A Filipino BBQ

Lechon Kawali : The finished product

I’m lucky to have some good friends. Friends who love food as much as I do, and who come from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. One of those friends is Jen, and for as long as I can recall she’s been telling me about how great Filipino food is, and how I need to try it. “Back in the Philippines” is her favourite catch phrase, and yet somehow I always seem to be conveniently absent when all of these amazing dishes were being served up, aside from a scorching batch of Bicol Express she’d made at a curry night that now seems like eons ago.

So enough teasing… It was time to put up or shut up. The word was put out and the date set, the great Filipino bbq was finally going to happen. House boy Ben busily got the patio ready with furniture and umbrellas for shade, and both Ben and Jen starting to acquire all the things they’d need to make a Filipino feast.

Now I started to realise why it had taken such a long time for this to all come together. Filipinos do not do things by halves. The list of dishes Jen had taken it upon herself to make was a tour de force of all things good and traditional, and it took the better part of a few days for her to prep it all up.

She had a little help though. Ben, in true male style, ably manned the bbq all day, sister Jasmin did her bit and brought along a dessert dish, and Filipino food appreciator Greg tried his hand at a dish of his own.

In the end the list of dishes sounded a little like this (apologies for misspelling or poor descriptions):

  • Pinakbet : A kind of vegetable stew with pumpkin, string beans, eggplant, okra, shrimp paste
  • (Pancit) Palabok : Noodles covered in an orange coloured sauce (made from fish sauce, corn flour, and a bunch of other things) with prawns and sliced egg and calamansi lime juice
  • Kare Kare: Oxtail stew in peanut sauce, eaten with shrimp paste.
  • Tilapia : A small fish that gets grilled over coals
  • Grilled Liempo : Basically a massive hunk of marinated pork belly grilled on the bbq
  • Lechon Kawali : An awesome way of cooking pork belly by boiling it, cooling it, deep frying it, cooling it again, and then deep frying a second time. This results in beautifully tender pork belly on the inside, with a fantastic crunchy exterior. Greg did an amazing job of this, served in pieces with a dipping sauce, it was fantastic
  • Brazo de Mercedes : A custard / merengue cake rolled into a log and baked. This didn’t turn out quite how Jasmin wanted, so it ended up being a Lasagne de Mercedes. Still tasted great though :)
  • Leche Flan : The ubiquitous Filipino dessert, a decadently rich version of creme caramel.

Kalamansi Caipirinha

I did my best at getting into the spirit by making some fairly potent caipirihnia (national drink of Brazil) using calamansi limes (which are small and intense) and a healthy dose of Tanduay Rum. They weren’t quite to everyones taste, but did make a refreshing change from San Miguel beer in terms of authentic Filipino drinks.

To say this bbq was a feast would be a drastic understatement. Jen had even gone to the trouble to make her own shrimp paste (Bagoong) which was served both as the saltiest condiment I’ve ever tried (something any true Filipino will appreciate), and to flavour many of the dishes.

So maybe there is something to Filipino food after all :)

Masterchef Australia : Salmorejo with WA Marron & baby herbs

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I came, I saw, I did not conquer.

The wiley among you would have guessed that my last post was in regards to Masterchef Australia auditions. Channel 10’s new big reality TV show for the year and the single train of though that has been occupying my mind for the past few weeks now.

I applied for the show before Christmas and then was pleasantly surprised to hear that I’d got an audition. The details for the audition were that we had to bring along one dish that would impress the judges. It should best be served cold, as there were no facilities to heat things up before they were tasted, and it should showcase your cooking ability and knowledge of flavours.

So being the resourceful food blogger that I am, I started scouring the internet and coming up with as many ideas as possible for a dish that would be seasonal, local, interesting but simple, and ultimately delicious.

