Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Actual Cooking: Lettuce Wrapped Roast Pork With Kimchee Slaw and Sesame Mayo

One of the best things that ever happened to me foodwise (and a lot of other 'wises, as well) was that, as a twenty-something newlywed¹, I had the opportunity to live for a year in Seoul, South Korea, and during that year I fell in love with Korean food. So it was with a distinctly unmanly squeal of delight that I greeted my buddy Andy's posting of a recipe from the South Korea booth at the 2010 EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, on his great Disney-themed food blog Eating (and Drinking) Around the World. I won't repeat the recipe — go read it at Andy's place! — but basically it's pulled pork butt (aka shoulder) served in a lettuce wrap with a Korean cabbage slaw — essentially a quick kimchee — and a mayonnaise-based sesame sauce... a somewhat simplified version of bo ssam.

Like Andy, my first thought was to wonder if the distinctive Korean flavors would be tamed to satisfy the tastes of Disney's guests, but I trust Andy's judgment, and I had a 4-day weekend (a <smile>paid holiday</smile> and an <grumble>unpaid furlough day</grumble> wrapped around Easter weekend) that was just begging to be spent (at least in part) cooking, so I decided to dive in and cook.

The first fun part was the shopping, and the first thing I learned is that I need to re-learn hangul, the Korean alphabet. I never learned much Korean while living there — not only is it really hard, but the fact that we were there to teach English meant that most of the Koreans I knew preferred to practice my language than teach me theirs — but hangul is a strictly phonetic alphabet (even if it does sorta' look like Chinese characters), and easy to learn. Most of the goods on the shelves of my local Korean market have their English (or at least romanized) names on the label somewhere, but refreshing my ability to sound out Korean words would make the shopping easier. That said, most of the goodies I ended up buying — sriracha and fish sauce (the smallest bottle was a huge canister I'll likely never use up!) — weren't even Korean anyway. The sriracha was a substitute for sambal oelek, which I couldn't find anywhere... until after I'd already finished the dish, at which time I stumbled over the stuff in a regular, non-Asian supermarket! Go figure, eh?

Anyway, after the shopping, I got down to cooking. The best pork butt I could find was a little bigger (3.05 lb) than the recipe specified (2.5 lb), but a little extra pig can never be a bad thing, right? Rub it with a mix of light brown sugar and salt, bag it, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. I vacuum-bagged mine, but that's not really necessary: I just didn't have a gallon ziploc handy, and used that as a convenient excuse to play with my vac-sealer toys! Once the meat is marinated (does this count as a brine?), it goes into a 300°F oven for 4.5 to 5 hr (a bit longer in my case, because my hunk 'o pig was a bit oversized) after a rinse and a pat-down. Nothing is difficult about this dish, but you do have to pay attention to timing: In addition to seasoning the meat overnight, the slaw needs at least 2 hr in the fridge after it's assembled and while the mayo doesn't need to "age," you do want to refrigerate it before serving, and if you toast your own sesame seeds, they need time to cool before they're added to the mayo. So...

Get the pork in the oven, then within a reasonable time cut the veggies for the slaw and make the dressing:

Toss the veggies and dressing together, cover, and refrigerate. Go have an adult beverage and watch a bit of TV. After 'while, toast your sesame seeds per the recipe, and give 'em about 10 min to cool. You can buy sesame seeds already toasted — in fact, in the Asian market, I couldn't find them untoasted in sizes smaller than a sackful! — but for me, doing the cooking is kinda' the point, and even something as apparently trivial as toasting sesame seeds makes me feel like I'm cooking. While the seeds are cooling, check the pork, and baste it with the rendered fat (do this 3 or 4 times during cooking). When the seeds are at room temperature, combine with the mayo and other ingredients to make the sauce, and then refrigerate (are you getting the idea that you need to make sure in advance you've got some space in the fridge?). Have another adult beverage... or two! About half an hour before you expect the pork to be done, pick, wash, and pat dry your lettuce leaves.

When the pig is done, you will behold a wondrous sight:

They call it "pulled pork," but if you've done everything right, you won't have to pull very hard. Barely threaten the meat with a pair of forks, and it'll instantly surrender itself into a quivering mass of tasty, tender shreds:

Keep in mind that there's nothing Korean about the meat itself: All the Korean flavors are in the slaw and mayo. At this point if you put this on a bun with some BBQ sauce, you'd have a perfectly cromulent pulled pork sandwich. But add the slaw (which should be nicely wilted and flavorful by this point), the mayo, and the lettuce wrappers, and you've got a great Korean meal:

Despite any concern that this might be too Americanized, the flavors are all there. Biting into a lettuce-wrapped bundle, I could close my eyes and easily imagine myself at one of the local lunch spots in Yeoksam-dong, near the school we taught at.

