Chinkiang Pork Chops: Fit for a Dragon


It's New Year's again — Yay! And though we might be hard-pressed to find a lion dance or firecrackers in our neck of the woods today, that doesn't mean we won't celebrate the Return of the Dragon this Lunar New Year with a special meal (or two), like these elegantly spiced Chinkiang Pork Chops, from Breath of a Wok, by Grace Young.

I was intrigued by this recipe because it has some rather unusual ingredients — namely, A.1. sauce, ketchup and Tabasco! Not exactly what one expects to see in a Chinese cookbook! Ms. Young attributes this recipe to Chef Henry Hugh of the N.Y. School of Culinary Arts, so that might account for the fusion of Western and Asian flavors. The chops are briefly marinated, then seared in a skillet and finished in a simmering sauce. The nice thing about this recipe is that you could easily sample this rather exotic dish using ingredients you already have in your cupboard! The Chinkiang vinegar, which lends its name to this dish, and Shaoxing rice wine are the only ingredients that would require a special trip to a Chinese or Asian market, but Ms. Young provides appropriate substitutes from Western kitchens that approximate the flavors of the special vinegar and wine.

I really enjoyed these chops, but T. was a bit ambivalent. My notes on the recipe say the sauce reminds me BBQ, so maybe that's why I liked them so much — you know I have a weakness for BBQ'd pork! I would like to try this recipe again, but using pork ribs instead of chops — I love the texture and flavor of the meat closest to the bone, so the more bones the better!

Don't forget, Lunar New Year celebrations extend from the beginning of the new moon, which is today, to the full moon, which is on February 7th! So you have two full weeks to enjoy and count your many blessings for the year.

Happy Lunar New Year — it's the Year of the Dragon!

(Method adapted from Breath of a Wok, by Grace Young)
Serves 3-4 persons as part of a multi-course meal

For the Marinade:
1lb/450g of thin-sliced pork chops, about 4 pieces
2 TBL Shao Hsing (also spelled Shaoxing) rice wine, or pale dry sherry
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sea salt
1 large egg, beaten
½ tsp cornstarch

Lay one chop in the middle of 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. With a mallet, rolling pin or meat pounder, gently but firmly pound the meat to flatten and tenderize. Turn the chop over (I just turn the whole thing, paper/plastic and all), and repeat on other side. Repeat with remaining chops. Author recommends cutting each chop into 3 pieces, keeping the bone in one piece; I didn't do this.

In a shallow bowl or plate, combine the wine/sherry, shoyu, salt, egg and cornstarch. Marinate meat in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.

For the Sauce:
3 TBL Chinkiang vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
3 TBL raw sugar
1 TBL ketchup
½ tsp A.1. Sauce
½ tsp Tabasco brand hot sauce
¼ tsp sea salt

Combine all Sauce ingredients, stir well, and set aside.

To Finish:
¼ cup cornstarch, for dredging
2 TBL peanut or safflower oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Pre-heat large skillet over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Dredge in cornstarch, and shake off excess.

Add 1 TBL oil and pan fry meat to brown well on each side, about 1 minute each side. If necessary, do this in batches so the skillet is not over-crowded. Remove to serving platter, as they brown. Turn down heat to medium.

In the same pan, add remaining oil and garlic, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Immediately add the combined Sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat down again to medium-low, return pork pieces to the pan and simmer together until the meat is cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.

Serve pork chops with sauce drizzled over, and accompanied with rice and vegetables of your choosing. We had them with Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries, Fresh Corn and Mushrooms (photo below), which is also adapted from the same cookbook. But go with what makes you happy!


Here are a few other recipes that you might consider for your Lunar celebration:
Venison Dumplings, Watercress Dumplings,
Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions,
Lychee Sake Pork Stir-fry,
Choi Sum with Garlic, Five Spices Chicken,
Flash-Cooked Watercress,
Chinese Mustard Green (Gai Choy) with Garlic,
Black Silkie Chicken Broth


Scrapple: It's What's For Breakfast...

Meet my new favorite breakfast treat. Sorry, SPAM... (But you'll always be my first!)

Now, I admit I was slow coming around to Scrapple. I first noticed it in the chilled meat section alongside bacon, ham and sausages, when we first lived on the East Coast 10 years ago. The commercial variety did not look very appetizing in its vacuum-sealed package — kind of gray and stodgy. I took it for an evolutionary relative of SPAM — a colonial-era processed meat product. And since I was already a SPAM aficionado, I figured I did not need another processed meat product in my life. And so for the 2 years we lived near Boston, we never touched the stuff.

After we returned to the East Coast a couple of years ago, we attended a festival in Pennsylvania where the local Lions Club was selling fresh local bacon and sausage. And Scrapple, made right on site. The sight of the large vats of corn mush were enough to draw me in, but the heavenly aroma of spice and pork decided it for me — we had to try the Scrapple.

But what exactly is Scrapple? Well as you can see from the photo on the left, my earlier assumption about scrapple was wrong — it's not a processed meat product at all, but rather a cornmeal mush mixed with heavily seasoned pork broth made with the offal from hog butchering ("everything but the oink"). The culinary ancestor of SPAM actually may be something that's called "Country Pudding" around here — a loaf of seasoned pork bits strained from the offal broth, with little or no starch filler. So Pudding is the loaf-shaped pork bits, and Scrapple the pork-flavored corn mush (think "polenta"). What's not to like?! And one can feel a little better about choosing Scrapple over SPAM (well, I do anyway) since it has half the amount of sodium (369mg vs. 767mg) and half the "calories from fat" (70mg vs. 137mg) than its more famous cousin.

Where did it come from? Apparently Scrapple originated with the German immigrants who settled this area in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (probably a corruption of the word Deutsch). You can also find scrapple sold as "Pon Haus," a derivation of Panhas, a meat and meal (usually flour and buckwheat, but sometimes rye) terrine or fresh Wurst that is a specialty of the Westphalia and Rhine regions of Germany. You can see from the German Wikipedia link that Panhas doesn't look much like Scrapple!

I pan-fry Scrapple the same way I do SPAM — browned well and crispy on the outside and creamy/juicy on the inside. With warm apple slices and soft scrambled eggs, it's a hearty, lick-your-plate-clean brunch with or without the maple syrup. I recommend "with"...

If you're not at a festival or hog butchering where it is freshly made, your next best bet is to try Scrapple from a local butcher. This one is sold by the slice as Pon Haus from Hoffman's Quality Meats in nearby Hagerstown, MD, but is available at area grocery stores too. This came from Giant Eagle.

Want a bite?


Loroco Cream Sauce

Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland's metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, "Do you like it?" Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I've also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we've made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse's tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don't they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I'll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan project in Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I'm looking for breadnut flour too... Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you'd like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don't recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven't frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.

UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

Adapted from Anne's recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!


Dutch Split Pea Soup

You might not guess it at first, but these are dried peas. Don’t they look inviting... Promising loads of nutrients and sweetness packed into their compact dehydrated form?

No? Is that just me?... Well, be that as it may, I’ve been remiss not to post this sooner. Our area has been repeatedly deluged with snow. Historic quantities, they say. We haven’t lived here long, but it does seem to be quite a lot. And we’ve been spending an unnatural amount of time in this cold, wet stuff while house-hunting every weekend in nearby Fredrick County. It’s hard work but someone has to help stimulate the economy by buying a house, right? Why not us.

