain range) along the horizontal of each puff pastry rectangle, leaving an inch or so on either side.

meat on dough

Brush the long edges of each rectangle with the egg, then fold the sides up and pinch together to seal.

wrapping dough

Turn the rolls over so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush generously with the egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

sprinkle sesame seeds

Arrange the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

cut into pieces

Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. (If using a different brand, adjust temperature and time according to package directions.) Remove to a cooling rack and leave to rest for a few minutes but devour while still warm!

Note: You can freeze the sausage rolls to keep them fresh for a later date. Just reheat them in an oven at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or in a toaster oven. I find this a good strategy as gobbling too many too quickly (and you will!) may be hazardous for your health.

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This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This  month we pay tribute to “The Marijuana Chronicles,” an anthology that  features Cheryl Tan’s short story. For more Let’s Lunch “Munchies” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Annabelle‘s Scallion Pancakes at Glass of Fancy

Anne Marie‘s Pepper-Stuffed Tater Tot, Fried Pickle, Cheese Whiz and Garlic Bread Burger at Sandwich Surprise

Cheryl‘s Spam Fries with Key Lime Mayo at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Homemade Pizza Rolls at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Fry Sauce, with an Asian Twist at HapaMama

Linda‘s Sam Sifton’s Trinidadian Chinese Five Spice Chicken at Spice Box Travels

Lisa‘s No-Time-To-Wait Nachos at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Vivian‘s Spam Bacon & Kim Chi Sandwich at Vivian Pei

A Summer Bánh Mì Buffest (Buffet+Fest)!


The Vietnamese sandwich, a.k.a. bánh mì, is the epitome of cheap, good food.

In fact, so remarkable is the bánh mì’s reputation, the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire article to this glorious sandwich. The article also suggests that Seattle, with its thriving Vietnamese community, could very well be the center of Vietnamese sandwich culture. My favorite place to get bánh mì: Seattle Deli in the International District. Nowhere else can you get a satisfying lunch for $3 or $4. Yes, you read right–$3 or $4.

Born to parents who are nationals of a former colony (Indonesia) and having grown up in another (Singapore), I feel that the most significant legacies our colonials bequeathed us are food-related. Think sausage rolls and curry devil or debal (a dish with Portuguese roots) in Singapore, or Indonesian-Dutch pastel panggang (a shepherd’s pie of sorts) and pisang boelen (banana wrapped in puff pastry).

Vietnam is yet another country with a rich colonial influence. Some suggest that the rice noodle soup, phở, is a variation of the French beef stew, pot-au-feu, and then we come to the item of today’s discussion, bánh mì.

In my opinion, bánh mì is equal parts French, equal parts Vietnamese. A baguette (French) is sliced open, slathered with mayo (French), and various fillings ranging from pâté (French and my favorite!) and/or ham, barbecued pork (Chinese-Vietnamese), lemongrass chicken (Vietnamese) and fried tofu (name your Asian country of choice). Add to this a bright, crunchy slaw of carrot and daikon radish (do chua, definitely Vietnamese), cilantro sprigs, cucumbers, and sliced jalapenos.

Last weekend, I was having a vegetarian friend over for dinner and I wanted a quick, easy meal that would satisfy everyone. Thinking back to a hot dog buffet a friend mentioned on Twitter, I came up with the idea of a bánh mì buffet to feed all five of us, toddler included.

Clockwise from top left: Carrot pickles, celery pickles, citrus tofu, lemongrass chicken, baguettes

Next, I had to decide on the components of the buffet.

Sometime ago, I sampled a delicious citrus tofu from PCC Natural Markets and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to attempt it at home. And this was it. I did tweak the recipe a little. First of all, I halved the amount of tofu. And instead of orange juice concentrate, I used regular orange juice and reduced it. Then I cut the block into 2×4 rectangles, not 1/2-inch squares like the recipe says. After baking, I cut them into sticks.

Since I was on a lemongrass kick, the meat dish for the carnivores in the group came to me easily–lemongrass chicken.

And instead of pedestrian orange carrots and daikon for the pickles, I bought burgundy and white carrots from the farmers’ market for extraordinary color, and celery just because I was looking for ways to love this often maligned vegetable. For the record, I did! (Here’s the recipe).

I also made it a point to buy Vietnamese-style baguettes, which are usually available at any Asian store. They tend to be softer and airier than French baguettes and I find them to be easier on my mouth (don’t you hate it when the crisp shards scrape against the roof of your mouth?). Andrea over at VietWorldKitchen suggests Mexican bolillo rolls as second best choice and also offers up a well-tested recipe if you are feeling adventurous.

