Monday, October 26, 2009

Pig Trotter Congee with 1000-Year-Old Eggs

It took me a while to get off my high from the whole pig roast last Saturday to post the follow up on what I did with the two pig trotters and bits and ends I took home with me. So, here I am...finally.

I love Cantonese congee (aka rice porridge either plain or with added ingredients) especially in cold weather or when I'm sick. Cantonese people eat congee when they're sick because it's a lot of liquid and carbs and it's easy to swallow and not oily. It's our version of chicken soup.

It was about 90 degrees last Sunday and I wasn't sick but I HAD to make congee because I've always wanted to make Pig Trotter/Roast Pork Congee with fresh roast pork.

The results were fantastic; the pillowy congee was a perfect mix of fragrant, sweet jasmine rice and smoky roast pork flavors. Boiling the trotters in the congee broke down the cartilage so it was both fun and delicious to pick out, suck and chew on the cartilage which there are plenty of in the trotters.

Read on if you want to make congee at home. Of course, you don't have to use roast pork or pig trotters. You can make plain congee and just enjoy the yumminess of jasmine rice. Or, you can add desired ingredients. Some of my favorites include:
  • Fish Congee - use fish fillets (preferably cod). If you really have time then buy a fresh live tilapia (buy 2 if the fish is around 1.5 lbs) from Ranch 99 Supermarket. Do not buy the ones that are already dead, lying in the fish case. Go home immediately, clean and de-scale fish, steam it in a double boiler for about 10 minutes with a few slices of ginger and green onion stuffed into its stomach to rid the fishy taste, debone carefully and thoroughly (you DO NOT want fish bones or scales in your congee), reserve the fish and add it when congee is done cooking. I prefer using fresh tilapia over cod fillets because the fresh fish really makes a difference and gives a meat "sweetness" to the congee.
  • Chicken Congee - use organic dark meat boneless chicken (cut to bite size pieces) or half of a fresh-killed chicken (chop into pieces but you'll have to deal with small bones). Regardless, marinate with some kosher salt and white pepper. Add into congee when congee is almost done and keep stirring so the congee doesn't burn.
  • Minced Beef Congee - use ground beef and marinate with some kosher salt, white pepper and cornstarch. Form little 1 inch beef balls with your hand. Add into congee when congee is almost done and keep stirring so the congee doesn't burn.
**When congee is done, add kosher salt to taste. Other "condiments" like sliced 1000-Year-Old Eggs, thinly sliced and peeled ginger and chopped green onions can be added to any congee. The eggs should be added to the pot when the congee is done but still boiling so the eggs will break down a little. Ginger and green onions are sprinkled on top of the congee when it's served.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Sorry, not sure how many quarts this pot is but it's pretty big and I used about 1.5 gallons of water.

I used 2.5 cups of jasmine rice from Thailand (must use jasmine rice - don't use sticky rice!). "Marinate" the rice with a generous amount of salt (about 2 tbsp) and vegetable oil (about 1 tbsp) for a few minutes. Then wash the rice about 3 times to wash away most of the salt and oil. I believe this help the rice "blossom" and cook better into a pillowy porridge consistency.

Add the rice to the pot of water waaaay before the water boils and then absolutely DO NOT touch/stir the pot for the next hour. If you stir the pot, the congee will stick and burn at the bottom of the pot. I never stir until the congee is almost done and I'm ready to add my ingredients.

Thousand Year Old Eggs (aka preserved duck eggs). Don't worry, these eggs have not been preserved for 1000 years. I don't understand the translation. A straight translation should be "leather eggs."

By the way, I really don't like these "sterilized" versions where the eggs come in clean, vacuum-packed plastic packaging. It's too tidy. I miss the eggs from my childhood when they came messily packed in woodash, quick lime and salt and I had to go in the backyard to clean them before my mom could use them. Those tasted sooooo much better and the yolks were always perfect.

Slice your preserved duck eggs in half and then the halves into fours. Add them last to the congee. The heat and stirring will further break up the eggs into tinier pieces so you don't want to cut them too small. Some say these eggs stink but I think they have a wonderful eggy smell and the yolks are a rich and delicious compliment to congee.

I added my trotters and bits and ends when the congee was almost done. Note that I didn't use any pork skin (too fat) but I did leave the skin on on the trotters.

The congee is almost done when all the rice has "blossomed" and the water has turned into a white pillowy porridge consistency. It's not done if you can still make out rice grains.

Pig Trotter Congee with 1000-Year-Old Eggs - Done! Add kosher salt to taste. I prefer kosher or coarse salt in most of my cooking because it's better quality than table salt and when you're cooking with meat, it really helps the flavors of the meat shine.

