Dinner Plate Travails

Our culinary adventures!

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Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu soup

I am a noodle-head.  It is a soul-warming, comfort food. That said, I am new to the joys of really good Japanese ramen. To get a glimpse of ramen-mania, watch Tampopo–a true noodle western film released in 1985–so awesome! I didn’t *fully* get it until I actually tasted good Japanese ramen, thanks to Toronto’s latest foodie craze. Some high quality, serious Japanese ramen places have popped up here in recent years. I had been to a few, and Jeff and I went to one of the more recently opened places that was highly recommended by our Japanese friend, Miki. At Sansotei (http://www.sansotei.com), we had the BEST ramen we have ever tasted to date. Maybe we will have better somewhere else, sometime in the future… but for now, this is it. Never was a broth so creamy (without actual cream), so full tasting and flavourful. I went on a quest to replicate it!

Marc Matsumoto offers a recipe that appeared to reveal the secrets of making good tonkotsu ramen, including the condiments and garnishes (http://norecipes.com/blog/tonkotsu-ramen-recipe).

I have made two attempts at this broth recipe, and each time, I messed up on some small detail by omitting or substituting an ingredient. On the first attempt, I had no chicken bones and I used pork ribs instead of pork bones. The broth was thin-tasting, not full, as he warned. The second time, I used pork spine bones. It was still not as ‘creamy’ as sansotei’s broth, possibly due to the lack of marrow (as is found in leg bones) and not enough simmering action to emulsify the fats in the stock. The chasu recipe, mayu and marinated eggs were relatively easy to get right, and I found a place to get fresh ramen noodles (Sanko on Queen Street).

While my ramen was pretty good, it wasn’t mind-blowing like Sansotei’s. Next time, I will source out fresh pork leg bones and follow Marc’s recipe EXACTLY to get to the bottom of a perfect bowl of ramen… there may be other secrets to unlock here. The journey continues!


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Vietnamese pork patties (cha)

Ba's patties

My mom makes delicious, juicy pork patties. In Vietnam, they are made with fresh pork meat and fat, laboriously minced by hand into a smooth paste. My mom’s modernized version uses ground pork and a food processor; the rest of the recipe is pretty authentic. The cinnamon is inspired by the version made in Hue, central Vietnam.

We eat it in thin slices (like deli) in sandwiches (banh mi–with pate, pickled carrots, and coriander); with steamed rice rolls (banh cuon); on steamed rice with some vegetables. When she makes it, we all grab a fresh piece soon as it comes out from the oven, the skin still crispy! Recently, she showed us how to make it, and I am sharing her recipe.

3lbs ground pork

11 grams baking powder

100 ml water

75 ml cooking oil

75 ml fish sauce

3 tsp potato starch

1 tsp sugar

pinch ground black pepper

pinch ground cinnamon

pinch msg (optional)

Dissolve the baking powder in water. Mix all ingredients together well. On a cooking sheet, lay out the meat mixture in 1 inch thick portions; cover and put in freezer for 6-8 hours. By freezing the meat before processing, it prevents the food processor from heating up the meat and cooking it pre-maturely and doesn’t achieve the crunchy, chewy texture we want.

After 6-8 hours in the freezer, remove the near-frozen meat and grind smooth in a food processor. Place the processed meat into well-oiled trays, about 1-2 inches thick. Brush the raw patties with the annatto colouring for a red appearance traditionally found in Vietnamese patties.  Pre-heat oven to 355 F and bake uncovered for 35 min. Increase oven temperature to 375 F and bake further for 10 min. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

These patties freeze very well! Let the patties cool then wrap tightly in foil and place in a freezer bag. To reheat frozen patties and get that crispy outer skin, place in toaster oven for 15 min at 375 F

To make colouring (optional): pour about 3 tbsp of hot oil on about 1 tbsp of annatto seeds. Let  sit for 1/2 hour for the colour to infuse the oil, then discard seeds.

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Crockpot Pulled Pork

I used this recipe as a rough guide: http://www.crumblycookie.net/2008/05/30/crockpot-pulled-pork/

It was a success on the first try and required relatively little effort for a great meal! The extra meat kept well in the fridge… If you start it when you get up in the morning, it will be ready for dinner.

I particularly liked the flexibility of  this dish–all you most likely need is the pork shoulder (that is readily available at most supermarkets)–the spice mixture can easily be tweaked to fit what you have on hand, and a complete meal can be pieced together with whatever starch and veg. you have around.

Some notes:

I just made the spice rub to taste, using this recipe as a general guide, then added a sliced onion, a few sliced carrots, and some whole garlic cloves to the crockpot before adding meat. I didn’t bother to wrap the meat and refrigerate as the above recipe mentions (I don’t doubt that this can improve the flavor, but it is not worth the planning). When applying the spice rub be sure to work it into the fatty marbling so that more of the meat is exposed to the spices.

I flipped the meat and added more spices to the meat partway through. I don’t know if this helped, but I wanted to keep the meat covered with the rub as it cooked so that as much flavor as possible would be absorbed.

After the meat was cooked I removed the onions, carrots, and garlic and pureed them with some of the meat juice and BBQ sauce before adding it back to the pork. I discarded some of the fatty meat juice. This made the meat extra creamy… I might not use all of the vegs. next time as the final sauce was a bit too creamy. A bit of the pureed mixture will add to the texture, but too much makes it taste odd.

We had the pulled pork with crispy, toasted slices of bread–an open faced sandwich–and slow-cooked collard greens. I added some hot sauce to the pork (I really have started to like the Grace brand hot sauce: http://www.gracefoods.ca/drupal/special-product/266). Maybe Mai will comment on the Collard greens she made the same night. They were awesome.