Finally, I declared my spread a buffest, because it’s not just an ordinary buffet but a very festive one too. I hope you’ll attempt it, and do tell me what you think!

~

Bánh Mì with Lemongrass Chicken and Citrus Tofu

Store-bought pâté  or any of your favorite grilled meats or vegetables would make an exciting filling for a bánh mì buffet as well. If you have pickled cucumbers, beets, and/or onions on hand, go ahead and tuck them in too.

The whole spread might look daunting to prepare but most items like the pickles and marinating can be done ahead. Just before your guests are due to arrive, lay everything out and let them wield a wild hand, picking and choosing, mixing and matching. All you have to do is concentrate on the ginger-melon spritzer (or other some such drink) in your hand!

Time: 2 hours or so over a couple of days
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

For the fillings:
Lemongrass chicken:
3 stalks lemongrass, smashed and cut into rings (see this post for more detailed prep)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons granulated coconut palm sugar (I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, a SWAG gift from BlogHerFood. It’s a little less sweet than regular brown sugar, so adjust accordingly if substituting)
4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons canola oil
2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (about 8 medium thighs)

Citrus tofu

For the sandwich:
6 to 8 Vietnamese baguettes
Mayonnaise or aioli (store-bought or homemade)
Vietnamese pickles
Cilantro
Jalapeno rings

Make the lemongrass chicken. Debone the chicken and save the bones for making stock. (Or skip this step altogether by buying boneless, skinless chicken.)

Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a container large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and turn to mix. Marinate for at least 4 hours, but no longer than overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the skin is burnished a beautiful bronze, and a meat thermometer inserted into the flesh reads 165 degrees F. Or grill the chicken on the barbecue for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. When cooked, slice each thigh into ½-inch thick slices.

To make a sandwich, halve a baguette and toast or grill if desired. Spread with a thick layer of mayo and layer with fillings and garnish as desired.

~

Summer Grilling with Korean-Style Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

English: Preparing grill for grilling, grill w...
Time to get grilling! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Seattle, we don’t expect summer–the most elusive of all seasons–to make a gracious appearance until after July 4th.

One week post-Independence Day, I am happy to report that the past few days have been gloriously sunny! The temps have rolled into the 70’s and 80’s, and we’re even starting to complain about the heat.

While true Seattleites have no qualms about being pelted by raindrops while guarding the grill, it’s always more pleasant when skies are blue and steaks aren’t sodden.

I know better than to take our gorgeous weather for granted so we have a few outdoor-centric activities planned for the next few days and that, of course, includes a barbecue.

Call me a snob but I’m not a burgers and hotdogs (bratwurst, yes, but I don‘t consider them one and the same) kinda gal. I prefer sate, pork chops and chicken wings, foods we always had at our family barbecues growing up. That being said, my husband usually insists on throwing some patties and buns on the grill, “just in case people don’t care for sate.” Seriously?

Sure, it involves more prepping and elbow grease—as chief marinator and head sate-skewerer, I should know—but if you gather family and friends, it makes for easy work and a fun evening of chattering and gossip. And who could argue that tender, deeply marinated chicken morsels–flame-licked and kaffir lime-spiked–dipped into peanut sauce isn’t heaven on a hot and sticky summer’s day, or at anytime, really?

Now that I have you salivating over chicken sate, I’m going to tell you about a relatively new addition to my grilling repertoire—kalbi or Korean-style beef short ribs (sorry!).

To be honest, I don’t eat much red meat but I’ll happily eat kalbi. For some reason, my taste buds don’t register kalbi as beef. Similarly, rare flank steak or oxtail don’t taste beefy to me either.

I’ve eaten kalbi at Korean restaurants, and every time I’ve marveled at the meat so tender it melted like butter in my mouth.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wonder for very long.

I was enlightened when my friend and fellow food-writer extraordinaire Susan Kim shared her grandma’s kalbi recipe (and a few more) with me for “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.” The revelation was extraordinary, much like an initiation into a reverent circle of all-knowing Asian grandmas, which producing the cookbook was! It seems that every Korean grandmother has her own secret to tenderizing meat, ranging from soda (Coke or 7-up) to Asian pears, and in Sang Jung Choi’s case, kiwis. [Curious if kiwis are native to Korea? So was I, and as it turns out, they are.]

