Monday, January 31, 2011

Steak + Bread = Awesome!

Mathematics was never my strong point in school. To the extent I can say with a weird sense of achievement that for the entirety of fifth year (for those reading across the pond that's the second-last year of high school. . . . .also there's a 'u' in colour) I, without exception, failed every single test. In one rather spectacular moment of ineptness I was put in detention, after one where the only marks my teacher could award me were that I'd managed to correctly spell my name. But as I'm and lefty (and damn proud!) and have the writing of an angry 10 year old, even that was put under scrutiny. The ironic footnote to this is that I changed teachers in sixth year where, lo and behold I became one of the top students. And while I can't say that the subject has made a direct impact on my day to day life. You find that life contains numerous simplistic equations that you learn and live by. For example, if x = work and y = coffee:  x - y = Hell! Also if a = cats and b = the Internet then realistically a + b = YouTube. And then there's my personal and somewhat embittered favorite. Which brings us to this post which is the subject of another infallible equation.

There are some things in life, that even in their worst incarnation, are still capable of delivering a level of satisfaction within the ballpark of what their very best version could deliver. Having said that they're are those that unless it's anywhere near half-decent quality it's not worth your time. I mentioned this train of thought to my flat mate who totally understood what I meant, and then gave an example that I'm pretty sure even I can't share ('I'm telling ya man, if she doesn't know what she's doing it's just a waste of time.')

Something that falls into the former, along with fish and chips, ice cream and vodka, is the steak sandwich (not together). Because when you have a slab of red meat between two pieces of bread, there's no way that the result will anything but awesome.

Okay recipe time, but as it's basically a sandwich I think I can trust you to do your own thing. The only thing is something  I call Bacon Onion Gravy Relish Thing. It's something I came up with when I had Yorkshire Puddings in the oven, it wasn't Sunday and there was nothing else going with them, I was just in the kind of. . . . .mood where you're standing in the middle of the kitchen and you suddenly realise that if you don't have a plateful of Yorkshires in the next half hour you're probably going to harm yourself. Then my flat mate. . . . . .who was also in a similar mood, clasped his hands over his head and, 'Oh no, we've no gravy!' 'Shit you're right!' So this was what came about, a case of just throwing stuff into a pot until it tasted good. Shockingly it actually does. Also, recently I made this using half chicken stock, half braising juices from my soy pork belly, which was awesome, as was rubbing the steak in the same spice rub. But anyway here's a rundown of how I put mine together:

I used a rib eye steak, my personal fav in terms of both flavour and texture. I subscribe to the Heston-endorsed Harold McGee method of steak cookery, whereby you pre-heat the nuts off your pan, drop in your steak and turn every 20-30 seconds. Because you turn it so frequently the heat is retained on the exposed side and continues to cook on both sides, rather then cooling down and then having to get back up to temp, which is what happens when you've only turning it every couple of minutes. The advantage of this is two-fold. Firstly, it cooks in no time. I once had a steak go from raw to well-done in only 5-6 turns. Secondly, because it cooks so quickly and therefore been exposed to heat for a shorter amount of time, it retains more moisture. So in short, a juicier steak in less time. Try also with pork chops and burgers, but wouldn't recommend it with fish and chicken.
Take it out and let it rest (simply the MOST important aspect of meat cookery) on a plate for about the same amount of time you cooked it. In the same pan you cooked the steak in throw in 2 -3 mushrooms for per person and a clove of chopped garlic. Cook with a little bit of butter. As this is going on toast your bread. I used a round pita, but that's because I always have pita breads, in fact I only ever have pita bread. But here anyway they worked like gangbusters. Before assembly, pour the resting juices from the steak into the gravy/relish for full cheffy utilisation.

Assembly went: garlic mayo - lettuce - gravy/relish - steak - mushrooms - sliced spring onions - small grating of Parmesan, just to give a savoury kick.

Right now I'm going to break food blogger's protocol, as this where you'd usually say 'serve with nice salad of x, y and z' or with homemade potato wedges. But no, on this night it was McCain's frozen best. That's right, from the freezer to the oven, half an hour later and you've got near-passable chips. Not a garlic clove, Rosemary sprig or drizzle of olive oil in sight! Would Donal Skehan approve? No, but Donal Skehan isn't making dinner at half 11 at night after working a 10 hour shift with a hangover that could pacify half of fucking Cairo.

