Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Japanese Braised Pork (Buta no Kanuki)

One of my favourite foods is belly pork. And one of my favourite ways of eating it is the Japanese dish of braised, slow-cooked pork served on rice with whole grain mustard (that most traditional of Japanese ingredients). If I get it right, the pork will be very tender; soft enough to pull apart with chopsticks, sweet, and spicy with an unctuous gravy that is very moreish. The sake bar and restaurant Kura in Auckland do a good version of it, and I always leave wanting more. Because their portions are so small. (Actually, that's not fair, their portions are fine.)

If I get it wrong, I'm not telling.

I am, however, deviating from the conventional, and purists, devoted to the art of Buta will be appalled. However, because of my European ancestry, I can't go past a piece of belly pork without insisting on some crackling, so here's what I'm doing:

Marinating the cubed, boned belly (still with skin on) in soy, dry sherry, ginger, crushed star anise and cracked pepper. For a day at least.
only 2 days to go...

after a day in the marinade, the meat has gone quite dark.

Dry the pork cubes, reserve the marinade, and then fry the pork in a big pan until browned on all sides. 

Meanwhile, dissolve about 2 tablespoons of sugar in a cup of water and add to the marinade, and return the pork to it once browned. Return this to the fridge, and once cooled, skim off any fat, and place the cubes of pork in a roasting dish, skin side up. 


Add the marinade, and top up with water until the pork is covered except for the skin. 

Slow cook in the oven at 140deg C for several hours; the liquid will need topping up with water from time to time, and the pork should become sticky and soft enough to carve with a chopstick. When it's cooked,turn on the grill in the oven and crisp up the skin. (I hope!)


UPDATE: the skin was so full of moisture from the marinade that it just didn't want to go crispy! Instead, it had become soft and silky and not a bit chewy, so I didn't risk any more cooking (after 3.5 hours), and here's how it looked:


Decant the gravy, separate the stock from the fat, and reduce the stock in a pan until it's glossy and thick enough to coat the back of the moon.

Serve with steamed shredded cabbage silverbeet, grainy mustard, and steamed rice. With the gravy. Don't forget the gravy. Apparently hard-boiled eggs are a traditional accompaniment but this is just lunch!



3 days to prepare, 30 min to eat!

But it was really worth it; absolutely sensational! I will be doing this again.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not another chilli sauce, surely?

Yes. Indeed. My love of chillis knows no bounds, and I just picked the last peppers of the season. (In case anyone was wondering, a "peck" is a quarter of a bushel; considerably more than the quantity I picked. Oh. A bushel is 8 Gallons.)
Last night I was round at our friends, N&S, watching the All Blacks beat Wales, and snacking all the while on antipasti. It was delicious. One of the little dishes was a homemade chilli pickle, made with some Scotch Bonnet peppers that S had grown. These peppers, traditionally, are very hot, but these provided more of a "Russian roulette" approach to the proceedings, with the occasional one being a sudden blast of fire, the others being tasty, but no hotter than, say, a glass of water.

So I was inspired. I took our remaining chillis (about 300 birds-eye Thai chillis, and another 40 slightly under-ripe Habaneros)
not quite a peck of peppers, shortly to be pickled.

 and am currently stewing them whole in wine, cider vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice. I've put a handful of garlic cloves in there too, and some lime zest, and I'll simmer them all until the garlic and chilli is soft. The smell is acrid and pungent, somewhere between a delicious pickle and an industrial accident.

do not inhale directly. If swallowed, seek medical attention.

Once they are stewed, I'll have to decide what's next; do I strain them through the mouli to make a smooth paste, or do I bottle them crushed but whole, seeds and all, for a mouth-burning pickle? If I leave the seeds in, I'm sure the heat will persist all the way down the digestive tract; I suspect I'll sieve them out.

Normally, I'd try to keep the cooking time to a minimum; the longer the cooking the milder the sauce becomes. But this time, I think I can go for a long cook, as the heat and pungency are at an all time high with this combination. And I already have some really hot sauce.

Decision time (the next day...)
I took out some of the softened whole Thai chillis, de-seeded them, chopped them up and returned them to the strained sauce to add a little texture. The result? This is probably the most pungent, and fieriest sauce I've made so far. I gave LW an old pole I rescued from a nearby barge, and she refused to touch the jars with it. So it is hot. I think it might make an excellent ingredient; it's been cooked so much that I could add it to a mild curry to make a hot one at the table. That sort of thing.
2 jars. With chilli sauce inside. Or is it jam...?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toad. Quite possibly in the hole.