So while doing our part for the economy (“You’re welcome.”), we often come home cold and hungry. What you really want when you feel this way is something waiting for you at home that’s hearty, and hot. Some rib-sticking goodness that warms you up from the inside out. One of our favorites is from the New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill — a Dutch-style split pea soup with the astounding name of Snert. I’ve adapted this recipe to be prepared in a slow-cooker in two parts, first to make the broth, then to make the soup. Remember that ham bone from the guava-glazed ham we had for Christmas? It’s been biding its time in the freezer until now, waiting to provide its supporting role in this soup.

So let’s get cooking...

(adapted from New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill)
Serves 6-8 persons

For the broth:
1 ham bone
2 smoked ham hocks
4 ribs of celery, or half of a medium celery root, aka celeriac
1 large onion studded with 3 spice cloves
2 large bay leaves
2 large carrots
6-10 whole black peppercorns
2 blades of mace
4 quarts/liters cold water (Note: if you’re not finishing the soup in a slow-cooker, use 3 qts/L water. I’ve learned to start with more water when making dried pulses and beans in a slow-cooker because I usually use the slow-cooker when I DON’T want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen (I know, but it happens) and bean/pulse soups have a way of thickening when you’re not paying attention)
Place all broth ingredients in 6qt/L slow-cooker. Turn on LOW for 8-10 hours. Skim surface of broth to remove impurities as they rise.

Remove ham bone and hocks, separate meat from bones. Strain broth into clean non-reactive container, return meat to broth and cool completely. (You can start this process the night before and in the morning strain the broth and add the dried peas directly into the still warm broth. This will reduce your cooking time by a couple of hours.)

Finish the Soup:
1 lb/455g dried green split peas, washed well and picked over to remove small pebbles
other half of celery root, if using (optional)
sea salt to taste
1-1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 lb/455g smoked sausage such as kielbasa
1/2 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced (about 1 cup)

Return broth to slow-cooker. Taste for seasoning and add sea salt as needed, and pepper. Add split peas, stir well, and set on LOW for 7-8 hours, or on HIGH for 4 hours if you want soup sooner.

Meanwhile, slice kielbasa into rounds and pan-fry until nicely browned and cooked through. Set aside until needed.

Check soup consistency about three-quarters of the way through cooking time — it should be thick but loose, not a dense mash. If it is thickening more quickly than expected, you can add a half cup of boiling water to the pot to keep it going for a little longer. Or if you’re ready to dine, go ahead and turn the cooker off. Stir in the parsley, and taste for seasoning. Add most of the kielbasa (I reserve a few pieces to garnish the soup).

Serve with your favorite bread, ours is Bruschetta, of course. And yes, that’s olive oil drizzled over the top, too... just because. Does this look like something that would make you forget even something being billed as “Snowpocalypse”? Here’s what we could see...

This was T. taking on the Sisyphean task of keeping up with the falling snow
in the middle of the first storm we got in December,
which was record-breaking for its time...

The next morning, still more shovelling!...

Now fast forward to February, and earlier this month: more snow.
Lots more. It kept coming all night and day.

And when it stopped, it really stopped. For good. We hope.
(The fence is almost 4 ft. high)


Ham with Guava Glaze

Our Christmas Day tradition includes a gift for the cook (me!): no cooking all day. Our celebration meal has migrated to Christmas Eve, so for Christmas Day we have cold meats, salads, breads, pickles and cheese prepared in advance to be nibbled on at a leisurely pace through the day. This year the centerpiece was a guava-glazed ham.

Last year we brought home a commercially prepared honey sweet ham, which was wonderful but pretty pricey. This year I wanted to try baking a bone-in ham at home — something I’ve never done before. (We definitely wanted that bone, of course, to make a soup later! )

The idea of making a guava-flavored glaze has been percolating in my brain for a while, the result of picking up a tub of guava puree at the supermarket last fall. A fellow shopper saw me pondering the tub and volunteered several ideas for how to use the paste — all of which involved pastries or other sweets. I asked if she ever used the paste in a savory dish and she said no. Hmmmm, that sounded like a challenge...

Guava is an aromatic fruit, with a green or yellow rind and seedy pink or white pulp. It is one of my favorite fruit flavors, and was always one of the syrup flavors I usually chose for shave ice or pancakes when we lived in Hawaii (sigh). We also used to find tiny strawberry guavas in early summer on one of our favorite hikes through Oahu. Surely it’s this yearning for tropical breezes and warmth as our area has been deluged with rain and snow and more rain for the last couple of months that spurred this idea to coat a large pork product in tropical guava sweetness!

And it works! We actually tried the glaze first with a pork loin roast — it was lovely, but the tangy sweet glaze really needed meat with some fat to highlight it. Next we tried wild salmon filets, brushing the glaze on the top of the filet at the last minute. That was better — the acidic sweetness cut through, then melted into the rich oils of the fish. But the ham was by far the best showcase for this fruity basting sauce.

Guava paste is a dense concentrated fruit puree, sweetened with cane sugar but not as sweet or loose as a jam or jelly. It is thick enough to be sliced or diced and has an incredibly intense guava flavor (at least the Goya brand does). Look for it in shelf-stable tubs or tins (21 oz) or vacuum packed squares ( XX oz) in markets specializing in Latin American foods, or in supermarket aisles (non-refrigerated) designated for products from the Caribbean or Latin America.


Guava Basting Sauce:
Enough for one 10 lb. ham + 4 salmon filets or a 4 lb. pork roast

1 tub (21oz/590g) guava paste
1/4 cup/60ml water
1/2 cup/120ml white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 TBL dijon-style mustard

Cut guava paste into 8 -10 rough pieces and add to 2 qt/L saucepan with water, and warm over medium heat. As paste begins to melt, stir well to loosen with water. Add vinegar, salt and mustard, and stir well. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the vinegar smell is no longer acrid but blends with the fruit. Cool, and keep refrigerated until needed. Makes about 3 cups Basting Sauce.

To Finish the Ham:
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2” rounds
1 9.5lb (4.3kg) ham with bone or larger
2 cups/ 470ml water
2 cups/470ml Guava Basting Sauce, above
(optional) 2 TBL rum, tequila or bourbon

Calculate total baking time for the ham to reach an internal temperature of 160F. We used a smoked ham with a bone that required 17-20 minutes of baking for every pound. It was a 9.5 lb. ham, so we were looking at a total time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes to 3 hours. But don’t rely just on this approximate baking time — it is important to use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ham to take its temperature and make certain it reaches the critical temperature of 160F to ensure it is fully cooked.

(9.5lb ham) x (17-20 minutes/lb) = 160 min (2hrs 40min.) to 190 min (3hrs. 10min)

Place onion, carrot and bay leaves in a roasting pan just large enough to accommodate the ham joint with the thick end down.

If desired, add rum, tequila or bourbon to Basting Sauce and warm in microwave or over low heat on the stove. Reserve half of Sauce to serve with ham.

Rinse and pat dry ham. Score fat around the joint. Place ham, cut side down over onions, cover with wax paper or parchment, then with foil. Put roasting pan in the lower middle of the oven, and heat oven to 375F. Roast ham (unglazed) for 40 minutes.

Turn heat down to 325F. Remove ham from oven and take off foil (keep foil to tent ham again while it rests). Baste ham all over with remaining Guava Sauce, and return pan to oven for 20 minutes. Baste again and return to oven. Repeat every 20 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the ham reaches an internal temperature of 160F. About 40 minutes before your calculated ending time, start checking the ham’s temperature when you baste to gauge how the baking is proceeding and adjust as necessary.

