Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Ultimate Pork Belly

Crispy skinned pork belly with celeriac mash and caramelised apples.

Remember that when you buy pork belly that it will shrink when you cook it by as much as 1/3rd! So when you're thinking "that's massive!", it's actually the perfect size.

Singe the hairs off that swine! Then score the skin and rub salt and cracked sechuan peppercorns in it - don't need to be gentle get in there. 2 hours in the fridge.

While it's in the fridge you can get some Braising Liquid ready (good for about 1.5kg of pork belly);

1 onion
4 clove garlic
1 stick cinammon
2 cloves
5 star anise
pinch of sechuan peppercorns and black peppercorns
handful of juniper berries
1L of chicken stock
1 sprig of thyme and rosemary

Sweat off the onions and garlic, add the stock and the spices. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.

Time to roast; dry off the skin, rub with olive oil in the oven (roasting pan) for 30 minutes @ 220 degrees, skin side down. After that, pull it out, carefully flip it over, and pour in the braising liquid just before it reaching the skin (because that's the part you want crispy obviously). Back in the oven @ 190 degrees. When the skin is crispy (probably about 1 1/2 hours) it's cooked. if you see the liquid drying out just add water to it (or else it'll burn your pan, and your belly; and will end up looking more like the picture below).

Pull it out let it rest for 15 minutes.

Save that juice from the bottom of the pan! Add some black vinegar (from asian grocers), red wine vinegar, maple syrup (or honey) and some mandarin peel and juice (if not in season, orange will do) - reduce that down by at least 1/2 and you have sexy sauce to cover your crispy belly in!

Pork Belly Plating: image courtesy of Steph @ rasberricupcakes

PS: Get your cleaning gloves out, because your oven will need a good scrub after this juicy version of crispy pork belly.

PSS: It keeps for up 2 days in the fridge! To 'twice-cook' your pork belly; just reheat in a roasting pan with water and a touch of leftover sauce and you have a restaurant quality 'twice cooked'; as you see in many menus around the country.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tribute to the Kitchenhand

TV Chefs are loved and hated in our industry. I would say the ones that hate predominantly are jealous that they get the easy celebrity life, while the rest of us slave away. A hater's greatest rage are the celebrity chefs who claim to be chefs (does not include home cooks) but don't work in the kitchen anymore - who are no longer able to keep up with the pace of being a real chef.

I will admit that I am one of those who wishes to make fake smiles and groaning noises about how 'good' the food tastes in front of hot lights and camera then to run out of prep because we've been doing 100+ covers a service.

But this post, I want to pay respects to the other end; the hidden, forgotten side: the boys who makes life for us chefs that much easier; mostly Thais and Bangalis on working visas, earning their PRs for their family the only way they can: in jobs that were nothing like the ones they had back home: Engineers, IT, even some doctors.

These guys clean up barrage after barrage of dishes, hot pots and pans. They also do all those jobs that chefs hate to do; peel potatoes for your hand cut chips, peel onions, ginger, galangal (and oh, how I hate peeling that **it), sort through the salad...

This post is paying respects to you, kitchenhands!

(and to the occasional student who can stand the heat, this goes out to you too)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The adventures of Key Lime Pie

A and B are characters in this epic adventure;

A: Let's make key lime pie!

A: 17 dollars a kilo for lime?! This better be one damn good pie!

A: The recipe says put sugar in the base; wouldn't that be too sweet? it's shortbread!

B: Yeah, Don't put sugar

A: It says to bake the biscuit base, that's a bit wierd...

B: Tried it before it tastes funny

A: Cool! A pie that doesn't require baking?! I have found a new frien- Damn! My food processor reeks of tumeric! Time to take it back to the old school...

B: This is great there's no sugar in the recipe!

A: That's a great idea; add condensed milk to anything and you can say "no added sugar" haha!

A: Sheeba! Only have enough mix for four!

If you do the costing; that's $5 a pie! Stupid seasonal limes...

B: As long as the photo looks good it's ok

A: Tastes like crazy rich lime cheesecake

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chef's Day Off; Piato

If you are a chef, knowing how to wind down on your day off is of utmost importance to career-survivability. The mental and physical pressure built up all week must be released with firehose force in order to remain in good spirits for the next grueling week.

I only have one day off this week; but I couldn't have thought of a better way to relax than some good food and wine at Piato, in the chill breaking sunshine.

It's like a slice of rustic Italy in the middle of Blues Point Rd

Started with 1/2 dozen Sydney Rocks with shallot vinaigrette; I knew these were shucked to order because the oyster was still attached to the shell (and it said it on the menu); made for hard (but fresh) eating; note for you oyster shuckers out there - use the shucker to seperate the oyster, too.

Had a mezze plate (you can choose from about 15 different items) with a glass of verdehlo from Little Wine Company, Hunter Valley 07. As always, I find young whites lacking in a lot of complexity a wine should have - but the weather called for it.

I saw the table next to me have the whole octopus on a salad - it's massive! I'm glad I had my tapas size ($8); it was slightly overcooked but the balance of flavours from the blackened chargrill, garlic, olive oil, wine and parsley more than made up for it.

