Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pork Belly

Today was interesting. I saw a post from a friend on Facebook about her upcoming cooking of a pork belly. Anytime I hear the word or think about that cut of meat I instantly get excited. So I dropped her a line offering up a recipe.

I didn't think much about it at all after that. But then she called me out of the blue today. She is a reporter for the Sacramento Bee and was doing an article on Pork Belly. She asked if she could interview me and if I would be willing to offer that recipe for the SacBee. Surely, sounds great!

She performed an interview over the phone regarding the precious meat that I love so much. It got me really thinking, how can I express why this meat is so special. For me several reasons. First off I really love pork. I love that it is a cheap meat that is so amazing to cook with. I love that it is not glorified the way that steak is. The way that the meat takes on the flavors of the components of a dish is magical. Myself, I am a bit of a sweet freak. I love that pork pairs so well with sweet elements.

Growing up we ate a lot of pork; Christmas, Thanksgiving, Religious Holidays. You name it. My grandmother made the most amazing sweet gravy that paired with either the whole roasted pig, which we did frequently, or the roast which we prepared for smaller groups. I think this is where my love comes from.

The right pork, raised by the right farmer has the perfect amount of fat. Good fat. Fat that transfers the natural flavor of the meat to the palate. Pork belly is the premium example of that. Depending on the piece you get, it could be as much as 80 percent fat in a single bite. I try to trim it up to about a 50/50 ratio.

The fat however is the best part some would say. It is what makes the outside so very crispy and crunchy when rendered correctly. Cooked by braising, or even better by sous vide at a very low temperature over a very long period of time, the fat and collogen slowly breaks down and begins to melt if you will. So when you take a bite you have a super succulent and moist piece of meat with the perfect crispy exterior in every bite. Perfection.

Here is the recipe that I shared with the Bee. Enjoy!

Kurobuta Pork Belly

One of the most succulent cuts of meat, the pork belly is amazing when braised or cooked slowly. Pork belly is a slab of bacon, which is raw, uncured. We cure it our self, then cook it sous vide for 12 hours until meltingly tender. We finish by crisping it in a pan and glazing with the cooking liquid from sous vide bag. You can order this from Vande Rose meat market in the Quarry Ponds in Granite Bay, or from your local butcher. Much of this recipe can be done a few days in advance!

3 cups ice water
¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ honey
1 cup cold apple cider
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
4 T peppercorns
2 T Dijon mustard
1 bunch lemon thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 yellow onion, quartered
8 cloves garlic
2 carrot, peeled and cut 1”

Bring ½ cup water, salt, honey and sugar to boil until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in mustard, herbs, peppercorns, onion, garlic and carrot. Pour liquid into remaining ice water in large container. Add the pork belly and make sure it covers the belly completely. Add remaining ingredients. You can weight down the with plates or pans to ensure full coverage. Leave for 6-7 hours in cure in refrigerator.

To braise the belly:
1 cured pork belly (snake river farms) trimmed of excessive fat
2 yellow onions quartered
2 head garlic smashed
2 green apples cut 1”
1 bunch lemon thyme
1 bunch parsley
2 bay leaves
3 carrots peeled and cut 2”
1 cup white wine
1 cup apple cider
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups veal stock
12 peppercorns

Heat a pan with canola oil large enough to hold all ingredients. Sauté pork on all sides until slightly browned. Remove pork from pan and sauté carrots for 2 minutes, then add onions & garlic and apple for 2 more minutes. Then deglaze pan with wine and vinegar. Reduce by half, then add pork and remaining ingredients. Cook in 280* degree oven for 6 hours. Let cool in liquid until you can handle the meat. Remove meat from juices and place in Pyrex dish. Strain the braising liquid into a clean bowl. Cover the pork with enough liquid to cover, place a second Pyrex dish on top of the meat and weight down with a heavy pot. Refrigerate over night. Reduce remaining braising liquid to about 1 cup, strain and reserve.

