The Best Restaurant in the World

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a principal that we have to find usage of as much of the given animal that we can.

If you read any sort of literature from the culinary world, you’ll probably have read of Noma being the best restaurant in the world.

While ‘best’ may be subjective, I’m sure it’s at least a tell tale sign of a restaurant that’s on the top of their game.

What’s interesting though is the restaurant’s pursuit for the old while yet creating something new. I find that highly intriguing and yet inspiring.

Which brings me to one of the reasons why I’m so crazy about cooking. This philosophy of exploring and replicating something old or creating something new is simply  fascinating to me. Things that are strange by today’s standards, such as fish guts, offal and off cuts of plants are often overlooked but hold so much potential.

Categories: Thoughts

What the Fish (Part I)

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

What The Fish

Despite living so close to the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t see a lot of people buying or eating fish. Maybe it’s the fear of the fishiness of fish.

There are many applications for fish – poach, fry, grilled and sauté to name a few. One of my favorite applications for fish is to steam it and serve some kind of sauce, either a soy based sauce or a Teochew style sour sauce, but that’s another post. Since steamed fish is cooked so delicately, it is paramount that the fish tastes fresh.

Which brings me to combating the fishiness of fish.

The Fishiness of Fish

The problem with salt-water fish is that they have a rather short shelf life and taste best when fresh. We’re all too familiar with that ‘fishy’ smell that comes with old, poorly stored fish.

The fishy smell stems from bacteria and other enzymes converting a largely tasteless amine called TMAO (trimethylamine oxide) into TMA (trimethylamine).

Fortunately, with care, TMA can be reduced at each step of the process.

Sourcing

Buy fresh fish. Fortunately, I have my fish guys, PJ and Billy at the Louisiana Foods Total Catch Market on Saturday mornings. As mentioned before, these guys know their stuff and I trust them. Most Asian markets tend to have pretty good quality fish too.

Although it may take some careful examination, your chain grocery stores are not exempt from good fish either. One thing I would watch out for is that some stores thaw out their fish when placing them in display cases. They may appear ‘fresh’ but they’ve gone through the freezing and thawing process. There’s nothing wrong with cooking that fish right away but I would avoid freezing them again to avoid degrading the quality of meat (and depending on how long the meat was thawed to begin with, food safety since you are effectively thawing the meat twice and exposing it to more time in a warmer environment if you re-freeze it.)

When selecting  fresh fish, they should smell of the ocean. If you stick your nose up to it, it should be fairly odorless. There are other rough indicators too. Their gills, if still intact, should be a bright red and not pale. Their eyes ought to be clear and not cloudy. The latter though is a rule of thumb but not an absolute.

Storage

First off, wash the fish. Don’t worry, you’re not removing flavor. I mean, fish live in water anyway. Washing rinses away a lot of surface bacteria and any of their by-products. Dry it off, then wrap it with wax paper or cling wrap to reduce oxygen exposure.

Also, freezing fish actually converts some of the TMA into a less smelly amine, DMA (dimethylamine). So yes, freezing your fish isn’t a bad thing.

When storing in the fridge, I usually rest it on the fish’s belly surrounded by ice. Resting on the fish’s belly is just a little tip I picked up from Thomas Keller. His rationale is to store fish in the same ‘posture’ as they would be swimming. Makes sense to me. In Japan, the side of tuna that is rested on is worth less than the side facing up as the weight of the fish compresses the meat and degrades the flesh. It’s a rather minor detail though but I personally like taking note of minor details when cooking.

Cold salt-water fish tend to go bad faster than warmer salt-water fish, which in turn goes bad sooner than fresh-water fish. I personally don’t store salt-water fish in the fridge for much longer than 2-3 days on a bed of ice because they were probably sitting on the boat/shelves for a couple of days anyway.

Prep

Prior to cooking, TMA on the surface of fish can also be rinsed off with tap water, or with the aid of some acidic ingredients such as citrus juice or vinegar. The acid reacts with the TMA to convert it into a less stinky and more palatable chemical.

Do you have any other tips or thoughts on selecting and storing fish?

Categories: Fish, Food safety, Seafood, Storage

Back At It Again – Canadian Bacon

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

April’s Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking pork loin or pork shoulder, to make Canadian bacon or taso ham. I went with Canadian bacon.

WTF is Canadian bacon?

Also known as back bacon, it’s bacon made from center-cut boneless pork loin. What we usually get at grocery stores is streaky bacon, made from pork belly. The curing process of both bacons is generally rather similar. First off, the meat is cured in a salt and spice mixture or a brine for a few days. The meat is then rinsed off, left to dry a little and then smoked.

WTF is Hot Smoking?

Generally, there are three kinds of smoking and they are mainly differentiated by the temperature. This is what I picked up in reading up from books and the Internet (especially Wikipedia).

My Old Smokey electric smoker. Easy, convenient and cheap off craigslist

Cold smoking occurs below 100F. It imparts flavor but doesn’t cook the food.

Hot smoking occurs between 165-185F. It cooks the food (duh).

Smoke roasting is pretty much like roasting but with smoke. It can go in access of 250F

And of course, we can vary the characteristic of the smoke with not just the temperature but also the type of wood being used.

Making Canadian Bacon

The process, as mentioned, involved salting, drying and smoking.

I was actually a little excited for this project because after months of anticipation, a certain grocery storejust opened up in my neighborhood.

