Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pork Belly

While pork belly has become quite the fad recently, many people are turned off by it. Admittedly, it doesn't have the most appetizing name in the world. What surprises a lot of people, though, is how much pork belly they already eat without realizing it: bacon. Yep, bacon is simply cured pork belly, and the reason bacon is delicious is the same reason pork belly is delicious: high fat content.

If you can find a place that supplies pork belly in your area, consider yourself fortunate (I get mine from the Korean grocery store in town). Pork belly is wonderfully rich and flavorful, and you owe it to yourself to add it to your rotation.

For this dish, we had a guest chef. Yes, unfortunately I cannot take credit for any of this. My wonderful girlfriend and jewelry blogger took over for this meal, and from what I can tell, she is pretty proud. She should be.

First, your ingredients. This cut of meat is so good on it's own that I really don't like to add too much to it. I simply score it, season it with *ahem* salt, pepper, and thyme and roast/braise it over some onions, garlics, and beef stock + wine.

So when you get a slab of pork belly, it's going to look something like this. The top part is skin, and underneath that skin is delicious pork meat and fat.

First, take a sharp knife and score the skin. Try to cut through all the skin but avoid cutting into the actual meat. This will help your skin get really nice and crispy (one of the best parts of pork belly).

I like to score it diagonally from two different directions, resulting in a criss-cross diamond like pattern. Season your pork belly with salt, pepper, and maybe a little thyme.

Next, chop up some vegetables and throw them at the bottom of a pan. For this, we just used some onions we had lying around, some carrots, and threw a whole bunch of garlic cloves in there.

Place the pork belly on top of the bed of vegetables.

Turn your oven all the way up and put it in. Our goal here is to cook it on high heat so that the skin on top bubbles up and gets nice and crispy.

Now, due to "camera difficulties" (read: my inability to remember to put the memory card in the camera), I do not have any pictures of what it is supposed to look like once the skin is cooked. Just know that it should take about 30 minutes, give or take a bit, and your skin should be bubbling and crisping.

Next, I like to pour in some beef stock and some wine (red, white, or both...who cares), and turn the temperature of the oven way down (200 or 250). We want to slow cook this thing in the stock+wine.

When it's done, you should have something that looks like this


I hope you enjoy the pork belly. There are surprisingly few recipes out there on the internet about cooking pork belly, so hopefully this can help some people trying to cook this dish.

One thing of note: next time I cook pork belly, instead of putting the thing into a super hot oven, I think instead I'm going to put it on a rack close to the broiler and just broil it really hot in order to get that skin crisping up real good. THEN I'm going to slowly braise it in the stock+wine just like this time.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Butterflied Roast Chicken

This will not be my last post on roast chicken. Much like my red sauce, while I can make a good one, I have not perfected it. While it's simple and easy to make a passible roast chicken, it is very difficult to make a perfect roast chicken every time. A perfect roast chicken is when the skin is crispy throughout, the meat is not dry, and it is seasoned perfectly. Doesn't sound hard, right?

One of the reasons that chicken is difficult is that by the time it is cooked throughout, the breast is already getting dry. Quite simply, while it may take 45 minutes for the thigh meat to cook, the breast meat was done 20 minutes ago and has been cooking at a decent heat for way too long. One way to get around this is to butterfly the chicken.

While I'd like to blame my inconsistencies on the rather sub-par oven I use (I swear it is never the actual temperature it says), I'm afraid that roast chicken is something I'll have to continue to improve upon.

That said, while it might not be perfect every time, my roast chicken is pretty darn good every time. One of the great things about roast chicken is its versatility. While my favorite is seasoned with perhaps the most tastiest, most versatile seasoning combination around (*ahem* salt, peper, and a little thyme), you can really mix this stuff up if you want. Lemons, fennel, garlic, carrots, etc... can all be stuffed in the cavity, and you can spread whatever you want on the skin. Cilantro, mint, ginger, oregano, beer,....whatever. Chickens are only a few bucks: experiment!

First, you want a medium-sized chicken. I try to find natural ones, not the normal, Pamela Anderson huge-breasted Frankenchickens you typically get at the store. The Korean market here in town has some good, fresh ones for cheap.

