Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Delicious Salmon-Bok Choy Combination

Time for a simple yet delicious and healthy meal that can be cooked in under 30 minutes. Fish is one of the healthiest protein one can easily buy and up there on my favorites list are Chilean sea bass, striped bass, halibut and of course, salmon.

Unless you want to go all fancy-schmansy with some exotic glaze or crumb, it's really quite easy to cook salmon. All it takes is you basic seasoning of salt and pepper. And if you happen to have any garlic/onion powder hanging around the pantry, by all means, sprinkle some on. Just get a pan with some oil heated up and pan fry the fish, starting with the skin side up. Make sure you get a good amount of browning on the surface of the fish before turning it over. What's worse than an undercooked fish is a pale and anemic looking one. Don't worry about how thick the fish is as long you get the proper browning. You may not be able to cook the fish all the way on the pan without burning it. The proper solution is to finish it in the oven for a couple of minutes. Nowadays, some diners like their salmon cooked to a medium temperature but traditionally, it should be cooked all the way through. There is a fine line (probably a window of just a minute or two) between cooking the salmon all the way through and overcooking it. So, if you think it is done, just pull it out of the oven, as it will continue to cook even as it sits on the counter.

Accompanying the salmon is a wok-fried combination of bok choy and button mushrooms (I didn't have any shiitake on hand, so I had to settle) and jasmine rice, all typical components of a Chinese meal. For some color to the presentation, I sprinkled some sesame seeds and sesame oil onto the rice.

Stir-frying the vegetable is pretty straightforward. First, sweat the onions and then cook the garlic. Next, I add a tablespoon each of fish sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine and sweet soy sauce. Mix well in the wok and then add the chopped up bok choy and mushrooms. Cook until the vegetable is just wilted and serve immediately. And there you go, simple yet delicious and healthy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lobster Thermidor with Potato Pancakes

This is my take on the classic French dish, lobster thermidor, which consists of lobster meat cooked in a creamy Sherry sauce, stuffed back onto the lobster tail shell and slightly browned on top with a parmesan cheese and panko crumb topping. The lobster thermidor is featured in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." As you can imagine, the original recipe contains many components that I view as overkill and here, I will try to simplify it for the home cook but most importantly, also keep the flavors intact.

My biggest pet peeve from the original recipe is the way that it complicates the initial cooking of the lobster. Counting a whopping 14 ingredients that are used in the process of steaming the lobster, I decided to forgo everything and just let the natural sweetness of the lobster meat come through by itself. Using only a mix of white wine vinegar and water (1/2 cup vinegar per 8 quarts of water; enough liquid to cover the entire lobster), I boil the lobster for about 5 (1.25 lb. lobster) to 7 minutes (2 lb.lobster) depending on how large it is. This length of time is actually not enough to fully cook the lobster. I am just pre-cooking it first and finishing it in the sauce later. There is nothing more sinful than overcooked lobster meat. So, once the lobster's done, cook it down in cold ice water and shuck the meat, carefully preserving the tail shell for your presentation later. To do this, simply separate the body from the tail and using a sharp knife, cut all the way through down the middle of the tail. Remove the tail meat and wash the shell thoroughly. Cut the lobster meat into small pieces. You can leave the claw meat whole for a nicer presentation.

Next, let's start working on the sauce. Here are the ingredients that you'll need (for 2 1.25 lb. lobsters):

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 medium-sized shallot (diced)
2 cloves garlic
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sherry
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon (chopped fine)
1 cup shaved parmesan/pecorino romano cheese (gruyere cheese is acceptable)
Salt & pepper to taste
Panko breadcrumbs
1 bunch chives (for garnish)

Start by melting the butter in a deep pan. Next, sweat the shallots and then add the garlic. Cook the garlic for about a minute and then deglaze the pan with sherry. Add the heavy cream, together with the dry mustard and tarragon. Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer (not boiling) and then add the shucked lobster meat and cook for just under a minute. Turn off the heat and add 3/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Stir to melt the cheese in the sauce. Add the lemon juice, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Now, scoop the lobster meat together with the sauce onto the lobster tail shell. Top it off with some panko breadcrumbs and the remaining parmesan cheese. Turn you oven to "broil" and put the loaded tails in to brown. As soon as the tails start browning, remove from the oven. Garnish with some chopped chives and serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Apricot-Ginger Sauce

Pork tenderloins, because of its leanness, is prone to easily drying out even when just slightly overcooked. The key to moist pork tenderloin is brining or if you are in a hurry, wrapping it in bacon like what I've done here. The role of the bacon is two-fold: first, to keep the lean meat from dying out quickly and second, to add flavor.

For this dish, I first trim a piece of pork tenderloin of its silver skin. Then I used several pieces of hickory-smoked bacon and wrapped them around the meat. Before cooking the tenderloin in the oven, I first brown the bacon-wrapped meat on a hot pan. While the tenderloin cooks in the oven, I used the pan drippings from the browning process to prepare the sauce. Pork pairs very well with fruits, especially apple. For my sauce, I decided to go with apricot and ginger. First, I cook the dried apricots and fresh ginger slices in a solution of rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt until it becomes really tender and almost like a really thick sauce. Using the same pan with the bacon oil that was used to brown the pork, I saute some shallot and garlic until fragrant. I then deglaze with some white wine and add the apricot-ginger sauce, cooking for a few more minutes. After letting it cool down for about 10 minutes or so, I puree the sauce with a blender, adding a little more water if needed.
When the pork is ready, remove from the oven and let it rest. As the meat rests, yummy juices will bleed out and I like to use these juices to further flavor the sauce. Here I am serving the pork with my favorite vegetable, asparagus, that are sauted with shiitake mushrooms and home-made garlic and parmesan mashed potatoes.