Once proper internal temperature is reached, take pan from oven, and loosely cover ham with foil again. Allow ham to rest for 20 minutes before removing joint for slicing.

Remove meat from bone and freeze bone for soup later.

We had this for breakfast with beet-pickled eggs and breads, and later for dinner with mashed sweet potatoes, extra Guava Sauce, slow-cooked collard greens and corn bread.

To Use Guava Sauce with Pork Loin Roast:

1 cup/240ml Guava Basting Sauce, above
2 TBL. white wine, water, rum or tequila

Combine Sauce and liquid, and warm in microwave or over low heat. Reserve 1/2 cup for serving.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Score fat around roast, and rub in sea salt and pepper.

In large skillet, heat oil just to smoking point, then add roast with fat side down. Brown well on all sides.

Lay roast in oiled oven-safe pan just large enough to hold the roast. Baste with guava glaze and place in the middle rack in oven. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn oven temperature down to 350F.

Remove roast, and baste again. Return to oven, and repeat basting every 15 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reaches an internal temperature of 170F (about 20-30 min/lb.) — for our 3.5lb. roast, this took about 1 hr. and 45 min. total roasting time.

Cover roast and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

We enjoyed this with long grain rice topped with seasoned garbanzo beans (Goya brand preseasoned) and fresh cilantro. Reserved Sauce on the side.


Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup (Ashitibichi)

Here's a soup that may not be for everyone. Ashitibichi (AHSH-teh-BEE-chee), or Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup, definitely warms the bones as the weather gets cooler. Having said that, I'm reminded that ashitibichi is also one of the most popular offerings at Honolulu's annual Okinawan Heritage Festival, and it's not exactly cool on Oahu, even in September when the Festival is usually held. I guess this is for the hard-core pork lovers! *Guilty!*

In ashitibichi, whole or sliced pig's feet, or trotters, are simmered with ginger to produce an incredibly savory and gelationous broth. Large cut vegetables are added to create a final dish that is more a stew than soup from a Western point of view. Either way, you will either love it or you won't even try it, depending on where you stand on the "odd meat-parts" divide of carnivorous dining. If you happen to fall on the other side of the divide, that's okay — more for the rest of us! *smile*

This is a dish that my mother did not make at home when we were growing up. I'm not sure why, because she enjoyed eating it whenever she came across it, I just don't remember seeing her make it. Ashitibichi is considerably more time-consuming to make than oden-style
Kombu, so that may be one reason. For this recipe I had to consult my trusty, well-worn copy of "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" produced by the Okinawan women's group of Hawaii called Hui O Laulima. (Here is another version prepared by Pomai at Tasty Island — he may not be Okinawan, but he's a fan, too!)

As with many Okinawan specialties, ashitibichi features kombu, or kelp, as well as pork. The type of kombu needed for this dish is the long dried strips which may be labelled "nishime kombu," "hayani kombu" or "ma kombu" — any one of these will work with this preparation. Preparing the kombu before it is added to the soup takes a bit of prep work and is not intuitive to anyone not accustomed to using kombu, so here's a quick guideline.


First, soak the dried kombu in cold water, using a container large enough that you don't have to bend the dried strips — bending the strips can cause them to snap and cut your kombu before you can knot it. Soak for 30-40 minutes, or until the strips become pliable. Don't soak too long (2 or more hours) or the kombu will start to become mushy and unworkable.

Reserve 2 cups of the soaking water. (You can use excess kombu water as the foundation for a vegetarian stock or to cook dried beans — the kombu water is said to make the beans easier to digest, I haven't tried this yet but will. I also water planted vegetables and shrubs with this mineral-rich water, if I don't have an immediate use for it in the kitchen.)

Knot each strip of kombu 4-5 times, depending on the length of the vegetable. If you leave about 5 inches, or one fist-length (see photo above), between the knots, you will leave just enough room to cut between them and leave an adequate "tail" on either side of the knot. The kombu will continue to expand as it cooks and if you cut too close to the knot, it will unravel as the vegetable cooks and become an unattractive blob of seaweed. Beware the Blob — leave a tail on both sides of the knot!

(Mrs. Yukihide Kohatsu's and Mrs. Fumiko Miyasato's recipes in "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" were the starting points for this version, although the method is my own. Photo here is from the 2007 Okinawan Heritage Festival in Kapiolani Park, Oahu)

Begin at least one day before you plan to serve, since broth is cooled overnight.

For the Broth
3.5-4 lbs/1.6-1.8kg pig's feet, whole or sliced lengthwise
2 large fingers of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (leave skin on)
Enough water to cover meat by 1-2 inches

Place meat and ginger in large (6 qt/L, or larger) crockpot. Set on HIGH setting for 2 hours. Skim top of broth to remove impurities as they rise to surface.

After 2 hours, set to LOW and allow to simmer for 5 hours for sliced feet, 6-7 hours for whole trotters. Meat should be tender and move around the joints easily.

Remove meat to separate container for cooling and storage. Discard ginger, and strain broth. Cool completely and store overnight separately from meat.

To Finish Soup:
2-3 strips of dried kombu strips, soaked and knotted (see Preparing Kombu, above)
2 cups reserved kombu soaking water above
2-3 TBL
awamori or sake
1 medium
daikon, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
8-10 dried
shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
1 packet
dashinomoto, dried powdered fish stock
1-2 TBL sea salt
2 TBL soy sauce

If desired, remove fat layer from broth. Place broth in large soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to hard boil over high heat. Add reserved kombu water and return to boil.

Add kombu knots, awamori or sake, and daikon, and bring to boil. Once broth is bubbling, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cooked meat, carrots, rehydrated shiitake, dashi packet, salt and soy sauce. Continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes.

Test kombu knots: if a pointed chopstick easily pierces the center of the knots, the soup is ready. If kombu is not ready, remove carrots and daikon if you don't want these vegetables to get too mushy, and continue simmering additional 20-30 minutes. Different brands and grades of kombu will cook slower or faster, so cooking times will vary, and are dictated on when the kombu reaches the desired consistency. Consistency of the cooked kombu is also a matter of personal preference — texture can range from slightly firm (
al dente) to meltingly tender. I prefer the latter, but that's just me.

Serve in individual bowls, with a separate bowl of rice, pickles, and a dipping dish of grated ginger or hot mustard. Maa-san!

Happy Birthday, Mom...

More Okinawan dishes on this site:
Kombu, Rafute, Abura Miso, Yakisoba, Okayu with Yomogi

More dishes with Kelp and other Sea Vegetables:
Kombu, Hijiki no Nimono, Namasu, Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo


Abura Miso: Miso Paste with Seasoned Pork

This is a long-overdue post for a recipe request I received by email in December. (Sorry it took so long, Barb!)

And what is this strange-looking paste that someone would actually request a recipe for it? It’s an Okinawan specialty known as Abura miso (AH-boo-rah, which means “fatty”). Why “fatty” — because, Silly Rabbit, it has pork belly. Or to be more precise, it has Rafute, which is the lovely and decadent seasoned pork belly which was featured here last summer (photo below).

So if you can possibly spare a couple of slices of rafute, you can preserve it in miso and create a wonderful condiment in doing so. Miso paste is cooked long and slow over gentle heat with generous doses of sake, grated ginger and ginger juice, and just a touch of sugar. The goal is to concentrate the sake and have it absorbed into the miso paste. In the last 20 minutes, the prepared rafute is added with yet more sake, and cooked together until the sake is again absorbed into the paste. Properly stored, abura miso has kept in our fridge for months (but it usually is eaten lo-o-ong before then).