I would give a review of Revival Market but so much has already been done and I probably wouldn’t do it any justice with my words. All I can say is that if you’re in Houston, just go.

This project would mark my first purchase from the store, and what more appropriate an item than some pork.

Pork loin all ready to be smoked

Now back to the making of the bacon. As with my Charcuterie projects so far, I adapted the recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie. I brined the pork loin for 3 days. Nothing new here since I’ve talked about brining before. Then I dried it in my fridge for a day. Then I smoked it with apple wood in my electric smoker. Sounds easy? Good, because it is.

WTF do you do with Canadian Bacon

Eggs Benedict from 'scratch'


I guess the most common application would be Eggs Benedict. It’s just a combination of things you know will go well together – English muffins, poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce. A basic recipe and video can be found on the Culinary Institute of America’s website here.

What’s cool about Eggs Benedict is it’s fairly simple to make. Plus it looks elegant and impressive. At the same time, with so many components, going through the exercise of making one can be a great way to work on technique –making a dough, poaching an egg and making a hollandaise sauce.

Oh by the way, here’s a tip when poaching eggs to make them look good without flyaway whites – drain the thinner whites off. You could do that with a slotted spoon or a strainer.

Poached duck eggs. The egg on the left was cracked into the poaching liquid. The egg on the right was first strained to get rid of the looser whites (although I went a little overboard this time around)

Of course, eggs Benedict isn’t the only application for Canadian bacon. You could treat it like regular bacon in an English breakfast, use it in a fried rice, or even a pizza.

And to show you the versatility of Canadian Bacon, here’s one thing I did. I used it in laksa. Wait, what?

(Laksa is one of my favorite dishes from Singapore. It’s noodles in a thick and spicy coconut broth. )

Simply poach the Canadian bacon and add on top as a garnish.  Too much of a good thing? Nah, not too much yet.

Laksa with... Canadian Bacon

Offal of the Sea

March 29, 2011 2 comments

Omelet with... well, read on to find out.

I loooove, like really really love, seafood. After all, I was born and raised on an island in Southeast Asia. About 3 weeks back, PJ started the Louisiana Foods Total Catch to sell some of the less popular fish choice, which is very refreshing. Salmon and catfish have their place but I honestly find them quite overdone and boring. What about the almaco jack, the drum, and the blue runner? And while we’re at it, don’t forget the squid. Thankfully, PJ’s got them all.

But more intriguing than my experiment with new varieties of fish were my experimentations with parts of fish we tend to discard. Most of the fish we eat come as fillets while the rest of the fish gets discarded. Could there possibly be a use for the head, the bony underbelly, the guts?

Really, this isn’t that new a concept. Chinese have been known to consider dried fish maw (swim bladder) a delicacy. Cantonese people also regard the the bony underbelly as the tenderest and most delicate part of the fish too. How about trying to apply the nose to tail concept not just with our favorite livestock but with fish too?

And so we begin experimenting.

(Warning: some slightly stranger images might follow but I assure you, it’s all perfectly normal food.)

Read more…

Not Purple Drink but Purple Cauliflower. With Pasta.

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I was at a party about a week ago and there was a vegetable platter. There was some purple cauliflower which to my surprise was rather foreign to most.

The purple in purple cauliflower isn’t caused by dying but by the presence of anthocyanin. From what I read, they have high antioxidant properties but I’ll leave the food scientist types to explain that to you. I believe this pigment is also present in wine, eggplants and purple corn. Purple cauliflower is quite a lot like regular cauliflower, although I’ve read that some people have difficulties achieving the same crunch when roasting. The color also tends to bleed when boiling.

Anyway, I made a simple purple cauliflower dish, utilizing not only the floret but the leaves that came with the head of the cauliflower as well.

Cauliflower leaves. Why waste them when you've got them? Plus, they're delicious.

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Brining Duck

March 15, 2011 6 comments

Crisped poached brined duck with lentils

 

My first brush with brining came a few years ago while watching an episode of the beloved Good Eats, watching Alton Brown was brine a turkey. In my mind, I was thinking this was an earth shattering way of cooking. Why haven’t I heard of this before? I made a brined turkey for a thanksgiving dinner with my college friends. This was by far the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had. I was determined to keep this culinary method my exclusive secret.

But as time went by, I started reading more about brining as a cooking prep method. I’m not sure if it’s because I was reading more about food or if it was a food trend that was picking up. Either way, it seemed like it was the talk of the town to me especially during thanksgiving. I believe that one of the top search terms on Google was ‘Alton Brown brined turkey’ or something to that effect. And while I do enjoy certain brined applications (my favorite being duck in orange juice, another Alton Brown inspired recipe,) I probably do not do it more than a few of times a year. I just find that it takes up too much time and fridge space.

As some of you know, I’ve been involved in this blog movement Charcutepalooza. In the past month, it was all about brining beef and so I guess it was time to revisit this cooking technique.

Read more…

Categories: Brine, Charcutepalooza

Flavor Bouncing

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Outside of learning and trying to perfect some basic cooking techniques, I’ve also  been exploring the  creative process (not just mine) when it comes to creating a dish. Why do some new dishes work and some don’t? I’ve had a hard time articulating it and putting it on paper.

And then I chanced upon this video by Grant Achatz. Awesome.

Categories: Thoughts