Billy Law’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs

Well technically, it’s his mum’s recipe. But “Billy’s mum’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs” seemed a little bit long for a title!

For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Billy Law is a Malaysian (like myself) based in Australia. I first got to know of him through his food blog “A Table For Two”. Not long after, he appeared on one of my favourite shows – Masterchef Australia! For those of you who haven’t watched the Aussie version of Masterchef… you’re missing out! 🙂 Most people I know prefer the Australian format of the show, so it’s definitely worth watching to see if you like it.

But I digress.

Billy recently released his debut cookbook, aptly titled “Have You Eaten?”. I think he explains his choice of title very well here: “In Malaysia, it is quite common for Malaysians to greet each other saying, ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of the usual ‘Hey how are you’. I simply couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for the title of a cookbook that reflects my background, my culture, and my food.” And you know what, he is absolutely right. Though to be perfectly honest it usually comes out in typical Manglish (Malaysian English) as “Eat already ah?” 😉

I must admit that I was impressed by his cookbook after a quick flip through the book. Here’s a little confession: I almost never buy cookbooks that don’t “look” nice. Photography (and the way recipes are laid out) are the most important aspects of a cookbook to me, and I immediately loved the photography of this cookbook – which was, by the way, mostly styled and photographed by Billy himself. Some people have all the talent, hrmph!

The cookbook is divided into several chapters: “Snack Attack” (smaller bites e.g. Brie en croute with cranberries & walnuts); “On the Side” (e.g. Roast spiced cauliflower & corn salad); “Easy Peasy” (simple dishes e.g. Cola chilli chicken); “Over the Top” (more adventurous recipes e.g. Nonya spicy tamarind snapper); “Rice and Noodles” (all Malaysian/Chinese recipes e.g. “Nasi lemak”); and “Sugar Hit” (desserts e.g. Popcorn & salted caramel macarons). There is a good mix of both Malaysian/Chinese (think “Assam laksa” and “Kangkung belacan”) and non-Malaysian recipes (“Smoked ham hock baked beans”, “Lamb shank pie”, and “Rocky Road”). Now I know “non-Malaysian” isn’t exactly descriptive, but I have no idea how else to put it!

I cooked “Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs” from the “Easy Peasy” chapter, and it turned out remarkably well. I usually don’t put vinegar in my braised pork belly dish (called “Tau Yew Bak” in Hokkien), so I definitely learnt a new trick! I made a few tweaks to the recipe though – I used less sugar, and more chilli. A lot more chilli.

This is a remarkably easy dish to make, but it does have to be slow cooked for at least 2 hours to ensure the meat is meltingly tender. I can’t complain, I love dishes that don’t require much attention!

P.S. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to win a copy of this fabulous cookbook!

Billy’s Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs
From Billy Law’s “Have You Eaten?”

  • 2 liters water
  • 500g pork ribs
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into 3cm chunks
  • 5cm ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 whole garlic, unpeeled
  • 10 star anise
  • 5 dried chillies (the recipe states this is optional. I used 10. Haha!)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy caramel (I used a mix of kecap manis + dark soy sauce)
  • 100ml light soy sauce
  • 1 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled

1. Boil the water in a large pot over medium high heat, until it starts to bubble.
2. Add the pork ribs, pork belly, ginger, whole garlic, star anise and chillis to the pot of boiling water. Bring to the boil again.
3. Scoop out any impurities that float to the surface – I find that it is quite useful to use a small fine metal sieve. Alternatively, use a spoon.
4. Turn the heat down to low (until the liquid is simmering), and add the vinegar, dark soy caramel, light soy sauce, and sugar. Stir well.
5. Add the hard boiled eggs to the pot.
6. Cook on low heat for at least 2 hours (stirring occasionally), or until the pork is meltingly tender. I cooked it covered for the first hour, then left it uncovered for the remaining cooking time.
7. Once the sauce starts to thicken, taste, and adjust the seasoning accordingly. If it is too sour/too salty: add more sugar. If it is too sweet: add more light soy sauce. Billy notes that extra water should not be used, the exception being if the sauce is drying out too quickly!
8. Serve with rice (noodles work well too).

Have You Eaten? by Billy Law, £25 hardback, published by Hardie Grant, is now available at http://www.hardiegrant.co.uk/books/have-you-eaten-paperback

If you’re not convinced by what I’ve said here, have a look at what some other bloggers thought about the book (my post is part of a 5-part blog tour, ending today):
Monday 1st – http://junglefrog-cooking.com/
Tuesday 2nd – http://englishmum.com/
Wednesday 3rd – http://www.babaduck.com/
Thursday 4th – http://www.millycundall.com/
Friday 5th – Me!

And now – how can you WIN a copy of Have You Eaten?, thanks to Hardie Grant Books? Simply follow Hardie Grant on Twitter @hardiegrantuk and RT the relevant tweet – simples! Competition is only open to UK residents though (apologies to everyone who isn’t in the UK!). Winners will be announced on October 8 2012.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the cookbook, but all the views expressed above are my own.

