Monday, October 21, 2013

Pear, almond and ginger tart

Burleigh Asiatic Pheasants platter, Mud Australia cup & saucer, Bellocq tea strainer 

This is a tart recipe that I make very often because it's really quick and simple. You only have to plan making this about an hour or two ahead of time so that you can thaw out pre-made puff pastry at room temperature. I used pears this time around since I had a surplus from the CSA, but you can also use apples or peaches depending on the season (since pears and peaches are softer and cook more quickly than apples, you should slice the apples and saute them in some butter beforehand. Thanks to Abby for pointing that out -- see comments!). I like my pastries to be rectangularly shaped because I think it looks more elegant; any leftover pastry from this recipe can refrozen.

Pear, almond and ginger tart
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Makes one 9"x 5" tart

1 sheet frozen puff-pastry (about 9" x 9"), thawed
1 pear, slice thinly, skin on (bosc or Bartlett works fine)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon marmalade
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons almond meal or ground almond
1 tablespoon white (castor) sugar
1 tablespoon sliced almonds

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  2. Melt the butter and marmalade in a saucepan. Turn off heat, then add vanilla extract, cinnamon and grated ginger. Let cool slightly. In a small bowl, mix together the almond meal and sugar. Set aside. 
  3. Cut your pastry into a rough 9" x 5" rectangle. Score all four edges of the pastry sheet (about 1/4" from the edge). 
  4. With a pastry brush, spread some of the butter and marmalade mixture on the puff pastry, making sure to stay within the boundaries of the scored lines, then top with the sugar and almond mixture. 
  5. Arrange the pears over the almond mixture, brush the tops of the pear liberally with the remaining butter and marmalade mixture, then finish with a scattering of the sliced almonds. Brush the edges with eggwash. 
  6. Bake at 400F for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown, the almond slices are lightly toasted and the top of the pears are glistening and caramelized.
  7. Let cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Moroccan-inspired Chicken Tagine

La Chamba clay pot, Le Souk Ceramique pasta bowl, Akiko's Pottery serving bowl, Sabre Natura flatware

I'll confess that I've never been to Morocco, but I have been trying to perfect the art of a good chicken tagine for about 7 years. I don't own a tagine because I don't make enough Moroccan stews in a year to warrant one. I already have an insane assortment of cookware that is never used because I store it in the basement and I'm always too lazy to fight through an array of boxes to get to them.

Since a chicken tagine is basically just chicken stew cooked in a conical-shaped clay pot (the tagine), it's easy to reproduce the benefits of cooking in a tagine if you understand the science. The conical shape of the tagine helps to keep the meat moist by allowing the escaping air to condense and fall back into the stew, hence conserving water. You can pretty much achieve the same thing by using a pot with a tightly fitting lid over very low heat. The second thing that is specific to a tagine is that it's made of clay. Food cooked in a clay pot tends to be much more moist and much less oil is needed because the juices from the food actually clog the pores of the clay pot and you end up with the food stewing, basically in its own juices.

Clay pots also have "memory" of the place they were mined from, based on mineral content of the soil - sort of like the description of "terroir" when it comes to wine. Food cooked in a pot from Japan will taste slightly different from that cooked in a pot from Espirito Santo in Brazil. I make my chicken tagine in a La Chamba casserole and I think it approximates the tagines I've tasted in Moroccan restaurants, but if you want something really authentic, you will have to invest in a genuine tagine made in Fez. In a pinch, you can use a dutch oven or even a regular porcelain casserole - any sort of pot with a tight lid will work.

This recipe was adapted from writings by Paula Wolfert, Ghillie Basan and lots of internet research. I call this Moroccan-inspired because I can't truly say that this is exactly like the tagines they eat in Morocco... one day perhaps.

Moroccan-inspired Chicken Tagine
Cooking time: 2 hours plus marinading overnight
Yields about 4 servings

1 whole chicken (about 4lbs), cut into 8 pieces (or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks), skin removed

2 tablespoons ghee (use melted butter if ghee is unavailable)
2 teaspoon Ras-el-Hanout
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika for color

2 large sweet yellow onions, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
3 medium carrots, rough chop
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup water
One handful of cilantro
One handful of parsley
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, rough chop

