Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Duck Carbonara

We are great fans of spaghetti carbonara.  We like it with many different types of bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, even lamb bacon.  The other day, I came across, for the first time, duck bacon.  I immediately thought of carbonara.  Not exactly the quintessential 'Fat Tuesday' meal, but it does fulfill the 'fat' part.  I wasn't sure how the duck bacon would taste, but we do have the eggs and Parmigiano Reggiano to fall back on, and I have plenty of that left over from last week's risotto experiment.  Writing on this makes me wonder why I never made carbonara with the duck prosciutto I made a couple years ago.  Opportunity lost.  

This recipe is the pretty much the same as a traditional carbonara, just substitute the duck bacon for the pancetta or regular bacon.

1 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon duck fat
6 ounces duck bacon, cut into ¼ to ½ inch strips
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 large organic eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus additional for serving
freshly ground black pepper
a few tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to package instructions.  Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid to add to the sauce.

While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and duck fat in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the duck bacon until it is crispy.  I added the duck fat because the duck bacon did not have any fat to render.  It looked more like ham than bacon.  Turn heat down to medium low and add the garlic and sauté until just softened, about 1 minute.

Whisk the eggs and then add the Parmigiano to them.  Add a couple pinches of salt.  Stir to remove any clumps. 

Add the hot, drained pasta to the bacon pan and toss to coat.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg mixture into the pasta tossing the pasta until the eggs thicken.  If the pasta is too hot, the eggs will scramble, but you do want the past to be hot enough to just slightly cook the eggs.  Thin out the sauce a bit with the reserved cooking liquid.  You may not need all of the liquid, just enough so the pasta is not dry.  

Finish the carbonara with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with the parsley.  Serve the spaghetti with additional Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.  Delicious, but not very ducky.  I would have liked more duck flavor from the duck bacon, but the spaghetti was excellent nonetheless.  I will have to make some duck prosciutto again to use with carbonara.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chinese Sesame Cookie Balls

Generally, I am not a huge dessert or sweets person.  I like sweets that aren't too sweet, so that makes me a fan of dark chocolate, fruit tarts with lots of crust and the new thin Oreos.  I never crave sugar, but I do crave salt.  My mom is also a fan of sweets that are not too sweet and most things sesame.  So, for Chinese New Year, I made some traditional sesame cookies for my mom.  

1 ½ cups cake flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg
½ cup white sesame seeds
canola or rice bran oil for frying

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together hot water and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Then whisk in oil and then the egg.  
Gradually stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture. 
Knead the dough gently until it just comes together.  It will be quite wet and sticky.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so until chilled.

Fill a large bowl with cold water, another small bowl with ice water and place the sesame seeds into another bowl.
Pull a small piece of dough and roll it between your hands to form a ¾" ball.  Repeat until you've used all the dough.  Dip your hands in the water bowl periodically to help keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Roll the balls in the sesame seeds to coat.  If the dough is dry, dip them into a bowl of ice water then roll in the sesame seeds. I do these a few at a time until finished.

Fill a medium saucepan with the oil, deep enough to float the balls, about 2" deep.
Heat the oil over medium until it reaches 325 degrees.  
Fry the sesame balls, many at a time.  I drop in enough to not crowd the pan and.  
Flip and roll the balls around occasionally until they are lightly golden.  They will cook quickly.
Drain on a pan lined with paper towels.  Repeat.

Got a good review from my mom, but she may be just doing the nice motherly thing.  I liked them because they are not too sweet and I love the sesame taste.