For grating the ginger for this dish, I recommend using a Japanese ceramic grater, Oroshi, like the one in the photo. Yes, it IS a single-use gadget, but this is one of those tools that just does the job better than anything else and so I do find room for it in the kitchen. In this case, it pulverizes the ginger so it naturally forms a wet paste rather than shreds, which can be unpleasant if left in this condiment. For making ginger juice, too, this oroshi can’t be beat — you can see in the photo that the liquid pools in the “moat” around the teeth of the grater, and that there are marked grooves in the teeth to carry the juice to the “moat” and a spout on one end to pour off the juice.

Whether eaten alone with hot rice, or mixed with a raw egg over REALLY hot rice (the egg will soft-set from the heat of the rice), used to fill savory pancakes, or made into musubi (rice balls), Abura Miso is a genuine Okinawan treat.

For Barb M. in San Antonio, TX.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups (360g) awase miso (blended light and medium misos)
1 and1/2 cups (355ml) sake, plus optional 1/4 cup
2 TBL. aji-mirin (seasoned cooking sake)
1-2 tsp raw sugar (if using granulated white sugar, use less)
2-3 tsp grated ginger and all accumulated juices
2 slices prepared rafute

Combine miso paste, sake, mirin, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan, and place over medium high heat. Mixture will be very loose, and will drop very easily from a spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble, about 6-8 minutes, then immediately turn heat down to low.

Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture starts to darken in color, and to thicken, about 40-50 minutes depending on how wide the saucepan is. The goal is to concentrate the sake flavor and incorporate it into the miso paste. The longer the process takes, the more intense the sake flavor will be without burning the miso. This process will feel familiar to anyone who has made a brown roux for gumbo or etouffe — stir, stir, watch carefully, stir, fiddle with the heat to get it just right, stir again.

Meanwhile, prepare the rafute.

Remove the rafute from wherever you hid it to hide it from greedy family members, and dice it into 1/4-inch cubes (this is easier to do if the rafute is cold). Bring to room temperature by heating in microwave for 20 seconds at highest temperature. Don’t microwave too long or the skin of the rafute will pop and resemble fried pork rinds — you will lose the silken texture that is so important to abura miso.

When the miso has thickened to the point where it now drops rather reluctantly from a spoon, add the diced rafute, and optional additional 1/4 cup sake, stir well to incorporate new ingredients. Continue the stirring vigil for another 20-30 minutes to heat rafute thoroughly and to remove the raw taste of newly added sake.

Taste. It should have a prominent sake flavor, mellowed by cooking and ginger, and very lightly sweetened. I usually don’t add any salt because the miso paste contains a lot of salt, but depending on the brand and type of miso used, you may wish to add salt too. It will look very similar to canned pumpkin in color. But compared to the plain miso, you will notice the abura miso has a sheen — some might even say, a glow.

We most often use abura miso to season musubi, seen here (it’s hidden in the center, trust me).


Carapulcra: Spicy Peruvian Stew with Freeze-dried Potatoes

Since we landed here in north metro D.C., we’ve been awed by the availability of dry and frozen goods from Latin America. It almost makes up for the dearth of the Japanese goods that we got so used to having around in Hawaii. Almost.

Anyway, as the pantry shelves have filled with wonderful herbs and spices, beans, and drinkables from south of our borders, I’ve been combing the library and Web for the best ways to use them. I’ve had one cookbook on my shelf for almost 10 years called “Bistro Latino” that has gotten little use, but that is already changing. There is a recipe there for
Carapulcra, a spicy Peruvian stew made with pork, chicken and dried potatoes in a chipotle-peanut sauce. I’m not a huge fan of cooking with peanuts, so this recipe never really caught my imagination until I repeatedly found dried potatoes on grocery shelves everywhere around here.

In Peruvian cooking, Chuño are “potatoes naturally freeze-dried by the extremely cold, dry air of the Andean highlands.” (BL, p.10 ) I love potatoes so the idea of shelf-stable potatoes was particularly appealing. (That disaster-preparedness streak still runs deep, even decades after leaving earthquake-typhoon-power-outage-for-months-prone Guam!)

At the time I made this dish last December, we had dried **diced yellow potatoes (papa seca amarilla)** on hand, and that’s what I used in the carapulcra recipe. Since then, I’ve also seen whole dried yellow and purple potatoes, and I think I will try those in this dish next time.

Despite my doubts about peanuts, I did like this dish, especially the combination of savory nuts and spicy chipotle.

** The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled the Goya brand of these potatoes (which is what we used) in February of this year. The recall was for undeclared preservatives -- i.e., sulfites -- that can cause a severe allergic reaction in asthmatics and others with sulfite allergies. Neither of us is allergic, so thankfully we were not affected but please be aware of this issue if you have a sulfite allergy.

(adapted from
Bistro Latino by Rafael Palomino)
For 4 persons

2 TBL olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 lb/455g pork shoulder, cut into 1” dice
1 lb/455g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” dice
2L chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 cup/225ml water
small bunch of cilantro stems (leaves picked and reserved), minced
8 oz. dried diced yellow potatoes (or whole dried potatoes), rinsed well
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
6 TBL peanut butter (we used smooth only because we don’t keep chunky peanut butter around)
reserved cilantro leaves, divided for cooking and garnish

Heat 2 TBL oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat, and cook half of garlic until it is fragrant. Add pork and brown well, about 6 minutes Remove to small dish to hold, and return pot to stove. Heat remaining 2 TBL oil and garlic, and brown chicken, about 4 minutes. Remove to dish with pork, and return pot to stove again.

Increase heat to high, and add small amount of broth to pot, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add full amount of broth, then water, cilantro pieces and dried potatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until potatoes begin to re-hydrate — for the small diced potatoes, this took about 20 minutes, but for the whole potatoes it must take at least twice that amount of time (40 minutes).

Meanwhile, mix together minced chipotle and peanut butter.

Add browned meats and any accumulated juices in dish to pot, along with chile and peanut butter paste. Taste and season with sea salt and ground black pepper as needed. Cover and simmer another 40 minutes, or until stew starts to thicken. Stir in 3/4 of cilantro leaves in the last 10 minutes, and cover again to finish. Garnish serving bowls with more cilantro.

Chef Palomino did not make any serving suggestions, so we had these with thick corn tortillas called arepas (purchased). And although it is not traditional — and perhaps Verboten in Peru — we indulged in a practice we learned in an Oaxacan (Mexican) restaurant of adding fresh ingredients to stews. In this case we topped our bowls with radishes, green onion and avocado cubes — the juicy freshness of veggies is a great contrast to the deep layered flavors of this, and most, long-simmered dishes.


Lychee Sake Pork Stir-fry

(Click on logo to learn more about the Buy Local campaign on the CTAHR site)

This dish came out of the happy chance of finding fresh local lychee just after we had opened a bottle of lychee-flavored sake from California to sample. I couldn’t resist the temptation to put them together with locally produced pork loin and Chinese flat chives... and the result was unbelievably delicious. The pork is marinated briefly with garlic and rice vinegar to provide some punch to the dish, while the fresh fruit and sake lend their sweetness and a touch of elegance to the whole.

The lychee sake was interesting. It makes a nice after-dinner digestif, but it’s not something we would want to drink with a meal. In this dish, it carried the lychee flavor to the meat during cooking and the overall effect was really quite charming. We found this sake at Don Quijote on Oahu, and would buy it again if we ever come across it in future.