With my trusty group of taste testers in tow I toured through the culinary landscapes. Starting off along the lines of a roast beetroot salad with goats curd, rocket, caramelised walnuts and orange, then went towards a roast pumpkin salad with blue cheese, toasted pine nuts and baby spinach, then ventured towards carpaccio of beef, tuna tataki, ceviche of king fish, gazpacho with morton bay bug tails. My taste buds then went a little sweet and I experimented with panna cotta, with frangelico and lime.

I took into account a lot of the great ideas put forward by all you lovely contributors and then a week before the audition I had an almighty cook-athon. Raiding the markets for the freshest, most delicious looking produce I could, then spending all afternoon prepping up all the potential dishes.

I called the taste testers over for a final opinion on the direction to go in. It was a one of the last dishes however, that caught their attention. Kam had casually dropped the idea of salmorejo into the comments, and so while prepping up the gazpacho, I left some tomato aside to make that as well. It was an instant hit and my direction was set.

Salmorejo is basically a cold Spanish soup made with tomatoes, stale bread that’s soaked in water, garlic, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. The hardest part about the dish is pronouncing it properly (sal-mor-echo), the rest is dead simple.

Pinchey Baby Herbs

Salmorejo comes from Cordova in Spain, and there it’s generally served with boiled eggs and jamon. I decided to serve mine with some local marron. Thinking the sweetness and lightness would be a great addition to the flavours in the soup, and getting a great suggestion from Deb about using baby herbs to give the dish some lift, without overpowering the flavour of the marron, as the chiffonaded basil I was using to garnish could be a little too much.

Once the main ingredients were set I diligently set about perfecting it. Trying as many different types of tomatoes as I could get my hands on, eating copious amounts of herbs at my local garden centre, and sourcing the freshest marron I could find. Fortunately Dad came to the rescue on that one, letting me know about a marron farm just outside of Corrigin. He rang up and they went out to the dams and fished some out just for me, then he drove them up to Perth in a box for me, well and truly alive and kicking (and ready to sever any fingers inadvertently left too close to the pinchey end).

The ingredients were thus finalised, and the night before the audition I sat up til 1am making the final batch of salmorejo and cooking the marron, ready for the 7:30am (!!) start time. How exactly I made it to the audition on time and awake I have no idea. But everything came together pretty smoothly.

Of course the auditions didn’t start at 7:30am. We instead sat in line for a good couple of hours while the camera guys and producers got little grabs of people looking excited and panned up and down the ever growing queue of people unnecessarily standing outside the building in the growing heat.

New queue buddies Manda, Tash, John, and I chatted about what we were all doing there in the first place, talked food, reality tv, and mused that we’d probably have the worlds best picnic with all the great food in everyones collective eskies at the moment.

So finally we get inside, sign our lives over to Masterchef and head into a little room to be briefed on the process. I’m not entirely sure what I signed when I put my signature to the release form, so I won’t give away any inside secrets about the show (not that I know any), but suffice to say it should be great to watch.

After our initial briefing we were split up into groups, and headed into our first audition session. About 10 people per group all went into a smaller room with a group of producers and assembled their dishes on a table up the front. Then two at a time talked about who they were and why they made the dish they made, and tasted the other persons dish and gave a little feedback on it.

I have to say all the dishes looked excellent, and all the ones I tried after the session tasted great. There was a terrine of chicken, lobster, and scallop, some vietnamese rolls with marron, a japanese tofu custard, a smoked salmon stack, a nectarine and pomegranate salad with lamb, a mango pudding with layers of panna cotta and jelly, a flourless chocolate liqueur cake with a berry sauce, scotch eggs with home made chutney, a layered salmon tartare, and a number of other different and wonderful dishes.

My salmorejo was very well received by everyone who tried it though. I was really happy with how the flavours came together and it looked great on the plate. When I heard my name called out for the second interview I was super happy. Those who made it through gathered anxiously outside, and those who didn’t were bid a fond farewell. It was surprising the amount of camaraderie generated in such a small time…but I guess that’s what being part of a shared experience can do to you.

