Kecap Manis Braised and Glazed Pork Belly Over Sake-Mirin Risotto

(Serves six, if you’re lucky)

For the pork belly:

3 pounds raw, uncured pork belly, skin on
2 cups kecap manis*
6 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar*
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce*
3 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (called nouc nam or nam pla)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 round of jaggery (palm sugar)*+ or ¼ cup light brown sugar

1. Crosshatch pork belly, with cuts ½” apart and ¼” deep. Place pork in a bowl, and combine kecap manis, vinegar, soy, fish sauce and lime juice. Pour over the pork belly and marinate 24 to 48 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Preheat oven to 275˚. Place belly, skin up, in baking pan or oven-safe skillet with two cups of marinade and 2 cups water, covering pork half-way up (add more water if needed). Cover pan with foil (or use lid with the skillet), and bake 3-4 hours. Remove pork from the liquid and cool. Cut belly into 1-inch chunks, with the skin on.

3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook palm sugar until it dissolves and turns amber, and gently toss the pork belly chunks, until coated. (Be careful not to separate the belly from the skin).

For the risotto:

4cups water, plus 4cups saké, hot
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely diced
1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice (preferably, Vialone Nano)
1 cup mirin (Japanese rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. Combine water and saké and heat. Simmer on low until ready to use.

2. Heat oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

3. And garlic and muhrooms and sauté, stirring, until mushrooms are browned and any liquid the mushrooms have released has cooked off, about 8 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add mirin and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about five minutes. (Did I mention that risotto is all about stirring? It’s all about stirring.)

4. Stir 1 cup of the simmered saké broth into the rice and stir, keeping it at a strong simmer until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring and waiting until each cupful is absorbed, until rice is creamy but al dente, 18-20 minutes. (This is what separates the Italians from the weenies. Small blisters should be developing at this point, and your palms should be red and sore from all that figure-8 pattern-stirring with the Big Italian Wooden Spoon, but there’s no whining in risotto-making. Oh, no. Suck it up and keep stirring, all’onda (wavy patterns), as the Venetians say, and NEVER turn your back on your risotto, or it’ll dry out and mound up like a plate of spackle. Trust a northern Italian on this.)

5. Remove from heat, and stir in salt, pepper and remaining butter until butter is melted. (This replaces the need for finishing the risotto with cream or cheese, which would work against the saké/mirin flavor.) Pour a glass of cold saké (really good saké is served cold), and, while congratulating yourself, honor the kitchen gods of Mario Batali, David Chang and Ming Tsai, add saké to self – and get a hold of the pork belly before people start coming by “just to pick”.

* Kecap manis (KEH-chop mah-NEES) is a thick, sweet soy sauce from Indonesia, and is available from Kalustyan’s in New York and on-line, as well as Wegman’s. Kalustyan’s also carries the black Chinese vinegar and the dark soy, which is darker and richer than what you find in the supermarket.

+ Palm sugar is available from Bangkok Market in New York and on-line, and is also at Kalustyan’s, I believe.


Seared Foie Gras in a Sauterne Reduction with Caramelized Winter Fruit

Ingredients

1 lobe of foie gras (or four little mini lobes)
2 figs, quartered
2 pears, peeled, seeded and quartered
4 small bunches of rapes (5-6 per bunch) (use the cute little mini-grapes, if you can find them – keep attached to stem)
2 oz. duck fat
2 tablespoons oz. sugar
11/2 cup Sauternes
salt (fleur de sel, if you have it)
black pepper

Preparation

1. Let foie gras stand for 20-30 minutes before cooking.

2. In a sauté pan, melt the duck fat and sauté pears on medium heat. Add grape bunches and figs, stirring gently, until the fruit juices caramelize. Sprinkle lightly with the sugar and stir once.

3. Reduce Sauternes to ¾ cup.

4. Season the foie gras with salt and pepper, and sear until crisp and golden brown on the outside (rare on the inside), about 1 minute per side. Do not go over time, or foie gras will melt into a puddle of liquid fat.

