Sunday, March 20, 2011

Heartland roasts

An interesting quote from The Food of Italy by Waverly Root, a book I picked up from our apartment building shared library:

The heartland of a country — that is, the area where its essence has persisted in the strongest and most living fashion — seems usually to be marked by two characteristics among others.  Its people speak the national language in its purest form, and, a particularly rather more difficult to account for, cook the most robust form of food, meat (especially beef), in the simplest manner, without fuss or frills.  The purest French is spoken in Touraine, noted for its roasts.  The purest Spanish is spoken in Castille, also noted for its roasts.  The purest Italian is spoken in Tuscany, noted for its grilled beef. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bo Ssäm at Momofuku

I went to eat at Momofuku today, with my friend Ben and 7 other of his friends. We ordered the Bo Ssäm, which is a large pork butt. Evidently a pork butt is actually shoulder. I have no idea what term you would use if you wanted refer to the actual butt-meat of the pork.

From Momofuku with Ben

At any rate, it came with a large mound of lettuce, along with a few sauces: the classic Korean fermented bean red sauce, a scallion and ginger oil-based sauce, kimchi, a spicy carrot sauce, and sea salt. A large bowl of rice also came. Along with all that came a platter of oysters. In fact, all that I just mentioned was doubled. Two bowls of lettuce, two sets of sauces, two rice, two plates of oysters. Finally, one giant pork shoulder came out, a long with enough tongs for everyone. The meat was very tender, and just could be gently pulled off. The idea was to take some shreds of meat, put it in a lettuce wrap along with sauce, an oyster, and rice. The pork and oyster was a really interested combination that worked surprisingly well. "It's double treif!" one of my eating companions joyously exclaimed.

From Momofuku with Ben

The shoulder could probably feed 6 people without any other appetizers. We had probably a few too many appetizers, and were left with about half a pound of meat left.

From Momofuku with Ben

The whole thing cost $200. Is it worth it? Financially, I'd say the price is pretty reasonable for what you get. The opportunity cost is high, though. Even though there's a variety of sauces, and the meat actually varies in fatiness and texture as you go through it, the fact remains that if you get it, you can't get much else. Which means you are missing at least some of the other awesome items on the menu. So you are essentially trading off variety for a unique eating experience. It's not just unique, it seems like an ancient communal eating experience: a group of friends gathered eating from the same cooked animal. It was pretty special. Probably worth doing once, but not more than once.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Old Fashioned

I've been making these lately. This is my first after buying an ice cube tray for giant-sized ice cubes.

Although people say that the giant ice cubes chill more without melting, my guess is that this can't be true, and that chilling is directly proportional to melting. Luckiliy my daughter has a science fair coming up, so perhaps we can test it.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011


After the last post, I decided to try out Ayada. I read a post raving about the panang duck curry.  When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the duck curry was $15, while a normal curry is $8.  That's a pretty big difference.  Was it going to be worth it?

I decided to try it out, and when it came out, the price difference became a little more understandable. It was basically all about the meat, with the panang sauce more of an generous sauce than the normal meat-in-curry combo you see elsewhere.

The duck was indeed pretty well cooked, and had delightfully crisp parts. The panang sauce was very good, about as good as Sripraphai.

This is too expensive to make a habit out of, but it was nice to try. It would be better as part of a larger spread of dishes, due to the meat-centric nature of the dish.


Amusing: Many on Chowhound say that Sripraphai is going downhill.  Those that do, say to go to Ayada instead.  Of course, the reports are already in that Ayada is going downhill.

The key thing to realize here is that Chowhounders are a bit crazy.  They often mistake inconsistency with long-term trends. It's still a good source of information, but take what they say with a grain of salt.

The salt, of course, has also gone downhill.  It used to be saltier.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seasoning cast iron

Cast iron cookware is cheap and durable.  I recently came across a great article by Sheryl Canter about seasoning cast iron, which takes a pretty thorough science-based approach and comes up with a unique way to season cast iron.  I decided to use it on my most poorly seasoned pan, a large 13+ inch pan that I mostly use for making pasta dishes.

