Monday, February 28, 2011

Sorry for the delays...

Its been a little hectic the past few weeks with the new semester, but hopefully I should have some new posts up by this weekend for all you people (I hope there are people...) reading this. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

17) Braised Pork Belly with Sautéed Cabbage (Bacon?)

Bacon seems to be everywhere nowadays. Baconators at Wendy’s. Bacon scented candles. Epic Meal Time on Youtube (“add bacon strips, add bacon strips”). And that’s all good and well. But being bacon is like being Robin to the proverbial Batman. Even though bacon may be famous, it still second fiddle. Bacon on top of burgers, bacon wrapped steaks, bacon bits on salads. Bacon is often not the star of the show. That’s where pork belly comes in.

Farmers do not raise walking strips of bacon. Bacon is most often made from the belly of the pig, the most fatty, unctuous part. Most pork belly consumed in America is in the form of bacon. However, pork belly can be cooked in other ways and with just as delicious results as bacon. Pork belly is basically 50% fat (or more), and although some of it cooks out, it is a decadent dish best reserved for special occasions.

This is the first time I’ve actually cooked pork belly. My mom bought it for a Chinese New Year’s dish, but ended up not using it. So I took this as an opportunity to try cooking it. Also, since this is my first recipe outside of my class, I thought it would be fun to parallel it to my first recipe in this blog, “Sautéed Greens” (Recipe Here). So this pork belly is served with sautéed cabbage, its astringency helps cut through the fat.

Braised Pork Belly with Sautéed Cabbage

Pork Belly:

· 1.5 lbs Pork Belly, skin removed (try to get the leanest belly possible)

· 1 Rosemary sprig

· Juice of two oranges

· ¼ cup of soy sauce

· ¼ cup Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)

· Salt and pepper

· 1/3 cup brown sugar


· Half head of green cabbage, shredded

· 6 cloves of garlic

· 8 oz fresh shitake mushrooms

· Half sprig rosemary

· Juice and zest of one lemon

· 2 Tbsp capers

· 2 Tbsp soy sauce

· 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine

· 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

· Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

o Note: Liquid measurements are approximate, more may be needed

1. Place the pork belly into an oven safe pan. Mix the rest of the ingredients, except the brown sugar, and pour over the belly. Roast in a 250 degree oven for 2 hours.

2. After 2 hours, remove the belly and raise the heat to 400 degrees. Mix some of the juices in the pan with the brown sugar and glaze the pork belly. Place back into the oven and glaze the pork belly every few minutes until a brown crust forms. Remove from oven and keep warm.

3. Take the leftover juices in the pan and separate the fat from it (pour in a tall cup and wait for the fat to float to the top. Carefully spoon out all the fat that rises). Add the juices to a pan and reduce until a thick glaze.

4. Add some oil to a pan and sauté the garlic. Add the mushrooms and rosemary and cook. Add the liquid ingredients and cook. Once the mushrooms are soft, add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes. Add capers and lemon zest. The cabbage should still have some crunch when cooked.

5. To plate, place cabbage on a plate. Using a sharp knife, slice the belly into roughly ½ inch slices (the belly will slice cleaner if you chill it first and then slice it, but this involves reheating the belly). Place two slices of belly on the cabbage and drizzle with reduced pan juices. Serves 6 with extra pork belly.

This dish came out extraordinarily well. It is very rich and indulgent, but it’s good. The cabbage really helps cutting the fat of the belly. I didn’t know how to cook belly so I just threw it into the oven, however, I looked up some recipes on Youtube, and this seemed like a common technique. The ingredients are both Asian and Italian, but the end result is very modern American in flavor.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reflections on Science and Cooking

Cooking. It’s simple right? You take food, apply some heat, and end up with something that is (hopefully) edible. It’s all just guessing: a little bit of this, a touch of that, and pinch of mystery-essence-bottled-allpurpose-celebrity-chef seasoning. That’s all you need for to cook right? Wrong. While on the surface cooking may look like a simple process, on the scientific level there is much more going on.

For January Term I took a class entitled “The Science of Cooking.” This class is aimed at explaining why cooks do the things they do. Often these explanations are counter to conventional wisdom on the same subject. Take for example the simple grilled steak. Modern wisdom tells us that we sear a steak to lock in the juices. By using high heat we are somehow able to block the escape of liquid from the interior of the steak. Unfortunately, this idea is merely a myth touted by countless cooking shows. Searing has actually been shown as resulting in greater moisture loss when compared to other forms of cooking. But you wouldn’t want to eat a boiled steak would you? Although searing doesn’t lock in the juices, it does contribute something essential to good food: flavor. The high heat of searing allows for two reactions to take place: caramelizaton (the oxidation of sugar) and the Maillard reaction (which is an interaction between amino acids and sugar). The most obvious part of this reaction is the creation of a beautiful brown crust. Not so obvious is the by-product of this process: the creation of new flavor compounds. The creation of these compounds is the main reason for searing.

At its core “The Science of Cooking” begs one simple question: Why? By applying the scientific method to cooking, we are learning not only what makes food taste good, but how can we make food taste better. Take for example the breakfast staple scrambled eggs. A no brainer. Mix them up, throw them in a pan, cook as fast as possible. The result is a dry, gray, cakey mess of coiled proteins. Now tweak the process slightly: mix up the eggs, throw them in a pan, cook on lowest heat possible. A gentle heat will result in smaller curd formation in the eggs. Smaller curds mean a creamier scrambled egg, and a creamier scrambled egg is a better one.

Every student in the class kept a blog of all their culinary “experiments.” This chronicled our many successes… but also our failures. Some of the class tried making yogurt. The process is pretty simple: warm some milk, add a spoonful of yogurt, and keep warm for 4-7 hours. The bacteria ferment the milk giving it the tang and curds found in yogurt, at least that’s what supposed to happen. In practice, the process turns out to be more finicky than it seems. The end result was more like yogurt flavored milk than actual yogurt. Here is where the scientific method comes in, if the experiment didn’t go according to plan, simply re-do it and tweak one of the variables. By attempting multiple trials, we can gain insight into what went wrong with the process (it turns out the milk wasn’t kept at a warm enough temperature).

The culinary world is deeply rooted in art, in creativity. Science is not at odds with art, or with food. Science is merely a different lens from which we may look at food. By looking though this lens we can not only better appreciate our world’s culinary traditions, but also innovate and move those traditions forward.