5 To plate, lay the grape bunch at the top, lay in sliced pears and figs, and top with foie gras. Drizzle generously with the reduction. If you need to reheat the foie, do so on medium-low heat, just to warm through.

Notes

You can substitute the fruits quite liberally: use 3 apricots, peeled and sliced, in lieu of the pears, a cup of cranberries (or almost any other kind of berry) instead of the grapes, or add 2 small peeled and sliced apples – Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, etc. – depending on the season.


Bourdain and Ripert Cook at Les Halles – Joyeux Noel!

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, but even better friends don’t let friends go to Les Halles alone. So my good friend Susan, after a careful analysis of this New York magazine article, had really only one injunction: “FIND OUT WHEN!!”

When, indeed, might Monsieur Bourdain once more be taking up his mighty sauteuse and cooking at Les Halles – with Eric Ripert? For an episode of No Reservations? And a full dinner service, no less? Zut alors! What was he thinking? That, yes, despite – oh, about five years away from the stove – you CAN go home again? That you can survive a full, hard-on rush hour without collapsing into the cassoulet? That, even with your knees popping like rice cakes on a fandango dance floor, you CAN crank out a respectable 250 or slamming 350 covers a night, like you used to? Well . . . yeah. Why not? . But I guess we’ll just have to watch the show to be sure.

What I was sure about, however, was that Team Tony was in the house. Scoring a table right at the back with a partial view through the glass partition enclosing the kitchen, the first famous face the unsuspecting diners saw was none other than Eric Ripert, manfully working the grill station at the very front, with Todd Liebler and his camera hanging over his shoulder, and what appeared to be a black knit cap mashing Ripert’s hair . . . and towards the back, on sauté, was Tony. With a black knit cap mashing his hair. Mon Dieu!, I am thinking – what ees zees? Ze Creeps and ze Bloods are wearing zere coleurs? Apparently so.

ripert2

tonykitchen

kitchenaction

Ahhh, now this set-up required some Strategic Eating. Clearly, one of our party of three would be ordering steak, and the other two something off the saute station, in the hope of improving the odds of getting something actually cooked by either Ripert or Bourdain. Hmmmmmm. Au revoir to Les Assiettes. Adieu to La Rôtissoire. A bien tôt to Am – no, wait! Do I detect foie gras on the Amuse-Gueles menu? Foie gras that gets . . . sautéed?

http://www.leshalles.net/menus/LHP_Dinner.pdf

Obviously, the assault on the menu would demand the cunning of a Borgia pope so, savagely disregarding anything involving garde mange, we laid siege to saute with three orders of Foie Gras Poëlé aux Pommes:

foie2

with a stealth attack on the Boudin aux Pommes:

boudin

before – gasp! – a strategic error! The cassoulet Toulousain, not the Hamburger Rossini! (Mais non, non, non – not a two-day dish! Ầ la minute! From sauté!) Oh, well. There were sentimental reasons involved here. (NONE of them mine.)

cassoulet

Recovering quickly, our third Musketeer sized up the grill station carefully and scored a bull’s eye with a stunning Paleron (flat iron steak) with Béarnaise, prepared to order. Yes, by Chef Ripert:

steak

Up to this point, the dining room pretended to ignore the sight of Todd, this time out among us, pointing a very large camera lens into their dinners, while the wait staff pretended to ignore a very large teal box on the empty seat at our table – both with minimal success. Understanding that I was (despite my clear grasp of the situation and usually much better judgment), about to enter the world of dorkdom, I put the wait staff out of their misery and dispatched the Bûche de Noël in a Big Blue Box back to the kitchen, and hoped the diversion would last long enough for me to squeeze off some shots of Ripert through the glass without either the whole floor or Ripert noticing. Now, THAT part worked:

It began with a Bûche de Noël:

buchedenoel

that became a Bûche in a Box:

bucheinabox2

that became a Bûche in a Big Blue Box (well, teal, actually, but it ruins my alliteration):

bucheinabigbluebox

Okay, so it’s out there, now. The fact that I had stupefying stunads to present two professional chefs – one half-French, the other full French, yet – with a Bûche at the height of dinner service, and – incroyable!- I did so after schlepping the damn thing on the subway. During rush hour. In both directions. But this is New York. Only the strong survive. (On Valium.)

todd2

todd1

(Charmingly, Todd tried to use this darling little boy as a tripod, except his mom is one of the producers. And, by now, the camera phones were going off.)