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[instagrammed] – Pork & turkey ragu

We all have our comfort foods. Those few dishes that never fail to make you feel better, the dishes that put a smile on your face no matter how rubbish your day has been.

Whilst most of my comfort foods are Malaysian/Chinese, I do have a few non-Malaysian ones – and ragu is one of them. My take on ragu is by no means authentic, but it is the way R and I like it. 🙂

Someone on instagram asked me for this recipe, so I thought I might as well post it here. A blog post is long overdue anyway!

I used a mix of pork & turkey this time around, but alternative meats include beef, lamb, wildboar, or even duck. I tend to use two types of meats, as I find it gives that little something extra to the dish.

Do note that this recipe makes a fair bit of ragu – I always cook with the aim of having leftovers (hello, packed lunch!), plus meat usually comes in 500g packs. The recipe is easily halved though. Also, amounts for seasonings are approximate: please taste as you go along!

Pork & turkey ragu
Serves 4-6, generously!

  • 500g minced pork
  • 500g minced turkey
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced finely
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, diced/sliced finely (optional) – sometimes I use carrots
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar (I use castor sugar)
  • 4 small bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat some oil in a large pan (one that has a cover – you will need this later), over high heat. Fry the chopped onions and garlic for several minutes, until they become fragrant.
2. Add the pork and turkey mince to the pan, and fry until lightly browned.
3. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan (if using), and fry for a minute or so until they shrink slightly.
4. Add the red wine to the pan, and stir for 1 minute.
5. Add the sugar, Worcestershire sauce and chopped tomatoes to the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil.
6. Once the sauce is bubbling, turn down the heat to low. Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper to the pan. I’d advise underseasoning with salt/pepper at this point – it’s very easy to add more salt, but very much harder to save a dish that is too salty!
7. Cover the pan, and simmer on low heat for at least 1 hour, until the oils float to the surface of the sauce.
8. Taste and add more salt/pepper as needed. If the sauce is too wet for your liking, you can leave it to simmer for a further 10-15 minutes, uncovered.
9. Serve with a carbohydrate of your choice – pasta, rice, couscous, polenta, freshly baked bread… it all works! In the photo above, I served the ragu with some pappardelle.

My grandma’s bak chang / zong zi (glutinous rice dumpling)

There’s something to be said about recipes that are passed down in families. Somehow, your fondest memories of food are always what you ate growing up, and everything else that you eat later on in life is compared to those memories.

I grew up eating my grandma’s (I call her ‘Nai Nai’ 奶奶) bak chang, and this to me, has always been the best kind I can get anywhere. I’m sure everyone else will claim that their family’s version is the best though! 😉

For those of you who are not familiar with bak chang (肉粽): These babies are glutinous rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves. They’re also known as zong zi (粽子). There are many versions, including a sweet version made with alkaline water, and eaten with a sweet sauce. I haven’t had the sweet version for a good few years now, I must really learn how to make them (my grandma only makes the savoury pork ones).

They’re traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie 端午节), which usually falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar – which falls on the June 23rd this year.  They are eaten to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo river after his country’s capital (Chu state) was captured by the Qin state. The villagers then threw rice dumplings into the river, to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. And now, these rice dumplings are eaten every year as a way of remembering Qu Yuan. (Thank you Wiki and Wai Yee Hong for educating me.)

Anyway, I convinced my grandma to teach me how to make these bak chang during a recent trip home (is November of last year still recent?). Because I figure, I might as well start now – the wrapping takes years to perfect, and I’m not getting any younger!

I made these whilst R was at work, so unfortunately did not manage to take any step-by-step photos of the wrapping process. Next time. 🙂 I did find a fairly good video on youtube though, which you can view here. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards for the wrapping process.

Although it took me 2.5 hours to make (excluding the cooking time) to make these, they were definitely worth it. 🙂 Plus I now have a stash in the freezer for ‘times of need’.

A few notes:

  • All amounts are approximate. Please taste as you go along, and adjust as necessary!
  • Ingredients for the fillings (e.g. lap cheong, heh bee etc) can always be omitted if you wish to do so. There are no compulsory items when it comes to cooking this – well, except the glutinous rice that is.
  • Please place each ingredient in a separate bowl. This is because we want to place approximately equal amounts of each ingredient into each bak chang.
  • I highly recommend watching this video to get an idea of how to wrap the bak chang. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards.
Nai Nai’s bak chang
Makes approximately 19-20 
Ingredients:
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into ~ 2cm chunks
  • 1 kg glutinous rice
  • 20 dried chestnuts
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried Chinese mushrooms – I used approximately 40 tiny ones
  • 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong)
  • 6 salted duck eggs (we will only be using the yolks)
  • 20 shallots
For the pork belly marinade:
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tbsp five spice powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
For the rice marinade: (approximate amounts – you may need to adjust according to taste)
  • 5 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
For wrapping:
  • at least 60 bamboo leaves (you need 2 per bak chang, with some spares in case of tears/holes in leaves)
  • cooking string/hemp leaves
Method:

The night before :

1. Soak the bamboo leaves in a large pot of cold water (I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot). Try to submerge as much of the leaves in the water as you possibly can.

