Meat

MACAO’S PORK CHOP PINEAPPLE BUN

  

IT CAN’T BE RIGHT.  IT SHOUDN’T BE RIGHT.

BUT IT MIRACULOUSLY IS.

History had it, that whenever two polar opposite cultures are smashed together, often under reluctant or even violent circumstances, despite hardships and losses, something mutated but beautiful eventually comes out at the other end.  That something, is usually food.

No doubt that America has its unspeakable history from the time of slavery, but what was left from its ugliness, was the unapologetic creole and cajun.  Taiwan’s predominantly Fujian and kejia culture (derived from China’s southern coast) adjusted to 50 years of Japanese rule by nurturing an uniquely categorized cuisine all of its own, which, some say, may be the last-standing pride of this politically fading island.  So on… what unfortunate events gave us the Vietnamese coffee, and so forth… what conflict left us the baba-nyonya?  Food, among sadness and realities, always knows how to find its own humble delights.  Food, is always optimistic.

And right now, standing in Hong Kong where such experiences were no stranger, I’m holding in my hand, a  glorious testament of such history.  A legacy from Portuguese’s colonial time in Macao, the pork chop pineapple bun.

Macao’s pork chop bun compared to Portuguese’s bifana, obviously, is another life.  It uses bone-in pork chops instead of cutlets, reflecting Asian’s general preference for flavour over convenience.  On top of which, it deploys soy sauce as part of the seasonings, and baking soda, a typical and effecient meat-tenderizing agent in Cantonese cooking.  But perhaps the most controversial act of it all is that, in one version, it stuffs the shallow-fried pork chop, without a blinking of an eye, in between an iconic pastry of this particular region.  The pineapple buns.

It can’t be right.  It shouldn’t be right.  But in between the crispy and salty edges of a well-seasoned and juicy bone-in pork chop, and the sweet and crumbly crust of a buttery pineapple bun, it miraculously is.  To be honest, I don’t even know why I doubted it in the first place.  Salty and sweet.  A proven equation that works.  Really, give it a chance.  No matter how unseemly and conflicting the idea may sound, like the clashing of the cultures that nurtured it, pork chop pineapple bun is a tasty mutation that made the best of it all.

And don’t forget to serve it with Hong Kong-style English milk tea.

  
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THE WORLDLY PULLMAN-TORTILLA TACOS

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IS IT,

LET’S EAT NOW AND KILL EACH OTHER LATER?

What has this world come to?  Or, all along, this is how we always have been?

I know.  This is a food blog, rainbows and marshmallows and summer noodle salads.  Politics, world affairs… are not palatable, instead, I should be talking about pumpkin pies.  But you see, this is the thing.  Talking about foods, in a time like this.  How can we, so at ease, not taste the irony between the bettering tolerance for flavours on our dining tables, and the boiling hostility on just about everything beyond?  Food-wise, in the history of mankind, the world has never come so open-minded, so intimately close to sharing and tasting the very same beliefs that are being enjoyed from the other side of the map.  We can all agree on the cold silkiness of a piece of raw fish on a small nub of tangy rice.  The cool creaminess of hummus meandering around the sizzling spiced kebabs.  The good funk of cheese melting into the chewiness of a hand-torn crusty baguette.  A sip of wine.  It registers the same.  The contentment in common.  The smile radiating from our torsos.  Ah, yes, that wonder you’re tasting over there, I’m feeling it right here too, understanding, happy-ing, at the same time, over the same things.  How is it that we could relate so much in happiness, and yet, empathise so little in suffering.  Can we really talk about foods, without thinking about politics?  Or is it, let’s eat now and kill each other later?

Really bad things happened in Paris.  Here we all mourned, in shock, in disbelief, compassionate.  Meanwhile, the exact same really bad things, just as bad, sometimes worse, happens not that far away almost every week on that side, perhaps your side, stacking up silently like morning pancakes.  Beirut 3 days ago, Ankara last month, other cities of dwindling lights.  But… that was just inks on newspapers, no hashtags in its grief.  Has even my sympathy, where I decide to spare it, become part of the problems?  Why is it only you and I, yours and mine, and nothing in between?  We’re all micros teeming on a speck of dust in this universe, but somehow, we still manage to divide beyond our means, to sever what is better as one, to split the atoms.  I don’t.  Wanna.  Exist like this.