Marbled Tea Eggs

While I'm in this Chinese New Year food mode, I thought I'd make some marbled tea eggs to send home with my parents.  Actually, I was in a seafood and poultry shop the other day and was drawn to buying some duck eggs, why, I don't know.  I was trying to think of a use for them when the idea of tea eggs floated through my head.  When I was in living in Taipei, right out of college, cheap eats were on the menu every night.  Back then, street food stalls were in every small neighborhood in the city.  Most only came out in the early evening for dinner or late night snacking.  Beef noodle soup on an old rickety stool, under a bare lightbulb, on the side of the street, salt and pepper fried squid in a little paper bag, grilled chicken butts on sticks were some of my favorites.  Sadly, the last time I was back in Taipei, the streets had been largely void of these carts.  The only 'street' food I got was going to a large warehouse type set-up where it was much more food court than the cool road side cart.  Once that type of organization took place, something got lost.  Along the cheap eats and easily portable food front, were the tea eggs found soaking in dark broth, in electric rice cookers, in many a store front on the street, even the corner 7-11.  Sometimes you'd see a stuff shop, as in just a bunch of random stuff, plastic tubs, umbrellas, knick knack toys, and even they would have tea eggs for sale.  The rice cooker was used to keep the eggs perfectly warm I suppose, but I wasn't going to take a chance on that.  I mean, I already spent three months acclimating my stomach to everything else I was willing to eat, I was okay to pass on the day(s) long, luke warm, street side, tea egg.  If I were a huge boiled egg fan, I would have imbibed, but I'm not.  I'm sure they were great though.  Anyhow, I think my parents like them, so mine will be going to good homes.

Tea eggs are normally made with chicken eggs.  I'm using duck eggs and am adding a couple of chicken eggs to compare.

Braising broth:
4 cups water
¼ cup cooking rice wine
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp regular soy sauce
3 tbsp Chinese green tea leaves (I used 3 Jasmine tea bags)
1 2" piece of dried orange peel, or 4" piece fresh orange peel
1 cassia cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
1 tbsp sugar

6 duck eggs, 2 chicken eggs (or just use 6-8 chicken eggs)

Combine all of the braising broth ingredients into a large sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the eggs.  Place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them.  Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.  Pour out the hot water and cover the eggs with cool water until they are cold enough to handle.  

Crack the shells of the eggs using a small rolling pin or back of a spoon.  This gives the eggs the marbling effect and allows the flavor of the broth to penetrate the egg.  

Once the broth has simmered for 30 minutes, add the eggs and simmer for another 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover and let cool to room temp, letting them steep for several hours.  

To store the eggs, place them into a container and cover with the broth and refrigerate.  Don't peel the eggs until you are going to eat them.  Peel and eat, or peel, slice into wedges and drizzle a little of the broth over top.  

Braised Pork Belly with Cucumber and Spicy Garlic Sauce

Also on the menu for Chinese New Year is this simple pork belly dish.  Traditionally, the pork belly is boiled in just water and a little wine, but I am adding just a bit of soy sauce to up the flavor.  The former will produce a more natural pork flavor, but just a little soy sauce gives it a little extra something something.  All the dishes for CNY are chosen to signify prosperity, long life, happiness, and good fortune in the year to come.  Pork belly is a staple in a CNY meal, most often red-cooked, slowly braised in a soy sauce mixture.  But I'm doing something different this year and hope it goes over well.

1 pound pork belly
4 cups water
½ cup rice cooking wine
¼ cup soy sauce
2" piece of fresh peeled ginger, smashed

Cut the pork belly crosswise into 2-3 pieces.  Place the pork belly and remaining ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium low / low to gently boil for about 1 hour.

For the spicy garlic sauce:
¼ cup Szechuan chili oil
2 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp sugar

Plus one hot house cucumber to serve with the pork.  Slice the hothouse cucumber lengthwise, into very thin slices.

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Drain the pork belly and wrap it up in plastic wrap of foil so that the surface does not dry out while it's cooling.  Once cool enough to handle, slice the pork belly lengthwise, as you would like bacon, into thin slices.  Alternatively, you can make this a day ahead and store the pork belly in the refrigerator and slice it the next day when you are serving, but let it come to room temp before serving.  Arrange the pork slices with the cucumber, alternating between the two.  Pour the sauce over top and serve.

Great flavor but not for those who are shy to garlic!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chinese Chicken Stock

With Chinese New Year coming in a few days, preparations have started for our family meal.  I will be making a seafood hotpot, the base of which, will be this chicken stock.  Chinese chicken stock tastes different from American chicken stocks.  If you are needing a large amount of chicken stock for a Chinese dish and don't want to make your own, keep in mind that if you use an American stock, the taste will be different.  You can find canned Chinese stocks at Asian markets and sometimes in larger grocery stores who are carrying more and more Asian products. 