Bacon Onion Gravy Relish Thing:

1 Red onion, sliced
2 Rashers of bacon, cut into lardons
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp Plain Flour
1 tsp Tomato Puree
1 tsp Dried Tarragon
200ml-300ml approx Chicken stock/water with 1/4 of a stock cube
2 tbsp Ballymole Relish
1tsp English Mustard
  1. In a pot fry the bacon on a high heat with a little oil until it starts to colour.
  2. Add garlic and onions, turn heat down and sweat for a few minutes till soft.
  3. Add flour, herbs and puree, stir for a minute or two.
  4. Pour in stock, stir well till thickened
  5. Stir in condiments. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes. If it gets too thick just add water or more stock. Ultimatley you're looking for a ketchup-like thickness.
Enjoy peoples!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lets Get Ready to Crumble!!

'And what exactly am I supposed to do with these?' says the flat mate to his mother. When in amongst the moving-in gift that was a parental care pack that consisted of enough food to re-nourish a small village, a bag of apples is discovered. In the days that followed and once all the biscuits and cheese had been taken, we'd say to each other the odd time, 'we should make like, a pie with them or something.' But that was said in the same hypothetical context as when you turn to your mate at the end of a long night and say something along the lines of, 'You and me dude, driving across South America in a Reliant Robin. I'm tellin' ya man, this summer for sure.' In other words, nice idea but the when the effort involved was considered, not likely to happen.

A week later and the damn things were still there. We knew that is was now or never. There was talk of pie and tart tatin, but both of these involved pastry and the act of proper baking occurring would totally mess with our homestead's chi. As would anything as energetic as walking the whole two minutes to the store for the pre-made frozen variety. [Note: I will never feel or be made to feel guilty about buying store-bought puff or filo pastry. If you disagree then I can only hope that one day you look up beyond your domestic fortress to the world outside.] Not to mention looking completely out of place in the fridge. The vibrant and healthy green clashing unpleasantly against the family pack of bacon and the amber hue of the communal rum bottle.  

'What about an apple crumble?' I said, half-hearted. Pause as this suggestion was considered. 'Do it.' was the answer. Now I'm not sure what you folks outside the British Isles know of crumble [currently this blog has been viewed from USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Libya. International-five!] But it's kind of a big deal over here. Crumble is one of those desserts that nearly every mother, regardless of overall culinary ability, is able to produce. It's one of those dishes that everyone has experienced numerous times throughout growing up, be it at family gatherings or just Sunday dinner. Heston talks about dishes that evoke memory and in turn emotion. How a simple plate of food can transport you into a time and place within the mental back-catalogue of experiences, most brilliantly shown in that scene from Ratatouille. For me this is one of those dishes, one that resonates to something deeper. A mark from a certain time with certain people, punctuated by having a big dish of this in the middle of the table. 15 - 20 years later, me and my flat mate scooped piles of the stuff onto our plates and I took my first bite. Although the recipe was all my own it didn't matter because it was still an apple crumble. I ate, I smiled, I remembered.

I kinda misjudged the quantity here, as you can see. So unless you want to construct your own great barrier reefer (what we Christened the tinfoil divide that was devised by my flat mate, props!) and feed more then two people, you'll probably need to double the amounts here.