Cider Reduction

½ cup sauvignon Blanc
3 Tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 cup apple cider
1 cup veal stock
2 T diced shallot
1 t garlic diced
2 sprig lemon thyme
2 peppercorns
1 t apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
2” carrots peeled
2 T butter cold

Heat pan and add wine, vinegar, shallot, garlic, thyme & carrots. Bring to boil then simmer until almost liquid is almost gone. Add apple cider and reduce until almost all liquid is gone again. Add veal stock and peppercorns and simmer until reduced by 2/3. Strain into a clean saucepan. Reduce over low heat until it has a thick syrup consistency, then whisk in butter one piece at a time to emulsify. Add cider vinegar and whole grain mustard at last minute. Keep warm or refrigerate overnight.

Pickled Pearl Onion

20 pearl onions, peeled
1 cup water
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Combine sugar, water and both vinegars in pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour directly over the pearl onions and stir in the salt. Cool at room temperature. Reserve in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Vanilla Apple Puree

Poaching Liquid
6 apples peeled, cored and cut into 1” pieces
2 cups sauvignon blanc
1.5 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 lemon juiced
2 cloves
3 T champagne vinegar
1 vanilla bean, seeds & pod

To Finish Puree
2 tablespoons honey
champagne vinegar
2 vanilla bean seeds scraped
½ t cinnamon
¼ t ginger
½ cup cream +/-
6T butter
salt to taste

Prepare poaching liquid. Bring wine & vinegar to boil and then add sugar, honey, cloves and water. Remove from heat once sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice.

Place all apples in poaching liquid with 1 vanilla bean. Poach apples gently over simmer until soft but not mushy. Remove from liquid and add apples to blender with enough of the liquid to just puree. You are trying to achieve a very thick consistency.

Add the butter, and enough cream to achieve the consistency of a smooth mashed potato. Add remaining ingredients to taste. Reserve under refrigeration or use immediately while warm.

Apple Celery Salad:

2 green apples, peeled and cored
Celery Leaves or Micro Celery
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Place the shallot, Dijon mustard and vinegar in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Cut the apples into matchsticks 1/8” x 1/8” x 2”. Place the apple slices in the vinaigrette. Toss with the celery leaves and taste for seasoning. Do this immediately before plating.

To Finish at service:
Warm the apple vanilla puree in a saucepot until warm. Keep warm.

Reduce the braising liquid to about ¼ cup then whisk in the cider reduction. Keep warm.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator. Reserve the cooking fluid in the bag, or a bit of the braising liquid to glaze the meat. Trim any excess fat, leaving some at the top to crisp nicely. Cut into the desired shapes. Add the pieces to a cold pan and place over medium heat to cook. Once crisp and brown, turn over. Cook both sides until crisp and warm, then add the fluid to the pan and let reduce, basting the meat to glaze. Serve over the vanilla apple puree, spoon some sauce along side, and top with the salad. Place a pickled onion along side.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A year in review

2009 is coming to end in what seems to be speedy fashion. A year that has passed with the blink of an eye, 2009 has been a great year. This year was the birth of my first child, a surprise in a daughter, and a bit of a scare in a daughter! She is the most amazing jewel a man could ever ask for. I have found fatherhood extremely fun and rewarding. It has brought me a sense of caring and patience much needed and much appreciated.

As the months flew by I watched her change from infant to a little person, with quite the personality and flare for adventure. We call her a diva, princess, miss attitude, and our little actress for being oh so dramatic! If only time would just slow down. I cannot believe it has been a year!

Professionally was a strange year. Started off slow, with only a few events and happenings. Then all my focus shifted into the outdoor commercial kitchen. Taking 3-4 months out my life to complete the project was so fun and rewarding, but I made no money in the process and failed to cook as much as I should have. All with the knowledge that it would pay off.

The open house yielded some 100 people almost, all to observe our work and enjoy good food and company. The place became an instant hit and once complete, events sold like wildfires!

A new relationship was made in Beth Daane. Beth of Danne Photography and I established an amazing working relationship. Her amazing food photography sent my ability to market myself through the roof. I tell her she is a good luck charm. Her eye for photography and passion for her craft is equal to my own for food. I love it! I was able to start a new website thanks to having some fantastic photography around!