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CRUSTY RADISH DUMPLINGS FOR MY DUMPLING

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MY DUMPLING COMES WITH AN EXTRA DISK OF SALTY, CRACKLING, DRAMATIC BUT ALSO DELICATE PERSONALITY.  IT MIGHT NOT BE FOR EVERYONE WHO LIKE SMOOTH RIDES, BUT IT’S MY DUMPLING AND I LIKE IT EXACTLY THE WAY IT IS.

 

I’ve always liked western funerals.

Or to be more specific, I’ve always liked the meal that takes place afterwards.  The kind of… you’re-dead-let’s-eat attitude, the striving positivity in what I would like to call, “party-grieving”.  Call this meal a “repast” or whatever, but as far as I’m concerned, when a large group of friends gathers and gets drunk plus smothered in casseroles, even if it was after an eternal farewell and no lady’s mascara was fully intact, hey, it’s a party.  So yeah.  I think it’s nice.  I think it’s dignifying.  When I have my funeral, I’m going to make everyone listen to Gaga’s “(now you really) can’t read my, can’t read my poker face”, and like it or not, eat sardine casseroles.  So a few weeks ago, when the reality of what was going to happen started to settle in, I pressed the soft paws of my fur-son Dumpling against my wet face and said… hey, don’t you worry, mommy’s gonna throw you the best party ever.

Except that… ironically, Dumpling hated parties.  If he had known about this mass “trespassing” taking place under his roof, he would’ve taken out his shotguns and barked everyone off of his lawn.  Don’t take it personally.  That was just Dumpling, my sociopathic dog who was really more of a human that hated dogs, and would love nothing more than to remove a harmless chunk of meat from your annoying ankles, no hard feelings.  Chances are, if you knew him, you wouldn’t have liked him much.  In fact, more than being anti-social, he was also a self-absorbed, snobbish, toy-despising and politically incorrect racist…  Basically, an asshole.

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HOW TO EASILY SOUS-VIDE IN OVEN, WITH OR WITHOUT WATER

FOR THE PAST 35 YEARS OF SOLEMN HATRED FOR WHITE MEAT, OF CLAWING CHICKEN SAWDUSTS OUT OF MY THROAT, IT MEANS TO TELL ME THAT ALL ALONG, I COULD’VE BEEN EATING THIS SUCCULENCE?!!

IS THIS A JOKE?!!

Let’s face it, most of us never took the idea of “sous vide” seriously as a realistic potential in our home-kitchen, now did we?

This French-sounding… European-ish words (“sus-vahyd”?) that refer to vacuum-sealing our ingredients and submerging them under a warm bath for a long period of time, thus resulting in the extraordinarily supple texture in any cuts of meat, okaaay, all sounds as wonderful as having little house-elf who rap us a Kanye song and clean around the house.  Nice, clap clap, but who are we kidding right?  Hey, believe me, I with you.  Or… at least, I was with you… until a few weeks ago I swear.

I mean, as someone who loves to cook to a degree of obsessive nature, I’m all about humping a technique that, legend has it, could transform a cardboard-like piece of chicken breasts into something so juicy and tender that it defies my anti-faith for chicken breasts.  But to acquire such wizardry, well, I’ll need a wand of course, and it’s called a sous vide-machine.  Thing is I would gladly “sus-vahyd” everything – hey I think it totally makes total sense – IF ONLY I was sitting on a machine that sucks all the air-molecules out of the bags, and another that keeps my tub of water at a constant temperature without asking too many questions.  But guess what, I don’t have a sous vide-machine”s”, and I’m guessing you probably neither.  I guess, we’re all just muggles!  So in the end, the idea all goes back to resembling a fabulous Dobby who raps Kanye → not a realistic potential.  Or is it?

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Chef Steps, a great blog that promotes “Modernist Cuisines for home-cooks”, and at the top of its honorable agenda, is the mission to teach everyone how to sous vide at home, without any machines that is.  It gave me hope, it really did.  I considered it as an invitation into Hogwars.   So I immediately dove into the first experiment, which was to tightly wrap salmon in a zip-lock bag and cook it in a pot of 120 F/50 C water that they said could be maintained over the stove…  Okay, I would elaborate the experience in meticulous details for you but it could pretty much be summed up in one word, well, impossible.  On gas-stove, on induction-stove… whatever, not even the lowest possible setting/flame could keep a pot of water at 120F/50C without heating it up eventually, not to mention the obvious impracticality and side-effect of babysitting a pot of lukewarm water for 40 min, or worse, hours…  Chefs, it’s not you, but it doesn’t work on my stoves.