2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water.

3. Soak the chestnuts in cold water.

4. Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade together. Pour it over the pork belly pieces, and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge.

Preparing the ingredients:

5. Cook the duck eggs in a pot of boiling water, for 10 minutes. Leave to cool sightly, peel, separating the yolk from the whites. We will only be using the yolks, so store the whites in the fridge for another use – I use them for steamed eggs, and as a condiment for porridge. Cut the yolks into quarters.

6. Soak dried shrimps in a bowl, using hot water.

7. Soak the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, using hot water. If your mushrooms are very large you may want to slice them in half.

8. Slice the Chinese sausage into 1 cm slices.

9. Peel and finely dice the shallots. I cheat and use my mini food processor, which does the dicing in 5 seconds flat.

Cooking the ingredients:

10. Heat 1 tbsp corn oil in a large pan/wok. Using high heat, fry the Chinese sausage until they brown slightly and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the dried shrimps until they become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the Chinese mushrooms until they become fragrant, and brown slightly. I usually season with a pinch of salt (old habits die hard). Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

12. In the same pan, fry the pre-soaked chestnuts until they brown slightly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

13. In the same pan, fry the pork belly chunks until they turn lightly browned. We’re not aiming to fully cook the pork belly here – the aim is to sear it briefly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

14. Add 1 tbsp corn oil to the same pan. Fry the shallots until they become fragrant. Add the glutinous rice, and stir for 1 minute. Add all the ingredients for the rice marinade, and any leftover pork marinade you have. Taste, and add extra oyster sauce/dark soya sauce etc as necessary. Switch off the flame, and leave rice in the pan. You can always transfer the rice to a bowl, but why wash an extra bowl?

Wrapping the bak chang:

15. Drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.

16. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.

17. Form leaves into a cone.

18. Fill the cone about 1/3 of the way with the glutinous rice.

19. Then, place each of the following atop the rice: one chunk of pork belly, one chestnut, one/two Chinese mushrooms (use two if mushrooms are small), two slices of Chinese sausage, 1/2 tsp dried shrimps, and a piece of duck egg yolk.

20. Top with more glutinous rice, till you reach the brim of the cone.

21. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.

22. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, until everything is used up.

Cooking the bak chang:

23. Boil water in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the bak chang’s into the water. Make sure the entire bak chang is submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 hours. You may find that you need two pots if yours isn’t large enough.. I had to use two!

24. To test if they are cooked through – you’ll have to unwrap one and check. And taste. (The perks of cooking.)

25. Once the bak changs are cooked, remove from the pan and place in a colander – I use a colander as it allows any extra water to drain away. Alternatively you can hang them up, but I didn’t want water to drip all over my stove!

26. Once they have cooled slightly, unwrap and eat! I strongly recommend pairing it with Maggi’s garlic chilli sauce.

Note: Uneaten bak changs can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for 2 months.


San Sebastian – pintxos galore!

I have to admit, I’d never really thought of San Sebastian as a holiday destination.. As I’d not really been aware of its existence. I know, it’s shocking. But no matter, because I now know that it exists – and more importantly, I know what an absolutely great holiday venue it is.

San Sebastian is famous for their take on tapas, which they call pintxos (pronounced pin-chos). Pintxos are essentially small plates of food that are eaten at bars, usually accompanied by a drink or two. In a way, it is the ultimate bar food: small, delicious. Some bars have a selection of pintxos laid out on the counters, which you pick and choose from, some do a “cooked to order” menu, and some do a mixture of both.

Ordering pintxos is an art in itself. Most pintxo bars are completely rammed with customers, and one must be brave and make your way into the sea of people to shout your order to the people behind the counter. Most bars have the menu written on a chalkboard behind the counter, usually in Spanish. The servers usually don’t speak very much English, and you should have seen me fumbling and trying to order food with my almost nonexistent grasp of Spanish…

But you know what, you don’t need to know very much Spanish to feast on pintxos. You just need to know some key words… (I might have mistranslated some of these words, so please correct me if I’ve made a mistake as I’m not known for my language abilities!)

Gambas = prawn
Vieira = scallop
Txipiron (“chi-pi-ron”)= squid
Bacalao = salted cod
Txangurro (“chang-gu-ro”) = crab
Antxoas (“an-chos”) = anchovy
Cochinillo = suckling pig
Costilla = ribs (I think)
Carrilera = beef/veal cheek
Jamon = ham
Pulpo = octopus
Foie = foie gras
Queso = cheese
Hongos = mushroom
Morcilla = black pudding
Txakoli (“cha-ko-li’) = sparkling white wine, the signature wine of the Basque country

We visited a number of pintxo bars, and literally bar hopped for much of our time there. On one of the days we actually had a three hour lunch! Then attempted to climb Mount Urgull – which is not a good idea after a heavy lunch, let me tell you.

