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Posts Tagged ‘pork’

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Last night we dined on some pulled pork shoulder that I made. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to serve it, but when Yuki was on her way home from work she stopped to grab some tortillas and oiala, lemongrass carnitas were born…and devoured…and still getting devoured as there is a ton of it in our fridge.

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I started this dish off the day before since flavors develop over time on braised dishes. I picked up a 4.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, diced a tomato and half onion (shown in my little mini food processor container), three stalks of lemongrass outer leaves removed and tender middle chopped up (I reserved the tougher top portions for the braising liquid), a 2 inch piece of ginger chopped, 10 cloves of garlic chopped, the juice of 1 lime, three good pinches of sugar, about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 15 or so cracks of black pepper. Everything except for the pork went into my little food processor and I turned it into a wet rub.

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I covered the pork shoulder with my marinade and let it sit in my large pot with the reserved lemongrass stalks for about an hour to let the juice start to penetrate the meat.

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Then I poured in about 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of cooking sake, and then filled it with water till the liquid covered about 3/4’s of the shoulder. I brought it up to a boil then covered the pot and turned the heat to low. I let it simmer for about 6 hours. After it was done simmering I let it cool down a bit and then put it in my fridge to sit overnight.

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Yesterday afternoon I took it out of the fridge, scooped up the thin layer of fat that hardened on the surface, and took the shoulder out.

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I pulled the pork apart. Best way to do that is to just get your hands dirty. Let’s be honest here, is there anything wrong with having your hands smell like lemongrass pork? I think not. Speaking of lemongrass, I discarded the tough parts that were in the braise.

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I put the pulled pork back into the pot with the braising liquid and brought it back up to a boil.

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I let it boil down for about an hour to let a majority of the liquid evaporate. What you’re left with is a rich, flavorful heaping pile of swinealicious meat that drips down your hands as you slap it on a tortilla. Again, there’s nothing wrong with hands that smell like lemongrass pork.

I served these carnitas with cilantro, white rice, steamed bok choy, and sautéed chinese eggplant, green onion, and yellow bell pepper. Avocado would’ve been pretty good with them too. Topping them with diced tomato and onion wouldn’t be bad either.

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We had picked up some squid the other day, about a pound, that needed to be eaten before it went bad. I had always wanted to try stuffing squid and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Always the opportunist I went with it.

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First thing I did was make the stuffing. I picked up about a half pound of ground pork, a quarter onion diced, and minced 3 garlic cloves.

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I sautéed the onion and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 7 minutes and then added in the pork. Once the pork was fully cooked, about 5 more minutes, I seasoned with salt and pepper and then let it sit for a couple of hours to cool down to room temperature.

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After getting some work done on my computer while the stuffing was cooling down I got the spaghetti sauce ready. I used a half bulb of fennel (fronds saved for garnish), a carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, a quarter onion diced, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and a quarter cup of chicken stock.

In my hot pan I poured in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then sautéed the garlic, onion, carrot, and fennel for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Then I poured in the chicken stock and let it boil down for about 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes. I seasoned with salt and pepper and gave it a taste. I saw the need for a little more flavor depth so I poured in about 5 to 6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

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Here are my little squid. I threw the tentacles into the spaghetti sauce.

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I started stuffing the bodies with the pork mixture. That was not an easy task. None of my regular spoons were small enough to fit into the squid, my utensil is too big (I wish)! So, I tried using one of Otis’ feeding spoons. That was too big too, but did get some pork stuffed in. I ended up just using my fingers, still a difficult task as the squid kept slipping out of my hand. Slippery little suckers.

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After I got ten of the squid stuffed I realized that I was short on time and had to go pick Otis up from daycare. Since I only needed three and a half servings (dinner for all three of us and lunch for Yuki) I thought that 10 was enough. So I cut the rest of the squid into rings and tossed it into the spaghetti sauce along with the rest of the pork mixture.

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To get some green into dinner I took a big handful of haricots vert and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

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While my noodles were cooking (I really wanted black squid ink pasta, but couldn’t find any so I used spinach spaghetti and just boiled it according to package instructions) and sauce re-heating I heated up my griddle pan to med-high, salted and peppered my squid, drizzled a little olive oil on the pan, and cooked the squid for about 4 minutes per side.

I will say, this dish was a success. It was a bit time-consuming trying to stuff those little sea aliens, but well worth it. They were soft, juicy, and very tasty. I would definitely make this, or something like it again. Actually, next time I think I’ll do a togarashi spiced squid and serve it with Japanese noodles in a dashi broth. The possibilities are endless!