Congee served with sliced ginger and green onions. My sister and I enjoyed many bowls of this. It's a lot of liquid so it's easy to digest and be hungry for more :)

I'd like to tackle congealed pork blood congee at home one day but I find the quality of pork blood to be substandard in the U.S. It's missing some ingredient but I don't know what it is. What I do know is that the congealed pork blood in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China is almost always soft, silky and smooth like tofu and has a rich, lip-smacking gamey taste. Here, they almost always taste like dried erasers...if I were to eat an eraser.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Little Piggie went to a Whole Pig Roast!

WARNING! Explicit photos! Do not scroll down if seeing a whole uncooked butterflied pig will disturb you.

About six weeks ago, my friend, J., mentioned that he ordered a pig roasting box and that he and his wife, R., were going to host a whole pig roast party. Of course, I immediately/shamelessly invited myself; after all, there is a whole pig at stake!

True to Hungry Kat fashion, I couldn't just arrive and eat so I volunteered to go early to help prep the pig. Prepping and cooking the pig was really fun even though we were sweatin' in 90 degree heat in October (ah, isn't Los Angeles great?). All that effort just made eating the pig that much more satisfying.

J. brined the pig for two days with salt, peppercorns and cumin seeds and kept it in an ice bath.

The pig roasting box came from La Caja China. Very handy instructions on the side of the box but J. did a lot of research beforehand too.

We took out all the ice and got ready to lift the pig out of the ice bath so we could put garlic and the seasoning rub on it before we roasted it.

Gripping and lifting the 70+ lbs pig onto the table was not easy and there were three of us lifting it. J. ordered the pig from Alexander's Prime Meats in San Gabriel and they cleaned and butterflied it beautifully. J. said they're a really cool old-school butcher shop; I can't wait to go.

We wiped the whole pig dry with paper towels. Then we used knives and cut small openings all over the skin, from rump to shoulder, and stuck whole cloves of garlic into the openings. We used a lot of garlic.

Okay, I do have my limits (I did grow up reading Charlotte's Web). As I was drying the pig's face, I freaked out a little bit when I lifted the ears and saw the blue eyes. I quickly hid them again with the ears.

J. and R. are amazing. They made the seasoning rub with their homemade pork bone broth, citrus and different kinds of salts and herbs. We rubbed it all over the pig.

We strapped the pig onto the grill which came with the pig roasting box. The grill goes on top of a drip pan that's laid inside the box.

The tail.

I thought the tail would be longer and curled. When I was a little girl, it always tickled my imagination and made me salivate when I read Little House in the Big Woods and got to the part where Pa butchers a pig and gives little Laura the crispy, curly pig tail to eat. I also loved the part where Laura and her sister blows up the pig's bladder to make a ball to play with and then helps their mother preserve the meat for the Winter. We've definitely come a long way in terms of cooking and entertainment since the 1860s.

Pig in a box. It's almost ready for roasting!

This is the lid that covers the roasting box. A rack sits on top of the lid to hold the charcoal and ashes. J. lit charcoal and burned it until it all turned white before putting the lid on.

Ahhhhh. The pig begins its 4-hour roasting journey.

J. added more charcoal every hour for three hours. It was HOT; we were all sweating but J. was sweating the most since he had the hard job of adding and moving the charcoal around. He's our hero.

The pig's internal temperature finally reached 145 degrees which meant it was very close to being done roasting. This was when we have to flip the pig to crisp the skin. This was not easy since it was heavy and hot but J. and his friend managed perfectly.

Oooh, this was fun. I got to score the skin (X marks the spot) all over the pig before we put the charcoal back on top to roast it for 30 more minutes to crisp the skin.

Whole Pig Roast - Done!
Darn, I should have played tic-tac-toe!

I stuck an apple into its mouth at the beginning of roasting. The apple went from red to yellow and wasn't really tasty. I should have had a second apple on hand just for presentation.

Isn't that beautiful? That's the rump/back trotter. Funny that the trotter was curled; it's probably because it was tight in the roasting box and the trotter got pushed upward against the side of the box.

OMG! The meat was delicious and super juicy! I tried pieces from all parts of the pig: belly, jowl (very fat), rib, rump, loin, cheeks and snout. The garlic and rub gave the meat a lot of flavors and all the pieces were good but the pork belly was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth heavenly. The snout was surprisingly meaty and it was a nice juicy chew. Too bad I missed out on the tongue; I heard it was delicious.

Some of the skin didn't crisp so I tried pan-frying it - my feeble attempt at chicarrones but it didn't really work because I didn't use a lot of oil to deep-fry it. Still, the skin was good because it had an an even layer of fat that was bursting with rich buttery meat flavors.

Oh, actually, one of the best parts was the pig's brain. It was sooooo good. J.'s friend cracked open the skull and we spooned out the brains. It was very rich and I think the best way to describe it is that it tasted like chicken liver pate or beef bone marrow.

