Gateway pork: Chinese pulled pork belly

Pulled pork belly fried rice

I'd never get a job in a Chinese restaurant. Sure, I think I'd be a skilled and dedicated employee. I'd work well in a team but have the initiative to work independently, I'd be goal-oriented, and many other job interview clichés would also apply to me. But my biggest weakness wouldn't be perfectionism. No, it would be licking every surface that has come into contact with char siu pork. Fingers, knives, it doesn't matter. That sticky glaze is a drug.

There are plenty of good recipes around for char siu pork, most of them calling for pork shoulder, loin, or even neck. While all I had was pork belly which requires long, slow cooking, I wasn't about to go without the sweet, aromatic flavour of char siu. So like a crack pipe fashioned out of a used spark plug, I improvised this recipe for chinese pulled pork belly. You could eat this simply with rice, stuffed inside a pork bun, or as I had it above in fried rice.

Chinese pulled pork belly


  • 1/3 cup of chopped spring onion
  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp of shaoxing cooking wine
  • 2 tbsp of honey
  • 1.5 tsp of chinese 5 spice powder
  • 2 tsp of rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of peanut oil
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 800 gram piece of pork belly, skin removed

1. To make the marinade stir together all of the ingredients except the pork belly.
2. Pierce the pork belly all over with a metal skewer or the end of a sharp knife. Rub the marinade over the pork and leave in the fridge overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 140ºC/285ºF. Cook the pork belly with all of its marinade, covered, for 3-4 hours or until completely tender. If the marinade pooling in the baking dish looks like it's over-reduced and is going to burn, add a few more tablespoons of water.
4. Remove from the oven, and pull the meat apart in the baking dish with two forks. Stir to coat the meat in cooked marinade and return to the oven. Uncover, turn the heat up to 200ºC/395ºF and cook for around 15 minutes to start deeply caramelising the edges (watch it doesn't burn).

Wine tasting myths

Apparently, to taste a wine you need to swirl the glass (to bring in oxygen), examine the colour (to see how old it is, and how long it spent on the skins), check the legs (to see the alcohol content), smell it once (the freshest part of the bouquet), smell it again (to find the deeper, more complex flavours), then sip it (because, you know, we've got these buds of taste on our tounges).

This is ridiculous.

It's far more important to be drinking it with friends. To either be sitting in the sun or rugged up and warm beside the fire. To laugh and almost spit a mouthful out, to spill a few drops when you're pouring and not be concerned about the tablecloth. Who cares what the bouquet opens with if you're not having a good time?

A story: Coonawarra, October 2006, Punters' Corner cellar door. We entered for a tasting and were served by the ice queen herself. In the museum of Curmudgeonery, she's the main exhibit. During the International Trollop Symposium, she was the keynote speaker. If she was a food, she'd be the bit of corn that gets stuck behind your tooth for a week that develops into a flesh-eating infection. If she was a metaphor, she'd be even worse than that one. She was, in short, unpleasant. And the wines all varied between mediochre and dull, with some highlights making it all the way up the scale to humdrum. A few days later, at a different cellar door, Punters' Corner was enthusiastically recommended to us and we grudgingly agreed to give it a second chance. The second time around, it was delightful. Our host was warm and welcoming, the conversation flowed, and the wine- the wine tastes good! It's delicious! The same wines that were boring a few days before became interesting, complex, wonderful! The elements of the wine that are rated by a proper tasting- the things that get it medals or points or stars- were not as important as the environment we tasted them in.

Of course, if you've got the wonderful atmosphere sorted then the quality of the wine comes into play a little more. In this case, I believe there are two rules. One, put the wine in your mouth and two, see if you like it. If it tastes good, then it's a good wine. It's possible to embellish the second rule a little, but only if you want to. You can see if it has different flavours in different parts of your mouth (fresh fruityness at the front, perhaps, and rich earthyness at the back). You can try to think of what the flavour reminds you of (red cherry? Cut grass? Lime? Chocolate?). You can focus on how long you can taste it for after you swallow, or what the difference is between its smell and its taste, or how it feels in your mouth (dry? fuzzy? silky? bitey?). All these things are wonderful ways to get more involved in what you're doing, but they're all strictly optional. Not knowing the difference between terroir and tannin has no bearing on whether or not you're qualified to know what tastes good and what doesn't. And it certainly doesn't stop you enjoying it.

Tiros @ 120


Did you know that catering colleges run training restaurants where meals can be had for close to cost price? I didn't.