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If memory serves me correct, there is a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown that is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in Japan, but also one of the most respected Chinese restaurants in the world. I first heard of HeiChinRou when watching Iron Chef years ago. The restaurant sent its top two deputy chef’s up against Iron Chef Chen Kenechi only to have him cut them down. Not satisfied, they finally sent their Grand Master Chef to set things straight, Xie Huaxian. Xie is considered by many to be the greatest Chinese chef of our time. He was victorious. Ever since then I told my self, “I have got to eat at that restaurant!” After 7 trips to Japan, including numerous time walking past HeiChinRou, that day had finally come. Yuki had plans with a bunch of her friends to show off Otis, so her parents took me to fulfill my belly’s destiny.

An elegant restaurant on numerous floors, there’s a peaceful bamboo garden when you walk in. They took us in an elevator up to the second floor and sat us in a very comfortable booth. Coming from Chicago I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely clean the restaurant is. It had the look and feel of a high-end French restaurant, not the greasy Chinese stir-fry I am used to. The menu features many a la carte dishes as well as a handful of set course options. Being the first week of 2012 we opted for the “Happy New Year” course option.

Uichiro and I started off with some Shokoshu, a type of Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing. Served warm, it has a caramel color as well as taste more similar to a Brandy than a rice wine. Very smooth and very warm in the belly, its delicious on a chilly day.

The first course consisted of 5 tastes. Jellyfish, a baby squid stewed in soy sauce, a shrimp, a slice of smoked duck breast, a piece of Chinese BBQ pork, and a dollop of mustard. While they were all fantastic, I have to say that the pork may have been the best piece of swine that has ever graced my palette! If it were socially acceptable I would drape myself in it and nibble on it all day long.

The second course was Shark Fin Soup with Crab. I have eaten shark fin soup before, but always questioned the authenticity of the shark fins. I always thought I was being served cellophane noodles instead. I think I was right as this texture was nothing like the bowls I’ve previously eaten. Slightly chewy, they combined beautifully with the sweetness of the crab meat. This soup may not be humane, but it sure tasted good!

The third course was abalone with Simmered Shiitake and Bok Choy in Oyster Sauce. It’s really too bad that abalone is illegal in the States, it really is a wonderful mollusk. Dense in texture, it matched very well with the soft shiitake and bitter green.

The fourth course was Beef with Shimeji Mushrooms, Carrots, and Asparagus. Served in a soy based sauce it was simply wonderful. After eating this I don’t see how I can go back to eating Mongolian Beef in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The fifth course was Shrimp in Chili Sauce. A little bit of sweetness and just the right amount of heat to get your mouth tingling a little. The spice made you want to keep coming back for more. Fried wonton skins added some crisp texture and was Uichiro’s favorite part of the dish.

The sixth course was Sautéed Rice with Egg, Pork, Green Onion, and Lettuce. This dish is similar to fried rice except that it’s sautéed together over a lower heat. This keeps the rice a little softer and helps prevent the lettuce from wilting under the intense heat of a hot wok. I’ve seen his dish on Iron Chef and was glad to get the chance to eat such a high quality version of it.

The seventh course, dessert, was Almond Jelly with a sprig of mint. I think this was Uichiro’s favorite part of the whole meal. He’s eaten many different almond jelly’s in his life and couldn’t get over how good this one was. I’ve only eaten a few, but I agree that this one was the best I’ve ever had. Sweet with the texture of a fine silken tofu, a great way to end a great meal.

All in all, I will say that none of these dishes were out of the ordinary for Chinese food as far as creativity. However, that said, I don’t think you’ll find better preparation anywhere in the world. In each dish the ingredients were of the highest quality, they were all cooked to perfection, and the flavors were expertly balanced. Hands down the most fantastic Chinese food to ever pass through my tracts!

While Xie Huaxian is no longer cooking at HeiChinRou, his successor, Nishizaki-san, is no slouch.

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Carnitas…the mere thought of that word brings tingles to my tongue. Bits of juicy, yet crisp little pork pieces topped with cilantro, onion, and salsa, then wrapped up in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. I, myself enjoy being wrapped in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. However, as much as I enjoy that, I far prefer to stuff my face with carnitas. When my buddy Nick invited us, as a few others, over for some homemade, backyard carnitas there was absolutely no way to turn down an offer like that. To say I jumped at the chance wouldn’t be quite accurate, but it was something along those lines.

To do carnitas the kind of justice they deserve, you have to use lard. Pure, creamy white, rendered pork fat. What better way to bring out the flavor of pork than with the flavor of pork? No double-negative here, just heart-stopping bliss. Nick picked up, I think 6 lbs of lard? Maybe it was 5. Whatever it was, he wasn’t screwing around.

He brought the big pot from his turkey fryer in to his kitchen and scooped all of that lard right in. I didn’t look like much while it was solid, but looks can sometimes be deceiving.

