Duck Prosciutto


In the summer time, New York City is rife with green markets. I enjoy meandering around green markets, exploring the kind of foods that people take it upon themselves to impart an artisanal quality to, and eating the samples that vendors put out. One of the samples that stood out in my memory was Hudson Valley’s duck prosciutto. The creamy fat contrasted with the salty flesh tasted truly remarkable. However, at $22 per duck breast, I couldn’t bring myself to pay for it. Like all good DIY-ers, I decided to do it myself.


The process is remarkably simple. Acquire duck breast (which I procured from Ottomanelli’s & Sons Meat Market at $9.99/lb, which puts the homemade prosciutto at approximately less than half price than premade), salt it, and let it hang out in your fridge for about two weeks (or until it reduces to 70% of its original weight.) There isn’t a lot of hands-on work involved, but it does require some patience and some fridge real estate.


I let mine hang for 13 days, and its final weight was 70% of the original. (1.07 lbs before, 12 oz after) It tastes quite yummy, but I do think a more complicated spice rub would improve its flavor. I merely used some pepper because I didn’t have much else. Also, it’s impossible to get deli-thin slices without a meat slicer, so I had to settle for thick-cut bacon-esque strips. A local deli might agree to slice it up for you, though. Maybe be as charming as possible and hope they succumb to you?

Duck Prosciutto
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Makes 1 duck breast

Ingredients
1 duck breast, about 1 lb
400g of salt
200g of sugar
Whatever spices you want – maybe do some research to see what goes best with duck? (I used pepper, the original recipe used juniper berries, fennel seed, white and black peppercorns, bay leaves, and coriander seeds)

1. Wash and dry duck breast thoroughly. Score the skin in a cross-hatched fashion in order to allow the cure to penetrate it more thoroughly. Weigh the duck breast and record the start weight.
2. Mix salt and sugar to create the cure and pour about 1/3 of it into a container that would hold the duck breast, allowing for space between the duck breast and the perimeter of the container. I find that a 9×5 loaf pan works well. Pour the rest of the cure over the duck, making sure to submerge it completely in the cure. Feel free to make more of the cure in the same 2:1, salt to sugar ratio if you need more of it. Cling wrap the container and place it in your fridge for 4 days.
3. After 4 days, remove the duck breast from the cure and rinse off the cure. You will find that the cure might have become watery. That is normal. After rinsing off the cure, dry it well with paper towels and rub it down with your spices. Wrap it in cheese cloth with twine. Suspend the breast in your fridge so that its surface is not in contact with anything. Let it hang for two weeks or until the end weight is about 70% of the original weight.
4. Unwrap and eat!

Chinese Bakery Hot Dog Buns


Considering the dearth of posts lately, I don’t fault you if you think I have succumbed to the stresses of school and ceased to bake. I actually have been baking.  I don’t know why I have such a persistent obsession with Chinese breads lately. Perhaps I got burnt out on making American desserts? And bread is just so much harder to actually excel at. I’ve been baking the same recipe over and over again: this Chinese sweet bread recipe from Christine’s Recipes. However, I’ve found the bread exceedingly frustrating to perfect. It employs the tang zhong method, which is a starter roux that helps the bread stays soft. However, not owning a kitchen scale, stand mixer, a non-stick pastry mat OR a bench scraper has been very trying. For one, I can’t get my ingredients down to the precise weight, which is crucial in a proportion-sensitive endeavor like baking bread. Also, hand-kneading an extremely sticky dough is near impossible, since the dough just sticks to my hands stubbornly.

However, I recently acquired both a kitchen scale and a non-stick mat (I used Matfer Exopat) and I was determined to make this attempt the best. I did some research, and apparently Chinese-style breads benefit from more kneading than you think it needs. Besides, I’d probably get too tired before I end up overkneading the dough and breaking down the gluten chains. I spent at least 30 minutes wrestling with the extremely sticky dough, training my forearm and grip strength and eventually got it to reach an elastic, bouncy texture that none of my breads have reached before. And boy, was it rewarding. This bread has the finest crumb of all the breads I’ve ever made, and it’s also quite shreddable.

