Sunday, 22 January 2012

Chinese New Year Pork and Yam

First of all, gung hei fat choi everyone! This year is the year of the dragon, which, my mother claims, is supposed to be a great and prosperous year for everyone. I think we all need a bit of prosperity, yeah?

In China, they used to celebrate their wealth in the number of pigs they owned, so on Chinese new year, pork is the star. My Jah-Po is Hakka, so every year for our Chinese New Year dinner, she makes Pork and Yam, one of my most favourite Chinese dishes in the world. It really shows how simple, straightforward cooking can yield something amazingly delicious.

I got this recipe from my Jah-Po, sitting at my aunt's kitchen table, with my mother by my side translating Jah-Po's thick Jamaican accent. It's another one of those recipes that probably hasn't been written down before. It is more of a 'feel' recipe than a 'formula' one, if you know what I mean (to me, this makes it all the more special, cause the best recipes are shown and taught, not written down).

You could use pork loin instead of pork belly, if you don't want the extra fat. But, really, if you want this to be truly authentic and as tasty as possible, sacrifice your diet a bit and go for it. As my Jah-Po says, lean pork and yam is "trashy".

Pork and Yam
Serves 6

  • 1.5 lbs pork belly
  • 1 medium yam
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp red fermented bean curd (can find at your local Asian supermarket. I used Shanghai Double Happiness)
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
Place pork belly in a large pot and fill with water to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil on medium high heat. Once water is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 30 minutes.

Drain the pork and let cool. Once safe to touch, cut into 1 inch thick strips. Make sure the strips are short enough to layer later (I usually cut them about 4 inches long).

Peel the yam and cut in half width wise. Then, cut each half again lengthwise. Cut each quarter into strips, similar thickness to your pork strips.

In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients to make a thick sauce. Add yam and pork and let sit for 30 minutes. After, layer the yam and pork horizontally in a large bowl, alternating between pork and yam (if your bowl isn't wide enough to fit all the pork and yam, feel free to continue with a second layer on top of the first).

Pour any leftover sauce over the pork and yam.

Fill a large pot, big enough to fit your bowl in, with about an inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer on medium low heat. Place the bowl (with your pork and yam) inside and cover with the pot's lid. Turn the heat to low and cook at a simmer for 2 hours.

Once cooked, remove the bowl from the pot. Serve immediately over rice or with good, crusty bread.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Soubise Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese must be the king of all pastas, casseroles and bakes. Think about it: there aren't many people who can say they don't like it, and even less who have never tried it. There are so many ways to personalize it, adapt it and change it to fit your needs. I absolutely love it when I find a new mac and cheese recipe. I probably have over 50 between cookbooks and online blogs.

You can never have too many chocolate chip cookie recipes. Likewise, you can never have too many mac and cheese recipes either.

So here's another! Adapted and inspired by the book Ruhlman's Twenty, by Michael Ruhlman. It looks like a lot of stuff, but half of it is just seasonings.

This casserole came out beautifully. The fish sauce and wine gave it a savoury depth- you don't really taste either of the ingredients, but the pasta has a richness that is deep and satisfying. Definitely a favourite.

Mac and Cheese with Soubise
adapted from Ruhlman's Twenty
Serves 6

For soubise:
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce (can be found in the Asian aisle of your supermarket)
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp Frank's Hot Sauce (or your favourite hot sauce)
For casserole:
  • 6 cups dry macaroni, rotini, or cavatappi
  • 2 cups sharp, old cheddar
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs mixed with 1 tbsp olive oil
For soubise: melt 2 tbsp of butter in a pan on medium heat. Add the onions. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened and caramelized.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tbsp of butter. Add garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for about a minute, or until butter starts to become golden. Add the flour, using a whisk to mix it with the butter. Cook until it smells toasty, 2-3 minutes.

Gradually add the milk, whisking quickly to prevent the flour from clumping. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Add a pinch of salt, apple cider vinegar, red wine, oyster sauce, mustard, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, paprika and hot sauce. Add the sautéed onions and stir to combine. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth (or puree with a hand blender).

Add the cheese, saving about 1/2 cup for topping. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Keep warm until the pasta is ready.

Assembly: Preheat oven to 425F.

Bring a pot of salt water to boil*. Add pasta and cook, until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the soubise and stir to coat.

Grease a 9x13" baking dish. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and top with the leftover cheese and Parmigiano. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is a beautiful golden brown. Serve immediately.

Note*: You can start the pasta before you tackle the soubise, as long as you remember to keep watch and it while you cook the sauce.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Fricassee Chicken

When I say that I grew up on this, I'm not kidding. My mom used to make fricassee chicken at least every other week. The smell of it takes me straight back to my childhood, even now. The recipe comes from my Jah-Po (grandmother), but, naturally, throughout both her and my mom's lifetimes, it went through some changes along the way.

It's one of those recipes that never touched paper, but was passed on simply by through lessons in the kitchen. When I asked my mom for the recipe, she warned me that there are no real measurements, no 'cups' or 'tablespoons'. Those are the kind of recipes I love, but I wanted to share it, so I've done my best to put it in terms that are a bit more specific than 'a bit of this and a bit of that'.

The habanero (scotch bonnet, according to my family) adds a Jamaican flavour to the dish. If you don't want it too spicy, don't pop the pepper! Or, to be safe, feel free to leave it out altogether.

Fricassee Chicken
serves 8

  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 5 sprigs of thyme
  • Pinch of ginger
  • Pinch of all spice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 3 medium potatoes, cut into 1" squares
  • 1 large carrot (or a handful of baby carrots), chopped into 1" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch + 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 scotch bonnet
Place thighs in a large bowl. Mix with soy sauce, onion, garlic, thyme, ginger, all spice, salt and pepper until coated.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add chicken thighs, skin side down, working in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan. Sear on both sides, about 3 minutes each side.

Remove chicken from pan. Deglaze with 1/2 cup water. Return chicken to the pan along with the cherry tomatoes, onions and any sauce leftover. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

After 20 minutes, add potatoes, carrots and scotch bonnet. Cook for another 20-25 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked and the potatoes are soft.

Make a slurry by mixing 1 tbsp each of water and corn starch in a small bowl or cup. Add to the pan and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened.

If you want more gravy, add more water (any type of stock would work here too).

Serve over rice (Jasmine is my favourite).