My appetite is an odd beast, to which I am occasionally held hostage. And today it demanded Toad in the Hole, and nothing less. LW has never tried this English childhood delicacy, and, needless to say, it couldn't be just ordinary sausages! No, we had to go and get a couple of gourmet delights: Moroccan Lamb, and a German Pork Bratwurst.

I won't go into the details of the recipe, just to mention that the Yorkshire Pud was cooked in the sizzling hot fat from the swosages, and the oven was not opened for the regulation 20 minutes to minimise the chances of a premature collapse.

Accompanied by a rich beef and red wine onion gravy, and some buttered Brussels sprouts with toasted almonds, it looked somewhat like this:

And washed down with Monteith's absolutely brilliant Crushed Apple Cider, which I have taken quite a shine to, as it tastes like crisp green apples.

LW's conclusion after her 1st Toad ever:
"Delicious, but I prefer it without the sausage!"

So. Yorkshire puds & gravy next time!

Monday, June 14, 2010


There's nothing that divides the eating public so much as veal (except, perhaps, Foie Gras or Alanis Morisette, or racism, or war or... actually, there are loads of things that divide the public more than veal.).

Veal! Just in at the supermarket in Kerikeri! They've got steaks, T-bones, chops, Osso buco, all looking lovely and fresh, a good colour and not a bad price. So tonight we're having Baked potatoes, creamy mushroom sauce and veal steaks (it looks like the sirloin to me).

The spuds will be baked in the range oven, so I have no idea how long that'll take. Sometimes it's really hot, but it depends on the wood. I reckon about 90 minutes at least, but I've chosen some smaller spuds so that we don't have to eat past midnight. I love to bake them well-oiled and seasoned. (I use "Krazy mixed-up salt" that's been seasoned with celery seeds and garlic) I bake them to a golden crisp on the outside, and the skins are such a treat that, sometimes, even LW eats them!

The sauce is onions and garlic fried in butter with loads of thinly sliced button mushrooms and a pinch of herbes de provence, once the mushrooms are soft and tiny, a bit of dry sherry and a spoonful of creme fraiche complete the dish.

And, as an experiment, (but mainly because we saw Jamie Oliver do this with some kebabs a few minutes ago on the food channel) I'm going to grill the steaks on the range by lifting the lid over the firebox and using a bbq grill. They're very thin, and should only need about 2 min each side to be just right. I'm hoping that we don't get a kitchen full of smoke or a conflagration where the cooker used to be.

We shall see...

...well, 90 min later and the spuds are still pale and a bit hard, so I'm now finishing them in a hot (220 deg) oven for 30 min.

...the fire was too much flames and not enough embers for the steaks, so they went in a pan!

However, the result was way beyond edible!

I think I'll try a bit of osso buco next!

Added a day later...

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, veal is a bit controversial, and I, like many others, are absolutely aghast at any farming technique that uses an animal as a little "meat factory" and crate veal, where the calves are penned, milk-fed and denied any ability to move is an appalling practice, and the sooner it's banned the better. The veal here is simply young bulls. Dairy herds have little use for the male calves, and in the past there was a tendency to have them slaughtered as "bobby calves" before they were 2 weeks old. Now these male calves are kept by some farmers as veal calves and milk and grass-fed to about 30 weeks in the same way as their female siblings, before going to the butcher as veal. Not unlike the majority of pigs and sheep, for pork and lamb. The meat is low in fat, quite red (as you can see), and very tender. Looking on the 'net I can see that there are moves afoot to ban the crating of calves in the EU (it's been banned in the UK for over 30 years!).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Curried Egg & Mash

It's nostalgia food time!

LW has always had a love for a dish she ate as a child: Hard-boiled eggs, curry sauce and mashed potato. It sounds like an odd combo, but it's good comfort food and quick and easy.

For LW, it's vital that the curry sauce is as simple and "traditional" as possible. Traditional in this case means a roue, curry powder and milk.