But to their credit, the effort wasn’t spent in vain.  The episode curiously reminded me of how, a long time ago, I used to babysit a pot of water in oblivion for my hot spring/onsen eggs, only until the moment when I found out that… wait, I HAVE A HOUSE-ELF!

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to – Dobby, no, THE OVEN.  Uh-humph, sorry, have you met?  Yeah, it’s this really old piece of technology, dinosaur really, that was designed to, guess what, creating an environment at a… yes, constant temperature!  OK, at this point, we’re not even gonna pretend that we’re “sous vide-ing” anything, which means “under vacuum” in French.  We’re not vacuuming anything, but just keeping to the principle of cooking foods under low temperature for a prolonged period of time.   And I don’t know if you know this about earth, but in most cases, the temperature of water will eventually level to the temperature of its surroundings.  What it means is that a pot of 120F/50C water sitting inside an oven that is constantly at 120F/50C, will stay at… YES, 120F/50C!!  Do you see where I’m going with this?  Do you?  With a little adjustment to the oven-setting to make up for the heat that goes into cooking our foods, my friends, this is your new kitchen-revelation.

Results… the salmon, was a bite of the softest and warm embracive epiphany you could ever put in your mouth.  I would replace it with how I cooked salmon in this recipe and gladly eat it for the rest of my lives.  Then the chicken breasts… what chicken breasts?  It transformed the chicken breasts into something… not of this earth, okay.  This is not chicken breasts, not even chicken, because planet earth does not breed this type of animal which has an unbelievable texture as if a chicken screwed a water-balloon and had a baby on Mars that spoke French.  The texture, the suppleness and bounce, is for a lack of better words, infuriating.  It means to tell me that for the past 35 years of solemn hatred for white meat, the chicken-sawdusts that I’ve been clawing out of my throat, all along, could’ve been this succulence?!!  Is this a joke?!!  

But to my own surprise, amidst the simultaneous anguish and enlightenment, the wizardry didn’t stop here.  Remember my sauna eggs?  A little experiment I conducted based on the theory that, with a little adjustments in temperature and cooking-time (difference in air and water heat-conductivity and such boring sciences, blah blah blah), the same water-bath results can be replicated by using dry-heat only as well.  But does it work with things other than eggs?  YES.  The chicken breasts and salmon cooked inside a water-bath in the oven, VS the same ingredients being cooked simply wrapped up in parchment in dry heat at a different temperature/time, are essentially, undistinguishable.

You can “sous vide” in the oven, with or without water-bath.

So here, my friends, fuck being muggles, come to Hogwarts with me.  With a simple thermometer and oven thermometer, let’s do magic.  I will continue this experiment with more ingredients and do a Part II or perhaps even Part III, but for now, I think you’ll be too busy eating – can’t believe I’m saying this – chicken breasts.  I guess it’s true, nothing is impossible.

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PROSCIUTTO AND DATES SU-STYLE MOONCAKE

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DECEIVINGLY EASY…

IT WILL SHATTER YOUR DOUBT-SYSTEM AS THE LAYERS CRACK LIKE THE WINGS OF BUTTERFLIES AND FALL ON YOUR JAW-DROPPED COUNTERTOP

– XOXO

OK, I don’t have much time today to elaborate much, in fact, not even enough time to say what I’m about to say but I gotta say it anyways because it’s just too damn important which is – PLEASE, don’t let the intimidating display of these lacy, delicate, flakey pastry filled with salty prosciutto and sweet dates and honey… fool you.  They are deceivingly easy, forgiving even, and I got them down with smashing success right at the first try (I’ve had more tears shed on making pancakes, let me just tell you that).  This waffer-thin layered dough actually DOES NOT require any chilling (even though I still gave them a 30-min nap in the fridge just because I was insecure), believe it or not, and it will shatter your doubt-system as the layers crack like the wings of butterflies and falls on your jaw-dropped countertop.  And then the filling… oh fuck I don’t even have time to talk about this filling but I gotta say it anyways because it’s just too damn good!  Part-crispy and part-fresh prosciuttos, mashed with finely minced dates and honey with a dash of black rum.  It is the most fruitful reward you can expect out of the eternal conflict between salty and sweet.  And then, these two things together… these two buttery, lacy, porky, salty, sweet things together!  I don’t have time for this!  Do you get me?!  Just go do it and believe.

– XOXO.