I did encounter some problems with the finished goods, though. But I’m going to tell you what I did wrong so you can avoid these mistakes.

  • Pat your hot dogs dry before wrapping it in the dough. My hot dogs slid out of the bun after baking. I did like how the hot dog juices had moistened the inside of the bread, imparting a salty dog flavor to it, though.
  • When rolling the bread dough into long tubes to wind around the hot dogs, try to make the tubes thicker in the middle, tapering narrower towards the ends. It will be more aesthetically appealing.

Chinese Bakery Hot Dog Buns
Adapted from Christine’s Recipes
Makes 8 buns

Ingredients

Tang Zhong

25 gm bread flour
125 ml water (feel free to use milk or 50:50 milk/water; I used all water)

Mix bread flour and water in a saucepan; continually stir over medium-low heat until your whisk/spoon leaves trails in the mixture. Take off heat and let cool.

350 gm bread flour
55 gm caster sugar
5 gm salt
56 gm egg (1 large egg)
7 gm milk powder (to increase fragrance, optional – I omitted)
125 ml milk (I used water instead)
120 gm tangzhong (refer to this recipe for making tanzhong)
5 to 6 gm instant yeast
30 gm butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)
8 sausages (I used Sabrett’s skinless beef frankfurters)

Combine all dry ingredients: flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a bowl. Make a well in the center. Whisk and combine all wet ingredients: milk, egg and tang zhong, then add into the well of the dry ingredients. Knead until you get a dough shape and gluten has developed, then knead in the butter. Mind you, it’d be quite messy at this stage. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth, not sticky and elastic. (Tip: you might like to test if the dough is ready. Stretch the dough with two hands. If it forms a thin “membrane” that’s very elastic in texture. Use a finger to poke a hole. If the hole is a circle, not an irregular tear-off. That means you have successfully kneaded the dough to a perfect stage. Yet, don’t over-knead the dough. Otherwise all the tissues inside would be broken apart.) The time of kneading all depends on how hard and fast you knead.

Knead the dough into a ball shape. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a wet towel or cling wrap. Let it proof till it’s doubled in size, about 40 minutes (Note: the time will vary and depends on the weather. The best temperature for proofing is 28C.)

Transfer to a clean floured surface. Deflate and divide the dough into four to six equal portions. Knead into ball shapes. Cover with cling wrap, let rest for 15 minutes.

Knead each part into a long tube, about 41cm in length (it depends on how long your sausage is). Roll to enclose the sausage, with seals facing down. Place rolls on a tray lined with baking paper, covered with cling wrap or a wet towel. Leave it for the 2nd round of proofing, about 45 to 60 minutes, until double in size.

Brush whisked egg on surface of rolls. (I omitted this) Bake in a pre-heated 180C (356F) oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

Yogurt and Sun Dried Tomato Biscuits


These biscuits were a haphazard post-work creation; I was really itching to make something, and since biscuits are as instant gratification as you could get when it comes to baking, I made some. They were decent warm from the oven but got a little dry as it sat out. I did use the minimum amount of fat needed and I also used olive oil instead of butter for an extra Italian twist. However, reheating made them better; and I’m sure dabbing some butter in a halved biscuit would be quite delicious.


Yogurt and Sun Dried Tomato Biscuits

Adapted from Grumpy’s Honeybunch
Makes 7-8

1 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
1/2 scant teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoons olive oil
3/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon yogurt
3-4 pieces of sun dried tomatoes, chopped roughly

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together, then add oil. Stir in sun dried tomatoes.

Using a large spoon, stir in the yogurt until mixture just forms a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it 10 times; no more. If it is sticky, add a little flour, but very little; it should still stick slightly to your hands.

Press the dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds. Put on ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the leftover dough and cut again. Bake for 7 – 9 minutes or until the biscuits are a beautiful golden brown. Serve within 15 minutes for them to be at their best.