LA CUCHARA DE SAN TELMO
One of the my favourite bars. This teeny little pintxo bar was always filled with tourists (mainly British ones, interestingly), but this was definitely not one of tourist trap places you worry about going to when on holiday… because the food was absolutely delicious. All the pintxos here were made to order, and were all excellent. In fact, the food was so excellent that we ate here three times, and tried at least two thirds of their menu!

Bacalao faroe contitado con patata y breza – Salted cod with potatoes and a herb sauce. Crisp skin, tender cod flesh that flaked away with the touch of a fork, finished off with some smashed potatoes. Incredibly good, and I can happily declare a newfound love for bacalao. Despite it’s name, it’s not actually very salty at all – so don’t get too worried!

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten beef cheeks prior to this, but you can sign me right up to the beef cheek fan club. It’s a great cut of meat which becomes incredibly tender when cooked this way.

Cotxinillo (cochinillo) letxal asado x 6hs – slow roasted suckling pig (I assume for 6 hours). The crackling was much better than I ever expected in a small humble pintxos bar – it was amazingly crispy, and I was very impressed. I did think they’d gone slightly overboard with the sprinkling of sea salt flakes though, as it was a little on the salty side.

Foie cuchara con compota de manzana – Foie gras with an apple compote. I tell you something, the people in San Sebastian really like their foie. It was featured on the menu of most of the places we went to! I suspect it’s because they are very close to France.. I just wonder how often the locals eat foie, as it’s not really the healthiest thing in the world! This was good, but just a little too rich for me. You’d love this if you’re a foie lover though.

Manitas de ministro con tximi txurri – Pork trotter with chimi churri sauce. I can’t believe they eat trotters in Spain, I thought it was a Chinese thing!

Pulpo roca con hojas de berza asada – Octopus with a side of cabbage (or at least what tasted and looked like cabbage). This had a great sauce, which had a hint of citrus.

Queso de cabra relleno de verduras asadas – goats cheese wrapped in ham. This was ridiculously good, and even R who normally finds goats cheese too overwhelming loved this.

Risotto (forgot to take down the actual name of this dish) – this was made with orzo, which is a rice shaped pasta sometimes called risoni. This totally blew me away, and I have since recreated a risotto dish made with orzo in my own kitchen. I preferred the texture of the orzo to the more ‘claggy’ texture of arborio rice – the orzo just makes the risotto taste lighter, if that makes sense.

Viera – pan seared scallop. Now, La Cuchara normally has a ham/bacon wrapped scallop dish on their menu. Unfortunately, we never got to taste it as we didn’t know what scallops were called in Spanish on our first visit, and it wasn’t on the menu the next two times. However, the server at the counter recognised me and and must have sensed my desperation to try this (haha)… He took one look at me and went like “Oh, viera!”. In any case, he offered me an alternative of a grilled scallop, but with no ham. Which I obviously said yes to – and I’m so glad I did, because check out the SIZE of that monster scallop. It was absolutely scrumptious, and perfectly seared.

This is the madness you’ll be face with in La Cuchara during dinner service… absolutely bonkers, but so worth it. Despite it being extremely crowded, it is very civilised and you actually have friendly chats to the people around you whilst waiting for your order to be taken. This system would never work in Malaysia, as everyone would just push forwards and be kiasu ‘afraid to lose’ (reminiscent of the horrendousness of the Malaysia Night at Tralfagar Square).

Much less madness at 12pm on a Sunday afternoon… you can actually see the counter. 😛

La Cuchara de San Telmo
Calle 31 de Agosto, 28
http://www.lacucharadesantelmo.com/
Closed Mondays

CASA GANDARIAS
This place was part pintxo bar, part restaurant. I only took notice of the bar though, and we visited twice, primarily for one pintxo which I absolutely fell in love with…

… this one: bacalao and pimento pepper served on a slice of crusty white baguette. This was SO GOOD! I suspect the reason why I enjoyed it so was because the entire pintxo was deep fried – how would it be possible to not like this? This is one of the pintxos that are displayed on the counter, and they even ‘heat it up’ for you when you order it. Be warned that ‘heating it up’ means popping it in the deep fryer again though. 😉

Solo Mio – seared beef fillet with a slice of pepper. This was good stuff, the beef is a bit on the rare side though, so best to steer clear if you’re queasy this. This was made to order.

Brochetta gambas – grilled prawn bruschetta. Good, but just not as good as the brochetta gambas from Bar Goiz Argi…

Txangurro – crab and pepper mix, served atop some bread. Very flavoursome, and bursting with crab. A little oily, but when who cares when you’re on holiday? Hehe.