These methods and ingredients may seem unorthodox to the American cook but trust me, the results are impressive.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get grillin’!

~~~

Korean Barbecued Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

From The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook; Photo credit: Lara Ferroni

All Korean grandmothers have their own little secrets for making and tenderizing kalbi. Soda, sugar, and Asian pears are all common tenderizing agents. Grandma Sang Jung Choi massages kiwis into Korean-style short ribs—beef ribs cut about ¼ inch thick across the bone (instead of between bones) with three bones per slice—they are often available in Asian markets. Your butcher may also have the similarly cut flanken-style or cross-cut beef chuck short ribs; just ask if the slices can be cut a little thinner. Kalbi is lovely with cabbage kimchi.

Time: 30 minutes plus marinating
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

4 pounds Korean-style beef short ribs
2 kiwis, peeled and pureed in a blender
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
20-ounce bottle lemon-lime soda
Vegetable oil for brushing

Using your hands, massage the short ribs with the kiwi purée. Sprinkle each piece evenly with sugar and let sit while you make the marinade.

In a medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, sesame oil, honey, red pepper powder, pepper, and soda. Place the ribs in a single layer in a wide shallow pan and pour the marinade over, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour, or preferably 12 hours.

Prepare a medium charcoal fire (you can hold your hand over the rack for no more than 3 or 4 seconds) with the rack 4 to 6 inches from the coals, or preheat a gas grill to medium. While the grill is heating up, drain the ribs from the marinade. Reserve the marinade for basting, if desired.

Brush the grill rack with oil and grill the ribs in batches until they turn caramel brown and develop slightly charred edges, 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Baste with the reserved marinade during the first 10 minutes of grilling if you like.

Pat’s Notes: If you prefer, omit the soda and add more sugar or honey for a little extra sweetness.

~~~

This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month it’s all about barbecue! 

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Aleana‘s Home-made Ketchup, Relish & Mustard (BBQ-Friendly Condiments) at Eat My Blog

Charissa‘s Grilled Pulled-Pork Pizza with Roasted Corn (Gluten-Free) at Zest Bakery

Emma‘s Miso-Glazed Grilled Veggies and Polenta at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Working Mama’s Pork Tenderloin Bao at HapaMama

Jill‘s Steven Raichlen Ribs Interview at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled Cabbage (and Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw) at Joe Yonan

Lisa‘s BBQ Salmon with Tahini Dressing and Fresh Herb Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Taj Ma Hog & Not-So-Secret BBQ Sauce at A Cook and Her Books

Nancie‘s Thai Grilled Chicken Wings with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce at Nancie McDermott

Pat‘s Korean-Style Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Renee‘s Steamed Buns with BBQ Pork at My Kitchen And I

How to: Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat and Save Money on Groceries

In today’s uncertain economy, we’re all looking for ways to cut down on the monthly grocery bill.

One way I try is to reduce the dollar amount spent on meats, by far the most expensive ingredient in my bill. I do this in one of two ways: First off, I try to cook creative dishes that use less meat. Asian cuisine lends itself naturally to this style of cooking, as meat tends to play a supporting, not starring, role in many dishes. (For some global ideas, Almost Meatless:Recipes that are Better for You and the Planet is a great resource).

Or, I buy cheaper cuts of meat. We Asians have been practicing nose-to-tail, inside-out, eating for eons. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enjoying (once) unpopular cuts such as pork belly or chicken thighs. However, formerly cheap cuts of meat are becoming more expensive, as evidenced by the pork belly which was going for $4.29/pound versus $3.59 for pork loin at my local Asian market!

Expensive cuts of meat tend to be leaner and more tender but you can still cook a great meal with a cut that costs less. I did a little snooping at Grand Mart, an Asian market chain in Alexandria, VA and came up with a list of prices for various cuts of meat. I also linked to some recipes you can try.

A few caveats, East Coast prices may be higher (please chime in here) and prices at an Asian market may not be on par with your neighborhood Safeway. Plus, the beef does not carry the USDA Choice or Prime labels.

Beef

Chuck in the beef cut chart.
Don't discount chuck roast, a very economical cut of beef; its tough texture melts into tenderness after some slow, moist cooking (Image via Wikipedia)

Ground beef: $2.99 or $3.99 (lean)
Eye of round roast: $4.59
Chuck roast: $4.99
Chuck steak $5.79
Sirloin steak: $5.99
Top sirloin: $4.99
Flap meat: $6.49

Note that chuck steak is almost $1 more than chuck roast, and the only difference is that a blade has gone through a roast to make slices. That’s all that “steak” means, it still comes from the same part of the cow.