Lychee have a very mild but distinctive flavor. Although canned lychee are sweet and retain their fruit flavor, fresh lychee have a subtle but intense flavor that hits your palate before the more familiar regular lychee flavor settles in. If you can find fresh lychee, it’s worth the minimal effort to peel and de-seed them! In a pinch, though, canned lychee can be used too.

Although it’s not local there, Germany was the place I first tried fresh lychee so I know it’s available all around the Continent. So this is going out to Dhanggit at Dhanggit’s Kitchen for her little girl’s first birthday event, Perfect Party Dishes. This recipe easily doubles or triples if you’re making this for a crowd, but do each batch separately so the stir-fry doesn’t “steam” — which is the rookie mistake I made this time around. You can also use regular sake, but you might want to add a bit of sugar, as the lychee sake has the mild sweetness of the fruit.

Addendum: Speaking of celebrations, just after I hit “Publish” we received word that a good friend of ours just made full colonel in the Air Force! As he and his wife are part-owners of a pork ranch (?... farm?) in Iowa, and they and their 2 boys are gourmands all, we have to include them in this dedication, too. Congratulations, Colonel designate Lindsey! We hope we’ll be sharing meals like this with you all again soon...

serves 4
Marinade for pork:
1 lb. pork loin, cut into 1” slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. rice vinegar
sea salt
ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients, and set aside while you peel and seed lychees, or for at least 30 minutes.

2 lbs. fresh lychee (or 2 cans lychee)

Peel and de-seed lychee, or drain cans well.

To finish:
2 TBL. peanut oil
small handful of Chinese flat chives, garlic chives or ramps (Baerlauch)
chili pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup lychee sake (or regular sake + 1/2 tsp. sugar)
dash of soy sauce

Heat wok or large skillet over high heat to just below smoke point. Add oil, swirl, and immediately chives until their color darkens to bright green, about 30 seconds. Add chili flakes, if using, and pork and cook until pork browns.

Move pork from center of pan, and add peeled lychee and sake. Fry together to warm fruit through and bring alcohol to a boil, about 1 minute. Add a splash of soy sauce, stir through and turn off heat. Taste and correct seasoning.

We had this with steamed long-grain glutinous rice (malagkit), but it would also compliment the flavor of jasmine rice as well.


Piccata-style Pork Cutlets

Capers, capers, and more capers! This is probably at least twice, but more likely three times, more capers than sane people use when making piccata, especially with the classic veal or chicken which are both very mild meats. But since we just bought a Costco-sized bottle of capers in brine, why not indulge in caper happiness? ...Who are we kidding? We buy capers in Costco-sized jars BECAUSE we’re caper-happy.

These Piccata-style Pork Cutlets were our second-course following that ono
Pasta with Cantaloupe Sauce we had earlier. Because the pasta was both creamy and slightly sweet, we knew we couldn’t have that as a sole entree, so we opted to eat in courses. The pasta was our first course, and this dish followed with some bruschetta with garlic. We will probably want that cantaloupe sauce again while melons are in high season here, and next time we may follow it with a piccata-style fish.

Before we moved to Germany, I always used chicken breasts to make piccata, but while we lived there I tried using pork cutlets because it was a very popular cut in the markets and Metzgerei. Likewise in the shops around Hawaii you can find thinly sliced pork loin cutlets, cut for Japanese tonkatsu (panko-crusted, deep-fried pork cutlets). This saves the step of having to butterfly chicken breasts before pounding to the desired thin-ness. Now we can go straight to the pounding! Rolling pins ready?? Let’s go!

I have to say that this causes quite a racket. Our poor cat Kiowea went scurrying to hide when I started with the whacking. He doesn’t like loud noises anyway, but this really through him for a loop. Poor dear!

These two cutlets at top show the 1/4-inch tonkatsu cut — already beautifully cut and so-o-o lean. In the bottom half of the photo, one cutlet has been pounded to the desired paper-thin slip for piccata, or for Vietnamese-style BBQ pork, or very small Schnitzel. LOL

Lay a good measure of wax paper on a large cutting board, then place your cutlets about 6-7 inches apart from each other. Be generous — they will need some space to spread when you start pounding. I’ve found it helpful when pounding meat to start with a good whack in the center of the piece, then to continue pounding while moving to one edge, then back from the center to the other edge. Think of it like the action of rolling out a pie crust — from the center, to the edge.

Whether chicken, pork or fish, we prefer piccata-style dishes without the breading on the meat. It saves on calories and prep time, as well as just letting the flavors of the meat and piquant gravy shine.

Another plus for this preparation is that it cooks so quickly that even with the time you will spend pounding the cutlets, dinner can be on the table in 30-40 minutes. And it is so flavorful — chock full of garlic, butter, wine, lemon, and yes, capers — that even simple undressed pasta will shine beside it! Put the water for the pasta on to boil before you start pounding meat, and the whole thing will finish about the same time. You can even remove the finished meat and sauce from the pan, and add the drained cooked pasta to the same pan to gather up the last bits of flavor in the pan. It’s not pretty, true, but you’ll have yourself a great meal nonetheless!

for 2 persons

3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 TBL. olive oil
1/3 lb. pork loin cutlets for tonkatsu or Schnitzel, about 6 pieces for tonkatsu, 2 Schnitzel
(pounded to desired thin-ness, see above)
sea salt
ground black pepper
1/4 cup very dry white wine (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or even dry Vermouth)
2 TBL. capers, rinsed if desired (the photos on this page show more like 6 TBL. capers)
1-1/2 TBL. unsalted butter
Juice of half a lemon

Over medium high heat, lightly brown garlic in oil, then remove from pan and save.

Lightly season pounded cutlets with sea salt and ground black pepper, then place in single layer in pan to lightly brown each side (do in batches). This will take about 90 seconds or so per side. Remove to warmed platter while doing second batch.

When all cutlets are browned, de-glaze pan with wine, scraping up all the browned bits at the bottom, and allow to cook until reduced by half (about a full minute). Add capers and butter, and swirl through pan. When the liquid starts bubbling (about 1 minute), return meat and browned garlic to pan and cook for another minute, or until meat is heated through. Turn off heat and squeeze lemon over. Taste to correct for salt.

Serve with your favorite pasta, or even simple cooked noodles with the pan gravy on top. A salad and the same dry white wine you poured for the recipe will round out your meal. Pictured: Piccata pork with simple linguine noodles and courgettes.

Kio lays low

More recipes with capers:
Bowtie Pasta with Tuna (30 minutes from start to finish)


Rafute: Melts in your mouth, not on your hashi

There are few things that bring home Okinawan cooking to me more than Rafute, a meltingly tender and succulent braised pork belly that my dad calls “Okinawan bacon” (he’s Filipino, mom’s from Okinawa). He calls it that because 40-odd years ago his mother-in-law — unsure what to feed the new “foreign” son-in-law living in her tiny house in Shuri — used to make it for him for breakfast. With eggs and rice, of course.

Now, the uninitiated may look at pork belly and think, “I can’t eat that, it’s nothing but fat!” Aahh, but looks can be deceiving. In the case of rafute, the pork belly is first simmered for a long while in a seasoned bath of ginger, awamori or other alcohol, and water. The bath serves a dual purpose. First, to par-cook and remove the strong flavors of raw pork, thanks to the ginger and alcohol. Second, to remove a lot of the fat, which melts into the liquid and out of the pork. The pork can then be sliced and simmered again in a savory braising liquid that infuses flavor into the meat, and in the end glazes it and brings it to quivering tenderness. You think I exaggerate, but that’s only because you haven’t tried this yet.