Crumble Topping

Plain Flour: 100g
Castor Sugar: 100g
Butter, cold: 100g
Ground Cinnamon: 1tsp

Apple Base
Granny Smith or Golden Delicious Apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8 wedges: 6
Castor Sugar: 100g approx
Whole Cloves: 3
Star Anise: 1
Ground Cinnamon: 1tbsp
  1. Make the crumble mix by putting all ingredients into a food processor and blitz until resembles breadcrumbs, about 30 seconds or so. Place in fridge until needed.
  2. For the apple base start by putting the putting the sugar and about 50ml of water into a pan large enough to hold all the apples. Melt on a high heat and allow to turn to a caramel, should take about 5 - 10 minutes. During this try to move the pan as little as possible, only at the end when the edges start to discolour should you really start moving it around. This allows it to colour evenly.
  3. Throw in the apples and spices, leave for a moment before stirring. This is to allow the juices in the apples to come out, which then dissolves the caramel so you don't spend your time scraping lumps of solid sugar around the pan.
  4. Add around 200mls of water and cook on a medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until tender when poked with a knife. Ideally the water should be evaporated by the time the apples have cooked.
  5. [Here's where a controversy took place. I'd originally intended to keep the apples whole, but then my flatmate came over and asked if this was when I was going to start, 'mashing them up'. 'Well I was going to keep them whole.' 'Really. . . .in a crumble?' he said with that look of a 10 year old that's just been told that Christmas is cancelled and instead will be spent cleaning the verrucas on Aunt Nora's feet. 'Okay I'll blitz 1/4.' 'Nah, dude, do 'em all.' 'What about half and half?' 'Eh. . . .' 'Okay fine, 1/4 whole, 3/4 pureed.' 'Yea, alright.' he relented. But in retrospect, why did I even bother to negotiate? If I'd said tough shit, what was he going to do? Slam the door to his room and pull a strop the next time it was his turn to get milk?] So anyway, remove 1/2 - 3/4 of the apples, place into a food processor and blitz to a puree, sweeten if necessary.
  6. Spread the puree on a suitable try or dish, place the remaining wedges on top, followed by the crumble mix.
  7. Bake at 190 C for about 10 - 15 minutes, or until the top has gone a golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and let stand for a few minutes. Spoon out and serve with either whipped cream or ice cream. Or however you remember having it when life just seemed that little bit simpler.

Do you have any memories of crumble growing up? If not, what was the pudding that you always looked forward to your mother making? Have you tried making your own version since?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

'I Like Mine With a Kiss'. . .(or if the proteins have coagulated at a lower temperature)

Eggs: that's it today pure and simple. More specifically a method of cooking them I've recently gone nucking futs for. By the way, if you've clicked onto this hoping for some kind of elaborate brunch preparation then, well, tough. Because recipe-wise all that's here is a way of cooking eggs. And not even a properly written one either. In fact looking over this it's pretty much just a sentence at the end of the fourth paragraph. Oh and a photo. You're lucky enough to get a photo. So let's talk for a minute about something called a slow poached egg. Something that some of you might be familiar with. But for those who don't, and haven't really been reading a word of this because after seeing the heading photo all they're thinking is, 'Jumping Nike-Air Moses what the fuck is that!!' Let me explain.

You see, I was never that excited about eggs until my folks took delivery of three hens (now two after an introduction from Granny's dog), because apparently that's what you do when you turn 50 and move out of the city. Since then I've discovered that they provide simply the best Goddamn eggs in the whole world. And so I've proceeded to boil, poach, scramble and fry my way through tons of those little nuggets of awesome. Their richness, the way that (when poached) they'd immediately fold up into neat quenelles. And then there's the yolk, oh man the yolk. That vibrant, rich, near-florescent shade of orange. To me, one of the great pleasures in life was poaching a couple of those bad boys, then put them on top of a bacon-covered, Ballymaloe relish-smeared piece of toast. Then watch as that golden yolk flowed out, over and onto the plate, creating a mess of pure deliciousness.

But now you've found me after experiencing a paradigm shift of sorts. You see up until recently I was convinced that eggs, poached to perfection in acidulated water was the ultimate tribute you could pay to l'oeuf. But no more, not now. I believe it was Sat Baines, several seasons ago on Great British Menu, who had it incorporated into his dish. This was the first time I saw the 'slow egg'. The judges 'oohed' and 'aahed' over it and the dish itself ended up getting to the final banquet. Since then it'd pop up here and there. Tristan Welch did it a few seasons later. The odd time on Professional Masterchef, etc. Then I saw Wylie Dufresne prepare it for a challenge on Top Chef Masters. It was the first time any show had gone into any real detail about it. Dufresne had my attention already from an appearance on Iron Chef where he used an enzyme (transglutaminase) to make noodles out of pureed fish (there is no typo in that sentence, he made noodles out of fish, watch!). Back to Top Chef Masters, Jay Rayner wound up gushing about the unctuous, custard-like consistency of what, at a glance anyway, looked like a pretty standard soft-boiled egg. My curiosity grew.