He rigged the fryer up to the propane tank on the concrete section of his backyard, lit that sucker up, and let that lard melt down into a 275 degrees pork hot tub. As he told me, the trick is not to deep-fry, but to keep it at 275 and let it simmer in the lard for about an hour or so. That’s how you get the nice golden crust with the juicy center. If the oil’s too hot, the outside will burn before the middle is cooked.

Look at that! Approximately 5 lbs of pink, fat-strewn hog heaven. How can you not want to maul that down with some cilantro? Nick sliced the chunks about half way through to give more surface area to brown in hot lard. That means more flavor!

One by one he carefully lowered each piece into the hot lard. (Hot Lard, that’d be a great band name)

No stranger to greasy knuckles (that’d be another great band name), he constantly checked the temperature with his handy frying glove. Like I said before, he wasn’t screwing around. He takes his lard simmering seriously, as he should.

You’re eyes are not playing tricks on you, this does look delicious!

After about an hour he took the pork out. He tented it in foil while getting the tortillas steamed. This allowed all of the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat.

Once the onions and cilantro were chopped, salsa (his was home-made, I think chipotle, not sure but definatley some sort of roasted and dryed chili) poured into serving dish, and tortillas nice and warm, he shredded the pork and we proceeded to carnitas like we’ve never carnitas’d before.

I wish I had a turkey fryer now. These were so tasty all I can do is wait until he decides to buy more lard. Until then, fond memories will have to suffice.

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Last night was the perfect night to grill up some juicy pork tenderloin. I’m not one to waste an opportunity like that, especially with a bunch of rain in the near future forecast. So, that’s exactly what I did, I grilled up some juicy pork tenderloin.

I made a simple marinade using 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 green onions thinly sliced, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1.25 pounds of pork tenderloin. Before letting the pork take a dip in the marinade I stabbed it all over with my knife to allow the marinade more easy access to the juicy center. I covered it and let it sit in the fridge for about 2 hours, taking it out about 30 minutes before grilling.

For my veggies I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 onion chopped, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 1 head of broccoli, 5 shiitake chopped, 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. I also used the juice from the other half of the lemon, but forgot to get that in the pic.

I melted the butter in a hot pan and then fried the potatoes in it for about 10 minutes till they were a bit crisp on all sides. Then, I added the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. I let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. After that, I added the shiitake and broccoli and let everything cook for about 7 more minutes. In came the soy sauce, then the lemon juice along with some cracked black pepper, and then I served it up.

While the veggies were cooking I grilled up the pork. On my grill, each grill is different, tenderloin cooks best on the top rack with the heat at med-high. I can leave the pork for about 10 minutes each side leaving it just slightly pink in the middle, the way fresh tenderloin should be. I let it rest for 10 minutes and then sliced it up.

Of course, white rice was on the side.

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Last night I made a simple burger out of ground pork and one of my usual marinades. To make it into a burger, I mixed the marinade into the meat for flavor and added some bread crumbs to help hold it together. Grilled up to perfection, these could also be pan-fried or even baked. But why when you can grill?

To make the burgers used about 1 inch of ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves grated, 3 green onions thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only), 1.25 lbs of ground pork, a few slices of bread ground into bread crumbs, 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sake, 1/2 tablespoon of mirin, and 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil.

I threw it all into a glass bowl and mixed it together, along with some black pepper, with a metal spoon until the flavors were evenly distributed throughout the meat. By using a metal spoon I avoided having the heat in my hands melt the fat. This helps keeps the burger juicy while it’s on the grill. Once mixed, I let the meat for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavors settle. Then, I formed 4 patties and set them aside, covered in the fridge, while I prepared the rest of dinner. To cook, I took them out about 20 minutes prior to grilling. I grilled them over medium high heat for about 8 minutes on each side. This allowed nice grill marks while keeping it juicy, yet cooked.

I made miso soup using 1/2 onion sliced, 3 shiitake sliced, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 7 leaves of nappa cabbage sliced, and 1.5 tablespoons of miso.

The other side I made was a simple veggie mix of 1/2 pound of snow peas, 5 small garlic cloves minced, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, a handful of bean sprouts, 1/2 orange bell pepper sliced, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

I melted the butter in a skillet and then added the garlic. I let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds and then added the orange bell pepper. After the pepper had fried up a bit in the butter, about 5 minutes, I added the cabbage and let that cook down for another 5 minutes. In came the soy sauce with some black pepper. When the soy had cooked off, just a couple of minutes, I added the bean sprouts. The sprouts have enough water so that you don’t need to much soy. When it was all cooked down for a few more minutes it was ready.

Of course, we had white rice along for the ride.

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A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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