Pork belly hotpot

Pork belly hotpot

My friends and I have a semi-regular thing we like to do called 'corkasian'. The premise is simple: go to one of the many bustling restaurants in Chinatown (Cafe Kowloon, BBQ City, and East Taste usually) and take advantage of their tasty asian food and criminally cheap corkage ($1.50 per person! What?!).

At our first visit to BBQ City we ordered a pork belly hotpot dish that at the time was, quite simply, amazing. The pork was so tender you could cut through it with chopsticks, and the sauce was aromatic and perfectly seasoned. A few weeks later we revisited BBQ City and its famed hotpot, but it wasn't the same. It could have been the fact that I was taking an alcohol-free day, but even my more jovial tablemates agreed. Still, the seed had been planted and I have made it a personal mission to make my own delicious pork belly hotpot.

This recipe is adapted from Simon Bryant's red-cooked camel recipe. It's as simple as anything, too. Just put all your ingredients into a pot, then say goodbye to them for 6 hours. Unfortunately it's quite hard to photograph well, but do take my word that it tastes much better than it looks.

Pork belly hotpot, before cooking

See you in 6 hours!

Pork belly hotpot

  • 800g pork belly, in thick slices
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup shaohsing wine
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 a medium onion, diced
  • 30g sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 3-4 cm piece of ginger, sliced thickly (skin on is fine)
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pieces of dried mandarin peel

1. Preheat an oven to 150ºC/300ºF. Select a heavy, oven-safe casserole dish that will fit the pork belly snugly. Place all of the ingredients except the pork belly inside, and stir to dissolve the sugar.
2. Submerge the pork belly in the liquid and cook, covered, in the oven for 5-6 hours.

The first time I made this I ate it as is, straight out of the oven. However pork belly being what it is, a lot of fat melts into the sauce. Because the pork skin and connective tissue also produce a lot of gelatin, my usual technique of refrigerating and pouring the liquid through a strainer doesn't work here (because the sauce sets as well as the fat). Instead while the sauce was warm I strained once to get hold back the solids, then used Jen's handy method. At this stage you can also pick out the whole spices so no one gets an unpleasant surprise.

So did I do it, did I recreate that first glorious meal? I'm getting there. I reduced the amount of dark soy from the original recipe by a third, but I could still afford to knock that down just a little more, adding a bit of stock to mellow things out. Also, while the star anise is absolutely crucial, two might be too much. However those are minor tweaks in search of perfection — even short of perfection this is a damn fine way to treat a belly of pork.

Bacon you can drink through a straw

Prawn & bacon risotto

As someone who never thought he would utter the sentence "I really don't like bacon in x" this is difficult for me to admit. I don't like bacon in risotto.

Let me clarify. Bacon: amazing. Risotto: delicious. Together: no thanks. There's something about the clash of textures, too harsh, too chewy, that I can't get behind. It's a shame, really, because the flavour of bacon is perfect for risotto. Salty, meaty, and slightly smoky? How can that not work with starch, cheese, and butter?

Referring back to my original risotto guide, the solution came from first principles: risotto being stock, rice, and the-rest-of-it. There's no real bacon-flavoured rice — If exists it likely comes from a packet and tastes horrible — and I've already complained about making bacon the-rest-of-it, so what we need is bacon stock. Hey guess what? I have bacon stock!

Bacon stock

Ingredients (makes about 1L):

  • 350 g bacon, diced quite small
  • 1 tsp tomato paste

1. Cook the bacon slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot until it is deeply caramelised. Expect this to take a while. Pour off any fat and return to a medium heat.
2. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, then top up with 1.5-2 L (6-8 cups) of water and bring to a medium simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, then pour through a fine mesh strainer.

A few notes: Dicing the bacon before cooking means that there will be more delciously caramelised surface area to infuse into your stock. Don't add any salt to it either (you shouldn't be adding salt to your base stock anyway) as the bacon and tomato paste are already pretty salty. Finally, bacon can be very fatty, so you will want defat it. Either cool it in the fridge overnight and strain out the solidified fat, or use this handy trick.