I started going public. Doing events such as the Lincoln Showcase, where we stopped everyone in their tracks and had a line for days. We really made people think about food in a new way and they enjoyed every minute of it. So many contacts were made and great people were met as a result. My following has grown.

Got involved with the arts, a truly fun opportunity where people could appreciate my artistic eye. A lot of fun!

Finished the year with the run of Holiday parties that was great. Busy as ever, working far too hard for the pay and sleeping far too little and enjoying every minute of it. Being able to still create the food I think is appropriate and amazing, This is passion!

Turned 30 this year. Wow. OMG scary as ever. Why? I generally love my bday and we party for weeks in celebration of its arrival to the point that Angie gets sick of it! JK. Kinda. But this year was different. Being a Father? Working harder? Struggles financially? What is it? The thought of my mortal self? Future health issues? Holy cow I am still young aren't I? It came with me kicking and screaming along the way and I celebrated a fantastic bday. All my friends and family were there to support me and I loved it! Then it went and a sense of calming overcame me. Good, finally this is what I need.

But now this sense of urgency has overcome me. I am 30. I have not accomplished what I wanted to by now. I love every thing about my personal life and would not change a thing. But professionally, I need to get moving. I have a 5 year goal. A ten year goal. A one year goal. I need to get busy and hustle hard to get myself out there. I have been cooking and love it, know it is what I want to do. I have been training and overcoming successfully the hardest of challenges I can find. And I am good at it. People respond to it.

Now to settle down with the Family, remember the year and enjoy each other. Embrace the meaning of the Holidays, the relationships we have with our Friends and family, to be thankful. I love the Holidays.

My 2010 will be something for the books. I plan to do something unheard of by a young Chef that never had any schooling, formal training, never worked with the Top Chefs of this country. For being self made this is pretty great and I am very proud. Keep your eyes and ears open because here I come people, ready or not!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The French Laundry, Could It Get Better?

It is nearing 3 years since our first and previous visit with The French Laundry. Another visit was long past due. As I considered how far my cuisine has come and evolved over the past three years, it only seemed like perfect sense to do this again. For research of course! Always good to sharpen your skills and get inspired by observing the best Chefs in the Country.

It also happened to fall perfectly on Mom's birthday weekend! So we celebrated her birthday and mine, which is next week! What a gift.

After securing a reservation for the three of us, I came to realize what a treat we were in for. Knowing that it is truffle season, I was excited! So we packed our clothes and booked a babysitter to join us for the weekend to watch the little one. Off to Yountville we went.

We had such an amazing experience previously that we were naturally concerned about our experience this time. Together we learned that when in the hands of The French Laundry, there is nothing to worry about.

Dinner was truly amazing, something that I could appreciate so much more, knowing the technique and recognizing the skill and refinement that went into the entire production. I picked up some great inspiration and new techniques. So inspiring.

Amuse Bouche: Gougeres, Salmon Tartar

The Gougere seemed smaller and lighter than I previously remember, with the slightest nuance of nutmeg if you will. Extremely warm and meltingly smooth with cheese.

The salmon was so very fresh, cut with such precision, like a surgeon yielding a scalpel over a patient. The lingering acidity of the lemon in the creamy creme fraiche left salvation on our palates.

Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Island Creek Oyster Glaze, California Sturgeon Caviar
What can I say, truly amazing and classic pairing. Rich, so luxurious, and perfect.

Amazing Pain Au Lait, compressed adante butter was amazing, cheese-like richness and texture. My understanding was that they compress the butter with cheese cloth.

"Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine, Quince Relish, Duck Confit, Cornichons, Watercress"
A revelation for me. Foie Gras, the best I have ever seen & taste executed.
The first thing that struck me was just how small or dainty this seemed. Again, such delicate execution, such care taken. The duck confit added a great textural variance, and the pairing was great with the quince, dijon and cornichon. The Brioche was the lightest I had ever seen. As standard, an array of exquisite & rare salts complimented this course.

Salad of Matsutake Mushroom, Tokyo Turnips, Cashew, Mizuna, Meyer Lemon
This course really got our taste buds excited. Not the biggest flavor, but the cashews were great paired with the mushrooms and the acidity really brought a great brightness.