Beef Souvlaki with roasted capsicum and red onions ($8). Well seasoned and tender; this chef knows what he's doing.

Grilled Chorizo ($8) with plenty of garlic oil; made good dipping with the leftover ciabatta toasts.

And this place has never made a disappointing coffee; flat whites of perfect strength and the milk so velvety smooth it has this sweetness to it - every time I've been. That alone keeps me coming back to this place.

so if you want a good coffee for breakfast or have a free lunchtime check it out;

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The way the cookie mysteriously crumbles

Remember Justine from Masterchef? Versus Matt Moran? Making the the 'too many pears on a plate dessert'? She burnt her crumble, and had to make a new one with 5 minutes to go! - she somehow not only pulled it off, but her cream dollop managed to stay a perfect cornell!

If you've made crumble before, that's a near impossibility - you'll put a hole in your hand touching it after 5 minutes; there's not a chance that you can put anything solid on it for at *least* 15 minutes!

Let me give you a basic crumble recipe so you can test it out for yourself;

100g softened butter
100g pure icing sugar
100g flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix together well in a mixer (until dough-like). Lay evenly on a flat tray:

Shove it in a 180 degree oven for 10 minutes, pull it out, mix it around with your spatula, back in the oven for another 5, or until golden brown.

break it up as much as you can with your spatula, and leave to cool until you can handle it with your fingers, then break it up more; as much as you can.

You can put this crumble on anything; yoghurt, eat it with ice cream, or my favourite: take some berry compot, some crumble on top; into the oven for 5 minutes, vanilla bean ice cream on top! mmmmm

The best thing, is keep the finished product in an airtight container and it will last for weeks!

Any other creative uses for crumble? Looking at all you dessert foodies

Monday, August 10, 2009

Weapons of Choice

You've heard it from every chef; what every kitchen needs is a sharp knife. Your food will taste better, look better and you will feel like you can cook anything. No joke. But before I go on about what is the right knife for you, I want to show you my weapons of choice:

Left: My swiss army knife; 26cm MAC Chefs Knife - to chop the biggest of melons, julienne long shards of anything; the most skilled of chefs can do everything with this knife.
Middle: East/West FuriFX chopper - those 'scallop' holes create less friction so I use this knife for cutting birthday cakes and mincing garlic. Of course I wash my knife with soap after each use.
Right: My favourite knife. MAC damascus hand-folded steel vegetable chopper. It just feels sexy.

Top: the first knife I ever owned. To lend to people who forgot/lost their knife.
2nd Above: Flexible filleting knife; for filleting fish, frenching bones, trimming meat.
3rd knife: Global serrated bread knife. Good for bread and passionfruit - just watch your fingers you don't want to take out a finger with this knife. Trust me.
Bottom: Knife Honer. Not to be a called a knife sharpener. I will actually rarely use this; only on cheaper knives - using a whetstone to sharpen a blunt knife is better.

The red knives are the best paring knives money can buy: Victorianox; $5 for a sharp knife that can do anything, and stays sharp for a very long time (that is, if you use it for its intended kitchen purposes).

I also have 2 cleavers for mincing meat, breaking bones and gang fights.

So, which knife do you need? A couple of those paring knives (they're good steak knives, too) and that big chefs knife. That, and the skill to keep your knife sharp and you will feel like a professional, and cook like one too*.

* - may not necessarily cook like a professional

Sunday, August 9, 2009

'Quick' Pulled Pork Burger recipe

This is a lovely pulled pork burger from Hard Rock Cafe, Key West MIA (with a side of mac and cheese mmmm). It was so much juicer than the ones they used to make at Hard Rock, Sydney - no wonder they shut down.

For those of you who have even attempted this sandwich, you will know that it takes 8-10 hours just to cook your pork for this dish!! But have hope, those who do not want to leave the house with stove on - I have one that only takes THREE very short hours.

Lex's 3 hour Pulled Pork Sandwich

1x Smoked pork hock (2, if it's small. Pic as above - but it looks drier)
4x soft, sweet buns (eg: hot dog bun, the one from kfc, tiptop white bread)
100ml white vinegar
1/8th shredded white cabbage

for homemade bbq sauce
100ml tomato sauce
40ml red wine vinegar
70ml maple syrup
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp worchester
1 tbsp tobasco
pinch of salt and pepper


For pork, put in saucepan of water until completely submerged. Add vinegar. Boil for 3 hours.

For BBQ sauce, add all ingredients together and mix well.

When pork is done, rip the skin and any sinew fat off (when it's cool enough for you to touch), then start shredding the meat with your hands - finer the better, but don't mince it.

Mix pulled pork through the bbq sauce.

Put into sweet bun, shredded cabbage on top and enjoy with sides of baked beans (heated up and mixed with the homemade bbq sauce for bbq flavour), coleslaw, potato salad... goes with anything sweet and vinegary.

Chef's Shortcut ;) Now you don't have to miss Hard Rock Cafe, Sydney. As much. *sniff*

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Top 10 I hate about chew (from the other side)

Simon Thomsen, a respected (well, whom I respect anyway; more so I want his job) food critic/blogger wrote a '10 hates when dining out'. I would like to offer a chef's top 10 gripes for perspective's sake, so...