Then on to my second interview with some other producers. I took my second plate of the soup and marron in and placed it delicately on the table in front of them, only to have them mostly ignore it and get straight to the nitty gritty of why I deserved to be on the show. I did my best to justify just how keen I was and made sure to emphasise keywords like passion, dedication, commitment, and honesty… a motivation speaker would have been so proud of me.

Then, when I thought it was all over, I had another chat with yet another producer. This time the lovely Keily, who wanted to know all about where I came from and what I liked, and if I were a food, what food would I be. It was all quite comfortable and positive when I left it was with a fairly strong idea that I’d be getting a call back for the next round of auditions, where I’d have to prepare a dish and present it in front of the judges for real.

So when the call came through at 8pm that night saying sorry, you didn’t make it through, I will admit, I was a little disappointed. Ok, very disappointed. But what can you do really. It’s TV, they have a specific group of people they are looking for and I guess I didn’t fit into whatever that was. If my dish hadn’t of been so well liked I think I’d be more upset, but as it stands I did everything I wanted and said everything I felt I needed to in the auditions to represent who I am.

Pretty much anyone who knows me will know just how competitive I am, but at the same time I won’t get hung up on things I have no control over. Plus as much as I’d like to hate everyone else who did get through to round 2, everyone I met was really nice and I have nothing but good things to say about the whole audition process.

So to all the lovely people I met over the course of the day (Tash, Manda, John, Rob, Charles, Antoneo, Patrice, Pete) I wish you well and look forward to seeing just who does go through to be the first Australian Masterchef.

And now… how about the recipe for my dish.

Salmorejo with West Australian Marron and baby herbs

You will need

  • Roughly 500g of tomatoes – the reddest ripest you can find, I tried about 4 different types
    and eventually settled on baby roma tomatoes which were plump and red and super sweet
  • 200g stale bread – I used a loaf of sourdough that was left out for a few days, but really any kind of bread would be fine, just not multigrain.
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic – vary this depending on how strong you want the garlic to come through
  • 2-3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 100 ml of good olive oil
  • salt and pepper to season to taste

How I made mine

Depending on your tomatoes you may want to peel and core them before you start. I was using baby tomatoes and it wasn’t really an option, so I instead blended whole in a food processor and then strained them through a sieve to get rid of the skin and seeds. If you however, have a thing for peeling tomatoes (or you’re some kind of sadist) then you’ll get a great result that way too.

So blend the tomatoes with the garlic cloves, soak the bread in water til it’s soggy, and then squeeze the excess water out. What you’re basically making is a tomato emulsion, and the bread is here to stabilise and thicken it, and give it a nicer consistency.

While the food processor is still going, add the bread bit by bit until it’s all smoothly blended. It should be somewhat thick at this stage. Check the flavour and consistency and then add your sherry vinegar to taste, and gradually blend in the olive oil until you’ve got the consistency and flavour you like.

This soup is a real vehicle for the produce. So the better the tomatoes and olive oil you use, the better it’s going to taste. Once all of that is blended through, add salt and pepper and perhaps more sherry vinegar to taste, and more bread if you need to change the consistency.

Then either into the fridge for a while to chill it right down, or get a bit tricky a blend 3 or 4 ice cubes into the mixture for a quick cool down. I think it tastes better the colder it is, especially on baking hot Australian summer days.

The marron I simply cooked whole in salted water (after putting them into the freezer for 15 minutes to put them to sleep, and pushing a knive down through their heads between their eyes for a quick, tho still traumatic enough, death).

My final dish is then just arranging the soup on the bottom, a small mound of chopped and lightly seasoned marron into the middle of the dish, and a delicate topping of baby herbs on top. I ended up using baby basil, purple basil, asian parsley, and coriander. An elegant swirl of olive oil and the dish is ready to serve.

I recommend making a large bowl of it and watching Master Chef while bitching and moaning to your friends about what might have been :)

Chorizo Ragu with Polenta

Chorizo Ragu on Polenta

Just to prove that I can and do still cook on occasion, what with all these fancy schmancy restaurant reviews peppering the pages of late.