Thai-Style Grilled Chicken

If you’re a budding cook or baker, I highly recommend checking out America’s Test Kitchen, a website dedicated to using science in the kitchen –  be it finding out how baking soda works, or test-running several mixers to see which works best, or the best combination of ingredients to create the perfect recipe. This Thai-inspired chicken that I made was a recipe that I pulled from their website. This chicken is arguably the best savory recipe I ever made. (My honey-soy glazed salmon has been overthrown.) It was not a very technically complex dish, but it did require a bunch of different ingredients that I didn’t have, such as cilantro and coriander. I am so glad I didn’t decide to forgo or substitute it, because those herbs really made the dish.


The devil is really in the details in this recipe, like stuffing the skin with some of the spice rub, and the sweet, tangy and spicy sauce that you used to dip the chicken. Oh, that sauce. I would use it as a dipping sauce for everything. I was also really surprised at how flavorful the chicken got even though I didn’t marinate it, but the fresh cilantro and generous amounts of coriander really gave it a strong kick. I didn’t have a grill, so I baked instead of grilled my chicken at 500F and then let it sit in the hot but switched-off oven for a while. My chicken turned out slightly undercooked, but I suspect it’s a combination of a) not letting my oven get really, really hot (I was kinda scared of testing the limits with the tiny oven I have) and b) using bone-in thighs versus boneless breasts, like the recipe recommends. Nevertheless, this is definitely a come-back recipe.


Thai-Style Grilled Chicken
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 4

Ingredients
Chicken and Brine

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup table salt
4 split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about 12 ounces each (see note)

Dipping Sauce

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 small cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce (I subbed this with light soy sauce)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Rub

12 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (1/4 cup)
1 piece fresh ginger (about 2 inches), minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil , plus more for grill grate

Instructions

1. To brine the chicken: Dissolve sugar and salt in 2 quarts cold water in large container or bowl; submerge chicken in brine and refrigerate at least 30 minutes but not longer than 1 hour. Rinse chicken under cool running water and pat dry with paper towels. [I didn’t brine my chicken, figuring that thighs had enough fat to retain juiciness.]

2. For the dipping sauce: Whisk ingredients in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature to allow flavors to meld.

3. To make and apply the rub: Combine all rub ingredients in small bowl; work mixture with fingers to thoroughly combine. Slide fingers between skin and meat to loosen skin, taking care not to detach skin. Rub about 2 tablespoons mixture under skin. Thoroughly rub even layer of mixture onto all exterior surfaces, including bottom and sides. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces. Place chicken in medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while preparing grill.

4. To grill the chicken: Turn all burners on gas grill to high, close lid, and heat until grill is very hot, about 15 minutes. Scrape grill grate clean with grill brush; using long-handled grill tongs, lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe grill grate. Turn all but 1 burner to low. Place chicken, skin-side down, on hotter side of grill; cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken breasts and cook until browned on second side, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Move chicken skin-side up to cool side of grill and close lid; cook until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast (not touching bone) registers 160 degrees, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to serving platter; let rest 10 minutes. Serve, passing sauce separately.

[Instead of grilling the chicken, what I did was this: Preheat oven to 500 F, place chicken skin side down on baking pan and cooked until brown, 4-5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until browned on second side, 4-5 minutes longer. Turn off oven and leave chicken in there for 12-15 minutes. Remove chicken from oven, rest for 10 minutes, and serve, passing sauce separately.]

Soy Ginger Chicken

Soy sauce is one of my most favorite ingredients to use in cooking. It’s extremely versatile, and also integral if you want to do any kind of Asian cooking. It’s got an earthy umami taste accompanying the saltiness it imparts to dishes. I got some chicken for real cheap (99 cents a pound!) and decided that it must be used. With the few ingredients I had on hand, I cobbled together this simple but tasty recipe.

I based my recipe off Ina Garten’s Indonesian Ginger Chicken recipe, but I fail to see why it is Indonesian. To me, it’s a very generic Asian-flavored recipe that’s been Americanized. After all, honey is not that commonly used in Asian cooking. I didn’t use garlic, and I also cut the ingredients to a third. I accidentally used 1/3 cup of soy sauce instead of 1/4 cup, but I think the caramely yet savory sauce tinged with the fragrance of ginger would be excellent to drizzle over rice or lightly blanched bok choy. This recipe is technically easy but not something you can whip up quickly. It requires a few hours to marinate, an another hour to cook. However, hands-on prep time is extremely brief, so feel free to do something else while the chicken sits in the marinade. Maybe make this key lime pie.