Fortunately, before Todd could get busted for child abuse or violating child labor laws, the mâitre d’, Frederic Larrieu, came by with a waiter, Tim, in tow, and gladly started accepting bets as to how long the self-styled Mr. Softy Palms would last before he found himself in the weeds:

fredericandtim

And the answer was – he didn’t. Food arrived swiftly and steadily, all throughout, with Ripert so serene he took time to mug at the foodies shooting him with camera phones (and playfully sticking his tongue out at one slim blonde who forgot to turn off her flash), and Bourdain, while intense, never missing a beat; pivoting left and then right, in a controlled blur, fast enough to escape a shutter, but not so fast he wasted any movement, from station to lowboy to the tickets. Was he expediting? I cannot say. He was reading tickets. And, yes, he was cooking. Just for the camera? Again, I cannot say. But long after Todd shot the A roll (main shots) and a second cameraman (Zac?) shot B roll from the corridor leading into the kitchen, Bourdain was working the station.

Several Cosmos later, we were greeted by the sudden appearance of not only Larrieu coming to set my dessert on fire, but Todd – back with a vengeance! And back – for my crêpes Suzette! Ahhh, je comprends! My lovely crêpe has been selected as a stunt crêpe, and it is ready for it’s close-up, Mr. DeMille!

crepes

So, naturellement, M’sieur Larrieu is talking up the process and adding big gobs of butter to the crepe pan (because you can never have too much butter, mes enfants), and Mitchell’s silky bananes flambées also drew Todd’s wandering eye:

bananasfoster

and there was much soft snuffling of happy wee diners all around. But, of course, could we be smart enough, once, to leave well enough alone? To waft away, replete with the unctuous goodness of flaming desserts and smelling vaguely of gently cooked sugar, and just GO HOME? Of course not. Worried that the Ripert-through-the-glass shots were out of focus (well, so was I), we made a final foray to the glass partition, now mobbed by camera phone-carrying yuppies flash-bombing Ripert, only to come face-to-face with the ubiquitous Todd, gesticulating at us. Was he saying, “Get out of the shot”? No. “I am shooting”? No . . . not quite. “I am shooting you shooting Ripert. Is that OK?” Well . . . sure. You didn’t ask my dessert for a release, but I guess it gave you one:

toddaction

Great. Now we look like dorks, suckerfishing up like remoras on Ripert’s breath-fogged partition. Shit. Could it get any worse? Yes. Lydia Tenaglia, bounding out of the kitchen, politely asks, “Could we shoot you?” (Yes, I’m sure Ripert and Bourdain are ready to do just that, by now.) “Shoot, as in being a dork shooting you guys through the glass?” “Yes.” “Sure. I’ve already spiraled down to the eleventh circle of dorkdom.” Consider this a release, Lydia.

By now, about as comfortable as lepers in the club Med jacuzzi, the three of us flee and pray for some judicious snipping in the editing room at ZeroPointZero (except for the crêpe, of course. It deserves its air time), just to catch this, posted up on the glass:

thanks

Final stats for last night? With a seating capacity of 146 at Les Halles, Team Tony did 315 covers. Stupéfiant? Non. Formidable? Perhaps not. But a good, solid performance, with each bite – whether Ripert’s or Bourdain’s -or NOT – a true delight. It might have been shot for No Reservations, but thanks, Eric. Thanks, Tony. And Joyeux Noël.


Michael Ruhlman at Degustibus/Macy’s (11/29/07)

The inherent advantage of such an intimate space as Degustibus’ cooking school is that it immediately transformed Michael Ruhlman’s cooking demonstration from a sprawling classroom exercise into a warm, little cocktail party – albeit one in which the food, not the guests, circulated – or, more aptly, into a small dinner party in a large home kitchen, with Michael as one’s ever-genial and profoundly laid-back host.