Hongos – mushrooms. This was a fairly popular pintxo, and was something which was being served in a number of bars. Casa Gandarias adds their own twist to it by adding some ham, because who can say no to ham?

Bar Casa Gandarias
Calle 31 de Agosto, 23
http://www.restaurantegandarias.com/

A FUEGO NEGRO
This bar prides themselves on their modern and creative take on pintxos, and offered some very interesting dishes which I enjoyed.

Makobe with txips – Mini kobe beef burger with banana chips. Best bar snack ever! It was just the right size for it to be chomped down in two easy bites.

Oreja skabetxada con mole hezado – pickled pork ear with frozen mole. I don’t know about you, but I’d never eaten pig ears before and was quite curious as to what this would taste like. The best way I can think of describing this would be to call it a more cartilagenous (is that a word?) version of pork belly. I enjoyed this.

Txitxarro-gerezia-menta-ardia – mackerel, sheeps cheese, mint and cherry. Basically a mackerel tartare with cubes of sheeps cheese, served atop a cherry meringue base. Refreshingly different.

Txangurro-aguakatea-regaliza – crab, avocado and liquorice. A very modern take on the traditional Basque txangurro (brown crab) tart. And SO good! I absolutely adored the liquorice ice cream, and I’m normally not a liquorice fan. Great combination of tastes, textures and temperatures.

Paloma, tiro, PUM! – Wild dove breast with beetroot sauce (or beetroot blood in this case). This was such a fun dish, where it was plated to look like blood was splattering from the dove that had just been shot. They even had a little edible sign with the word PUM on it, which I thought was really cute. The dove was perfectly cooked as well.

Y un huevo – con hongo y jamon – egg with mushrooms and ham. This was no ordinary eggs and ham, and the liquid yolk like liquid had hints of mushroom in it. The paprika like powder on the top was actually ham bits, I only wish there was more of this.

Bakailu (bacalao) enkarbonao con pepitas de pimiento – “coaled” cod with pepper pips. Yes, yes. More bacalao. What can I say, I am obsessed.

A Fuego Negro
Calle 31 de Agosto, 31
http://www.afuegonegro.com/
Closed Mondays

BORDA BERRI
This place was similar to La Cuchara, and had some very good dishes.

Arroz bomba de txipiron – Paella rice with squid. Flavoursome, with just the right amount of bite in the rice grains.

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. This was very similar to the one at La Cuchara, and it was hard to pick a favourite between the two. The meat was more tender at Borda Berri, but the sauce was more flavoursome at La Cuchara. A tie then perhaps?

Risotto de hongos – risotto with mushrooms. One of my top 3 pintxos of the trip. The meatiness of the mushrooms was extremely evident in every mouthful, and it was so good that we went back to have another plate as a post-dinner ‘snack’. Like the risotto in La Cuchara, this was made with orzo. Such a revelation!

Queso de kabra tostado – grilled goats cheese. Goats cheese tastes so much better when cooked this way, I don’t know why we don’t do this more often here in England.

Viera asada con pure coliflor – Scallops with cauliflower puree. Nothing like fresh and well cooked scallops to make for a wonderful dish.

Kallos de bacalao – cod guts/tripe. I found this a little too slimy for my liking, but R liked this.

Borda Berri
Fermin Calbeton 12
Closed Mondays

BAR GOIZ ARGI

Brocheta de gambas – prawn bruschetta. This is what Bar Goiz Argi is famous for, and I can see why. Perfectly grilled prawns topped with the best salsa I have tasted in a long time. Excellent.

Chipiron a la plancha – grilled squid. This couldn’t have been more simple – grilled squid topped with olive oil and chopped parsley. Yet it was so delicious, and a perfect example of how you don’t have to do very much to good ingredients.

Hongos – this was one of the things I picked from the counter. By this time I’d already copped on to the fact that I was a huge fan of their mushrooms, so this was a no brainer really. 😉

Ma Juli – salmon and anchovies on bread. Good, but nothing mindblowing. I’d rather have another brocheta gambas over this I would think.

Bar Goiz Argi
Calle Fermin Calbeton 4
Closed Mondays

BAR TXEPETXA
This place is famous for their anchovies, and they offer a selection of 14 different variations of anchovy pintxos.

We tried four types – from front to back: foie y compota, papaya, jadinera (salsa) and huevas de erizo mar (urchin roe). My favourite was the papaya version, it was refreshingly different and not something I’d ever thought would work together.

Bar Txepetxa
Calle de Pescadería 5
Closed Mondays

MUNTO

Txipiron relleno y jamon iberico – squid stuffed with ham. The stuffing was nice and creamy, but I must say I didn’t taste too much ham in the filling though.

Txipiron a la plancha – grilled squid with caramelised onions. This was good, and the caramelised onions added a nice sweet touch to the squid.