  

 I copied/pasted the instructions below to correspond with the photos so it’s easier to understand, but serious, you’ll probably have something great at the first try, then nail it at the second, tops.  There’s also another su-style mooncake variation by Betty on Food52.  Check it out.

 

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Combine cake flour, water, unsalted butter and sugar in a large bowl, and mix it with your hands until it comes into a dough.

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Transfer to a working surface and knead for a couple min until the dough is smooth and soft. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, then set aside to rest.

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Meanwhile, combine cake flour and unsalted butter in the same bowl for the oil-dough.

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DOGGY MEATLOAF BIRTHDAY “CAKE” FOR BIG 15TH

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HIS FICTIONAL TWIN, THE GRINCH, WHO IS THE SOLE CLINICAL CASE TO HAVE BENEFITED FROM THIS MEDICAL ILLNESS

This past week, August 26th to be exact, my dog-son Dumpling turned 15 years old, almost 100 years old in human-years.

For small breeds such as the Maltese that he is, this may not be the most ground-shaking news, probably not even rare, but for my Dumpling, it is nothing less than a medical miracle.  About a year and a half ago, shortly after the departure of our Frenchie Bado (here’s a short bio on the family, so far), Dumpling was rushed to the hospital after fainting in my arms with a screeching cry, where we were told that he was developing a severe case of congestive heart failure.  It was ironic… really, for a borderline sociopathic dog loathed by almost everyone outside of his immediate families, to end up with a condition where his tiny angry heart, unstoppable and irreversibly, grew larger and larger by the day.  But unlike his fictional twin, the Grinch, who is the sole clinical case to have benefited from this medical illness, for my Dumpling, what this actually meant was that… Christmas was really fucked.

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CUMIN LAMB AND HAND-SMASHED NOODLE SOUP

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FOR THIS WEEKEND….

I’m quickly leaving you with this recipe today because I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.  In fact, it is precisely because I’ve already said everything I wanted about them in my previous posts.  This recipe is a good example of how I, and you as well, can utilize all the recipes on the site fluently in combination, to draw to a different conclusion.  This particular dish is mainly a soup-version from my xi’an famous cumin lamb and hand-smashed noodles, but it draws from three different recipes that have somewhat became a staple of my own kitchen.   Plus a little further processing and tweaks, it can become something that scratches an entirely different itch.  So here, whether you are a dry noodle or soup noodle kinda person, or both, you can now travel between two worlds.

  
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MEET “THE WALTER WHITE” – THE KINGPIN OF MEAT BUNS

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PACKED WITH A WALLOP OF SCALLION GROUND PORK, A PIECE OF BRAISED PORK BELLY, ONE BRAISED SHITAKE MUSHROOM, ONE SALTED DUCK YOLK AND CHILI CONFIT, EACH BUN MEASURES 5 1/2″ (14 CM) IN DIAMETER AND ALMOST  1 LB (450 GRAMS) IN WEIGHT

IF THIS ISN’T CRIMINAL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS


There’s something about me unknown to most.  I have a sickly obsession for Chinese steamed pork buns.  Sickly, I said.  I think it was a childhood trauma that I developed in my earliest memory, over one afternoon by a hungry swimming pool when it was given to me as a snack, but I never suspect it would follow me ghostly into adulthood like an unsociable kink.  Ask my husband who never understood any of it, that whether it is placed on the table of a proper restaurant or abandoned in the metal cage of an electric warmer inside any 7-11’s in Asia, or even just a carcass of it laying on the asphalt being picked by a mob of pigeons… you put a steamed pork bun within my perimeter of sight?  And you’re likely to achieve a deer-in-headlights reaction from me.  Yeah.  Throw a steamed pork bun in front of me while I’m crossing the street?  And you can watch the progression of a human-roadkill unfold with captions, NatGeo-style.  I wish I could say that this is where the embarrassment stops, but no.  Thing is, size matters, too.  Even though we all know that size does not imply superiority or function, but as far as steamed bun goes, it is fair to say that I like’em as unapologetically as how men like their boobs.  Maximumly enormous for no good reasons.  I know, it’s completely shallow, illogical, utterly fantasy-based.  In fact, overly large steamed buns usually mean overly thick doughs and little fillings, and for the past 35-some years in the ever-pursuit for “the one”, big or small, I hardly found a steamed pork bun that I actually like.  I just believe that it’s out there.  It is an obsession supported only by faith, that as long as I bite into every single steamed pork bun that comes across my path, that if I just do that, then someday somewhere, I would find the one.  And that day came.

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