Michael noted that, as a latch-key child growing up in 1970s Cleveland, “there was nothing fresh in the house!” and that his first culinary excursion involved a pear gallette made with a can of pears in syrup (“a total disaster”), but that the curiosity about and hunger for good food remained with him: through his journalism career, through his writing career (“I wrote a novel. I got an agent. I wrote another novel – I got nothing!”), and through the magazine article he was assigned to write on cooks – “It was then I realized chefs knew something I didn’t.”

That article led to Michael thinking about writing a book about chefs, which, in turn, prompted him to do research at the CIA {“who, naturally, thought I was just trying to scam a free culinary education – which, of course, I was”), eventually evolving into his seminal work, The Making of Chef -the rest, being, as they say, food lit history.

While being spoiled not only with the pack of recipes for the dishes Michael was preparing for the evening, fistfuls of Macy’s discount cards and the sage advice from Arlene Sailhac, head of the Degustibus program (“Don’t try to go down and use them tonight! The main floor is packed with tourists!”), not only did flutes of Champagne start arriving (Taittinger, Brut La Française, a delicate, pale gold bubbly with a nice toasty finish), but so did the added surprise of a little salumi on crostini, courtesy of Chris Cosentino at Incanto – and, yes, he ships:

http://www.boccalone.biz/

(The particular salami in question, by the way, was very subtle and nutty – redolent of acorn-fed pigs very happily snuffling their way through the great oak forests of – . . . of . . . l’entroterra fiorentina? suburban Oakland? Truly lovely. Looked like Cosentino’s salame pepato, but tasted like a fine jamon iberico. Props, Chris. But enough ProPIGanda for now.)

Fortified by the crostini, Michael happily threw himself into the preparations for his first dish, lardon salad with spinach and arugula, beginning with cooking chunks of his Traveling Pork Belly cooked with a little water in the pan to render it. (Question: “Is that the pork belly that rode with you from the CIA this morning?” “No, it’s the pork belly that’s been hanging out in my hotel room this morning!” Touché, Michael.)

lardonsalad

[I must apologize here for the food pics being out of focus. Of course I have a macro function on my camera. Of course I know how to use it. Of course, overwhelmed by lardons and Champagne and discount coupons, I forgot to use it. All night. My apologies, Michael. Your dishes deserved much better.]

Lardons and salumi notwithstanding, at all times, Michael stressed what impact becoming a cook – and being a cook – had on him, not just in terms of thinking about and managing time, but preparation and economy of motion – “I could not be a cook unless I changed who I was” – but, more importantly, about care and watching the details: “What makes a great cook is paying attention,” before – oops! – slightly burning his shallots. (“This has happened at every demo!”) Great cooks have bad days, Michael – great cooks have bad days . . .

(Michael never moves – but his hands never stop:)

michaelstirring

Great cooks also have Arlene Sailhac, one hopes, who, will not merrily topping off the Champagne flutes or generously pouring the Chablis for the scallop-asparagus dish (Chablis Louis Jadot-Burgundy, very elegant), smoothly fulfilled her duties as MC by peppering Michael with a slew of questions and encouraging same from the unnaturally (for New York) quiet back of the house. (The same could not be said of the front of the house. Oh, no. The front was another matter entirely. But I digress.) Warm, effusive and bustling, Arlene nonetheless took Michael a bit aback with her intensity, until it was correctly pointed out that Mme. Sailhac was not, in fact, a juggernaut, but a typical Jewish mother, in the best possible sense:

Michael: “You’re right – that’s my New York mother!”
Arlene: “And least he didn’t say grandmother! How old are you, anyway?”
Michael: “25!”
Arlene: “You’re adopted!”

- which she promptly did, before asking us all about the lardon salad. (“How is it? Is it good?”) Are you kidding, Arlene? Is it good? It’s bacon! (5 pounds of pork belly, spices (see Charcuterie), and seven days in a Ziplock baggy. Favoloso. So, a little nosh, a little noodging – it was all good. The only thing better? The bacon with a maple ice cream, of course.

