Sunday, 25 September 2011

Siu Yuk - Roast Belly Pork

If there is anything that the Cantonese and British have in common, it is an appreciation for a good roast. In particular, a good pork roast. Both groups would not say no to moist and succulent porcine flesh topped with crispy and light crackling from the skin of the pig. Where they might differ however is the cut of the animal to use. While the British favour the loin and to a lesser extent, the shoulder, mention roast pork to any Chinese who has barely heard of a roast dinner and the first cut that comes to mind is pork belly. Even as the likes of Jamie Oliver promote the use of the cut in the UK, both groups differ as to their preparation methods. The Cantonese have a more involved process which include blanching the pork skin, marinating in five-spice powder and poking as many little holes in the skin as they can (as opposed to the British approach to simply scoring it). Given that it is Sunday, a day for roasts, and I have two rashers left from my pack of Basics streaky rashers, I thought it would be appropriate to have a go at making siu yuk.

Chubby Hubby describes my sentiment very well - there are too many recipes on the Internet for roast belly pork, each one claiming to have the most excellent results. I guess this is to be expected - Just as the world likes their bacon (which, incidentally, comes from pork belly), they appear to like in almost equal measure their roast pork, and the crackling that comes with it. Given the many ways that people have done this, the supposed ease of execution, and the constraints of my own kitchen, I've come up with my own method, which I will try to document as much as I can below:

After using tweezers or some other mechanism to remove hairs from the skin of the belly pork, we start by blanching the skin of the pork belly in boiling water. Most of the recipes I've come across call for pouring hot water carefully down the skin. I opted for a quicker route and used a shallow pan of boiling water, placing the pork skin down. Try to make the water level as shallow as you can, so that we minimise the amount of pork flesh that gets cooked as collateral.

With the skins cooked, shake and/or pat dry with kitchen towels. Use a sharp object to poke little holes all over the skin (I used a toothpick). Rub five-spice powder all over the flesh, but not the skin, of the belly pork. Leave in fridge to marinate and dry up for as long as you can hold out for, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Roast the pork, skin side up, for 15-20 minutes, before turning the heat down to 180 degrees for a further 40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 250 degrees for a final 15 minutes of roasting. At this stage, if you want, pour a small amount of rice wine over the pork skin for extra crispiness before the final roasting phase.

I took a few short cuts to bring this to you, including not drying the pork out completely before marinating, and in the case of Chubby Hubby's recipe, using a steam bath in the oven to evenly cook the pork. The result are most apparent in having a rather inconsistent and visually unappealing crackling that looks more like roast pork than siu yuk. It is still crispy and deeply satisfying though.

If you're like my flatmate, who is not very keen on eating Basics meat products, but you still want to try this recipe, you might want to consider the belly pork that is available in the butcher's section of Sainsbury's, or your local butcher. The regular pork streaky rashers do not have any skin to make crackling with.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tau Yu Bak - Belly Pork Braised in Soy Sauce

A few friends who came to the UK around the same time I did have mused that there were several dishes from back home that they didn't like at all prior to making their way here, but have since changed their minds and miss it just as much as their favourites. As I grew up, I remembered not looking forward to dinner when I learnt that my mother had cooked tau yu bak, but have since acquired a taste for it and do miss it when in the UK.

To make the dish, whole slabs or bite-sized pieces of belly pork (the same cut used to make streaky bacon) are braised in soya sauce with Chinese mushrooms and an assortment of typical Chinese spices - cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel and ginger, though the concoction might vary - for about an hour. The meat is tender and has a small amount of fat that provides a flavourful punch. Typically this is served with rice.

Given that the preparation is relatively simple, it is surprising that while I was here none of the households I was in ever prepared it. I guess we were content with stir-fries for typical meals, reserving special occasions for the likes of laksa, chicken rice and chilli crab. When Sainsbury's introduced a Basics version of pork streaky rashers, belly pork in another guise, I thought I might as well give this a go for nostalgia. A quick Google search also showed that not everybody in the UK knew what to do with this, so this blog post might be of interest to curious British readers.

Since I was planning to cook for my flatmates as well I bought the regular rashers. The photo above shows a side-by-side comparison. The two rashers below are the Basics ones, while the two above are regular Sainsbury's.

To make this, I used the recipe taken from NoobCook, written by a fellow countrywoman. Due to ingredient scarcity, I left out the mushrooms and resorted to using ground versions of the spices she listed as well as granulated sugar. I also chopped the pork up to make it easier to manage when eating later. As this is a derivative of somebody else's recipe, my notes will be limited to discussing the things I did while cooking.

My experience with browning things is limited to using non-stick pans, so I browned the pork in a non-stick frying pan first. I sliced off the pork belly skins and rendered them for their fat, which would allow me to not only cook the pork without oil, but also add some flavour to the vegetables I'm stir-frying later.

Cooking in a separate pan means that I can get to place my stew ingredients in the pot ready to go though.

 This is a photo of the pot prior to simmering for one hour.

One hour later, the eggs are added in and left to simmer for a further ten minutes.

I have not had rice at home in a while, so to be able to sit down and enjoy a home-cooked dinner after a day at work was definitely welcomed. There was no almost no difference in taste between the Basics and regular pork, and if you can get over the smell when handling the rashers, the savings can be significant. A few of my colleagues at work have been eagerly anticipating this; perhaps I could make this for them if the opportunity ever presents itself.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Streaky Pork Rashers£4.27/kg4, typically+£0.72/kgLess smelly rashers, more regular sizes.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bacon Jam

The Internet is obsessed with bacon. From a Wikipedia project to improve the quality of articles regarding bacon, to YouTube sensation EpicMealTime's permanent feature of bacon in every show they make, it is difficult to deny its pervasiveness in the culture that has built up from a decade or so of the Information Superhighway. About a year or so ago, a colleague of mine mentioned in passing about trying home-made Bacon Jam. Further enquiries revealed that the recipe was taken off the Internet (where else?).