The word 'Tiros' means people who are learning, and while the staff at Tiros @ 120 are learning (Tafe SA's catering school is back of house, hospitality school out the front) it is far from amateur. The students are supervised by experienced instructors, and many of them have worked in restaurants before. The menu is designed by the students and features bistro-style dishes that change with every season that the restaurant is open.

I ordered the lamb shoulder with cannellini beans and a crumb crust. I was expecting a cut of slow-roasted lamb shoulder alongside the beans, and was let down to be served a tomatoey lamb and bean casserole with a panko and parsley crust. The meat was tender and the beans were firm enough to stay together in the casserole, but it didn't knock my socks off. Others ordered a steak and kidney pie with sweet potato mash that they loved, and paprika chicken with herb spatzle.

The staff at Tiros were cheerful and attentive without being annoying. It was obviously a busy service, but the staff didn't miss a beat — our food came out lightning fast. Too fast, actually. I can understand the need to create a fool-proof menu that can be prepared ahead, but the kitchen were so well prepared it felt to me like cafeteria food with fancier plating. No restaurant starts a service without pre-making some of its food, but at the best you wouldn't know it. A grilled chicken breast instead of chicken simmered ahead in sauce, or pan-friend (but pre-boiled) potatoes replacing a warmed mash are simple changes that can make a tangible difference. With twice the number of chefs of a comparable café, it's disappointing that Tiros relies so heavily on pre-making entire dishes.

Maybe I'm judging Tiros by the wrong standard — including drinks my lunch came to only $15 and it was much better than many other $15 lunches I've had. And it's not Martinhas either, which is Tafe's student-run a la carte evening restaurant (opening again July 23). Although I felt that its 'bistro-style' food wavered into cafeteria territory, the chefs executed their menu solidly and the friendly service made for an enjoyable afternoon.

Tiros @ 120
120 Currie St, Adelaide
Tiros @ 120 will be open this season until July 11. 2008 opening dates for Tiros @ 120 and Martinhas can be found on Tafe SA's website.

Food blogs of note

I won't lie, this is a filler post. That said, there's nothing slack about these sites:

Jeff Varasano's NY Pizza Recipe: You know the scene in Sev7en where they're searching the killer's apartment and they find hundreds of notebooks filled with obsessive rants? This page is his pizza notebook. The site consists simply of one long page full of text and pictures covering one man's quest for the perfect pizza. It changed the way I make pizza and took away my fear of baking in general. In fact Joanna from Scalloped Edge recently make a great looking pizza using some of the tips I learned from Jeff Varasano.

Wild Yeast: My favourite baking blog. I love the satisfaction that comes with successfully cooking my own bread, but I can never maintain a regular baking schedule — I just don't have the stamina to allow my life to be ruled by the timetable of millions of yeast organisms. Even if you don't intend to bake twice a week, everyone interested in cooking should bake bread at least once from their own starter. Susan's dedication to bread is awe inspiring, and she's an excellent teacher. Her Norwich sourdough and quintessential sourdough starter tutorial are an excellent place to start.

Olive Juice: Yes, the third-person copy of the rest of the site is cringeworthy. It made me really want to dislike the site, but there's no denying that it's a great food blog. Beyond the mandatory Hummus and Tabbouleh are recipes for some Mediterranean dishes you won't find anywhere else. It's a young site and I'm astounded by how much effort each entry must take — I hope Tony can maintain the high standard.

Filler post complete.

Sour sweets: Lemon & yoghurt slice

Lemon & yoghurt slice

Eh, sweets. Rarely am I craving cakes, cookies, or chocolates. They're nice and all, but most desserts are just too one dimensional — they may have different flavours, but the main taste that usually carries them is sweetness. That's why my eyes widened when I saw a recipe at Hungry Bruno for Lemon Yoghurt Cake by way of Molly at Orangette. Sourness? Now you're talking. Just a heads up: this is a damn delicious slice.

I've modified the recipe to adjust for baking this batter as a slice rather than a cake, and to boost up the sourness. I copied the instructions for the glaze from the original recipe, but in reality I didn't measure the amount of lemon juice I added as I kept adding more until it was sour enough. I slightly overcooked this one; yours shouldn't turn out as crumbly.

Lemon & yoghurt slice


  • 1/2 cup of plain yoghurt
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1.5 cups of plain flour
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 tbsp of grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • The juice from 2 lemons, strained
  • 1/4 cup of icing sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 175ºC/250ºF. Line the bottom of a 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 inches) brownie tin with baking paper and grease the sides with butter or canola oil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together the yoghurt and eggs, then add the sugar (regular, not the icing sugar) and stir to combine.
3. Add the flour, baking powder, and lemon zest and stir to combine. Don't worry if there are some lumps. Add the canola oil, and stir to distribute throughout the mixture.
4. Pour the mixture evenly into the brownie tin and bake for 25-30 minutes.
5. While the slice is baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon and icing sugar. Once the slice is cooked, cut squares while still in the pan and pour the glaze over.