Michael and his New York Jewish “mom”:

michaelsmom

and the dish he was most proud of: seared sea scallops in asparagus sauce:

scallops

Moving smoothly, Michael then tackled seared scallops with asparagus in its own asparagus sauce, made brighter with a squeezing of lemon (“Reminds me of something Eric Ripert always says: ‘Lemon saves the ass of so many dishes’”), while simultaneously breaking down a chicken for blanquette de poulet and the stock used for it. The mirrored façade above the demo kitchen really came into its own at this point, enabling the audience to see, in visible realization, not just a cook’s time line but also his or her time management of several dishes – from the “stunt” stock barely simmering on the far right, the chicken coming to a boil next to it, the beginnings of the roux next to that (all on one fine German-engineered range), a cutting board with gremolata working, followed by a second fine, German-engineered stovetop with the remains of the seared scallop and sassily bright asparagus sauce. (By the way, when the red lights on a fine, German-engineered range are on, it means the burners are off. Go figure.)

The mirrored façade:

mirrorfacade

By now, happily sated with Champagne, Chablis and a robust red (St. Francis Red, Sonoma Valley) of vague provenance but reminiscent of a well-mannered Shiraz (who cared, at this point? Who knew?), Michael serenely answered questions while demonstrating his one-handed pasta-kneading technique, prompting a brief rumination on mixing pasta dough by hand (the way God intended, as any Italian will tell you) as opposed to by food processor (sacrilege, since you asked). (Why is it sacrilege? Because Italians cook and make food fatto mano – by hand, capisce? – because we can feel the texture of pasta or a meatball, as much as you see or smell or “hear” the doneness of your food. Why? Because even though we buy dried pasta most of the time, we are still a tactile, sensuous people with tiny, fierce, big wooden spoon-wielding nonne in our pasts, and we were raised right. So, when we make it fresh, no machina automatica for mixing, just for rolling out. Is why. Ma va!)

michaelkneading

One-handed or otherwise (Michael: “Leaves one hand free to answer the phone.” Audience: “No, it leaves one hand free to drink the wine!”), kneading the pasta left Michael free to think aloud about the essence of food itself, as both sustenance and nurture. Asked if his wife, Donna, cooks, Michael replied, “No, and as I can be something of an asshole in the kitchen [she won’t”], or if his children are turning into cooks themselves (“No, they eat hot dogs and white rice. It’s very frustrating!”), but spoke longingly of loving those moments, mid-afternoon, with his wife in the kitchen, just talking, discussing their kids, and asking if there was anything he could cook for her. Of the importance, to him, of “rootedness” of being rooted, of going back home to Cleveland after college and staying there (“We are losing our culture by raising our kids in a series of disconnected homes”) with the acuity only a single, latch-key child could have. Of care, of paying attention – equally as important in the home cook as the professional chef.

blanquette

And what says caring but – dessert? Cinnamon-Sugar Choux Doughnuts with Ice Cream and Rum-Caramel Sauce. Oh, yesssss. Flushed with success from his blanquette and its ethereal noodles (fatto mano by Ameril, the Degustibus sous chef), Michael not only started the pate choux, but cavalierly decided to make the caramel sauce à la minute, despite warnings from his sous, Wes (“He’s been telling me all day it’s going to take too long”), and a standby bottle of chocolate sauce. It didn’t. With 10 minutes still on the clock, Wes on the Fryolator and a rather indiscreet infusion of rum, the choux went flying out of the kitchen and down the gullets of the appreciative horde so rapidly that mine was the only one left even vaguely intact for photographic purposes:

donuts

So, no, there were no unscheduled appearances of cauliflower or irate Cosentinos at this particular demo. No alarming drop-bys of a darkly snarking Bourdain lurking behind the coat racks. Just a man and his craft, demonstrating the care that goes into that craft – and perhaps making us all think a little of pate choux doughnuts with rum-caramel sauce, and MAPLE ice cream. With bacon, please.

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