One of the nicest things about running a relatively popular food blog is that from time to time, S and I will get emails from publishers, asking us if we would be interested in receiving copies of some of their new cookbooks. Regular readers know that S and I are both cookbook lovers. With a library of over 500 volumes, our shelves are literally over-burderned with tasty texts. We’ve actually reached a point where the wall of shelves that we had dedicated and had once believed sufficient for our collection is stuffed to breaking point — literally. A few weeks back, one of the shelves, and not by coincidence one that had been double-stuffed with huge heavy volumes, gave way. Now, we have cookbooks stacked in our bedroom, in S’ office, and on our small but fortunately sturdy coffee table. Still, we keep on collecting books, voraciously buying new works on a monthly if not weekly basis. So, of course, if someone wants to send us a book (that we actually intended to buy already), we’re not going to say no.
Of course, food bloggers are different from newspaper or magazine journalists (which S and I have also been). When a cookbook is delivered to the average editorial department of a printed publication, an editor or writer will most often be tasked to “review” it. That usually means a quick look at the author’s bio, the book’s pictures, recipes, and (of course) the accompanying press release. Based on this brief examination, a short review is generated and run as soon as possible (printed publications like to be the first to break any news to their readers). Food bloggers, however, are different. They actually cook from these books, testing recipes and making honest commentary on whether they work or not. They will also often reprint one or more of the recipes in these works, with annotations, revisions or suggestions. Over the few years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to admire many of my peers, who spend countless (unpaid) hours testing recipes, photographing the results and posting their often very articulate opinions for the world to read. Some of my favourite posts include Nicky and Oliver’s review of The Silver Spoon, Melissa’s thoughts on In a Cajun Kitchen, Clement’s ultra-detailed review of Bouchon and S’ own review of Kitchen Sense (but really, that’s only because I got to eat the results of her tests).
While I’m happy to get a free cookbook in the mail, I make no promises. With my schedule, there’s no telling when I’ll actually have time read it, let alone cook from it. Sometimes, the books will sit on a shelf for weeks, gathering dust. Others S and/or I keep returning to, trying to find an excuse to cook something from it. One book that we recently received and that we were very eager to cook from was Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking, published by DK. While neither of us have actually eaten at any of this celebrated chef’s restaurants, like the rest of the foodie world, we’ve heard lots about him.
The book is large, gorgeously photographed and chock full of some really interesting recipes and ideas. I really want to try making Morimoto’s lobster and foie gras balls; his squid strawberry ice candy; red miso souffle; eggplant shigiyaki; and beef belly tartare. The recipes are also very clearly written and each one is introduced with a short, personal note. One recipe in particular, a pork kakuni (slow-braised pork belly) served with scallop porridge, really made my mouth water. S, who is as into pork belly as I am, agreed that this would be the first dish we cooked from Morimoto’s book.
While this dish looks simple, there’s a lot going on here and you need to start your preparations way in advance. The pork is cooked for 8 hours, then cooled for 8 hours, then cooked for another 2. The rice for the porridge has to be soaked overnight in (home-made) spring onion oil. The results, though, are fabulous and well-worth the time spent making this. Morimoto’s technique of braising his pork with water and brown rice was new to both of us. The rice acted as a tenderizer and made the pork heart-breakingly tender. By soaking the rice in oil overnight, then cooking it with dried scallops and stock, the porridge was bursting with interesting and powerful flavours. Honestly, I could have eaten it by itself, without the pork, and have been satisfied.
This dish has immediately become one of my favourites. And because the recipe worked so well, I predict this book is one that we’ll turn to whenever we entertain. Hopefully, the other recipes will be as easy to follow and the results as delicious as this first one we’ve tried.
Pork Kakuni with Scallop Congee
adapted from Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking and revised by S
1 tbs vegetable oil
900g boneless pork belly (we used Kurobuta)
1 1/2 cups brown rice (we used short-grain)
1 3/4 cups sake
1/4 Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 120 degrees Celsius (240 degrees Fahrenheit). Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole large enough to hold the pork over medium-high heat. Sear the pork belly, skin side down, until golden brown (abt 5 min). Turn over and sear the other side. Remove and pour away the fat in the casserole.
Return the pork belly to the casserole. Sprinkle the brown rice around the meat (we found that the rice grains resting on the top of the pork belly dried out during the cooking process and got stuck). Add enough water to cover the pork by an inch and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover and transfer to the oven. Braise gently until the pork is tender (Morimoto recommends 8 hours). We left the pork in the oven for 5 hours, then switched it off and left it in the oven overnight. Uncover and let the pork cool for a couple of hours in the cooking liquid (we skipped this since the pork was cool enough to touch when we removed it from the oven the following day). Discard the rice and cooking liquid. Cover and refrigerate the pork belly for at least 8 hours, or up to 2 days.
Cut the pork crosswise into 4 pieces about 6cm wide. In a heavy medium saucepan, mix the sake, soy sauce, and sugar with 4 cups of water and bring the the mixture to a boil over high heat (stir to dissolve the sugar). Add the pieces of pork belly and reduce the heat. Partially cover the pan and simmer until the pork is very tender (about 2hrs).
Carefully transfer the pieces of pork onto a plate (they will be very delicate) and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid and reduce it down to 1 cup.
1/4 cup Japanese short-grain rice
2 tablespoons spring onion oil
2 dried scallops
1 3/4 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made)
sea salt to taste
SPRING ONION OIL
1 cup vegetable oil
2.5 cm piece of fresh young ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
6 spring onions, green part only, cut in 2.5 cm lengths
To prepare the spring onion oil, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion slices turn a rich golden colour (10 to 15 mins).
Strain, discarding the solids. Let the oil cool before using. This can be stored at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks.
To prepare the congee, rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Drain well. Transfer the rice into a small bowl, add the spring onion oil and toss to mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let the rice stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Soak the scallops in warm water for 20 mins. Drain and flake them.
Combine the oil-coated rice, flaked scallops, chicken stock and 1 3/4 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often until the rice breaks down into porridge (about 45 mins). Seasons with salt to taste and serve hot.
Juice of 1 lemon
1 burdock root (about 225g)
vegetable oil for deep frying
coarse salt to taste
Combine some cold water and the lemon juice in a medium bowl. With a vegetable peeler, remove the skin of the burdock (it may be easier to first cut the root in half). Use the peeler to create long ribbons of root and drop them into the water.
Preheat 2cm of oil in a deep fryer or deep saucepan to 170 degrees Celsius (340 degrees Fahrenheit). Drain the burdock strips and dry them well. Deep fry until golden brown (about 2 to 3 mins).
Remove the crispy burdock and drain on paper towels. Season with coarse salt.
minced spring onions for garnish
Since we prepared the pork earlier and it wasn’t warm when we wanted to serve it, we steamed the pieces for 10 minutes to re-heat. Spoon some scallop congee into four bowls. Top each with a piece of pork and some of the reduced sauce. Garnish with crispy burdock and minced spring onions. Serve immediately.