Tartare of Japanese Bluefin Tuna, Jidori Hen Egg, Red Radish, Black Truffle, Romaine Lettuce and Celery Root Remoulade
Angie loved this dish, as she is the crudo queen. Devoured every bite without the blink of eye it seemed. It was very good. But I preferred what came next.

Confit Fillet of Atlantic Cod, Crispy Brandade, Piperade, Garlic Pudding & Parsley
The fish appeared to be put together to form a roulade using activa, though I did not ask I am pretty positive. You could see the seam if you looked close enough. Meltingly soft, rich, warm, amazing. Cooked in 2 parts canola to 1 part olive oil via sous vide. They fill the reservoir and the run the oil right through the machine I believe, at least that is what we were made to believe. The brandade was very crispy and tasted great, but the piperade and garlic brought the dish together and made it sing. So very simple and so delicious.

A Classic
"Beets & Leeks"
Maine Lobster Tail "Pochee au Beurre Doux" with King Richard Leeks, "Pommes Maxim's" and Red Beet Essence.

This dish was rich and luxurious as we noted in our notes. Simple as ever and not fussy at all. The leeks were so creamy, the lobster cooked perfect, the beets rich and velvety and the pommes executed nicely for some crunch and salt. We were very happy with this course.

Next up I splurged and ordered the white truffle tasting from Alba. They obliged and were kind enough to bring Angie and Mom another classic.
White Tuffle Infused Custard, Black Truffle Ragout, Chive Chip.

Spectacular and simple.
The loosest polenta I had ever had enriched with mascarpone cheese, a ring of the cleanest flavored rich veal jus, and white truffle shaved generously over the top. Heavenly. Divine. Can I have seconds? I will remember this dish for some years to come.

Mom opted out of the main course options which were either Rabbit or Pigs Head. Instead she subbed to the vegetarian tasting for this.
"Poached Flowering Quince, French Laundry Ham, Crispy Membrillo, Marcona Almonds, Arugula and Piment d'Espelette"
Again a great pairing, seemed rather fall like with hints of anise and almonds and almost the hint of nutmeg. House cured ham for 18 months, everything came together to form a great dish.

Sirloin of Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit
Sunchoke, Pine Nut, Royal Blenheim Apricot, Arugula, Aged Balsamic
So amazingly small and delicate, every bite was a gift.

Rouelle De Tete De Cochon
Tuscan Lentils, Melted Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Blis Maple Syrup
A great dish. Pork was perfect, tender, crunchy, hot, salty, flavorful, fatty. My problem with this dish was that the puree seemed very one note. The dish seemed one noted. I would have had liked a little more balance here. It was extremely rich but needed some acidity to balance the fattiness of the dish. Very rich. Very good however.

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle
Autumn Pole Bean Cassoulet, Tomato Compote, Petite Sale, Thyme Jus
I was pretty loving this dish. Lamb was perfect. Perfectly cooked, flavor was amazing. The cassoulet was the best bit of beans I have have ever eaten, so I was pleasantly and extremely surprised by that. Thyme jus complimented the dish great, and the tomato compote brought that sweetness and acidity to the course. Perhaps my favorite of the night. I ate 2.

Red Hawk
Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Pear, Chestnut vinaigrette
Amazed at how well they nailed this pairing. The brussel sprouts really brought out the cheeses grassy and natural flavors. This was very good and everything a cheese course should be.

We Love Cheese. My Mom kept talking about blue cheese. The waiter heard this. So he brought us an additional cheese plate not on the menu. Here it is.
Forme D Ambert, French Prune, Hazelnuts, Compressed Endive
The endive was something I thought was special. You can see the translucency in it, all they did was compress this in water. Amazing at how the flavor and texture were enhanced.

Unfortunately I still cannot bring myself to enjoy blue cheese. It is the only thing that I can truly say I do not have a taste for. I have tried and tried to like it, I really want to like it and enjoy it, but I just don't. If anyone has any tips let me know.

