Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sous Vide Beef Cheeks - this one took me 72 hours.

Yes, you saw right, 72 hours. Three days to make one dish. My Sous Vide culinary adventure continues and I'm starting to wonder if I can somehow find a way to make a living out of this. No, I don't want to start a restaurant.


So here's the venture in photos.

Ben's Food is the place to go for affordable cuts perfect for such experiments.

Vacuum-seal after trimming excess fats.

Pre-heat Sous Vide Supreme to 55 degrees C (130F) for medium-rare or 60C (140F) for medium. Results guaranteed with a sous-vide since over-cooking is impossible with a set temperature.

Plonk them into the SV for 72 hours. You can do it in one day at 80C, two days at 72C, etc... longer time, lower get the drift.

 3 moons later, I was the proud owner of a kilogram of sous vide beef cheek. At this point, I can freeze them for months or put them in the chiller for a day or 2 until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, heat up a pan till it's very hot. Remove meat from pouch. Mine came with a bonus - see these red gelatins I've placed on top of the meat for you to see? Psst...the flavours are all in the gelatin - don't throw them away!

Generously season with salt and pepper (put more than you think) and sear both sides until it's mahogany brown. Mine took about 3 minutes. I saw all that beautiful jus left behind and made an impromptu decision to make a sauce with chicken stock. This step definitely added to the overall palate sensation.

 My fussy eater daughter who is always wary of my food and ever the reluctant food taster actually came back for a second round after the first round of force-feeding. It's moist and succulent - never dry with a sous vide. Medium-rare is guaranteed - how many things in this world can be guaranteed??

Sous Vide is 'da bomb!

And heere's what I made out of the second batch - Beef Cheek Salad on a Lemongrass Skewer. Thai food with French cooking technique. Kids loved it and said, Thanks, mom, for the duck!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vendakkai Meen Curry - Fish Curry with Okra. Yes, definitely one Meen Curry!

This fish dish got my vote as the high performer in the Indian cuisine I learned in school.

I posted on Indian cuisine while I was still with the culinary school. Since then, I have received many requests for the full recipe. So, let me at least provide one of those recipes today. Warning: as with all Indian cuisine, expect a long list of ingredients! But the taste that is going to explode in your mouth is going to be so worth it.

The name of the dish is called Vendakkai Meen Curry and it originates from South India. "Meen"means Fish.

Ingredients (Serves 2):
2 Tbsp Cooking Oil
1/2 tsp Fenugreek Seeds (good with fish and lamb)
3 sprigs Curry Leaves
2 Garlic Cloves sliced thinly
1.5 pc Ginger, julienned
1 medium Onion sliced thinly
1 Green Chilli Padi, slit into 2
4 tsp Fish Curry Powder (or standard Madras curry powder)
(Fish curry powder is 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 2 tsp red chilli powder, 1 tsp coriander powder)
25g tamarind (pulp obtained by soaking in 1 cup cold water)
240g Sea Beam Fillet, cut into 4 equal pieces (sea bass, mackerel, cod are fine too, but not garoupa, salmon or snapper)
100g Lady's Finger or Okra, cut diagonally into 3" length
1 medium Tomato, cut into 8 pieces
2-3 Tbsp Coconut Milk
Coriander leaves for garnish
Salt to taste

1. Pour oil in a pot over medium heat. Saute the fenugreek until fragrant without burning it. Let it crackle and brown.
2. Add curry leaves, sauté. Then add ginger and garlic. Saute for a minute. Timing is not critical.
3. Stir in the onion, cook till light brown. Add green chillies and the fish curry powder. Low heat.
4. Add tamarind water and salt to taste. Bring liquid to boil.
5. Add tomatoes and okra, cover with a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.
6. While tomatoes are still firm, place fish fillets in gently, add coconut milk, season and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Don't use ladle after adding fish so as not to break it.
7. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with steamed rice.

I can still remember the taste and I remember Chef saying as a little boy, he remembers that his mom usually made the dish a day before serving for a deeper infusion of all the wonderful flavors!

Do come back here and let me know if you try it! Typing this out makes me want to do it all over again!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Word of the Week - Salmon

What makes salmon orange? What is the difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon, in terms of nutrients and price? Where can you buy wild salmon? How do you know if what you've paid for is wild or farmed? 

These questions have been twirling in my head for quite some time now, and this post is an aggregate of my desktop research findings plus conversations with chefs and fishmongers.

