No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) is most often associated with the southern Japanese island of Kyūshū, and in particular, the Nagasaki prefecture. The dish was reportedly adapted from a similar Chinese dish, called tonporo in Japan, that was introduced through the port of Nagasaki during isolationist times.

Formerly a secluded fishing village, Nagasaki’s first touch with the West was in the mid 16th century when a Portugese ship landed on nearby Tanegashima island. At the time, Japan was strife-ridden with potent feudal lords vying for supremacy, and the Portuguese possessed that equalizer in their ships’ hulls—firearms. So, Japanese provincial leaders, the daimyo, eagerly began regular trade with the Portuguese and even opened intercourse with mainland China with whom Japan had severed ties earlier.

A half century later, the Dutch expeditionary ship Liefde which was manned by a couple dozen starving sailors, arrived in Kyūshū. The Dutch captain somehow managed to win the confidence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Japanese unifier who had championed cultural seclusion and had just banned Christianity about a decade earlier. The Portuguese soon became unwelcome. Fearing colonization, the Japanese first persecuted, and then completely expelled all Portuguese diplomats, clerics, traders and their families. Enter the Dutch.

After Tokugawa’s death, shogun ordered the construction of the artificial, tiny island of Dejima (“exit island”) in Nagasaki Harbor. This mock isle became Japan’s single port and sole window onto the West yet was designed to keep that nether world at bay. A venue for lively cross-cultural merchant trade, the borders between propriety and pleasure on Dejima became blurred…a bizarre birth of trade relations between Japan and the Dutch East India Company that would endure for centuries.

Chinese ships first entered the port in the late 16th century and soon established trade routes there. Dutch and Chinese traders were the only foreigners permitted to enter Japan for over two hundred years, from 1639 to 1854. But, they were confined to certain ethnic enclaves: the Dutch to Dejima, the Chinese to the Tōjin-yashiki (“Chinese residence”). By the early 1700s, Nagasaki was welcoming hundreds of Chinese ships annually, and a notable portion of the population were from China. The influence of Chinese food culture on Japan, especially via the southern port city of Nagasaki, is palpable. In short, Nagasaki quietly boasts a singular Japanese cuisine that has benefited from Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese imprints. A paradox in a time of isolation.

Bona fide buta no kakuni? An authentic version? A genuine rendition? Faithful to the original? Perhaps not entirely. But, this is a close adaptation with some poetic license. As has been remarked earlier, fusion cuisine is far from a novel concept.

BRAISED JAPANESE PORK BELLY (BUTA NO KAKUNI)

1/2 T canola oil
2 1/2 lbs, uncured, center cut pork belly (without skin)

4 C water
1/2 C sake
1 T mirin
2″ piece fresh ginger, halved and smashed

3 C cold water
1 1/2 C shoyu
1 C sugar
2 star anise
6 black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
2″ piece fresh ginger, halved and smashed

Steamed Chinese Buns (mantou)
Eggs, boiled, peeled and halved
Scallions, cut into 2″ lengths then lengthwise into thin strips
Daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced
Sriracha
Hoisin

Sear
Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until it shimmers and is before smoking. Add the pork belly, fat side down until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and sear evenly on the other three sides. Do not allow the pan to smoke. Transfer the seared belly to a platter or sided sheet pan.

Braises
In a heavy Dutch oven or pot, combine the pork belly, water, sake, mirin, and ginger. Bring to just a boil over high heat, uncovered, then reduce heat and lower to a simmer, cooking for 1 hour. Transfer to a platter or sided sheet pan, then discard the liquid and clean the pot.

Next, place the water, shoyu, sugar, star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and ginger into the same Dutch oven. Add the pork belly, and again just bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and cook gently until the pork belly is quite tender and succulent, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the pork belly, transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest. Meanwhile, remove and discard the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and ginger with a slotted spoon and discard. Reserve the braising liquid.

Press
Transfer braised pork belly to a deep baking dish. Pour enough of the braising liquid into the dish to just cover the belly. Top with a smaller baking dish and weigh down with small dumb bells, cans or bricks. Place in the fridge overnight. Once pressed, remove from dish and skim off and discard any fat that may have gelled on the surface.

Finish
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put the belly, fat side down in an ovenproof saute pan and add enough braising liquid to reach about 1/4″ up the sides. Cook in the oven, basting occasionally, until just heated through, about 15 minutes. Turn the meat over, and roast another 5 minutes, basting more often this time, until the belly is richly browned and glazed. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest some, then carve belly into cubes or slices depending on your needs.

Pour any remaining braising liquid into a heavy saucepan, bring to a simmer, and reduce to the consistency of a thinner sauce. (If boiled eggs are visiting your table, ladle some braise over the open halves in a bowl before reducing.)

