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Posts Tagged ‘peppercorns’

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As you saw from my last post, we had Thanksgiving in Merida this year at my mom’s. Since we’re not a traditional posse, we decided not to do a traditional meal. But let’s be honest here, turkey was not on the original Thanksgiving menu, a feast that lasted for 3 days and included seal, deer, fowl (most historians think it was actually duck and goose), lobster, and other seafood creatures. So, are we the non-traditional family or are all of you who eat turkey?

With that, being a Jewish family, we decided to make brisket. Being the best cook in the family I was charged with braising the bovine. However, back to the non-traditional thing, I did not do a traditionally Jewish-flavored brisket. Since we were in the Yucatan I decided to do a Yucatecan-flavored brisket, something that every Mayan Jew in the world could enjoy. In Spanish brisket is called faldo de res, pibil is traditional Mayan seasoning (sour orange and achiote), hence, we ate Faldo de Res Pibil.

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My ingredient list included 5 tbsp achiote paste, 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro, 1.5 tbsp peppercorns, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 cups sour orange juice, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Oh, and 3 pounds of faldo de res.

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Really simple, I mixed everything together in my mom’s braising pan, drowned the brisket in it, covered it, and let it slowly braise in the oven at about 275 degrees for about 6 hours or so.

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I also made Yucatecan pickled onions. I sliced up 7 small onions and boiled them for about 10 minutes.

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After that, I strained them and let them soak in a mix of 1 cup of orange juice and the juice from 1.5 limes. I put that all in the fridge and let it rest until serving time.

While everything was in the oven we all decided to head out to a festival being held in the town of Tekanto, about 45 minutes from Merida. They had set up a bull fighting ring in the town center. I have never been to a bull-fight, and while the night we were there wasn’t the actual fight, it was very interesting to see the Matador understudies and the entire culture surrounding the bull-fight.

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If you ask me, I don’t quite get the fascination with the whole thing. It’s really not fair to the bull seeing as it gets poked and prodded before being taunted for all to see. If you want a fair fight, poke and prod the matador too. Then we’ll see survival of the fittest as nature intended.

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Before taunting the bull they paraded a heifer around and sliced its throat for all to see. That brought on some major cheers. Again, I just don’t get it, but it is a sight to see, no doubt about that. These guys had that thing butchered down to the bone within 20 minutes, I’ve never seen such fast knife work. I thought about inserting one of the photos I took of the butchering, but it’s pretty graphic, so use your imagination. I hear that the meat is donated to feed the less fortunate, so I’m cool with that, but it’s still rather inhumane.

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When we got back to mom’s the brisket was ready. I let her do the carving. Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of a sparring match with Montezuma so I didn’t get to enjoy a full meal. I did taste some of the brisket though, and it was delicious! If I ever make it again I would probably cut the sour orange juice down by a half cup and replace it with more water as it was a strong flavor, but it was a good flavor, especially seeing that it was my first attempt at something like this, something that may never have been done before since pibil dishes are usually marinated and then cooked in banana leaves, not braised. That’s the fun of cooking, trying something new and learning as you go.

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While we were in Merida we spent an afternoon walking through an ancient cave in the Yucatan called Lol Tun.  In the Pre-Columbian days there were an estimated 800 people living in it. It really is an impressive site with the highlight possibly being the 15,000 year old reverse hand-print paintings on the cave walls. At any rate, we filled up on lunch prior to walking through the cave.

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it was directly across the street from Lol Tun, so we gave it a shot. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, out of nowhere, something that felt like mud hit my arm, WTF! I wipe it off and look around. I didn’t see anything at all. Then I look up and see two little geckos hanging out on the wooden ceiling beams. A few seconds later another muddy item hits my arm. Little bastards! They both shit on my arm! I ought to grill them up and eat them for that! If they had shat on my food instead of my arm I would have eaten them instead.

I ordered the Salubtes. Hand-made tortillas piled with shredded turkey, tomato, lettuce and chopped onion. They were pretty damn good. About the right size too because I wasn’t starving and I had to try some of Yuki’s dish.

She ordered the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. Although, instead of wrapping it in banana leaves and baking it they grilled it with the marinade and served it with rice, french fries, and a small salad with avocado. It truly was outstanding! As soon as I can fire up the grill in Spring you can better believe I’m going to try my hand at this marinade.