Soy Ginger Chicken
Adapted from Ina Garten
Makes 3-4 servings

* 1/3 cup honey
* 1/3 cup soy sauce
* 2-3 cloves minced garlic (I omitted)
* 3 tbsps peeled and grated fresh ginger root
* 4 chicken thighs

Directions

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted. (I simply microwaved the honey and soy till the honey could be dissolved and added the ginger to it.) Arrange the chicken in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. (I marinated it for about 5 hours.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and raise the temperature to 375 degrees F. Continue baking for 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh and the sauce is a rich, dark brown.

Japanese Broiled Salmon with Scallions


Salmon is one of the more forgiving fishes to cook with: it’s relatively firm, so you don’t have to worry about the fillet falling apart as you pan-fry it, and since it is quite fatty, drying out is also less of a problem. Fish is generally best eaten in its purest and freshest state, and who better to get cooking inspiration from than the Japanese? This recipe is incredibly easy, and prep time and cook time is short.

I ended up with a perfectly done fillet, with slightly pink insides and a crispy sear on the outside. It was quite tasty, and would probably go well with a bowl of rice and some miso soup.

Japanese Broiled Salmon with Scallions
Adapted from About.com
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb skinless salmon fillets
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsps vegetable oil (peanut, if possible)
  • 2 tbsps rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsps mirin
  • 1 t sbspoy sauce
  • 3-5 finely chopped scallions

Preparation:

Take the salmon out of the fridge and sprinkle it generously with salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large pan over high heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the oil and let it heat up until almost smoking. It is important that your pan is hot. Once you see the first wisps of smoke, turn the heat down to medium-high.

Pat the salmon dry and sear them in the pan. Do not crowd them, and let them sizzle for a good 2-4 minutes, depending on thickness. If they are sockeye or silver salmon fillets, you will need about 3 minutes per side.

Turn the salmon over and cook for 1-3 minutes on the other side. A typical sockeye fillet will take only about 90 seconds on this side.

Remove the salmon to a warm plate, then take the pan off the heat. Add the soy sauce, mirin and vinegar and start scraping off with a wooden spoon any bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a rapid boil.

After a minute or so, turn off the heat and add the green onions. Swirl around to coat, then pour over the salmon fillets — serve with the crispier side of the fish facing up.

Century Egg Porridge

I just had to break out one of my favorite comfort foods. Century egg porridge. Hailing from Singapore, century egg porridge is one of those foods that I used to have for lunch after school. Piping hot and gruelly with minced pork, ginger and scallions, it’s a satisfying and also a low-calorie meal. It’s also very easy and quick to make, and uses up leftover rice in a jiffy. Porridge, or congee as it is more commonly called in America, is usually cooked two different ways: thick or soupy.

This is thick:

And this is soupy:Personally, I like my porridge soupy. It might have something to do with the fact that I am descended from the Teochew people, and they are known for their predilection for watery congee. In the second picture, I had actually used some leftover broth from chicken and vegetable soup to cook the porridge. I can’t quite explain how much I love porridge. I could eat it for all three meals with condiments like preserved mustard greens and fermented spicy bean curd I won’t get sick of it.

There isn’t really a fixed proportion of ingredients for this meal – it really depends on how you want it to taste.

Century Egg Porridge
Makes 2-3 servings

1 cup leftover rice
2 1/2 cups water or broth
1 1/2 tbsp thinly sliced ginger strips
4 oz of minced pork, seasoned with salt and light soy sauce
2 century eggs, cut into about 1/2 inch cubes
Light soy sauce to taste
White pepper to taste (black pepper is fine)
Salt to taste
1 scallion, chopped

Add rice to water and put on high heat till boiling. Once boiled, lower heat to medium and cook till porridge is close to desired consistency. Add minced pork in small chunks. Increase to high heat, and cook till boiling again. Lower heat to medium and add ginger and century eggs. Add light soy sauce, pepper and salt to taste.

To serve, garnish with chopped scallions.