Serve with whatever whets your appetite: steamed rice, Chinese buns, boiled eggs, scallions, daikon radish, cilantro, chiles, Sriacha, Hoisin Karashi (Japanese mustard), and, of course, the reduced braising sauce.

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Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices filled with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes.
~James Joyce, Ulysses

The gizzard, also referred to as the ventriculus, gastric mill, or gigerium, is a digestive organ comprised of a tough inner membrane, surrounded by a muscular pouch which provides grinding action for food. While fowl are the focus here, gizzards are also found in the stomach tracts of other critters such as reptiles, fish, mollusks, and insects. Some, but not all birds use swallowed gravel, called gastroliths, as grist to masticate and help with digestion. These stones usually become round and smooth from the polishing process in the belly.

A much revered food in so many of the world’s regions, gizzards are sautéed, poached, braised, roasted, grilled, boiled, stewed, pickled, deep fried or even used to flavor stocks. I adore these burgundy hued nuggets, and they are seductively cheap.

The English word “gizzard” comes from the Middle English giser which derived from the Old French word gisier (Mod.Fr. gésier) “a bird’s entrails,” from the Latin gigeria. The Latin term was likely drawn from the Persian word for liver, jigar.

While most gizzards are sold partially cleaned, the importance of diligently prepping the gizzards cannot be understated. (Although many prefer the chewy textured ones.) Simply rinse off any grit and trim off and discard any of the connective cartilage and silverskin membrane before using. A very sharp blade is imperative.

DUCK GIZZARD CONFIT

12 duck gizzards, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 C sea salt
1 T dried thyme

4-5 T duck fat

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs fresh chanterelles and/or crimini, sliced
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Fresh thyme sprigs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh tarragon and/or parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Mix salt with dried thyme and toss in the gizzards to coat well. Put the seasoned gizzards in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, rinse the cured gizzards thoroughly and dry with paper towels.

Heat a large pot of water until almost simmering. Put the gizzards into a ziploc bag, and spoon in the duck fat with them. Seal tightly pressing the air out of the bag. Submerge the bag in a colander and then into the hot water, carefully positioning so that water does not seep into the bag. Maintain the water over a very low heat and slowly poach for about 4 hours.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and shake the pan or stir with a spatula to cook. Add the shallots and toss to combine. Cook just until the shallots are lightly brown. Add the garlic and fresh thyme and cook until the garlic softens but does not burn, about 2-3 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper.

Carefully remove the gizzards and duck fat from the bag, slice them and add to the mushrooms, shallots and garlic over medium high heat. Shortly remove from from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary, then sprinkle with tarragon or parsley. Serve in a bowl with grilled artisanal bread nearby.

BRAISED CHICKEN GIZZARDS WITH CURRY

1 1/2 lbs. chicken gizzards, cleaned and trimmed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced into very thin half moons
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1″ ginger root, peeled and chopped finely

1 T cumin seeds, dry roasted then ground
1 T coriander seeds, dry roasted then ground
2 dried red chiles, dry roasted then ground
1/2 t mustard seeds, dry roasted then ground

1 t fenugreek seeds, ground

1 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
Sea salt

3 T grapeseed oil
1 T unsalted butter
3/4 C chicken stock
3/4 C water
1 cinnamon stick

Roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped

In a bowl, combine ground cumin, coriander, red chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek with turmeric, red chile, and salt. In a heavy large sauté pan, heat grapeseed oil and butter over medium high. Stir in the onions for a couple of minutes, then the ginger and garlic and cook until until just light golden. Stir in the spice mixture and cook another 2-3 minutes or so.

Then, add the gizzards, stirring until well coated. Stir in the stock, water and cinnamon stick, cover and simmer slowly until gizzards are tender, about 1 hour or more. Assess liquid from time to time to assure a fairly constant level. Feel free to add hot water instead of additional broth. You will need adequate curry sauce to smother the gizzards and ooze into the rice. While braising, stir occasionally and add sea salt to taste.

Serve in shallow soup bowls over Basmati rice topped with peanuts and cilantro.

Garlic Confit (Ail Confit)

January 22, 2012

Without garlic I simply would not care to live.
~Louis Diat, former chef de cuisine at the Ritz-Carlton and creator of vichyssoise

Confit refers to a meat or vegetable cooked slowly in fat and then preserved in that fat or even a fruit cooked and preserved in sugars and/or salt. The garlic version is sinfully simple.