Lemon & yoghurt slice

Workday lunches: Foccacia


It's hard to find a good workday lunch that doesn't cost me $7 and taste like crap (yes that was directed at you, every hospital cafeteria ever). I've taken to experimenting with my own, with a few requirements:

  1. It should be quick to prepare the night before, or able to be made in bulk
  2. It should be relatively inexpensive — I would love to eat a chicken, avocado, and sundried tomato sandwich every day, but for now I have to be sensible
  3. The ingredients or bulk item should keep well for 5 days
  4. It should travel well — no fondue
  5. It has to taste good — I might be cheap and lazy when it comes to lunches, but I'm not about to eat canned ravioli

This focaccia recipe is based on Jamie Oliver's recipe from Jamie's Kitchen. I've added olive oil to the dough to improve its shelf life, and decreased the sugar and salt in his recipe — not for health reasons, just because the recipe needs it. These will take any topping you like, just be mindful that if you put things like cheese on too early they'll burn before the bread is cooked. My topping was simply canned tomatoes pureed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, then toped with grated mozarella and basil leaves.

The basic focaccia recipe is after the jump. To help you I've made a video of me making the dough:

Money money money; or, why buying $5 wine is just as stupid as buying $500 wine.

Every single bottle of wine is good value*.

*this depends on what you value.

Fortunately for you people who value abysmal wines that are either so acidic you can't taste anything for a week or so dull that you may as well be drinking scented water, there are hundreds of bottles of wine that, for you, are absolutely fantastic value.

For the rest of us, it's a bit trickier.

Wines under five dollars are always, always bad. You wouldn't buy a sandwich for 30 cents (hint: rotten tomatoes, stale bread, and mouldy mayonnaise) and you shouldn't buy $5 wine for the same reason- you just can't afford to make it without cutting some seriously questionable corners. One such corner is known in the industry as the 'second bladder' technique: wineries replace the urinal in the local pub with a large vat, and collect the rather wafty micturitions of the local winos. This pungeant orange soup is dyed red and bottled. It is then sold for less than five dollars.

Wines under ten dollars can be alright. You do get the occassionl corner cutters who overprice their (already overpriced) tepid swill in the hope that those avoiding the $5 barrier will fall victim to their trap instead, but for the most part a $10 price tag means they've avoided the bottom of the barrel and have put at least some thought into it. These wines wont be amazing. The whites will not taste like urine, but they will probably be either quite sweet or a little too acidic. The reds will claw at your throat a little when you swallow, but for the most part they'll be kind to you.

The ten to twenty dollar mark is where things get interesting. Towards the top end of this price range, you might start to get some quality wine making. For example, you might get hand picked grapes, which result in wine that is made from (wait for it)- grapes. Cheaper wines that are machine picked result in wines that are made out of grapes, and twigs, and dirt, and any unfortunate grubs that were around the vines. If you're strictly vegetarian, you really shouldn't buy machine picked wine. If you're strictly into wine that tastes good, you shouldn't buy machine picked either. Wines under $20 will probably be less than a couple of years old, and are generally best drunk sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it's possible to justify charging $20 for wine that is still pretty average. You can buy new French oak barrels every year (which cost absurd amounts of money) and still make bad wine. Your best bet here is to either taste at the cellar door or get to know your local bottle shop owner well.

Between twenty and forty dollars, you should be able to assume that the grapes have been treated well. You could also reasonably expect to see wines from single vineyards (which means it's better at expressing that particular year and grape as it's not made up of a pile of different grapes), and perhaps some that have been kept for a few years before they were released. If the world were just and fair, it would be impossible to buy a bad wine over twenty dollars. Unfortunately, however, the world in which we live is one where being confined to bed is a better excuse for missing work than going hiking in the sun; where spending more than an hour enjoying yourself a day is considered a luxury; where it's cheaper to order pizza than it is to make it yourself. In this world, then, you can still find questionable wines over $20. How to avoid them? Firstly, steer clear of the big names. Hardy's, Yellow Tail, and (god forbid) Jacob's Creek are sure fire ways to waste money. They, the Masters of Monotony, the Barons of Bland, aim to make every vintage taste just like the last. The wine isn't bad so much as it is boring. Shoot instead for someone smaller who doesn't have to please the plebs, but who can vary each vintage according to the conditions. You might find a few duds, but it's far more likely that you'll find a gem along the way.