The best types of chickens to use for a stock are stewing hens.  Admittedly, I most often use chicken bones, necks and backs cut from regular meat chickens.  They are the easiest to buy and I often have those pieces around after roasting a chicken for dinner.  A left over roasted chicken carcass makes a rich and flavorful stock.  For making a large volume of stock, I was going to need to procure some chicken.  Stewing hens are so good because they are older chickens, who have been egg layers over the first year or two of their lives and then culled and used as stewing hens.  Their meat is tough and stringy, probably not so great for consuming, but more flavorful for making a richer stock.  Asian markets here carry stewing hens, most often frozen, and yesterday I found them at Central Market.  Central Market carries a good variety of Asian foods, makes their own fresh tortillas, operates a great deli, seafood and meat department and generally carries some interesting products you don't see at other markets. I make a trip up there just to browse every so often.

I bought two stewing hens anticipating making a large pot of stock and freezing some for future use.  Stewing hens are thinner and less expensive than regular meat chickens.  I paid about $6.00 for both.  To prepare the hens, place them on a sheet pan, split each in half and generously salt them with kosher salt.  Smash two, 2 inch pieces of peeled fresh ginger and spread it out under and over the hens.  Drizzle a half cup of Chinese cooking wine over top and lay 4 green onions around the hens.  Cover the hens with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 6 hours (or overnight).  My mom swears by this process.  She says it intensifies the flavors and does this with all of the different stocks she makes.

When ready to make the stock, take the chickens out of the refrigerator.  Put your oven to broil and place the chickens under the broiler until lightly browned on both sides.  I do this to further intensify the flavor and as a result,  I don't have to blanche the chicken in water first and then stew it.  The blanching is to help keep the all that foam from developing on the surface of the broth and having to skim it off.  Cooking the outer surface of the meat generally keeps that from occurring.  

In a large stock pot, put the hens, ginger, green onions, another half cup of cooking wine and enough cold water to cover the hens. Strain any liquids from roasting pan into the pot as well. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer for about 6 hours.  

Strain the stock, discard all the solids, unless you have a dog who might enjoy the meat and chill in the refrigerator.  Once the stock is chilled, remove almost all of the fat that has solidified on top.  I like to keep a little for flavor.  The stock is now ready to use.

Post script: Photos of the hot pot

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Risotto Cacio e Pepe

I started watching a Netflix original documentary, Chef's Table.  In the opening segment of the first episode, Massimo Bottura, owner chef Osteria Francescana, talks about creating a recipe for a risotto cacio e pepe as a means to help save the Parmigiano Reggiano business after earthquakes hit the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy in 2012. The earthquakes toppled the racks and racks of aging Parmigiano in the region resulting in 360,000 damaged wheels.  Massimo talked with the consortium and devised a dinner where people across the world would make risotto cacio e pepe and and share in a virtual dinner together.  He says the recipe saved the Parmigiano makers and kept their businesses alive.  I immediately fell for the risotto, how rich and awesome it must taste.  Off I went to buy my 3 pounds of Parmigiano Reggiano.

(Photo credit: Getty Images off the internet)

Now the risotto itself is not too difficult to make.  The amount of Parmigiano required seems a bit obscene.  I searched the internet and found many different recipes all apparently directly from Massimo Bottura.  The Parmigiano to water ratios varied greatly.  What seems to start out as a 3 pounds of cheese cooked with 16 cups of water, gets mowed down to 1 pound of cheese with 16 cups of water.  Cost of a pound of Parmigiano ranges about $17.00 to $20.00 a pound in Seattle.  Sometimes you can get it on sale, but either way, 3 pounds of it to make risotto is not cheap, especially when you consider you are throwing the solids away after you make the broth.

Now that I have my 3 pounds of cheese, I debated how to proceed.  In the end, I decided to cut the recipe down, make less risotto as I'm guessing it will be so decadent that a little will go a long way, and err on the side of a richer broth because you can always dilute, but you can't add more cheese after the broth is made.  I am sad to use my big hunk of cheese because it makes the kitchen smell so good and the kids are drawn to its girth, asking "what are you doing with that cheese?" whenever they walk by.  