Ten things chefs hate (not authoritative)

1. Late Tables - Especially on a Sunday afternoon (I'm looking at you all of you who think 3.30pm is an acceptable lunch hour). We're tired, most of us don't even get paid by the hour, and we need all the rest we can get. The last thing we want to do is wait around for half an hour after a dinner rush for one table!

Please, be considerate - if you want dinner after 10 go to a pub, maccas or Chinatown.

2. When you order things not on the menu - If you see a combo of different ingredients from different items on the menu that tickles your fancy, try it yourself when you're at home; don't make me stab you.

3. People with Allergies - No I did not notice that the apprentice did not wash his chopping board after grinding nuts on it; why is it my fault a customer died?

4. "my T-bone/rib eye on the bone is medium and I ordered medium rare" - check near the bone you idiot.

5. When mis en place ends up on the floor - if someone elbowed your pickled ginger, in which you spend an hour peeling, slicing on a mandolin (along with some of your finger) and triple blanching 10kg of ginger all over the floor (in which you also have to waste time cleaning up); you would be peeved.

6. When it's only our station that's getting orders - does the whole restaurant have to order the same thing? and not order entrees?

7. Peeling fresh tumeric - ok, fine maybe it's just me hating orangy-yellow fingers for 3 days.

8. Not having enough time to eat - Imagine, cooking for so many people that you don't have time to eat yourself. That alone is reason to give respect to chefs. Even worse, some places are just so busy you don't even have time for coffee!

9. Dumb*ss waiters who don't communicate to each other - that takes 15 minutes to cook and you took it to the wrong #@$#@ table?!

10. English Chefs in the fine-dining industry - guys, relax. And stop using the 'C' word.

It's good to vent sometimes isn't it? :)

As a disclaimer, I would like to say that the above doesn't happen all the time, and I am lucky enough to be happy for the most of times (albeit, tired) - but our bad days can be near suicidal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First or last?

In western culture, we generally drink our miso soup before our mains arrive. In Japan, it signifies the end of a meal. Which is better? As long as the soup is hot, who cares?

I have however, in my mixed up training of French and Asian techniques (aka wannabe Tetsuya) have a recipe for to die for 'Blue Swimmer Crab Miso Soup'.

Blue swimmer crab miso soup served with homemade chirashi

So simple! All you need is:
1/2x onion (or 6 eschallots if you want a sweeter, crabby soup), finely diced
2x garlic clove
1x ripe truss tomato
1x blue swimmer crab, broken up into pieces
600ml chicken stock, 100ml water
2x portions of instant miso soup
(the ones that you get in supermarket in serves of 8 usually)

All you do is sweat of the garlic and the onions on medium heat in some olive oil and SEASON (salt and pepper); this is the most important part in sweating off things in ANY dish in ANY part of the recipe as it brings out of the flavour of what you're sweating!

Next, add the blue swimmer crab until it turns sufficently red, then add the tomatoes and the water. Let it boil and reduce by half, then add the stock. Bring that to the boil, then turn down to a simmer for 30 minutes.

Next, grab a hand blender (or if it's only of mickey mouse size, use your food processor), blend the sheeba out of it, and strain (don't forget to strain, or someone will choke on broken crab bones) back into the pot!

Next, Add the miso soup sachets and all optional condiments that your heart desires (spring onions, silken tofu, wakame seaweed, sesame seeds, etc), If you wish to choose the tasty but unhealthy path, demiglace/finish with a knob of good butter.

There you have it, my blue swimmer crab miso soup (as served at my blog launch luncheon)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Instant Gratification

If you've never had flavoured butter on a good piece of steak, you do not know yet the definitive meaning of the word 'sexual'.

Good chefs finish everything with butter (deglazing sauce with fat; because we're paid to make it taste good, not keep your waistline) - the fat in the butter coats your tongue with that silky film of flavour that lingers. Just imagine, a beautifully marbled rib eye on the bone, a flavoured high fat content butter mixed with garlic, worcestershire, anchovies, parsley and brandy left to cover, like a silk blanket over your steak...

...the first bite; a burst of iron-rich red meat - then, overtones of booze, salt, sour just embrace your mouth with a sensuality you can barely describe.

This butter is not limited to meat - coat it with blanched green vegetables, or spread it on bread!

The casual name for this butter is 'Cafe de Paris'. You see it in restaurants; but I personally think it should be stocked in every home's freezer because of its versatility.

Cafe De Paris

250g Butter (I personally like Gingar brand, but any high fat content butter will do)
12g Brandy
10 grey anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 sprig of thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
pinch of sea salt
white pepper to taste

Leave the butter out to soften; if it's in the middle of winter you can put it in the microwave, diced up into 1cm cubes, 10 seconds at a time on high.

In a big mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients with a masher or a whisk until combined well - almost creamed.

In 100g lots, wrap the mix in glad wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

NB: I know there are a lot of recipes for this butter out there; but I think less is more - I like to taste all the flavours that are in that butter; especially if you are having a really nice piece of steak - appreciate good produce.