Slather these tender, magical morsels on crusty artisanal bread, or accent soups, sauces, pastas, pizzas, vinaigrettes, mayonnaises, marinades, mashed potatoes, etc. Even purée or smash and spread on fish, beef, pork, lamb or slip them under poultry skin before roasting or grilling. The garlic infused oil is equally versatile with preps and finishes.

GARLIC CONFIT (AIL CONFIT)

2 C plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 C extra virgin olive oil

Put garlic and herbs in medium, heavy sauce pan and cover with olive oil. The oil should just cover the cloves, and the amount may vary depending on clove and pan sizes. Bring to a bare, gentle simmer over low heat and cook until the garlic is tender and pale golden, but not browned, about 40 minutes. Allow the garlic to cool to room temperature while in the pan with the olive oil.

Then, using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer garlic and herbs to a canning jar(s). Pour the olive oil over the top, seal tightly and refrigerate for a week or so.

Clowns & Chickpea Soup

January 20, 2012

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
~Mark Twain

While on the folly of moral high grounders, just imagine that during one 24-hour spell: (1) a dropout governor and loser vice presidential candidate, who was woefully under scrutinized by her own party before “they” recklessly placing her on the ticket, ironically excoriated the country for electing the current president without properly vetting him; (2) in an embarrassing vote recount, a bigoted, right wing former senator was now declared the winner of a recent state caucus, reversing the previous results and defeating the party’s front running, perfectly coiffed mannequin candidate after all; (3) that same flip-flopping, scantily taxed, front running sycophant who has been warbling patriotic–even misinterpreting America The Beautiful–and touting good old fashioned homeland work values, has been surreptitiously shifting his funds to offshore tax havens; (4) a current governor with decidedly conservative, homophobic values has dropped out of the race and now endorsed another candidate, a former House Speaker who has repeatedly heralded the sanctity of established monogamous marriages; (5) while the second wife of this same pontificating Speaker gave a tell all interview where she revealed that this self-annointed high browed historian sought an “open marriage” with her all the while having a sordid affair with his now third wife; (6) then later that evening, the remaining pretenders suit and tied up to spew their pious demagogy onstage before raucous partisans at a national “debate.”

The stuff of statesmen and diplomats? Not even Twain or the esteemed dramatist Molière could have concocted such inane political satire. Makes me want to take a long shower, slip into some jammies, pop some popcorn, and tune into Fox “News” or CNN while humming And where are the clowns?…Send in the clowns.

Given yesterday’s lunacy and in honor of the ancient Roman orator, linguist and philosopher Cicero (from which ceci was derived), some velvety, soulful chickpea soup seemed in order. Often, solace can be found in legumes.

PASSATO DI CECI (TUSCAN CHICKPEA SOUP)

Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/2″ lardons

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt

1 lb (2 C) dried chickpeas, washed, then soaked in water overnight
2 qts chicken stock
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in twine
2 bay leaves
1 qt water

Extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed with leaves finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 C artisanal bread, crust on, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Extra virgin olive oil
Mint leaves, chopped

Lightly coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the pancetta and bring to medium heat. When the pancetta starts to become crispy, add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Cook the vegetables until they become aromatic and begin to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Do not brown.

Drain and discard the water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse them in a colander and add to the pot. Add the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves and 1 quart of water. Bring the liquid just to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and nearly falling apart, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Turn off the heat, season with salt and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, deeply coat a large skillet with olive oil, add garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, and crushed red pepper and bring to medium heat. Remove the garlic once it is golden and before it burns. Then add the cubed bread and cook until just crispy and golden. Season with salt and remove the croutons to a bowl for use later, reserving the garlic-rosemary oil.

Add the garlic-rosemary oil to the soup. Purée (in batches if necessary) the soup by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Correct the consistency, if necessary–if too thin, cook some more to reduce, or if too thick carefully add more stock. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls, drizzle very lightly with olive oil, then top with croutons and mint.

Humble Pot Pie

January 17, 2012

Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.
~Laurence Sterne

Pot pies seem reminiscent of a graceful courtship—first ogling, then the primal eye connect, doted upon, coddled, kneaded some, cozied, with disparate souls melded together, finally forming a union, ever mingling with ambrosial aromas and flavors. An almost silent, sapid tango.

Recently, home spun and hearty pot pies have gone somewhat underground in America’s home kitchens. A revival is in the making though. Nearly timeless, savory meat pastries have endured civilizations, castes, and continents. With slightly differing carriages, there are French (pâté en croûtes), English (meat pies), Spanish (empanadas), Chinese (jiaozi), Greek (kreatopitas), Italian (tortas), Slavic (böreks), Polish (pierogi), Russian (belyashi), Canadian (tourtières), Latin American (empanadas), Vietnamese (bánh patê sô) Indian (samosa), middle Eastern (fatayer), and so on. Each deserve our ardor.