Obviously, the cheapest is ground beef ranging between $2.99 to $3.99 (lean) (It was $5.99 at Harris Teeter.) Beef Balls with Tangerine Peel or Embutido (Filipino meatloaf) are two great family-friendly recipes I like.

Another economical dish is Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper Stir-fry. This recipe uses only a pound of round steak and can feed 4 to 6 people at a meal with rice. You can also substitute sirloin steak or flap meat, a little pricier but again, you only need a pound.

Chicken

Whole Chicken: $1.79
Drumsticks: $0.69 (sale price) normally $1.39
Boneless breast: $3.29
Boneless, skinless thighs: $2.79
Party wings: $2.49
Quarters: $1.49

In the West, white meat is favored for its leanness. Thus chicken breast and breast tenderloin are usually the priciest chicks in the cold case. Asian palates, however, prefer dark meat from the thigh or drumstick.

Overall, buying a whole chicken gives you best value for your money, especially if you learn how to cut it up into parts yourself (click here for a video tutorial). The whole chicken is usually one of the cheapest chicken “parts” by the pound. Substitute whole chicken for the duck in Teochew Braised Duck or try Chinese White Cut Chicken.

Drumsticks are super cheap and are delicious in Vietnamese Chicken Curry. If you prefer, buy the quarters and separate them into thighs and drumsticks. Boneless, skinless thighs are not unreasonable in price, I still prefer buying them bone-in. Chicken thighs are easy to debone and I horde the bones to make homemade stock. Besides, I love the skin! I chop thigh meat into 1-inch pieces for Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies. And Cambodian Stuffed Chicken Wings make a great party dish.

Pork

The side is equivalent to the belly (Image via Wikipedia)

Pork belly: $4.29
Pork loin: $3.59
Ground pork: $2.79
Center cut chops: $3.59
Bone-in shoulder: $1.99
BBQ spare ribs: $2.99

As with beef, ground pork is the cheapest and make tasty Crispy Fried Meatballs or Mabo Tofu.

Pork shoulder, generally divided between the picnic roast and the Boston butt, are among the least expensive cuts of pork because they are tougher cuts of meat. The secret to getting them tender and flavorful is to braise them, a moist cooking method which breaks down the tough connective tissue. My favorite recipes for using pork shoulder include: Thit Kho (Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Belly), Lo Bak (Pork Braised in Soy Sauce), and Burmese Pork Curry.

Whether beef or pork, ribs are an inexpensive solution. And who doesn’t like using their fingers? 1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spareribs or use the recipe for Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork).

To sum up:

  1. Look out for sales and be sure to stock up when prices dip. Meat can be frozen for months.
  2. Buy roast over steak (beef)
  3. Utilize cheaper, tougher cuts (beef and pork) in dishes that use moist heat (braises) and slow cookers
  4. Avoid precut pieces (chicken), especially boneless, skinless breasts. Instead,  buy a whole chicken and learn how to cut it up (and use the bones for stock)
  5. Buy ribs (beef and pork) that have a greater ratio of meat to fat. The fat will keep the meat moist while it cooks, but you don’t want to pay for excessive amounts of fat. To maximize the amount of meat you’re getting, look for fewer bones for the price because half the weight is bone

How do you save money on meat? If you have shopping tips or great recipes to share, do comment below!

The Char Siu Challenge

Eleazar Juarez, owner of Rio de Parras Organics, pressed a brown bag full of greens into my hands. I peered inside and beyond the feathered leaves I saw the pale, straggly cilantro roots still attached. Who knew that a simple herb could invoke such a spring in my step!

IMG_4765

This was one of the smaller roots that Eleazar gave me

Ever since I discovered the recipe for Chinese barbecued pork (char siu) in the Chong Family cookbook, I’d been at a lost where to find cilantro roots. I didn’t want to pull out the fragile seedlings growing on my windowsill and everywhere I went cilantro was sold with the roots already lopped off. Then it hit me. Duh, ask a farmer! And so I did.

If your hunt is not as successful, the stems will do fine. Besides, not all recipes for char siu call for cilantro roots. I must say that the addition does add an earthy and musky nuance which I thoroughly enjoy. Cilantro roots are also used in Thai cooking. Fat roots are crushed to flavor soups just like lemongrass and thinner ones thrown into stir-fries.

 

Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)

IMG_4766 by you.

