Friday, March 27, 2009

When I Bite Into a Pork Caramel-Braised Patty, I Get the Sensation...

Continuing, I suppose, with something of a Pork-aissance here at The Kitchen Chronicles: here's another dish I tried recently that I LOVED. (Again from the Sunday Globe Magazine...I must be highly suggestible early on Sunday mornings. And again from Adam Ried...who I SWEAR I am not stalking, related to or otherwise shilling for...)

The name, Vietnamese-style Caramel Braised Pork Patties, is a bit of a mouthful and, well, there's something that doesn't scream 'romantic dinner' or the like when you're serving up "pork patties" (unless you are romancing an ancient, plastic-capped elementary school cafeteria lady) - but these are really...REALLY...tasty and interesting to make. What's more, they're even better a second time. I vacuum-sealed and froze a couple servings to see how they'd fare for clients. (It's true: I'm selfless. I made these for THEM...not me! Oh, no!!) The defrosted and re-heated test subject last night was just as good, if not better than I remembered it. So, yay for pork patty craving clients everywhere.

The patties consist of ground pork seasoned with shallots, chilies, garlic and fish sauce (a common ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cooking). They reminded me a little bit of the filling for Peking Ravioli (a.k.a. Potstickers in some parts of the country) and...well...I am a sucker for a good dumpling. After the patties are shaped and browned, they are braised in a very interesting, savory caramel sauce which contains tamarind pulp. You may be more familiar with tamarind in Indian cuisine. Tamarind chutney is that sweet, dark condiment ubiquitous on the table of many Indian restaurants.

This is more of a weekend dish to make. It involves more steps than you'd care to take on after work during the week. (BUT, as I said earlier, you can make a big batch and freeze some for the future.) You get the hands-on fun of shaping the patties, if you've got kids who like to help in the kitchen. Plus, if you've never made caramel from scratch, now's your chance to play mad kitchen scientist.

Sugar is dissolved in water, then heated until caramelization occurs.

Simmering or braising savory foods (pork, chicken, shrimp, eggs, tofu, etc.) in a caramel sauce (nuoc mau) is a staple method in Vietnamese cuisine. Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, on her blog calls the method "one of the cornerstones of Vietnamese cooking." Don't think of this at all as the caramel sauce you may have had on your ice cream sundae at Brigham's. This one is salty (courtesy of the fish sauce), dark and adds real complexity of flavor to your dish.

The browned patties are placed in the braising sauce.

After twenty minutes or so of braising.

Looking forward to trying the other recipe in the Globe piece, Vietnamese-style Caramel Braised Fish, and finding other dishes to incorporate this technique into the B. Home repertoire. You should add it to your own, so have at it!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

High Fiduea-lity

OK, so maybe I haven't been doing a lot of blogging lately...but I HAVE been doing a lot of cooking.

Recently tried a recipe I'd socked away after reading in several places about fiduea, a Spanish dish - similar to paella - that uses short, thin pasta in lieu of the usual rice. The pasta is first toasted, to bring out it's flavor and add color. The method is not unique to Spanish cuisine, but also used in Mexico and the Middle East, among others. No doubt, those of you who've made your own rice pilaf - or, those of you who rely on that sturdy pantry staple, a box of Near East Rice Pilaf - are familiar with the toasted vermicelli or orzo that cooks with the rice.

With fiduea, the toasted 1-inch or so pieces of thin pasta are added to a highly seasoned broth with seafood, meats and/or vegetables, partially cooked on the stovetop, then finished in the oven until the broth is fully absorbed into the noodles. It's yummy.

Kudos to Adam Ried for his article and recipe in the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine.

I tried his Fiduea with Chorizo and Mushrooms and think I fell a little bit in love. ( me.) First off, let's just start with the fact that the dish starts with cooking bacon, then the chorizo is cooked in some of the bacon drippings. C'mon...bacon AND Chorizo? For me, this is sort of like getting the chocolate/vanilla swirl at Dairy Joy. (You don't HAVE to decide on a can have BOTH!)

While we're on...ok, near...the subject, let's talk for a moment about chorizo.

If you are a frequent reader of this (in-)frequent blog, or you just know me, you know that I have a deep and abiding love for all things pork. Bacon...sausage...prosciutto...ham...and so on. And, in fact, I bow low to the gods of all charcuterie: those who practice the old forms of preserving meat before the days of refrigeration. I bow low to them when I taste a really beautiful bacon or ham. I even say a little thank you when I snap into a Slim Jim (admittedly rare...but sometimes at a rest the middle of the night...on one long haul of a road trip, one cannot resist) or a piece of jerky. (And, hey, who DOESn't like to say 'jerky?')

I imagine that there are vast variations of similarly preserved meats, seafoods, etc. - each unique in process and seasonings to its home town or country. Surely that can be said of chorizo - a latin style sausage. My first exposure to cooking with it - and the most readily available around these parts, I believe, in the supermarket, was Gaspar's Chourico. A Portuguese version that has the size and texture, of...say...kielbasa, perhaps. However, it was nothing like what I had tasted in some Mexican restaurants. Fortunate to have some Latin-American markets near where I live, I made a pilgrimage this weekend and picked up two different versions of Chorizo. One Mexican - which I used in the Fiduea, and one Guatemalan - which I now sleep with under my mean, which I will use in a future dish yet to be named. The Mexican version felt in the package similar to the Portuguese, but - upon opening it - I found its resilience came from its plastic casing. Once removed, it was very soft and would not hold up to slicing. The Guatemalan more resembles Italian sausage in look and feel. Even still, I don't think either is quite close to other chorizo's I've had in restaurants, so...we'll keep looking and (insert put-upon sigh here) keep trying new ones.

The Mexican version was heavily seasoned, particularly with annato, and fell readily apart when it hit the pan - taking on the texture of broken up, browned ground beef. And for this dish, there is nothing wrong with that.

As for the noodles themselves. You could use, as Mr. Ried's recipe states, vermicelli or angel hair that you break up yourself, but Goya has bags of Fiduea noodles readily available and will make your prep easier. And I did like his method of toasting the pasta on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven, as opposed to dry in a skillet. Just bake it, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Anywhere from 11 to 20 minutes, depending on how thin a layer the noodles are in. (Keep an eye on them.)

Toasted noodles are added to a flavorful sauce and partially cooked on the stovetop.

Then baked off in a very hot oven until all liquid is absorbed.

Do yourself a favor and give Fiduea a try. (And do me a favor and invite me over when you do.)