With your bacon stock made, bacon-flavoured risotto is easy as pie. I used my basic risotto recipe, with some minor modifications. Because I failed to follow my own advice (salted the bacon out of habit, and didn't defat out of impatience) my stock was both salty and fatty. As a result the risotto didn't need extra butter or cheese. The bacon fat emulsified with starch from the rice to make a creamy risotto, and sans cheese it went perfectly with butter-poached prawns (screw you, heart disease). A pinch of cayenne pepper perked it up, and I was set.

A farewell feast

Roast beef

If I'd known how much fun a farewell feast was, I'd have left years ago. In fact, my new goal in life may be to move somewhere, live there long enough to find friends who will attend a farewell dinner, then leave. My life will be a glorious adventure from one farewell feast to another, perhaps interspersed with an occassional welcome home feast when I return to Adelaide.

It's a pretty easy process too. The first step is to leave your hometown, leave all your friends, your family, your favourite places and faces. Easy, right? Next up, host a farewell dinner for yourself. Once that's done, you're free to dream up any kind of menu you desire.

Here's what I went for:

We started with a light sparkling pinot served with ricotta and chargrilled capsicum on something that I don't know the name for. It's a little bread square, buttered on both sides and crammed into a small muffin dish so when you put it under the grill the bread toasts into little cups. Let's call them toastinis, or crustettes, or something similarly naff.

Fortunately, I had my partner in crime Tim to attend to the entree. He made up a prawn stock by boiling up tomatoes, lemon zest and pulp, salt, prawn shells, parsley, and whole peppercorns. This was then magically turned into seafood risotto which was served with a prawn poached in butter, with a garnish of chilli oil. I'd have a photo and a recipe, but it was far too delicious to tear myself away from. This one went hand in hand with a NZ gewurtztraminer, which was a lovely and buttery supplement to the seafood.

The next dish was a purely experimental one. The official name was lime salmon with avocado and mango salsa on a bed of coconut rice. The coconut rice was simple enough (rice + water + coconut milk + rice cooker), as was the salsa (avocado + mango + coriander + lime juice). I panfried the salmon with a sprinkling of lime zest at the end, and constructed a mini food tower consisting of a rice and salsa foundation with a salmon ground floor and lime antenna. In retrospect, the hot salmon on cold salsa was an odd combination, despite the flavours working well together. An Adelaide Hills sav blanc provided the tasty wineyness for this one.

If you think that two tasty courses were enough to get me to leave, you're sadly mistaken. Main course, dessert, and a big breakfast cook-up are after the jump.

'Warm weather', Naples-style bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese

You may remember my version of ragu alla bolognese from a few months ago. It was quite a big deal, in all the papers. That was in the middle of winter, when a hearty, rich meat sauce over fresh pasta was the perfect comfort food. Now as I look down the barrel of an Australian summer, long slow braises, as good as they are, are making way for lighter, brighter foods.

This bolognese is more 'southern style' — by which I mean Naples rather than Louisiana (and by which I mean Naples, Italy, rather than Naples, Florida) — but once again I would not be so foolish as to claim authenticity. While my meat bolognese had depth of flavour with many different flavours melting together, this sauce has lots of clear individual tastes. Everything is left relatively chunky so you get individual bursts of flavour in eat bite, and the amount of tomatoes make it as much a tomato sauce as a meat one. Some chillies for kick and anchovies to round it out, and you're in business.

Unlike my other bolognese this works much better with dried pasta. I also make bulk and freeze it, so rather than putting fresh herbs into the sauce and dulling their flavour in the freezer I tend to instead toss them freshly-picked together with the pasta and sauce before serving.

Warm weather bolognese

Ingredients:

  • 300g beef mince
  • 300g pork mince
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, in a medium dice
  • 1 stalk of celery, in a small dice
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely-sliced
  • 3 dried birds-eye chillies, finely-sliced
  • 4 anchovies
  • 3 cans of tomatoes with their juices
  • A few gratings of nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste

1. In a wide pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil to a high heat and add the mince and some salt. Cook until the mince is well-browned, breaking up the mince so there are still some medium-sized chunks.
2. Add the wine and scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan while it sizzles. Turn the heat down to medium, ten add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and put a lid on the pan to let the vegetables sweat.
3. Add the anchovies, chillies, and tomatoes and bring to a high simmer. Grate the nutmeg over the pan, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook this for about 35 minutes or until the vegetables are completely tender, then salt to taste.