The words char siu literally mean “fork burnt or roasted,” a nod to the traditional preparation method of skewering strips of pork with long forks or hooks and cooking them over a fire or in a hot oven. This has its benefits. It allows the meat to cook evenly from all sides. If you’d like to try this, hang pork strips from metal S-hooks on a high rack in your oven over a foil-lined pan on the lowest rack to catch the drippings. I improvised even further by rolling strips of aluminum foil to act as loops and tied them to the upper rack (see photo below).

Time: 1 hour (15 minutes active) plus marinating
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (measuring about 8- x 6- x 3-inches)
2⁄3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 green onions, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or a large knife
2 cilantro stalks (preferably with their roots attached), smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or a chef’s knife
blade
1 star anise pod
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder

Cut the pork lengthwise into four long strips. Lay each strip flat on the cutting board and cut in half lengthwise. You will end up with 8 strips about 1½ inches wide, 1 ½ inches deep and 7 to 8 inches long. Place in a dish large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer.

In a small bowl, mix the together the sugar, soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, star anise, rice wine, sesame oil, and 5-spice powder. Pour the marinade over the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or preferably a day and a half.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the pork from the marinade and place on a broiling rack set on top of a foil-lined roasting pan to catch the drippings. Reserve the marinade. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, flipping halfway, or until the pork starts caramelizing and is just beginning to char at the edges. Baste at least once on each side during the first 30 minutes of cooking.

Transfer the pork to a chopping board and let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Meanwhile, simmer the reserved marinade over medium heat for at least 10 minutes and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

Serve with freshly steamed rice or noodles and sauce.

IMG_4736

An easy way to “skewer” your meat and roast it from all sides

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Belly belly good

IMG_0354

Chefs are going ga ga over pork belly.

Yes, this fatty, inexpensive cut is fast gaining favor and has risen on the trend-o-meter in the past couple of years. Here in Seattle, pork belly has top billing at fancy restaurants the likes of Tilth, Harvest Vine and Chez Shea.

But Asians who grew up on this humble cut have long enjoyed its succulent, full-fat flavor. Usually braised for hours on the stovetop — whether prepared the Chinese (red-cooked pork), Vietnamese (thit kho) or Indonesian (babi kecap) way — pork belly speaks of comfort food and brings us home to mama.

Pork belly, however, is not unknown to the American palate–it’s the part of the pig cured and smoked for bacon. The raw, unsmoked version comes with or without the skin and is commonly sold at Asian markets. With its increasing popularity, you should be able to special order pork belly from your local butcher, or try online sources like Flying Pigs Farm or Niman Ranch.

To make Asian braises, skin-on pork belly is essential to create the rich, velvety texture we’re used to, although other preparations may render the skin leathery and inedible. Not many pork cuts can withstand long braising, pork belly being one of the exceptions. In fact, braising is the typical way to cook pork belly, the slow, even heat transforming it into pure unctuous pleasure. Stop there or pan-fry or roast the belly to a crisp in the oven for a delicious crackle and crunch with each bite.

Ah … another reason why we love grandma and mum’s cooking!

Buying belly

Buy belly pieces between 2 and 3 inches thick and choose pieces that come from the front belly as opposed to the back belly for a good balance of meat and fat. How to tell? Look carefully at the layers and select a slab that is about 50/50 lean meat to fat.

Here is a Vietnamese braised pork belly (thit kho) dish adapted from a recipe Cathy Danh learned from her aunt.

Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly (Thit Kho)

Thit kho is one of those dishes rarely found at restaurants but eaten in all Vietnamese households, usually served with a canh (soup) dish for dinner. A meal during Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) would be incomplete without a kho (as these savory-sweet braised dishes based in a caramel sauce are called), and this pork and egg dish is a favorite among Southern Vietnamese. Coconut water (sometimes called juice) is not to be confused with coconut milk. It’s available in clear plastic bags in the frozen section, or canned in the drinks section.

IMG_0360

Boneless, skin-on pork belly (actually uncured/unsmoked bacon,) with the ideal ratio of lean meat to fat, or pork leg (rind-on) are traditional cuts for thit kho; but be warned, the resulting dish is not for the faint-hearted. For a lighter version, substitute the leaner Boston butt or use a mix of cuts. But try not to use all lean meat, the unctuous skin and fat is essential for the rich, velvety texture of this dish.

Time: 2 hrs
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 pounds pork belly (skin-on) or Boston butt (or 1 pound of each)
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium shallots, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups coconut water, strained of any meat
6 eggs (or 12 quail eggs), hard-boiled and shelled

Using a sharp knife, scrape off any stray hairs from the pork skin and cut meat into chunks 1-inch thick and 1-1/2 to 2-inches long.