First question - how to pronounce salmon? Sell-mon? Sull-mon? Actually, the L is silent, so it's Sau-mon. Like "palm" and "psalm" where you don't sound the L. (Did you know Thailand is pronounced Tai-land, not Thigh-lern?)

The actual colour of salmon flesh ranges from white to pink to orange, depending on the level of asthaxanthin, something that the wild salmon fish get from feeding on crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, etc..). Those that are farmed are fed with an orange dye (how horrid is that?!) so they look like wild salmon!

More than 80% of salmon in the market are farmed, some sites say up to 90%. If it's an Atlantic salmon, it is highly likely a farmed one. Any nutritional differences? Loads. Farmed salmon are far inferior, providing less beneficial Omega 3 fats than their wild kin. Pumped with antibiotics and dyed orange, they are also more exposed to pesticides. The wild salmon boast 20% higher protein content and 20% lower fat content than farm-raised ones. The US Department of Agriculture confirmed these unfortunate statistics. 

Canned salmon are likely wild salmon as the farm-raised ones are not suitable to be canned. 

Where does this leave us? Well, I don't even know where to buy wild salmon. Do you?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Home-grown bananas, the thrill of city dwellers

So there, I finally harvested my first bunch of bananas. They have kept me waiting patiently for 15 months. See the miraculous reproduction process and how they looked as babies here. I had seen lots of them growing in the kampung I grew up but this is my first experience growing a banana tree by myself. It's usually watered by rain but most days, we use the rice water that we would otherwise have thrown away. So this is a 100% certified organic banana tree.

My total harvest came to more than 10kg!

They may look green on the outside but they are soft, ripe and sweet on the inside. I was wondering when to harvest them the past month as they seemed fattened enough. Read some blogs on it but still couldn't make out. It was a clear sign when the squirrel came and started sniffing them and tried to eat them. God is a miracle-working God!

I love the idea that I can be so close to my food source. I should have been a farmer's wife.

So perfectly formed, and I only had to water them. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Salt-crusted whole fish - Certified 100% authentic Thai

The entire piece of skin opens up like a door to moist, succulent meat.

I arranged for a weekend in Bangkok, Thailand just for us to spend time together as a family. Of course, I was also sniffing around for authentic Thai food. I was truly excited to see one of the recipes I've shared in this blog come to life in a floating market.

Here's the salt-crusted whole fish recipe I previously shared. It's become a regular dish for our famly now. Look at this sight - a young Thai woman grilling them and selling them off her boat.

Her supply is easily within arm's reach!

I have my Thai chef in the culinary school to thank for!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Grilled Aubergine Parcels

This picture was taken with an iPhone under a big tree with ants threatening to swarm in on our food, so do excuse the quality.

It's our Ladies Vegan picnic lunch date again, and since the success of my ratatouille in the park, I expected to keep up with the imaginary standard I have now imposed on myself. A simple salad doesn't quite cut it. So I decided on this aubergine (eggplant, brinjal) parcel recipe. It had looked cute on this Meditteranean cookbook I got for my last birthday. Those cookbook writers always make them look so easy. 

2 large long aubergines
225g mozzarella cheese
2 plum tomatoes
16 large basil leaves
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

For the Dressing
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
1 Tbsp lemon juice

For the Garnish
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
Torn basil leaves

Verdict: I need to do this delicious and healthy dish one more time, if nothing else for a better shot!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Heston Blumenthal's 36-hour Sous Vide Pork Belly

"It's going to revolutionise home cooking in ways that the microwave didn't even dream of doing."
Heston Blumenthal on Sous Vide cooking

So, this post kicks off my sous-vide (SV) recipe collection, starting with Heston Blumenthal's 36-hour sous vide pork belly. 

Pork Belly - A very cheap cut to be experimenting with SV.


Timing set

I set the temperature and timing on Friday night 9pm and woke up on Sunday morning 9am to become the proud owner of 2 slabs of Sous Vide Pork Belly.

Here's what I did:

Friday morning: Rubbed salt all over the meat and left in the fridge
Friday evening: Vacuum seal meat with marinade of apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, mirin. Place in SV for the next 36 hours
Sunday morning: Remove meat from SV, kept in fridge under heavy weight overnight
Monday evening: Remove from fridge, pan sear few minutes to get crispy skin and serve for dinner.