Tarteleta txangurro – brown crab tart. The creamy crab filling was delicious, but the pastry could have been a little bit more crumbly and buttery. I like my pastries to ooze calories. 😛

Munto also served this massive plate of fried stuff, which I think was cheese. I saw a group of people next to us eating it, and was extremely intrigued by it. Shame I was already bursting with food, so didn’t get a chance to try it! Next time, perhaps…

Munto
Calle de Fermin Calbeton 17
Closed Mondays

LA CEPA

Platter of jamon jabugo – I almost squealed in delight when this was brought to the counter, as it was meat galore! Pricey, but oh so worth it.

Tortilla bacalao – cod omelette. I had seconds of this, as it was so good. They were very generous with the bacalao in this, and there was an abundance of cod flakes in the tortilla. I can only imagine how good it would have been if it was piping hot. Mmmm.

Hongos a la plancha – grilled mushrooms, served with an egg yolk. Now, this plate of mushroom goodness did not come cheap (it cost about 18 euros, much more than all the other pintxos in San Sebastian), but it was mindblowingly good. You know the meatiness of Portebello mushrooms? Well these ones were twice as meaty as Portebellos. Absolute heaven. I don’t think it even needed the egg yolk, as it was already amazing on its own. If I could I would not eat any other type of mushrooms, ever.

Ham sandwiches. We actually packed a few of this away on our last day in San Sebastian, as we (correctly) suspected we would have difficulty finding dinner in the airport at 9pm.

La Cepa
Calle 31 de Agosto, 7
http://www.barlacepa.com/

HIDALGO 56 – Gros
The only bar in the Gros district that we managed to get to… there was too much food, and too little time!

Antxoas… a humada – smoked anchovies. I was very impressed with the presentation of this, with smoke and all. The lady was obviously proud of this dish, and even pre-warned me when she was about to lift the cover, so I could take a photo. The anchovies themselves were plump, juicy and perfectly cooked.

Volcan de morcilla, yema, pasas, y manzana – black pudding with egg yolk, raisins and apple. Now I never tend to order black pudding as I’m not a huge fan of it’s texture, but had to try this because it sounded intriguing. Am very glad I did, because it was really, really good. The raisins and apples added balance to the salty black pudding, and the egg yolk brought everything together.

Lasana de hongos crema de foie gras – mushroom risotto with cream of foie gras. This was only so-so, and I couldn’t taste much foie gras, I suspect the balsamic glaze completely killed any hint of foie gras there might have been in the dish.

Hidalgo 56

Paseo colon 15
Gros

Also worth a mention is BAR ZERUKO – I was really looking forward to eating here, but they were CLOSED! They were on a month long break, and we were there right in the middle of their holiday. All the more reason for me to go back….

* A special word of thanks to Rachel of The Pleasure Monger, Guan of The Boy Who Ate The World, Ann & Jeff of Pig Pig’s Corner and the site Todopintxos for all the pintxo recommendations.

New York: Lobster rolls, Korean fried chicken, Burgers, and Arepas!

I ate a lot (and I do mean a LOT) when I was in New York, but one of the most memorable foods I tried was the lobster roll at Luke’s Lobster.

I mean, just look at that baby. Chunks of perfectly cooked lobster, sandwiched between the lightest bread roll imaginable – and they even fry the roll in butter so it’s perfectly crisp. They keep it simple at Luke’s, and the roll is simply seasoned with a dash of pepper and some mayo – but my goodness it’s good. It was utter perfection. I’d heard a lot about lobster rolls (mostly from Catty), and now I know exactly why she was raving about them.

The only bad thing about those lobster rolls are the fact that I can’t get them here. Hawksmoor Seven Dials do have lobster rolls on their menu, but I honestly cannot stomach paying £25 for a lobster roll, especially not when it only costs $15 in New York. Sigh. Luke’s Lobster has absolutely spoilt me, for life.

There are several branches of Luke’s Lobster around New York – I went to the one in the Upper East Side, as well as the one in East Village. Whilst the Upper East Side store has more seats and had a better atmosphere, I preferred the East Village one. This is primarily because there was an excellent arepa bar right next to Luke’s Lobster East Village…

Luke’s Upper East Side
242 East 81st Street (southwest corner of 81st St and 2nd Ave)
212.249.4241

Luke’s East Village
93 East 7th Street (northeast corner of 7th St and 1st Ave)
212.387.8487
www.lukeslobster.com/

So Luke’s is next to an arepa bar. But what are arepas? I won’t lie, I had no idea either. Stephane mentioned Caracas Arepa Bar to me, and I was intrigued by it as its definitely not something I’ve seen in London. They are very popular in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. The best description of arepas are probably found on Caracas’ website:

Pale gold arepas, made from scratch daily, they have been described as “dense yet spongy corn-flour rounds, pitalike pockets, corn muffins, cake-swaddled mélange, white corn cakes, Latin sloppy Joe, sandwiches of a flat cornmeal patty, soft and smooth within, golden crispiness, tasty treats, burrito-killer, panini-killer, wheat-free, gluten-free crisp on the outside, steamy-soft in the middle…”

Their menu is divided into several sections: Arepas, Empanadas, Salads, Plates, Sidekicks, Beverages and Desserts. The arepa section of the menu is designed for quick ordering and serving, and are coded A1-A20.