Fast-forward to a month or so ago. A package arrives containing David Chang's Momofuku. A book I'd end up reading with the same vigor and devotion as you would a great detective novel. A book I've fallen asleep to reading on more then one occasion, refusing to submit to sleep for just one more page! Then early into the book my eyes glide over the header at the top of the page: Slow Poached Egg. Up until this point I had an idea of the method, but no clue to the specifics. I knew that the egg was cooked in its shell in water at a certain temperature. But at what temperature and for how long? Here at last was a definite method and recipe. In short, 60-63 degrees for 45 minutes. I closed the book and knew that I HAD to try this.

As I said before, up until now I'd always thought that poaching was the best way to enjoy eggs. But to me anyway, there was still a problem with that. Namely the white. Because to me the white was the tasteless, tough purgatory you went through to get to the heaven that is the runny yolk. But with this method what you end up is one creamy pod of gooey unctuousness that falls apart with one push of a fork. The white now a near-translucent coating around the yolk. Almost like a loose jelly. This is because (so I'm told) the low temperature means the proteins coagulate differently then they would in a regularly poached egg.

Despite this being a method used in multi-Michelin starred restaurants around the world, don't expect everyone to like it. I was staying at my parents for a few days when I first tried it. My mum shrieked that it was still raw. My current flat mate after seeing me nurse over the pot with my digital thermometer, then describing the what's and why's of what I was doing, was curious to see what was going to come out when I cracked the shell. He wasn't impressed, as below shows. In short, are they more work then cracking them into boiling water for 2 minutes? Yep. But if you like your eggs then you kind of owe it to yourself to experience them in a way that's new, exciting and most unbelievable of all, may actually have you agreeing with Jay Rayner.

You ever eaten/witnessed/enjoyed this way of having egg? Do you have a favorite preparation that has made you friends, gained enemies or just divided opinion? Or, like my flat mate, just want to tell me how utterly mank they look? As always the floor is open. . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pork Belly: An Introduction

If you're experience of dinning out over the past few years has been limited to goods foraged from the woods that surround your desolate shack that sits atop a mist-shrouded wilderness, then pork belly (or belly of pork as some Franco-philes write it) will probably have failed to make its way onto your dietary radar. Hence, this post. Though wouldn't this brief flirtation with civilisation be better spent replacing that potato sack you call jacket, rather than looking up food blogs?

Pork belly is somewhat of a Cinderella story. A slow cut that is now the staple of menus of nearly every price range and cuisine. Not bad for something once so unpopular it was almost considered offal. And while it's a cut that has been done to death at this stage, it didn't get this popular if there wasn't something going for it. (Oh Cheryl Cole, if only the same could be said for you!) Personally I've a great fondness for this slab of pork, in the same way I do for beef cheek, rabbit, venison and bone marrow. Working the sauce section in Alexis involved the daily butchering, preparing, roasting, braising and stewing of a variety of meats. Here our pork belly was rubbed on the inside with butter, salt, pepper and sage. Tied, rolled, seared and then placed in a covered pan in a low oven for about 3 hours. Tying was an art onto itself. Roll by hand, tie a knot at one end, drop the ball of twine down your apron to keep it from moving. Make a loop in the slack, then bring it over the tied end, tighten round the meat, repeat with 1-2" between each loop. Making sure to alternate between the slack coming from the right or the left in order to keep the tension even, so the joint didn't curl. I remember I once did ten in an hour, and we're talking whole bellies here, some with the ribs still on. Gabbo, a Romanian KP, asked me was I taking something as he put a finger over one nostril and pretended to dramatically inhale an imaginary line.