There was some leftover baguette so I spread the last pig brains on it - ah, another match made in heaven.

This was one of the most fun and memorable cooking and eating adventures of I've ever had. It's great to cook and eat with others who are also passionate about cooking and food and experimentation. Thank you to J. and R. for having me and for an amazing time. I can't wait until they decide to repeat this craziness and roast a whole lamb or the "de-constructed turducken" we talked about.

Okay, time to head to the gym...gotta pay when you totally pig out on pork!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Best Roast Chicken I've Ever Tasted!

My parents (and most Chinese immigrants) always complain the chicken meat in the U.S. has no flavor and don't taste like chickens because it's never fresh at the supermarket. So, I've always wanted to try roasting a whole chicken using a fresh-killed chicken. Lily's Eggs at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays is my favorite place to buy fresh, free-range chicken, quail and duck eggs and Lily's also sells free-range chickens that are killed the day before and never frozen. This past week, I was finally able to visit the market early enough before Lily's sold out of her free-range chickens.

The results were absolutely amazing. Not to toot my own horn but this was the BEST roast chicken I've EVER tasted; every single piece of meat was succulent and packed with rich, meat flavors. I'm sure the tasty factor was mostly due to the fact that the chicken was free-range and fresh-killed. The frozen and defrosted caged chickens that have traveled hundreds (if not thousands) of miles at the supermarkets never taste this good and the meat always taste bland unless you marinate it for a long time or douse it with sauce. I didn't marinate my chicken; I just prepped it and stuck it in the oven right away. There aren't a lot of pictures because it's really hard to prep dinner quickly by myself and take pictures too. Here are the delicious results:

The chickens are killed on Tuesdays and then sold at the market on Wednesdays. It's cleaned and vacuumed-packed. Unfortunately, they threw away the gizzard, liver and heart; that's the good stuff that I wanted to roast along with the chicken.

Weiser Farm (also at SM Farmers Market) is another favorite of mine to get potato recommendations (they have so many varieties) and whatever else they have in season. Besides delicious potatoes, the great guys at the stand recommended a very sweet and pungent onion and this strong garlic for my chicken. I forgot the variety name :P

-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Wash the chicken (the inside cavity too) and pat dry with paper towels.
-Sprinkle garlic salt or kosher salt very liberally all over the chicken and inside the cavity too.
-Slice the onion and head of garlic in half and peel away the onion/garlic skins.
-Stuff the onion, half of the garlic, and a few fresh sprigs of thyme (I used rosemary too) inside the cavity.
-Use kitchen string and tie the chicken (Google this to learn how; I'm still learning to perfect this technique).

(The chicken is already done roasting in this picture.)

Brush the chicken with 1 to 2 tablespoons of melted butter and place the chicken breast-side up on a rack on top of a foil-lined pan. The butter will help keep the chicken skin moist and give it a nice golden hue.

Then, you can either lay sliced potatoes and carrots around the rack or roast them on a separate pan. I threw caution to the wind and decided to roast them on the same pan so the potatoes and carrots can cook in the dripped chicken juices and fat. Don't forget to sprinkle a little salt over the potatoes and carrots and if roasting on a separate pan, drizzle some oil on them.

Roast the chicken for about 60 minutes (time varies depending on chicken size and I think my chicken was around 4 to 5 pounds) and try to take it out quickly at the 45 minute mark and flip it so the skin on the other side gets a chance to crisp as well.

You can check whether it's done if the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh or if you have a meat thermometer, insert it into the inner thigh area and the chicken is done when it reads 165 degrees (note: instant-read thermometers cannot go in oven from the beginning).

Let the chicken rest 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the stuffing, then cut and serve.

Most delicious Roast Chicken ever! You won't be able to resist devouring the crispy skin. Give it a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you like.

The chicken's neck, roasted. This, along with the wings, is the best part. I wish bars would serve roasted chicken necks. It's the perfect bar food (in my heaven).

I know you can also get fresh-killed chickens at a chicken shop in Chinatown (on Broadway Ave., diagonally across from Cathay Bank) and there are a couple of places in San Gabriel Valley (one is on Garvey Ave). I can see the shops in my head but for the life of me, I cannot remember the names of the places. Ranch 99 supermarkets will sometimes have fresh-killed chickens too. However, it's just so nice to have Lily's Eggs as a source on the Westside.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

dineLA: Dinner at Bazaar...and Love

Can I fall in love at first sight and at first bite? Yes, I can and I did tonight at The Bazaar!