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Friday night Yuki’s mom went to a concert with a friend, so it was up to me to decide where we went for dinner with her dad. In my quest to eat at every Iron Chef’s restaurants I was able to convince him that we should head out to one of Chen Kenichi’s joints. It wasn’t a hard sell. So, the three of us hopped on the train to Roppongi where Chen has one of his four places.

There were a handful of pre fix options, but none of them really had what we wanted, so we ordered a bunch of dishes in typical Chinese family-style dining.

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First up was a trio of cold appetizers. On the top were Scallops cooked with chili peppers. Not too spicy, just a nice, slow, gentle burn on the back of the throat. Bottom right was shredded chicken with a sweet miso sauce. Bottom left jellyfish in a light soy. All three were very complimentary of each other and made for a great start to the meal.

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Next up was Shark Fin Soup. Not the most politically correct dish, but hey, a little shark fin never hurt anything. A lot does, but a little doesn’t. The broth was a thick soy flavor and it had thin slices of pork in it alongside the shark fin.

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Then came Abalone, one of the sea’s finest of all creatures! Served with shiitake and bamboo shoots it was truly delicious. Judging by Uichiro’s (Yuki’s dad) reaction when he first bit into it, I’d say it was his favorite part of the meal, next to the beer.

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After that we had mixed seafood served on rice cakes. The restaurant manager poured the hot seafood on the rice cakes making it sizzle, much like the classic sizzling rice soup commonly found in American Chinatown restaurants. I need make a correction, I think Uichiro liked this dish more than the abalone. Hard to argue, the shrimp, scallops, and squid were cooked to perfection with all of the natural sweetness brought out.

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Next was probably my favorite dish of the meal, beef with mushrooms and lilies in a thick ginger soy sauce. The beef was so tender it almost melted in my mouth. The mushrooms and lilies were nice counterpoints to the salty soy. The only thing missing was white rice to balance a little more of the salt. This was definitely more of what Americans are used to than Japanese. Give me this dish and a cold beer and I’m a happy man!

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Here we go, the dish that brought me to Chen’s restaurant and the one that will make my brothers very envious, his famous mapotofu! There were two choices on the menu, Kenichi’s and Kenmei’s. Kenmei was Kenichi’s father, the one who brought true Szechuan cooking to Japan. It was a tough choice, but we opted for Kenichi’s since it was his restaurant and not his father’s. It wasn’t quite as hot as I expected, but it was definitely a hot and spicy dish! Packed with Szechuan peppercorns it gives an initial citrusy spice followed by a mouth-numbing burn. Yuki and I added some extra peppercorns to get the full experience, while Uichiro only ate a few pieces of tofu. I think it’s a little spicy for him. It was a little oily as it was douced in chili oil, but that’s what makes it so delicious. The funny thing is that in the middle of the night Tokyo experienced what it thinks was a small earthquake. It wasn’t an earthquake at all though, it was the effects of my trying to digest Chen’s mapotofu! I’m still not quite sure exactly what that dish did to my intestines, but it made a city of 16 million rumble a little. And somehow my chest got a little harrier.

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We followed the mapotofu with a mild pork and egg noodle dish. It had shiitake, green onions, chinese cabbage, sprouts, and bamboo shoots. It took a few bites to get the burn out of our mouths, but once it was gone this dish’s wonderful flavor stood out. It’s just too bad I couldn’t finish it all because we ordered one too many dishes I think. Oh well, what can you do?

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We thought we were finished when the manager brought us some complimentary dessert, Annin Tofu. Annin Tofu is a popular Chinese dessert. It’s basically just almond jelly. Very smooth, light, and creamy. It’s the perfect way to finish off a meal.

All in all, I have to say that I was a little dissapointed. After watching countless episodes of Chen creating some of the most amazing looking dishes anyone could ever think up, this meal was a very straight forward Chinese meal. Every dish was a classic that you can get at just about any Chinese restaurant. Granted, everything was perfectly balanced, but nothing was off the wall. I was kind of hoping for some Chen originals. This restaurant wasn’t the right format for him to create Iron Chef dishes. I have no regrets, but I wasn’t blown away like I was at other Iron Chef restaurants.

I have now been to three Iron Chef restaurants (4 if you count Bobby Flay, but I don’t consider him an Iron Chef and I never wanted to go to his place). I have done Sakai, Michiba, and now Chen. Next up….Kobe Masahiko.

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