Once fullly cooked and seasoned, rafute is a handy thing to have in the fridge to top those wonderful Okinawan soba noodles (photo bottom) you can find in Hawaii (or Okinawa, lucky you!), for yakisoba, as a side dish with tofu champuru — or yes, you can eat them for breakfast! (Uwajimaya in WA/OR carries Hawaii-made Okinawan style soba the last time we were in that area.) I also use rafute when making
Abura Miso, but that’s a story for another day...

Rafute freezes well, too, if you can vacuum seal it somehow. Then you can whip up an Okinawan-style soba/ramen any time! After the pork belly is removed from the first simmering broth, chilling the broth will make it easier to discard the layer of lard that forms on the surface. (If you are more enterprising than I, you can put this pure pork lard aside for other cooking purposes, too.)

From “Okinawan Cookery and Culture” (1984), a wondertful spiral-bound collection of recipes and cultural anecdotes from members of Hawaii’s large Okinawan community, there are notes to several recipes that it’s the large proportion of alcohol that gives rafute its distinctive melting quality. I never had awamori, an Okinawan distilled spirit made from Thai-style long grain rice, to play with until we came to Oahu. Growing up, my mother used sake. Until now, I used whiskey or bourbon. But Don Quijote on Oahu carries small bottles of awamori that are cheap enough ($5 for 375ml) that we can cook with it quite liberally for now.

hashi are chopsticks.

To Par-boil:
3 lb. not too lean pork belly
2-inch length of ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup (120ml) awamori or whiskey or sake

Gently bruise sliced ginger with the heel of your knife. Place pork belly and ginger in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add awamori or other alcohol, then cover meat with water by at least 1 inch. Over medium heat, bring just to a boil, then cover and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. (Don’t let the pot stay at a hard boil or the pork will “seize” and toughen the lean parts of the meat.) Simmer for 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure water hasn’t boiled and left meat dry, and topping off with hot water to keep meat covered.

Remove pork from liquid. Chill broth and remove layer of lard on surface. When just cool enough to handle, slice pork 2-1/2 inches across and about 1/2 inch thick.

Initial Braising Liquid:
1 cup (240ml) broth from Par-cooking stage, or plain water
1 cup (240ml) awamori or sake
3/4 cup (160g) raw sugar
1 slice of ginger (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and add sliced pork. When heat returns to bubbling, reduce to barely a simmer, cover and cook for about 25 minutes.

Turn slices over, cover again and simmer another 20 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup shoyu and stir through to combine evenly with rest of braising liquid. Cook 15 minutes at the lowest simmer with no cover to allow the liquid to start evaporating. Turn slices over and continue cooking without a cover for another 15 minutes or so. Check texture, you should be able to cut through the meat, “fat,” and skin with a spoon. It should be akin to room temperature butter. If everything except the meat part is soft, it probably means the meat remained at a boil too long in the par-cooking stage and toughened — just continue on to the next step. If even the “fat” and skin give resistance, add 1/4 cup mirin-water mix, cover again and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, then check again.

Now the braising liquid is turning into a sticky glaze. Continue cooking without a cover for another 20-30 minutes, turning meat over every 5-7 minutes, depending on how quickly the glaze is forming. Before the glaze dries off completely, turn heat off, cover pan and let meat cool in glaze. Will keep in fridge for at least a week, months in the freezer if you can protect it from freezer burn.

To re-heat rafute, heat in an oiled skillet over medium heat until hot. Microwave re-heating can be tricky, and cause “burned” spots where the skin or areas near the skin turn into chicharrone (aka crackling) — a lesson learned the hard way. After spending such a long time to make these beauties, I prefer the pan for re-heating.

Our favorite way to use rafute — with Okinawan soba noodles and broth, and garnished with ginger, pre-cooked
watercress, gai choy or choi sum, and way too many braised shiitake.

Ways to use Rafute: Abura Miso (Seasoned Miso Paste)


Shoreline Stew: Pork, Clams & Periwinkles

Periwinkles, clams and pork

This savory medley of land and sea combines tender pork with the briny, sweet flavors of periwinkles and Manila clams in a lightly spiced wine and tomato broth. It is a variation of "Clams Cataplana," a classic Portuguese pork & clams stew. Aside from the addition of the periwinkles, the ingredient that most distinguishes this version from the classic is the inclusion of tomatoes in the sauce; the original swims solely in a seasoned white or light red wine. I'm partial to this version, but T prefers the original. We'll do it that way next time. The traditional cataplana is served with roasted or pan-fried potato slices, and a crusty loaf to catch every drop of sauce. I also wanted a taste of something with a bite, some bitterness to counter the rich stew. I devised a simple tian with potatoes and Chinese mustard greens that gave us both roasted potatoes and a bitter green (next post).
Cleaned periwinkles Periwinkle meat
The periwinkles were a first for us, and we weren't sure what to expect. But after Laurie's enthusiastic endorsement in her pre-Christmas
"Seven Days of Seafood," we've been on the look-out for the tiny crustaceans at the fishmongers in Chinatown. Most periwinkles in the U.S. are exported from Maine (I forot to ask if these were as well), which was a surprise to T, who grew up there and never once tried a periwinkle. A tour around the web turned up other enthusiastic periwinkle fans, including Jimmy at Fishin' Fool Jimmy's, who had recipes and valuable advice on foraging and harvesting periwinkles free seafood, you gotta love that! along the U.S. (and Canadian) East Coast and Southeast marshes. In Europe, look for bigorneaux or littorines; and in the U.K., winkles.

The periwinkles resemble nothing more than a tiny snail, and were fairly easy to clean: a couple of changes of fresh water, and a quick tap of the shell to see if the animal responds. Like a clam, the periwinkle will tighten the hard bit of shell, or operculum, covering its entrance. Because they were so tiny, we added them to the stew in the last 10 minutes of cooking so they wouldn't overcook. Though they were a bit tricky to remove from their shell
T had much more success than I in using a pick in a pinch, a quick, light tap between the jaws of a nutcracker released the meat. The periwinkles were sweeter than the clams, with a delicate brininess and mild chew. I would like to try them again in a New England style chowder recipe or as a fritter.

I'm open to just about any preparation for these new-found crustaceans
what's your favorite recipe for winkles? Or what did you think of them the first time you tried them?

Shoreline stew with Roast potatoes & bitter mustard tian

The Sauce:
1 small chourico, or chorizo (about 2-3oz or 60-85g), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 lb. (450g) pork tenderloin or shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes
olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 small bay leaves
3 tsp. sweet or hot smoked paprika
(if using sweet, can add a pinch of a dried red pepper such as cayenne, Aleppo or Korean gochugaru)
12-15oz. (340-420g) chopped and seeded tomatoes
1- 1.5 cups (240-350ml) dry white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinto Gris
1/4 cup (10g) minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
sea salt (may not be needed, depending on the saltiness of the chourico)

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, fry chourico in a smidgen of oil, until browned. Remove to bowl. Tip out oil in pan, but do not wash. In same pan, add 2
TBL. olive oil and brown pork in 2-3 batches, removing each batch to the bowl with chouricos to keep warm.

In the same pan, turn heat down to medium-low and saute onions until translucent (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bay leaves, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add paprika and peppers, if using, stir through and cook 1 minute. Turn heat back up to medium-high and add wine, tomatoes and half the amount of parsley. Bring sauce just to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes while you prepare the crustaceans.