But an easy dish like this is a dangerous tease: I have the Momofuku book, and having made this, I'm now itching to try David Chang's more ambitious version of bo ssam. FSM only knows what I'll get myself into!

¹ By The Newlywed Game standards, in any case: We'd been married less than 2 years at the time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Grilled Cheese Quest: First, a Control

I've mentioned a couple of times here that one of my projects is to discover the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, and it occurred to me that the quest should begin, like any good experimental program, with a control: a plain ol' grilled cheese, with storebought white bread and American cheese.

So tonight I made myself just such a beast for dinner. The artisanal breads, fancy cheeses, and architectural innovations can come later. BTW, let me just make clear at the outset that by "grilled cheese sandwich," I mean Grilled.Cheese.Sandwich! Bread and cheese cooked in a hot pan (or a griddle or something very similar). A grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, though very tasty, doesn't count. Nor does a grilled Reuben, nor a tuna melt. Bread, cheese, some sort of edible lubricant, heat, and (outside of seasonings) nothing else. Think of it as my own personal GCS version of the Reinheitsgebot. I've been enjoying America's Next Great Restaurant, and originally had high hopes for Meltworks, but Bobby Flay was right: Those were really more like paninis than like classic GCSs. But I digress....

I used sliced white bread from the local supermarket (a little firmer than Wonder® bread, but not philosophically different), Kraft yellow American cheese (I did spring for the Deli Deluxe, which is at least "processed cheese," rather than "processed cheese food" or "processed cheese product"), Hellman's mayo (using mayo to grill bread is new to me, but once I stumbled over this practice, I learned it was sufficiently plain ol' for my purposes), and a tiny drizzle of generic corn oil, in the following procedure:

Just slick the surface of a stainless steel skillet with corn oil¹, and heat over high heat. Coat one surface each of two slices of bread with a thin layer of mayo, being sure not to miss any spots. When the pan is hot, put both pieces of bread in it (mayo side down, of course!), immediately cover each with a slice of cheese, and turn the heat down to a medium to medium high (6 on the dial, on my stovetop). I like to quickly push the sandwich halves around a little, just to make sure they don't stick. When you see the cheese first begin to sag or melt, carefully flip one half onto the other, then cook to desired done-ness, turning frequently. As you can see from the photo, I like mine a little on the well-done side; YMMV. Also, I like to cut my sandwiches on the diagonal, but not through the corners, making the two halves (roughly) right-angle trapezoids... everyone needs a little quirk, no?

So there it is: The InternationalDauphin Standard Baseline Grilled Cheese Sandwich, against which all claimants for higher honors must be measured. It's a high bar, though, because, as simple as it is, it's damn tasty!

¹ If you use a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron, the corn oil is probably not necessary, but I don't have the latter (yet) and The Lovely Bride™ won't have nonsticks in the house.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cocktail of the Day: The Zombie

Well, I've always wanted to try the classic Zombie cocktail, created at Don the Beachcomber's, and for some strange reason, today seemed like the right day.

Oddly enough, for a cocktail whose moment of invention is so clearly known, every bartender's guide I looked in had a different recipe... and not just a little bit different, either! I chose to rely on the recipe in Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail:

1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1 1/2 oz fresh passion fruit puree
1/4 oz grenadine
1 oz orange curacao or apricot brandy
1 oz dark rum
1 oz light rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Sprig of fresh mint for garnish
Seasonal fruit for garnish

I had to cheat a bit on the passion fruit puree, as I couldn't find any fresh passion fruit and had to settle for bottled juice instead. I also left out the fruit garnish, settling for just a sprig of mint. I chose orange curacao rather than apricot brandy, and used Berkshire Mountain's Ragged Mountain Rum and Bacardi for the two rums.

The result was a pleasant, potent, pretty drink. I'm glad I tried it, but it probably won't become part of my regular rotation, largely because tropical fruit flavors predominate, and those aren't my favorite taste sensations. For much the same reason, though, it's clear why the drink's name is apt: Even though it contains 3 ounces of alcohol, this drink tastes mostly like fruit punch; it's easy to imagine drinking oneself into a zombie on such a stealthy slug of booze!

Happy Easter, by the way! ;^)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Needed a Kick... get back in the habit of posting, and this is it: In the process of following up a lead related to local politics, I stumbled over the fact that I'd missed National Grilled Cheese Day... even after promising (here) to take up the quest for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich!

Interestingly, just a couple days ago, I went back to the Goodwill Store were I found my vacuum sealer and stick blender, and purchased (for the princely sum of $3 plus tax!) a waffle iron... for the specific purpose of recreating the waffle-grilled cheese sandwiches my mother used to make for me! How could I not have known it was National Grilled Cheese Day?

Ah, well... it's apparently still National Grilled Cheese Month, so I've got a little time to make amends. Question is, should I get this grilled cheese cookbook, or would that threaten the purity of my quest to create the Great American Sandwich® on my own?