This dish is a highly unfaithful recreation of a dish I was fortunate enough to enjoy at a Slow Food Perth lunch in a what seems like a lifetime ago, making sausages at the home of Vincent Vitrelli. After wading our way through a good 100 kg or so of pig, we had time for a spot of lunch. The dish of the day for me was a delicious creamy polenta topped with Monte San Biagio sausage mixture, simmered in a little white wine.

This attempt had nowhere near the finesse of course, but I am happy to announce that my love of polenta is now assured, as is my ability to think of it as something other than the dry brick served at some Italian restaurants.

For the Ragu
Take a couple of good chorizo sausages (I had neither so I used some fairly ordinary chorizo and upped the paprika , chilli, and garlic levels myself) cut them up into chunks and set them to simmer in a glass or two of red wine. Add chopped garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and let it simmer until it starts to break down. At this point I added some chicken stock, salt, pepper, and passata, and then just let it all reduce down to a stewy consistency. A dash more paprika, and some fresh parsley finished off the dish, which was probably cooking for 30 mins or so.

For the Polenta
Despite what you may be thinking, there is no real trick to it. Aside from make sure your polenta is well lubricated with water, a little milk to finish, and I season mine with butter, salt, and cracked pepper. I’m not sure if this is heresy or not, it may well be, but it personally tastes like cardboard otherwise…
Whilst I’m happy for the polenta to be the starchy vehicle to drive the ragu home in a nice marriage of texture with flavour, I would prefer to be able to do something with it on it’s own.

I used a pretty standard brand, and initially used 3 cups of water to 1 cup of polenta. Set this on a medium heat and bring it to the boil… then reduce and let it simmer and bubble away until it gets thick. At this point I add more water, half a cup at a time, and continue stirring until it absorbs. Somewhere down the line, add some milk, a 100g of butter, and a good dose of salt and pepper, until the flavour is something in the realms of tastiness and the texture is soft and gooey. I like my polenta quite runny, and find it cool to watch the science experiment take place as it firms up on the plate when served.

I’ve been told its ready when the polenta starts to stick to the sides of the pan properly, but that seems an inexact method for me, so just let you conscience be your guide.

Serve it with a rioja or perhaps some fava beans and a nice chianti…

Red Lantern Whispers

Pauline

Pauline Nguyen is a remarkable woman. A refugee, runaway, restaurateur, and now a writer. If you’ve yet to come across her book “Secrets of the Red Lantern”, then stop reading my drivel now and go find a copy. It’s an inspiring and emotional story of Pauline’s family history and the importance and significance of food to help overcome issues of displacement and as a form of healing to sooth the pain of isolation.

Woven throughout the beautiful fabric of the book, are most wonderful recipes for dishes that should inspire even the most stingy of cooks to embrace the freshness and herb loving decadence that is Vietnamese food.

Pauline of course runs Red Lantern restaurant in Surrey Hills (that’s Sydney sorry folks), with her partner Mark Jensen and brother Luke who look after the kitchen, and introduce and explain the recipes for the book.

Sharon and I were lucky enough to meet Pauline during the Perth Writers Festival, and even luckier to share a meal at a local Vietnamese restaurant with her. Carefully observing and absorbing as much as we could to gain as much valuable insight into what makes great Vietnamese food, or more importantly, what makes bad Vietnamese food.

From what I can gather, it’s all about freshness of ingredients, abundance of flavours, and an intermingling of textures. Many dishes are packed full of fresh herbs, with tangy dipping sauces, and a mixture of textures at all stages of the crunch spectrum.

Prep for vermicelli salad

My first few efforts at making things from the book have been interesting… There were some severely dodgy looking rice paper spring rolls, and my nuoc cham is gradually becoming quite decent. I’m yet to get into vegetable pickling, but that can’t be far off either.

My one of instant favourites however has been the simple yet very satisfying Bun Bo Xao (I looked for the special characters and couldn’t find them).