Rolling it is something you don't see in many places, as most are content with serving neat squares that nicely show off the layers of fat and flesh. I guess that's one thing that belly has going for it, it just looks so damn good. Those nice even layers, neatly  framed within a perfect rectangle of meat. So while my old boss was insistent rolling was the way to go, I wouldn't bother. Doesn't look as good and takes longer to cook. So if you've never tried it before allow me to remove the any mystic or apprehension about preparing this meat. Because honestly, from a professional point of view, to cook a piece of fish perfectly or roast a fillet of beef to an exact medium-rare requires a degree of skill and intuition that is nowhere near on the same level as throwing a piece of meat in the oven for 3 hours. In other words, this is pretty easy stuff guys. The demi-god that is Marco Pierre White said that cooking is a number of small things done correctly, do the right thing at the right time and you can't fail. A philosophy that I've somewhat lived by and have beaten into any chef I've had to instruct. (in a nice mentoring way of course) When this is applied to pork belly it can simply summed as; low, slow and covered. That's it, once your meats covered and in a low oven for a long enough time then you can't really go wrong. And if you still manage to mess it up then you probably shouldn't really be let near an oven without someone to hold your hand or clip you round the ear when it becomes apparent you're incapable of making toast.

So here's how I make mine. I like to give mine an Asian twist so I coat it in ground spices and cook it on a bed of veg and whole spices as it braises/steams in a mix of stock and soy sauce. But like I said that's just how I do it. Don't like it, leave it out. Don't have soy, just use stock. Don't have stock, just use water. As long as it's low, slow and covered. Another great thing about this is that it reheats brilliantly. I make this and have in my fridge and just cut pieces off for dinner (as pictured above) or have them in noodles or sandwiches.

Idiot-Proof Pork Belly:

Pork Belly, skin removed: 500-600g
Chinese 5 spice powder
Red onion: 1, roughly chopped
Garlic Cloves: 2-4
Spring Onion: 1 roughly chopped
Coriander seeds: 2tsp
Fennel seeds: 2tsp
Star Anise: 2 whole
Soy Sauce: 4-6tbsp
Chicken Stock: 200-300ml
Rather then give this the neat bullet-point delivery that I did last time. I'm just going to Rick Stein this and give a general run through. Put your onions, garlic and whole spices in a tray. The reason I'm using red and spring onion is simply that that's all I had. For yourself if you just had onions that'd be fine. If you had some carrot, celery, leek or even celeriac, then good for you, that'd be even better. Score the fat of the belly and coat liberally in five spice, salt and pepper. Put a large frying pan on the heat, when hot add a little oil and sear the belly till golden on both sides. The point of this is to add flavour, having said that I've skipped this step in the past and it's still turned out dandy. Place belly on veg. Return pan to the heat, deglaze with stock and pour into tray, pour over soy sauce and cover with tin foil. Put in oven for about 2:30-3 hours at 140 degrees. Remove and leave covered for about a half hour. If not using that day wrap tightly in cling film and put in fridge. As for the cooking juices, pout into a small container and put in the fridge. Throw a spoon of that fat/juice mix in the next time your making any kind of sauce, its also total dynamite in stir-frys.

Enjoy suckaa's!

Had any good (or bad) experiences with belly? Think something else should be given it's moment in the spotlight? Do tell.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cheap Spills: Yamamori Noodles

Phone +3531 475 5001
‘Sure it’s only spaghetti in water, I don’t see what the big fucking deal is!’ this is the words of someone voicing their opinion of the Japanese delicacy that is Ramen. Once more, they’re mine. Or at least they were, spoken several years ago during a conversation with friends over where we should eat. Someone suggested Mao’s, several seemed enthused by this, so that was my response. Forgive me as I was so very young and wrong about so many things that have been put right since. So now I totally kill for Ramen. I also don’t wear stupidly baggy t-shirts and realise that the music of Fred Durst and Kid Rock were never ever, ever, ever, anything but total shit on a stick.