1. You don't need patience even if it's 36 hours. Just plonk your meat in and forget all about it.
2. SV is interesting as you can cook your food in a vacuum and chill or freeze it until the day of your party, and just finish off with a 5-minute pan-sear to serve. I've been told many fine dining restaurants do that.
3. The SV machine is low maintenance - a tub of water to fill, then throw and just wipe dry to clean.
4. No real culinary skills needed. Anyone who can set the temperature and timing can SV.

Check my other SV recipes and more pictures:
- Duck Breast, featured on Asian Food Channel Official FB Page
- Beef Cheeks, featured on AFC
- Pork Tenderloin, recipe by Chef Lee Bennett who trained under Gordon Ramsay

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Word of the Week - Sous Vide Supreme

Uses energy like a 60 watt light bulb, very efficient

I talked about Sous Vide (pronounced "su-vid") before - see my first mention of it. Well, not only have I succumbed to sous vide cooking (meaning, "under vacuum"), I am now the proud owner of a home sous vide machine! How romantic is that for a birthday present from hubster? (Picture 3 teenagers rolling their eyes**)

Well, allow me to introduce my new toy. This is a water oven aimed at home cooks looking for some serious eats. Designed and launched in 2009, some chefs believe the SV oven will become as commonplace as the microwave in the home kitchen. The technique is very simple - see what it says on the box here.

Because the temperature is precisely controlled, you can never overcook your food. Ever. Bye-bye-dry is the new way to go for that piece of exquisite steak. If the temperature is set to 60 degrees Celsius, for eg, the meat that is being cooked cannot possibly go beyond that temperature, guaranteeing you the medium rare, pink-blush meat you are craving for. Takes the stress out of always wondering if you are under-cooking or over-cooking your meat, in other words, idiot-proof and virgin-chef-proof. Engineers would love this? I read about an overseas student with a SV machine in her dorm because she can't cook!

Testing it out with a vacuum-packed chicken breast in thyme.

You can tell this is going to keep me busy for a while. No more home improvisations. Expect to read more sous-vide recipes here!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mentaiko-Tobikko Cold Japanese Pasta Tossed with Truffle Cream

I talked about Mentaiko in my last post. Well, here's what I did with it - cold Japanese pasta.

This dish will burn a big hole in your pocket if you order them in one of the top restaurants in Asia - I won't mention which. I've done a home version here that costs me a fraction and tastes wonderful. By the way, I'm a late adopter - this dish was all the rage a few years back in the fine dining scene. But that's the wonderful thing about food - there's no such thing as a late comer. It's as relevant today as it was back in 2009.

I used Japanese spaghetti - they are cute little shorties like these compared with the Italian ones. Yes, the Japs have miniaturised pasta too.

1 packet of Japanese pasta, 150g
Mentaiko, 40g
Tobikko, 30g (the bright orange salty roe you find on top of sushi)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to lubricate
Japanese Sesame Salt, 1 tsp
Fresh Crabmeat (optional)
Black Truffles (sauce or cream), 2 tsp
Japanese Seaweed and Toasted Sesame Seeds, to garnish
A Dash of Truffle Oil at the table

1. Place clean, empty plates in fridge.
2. Cook pasta according to instructions on package, about 4 minutes for al-dente.
3. Drain and rinse pasta under cold running water.
4. Scrap mentaiko and mix together with pasta, tobikko, and truffle cream. Mix well.
5. Add EVOO if it's too dry to mix.
6. Taste and add salt.
7. Leave in fridge to cool.
8. Serve very cold on very cold plates.
9. Top with fresh crab meat and/or shredded seaweed.
10. Add a dash of truffle oil and Japanese sesame salt at the table.

The Tobikko provides the occasional salty pop in your mouth, while the truffles add a deep complex flavour, yes, bringing my 2 favourite cuisines together - Italian and Japanese. Nom nom. Arigato Gozaimas!

See more readers' comments here.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Word of the Week - Mentaiko

Mentaiko (or Ming Tai Zi) is essentially marinated roe of pollock, a kind of marine fish. What I have here is spicy roe, a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine. You may have eaten it without even realising it's there. The name derives from Mentai, which means pollock in Korean. It can be eaten on its own with sake, and is in fact, nominated as the best side dish by one of the Japanese magazines.

My husband got this for me from the airport in Tokyo, 1000 Japanese Yen (about US$10) for 100g, about half the price of what you get in Singapore.

To use as an ingredient or to serve, simply cut the sacs and scrap the roe off with a teaspoon.

Scrap gently and you are left with the membrane as shown here.

The packet I got yielded this much Mentaiko.

Look out for my Mentaiko Pasta in the next post!