The first thing I do is uncover the chicken, wash/dry it, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. The goal here is to get as dry a skin as possible, which will in turn help you get that crispy skin. Putting it in the refrigerator helps because it is so dry in there that it will help dry off your chicken.

However, take it out a few hours before you cook it. You want it to come to room temperature.

Letting it come to room temperature is important. If you put a cold bird in the oven, you're already starting behind the 8-ball. While it comes to temperature, I also like to season it and let that salt/seasoning really get in there.

For this chicken, I used a combination of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, black pepper, and kosher salt. Lots and lots of kosher salt. It is really hard to over-salt your chicken skin.... I use over two tablespoons, and that isn't too much at all. Some would say it's not enough.

Also, make sure not to wash your hands yet. Instead, get the seasoning all over your fingers....

On the neck side of the chicken, if you dig a little, you can actually get your fingers all up in between the chicken breast and the skin. It's like high school dates all over again.

Repeat the same process on the other side. Make sure to really dig around in there. If you do it right, you can even reach the thighs and wings. 

Let that sit for a couple of hours so that the bird is room temperature (or close to it). Next, grab a pair of kitchen scissors and cut along the backbone on both sides

The result of this will allow you to press the chicken down and open it up like a book. You really want to get it as flat as possible. I save the backbone. It adds flavor, you can gnaw on it after or use it to make stock, gravies, sauces, etc...

Next, we make sure our chicken skin is crispy. We are going to fry the entire bird breast side down in hot oil for a few minutes before flipping it over and baking it. So, heat up some oil (any kind put olive; that stuff is gross when heated up) in a cast iron skillet. When it's really hot, put the chicken in the oil.

You should hear it sizzling and popping. This is good. After a few minutes, you should be able to flip the bird over without it sticking to the pan. Once you can do this, the skin has cooked enough. 

Put it in the oven at ~350 degrees. It should only take about 20 minutes. You have already fried the skin and cooked a good part of the breast, you just need the rest to get up to temperature. As ls long as the thighs easily separate from the body or a thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken, you should be good.

It will look like this when it comes out.

Next, you actually want to wait a bit before cutting up the chicken. It's so hot right now that if you cut it, the juices are going to come pouring out of any incision. Therefore, wrap it up in some aluminum foil for about 5 - 10 minutes. This will allow the juices to "lock in," making for a jucier chicken. Be sure to let the steam escape, though... we don't want to ruin that cripsy skin by getting it all soggy.

Finally, I carve the chicken up into serving portions. Here, I have 2 breasts, two thighs/legs, and 2 wings.

And perhaps one of the best parts about roasting chickens is the chicken drippings. All that fat/oil/seasoning is just sitting at the bottom of your pan just begging to help you make something good. You can add a little flour and water and cook down to make a gravy, you can add some wine and reduce it to make a sauce, or you can just sautee stuff straight in it. For this meal, I only had mushrooms, but it was delicious.

I typically cook something with the drippings as I am letting my chicken rest for a bit.

So there you go. I hope you guys try it and like it as much as I do! 

Saturday, November 12, 2011


OK, I hate making breakfast. Don't get me wrong, I love breakfast as much as anyone, but I hate making it. It's the morning, I'm tired, I haven't had my coffee, and if I have work that day I don't want to wake up earlier just to make a breakfast. Don't get me started on doing dishes in the morning. Ugh.

Quich to the rescue. They are delicious, versatile, healthy, cheap, and very easy to make. They are great for all meals of the day. They are good cold, and they are even better hot I'm not sure why they aren't more popular than they are.

Perhaps the best thing about quiches is that once you understand the basics of making a quiche, you can use your own creativity to construct any type of quiche you want. You can have a simple egg quiche if you want, or you can add bacon (yum). Mushrooms. Chicken. Salmon. Whatever you want, if you think it tastes good, it probably will.

Quiche basics:

This is one of those foods you really shouldn't need a recipe for. If you think of quiche as a series of steps and directions, you're going to miss what quiche actually is. The only "recipe" you need to know with quiche is this:

1) Mix together eggs and cream.
2) Pour it in a pan on top of whatever you want in your quiche.
3) Heat it up in the oven.

Honestly, I don't even pay attention to the oven temperature. I've baked it in the oven on 300, and I've baked it in the oven on 450 with some other stuff in there as well. The whole point is that you want to heat it up.