In a 4-quart heavy bottom pan or Dutch oven, heat sugar and water over medium-high heat. Stir continuously until sugar melts. Continue cooking for another 10 to 12 minutes; syrup will form globules, turn a light golden hue and eventually caramelize into a thick amber liquid. You will smell a “burnt sugar” smell.

Add pork and raise heat to high. Stir for 1 minute to render some fat. Add garlic and shallots, and sauté 5 minutes until pork is browned but not cooked through. Lower heat to medium. Add fish sauce and pepper and sauté 1 minute to evenly coat meat.

Add coconut water. The liquid should barely cover pork. Bring to a boil. Add eggs, cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour (1-1/2 hours or longer if you want your meat melt-in-your-mouth tender), stirring occasionally to ensure eggs and meat are evenly coated with sauce. Pierce meat with the tip of a knife to test for tenderness. If at anytime the sauce drops to a level lower than one-third of pork, add water, 1/4 cup at a time.

Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Skim fat off surface with a ladle. (If you can wait, refrigerate overnight and allow fat to congeal on surface, making this task much easier.) Reheat over medium-low heat, taste sauce and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Adobo ahoy!

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Every Filipino family has their own adobo recipe. Lucky for the rest of us with none to claim as our own, these recipes are not a fiercely guarded secret. Just ask any Pinoy cook and they’ll be more than happy to share.

This recipe comes from Olivia Dyhouse (through her sister Juana Stewart), although I did sneak in a few more cloves of garlic. But that’s how it is with adobo: you can improvise and experiment to get just the right balance of flavors–especially sour to salt–that dances to the right tune on your tongue.

Here are some variations on adobo I’ve picked up from my research:
-Some cooks add coconut milk, either right at the beginning in the pot, or at the end when the cooking is done.
-For a thicker adobo, try mashing chicken liver to add to the mixture.
-I found a soy sauce-less recipe in “More Family Favorites” a community cookbook compiled by Lakeside Christian Church in Chicago in the early 1970s. Turns out that soy sauce is a later modification thanks to Chinese influence on Filipino cuisine. Traditionalists insist that adobo be seasoned with salt. Aunty Neneng only adds about a tablespoon of soy sauce to her adobo. “Just for color,” she explains.
-This same cookbook revealed a very interesting variation: Chicken Adobo a la Monta. It calls for adding 1/2 cup pineapple cubes, 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon butter to the mix.
-Garlic-lovers will surely love this. Before pan-frying the chicken pieces (see recipe below), sauté more smashed garlic cloves in the oil first. Add one finely sliced medium onion and cook until soft. Set aside and add the sautéed garlic and onions to the finished dish.

Many Filipino cooks swear by Datu Puti brand vinegars–cane, palm or coconut–which are readily available at any Asian food store. Even if you can’t find it, never fear! Any distilled white vinegar and even apple cider vinegar (we all know apples and pork go super together!) work well. Or experiment with more non-traditional French sherry or Japanese rice vinegars for an adobo with your name on it.

Please drop me a comment if you have a special adobo story or recipe to share!

Chicken Adobo

You could call adobo the Philippines’ unofficial national dish, yet it’s more often eaten in homes than in restaurants. There are many types of adobo–chicken (traditionally the legs are used but you can use breast too), pork (loin, spare ribs), beef (stew beef chuck), and liver, too. The frying adds a crispy finish to the meat but you can skip this step if you are ravenous … or just lazy! Adobo keeps well and is one of those dishes that taste better the next day.

Time: 1 hr 15 minutes
Makes: 8 servings 

8 whole chicken legs (about 4 pounds), cut into drumstick and thigh sections
1-1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed  
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons oil
2 stalks green onions, cut into “O”s for garnish (about 1/2 cup, optional)

In a large (6 quart) nonreactive pot or Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except soy sauce and oil and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add soy sauce and stir to coat chicken evenly. Simmer, covered, another 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate, shaking off as much excess liquid as possible. Pat pieces dry with paper towels.

Raise heat to medium-high and boil sauce until reduced to about 1 cup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let sauce cool. Remove bay leaves and skim fat from surface.

In a large (10-inch) skillet, heat oil over high heat until hot but just before smoking. Sauté chicken in 4 to 5 batches, turning pieces halfway, until browned evenly on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a rimmed platter, pour sauce over. Serve hot with sauce-drizzled rice.