When you get above forty dollars a bottle you're well into the territory where the price of production is overtaken by prestige. A bottle of Grange (~$500) doesn't actually cost all that much more to make than the spectacular Kilikanoon shiraz ($40), but you're paying for the brand, for the recognition, and for the fact that it's a bottle of bloody Grange! If you poured it into any other bottle, you could happily sell it for $50, but you'd struggle to get more than that. And hey, if you want the outrageous extravagance of a Grange, go for it. If we're just talking wine quality though, then you're getting ripped off just as much if you'd bought a $5 bottle of swill. Far better to get a dozen $40 bottles, which may not raise the eyebrows in the same way as a famous label, but will be amazing wine nonetheless.

I think I'm eating Japanese: Oyako donburi

Oyako donburi

In a month my lovely taster will be off to Japan for a year, and to help prepare we wanted to learn how to cook Japanese food. Until this point my vague idea of Japanese food was crisp tempura, amazing fresh seafood, and carefully prepared sushi. Delicious, but not really feasible for simple weeknight meals. So what do Japanese people eat at home? As always eGullet had not just the answers but recipes and a bunch of enticing pictures. And so we decided to make oyako donburi.

With the confidence of a man who didn't just learn about what donburi is on wikipedia, let me teach you about this Japanese staple. Donburi refers to a style of Japanese one-bowl meal where a topping is served over rice in a large rice-bowl that itself is known as a donburi. Oyako-don is tasty, quick, and easy to make even without the traditional oyako nabe. The oyako nabe is a special pan with shallow sides, a vertical handle, and a lid that sits right on top of the food. I made do with a large saucepan and the smaller lid of a different pan, and although I felt deep shame for offending Japanese tradition, the food was great.


Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

  • 1/2 cup of dashi
  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of mirin
  • 1/2 an onion, in thin slices
  • 200g of chicken breast/thigh, cut into strips
  • 2 eggs
  • A small handful of mitsuba1
  • 2 donburi of steamed rice

1. First make up the sauce. Combine the dashi, mirin, and soy in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer. Taste the sauce and adjust the dashi, mirin, and soy to taste.
2. When the sauce is simmering, add the sliced onion and simmer covered until tender. If it's drying out add a little more water. Add the chicken and simmer until just cooked through.
4. Very briefly whisk the eggs together — they should still look barely combined. Pour the egg mixture over the chicken and sauce, and place a smaller saucepan lid directly over the eggs to create a tiny little heat chamber to quickly cook the eggs for 1-2 minutes. The egg whites should be just set, with the yolks still runny.


5. Serve over hot rice and scatter with mitsuba.

1. Mitsuba is also known as Cyptotaenia or Japanese Parsley, and has a fresh and slightly peppery taste. I was going to substitute watercress, but since mine wasn't looking so good I had to use rocket (arugula) instead — as much as the greenery helps the presentation, next time I'd leave the rocket out if that was all I had.

Sheer arse in the Barossa: continued

I say potae-to and tomah-to. I also say shiraz. I don't really see the need for the posh 'shirah-z'. When it comes down to it though, shiraz or shirahz are both just sheer arse. Who cares how you say it? That which we call a rosé by any other name would smell as sweet.

Enough with these frantic semantics though- it's wine time.

Continuing from here, where we'd entered the Barossa and found a lovely spicy shiraz at Gibson:

Next stop is Kabminye. Before you can meet any of the wines, you need to meet Ron. He used to be an architect, then left all that behind and started a winery a few years ago. The building is glorious (he designed it himself), full of air and light, and quite at ease among the vineyards. Ron walks out from the kitchen- his hands are the size of dinner plates, and his girth takes up the majority of the space behind the counter. He looks like he could make wine just by staring at the grapes hard enough. Unlike Gibson, the shiraz here is hidden among a magnificent list of frontignac, grenache, pinot, and one of the rare zinfandels in the valley. Wine must be strongly genetic, because all his take after him- without fail, every bottle is a serious affair. You wont find anything nuanced or gentle here- it's WINE, fool, drink it! The flavours are huge, the alcohol is huge, and the tasting amounts follow the trend (which is dangerous for the desi). The shiraz though- where Gibson kicks off with the spices, Kabminye follows up with the dark, decadent richness of plums and blackcurrants. The spice is still there, but it sparks the front of the tongue for only a moment before the warmth of the fruit rolls over to the middle of the palate. Things are beginning to balance. We've got a winning first act, and Kabminye delivers the bulk of the plot, but the story needs a conclusion.