Skip forward to last week and I’m the LUAS into town, when I find myself with a sudden desire for anything involving noodles that verges on ‘third-trimester’ level of craving intensity. Being the good boy I was this year I’m now the proud owner of an iphone. And if you think that’s me gloating I’d just like to point out that I had my previous phone for nearly six years. A phone so old that I’m pretty sure it’s preceding model was two baked bean tins connected by a piece of string!  I Google ‘Dublin, noodles’ and scroll through the results, there’s a few options but being not exactly flushed for cash I’m looking at the more informal and fiscally approachable end of the market. It’s then that Yamamori pops up. I’d been there years ago for dinner with college friends to celebrate graduation. But it being a few years ago my opinion wasn’t far from the opening words of this post. I decide to right the wrongs of culinary ignorance and reckon today Yamamori seemed to fit the bill.

I arrive and am seated in about a minute flat. Good start. I then look around the room and guess that there must be close to 50 – 60 people sitting at this moment. By the time I leave, close to an hour later, three of four tables around me will have been turned. From the off one thing is clear, this is not a place that fucks about with getting food out. Remember this is Tuesday lunchtime; I try imagining what this place is like on a weekend and how frantic the kitchen must get. And then I have to stop because I start feeling faint as my eyes tear up. I look at the menu. Yamamori is a Japanese restaurant so the menu offers a range of sushi, grilled dishes, sides, stir-fry and one section devoted just to Ramen. A glance-over draws my attention to the Yamamori Ramen. Then suddenly the menu went blurry as all the words became unreadable. All except this dish and its description, which was crystal clear and surrounded by flashing neon lights, as two blonde cheerleaders danced either side of it. It boasted of mixture of grilled chicken, pork, prawns, seaweed and crispy tofu. All yours for less then a tenner! I ordered it and a bottle of beer at the next possible opportunity.

I wait, expecting my beer to arrive shortly. So I continue to wait and it still fails to show. My waitress has forgotten, but hey, we’re all human and it’s a busy place. She’s probably looking after at least a dozen other customers, all in different stages of their meal. It happens. I get her attention and remind her as politely as possible. She apologises but her tired expression means I still can’t help feeling like a dick. What the hell is that anyway? Is it something in our Irish – Catholic DNA that means guilt and shame are automatically hardwired into our system? Only in Ireland would the train of thought be, ‘You made the mistake, I’m pointing it out, yet I’m so sorry for doing so.’ You see that shit just wouldn’t fly in New York, ‘Forgot my drinks did you, right and how much of a tip were you expecting? Now dance, dance my little server monkey!’ So my drink arrives, ‘Busy one today?’ I ask. She sighs, ‘You could say.’ as a table of twelve is seated ten feet away. Shortly after this my meal arrives. My meal in this case being served in a bowl the size of my freakin’ head! Not only that, but damn-near overflowing with the aforementioned goodies the menu promised. I grab my chopsticks and dig in.

The broth boasts the meaty punch of pork and chicken. Thin strips of pork are tender if a little anaemic in both appearance and taste. The chicken is just above room temperature and a touch dry. The prawns, they’re fine. The crispy triangles of deep-fried tofu give a good variation in texture, but my advice would be to eat them first as after a while they became soggy and I became less keen on them. Now while these may seem like scathing criticisms, let’s just put things in perspective. I’m looking at a bowl containing five forms of protein (there was also a hardboiled egg sitting on top) swimming in a broth that tastes like someone has actually put some effort into making. And an overall portion size that’d give the Incredible Hulk concerns of finishing. And it’s less then ten quid! So although I noticed these things, did I care? Eh, no.

However by the end I found my palate had reached a kind of plateau affect. Where, by sheer volume, any variation in texture or flavour had been numbed into a monotonous experience. Any subtly or nuance now lost, not even refreshed by the occasional acidic bursts of scallion or pickled ginger. But again, in no way did I consider this a bad thing. As the last of the chunks and noodles disappeared, leaving only broth, I picked up my spoon for the last push. I looked around. The waiters now dashing around like coked-up honey bees. I saw one dropping a drinks order at a table without stopping, like drive-by serving. The waitress comes to clear my table, I’m slumped back in my chair and rubbing my belly like content Buddha. I try to say thanks but I'm so full that all that comes out is an incoherent mumble.

My bill says the Ramen was €9.95. I also got a side of pickled daikon for €1.50 which just wasn’t for me. Older and wiser then my first visit, on sheer value alone I’d recommend Yamamori for whenever you’ve in the mood for spaghetti in water.