My quiche:

The quiche that I most commonly make has mushrooms, spinach, bacon, swiss cheese, and tomatoes. It's delicious, filling without being too heavy, and everyone who has it wants a second helping. I'm going to show you how I made this quiche and you can decide which ingredients you want to add/subtract. Oh, also it doesn't have a crust, but you can put it on top of a crust if you like.

This is what you need:

Some mushrooms
Some spinach
1 cup of heavy cream
Half a big onion (or a whole small onion)
5 eggs
Some swiss cheeese (or emmenthal cheese)
Couple of tomatoes
Not pictured: salt and pepper

First, chop up the bacon. Technically, the chopped bacon pieces are called "lardons."

Cook those down in your skillet. You don't want to cook them until crispy; just cook them until the pieces start releasing fat. This is only a couple of minutes.

While your onions are cooking, chop up your mushrooms and onion (or you can do it before).

By now, your bacon should look like this

Leaving your bacon in the skillet, throw in your onions and mushrooms.

Let all that cook in the bacon fat. Be sure to stir every now and then so that the stuff on the bottom doesn't burn. Both onions and mushrooms release a ton of water when they cook, so this is really going to cook down a good bit.

While that's cooking, butter up your baking dish.

When the mixture is finished cooking, spread it at the bottom of your baking dish.

Next, put in some spinach in your skillet. I used a whole package of baby spinach. It looks like a lot, but you'll be surprised at how much it cooks down into almost nothing.

Once that is finished, lay it on top of your mixture in the dish

Grate your cheese on top....

Now, crack all of your eggs and mix it with about a half cup of heavy cream. It should be almost 2 cups of egg/cream, but it's not important if it's a little more or less. This is also a good time to season your quiche. I just sprinkle some kosher salt and pepper into the mixture. I also like to add nutmeg to quiches, but it's not necessary. It would probably be better in a quiche that wasn't so packed with ingredients as this one.

Pour the egg/cream on top of the mixture. Make sure it's even.

Next, thinly slice up your tomatoes and lay them on top of the uncooked quiche. If you want to sprinkle a little cracked black pepper on top of those tomatoes, that's probably a good idea. 

Finally, put your dish in a hot oven. As I previously mentioned, the exact temperature really isn't important. Just keep checking on it and take the thing out when it's set. More precisely, I like to take it out a **tad** bit undercooked because it will continue cooking a little bit after you take it out. Again, though, this is probably more important for those quiches that don't have as many ingredients. At any rate, when you take it out it should look like this:

Cut off a slice and enjoy. Here is a picture of it next to creamed spinach and braised beef shank:

Friday, November 11, 2011

First post....and Jambalaya

OK, before I get started, let me just say how hard it was thinking up a good name for this thing. Every time I thought I had something clever (Eater’s Digest, Garden of Eatin’, Let Them Eat Steak, etc…), a quick google search revealed that I am not as original or clever as maybe I’d like to believe. It got to the point to where I just wanted something so that I could start writing, so this is where I’m at: Meal Talk. Kind of like Real Talk, but for Meals. Or something.
So anyway, the way I’m envisioning this is that I shall upload my experiences with various meals that I’ve had, usually ones that I have prepared. It will probably be photo heavy, which will probably be helpful to anyone wishing to re-create what I made. My goal for this site is to combine two things I love to do (cooking and writing) and interact with other people doing the same thing so that I may get (and hopefully give) new ideas to/from others. So here it goes, let’s start this thing off with one of the few things I know I cook well: jambalaya.
First, a little about the dish. From what I understand, the origin of the word itself is someone hazy. Some people think it derives from the word “jambalaia” in a French dialect, which means “mish mash.” Others think it’s a combination of the Spanish “jambon” and “paella,” the popular Spanish rice dish. Whatever the case, the dish, like most every Louisiana dish, is influenced by a combination of cultures present in Louisiana. It started with the Spanish in New Orleans trying to re-create the paella they were used to eating back home, but many of the necessary spices were not present in South Louisiana (I’m guessing this was pre-Rouse’s). The dish is indeed somewhat similar to paella, but it is oh so different. The inclusion of the Cajun Trinity, andouille sausage, and cajun spices separates this dish from anything else.
The jambalaya I made in this example is a pork and sausage one, but there are many different versions. Some people do chicken and sausage, some people add shrimp, some add tomatoes, some don’t, etc… There really is no one right way to do it, and the dish typically varies across regions in South Louisiana. In New Orleans, it is popular to add tomatoes and/or tomato paste to the jambalaya, giving it a red tint. This is called “Creole, African, or Red” jambalaya. In Cajun country outside of New Orleans (in Acadiana, down the bayou, etc…) a “Cajun style” jambalaya is more popular. This kind does typically use tomatoes or anything derived from tomatoes. It’s a more rustic version, often made in a cast iron pot, and when done correctly has a nice brown color.
The jambalaya I made is a Cajun pork and sausage gumbo. 
The first thing you gotta do is make your stock. Chicken stock is popular, but pork stock adds great flavor as well. To make the pork stock, I took the pork necks, rubbed them in salt and pepper, tossed them in a tiny bit of canola oil, and put them on my cast iron skillet. I laid a few fresh thyme sprigs on top. I roasted those for about an hour or so at 450. It came out looking like this. 
Then, I separated the meat from the bone
There was actually more meat, but I couldn’t stop myself from popping that stuff in my mouth. I’m only human.
Then I took the bones, threw it in a large pot along with an onion chopped in half, a few celery stalks broke in half, some carrots, thyme, salt/pepper, and a head of garlic chopped in half. I also deglazed the cast iron skillet with a bit of red wine (I was drinking some already, so why not) and threw all those drippings in the pot too. Then I covered with cold water and let it simmer for a few hours.
While that’s going on, you gotta make what those of us from South Louisiana call the “Cajun Trinity.” As a heavily Catholic area, the people are very familiar with the Holy Triny: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Cajun cooking, however, the Trinity is something very different but almost as important: Onion, Bell Pepper, and Celery. You simply do not make a Cajun dish without the Trinity. I also like to add garlic and maybe a jalapeno to it. Then I season it with some Cajun seasoning (basically red pepper, white pepper, black pepper, salt, paprika, maybe chili). Toss that up real good.
I then put a lid on the container and let it sit in the fridge for a bit. I feel like it lets all the flavors mix and whatnot. Maybe it doesn’t do anything, but I like to think it does.
Anyway, after your stock is done, take your cast iron pot and your uncooked chopped pork. Heat up some oil hot hot hot in the cast iron pot and throw in the uncoooked pork. DONT STIR IT AROUND. You want to get the pork to stick to the pot. That sticky stuff (commonly called gree mee) is important, as it’s going to eventually dictate the color of your jambalaya. If you don’t do this part right, you’re not going to get that beautiful brown color at the end (and yes, that’s a bone on the top. I just cooked it a bit so that I could give it to my dog)
Once you’re sure that the pork is stuck to the pan, flip the pork over and do the same thing again. You want to really get the porks good and crusty, as well as create as much of that gree mee as possible. Once you’re done with that, throw in a big ladle full of pork stock to deglaze.
Let that stuff just cook there until all the pork stock evaporates. In French, this is called au sec, which means “until dry.” Once that’s done, remove the pork cubes and throw in your chopped andouille (it’s a type of cajun sausage…you can use any “normal” smoked sausage if you don’t have access to andouille). I like to cut them in both moons and moons; no real reason, just a personal preference. Anyway, do to it the exact same thing you did to the porks. After you’re done with that and got a lot of gree mee, add in your Trinity and cook real good. 
After it’s all soft, throw in a bit more pork stock and let that cook down a bit.Then throw in your rice. I think this was about 3 cups. Let that cook for a few minutes.
Then add your pork stock. You want about a 1.5:1 ratio of pork stock to rice, maybe even a little less, depending on how watery your mixture already is.
Then, bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. DO NOT STIR. Put a lid on the pot and let it cook like that for at LEAST 10, maybe 15 minutes. When you DO take the lid off, you need to TURN, NOT STIR, the rice.
You don’t want to break up the grains. After you turn, put the lid back on and cook for another 20 minutes or so. You may turn it one or two more times, but resist the temptation to do it too much.
After about 45 minutes, your rice should “pop out” and look like this:
So there we go. Anyone reading this should be able to cook a wonderful, authentic jambalaya. I hope this is helpful and let me know if you have any questions.