Bun Bo Xao

It’s a simple dish made by stir frying thinly sliced beef marinated in fish sauce, with some lemon grass and onion, and serving it over the top of a rice vermicelli salad, with lots of fresh mint and perilla (if you can find it). Then a good splashing of nuoc cham over the top, and you’ve got an excellent all purpose dish for a quick lunch or lazy dinner.

Thanks must go to Pauline for her inspiring book, and for just being a genuinely cool person to hang out with :)

Pork Belly Kakuni with Scallop Congee

pork belly with scallop congee

I’m not what you’d call the most dedicated cook. I’m fickle… and probably lazy… and if I read over a recipe and it looks like it’s going to be either long or complicated, or will require me to scour the seven seas for perrywinkles and seaweed extract, I’m unlikely to give it a go.

This dish however… made me look twice.

Whilst browsing through my beloved flickr one day, I came across this outstanding photo from Santos, the talented author of Scent of Green Bananas. She’d been sent a copy of a book by chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef America fame), and with some inspiration via Aun of Chubby Hubby, decided to give it a shot.

Now despite reading the recipe and finding out that the pork belly would be cooked for a total of around 10 hours, and would take around 2 or 3 days to complete if you follow the recipe to the letter, I figured that the end result looked too good not to give it a shot.

I won’t rehash the recipe here, you can feel free to get the real deal from Aun, or else go out and buy the book, which sounds like it’s full of a lot of great stuff. I will however give you a blow by blow account of the process I went through to make the whole thing.

Pork belly marathon checklist

  • Purchase one slab of boneless pork belly
  • Purchase 4 dried scallops (I got mine from Emma’s Yong Tau Foo in Northbridge), not cheap at $150 / kg !
  • Purchase sake
  • Purchase brown rice (I found some medium grain organic brown rice in Fresh Provisions)
  • Sear pork belly on both sides til brown all over
  • Place pork belly into an oven safe dish and cover it with water, add 3 cups brown rice to the water
  • Cook pork belly for 8 hours in the rice (mine was left overnight, and then cooked for another 8 hours after I realised I didn’t turn the oven on properly… stupid symbols)
  • Take the pork belly out of the rice and wrap it up, rest in fridge for 2 days
  • Make spring onion oil, by slowly heating vegetable oil with spring onions and ginger.
  • Mix rice for congee with spring onion oil, let it sit overnight to absorb the flavour
  • Soak dried scallops in warm water til they are flakey
  • Take pork belly slab out of fridge, slice it up into squares
  • Braise pieces of pork in sake, soy sauce, sugar, and water for 2 hours or so (I also added star anise like Santos)
  • Cook the congee using chicken stock, rice, dried scallops, and spring onion (I also added more pork, and a little coriander)
  • Let the pork cook until it’s nicely caramelised and falling apart
  • Serve the pork over the congee
  • Do not accompany it with an aged 1999 Gew├╝rztraminer from Henschke (it will not do it justice)
  • Savour the taste of your labour

caramelising pork belly

Fettucini Amatriciana

Fettuccini Amatriciana

The alternative title to this post is “I can’t believe it’s not Adelaide”.

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. You’ve slept in well past the time where it’s even remotely acceptable to have breakfast (and you don’t have any milk for cereal anyway). But now there’s is a rumbling in your stomach that’s sending all the dogs in the neighbourhood mental, expecting the next earthquake. A quick glance into the pantry shows pasta… this is a good sign. A check of the fridge shows half an italian sausage, some tomatoes, and most of an onion. You’re in business.

The sweetener in this scenario for me, is that I also found a small jar of olives. Made specially by local olive nut and wild food lover Kamran of Fiori Coffee. I won’t give away all the secrets, but suffice to say, there is a lot of food around if you’ll willing to look for it. These little gems have been marinaded in oil, and are delicious on their own, but also add substance and depth when added to pasta and other dishes. A wonderfully complex saltiness that really gives it a lift.