Papelón con limón ($3.50) This was a refreshing blend of dehydrated sugar cane and limes – this was very good, and brought me back to my younger years *cough* where I used to drink it (I fondly remember it as “air tebu”).

We also tried Yoyos ($5.50), which were described as fried sweet plantain balls stuffed with white cheese on the menu. It sounded so strange that I simply had to try it. I mean, plantains and cheese? Really?? But you know what, it wasn’t bad at all! Taste wise, it reminded me of kuih kodok, a Malaysian kuih made from bananas and flour.

But of course, I was here for the arepas – which were delicious. We tried a a few different flavour combinations, but my favourite was the A20 – La Sureña ($ 7.50). This arepa was filled with grilled chicken and chorizo, paired with avocado slices, and topped with enigmatic spicy chimi-churri sauce. Caracas also has a special sauce which can be used with pretty much everything you order – and you know what, it was seriously addictive. I have no idea what was in it, but I suspect it was a mixture of herbs and possibly mango/papaya. R loved the sauce, and liberally doused his arepa in it.

A15 Los Muchachos ($7): grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese with jalapeños and sauteed peppers

A18 La de Pernil ($7): roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce

A word of warning though – arepas are NOT date food. It gets messy, especially if you order an arepa with a stew based filling. So yes, not a good place for first dates. Otherwise its a total win.

We also tried an empanada, just because. The De Carne Mechada ($5.75) was filled with shredded beef, and was pretty good. I have to admit that my favourite bit of the the whole thing was the crispyness of the perfectly deep-fried pastry. So calorific, but oh-soooo-good.

Caracas Arepa Bar (Manhattan)
93 1/2 E 7th Street (corner of 1st Ave)
212.529.2314
http://www.caracasarepabar.com/

One of the other things I was really looking forward to trying was Korean fried chicken. I’d been told to try Kyochon, and so I did. And I almost cried with joy (and heat) when I took my first bite of their delicious DOUBLE fried chicken wings. That right people, double fried. These were by far, the best fried chicken wings I have had. Ever. The double frying process makes for a very crispy chicken wing, and I wolfed everything down, skin and all. I usually try to not eat too much chicken skin, but Kyochon chicken skins were too good to not eat. After all I couldn’t let R have all the fun now could I?

The chicken wings come in two flavours, Soy & Garlic and Hot & Sweet. You can either get them in Regular ($17.99) or Large ($25.99). I honestly cannot remember how many wings were in the Large box, if anyone knows please let me know. There were at least 20, I think. But yes, the flavours. I am forever grateful to the lady at the counter who suggested we order half and half (we were going to get an entire box of spicy wings), because the hot wings were very, very spicy. I was tearing up, my nose was running, and my mouth was on fire. So if you’re not someone who can tolerate ultra spicy things (I love chilli, but this was honestly too much for me!), I would highly recommend going for the Soy & Garlic version. Much more enjoyable when you’re not feeling like you might just burst into flames at any moment.

I believe Kyochon also sell some other food items, but I have no idea what they are. All I wanted (and tried) was the chicken wings. There is also Bonchon (just a few steps away) that serve Korean fried chicken, but I didn’t get a chance to try their version. They *so* need to bring Korean fried chicken to London….

Kyochon
319 5th Ave (corner of 32nd Street)
http://www.kyochon.us/

And of course, I could not have gone to New York and not tried the burgers at Shake Shack. I’d checked out their menu beforehand (because that’s exactly what food obsessed people do) and was particularly intrigued by the Shake Stack.

I’m not surprised I was intrigued by the sound of it. The Shake Stack ($8.50) is one of the BEST burgers I have ever sunk my teeth into. It was essentially a cheeseburger served with a crisp fried portebello mushroom, topped with melted muenster and cheddar cheese. There was also the usual burger toppings – lettuce, tomato and their very own ShakeSauce. I always choose to add a portebello mushroom to my burger when I’m at Byron (I like the extra meatiness it brings to the burger), and having it deep fried with a crisp crust was simply a-ma-zing. I thought the beef was good, but not as good as the beef at Byron – but when it comes to the topping/crispy portebello mushroom/cheese stakes…. Shake Shack wins. Hands down.

We also tried the Cheeseburger (Single $4.00, Double $6.50). One thing I noticed about the burgers in New York was how good the cheese was. I’m not sure what cheese they used, but there just seemed to be more of it, and it seemed a lot more flavoursome than the cheese we get in burgers back in London. This cheeseburger was no exception. Whilst it was good, it just didn’t have a crispy portebello mushroom…

Shake Shack also do Frozen Custards, which is a mix of soft serve and ice cream. They cycle the flavours, and there is a daily special – which means you could go there every single day of the week and get a different flavour each day. I must admit that I didn’t get a chance to try this, but I will definitely aim to try it the next time I find myself in a Shake Shack. That is the down side of constant snacking… there’s less space for heavy duty things like shakes.