The crustaceans:
2-3 lbs. (1-1.5kg) Manila or littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
(throw away any that do not close when tapped)
1lb (450g) periwinkles, cleaned (optional -- use larger amount of clams if not using periwinkles)
Lemon quarters

Taste sauce and adjust seasoning. Bring heat up to medium again, return chouricos and pork to pan, and add clams, stir through and cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Add periwinkles, cover again and cook another 8 minutes. Without opening cover, turn off heat and keep pan covered while plates/bowls are warmed and table is set. Just before serving, add last of parsley and squeeze lemon juice over.

See also
Portuguese Bean Soup


Go Home, Cook Rice: Laulau Uncovered

Ehrr, what were Santa and the Mrs. tucking in to in the Honolulu City Lights display two days ago laulau? Looks very exotic and strange. Kinda scary, too, all wrapped up in one leaf! Well, do you like smoked pork? How about slow-cooked greens? Yeah?! You'll love laulau! Smoky pull-apart pork shoulder or butt are wrapped in meltingly tender greens (taro leaves, to be exact) and encased in non-edible ti leaves for steaming and presentation. A tiny piece of salted butterfish is included for seasoning, but does not impart a fish taste or smell to the meat or greens. Untie and remove the ti leaves to reveal a delicious ready-made meal.

Here in the islands, almost every supermarket carries vacuum-packed pre-cooked packages of laulau (3 in a pack) in the chilled section that need only a 30-minute steam or a shorter ride in the microwave-go-round. Cook a pot of rice, or pick up a bag or tub of poi (also in the chilled counter), and you have a nutritious instant meal (we have both poi and rice -- it's all about the starch . . .). We keep laulau in the freezer for those REALLY lazy days when even chopping onions or washing salad greens is too laborious, and T takes them to work for lunch too. (Separate the laulau into individual quart-size freezer bags unless you plan to cook 3 at a time).

If you're visiting the islands, many local drive-inns and the bento counters of the supermarkets will have hot, ready-to-eat laulau. On the Mainland, I've seen laulau both at the bento counter and in the frozen section at the Uwajimaya chain of Japanese/Asian groceries in the Northwest. I'd love to know if other Mainland markets, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, carry laulau, too. (You can leave a comment below or email me thanks!) There is also a local fast-food chain, L&L Drive-inn, that has locations along the West Coast I haven't tried them outside of Hawaii, but they might carry laulau as well.

What did you think of laulau the first time you tried it? Would you try it if you saw it after reading this?

Table-top Cooking: BBQ pork with rice noodles

Tabletop cooking need no longer be relegated to special nights out at fancy teppanyaki restaurants, where smiling chefs send shrimp and vegetables flying through the air. If you can live without the theatrics, you can grill or have sukiyaki or shabu-shabu at home anytime. It's a great family experience, and a wonderful way to entertain at home, allowing each family member or guest to add the meats or vegetables they desire to the pot or grill. We've done everything from fajitas, pancakes, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, Korean bulgogi and fish juhn, Japanese nabes and okonomiyaki, and this grilled Vietnamese style pork with rice vermicelli noodles.

Rather than buying an electric appliance that leaves you with a trailing electrical cord and extension to deal with, we recommend this simple butane stove that sits compactly on the table and has an easy-to-control flame. This model comes in a plastic case for carrying and storage, and retails here in Hawaii for less than $20. I have also seen sleek stainless steel models selling for closer to $70. The non-refillable butane cartridges are less than $2 a piece. If you're having a hard time finding a butane stove, try a Korean or Japanese grocery. The added bonus, especially for we who live in hurricane-earthquake-tsunami prone areas, this doubles as a handy emergency stove. In fact, we bought this for that latter purpose and had it in the house for almost a year before the little light bulb went on over my head, and I remembered a dinner with friends who used a butane stove to grill bulgogi at the table. That was such a fun meal! Why not make everyday meals more fun, too?

The cookware you use for tabletop cooking should be pans that do NOT have a long handle. With one or more persons reaching toward the hot pans, a long handle is easy to tip over, catch in a sleeve, or bump. With hot liquids and oils, and an open flame, it is an invitation to disaster to use any pot, pan or wok with a long handle. Here are some safer options.

For grilling, this yakiniku grill is ideal. This model is non-stick and includes a drain hole for the excess grease (you need to put a small bowl at the drain point to catch the hot oil). We use this for fajitas, pancakes, yakiniku (literallly, "grilled meat" in Japanese), and okonomiyaki. It retails between $20-25 (in Hawaii, sometimes Long's has it on sale too — same with the stove and butane cartridges). In a pinch, you could also use a shallow pan like the paella-style one we use for sukiyaki, below.

For soups and nabes, we used to use this 3 quart pot from All-Clad just because it was already in the kitchen, any similar pot will work. Recently we've acquired this beautiful stoneware nabe pot too. We make kimchee soup, nabes, and other quick soupy stew-like meals in these.

For sukiyaki and other braised dishes, this shallower paella-style pan from Calphalon works well.
Photos of traditional cast-iron nabe and sukiyaki pans can be seen on this commercial site.

Here is a simple and tasty dish that's perfect for entertaining or to liven up a weekend meal at home. Thin slices of pork (you can certainly use beef or chicken, as well) are marinated in a sweet lemongrass marinade, grilled and served atop a bed of rice vermicelli noodles (called bun, "buhn") and fresh salad and herb base. Of course, you don't have to grill the meat at the table prepare it all in the kitchen and simply serve this delicious "Vietnamese noodle salad"!

Recipe for 4 persons

Marinade for 1 lb. (450g) pork, beef, or chicken
TBL. brown sugar
tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion, minced (about 3 TBL.)

stalk lemongrass, peeled and tender parts minced
2 TBL. fish sauce
1 TBL. oil

Thinly slice (as for sukiyaki) pork or beef. (In these photos I used pork sliced for tonkatsu, but that's too thick. Next time I'll get a thinner slice, or pound this cut thinner.) Or slice and pound thin chicken breasts or thighs. Combine marinade ingredients and add meat. Let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.

To assemble:
10 oz. (280g) bean sprouts (moyashi)
1 large bunch Thai basil
1 large bunch mint
1 large bunch cilantro
4 stalks scallions, roots trimmed
1 Japanese cucumber
1 head Romaine or leaf lettuce
1 package of rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water 30 minutes or until pliable
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (optional)
Carrot Pickle (recipe below)

Wash and pick leaves off basil, mint and cilantro. Rough chop herbs and scallions and set aside.

Peel cucumber. Cut off ends, then cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut off seeds, then julienne. Cut lengths into 2" (5 cm) pieces. Set aside.

Wash and remove thick ends, if necessary. Julienne.

Blanch the soaked rice noodles in boiling water until they turn bright white, about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Combine 3/4 of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce together. Place 1/4 of the salad in the bottom of a deep bowl (like a saimin or ramen bowl).

Coil 1/4 of the rice noodles over the salad in a mound.

Garnish noodles with remaining herbs, cucumber and Carrot Pickle (and peanuts, if using). Place garnished bowl, chopsticks and a small bowl with dipping sauce (Nuoc Nam, recipe below) in front of each diner.

Remove meat from marinade and arrange on serving platter. Lightly dab with paper towel to make sure it is not too wet (it will splatter in the hot oil).