My restaurant week adventure continues with dinner at The Bazaar. Bazaar is located inside the posh SLS Hotel and the restaurant decor is fun and trendy with dashes of mystery and romance. There are nooks, curtained spaces and different seating (booths, tables, low tables, outside seating, etc.); combined with the art, tarot card readers (on weekends) and amazing food and presentation, you'll feel like you're at a special dinner at a party. This is not just another restaurant to answer the age-old question of "what are we having for dinner tonight."

I went with my friend and we both ordered the $44 dineLA prix-fixe. We were pleasantly surprised that we had so many choices to pick from. Each person picks one appetizer from 5 choices, three tapas from a really long list of tapas that's organized into meat, vegetable, salad, seafood, etc. categories and then one dessert. Our adventure begins here:

This "fog" was from the "Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinha" that was made tableside. It was so much fun to watch the bartender make this cocktail. What a great way to start our dinner!

"Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinha" completed.
They definitely don't skimp on the alcohol and even though the cocktail is technically frozen, the "ice" is so smooth that I imagine that's what a cloud would taste like if I could actually taste a cloud. There is no ice crunchiness at all. Edible flowers add a beautiful touch.

"Magical Mojito"
Mojito is poured over a wad of cotton candy. Creative pairing and presentation but the drink was a bit too sweet for me and wasn't strong enough on the alcohol front.

Appetizer: "Philly Cheesesteak" ~ Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef
Delicious! We could've eaten ten of those each. I know...wishful thinking.

"Not Your Everyday Caprese" ~ Cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella
We added three things not on the prix-fixe menu that we really wanted to try. This was one of them and it was totally worth it. The liquid mozzarella was creamy and it's the perfect bite when you spoon it into your mouth with the sweet n' tart cherry tomato and some pesto at the same time.

"Olives ~ traditional and modern"
This was second thing we ordered extra because someone highly recommended the olives to me. You start with the traditional olives stuffed with anchovies and then finish with the liquid olives which you should savor in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. This was good but it was a bit too salty for us to eat two each. One of each would have been just right.

"Jamon Serrano Fermin (2oz)" ~ served with Catalan style toasted bread with tomato
You cannot go wrong with Serrano Ham and the bread with the fresh tomato topping was a very tasty pairing. I heart Jamon Serrano...seriously...see my August post about cooking fresh Iberico de Bellota if you don't believe me.

"Foie Gras Cotton Candy"
Our third and final add-on to our prix-fixe dinner and we're so glad we got it. Again, we dream of eating ten of these sweet and savory "heavens." A cube of foie gras is wrapped in the cotton candy and this is best eaten by putting the whole thing in your mouth all at once.

"Organized Caesar Salad"
This is the one tapa we didn't really care for. A thin slice of jicama wraps the lettuce, anchovy and dressing and the "roll" is topped with either a quail egg yolk or parmesan cheese. The cheese and quail egg yolk were yummy but the rest were blah.

"The Ultimate Spanish Tapa" ~ Ensaladilla rusa potatoes, carrots, mayo, tuna belly
This was tasty but it didn't blow us away. It was like a really, really good tuna salad. I guess it's a little hard to blow us away after that awesome foie gras cotton candy.

"Just Shrimp Cocktail" ~ Yeah right
I spoke too soon. This shrimp was delicious and cooked perfectly. All shrimp should be cooked like this - fresh and just done so it's not rubbery, mealy or dry. I think I need more than ten of this...twenty sounds about right.

"Catalan Spinach" ~ Spinach, apple, pine nuts, raisins
I wish all my spinach...heck, all my vegetables...could be served like this. This was bursting with flavor with the roasted pine nuts and fruit and the spinach didn't have that "irony" and rough taste/texture that it usually has.

"Beef Hangar Steak" in piquillo pepper confit
A perfect carnivore finish to an amazing dinner. The steak was cooked medium-rare as requested.

"Spanish Flan"
I usually hate flan because it's too sweet and the flan falls apart after a couple of jabs. I love this one though because I could really taste the richness of the eggs and milk and the sugar in the flan and caramel sauce wasn't overpowering. The whip cream was a nice touch too.

"Chocolate Heart"
You can never go wrong with chocolate. A chocolate river gushes out of the cake after the first jab of your fork.

My friend and I were full after dinner but of course, we had to visit the dessert shop next to the restaurant; looking never hurt. We definitely have to return for their dessert tasting or high tea and try their in-house chocolates, cakes, pastries and ice cream.

So yes, love at first sight (the restaurant and that wow-wow-wow liquid nitrogen cocktail) and love at first bite (Philly Cheesesteak) is really possible. I admit I'd love to come back here with a date; fun and delicious, that's at least half the recipe for a good dinner date.

P.S. I was dying to have my birthday dinner at Bazaar this year but it didn't happen. But hey, there's no rule against celebrating four months late and also, girl's night out is just as special. Thank you Coolia for organizing this fabulous dinner.