Now bearing in mind that I cannot guarantee that this dish can be legally called Amatriciana (or if I’m even spelling it right), here is my version of the ultimate quick and easy dish. It really doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Fettucini Amatriciana

  • 1 Italian sausage (mine was hot cacciatore)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Tomato passata, or lots of fresh tomatoes, or a can of crushed tomatoes
  • black olives
  • a splash of red wine
  • Fettucini

How I saved Saturday

Slice the sausage up into thin pieces on an angle, and the slice those slices into mini slices. Then slice the slices of slices … actually no, that’s enough. Chop up your onions and mince the garlic, then fry all of that in a bit of olive oil, and splash over the red wine at some point for tasty goodness. Add the tomatoes / passata to the pan and stir the mixture through well, letting it simmer away nicely and reduce a little.

While you’re doing all this, cook your pasta. I cook mine in as big a pot as I can find, with a little olive oil, and intermittently with a pinch of salt. I’m not sure whether that makes any difference, but it feels right… so I go with it.

Once the pasta is almost al dente, take it out and drain it. Then add a little more tomato passata to the pan, add the olives, stir them through well, and then toss the pasta through. Give it a minute or so for the pasta to absorb a little of the sauce and soften up a bit until it’s just the texture you prefer, then serve it up.

Suddenly Saturday is starting to look a whole lot more productive :)

Vietnamese Caramelised Chicken

Vietnamese Caramelised Chicken

Sometimes I have good ideas. Sometimes I get inspiration from other people. Sometimes my good ideas lead me to find inspiration, and it’s all one happy little coincidence. So after geeking around the web recently I came across a nifty little thing called Meebo. Meebo is a site that lets you embed your own little message window into the browser, so visitors can talk to you while they’re visiting your site. Which i thought was a relatively novel idea, although I figured it would be a waste of time.

Imagine my surprise then, when not long after setting it up, long time reader, first time instant live chatter Brad decided to mosey on by the site and give me an awesome recipe for the now obviously titled “Vietnamese Caramelised Chicken”.

According to Brad it was made by his brother recently, but he was going to do one better by remaking it with some additions. After taking a quick look at the recipe, I figured it could just about fit the often eclectic mix of ingredients I had in my fridge at the time, and so I printed it out and headed home to make it that very night.

The recipe from Brad, in it’s elegant simplicity is shown below. With the stuff in brackets being my own modifications.

VIETNAMESE-STYLE CARAMEL CHICKEN

  • 1 TBSP RICE BRAN OIL (I used peanut oil)
  • 4 SKINLESS, BONELESS CHICKEN THIGHS (I used two chicken breasts)
  • 2 CLOVES GARLIC, SLICED
  • 6 BROWN SHALLOTS, THINLY SLICED (I used one big onion)
  • 1 TSP DRIED CHILLI FLAKES (I used a bunch of chilli powder)
  • 6 TBSP SOY SAUCE (I basically splashed a whole bunch of soy sauce into the pan)
  • 2 TBSP BROWN SUGAR
  • 1/2 zucchini, sliced
  • handful of coriander, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chicken in 2 batches, Remove the chicken and set aside. Add the garlic, shallots and chilli to the pan and cook over a gentle heat until soft and golden brown. Return the chicken to the pan and add the soy sauce and brown sugar. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, remove the lid, turn up the heat and cook, stirring until the chicken is coated and the sauce has reduced to a sticky syrup.

Serve on steamed rice with a squeeze of lemon or lime over the top.

For a very simple video of the process I went through to make it, check this out

So the result was great. Succulent chicken and a thick slightly sweet sauce that came together as the brown sugar was absorbed into the soy sauce. The coriander gave it a fragrant lift, along with a splash of apple cider (the new Pipsqueak brand from Little Creatures) that just felt right at the time.

Here’s to serendipity bringing great ideas your way soon. And if you haven’t checked out the actual website in a while, stop by soon and say hello, I promise to try not to freak you out :)