As it turns out, Bacon Jam was created a couple of years ago by Skillet Street Food, a Seattle-based company burger chain which caters to consumers via burger vans. Needless to say, it captured the imagination of the Internet, and the foodie blogger community made various attempts to recreate it from their own kitchens. A Google search places Not Quite Nigella's recipe as its first result, which took inspiration from an earlier recipe by Homesick Texan. Months of procrastination prevented me from following in their footsteps, until two things happened - I acquired a food processor, and Sainsbury's dropped the price of their Basics cooking bacon to £1 for 670g.

There are two problems with buying and using the cooking bacon. One is the packs containing either rashers, or whole hunks of bacon which have not been sliced into rashers. This is easily avoidable by inspecting the packs before buying. The other is that the rashers are clumped together rather than nicely packed like the other bacon products that Sainsbury's has, making them finicky when teasing the rashers apart to put in sandwiches. We can solve this latter problem by making the whole pack into bacon jam.

The process is relatively straightforward and rather fun, and lists amongst its ingredients maple syrup, vinegar, coffee and of course, bacon. People who have completed the recipe have lauded it for its potpourri of flavours, the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty flavours all melding together and boosted by a chilli kick. Excited, I got together the ingredients, including the coffee.

The last time we did a review on the Basics Ground Coffee we went with a rather poor attempt of making a cold brew, so since we had another opportunity to try it, we brewed ourselves a cup. The coffee was pretty smooth and had a nice amount of kick to it, being made from Robusta beans, which have a higher caffeine content compared to the Arabica beans found in most blends. Surprisingly, it was not bitter, which would have been characteristic of Robusta, so Sainsbury's must have adjusted the roasting process to compensate, which kind of shows the amount of detail they put into even Basics products.

The recipe for bacon jam that I used can be found at Not Quite Nigella through the link I have above, so I shall restrict my commentary to the tweaks and other little things I did while making this. For adaptability reasons I have substituted Basics vinegar and honey for cider vinegar and maple syrup respectively. I also added a dried chilli from a pack my flatmate bought in Chinatown to add an extra kick.

The packet of Basics cooking bacon will have to be fried in two stages. If you want to you can also trim the fat off some of the rashers to form a starter batch, which would be rendered of fat in the pan for easier frying of the main bacon batches.

If you do use the starter batch, have it at the side of the pan while frying the bacon so that they can continue to render and become nice and crispy in the process. It is a lot of effort to tease out the bacon rashers before chopping them up, but if you are not planning on using a food processor to grind up the resulting jam later on, you might want to consider doing this if you want a finer-textured jam.

1 hour later, it turns out that I had the heat on too low, so I decided not to add any water at all and crank up the heat to mid so that I can simmer the water away more quickly. Unfortunately, 2 hours from the time I started simmering,  I am nowhere near the nice dark colour that Not Quite Nigella managed to get.

On the 3rd hour however...

Satisfied with progress, I turned off the heat on the stove to let it cool slowly. After that, a brief spin in the food processor, and the bacon jam was ready to be spread on Sainsbury's Basics Baguette.

This was a resounding success. The bacon jam, effectively a pate, tastes great, if perhaps a little too sweet and oily, and will go well with anything that usually calls for bacon. Already I'm thinking of not just spreading this on my bread, but taking up the suggestions floating around on the Net and putting it into pastas, serving it with poached eggs, and perhaps even with asparagus, if it happens to be cheap. I might have to work out a way to not make it feel so oily, perhaps by leaving out some of the liquid from the cooking, or patting the bacon dry with kitchen towels before transferring to the pot. This recipe will nonetheless be a godsend to anybody in university who might love bacon, but want to have it cheaply, and without the fuss of carefully peeling apart randomly mashed rashers at 8.30 in the morning, half an hour before the first lecture of the day.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Bananas - The One-Ingredient Ice Cream

My research for material sometimes involves me looking at recent food-related trends on the Internet. It is quite interesting to see what a random person has discovered that quickly catches on in the section of the blogosphere devoted to culinary misadventures. A very good example of this would be the one-ingredient ice cream recipe that The Kitchn came up with, which has since been re-posted by a good many people over the span of two years.

The idea seems simple enough - freeze some overripe bananas, peeled and sliced, for a number of hours so that they partially solidify. Toss them into a blender and blend, letting the heat and mechanical processing from the blades liquify the bananas into a lovely goo with the texture of soft-serve. Refreeze to get the consistency you would find in regular ice-cream.

Most of the blogs who have re-posted the recipe from The Kitchn don't seem to heed the re-freezing step, so I thought that this might be an interesting opportunity to recreate it as pictured in the original post. I also added some melted dark chocolate into the blend to provide a contrast against the bananas.

Due to some technical difficulties, the resulting ice-cream I made was more icy than what I was hoping for, but nevertheless, this is an undeniably fun way to enjoy (or get your children to enjoy) bananas. Given that bananas are pretty cheap at supermarkets I can see this being a dessert that students can prepare when they have guests around, and a healthy and cheap alternative to the Ben & Jerry's regularly offered at a discount at Sainsbury's. The only drawback is having to put down money for a good food processor or blender - mine in particular cost £30, but would provide returns for as long as it lasts.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Bananas£1.15 8+£0.22Not much.
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