For the Parmigiano Reggiano broth:
1 lb Parmigiano Reggiano, coarsely grated
7 cups water

For the Risotto:
1 cup Arborio rice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano broth
Parmigiano Reggiano cream about ¼ cup or to taste
Freshly ground peppercorns - I used black, white and szechuan (the original recipe also calls for Sarawak and Jamaican long pepper, which I did not find)

Start a day ahead by making the Parmigiano broth.  Combine the grated cheese and water in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Heat until the cheese becomes stringy and the water temp is about 190 degrees f.  Stir periodically.  Let cool to room temp and repeat this heating process once more, until water temp is about 175 degrees f.  Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, the broth should have separated into 3 parts; the cream on top, the broth in the middle and the solids on the bottom.  Skim the cream off the top and place into a separate container.  Strain the broth and discard the solid.  This yielded 5 cups broth and ¾ cup cream.   

To make the risotto, heat the broth in a saucepan over medium heat.  Once it comes to a light simmer, turn heat off and keep warm.

Heat the olive in a medium pan over medium heat.  Add the rice and cook, toasting it  for a couple of minutes.  Add the broth about a half cup at a time.  Stir the rice once each time and simmer until the liquid is almost fully evaporated between broth additions.  If you find that the broth is too rich, you can always just add some water with the broth.  

When the rice is ready about 25-30 minutes, and is a little al denté, remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano cream. Serve immediately on a warmed plate and finish by sprinkling a little of the ground peppers on top.

I am sad to report my family was not impressed.  They said it was too cheesy.  It was very cheesy, but I liked it, but love, no.  Maybe I over cheesed it.  The pan fried quail I served along side was the bigger hit.  

Hmmm... I now have plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano to get through.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Green Onion Pancakes - This is the Keeper

So, if you've been reading my blog over the years, you'll know that I've made green onion pancakes many times.  It was something we made in our restaurant when I was growing up, back when we were known for our beef noodle soup, potstickers, and green onion pancakes.  We only served the noodles and pancakes on Sundays for lunch and there was often a line out the door.  I don't remember there being other Chinese restaurants in town serving this back then and so we were well known across the Chinese community as the place to go.  I had always thought our pancakes were the best and having helped make them since I was in grade school, you'd think I'd be the pro.  It is a few simple ingredients, but getting them perfect is not easy.  It wasn't until many years later, after my parents sold our restaurant and I had returned from a year in Taipei that I found the Szechuan Noodle Bowl here in Seattle, where my now favorite green onion pancakes are made.  

Theirs is a perfect combination of soft and flaky and wonderfully crispy.  I have been trying to duplicate them ever since and today was my best effort yet.  I might say confidently, that I have succeeded and this will be my keeper recipe.  I have to disclose that the ingredient list is not detailed.  The flour to water ratio is approximate because for whatever reason, each time I make the dough, I have to either add a little more water or a little more flour.  The dough, in the end, should be moist, but not sticky.  You should be able to work with it without having it stick to your hands, yet it should still be soft and easy to work with.  The most important discovery made is that you need to use a low gluten flour.  If you go to an Asian market, you might be able to find packaged flour that indicates that it's low gluten.  Sometimes the package will say it's good for cakes.  The low gluten flour is what makes the pancakes come out flaky and lightly crispy.  

For the dough:
4 Cups low gluten flour (cake flour would work)
1 ¼ - 1 ½ Cups boiling water
1 tsp salt

For the filling:
Canola oil
Thinly sliced green onions

Using a standing mixer with a hook attachment, stir together the flour and salt.  Slowly pour in the boiling water with the mixer on #2 speed until dough forms into a semi smooth ball.  

Remove dough and knead with your hands until smooth. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 2 hours.

Separate dough into 5-6 equal parts.

Knead each ball for a minute or so before rolling out.  Using a rolling pin, roll dough out until very thin.  Drizzle a little oil all over the dough and use a brush to spread evenly.  Sprinkle with salt, enough to very lightly coat the surface. I do this by eyeballing it. Then spread some green onions over top. Put as much green onions as you like.  The photo gives you an idea of what I use.

Roll the round up and then roll it up on itself so it looks kind of like a snail shell.

Use a rolling pin to roll them into small rounds, about 6-8" in diameter and about 1/4" thick.

To cook, use a heavy cast iron skillet with about 1/4" oil, over medium heat.  Fry slowly until crispy and brown, flipping a few times on each side.

These are best served hot off the pan. Drain them on some paper towels before cutting.  They lose their crispness once they get cold, but in our house, we'll eat them cold out of the fridge as a snack.  I make a big batch as they freeze well and you can cook them right out of the freezer.