Shake Shack (Theater District)
691 8th Avenue (southwest corner of 8th Ave and 44th St)
646.435.0135
http://www.shakeshack.com/

I also have to mention Five Guys Burger, which was only a few blocks away from our hotel. Whilst I didn’t think they were as delicious as the Shake Shack burgers, what I liked was how you could personalize your burger. When ordering, you get a whole list of toppings to choose from, and you can pick as many/as little as you like. So beware if you order a cheeseburger, and say “no” to toppings – that will mean you don’t even get lettuce with your burger!

The best thing about Five Guys Burger was their Cajun Chips. Perfectly fried chips, with a delicious spiced powder blend doused liberally over them. There were hints of paprika, cumin, and probably at least 5 other spices. We got a regular serving of fries (which was HUGE), became full halfway through, but still continued eating them because they were too good. And then proceeded to feel absolutely stuffed for the next 2 hours, but it was worth it. Also, I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t feeling stuffed in New York anyhow.

Five Guys Burger
36 W 48th Street (between 5th and 6th Ave)
212-997-1271
http://www.fiveguys.com/

I think I need to start planning my next trip to New York… soon.

Meatballs & the art of cooking in bulk

I have a friend (who’s from Somalia), and I realised that she would always leave a bit of food on her plate during meals. And being someone who tends to finish everything on her plate, I had to ask why. It turns out that in her culture, it’s considered polite to leave a small amount of food on a plate after a meal, especially if it’s a dinner hosted by family or friends. The reasoning behind this is that leaving a small amount means that the host has provided enough food for the evening – finishing everything on your plate means that the quantity of food has been insufficient. Very different from our Chinese culture where your aunty/grandma will get highly upset if you leave anything on your plate…. Then again, if you DO finish your food, more often than not you’ll find more food “magically” appearing on your plate.

I cook in bulk amounts on a regular basis. And when I say bulk, I mean bulk. There are only 2 of us at home, but I tend to cook for 4 on a regular basis. The main reason is that I have no ability to estimate quantities, and being a typical Chinese person, I tend to overcook rather than undercook. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as it means I have leftovers for the days when I’m too tired to cook dinner after a long day of work. Also, some food like stews taste much better after a day in the fridge!

Cooking in bulk is something I always do when it comes to meatballs. I tend to buy 1 kg of meat (sometimes I use a mixture of pork/turkey/beef), and make a shedload of meatballs so I have an emergency stash in the freezer. Believe me when I say it comes in handy after a long tiring day at work!

On this occasion, I served my meatballs in a tomato sauce, with some brown rice and rocket leaves. Speaking of which, I need to speak of this brown basmati, red camargue and wild rice mixture that I get from Waitrose. It’s a brilliant mix of grains – the nuttiness of the various types of rice work very well together, and give the perfect amount of “bite”. At £2 for a 500g bag, it doesn’t come cheap, but I allow myself the indulgence every now and again. (I tell myself it’s healthy and therefore it’s okay you see).

Meatballs in tomato sauce

For the meatballs:

  • 500g pork mince
  • 500g turkey mince
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • pepper & salt, to taste (I usually use about 1 teaspoon’s worth of each)

1. Whizz the garlic, thyme and rosemary in a food processor (or in my case, a mini food processor). Alternatively, chop finely with a knife.
2. Put the pork and turkey mince in a large mixing bowl, and add the garlic & herb mixture, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper. Use hands (or a spoon) to combine the ingredients. It should form a mushy, sticky mixture.
3. Form mixture into 2-3cm balls, depending on how large you like your meatballs.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
5. Whilst waiting for the oven, heat a pan over medium high heat, and brown the meatballs. This should not take more than 2 minutes per meatball.
6. Bake meatballs for 15-20 minutes in the oven, until cooked. (I play a guessing game when it comes to this, but 20 minutes is usually more than enough for my meatballs)

Note: You can freeze the meatballs after step 3, which is handy to have for a quick weekday dinner. (I tend to do this as 1kg of meat does make a significant amount of meatballs!) A good tip is to arrange the meatballs nicely on a tray before freezing them, as it means you get to have individually frozen meatballs (rather than a “clump” that becomes tricky to seperate once it’s frozen). I hope I’m making some sense here!

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (I use chopped tomatoes with garlic and olive oil – any brand will do)
  • 1 tablespoon chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1. Mix all the ingredients in a pan over medium heat. Bring to the boil.
2. Once the sauce starts to boil, add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce, and stir to coat the meatballs.
3. Serve the meatball/tomato sauce mix with brown rice & some rocket. Or you could serve it with pasta. Or some freshly baked bread. Anything goes really!