Chicken korma (I think)

Chicken korma

This may be the wrong thing to admit in the first sentence of a post about chicken korma, but I have a confession to make: I don't entirely know what proper chicken korma is. Although I've eaten it countless times, I've ever had the same korma twice. A quick flickr search suggests that I'm not alone, either — korma seems to come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.

I have a bit of an idea, though. When I think of korma I think of a rich, creamy gravy, warm, sweet spices, and nutty, mellow flavours. As the story goes korma was first made for rich North Indian merchants wanted their curries to be as luxurious as possible, so unsurprisingly korma is not dish done by halves. Cook this low and slow to ensure as tender chicken as possible, and for the best results cook it the day before you plan to eat it. This is good advice for all curries, but the subtle flavours in this curry benefit particularly well from a night in the fridge before serving.

Chicken korma

For the onion paste:

  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil

1. Spread the sliced onions out on kitchen paper and salt well. Leave this for 20 minutes.
2. Heat enough vegetable oil to deep fry the onions until well-browned (but not burnt).
3. Puree the fried onions in a blender, adding just enough of the (cooled) frying oil to make a paste.

For the curry:

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 blade mace
  • 5 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4cm piece of cinnamon
  • 1 small onion, blended to a paste
  • 2 tbsp garlic & ginger paste
  • 600g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp roasted cashew nuts, ground
  • 1 tbsp blanched almonds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 1 quantity of fried onion paste (above)
  • 150 ml cream
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1. Add the mace, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom to the vegetable oil and ghee, and bring to a medium heat. When the spices become fragrant, add the blended raw onion and cook until it just begins to go golden. Stir in the garlic & ginger paste and ground nuts and cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, chilli powder, ground coriander, and sugar and stir well to coat the chicken. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour over about 1/3 cup of water with the garam masala and fried onion paste (above). Bring this to a very gentle simmer, then cover and cook until the chicken is very tender.
3. Add the cream and bring to a low boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then stir in the saffron and fresh coriander and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving, or ideally refrigerate overnight and serve the next day with basmati rice or naan bread.

Lamb, olives, & potatoes, two ways

Roast leg of lamb

One of the troubles with cooking for one is keeping costs down whilst avoiding repetition. A leg of lamb is delicious and more economical than most other cuts, but once the initial roast dinner is over it's each to get sick of lamb sandwiches all week. As good as risotto and pasta are at incorporating last night's leftovers, it's hard to shake the fact that you're eating the same thing you ate last night tossed through a bowl of penne. This was the situation I found myself in last week, with an impulsively-purchased leg of lamb, a large batch of olive tapenade, and some mashed potato. The challenge was to create two distinct dishes from more or less the same ingredients, and at the risk of sounding too proud of myself I think I did pretty well.

Roast lamb, skordalia, and olive tapenade

Dinner number one was roast lamb with skordalia and a minted olive dressing. I regret not writing down the specifics, but I can offer a general outline. First the lamb: Make a marinade of greek yoghurt, honey, crushed garlic, dried oregano, chopped mint, and salt. Rub this over the a leg of lamb and roast in a 220ºC/425ºF oven for 20 minutes, before reducing the heat to 160ºC/320ºF and cooking until the internal temperature of the lamb reads 70ºC/160ºF. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes, then drain well and mash with crushed garlic, salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a liberal amount of olive oil. To make the dressing, combine equal parts olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil with some finely chopped mint. To assemble, top portions of skordalia with slices of the rested roast lamb and drizzle with some dressing.

Potato gnocchi with lamb & olive ragu

For dinner number two I picked over the bones of the lamb roast to make potato gnocchi with a lamb & olive ragu. The gnocchi I've written about before, and the ragu recipe is below. It's meaty and very savory thanks to the olive tapenade, and goes well with grated parmigiano reggiano and finely shredded fresh mint. I used leftover roast lamb, but if you're making it from scratch, substitute lamb shoulder.

Lamb ragu

Ingredients:

  • 250g lamb, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp olive tapenade
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil to a high heat, then add the lamb and cook until it is well-browned. Remove and reduce the heat to low. Sauté the diced shallot and garlic with the bay and oregano until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, and cook until reduced to a pulp. Return the browned lamb and cover with water. Bring this to a boil then simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the lamb is very tender.
3. Stir in the olive tapenade, season to taste, and serve.