I neglected to take a "before" picture, but here is an "after" one:
The seasoning is dark, smooth, and appears durable.  This technique looks pretty solid; I'd recommend it.  I intend to use this pan for a while and see how it holds up.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Trip to a cocoa estate

While in Tobago recently, we went to visit a cocoa estate, specifically Tobago Cocoa Estate.  They offers tours, which I highly recommend.
We were met by the owner Duane Dove, who explained to us about his estate.
The first thing I learned is that this is not a cocoa plantation but a cocoa estate.  The difference is that a plantation is just all the same kind of crop.  An estate grows many different things.  This cocoa estate was only about 7 years old, is completely organic, and everything is done by hand, including clearing land and harvesting.  The beans are not sold to buyers, but are shipped to France to make single-estate chocolate, which is sold in France, London, Tokyo and various Scandinavian countries.

There are three main varieties of cocoa: Criollo, thought to be the finest type of beans, grown mainly in Madagascar and Venezuela, the Forestero, which is the bulk of all cocoa grown, less fine, more bitter, but strong, and Trinitario, which is somewhere between the two in quality.  All the cocoa in this estate was Trinitario.
Each tree only had a handful of pods, and each ripened according to the specific variety of plant it was.  Some were red when ripened, others were yellow.
The pods were often protected with green nets to camouflage the pods from the most troublesome pest: the parrots. Yes, those cute parrots we all love, love to snack on the ripened cocoa pods.  Besides the camouflage, the estate also brings in a falconer to try and attract hawks and other predators of the parrots to the area.
Each cocoa tree will start bearing fruit a few years after planting, and will continue bearing at maximum rate for about twenty-five years.  For each tree there is a banana tree planted to shade it for the first few years of the cocoa tree's life.  The estate has only had two harvests so far, but seems to be ramping up production quickly.

Later in the tour, they chopped open a cocoa pod, which opened to reveal a column of beans covered in a white flesh.  You can just take one of the flesh-covered pods and suck on it.  To me, the flesh tasted like citrus and banana.  If you opened up the bean itself, it looks purple at this stage.

The beans are fermented for several days, and then dried.  We went to where the coffee beans were drying in the sun.  This has to be carefully guarded.  If any rain got in, the whole batch would have to be thrown out.
A few other miscellaneous facts I learned:

  • Cheap chocolates are mostly vanilla and sugar flavor.  There is very little cocoa mass.  Most of the loss of mass comes from the fact that they separate out all the cocoa butter and replace it with palm oil.  The cocoa butter is then sold to the cosmetics industry.
  • I asked about Trinidadian cocoa tea.  The cocoa balls you get in Trinidad are very hard, and must be grated to get cocoa powder which you mix with boiling water, sugar, and a bit of milk to make a cocoa tea.  Compared to hot chocolate, it is pretty weak stuff, but the flavor is nice.  But why is it so weak?  I asked about this, and was told that the other chocolate has more sugar, milk and extra ingredients added to it to make it rich and creamy.  The Trinidadian cocoa balls you get are pretty much just cocoa mass and spices.  Also, the beans that make up these cocoa balls are C-grade cocoa beans, which due to their non-standard size or other attributes can't be used in normal exported cocoa.
  • In the estate, they have a number of interesting plants.  There are several coffee trees, which produce coffee for the consumption of the workers.  There are a variety of local fruit trees, like sugar care, gru-gru, Trinidad cherries.  They also had some Immortelle trees, which helps absorb excess water in the rainy season, and releases it in the dry season.
  • Most small cocoa farmers in Trinidad (and probably elsewhere as well) sell to a cocoa purchases, where the beans are mixed.  The farmer is paid by weight, so they have an incentive to over-water the beans to bulk them up.  This results in mildewed beans.
  • There is no store in New York just yet.  After this next harvest, we should be able to purchase the bars, which retail at around $15.