Dark and Stormy
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread, Gros Michel Banana
A really great dish. My understanding was that they used a ginger beer foam which really accented the dish lovely. Crumbled gingerbread and a sugar tuile brought some flavor and texture to the dish. And of course, any time I eat ice cream, sorbet or anything frozen my awareness of texture has gone through the room since my acquisition and practice with the paco jet. The Sorbet was superb, texturally exactly what one would not expect. I mean it was exactly what it should be but usually is not. The texture was amazing as was the clean flavors of the dish and I really enjoyed this.

A Classic
Coffee and Doughnuts
I have a slight obsession with doughnuts. I have been known to make them frequently and have gotten quite well at them I must say. So I really appreciated seeing this appear surprisingly, as it was not on the menu. The doughnuts were great, but the best part was the overlooked coffee. Wow. Something so unique and soooo good. I have found my new favorite drink I think, if you could call it that.

A birthday treat

Gateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Mango Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, Coconut Milk Sorbet
All I can think of when I look at this dish and the previous pineapple sorbet, is that the pastry chef must be tired of the cold Yountville weather in December. Yearning and daydreaming of a trip to some tropical place where pina coladas flow and fresh tropical fruit is offered. Not very winter like.
I must say, thank you for daydreaming. This was another superb dish! Flourless chocolate cake that was ever so moist, a mango chili relish that all came together with a cloud of lime foam and again a perfectly textural sorbet.

Another treat. How many items did we get that were not on the menu? I would have to go back and count. But I am so glad we did.
A simple cheesecake. Thats all.
Did I mention and truly sensansional simple cheesecake. The thinnest and crunchiest graham crakcer crust perfectly executed as though santa's elfs themselves had worked their magic to make the crust without a flaw. A velvety creamy and not overly sweetened filling, with the right amount of tang to really excite your taste buds after all this food. And one very lonely and amazingly delicious cherry. OMG.

The standard house made chocolates, which we took home and enjoyed over the next week as to try and live the day out as long as possible. Please don't end!

Jaren, one of our servers - previously worked at Alinea and was very knowledgable of food. Even shaired some experiences from his previous position that I will keep in my locker.

Brian, our server who helped to make the day truly over the top. Extra courses, amazing service. Whew. He is of all things a culinary graduate from the CIA!

Anani - Sommelier - A great guy with whom we share something in common; Both of our daughters were born on January 9th, a truly special day for us long before our daughter was born. This seemed like fate! What a great person!

All said and done, whew! Where we eating for dinner? I'm hungry!

Classic, only my wife! What a doll!

As we were leaving we ran into Bob! What a treat! Of course he agreed to a photo and we were able to chat with him on his way into the restaurant. Thanks Bob and hope to see you next time!
As I reflect over the dinner and experience at hand many things come to mind and stand out. Little things like how when one would get up to use the restroom they would appear and present a newly folded napkin. Or how the Brioche was replaced with warm brioche frequently. How we were greeted upon arrival, how the water and wine never went empty, how we never had to ask for anything! They were on top of it all. Service was over the top.
Then I think of the extras. How they really made this day special and above what we expected. The extra food, the amazing dialogue that was shared, the closeness that we felt with our servers. That is what really made all the difference and made the day memorable and special. We felt like part of the family.
We were taken into the kitchen at the end of the meal. I was able to really observe and take it in, just how small the working area is and how amazing they are to achieve what they do. I spoke with the Sous Chef and was able to thank them for a wonderful day.
I think I hounded my server all day about a Stage position. I was really interested in finding out what it takes to get a stage and he was kind enough to help out. Come to find that it requires 3 months of stage as an interview process prior to any sort of pay. Something we will think about moving forward. I would love it if I can afford it.
The food, I think I really have to talk about the food. I was so amazed at the level of skill, the attention to detail. Most of all, I was amazed at the delicate touch that every single item leaving the kitchen that appeared on our plates had. Delicate, Perfect, Simple. Amazing! So very clean and so very good. This philosophy carried over into the operation as a whole. How the staff carried themselves and spoke, delicately. Wow.
Such thought and care goes into their jobs. You can feel the "specialness" in the air if you will, as though people are aware that they are doing something special and as patrons we felt like a part of it. Bravo to everyone at The French Laundry and thank you for an amazing day!