Sliders!

Sliders

No, I'm not talking about the moderately successful FOX science fiction series staring Jerry O'Connell. I'm talking about these:

Sliders

Sliders. Here in Australia, a land sadly bereft of White Castle restaurants, the concept of the slider is foreign to most. I've only heard of the thanks to the internet, and even then I still don't have a clear concept of what they are beyond being small burgers. So with that in mind, please be gentle in correcting me for what is no doubt slider heresy.

I wasn't even supposed to make sliders, to be honest. The idea was to make a regular burger, but when I got to the bakery late in the day to find that they were all out of burger buns, I bought a couple of dinner rolls instead. Fleetingly I considered making the patty smaller and photographing it to look like it was full-sized, but dear reader, I respect you too much to do that.

And that's the story of how I made sliders.

Sliders

Ingredients (makes about 14 sliders):

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 14 small burger buns/dinner rolls
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Chilli jam
  • Sea salt

1. Blend the onion and garlic with the tomato paste, mustard, pepper, and sugar to form a paste1. Mix this thoroughly with the beef mince and set aside in a cool place.
2. When ready to cook, set the stage: Half the burger buns and place cut side up on a baking tray, and cut bun-sized pieces of cheddar. Shape the beef mince into 14 equally sized balls.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pan2 to a medium heat, then add the balls of mince and press down with the back of a spatula to form a thick round patty. Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 5 minutes3.
4. While the patties are cooking, grill (broil) the cut surfaces of the burger buns until browned. Leave the grill on. Remove from the oven, set aside the tops of the buns and spread them with chilli jam4.
4. When the patties are cooked, place one patty onto each bun bottom, a seasoning of sea salt, and a slice of cheddar on top of that. Place back under the grill for 1 minute until the cheese is melted.
5. Replace the tops and serve.

(1) I find that this makes for moister patties than usual fine dice method, plus I hate biting into crunchy bits of undercooked onion.
(2) You want it to be a well-preheated heavy pan so the temperature doesn't completely drop once the meat is added.
(3) Use your heat with the timing — mine took 5 minutes a side because they were quite thick, but if you've got a hotter pan and thinner patties they will obviously cook more quickly.
(4) You don't have to use it of course, but have you tasted it? It's damn good.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Beef & green bean noodles

I simply can't resist ordering dry-style rice noodles when I'm in a Chinese restaurant. Pork, beef, duck, seafood, vegetables, they're all delicious. There's something about the perfect texture of fresh rice noodles that makes them so moorish, and as it turns out, they're a pleasure to cook as well.

If you've never cooked with fresh rice noodles before, I strongly recommend trying it. They're cheap, versatile, almost impossible to screw up, and it can't just be me that finds separating them to be a strangely relaxing experience. They're made by pulverising soaked uncooked rice into a paste, then spreading that out to a thin layer and steaming it. A layer of oil followed by a second layer of rice batter is poured on top, and the process repeated until you have a stack of steamed rice noodle sheets, ready to be cut into thinner strips. You could do this yourself if you were desperate, but just about everyone who isn't a Chinese farmer's wife buys them, and you don't want to be different, do you?

Fresh rice noodles

The other great thing about this recipe is flank steak. I'm shocked by what supermarkets pass off as "stir-fry beef" — If you're lucky it's tender-but-flavourless loin, but more often than not it's some unspecified cut that is sliced too thickly to become tender when cooked quickly. Flank steak, on the other hand, is perfect. It's a long, relatively flat muscle from towards the (wait for it) flank of the animal, with very a very obvious grain of muscle fibres that travel along the length of the muscle. While flank can be tough if not handled properly, very thin slices cut against the grain and stir-fried briefly are extremely tender. I took a photo of some raw flank steak to demonstrate how to cut it, but unfortunately it looked too much like an alien penis to post. Just remember, against the grain.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Ingredients (makes about 2 main serves):

  • 250 g flat rice noodles, fresh
  • 100g flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
  • Small handful of green beans, parboiled until almost done
  • 1 egg, whisked together lightly with 1 tbsp water
  • Small handful of bean sprouts
  • 4 garlic chives, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger1
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Peanut oil for cooking