Early English pies (“coffyns”) were savory meat pies with tall, slightly beveled pastries and sealed floors and lids. The bottom crust served as the pan, so it was rather tough and inedible. These pastries were often made several inches thick to withstand the rigors of baking.

The English word “pie” was later derived from the cagey magpie, a keenly sociable bird that forages for and collects sundry objects which adorn and bind together their bulky mud or manure nests. Medieval pies were similarly bowl-shaped, holding an array of fillings, whether savor or sweet and often both meats and fruits.

“Pot” took a more circuitous route—from late Old English pott and Old French pot, both from a general Low Germanic and Romanic word from the vulgar Latin pottus, of uncertain origin, said to be vaguely connected to potus “drinking cup.” Pot pie had more specific origins: American 1823. (All not to be confused with cannabis sativa or pot which is probably a shortened form of Mexican Spanish potiguaya or “marijuana leaves.”)

CHICKEN POT PIE

Preheat oven to 375 F

Pastry
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
12 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 T lard or shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water, mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Equally divide and form into two evenly sized thick disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Remove from the fridge. If the dough is too firm to roll, allow to rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and the rolling pin. Lightly dust the top of a disk of flour and roll into a round about 1/8″ thick. Roll outward from the center, rotating the dough, and adding flour as necessary to avoid sticking. Fold the dough in half and transfer to a 9″ pie plate easing the dough into the corners and up the sides.

Roll out the second dough disk to a 12″ round, again about 1/8″ thick. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate until ready for further use.

Béchamel
3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
3 C whole milk, slightly simmered

1/4 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Remove the roux from the heat, pour in the warmed milk and whisk vigorously until smooth. Then add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and simmer gently, whisking often for 30-40 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme.

Filling
1 C red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 C parsnips, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C carrots, peeled and cut 1/2″ diagonally
1/2 C celery, cut 1/2″ diagonally
12 white pearl onions
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C crimini mushrooms, cut into thirds
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
2 1/2 C roasted dark chicken meat, shredded

2 eggs, beaten

Put the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, celery and onions in a large saucepan with water to cover with bay leaves, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes.

In a chinois, drain the vegetables, discard the bay and thyme, cut the onions in half and spread on an edged baking sheet. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Strew the simmered vegetables, peas, mushrooms and chicken over the bottom of the pie shell. Season again with salt and pepper. Pour the béchamel over the chicken and vegetables. Moisten the pie shell rim with some of the beaten egg. Carefully cover the filling with the top crust and press the edges of the dough together to seal. Trim away any excess dough that overhangs the rim. Brush the top crust with the egg. Cut three small vents in the center of the top dough with the tip of a paring knife.

Bake until the crust is a rich golden brown, about 50 minutes or more. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, then serve.

Pourboire: consider lamb shoulder or shredded pork butt.

…but not taught to the tune of a hickory stick. The ways we unwittingly age ourselves.

I was briefly hijacked by another project and the pre, mid and post holiday revelry. Now it’s retour au train-train quotidien as the calendar bluntly reminded me. So, without further ado and the usual palaver, behold some root cellar fare to serve on a chilly evening.

RISOTTO WITH TURNIPS & PARSNIPS

3/4-1 C medium parsnips, prepped as below
3/4-1 C medium turnips, prepped as below
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

7-8 C chicken stock

Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvingnon blanc

1 t fennel seeds, roasted and ground
3 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Fresh tarragon leaves, stems removed (not chopped)
3/4 C Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 400 F

Peel the parsnips, quarter them lengthwise, and remove the tough core with a paring knife. Cut into 1/2″ shapes. Peel the turnips, cut lengthwise and also cut into 1/2″ shapes. Place cut roots in a large glass bowl and coat lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange both roots on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan. Consider lining the sheet or roasting pan with aluminum beforehand.

Roast until tender and slightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes for the parsnips and a little longer for the turnips. Pierce with a fork to check doneness. Remove from the oven, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside, tented.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy sauce pan, heat stock on low until hot, nearly simmering.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, add the onion, and sauté over moderately high heat until it softens and becomes translucent. Add the rice and stir until coated and opaque, about another 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates.

Then, begin the beguine. Add a ladleful of hot stock, and cook, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more. The rice will become tender and creamy but still al dente after about 18 minutes. Do check by tasting a spoonful.

Remove from the heat, gently yet thoroughly fold in the turnips, parsnips, fennel, butter, tarragon, and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so.

Mound in the center of shallow serving bowls and serve with spoons.

Pourboire: this same calendar proclaimed ce sera mon année as well! Does that mean a year of boundless creation, flukish wealth or certain death?