It's not too far though- Turkey Flat is just around a corner or two. The cellar hand here is actually engaged to Ron's daughter, so if he wasn't already guaranteed a life of delicious wine, he certainly is now. You enter Turkey Flat through a flimsy screen door that rests like a drunkard on its one workable hinge. The list here is shorter, but has a much higher signal to noise ratio- you'd be hard pressed to find something you don't like. Their shiraz is an elegant, refined wine to Kabminye's uncouth brashness and Gibson's juvenile energy. The pepper you tasted at Gibson is still there, and it melds seamlessly into the juicy, succulent plumminess that you found at Kabminye. Turkey Flat takes this a step further though- the note of spice in the opening bar finds its harmony with the rich fruit that comes next, and both of these are then reinforced and sustained when the tannin comes in with its lower register. The surprise here is how the flavour stays, swells, develops, and recedes long after the wine has been swallowed. The dry, smoky tannins pull this orchestration together and show you how the whole ensemble has a chance to live for decades. This is Barossa. This is shiraz. This is how (time for
capitals) it's Meant To Be.

And just when you've found your masticatory mecca, you'll stumble onto Two Hands. It's not that the shiraz here is better, per se, it's just that you can see how much can be done with it. Two Hands pride themselves on their shiraz list (and rightly so)- they have twelve different straight shiraz wines, not counting their several shiraz blends. Three of these are from the Barossa, the rest all highlight the strengths of their particular wine region (Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, etc). The lovely thing here is that each of these wines is unique, each has its own character. The Barossa Valley sets the benchmark for what a shiraz should aim to be, but even within that goal there are infinite variations.

Which one suits you best? Do you want it to knock you for six with each sip, or would you prefer the flavour to creep up on you from behind? Should the biteyness be strong enough to counter the juiciest steak, or would you rather it be so gentle that it could accompany a pan-seared salmon? Do you want to drink it now? Or in twenty years? There are a lot of decisions to be made here. Fortunately, as those followers of Moore's Law would agree, it is a task that is central to the enjoyment of life itself. Go forth, and multi-buy.

Cafe Bravo is what it is, and it's pretty good

Pizza la campagna

This morning started out badly. I woke up hungover (who knew that darts was such a rowdy game?), and the cold that had been simmering for the last week finally hit. I walked downstairs for my ritual two pieces of peanut butter toast and remembered that my original Friday night plan was doing the dishes that had accumulated over the last week. Once I'd eaten my toast over the sink I sat back on the couch feeling sorry for myself.

Before long my pity party was interrupted by Mum inviting Lucy and I out to lunch. I was feeling quite undignified, but faced with the alternative of a bacon sandwich eaten off the lid of a lunchbox, I obliged.

Cafe Bravo sits on the corner of the Parade and Edward St in Norwood. In primary school I had a friend Edward who lived on Edward St, next door to a transitional home for people with mental illness. Edward had a tennis court and at night the people from next door would often jump the fence and hang out on his tennis court. They told me if you say "Candyman" in front of the mirror 3 times that Candyman will kill you. I never slept well at Edward's house. But that's really neither here nor there.

While we waited for Mum to arrive we ordered some garlic bread. It was your typical café garlic bread, quite nice. We did have a problem with the waitress who had to be convinced to give us side plates for our garlic bread ("We only give you side plates once you order a main meal"), but otherwise the service was fine.

The food at Cafe Bravo is terrific. The menu is the same as just about every other restaurant of its type, but the difference is the way they make it. You can get spaghetti bolognese in any café in Adelaide, but at Cafe Bravo the bolognese is a rich ragu with chunks of slow-cooked beef that melt between your teeth. Mum and Dad both had the special — penne with pork ragu. I was surprised by how clear the flavour of the pork was, they'd clearly used good quality meat.

Penne with pork ragu

Lucy enjoyed her pizza la campagna (potato, bacon, and olives), and I had the lasagna. Oh my god. This lasagna was amazing. Alternating layers of tomato sauce, ham, and mozzarella finished with Bravo's beef ragu. The serving was perhaps a little large for such a rich lasagna, but this time I wasn't complaining.

In a city with a large Italian population, bistro cooking means Italian cafés. People generally don't give these sorts of restaurants much thought — they're everywhere, they're not fine dining (nor do they want to be), the menus are frequently interchangeable from one place to the next, and their success depends more on location than the quality of their food (what's that about Bocelli?). Still, that doesn't mean they can't be done well. Eat at Cafe Bravo for an example.

Cafe Bravo
140 The Parade, Norwood

Lasagna bolognese