1. In a small bowl, make the sauce by combining the dark soy, light soy, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil. In another bowl, combine the beef and beans with the garlic, ginger, chinese 5-spice powder, and white pepper. Pour over a small amount of the sauce (about 1 tbsp) and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of peanut oil in a medium-hot wok and add the whisked egg. Cook until almost set on top, then remove to a bowl. Meanwhile, separate the rice noodles.
3. Heat the wok to the highest heat, then add 1 tbsp oil and the marinated beef and beans. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the noodles and about 3/4 of the remaining sauce. Toss to coat the noodles evenly with the sauce, frying for about 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more sauce if necessary.
4. Remove from the heat, and toss in the bean sprouts, garlic chives, and reserved wok omelette which should break up as you toss it with the noodles.

(1) Alternatively you can mince a 1/2 inch piece of ginger — I just find that grating ginger is a quick and easy way to get crushed ginger. Make sure you grate it over whenever you plan to add it, to catch any juice.

Trippa alla Romana (Mario Batali's Roman-style tripe)

Trippa alla romana

I don't blame anyone for being hesitant about tripe. It looks weird, it can be unpleasantly chewy, and physiologically it's a tube for poop. A tough sell, really. But let's make a deal: I'll give you one recipe for tripe as it should be, and if you still don't like it I will never bug you about it again. In fact, I'll never bug you about anything — I wouldn't want to get on the bad side of someone who is so obviously insane.

There is one thing to remember when cooking tripe: cook it until it is done. When I was a kid I remember having the thought, "why don't our intestines digest themselves?" (Boy was I a popular kid). Now, years later, I understand — intestines don't digest themselves because they're made of something very, very tough: intestines. This is originally a Mario Batali recipe, and frankly his recommended 1 hour of braising is wildly optimistic unless you're intending to serve a hearty bowl of leather. Rather, check the tripe every hour and allow plenty of time if you need it to be ready for dinner that night — mine took 3 hours to achieve the melting tenderness I was after.

Serve it with some buttery toast to soak up what's left, and you'll never look back.

Trippa alla Romana

Ingredients:

  • 900g ox tripe
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract1
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 2 cups Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano, parmagiano reggiano, or a mixture of the two
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, sliced thinly
  • 1 thick slice of fresh italian bread
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the tripe in a non-reactive pot with the vinegar, vanilla essence, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour. Check the tripe every hour and cook until it is completely tender.
2. Drain the tripe, and once cooled cut into 1 cm strips. Heat the olive oil to medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the sliced tripe and chilli flakes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, adjust seasoning, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the cheese and mint in a bowl. When ready to eat, toast the bread on both sides on a grill or broiler, then spread generously with butter. Season with salt.
4. Spoon the braised tripe into a bowl, sprinkle over the cheese mixture, and serve with the toast.

(1) Although I've never experienced the funky taste that some people associate with tripe, the addition of a small amount of vanilla extract is intended to counter that.

Massaman beef curry

Massaman beef curry

It's a shame they've already awarded this year's Nobel prizes, because I've made a breakthrough. The difficult part now will be to figure out which Nobel prize to go for. It will heal all physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, so medicine/physiology is a possibility. Or perhaps it should be under chemistry, as a unifying model of fructose, capsaicin, sodium chloride, and tartaric acid. There's always peace prize, too — lord knows this it will bring people together. Can you win two prizes in one year?

Do they give a Nobel prize for hyperbole? How about modesty?

Of course, the inevitable Nobel millions should really go to Christine Manfield. Her terrific massaman curry paste recipe used here is just one of many pastes, spice mixes, sauces, and stocks from her cookbook Spices, which happens to be completely awesome. This is a woman who cares deeply about spices — let her three distinct garam masala blends be a testament to that.

It's no surprise that the curry paste recipe required very little modification. The only change I did make was the addition of galangal, and even then it seems like such an obvious omission that I'm wondering whether I copied down the original recipe incorrectly. As for the curry itself, I like to simmer the beef in coconut milk and spices until it's tender, then discard the spices and combine it with the curry paste, coconut cream, and vegetables. This infuses the beef with flavour and ensures that everything is cooked to exactly the right texture. The curry paste part of the recipe (after the jump) makes heaps — enough to cook at least three generous batches of curry. Once you try it you'll understand that this is a feature, not a bug.