  1. Wash and pat chicken dry. In a large baking pan or roaster, massage the chicken pieces with the ingredients from the rub. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, heat olive oil in pan and brown the chicken pieces on both sides, becareful not to overcrowd the pan while browning. 
  3. On the stovetop, heat your clay pot over medium-low heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Lay the sliced onions at the bottom of the pot and add the carrots on top of it. 
  4. Place the browned chicken on top of the carrots, skin side down in a single layer if possible. 
  5. Scatter the olives and saffron-infused water  (along with the saffron threads) around the edges of the pot. 
  6. Lay the cilantro and parsley on top of the chicken and cover. If there is a gap between the lid and the pot, you can use a damp and rolled kitchen towel to form a buffer.   
  7. In the meantime, heat the oven to 300F. When the oven is heated, pop your casserole in and cook for about an hour. 
  8. After an hour, flip the chicken over, add salt, pepper and apricots and cook for another hour. 
  9. Remove from oven, let cool and serve with either flatbread or potatoes and lots of harissa.

Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)

'Char' - fork, 'siu' - roast; the literal meaning of the Cantonese 'char siu' therefore is 'fork-roasted' meat. Having grown up where famous 'char siu' restaurants are institutionalized and where people make pilgrimages just to eat, I'm very particular about my 'char siu', something that I think is severely lacking in many Chinese restaurants these days. 'Char siu' needs to be sticky and the edges just crisp enough so that when you bite down on the thin layer of fat, it's simultaneously juicy and succulent, oozing with caramelized sweetness. The health conscious amongst us will opt for pork tenderloin which tends to, in my opinion, be so much drier and lacking in character. If you want good 'char siu', choose a beautiful slab of pork belly, preferably heritage so that the layers of fat are perfectly and equally interspersed with tender meat. But if you must, don't go any leaner than the pork butt.

This recipe was a trade secret from my grandmother who sold wonton noodles in her youth. After much trial and error based on her impatient dictation and from my mother's haphazard way of chucking everything together without measurements, I think I have managed to somewhat recreate her famous roasted pork. Traditional recipes call for maltose (malted rice), but I have omitted that so that it works for a Western kitchen. The taste isn't that much different whether or not maltose is used, but I personally prefer using honey as a substitute.

I make my own sweet soy sauce and hoisin sauce, which is what I used for this recipe, but in a pinch, Lee Kum Kee's ready-made sauce will work too. I would recommend actually making your own sweet soy sauce though, it can be used in a variety of things, from stir-fried vegetables to fried rice and noodles, to dipping sauces.

'Char siu' is traditionally served with rice or noodles or as filling for buns. It makes for a very quick lunch if you toss some soba noodles, the 'char siu' and the sauce together with some mushrooms and leeks and top it with a fried egg. It also works excellently in a homemade banh-mi.

Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)
Cooking time: About 1 hour, marinate overnight
Yields about 4 - 6 servings

1 lb pork belly or pork butt (if using pork belly, score the top rind in a criss-cross fashion with a sharp knife)

Char siu marinade/sauce
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup honey (Or 2 tablespoons honey and 2 tablespoons maltose)
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce *see recipe below
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce *see recipe below
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
dash white pepper

  1. Mix all ingredients for a marinade in a shallow bowl large enough to accommodate your meat.
  2. Chuck the pork into your marinade bowl and give a good massage. Put a plastic wrap over and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for about 12 - 24 hours.
  3. The next day, put the marinade and the pork in saute pan and simmer over very low heat with 2 tablespoons of water, covered for about 15 minutes to tenderize the meat. In the meantime, fire up the grill or your broiler.
  4. Remove the meat from the marinade and toss either on hot grill or place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
  5. While you are grilling your meat, discard the cinnamon stick and star anise from your marinade and reduce the marinade on medium heat until it has thickened into a sauce.
  6. Grill or broil the meat for about 10 minutes on each side, until the edges are crisp and slightly charred.
  7. Remove from the grill, let the meat cool for about 20 minutes (IMPORTANT!) so that the juices don't run out all over the place, slice thinly and drizzle with the 'char siu' sauce before serving.

Recipe for sweet soy sauce
Yields about 8oz.

1 cup (8oz) soy sauce
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar is fine, just a different taste)
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
Dash of sesame oil

Heat everything in a saucepan over a low flame. Simmer until the sauce is viscous but still slightly runny. It should also be slightly sticky when you let it dry on the back of a spoon. Store in hermetic bottle in the fridge and it should last about 3 months.

Recipe for hoisin sauce
Yields about 4 oz.

1/4 cup sweet soy sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fermented bean paste
2 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (or in a pinch, use Sriracha!)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

I used a mason jar with a lid to mix everything together and when stored in the fridge, it should last for about two months. If the sauce is too runny, you can also add teaspoon of cornstarch diluted in a tablespoon of water.