LW's choice

For me, this just won't do. What I need is to experiment. So in my sauce, we have onion, garlic, finely sliced chilli, garam masala, fenugreek, anchovy sauce, tamarind, turmeric, paprika, and curry paste. And a large dollop of yoghurt.

my choice

And then there's the mash. LW insists her's be made with potato, butter, a little cream and milk. By some weird co-incidence, so do I. It's like we are made for each other.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Soup and Sandwiches II

Hello. It's the morning after the soup before, and I'm not nearly as flatulent as I anticipated, the soup being Brussels Sprout. In fact, with a little tinkering, this soup could be very high on the list of favourites. The accompanying sandwiches weren't really sarnies at all, but the classic crusty bread rolls served with chicken liver sauteed with onion, sherry and cream. But, ahh, the soup!

So. Blanch sprouts, fry bacon and onion till soft, add garlic and softened, halved sprouts, fry some more, and then add it all to some heated stock. Chicken in this instance.

Then puree the whole thing until you have a smooth pale green soup to which you may add cream for extra velevetiness, and serve hot with a dollop of creme fraiche and some parsley. 

I suspect that even the most hardened sproutophobe would consider eating this, but I would, next time, add less bacon, more sprouts, and perhaps some white wine to deglaze the frying pan. 

The chicken liver "sandwiches" were a good complement, although there was some confusion over the status of the sauce with the livers, as it could so easily be confused for soup...

it looks just like an illustration from a book by Marguerite Patten! (god bless her)

The meal was sent on its way with a lovely Vouvray we tasted in Auckland, and liked so much that we bought a case from our friendly, local wine merchant. It's a Marc Bredif 2007 and it makes everything except a big red taste tiny afterwards. Quite superb! Then we had a big red afterwards: A Wolf Blass Cabernet Merlot from 2008. And so to bed. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fish and chips and Thai food

We caught up with some friends from Auckland who were having a long weekend in Paihia, and had an excellent, rather wet, day with them on Saturday. After a couple of hours at the Taipa raceway, watching some fairly mad stock-car races which dissolved into the tiny clay track as the rain closed in, we drove down to Mangonui and it's rightly famous fish & chip shop.

The fish & chipper is on stilts over the water at Mangonui, always busy, and never less then excellent. The fish of the day (no choice, and who needs it?) was bluenose cod, so a couple of pieces each, in crispy batter, with some chips and quarters of lemon did us proud. It was so tasty, indeed, that we ate all the photos of the food, too. So here's a library image:
photo courtesy of the AA website
and the aftermath (or aftermaths if you speak English)

photo courtesy of LW

That evening we decided to eat in Paihia at the Thai Garden on the waterfront. It's a small cafe-style place, with a generic Thai menu, and, in my opinion, really good quality food. I had the Tom Yum soup, which I can rarely go past as a starter, and despite the presence of split coconut milk (I prefer it when it's a clear, coconut-free version) was really tasty; very hot and sour, with the regulation three jumbo prawns. LW and our friends went for the "other" option for the starter, the deep fried crispy things. Golden sacks, in LW's case, which were, indeed, golden and sack-like.

As a main course, the sizzling beef with vegetables was everybody else's choice, and went down very well indeed. For a few minutes, it was the loudest thing in the cafe. I had the Chilli Basil with Pork served with a coconut sauce with veggies. This was very fragrant, and, once again, quite fiery. It was described as "Thai medium" which suited me fine. The cafe was packed, the atmosphere happy and the service excellent. We hadn't been to this place for a couple of years (we rarely eat out in Paihia) and will definitely go back soon, as I remember the crispy fried whole snapper in chilli sauce with some fondness!

Tonight is our soup and sandwiches night, so I will attempt to record the experience with some of those new-fangled photographs all the young people are talking about.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pizza night!

I hate pizza. Actually, I thoroughly dislike the soggy, thick dough-ed, over-dressed stuff that passes for takeaway pizza. But every so often we make some dough (breadmaker!) and construct our own. It's always Margherita; and we keep it as simple as possible: Olive oil, passata, tomato (fresh or sun dried) mozzarella and basil.
We have some of the last ripe tomatoes of the season, so they had to go in:

The dough has to be rolled as thinly as possible, the oven has to be as hot as possible, and the stone on which the dough sits goes into the oven for ages 1st.

It was just slightly overdone; amazing just how quickly they cook! But it was delicious nonetheless. We plan to build a pizza oven this spring, so that we can cook them outside in intense heat, but doing them this way- I love pizza!