Assemble the grill and place it where the cook can reach it safely (this meal is best prepared where one cook handles the raw meat, placing it on the grill while other diners remove pieces to their bowls as the meat cooks). Set the grill pan securely on the stove notches to make certain it doesn't move around or slip. Put a catch bowl at the oil drip spout, if necessary. Turn on grill and allow pan to heat to cooking temperature. Lightly oil grill and carefully place slices on the pan (do not drop pieces onto oil, which will splatter). Have a clean plate on hand to remove meat as it cooks, if the diners don't keep pace with the cooking. Let folks remove cooked meat to their bowls and begin eating.

A final caveat: you have an open flame and hot liquids or oil on the table, so you do keep a close eye on the stove; and never allow young children to reach near the open flame. Also, since you're cooking meats with some fat on them, there will still be some splattering from the grill, so all diners should be warned of the possibility of splatters, no mater how careful you are. It should go without saying, too, that you probably want to try this out before inviting friends to participate so you have a better idea of how far the splattering oil can reach.

This photo is BBQ pork bun from our favorite restaurant. (See how thin the meat is?)

More tabletop cooking to come . . .

Combine together:
2 cloves garlic, minced
TBL. sugar (I still use brown sugar)
6 TBL. fish sauce
2 TBL. lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced serrano or bird's eye chile (optional)

Stir well until sugar dissolves. Divide into 4 dipping bowls.

2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1 TBL. sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBL. rice wine vinegar
tsp. sea salt

Sprinkle carrots with sugar. Leave for 15 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over carrots. Set aside until needed.

Table-top Cooking, Part 2: Sukiyaki


E Komo Mai

I am a novice student of the Tao and a long-time student of food traditions of the world. Trained first and foremost in my parents' island kitchen, I learned early on that the soul of the family lies in its pots and pans.

My mother, Fumiko, was a reluctant cook, she learned to cook mostly from her husband, then her mother-in-law. But she learned recipes faithfully, and brought her love and attention to everything she made. She cooked to take care of people, and everyone among her family, friends, co-workers, and friends of her children found comfort and a listening ear around her table. Flore, my father, was the creative soul of the kitchen, introducing “exotic" dishes like Italian cacciatore and Spanish paella, to their Okinawan-Filipino household. He can still be found “riffing” on recipes with wild abandon (Emeril Lagasse is his role model) --- gaily substituting and making additions to recipes, albeit some where they should not go (sorry, but Worcestershire sauce has no place is chicken adobo. Ever). What these two cooks synthesized in their kitchen together for 44 years was a messy, happy and deep love for food and family. This they have passed on to their children and their families.

As an heir to this tradition, I’ve found my journey with the Tao keeps wending its way through the kitchen – cooking first to comfort and nourish self, then to gather and feed friends, now to nurture and heal family and friends, old and new. To cultivate the Tao in myself has been to understand that my kitchen is both my mirror and my canvas --- whether I’m feeling creative, adventurous, tired, obsessed, all these expressions find their way to my bowl and plate.

In the kitchen with Flore & Fumi

So how to combine a spiritual journey and a culinary quest? Tao in the kitchen? I think of it as the "Way of cooking." My goal is to have fun with food and stay open to new food cultures. In this forum let’s cultivate a connection to what we eat and how we cook it. Let's think of food not just as something to fill the belly, but to nourish the spirit, clear the body and heal the soul. Let’s make shopping for, preparing and enjoying meals simple and joyful exercises. Let’s learn about new foods, and think in different ways about foods we already love. This is what I propose to do and I welcome you to this shared journey!

I'd like to begin by sharing with you a dish that will always remind me of that first kitchen of my heart, my mom and dad's. This dish may be wholly foreign to you, but it is the epitome of comfort food for my family. Warm and soupy, nutritious and familiar, it is the "chicken soup" for the Okinawan soul. My mother just called it Kombu, which is the Japanese name for the dried sea kelp that is the basis for this dish. In Okinawa, kombu features much more prominently in the local diet than in mainland Japan, and this particular preparation is unique to that island's tastes. In the mainland, similar dishes called nishime or oden feature nearly identical ingredients, but the proportions of the ingredients are what make the distinction (for instance, oden has more kamaboko). And the Okinawan version is always cooked with lots of pork. Okinawans are notoriously dedicated pork eaters. I remember during childhood visits to Okinawa, having to squeeze myself into tiny doorways as massive 400-500lb. pigs were led down the narrow cobble streets of my grandmother’s village. Pork broth steaming from huge bowls of soba, laden with fish cake and pork ribs; succulent slices of double-cooked pork glazed with a hint of sweet soy….but I digress, more about these in future.

Sea kelp is a good source of calcium, iodine, magnesium, iron and folate, as well as glutamic acid -- a rich source of natural umami; and it is the foundation of the famed Okinawan Diet for good health and longevity. A quick google of "kombu" will yield some references to its use to make dashi (a flavoring broth essential to Japanese cooking), and a few recipes where it may play a small part. In this Okinawan dish, however, Kombu is clearly the star.

Chicken souup for the Okinawan soul
(clockwise: fried tofu, konnyaku, kombu, shiitake, carrot, kamaboko)

Prepare the pork and broth
1.5-2lb whole pork belly or shoulder
1 small hand ginger, washed well and sliced in ½ inch slices
3 TBL whisky, sake, or awamori (Okinawan sake)

1 packet
dashi no moto
2 tsp.
1 tsp. sugar, prefereably demerara or light brown

Broth preparation
Wash pork well and place in large (8qt or larger) pot with ginger. Cover meat with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and skim foam off top. Add liquor, then cover with lid and let simmer for 45 minutes. Remove meat and set aside. Discard ginger. Add dashi no moto, mirin and sugar to broth and keep at simmer.

2 strands of Hayani
kombu, soaked in 6 qts water for at least 20 minutes (save soaking water)
1 piece
1 small
daikon (white radish), peeled and cut in 3 in. pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal
4-6 pieces fresh or canned whole bamboo tips, cut into 3-in pieces
8 pieces dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in 4 cups water until completely rehydrated -- about 1 hour
(save soaking water and strain) (fresh shiitake may be used, but dried is preferred for its intense flavor)
1 stick
chikuwa kamaboko (fishcake), sliced on diagonal (optional)
1 large firm block of tofu, wrapped in towel and drained in fridge at least 1 hr., then cut in 2-in. cubes
2-3 tsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

Kombu preparation
Depending on type of kombu, may need longer soak – it should be pliable but not disintegrating. Remove kombu and save water, if you like. If rehydrated kombu is more than 6” across, cut lengthwise before proceeding. Start tying knots in kombu strand, leaving about 4” between each knot. Now cut evenly between knots.

Konnyaku preparation
Rinse well. Slice cross-wise into ½” slices -- about 12 slices. Cut a lengthwise slit in the center of each slice, leaving ¾” uncut at top and bottom -- you should be able to put a finger through the hole. Now the fun part --- hold one slice in your left hand, and with your right, push the bottom of the slice through the slit and out. It will create a very attractive spiral pattern in the center. After you’re done admiring your handiwork, add to broth.

Add kombu, 1 cup saved kombu water, konnyaku, shiitake and shiitake water to broth. Simmer about 30 minutes. Add carrots, daikon, bamboo, kamaboko and tofu. Slice pork into 2” pieces and add to broth with soy sauce. Simmer another 20 minutes or until kombu is tender at the knotted middle (test the thickest part with fork -- it should slide easily through).

Serve with rice, and Japanese hot mustard or wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping. Pickled vegetables, called
tsukemono, are also lovely with this. Enjoy!