Monthly Archives: May 2008

First Pancetta, Part 2

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

OK, after much worrying about drying times, proper curing, and so on, I finally decided to dive in an hack up the pancetta that had been cured and drying in the refrigerator for the past 4 weeks. (I decided to cold dry it because the weather here has been warm-ish and I thought that might affect the final product…)

Having never made this before, I was concerned that the tight roll that I tied would come undone, but after stripping the pancetta of its butcher-tie, the pancetta held together nicely.

After cutting off the ragged ends (which made a great spaghetti carbonara a few nights later), the crosssection looked tight, dried and layered with peppercorn.

My friend Howard and I sauteed a few thin slices to test the waters. And the results….

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

…were fantastic. It was slightly sweet with a mild pepper sting; the fat rendered very nicely as well. If it were not cured correctly, then we might have gotten ill from eating it but that didn’t happen (I did ask several times about stomach distress…) so it was cured (and dried) successfully.

What I’d do next time:

1. Find a better way to cut the skin off before curing
This was a tremendous pain in the ass and the skin didn’t come off as cleanly as I had wanted. I guess just practice solves that.
2. Crush the juniper berries a bit finer
After eating from different sections (not all that night of course), I did notice some flavor differences. Maybe a more even handed rub would help.
3. Dry it for another week (refrigerated)
The overall flavor would have benefited from this. The finished product was still really good.

Verdict: Success. And I’ll do it again soon.

Worth The Beating

Even though many of my friends laugh and point and wonder, out loud, why I would put myself through the arduous task of making my own mayonnaise, I always let the results do the talking. With a little bit of practice and patience, you too can be blowing away the generic, tongue-thick taste of Best Foods (Hellman’s east of the Rockies!) with your own as-thick-as-you-need, seasoned-as-you-like mayonnaise.

Michael Ruhlman’s posting for today (5/21) covers this quite well with plenty of pictures, tips, techniques and a recipe. Check it out here.

Park’s Barbecue (LA)

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

This was supposed to be the first posting to “…but the devil sends the cooks” but time and design got in the way. Park’s Barbecue wasn’t the genesis of this blog but more like the straw that broken the devil’s…er, camel’s back.

Les and I have been working on publishing something (anything!) for a few years now. We always came back to food…we eat lots of good, unique food and we finally took a step to write about food and dining and cooking in ways that would be uniquely ours.

Park’s Barbecue (actually Chung Dam Dong Park Dae) in Los Angeles was 1/3 of a weekend of food excess back in March. I live in the SF Bay Area and Les (originally from San Jose) lives in LA and we take a few turns a year, assaulting each other’s cities for outstanding eats. Korean barbecue for us has been a given for many years as the South Bay has a whole Koreatown in Santa Clara with enough K-food to last a lifetime. Same deal in LA only more so…and it was time to invade one of the better Korean barbecues.

Park’s Barbecue actually has a Michelin star but you’d never know it from looking at it in a garishly white, multi-level strip mall in the heart of Koreatown on Vermont in LA. But the façade is just that; walking through the doors opens a whole new clay jar of kimchee.

Throughly modern and simple inside, Park’s is a buzzing hive of activity, both on and off the grills. Once seated (um, you want to make a reservation here, btw…), you’re faced with several gargantuan tasks, the most important is which of the 10+ selections of meat are you going to order. Although you can get dol sot bibim bap and beef soup, the meat is the thing here. Kobe style beef, prime short rib, bul gogi, pork belly…just about any animal with it’s back to the sky can be had here.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

We opted for the non-marinated prime rib and the “Tokyo-X” marinated pork belly (the pork belly is the picture at the top of this article taken with the only camera we had handy, a cell phone cam) but started with the “seafood pancake” (Hae-Mul Pa-Jeon). Most renditions of this are soft, delicate affairs. Not this one. Cracking crisp on the outside and soft on the inside where shrimp and scallion rule the day, this massive dish is so addictive, we almost filled up on it.

While we made quick work of half of the pancake, the banchan started to arrive. Banchan is the small dishes of spicy and not-spicy sides of vegetable, fish and tofu. The spicy daikon (ggakdugi) was the most pungent and tasty of the lot.

The prime short rib was first and we were surprised that our waitress cooked the food for us (didn’t mind that at all). The short rib was succulent and picked up the smoke from the grill. Because it wasn’t marinated, it was a pure meat delight.

The Tokyo-X pork belly was a sight. Imagine a pork belly about 3 times the thickness of what you might buy at a butcher shop (see the picture above). This was so juicy and flavorful, that we contemplated ordering another…it was sweet and smoky and the fat-to-meat ratio was perfect, plying mouthful after mouthful of delight.

To make the gluttony complete, we ordered the bulgogi (not in the original plan) and it didn’t disappoint either. Thinly sliced and marinated in a slightly less sweet (more soy), it cooked up quickly as we polished off the rest of the banchan, beer and soju.

From the design inside, to the outstanding food, right down to the super-efficient venting (we did not smell like we spent a couple of hours in a smokehouse), Park’s Barbecue earns its Michelin star easily by providing perhaps that best Korean barbecue in the state of California.

Chung Dam Dong Park Dae, 955 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90006, 213-380-1717

It’s Only Lardo

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

The second “piglet” pickup from Boccalone was this past Saturday. A few days earlier, Boccalone sent an email outlining what we’d be receiving and one item stood out: lardo.

A few chefs (Mario Batali for one, ‘natch) and food writers familiar with charcuterie have been waxing poetic about the joys of lardo. However, can salted and cured pork fatback really be all that special?

The short answer is “yes”, but with a caveat. Lardo is not something that needs to be consumed in massive quantities. It is pure fat, plain and simple. You don’t eat it like you’d bar-bet your idiot cousin to eat a stick of butter. And you sure can’t get it in your deli case at Safeway. (And shudder at the thought…the McLardo…wait, that already describes the fat content in many fast foods…)

Even for what it is, lardo is a delicacy: that is, to be eaten and savored in small amounts. Sliced thin, 3-4 slices of lardo is about the amount of fat you’d eat on 4-5 thin slices of prosciutto. So relax, unless you eat a 1/4 pound or more in one sitting, you’re not going to do your arteries any more harm than what you might consider a “normal” amount of prosciutto….even rolled up with melon, of course.

Speaking of melon and fruits, lardo goes particularly well with tart, slightly acidic fruit. Nectarines were the Boccalone suggestion – we used just barely ripe apricots. The lardo is very slightly salty and plays nicely with the tart apricot, and adds richness to round out the fruit. Another option for lardo, is to place it on a piece of warmed baguette and let it soften. The creaminess and saltiness really pops forward in a semi-liquid state and is the cured analogue to fresh salted butter.

Lardo is not going to be the next food craze any more than braised duck’s blood will be. It’s a momentary creamy, fatty pleasure that is meant to be fleeting.

Deezi Cafe: On Tilt?

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

We have a glut of middle eastern restaurants in the South Bay. This is a great problem to have as a majority of them are really good. But every now and then, a promising one comes along that leaves me baffled.

The Deezi Cafe opened a few months ago in a space previously occupied by a Russian eatery called Nevsky. Nevsky was started by the owners of the Russian delicatessen just next door to Nevsky’s space. (The deli is still in business, thankfully) Deezi got some decently glowing reviews in local newspapers. It seemed like there was yet another good option for kebab and slow-cooked, comforting Persian stews. But, alas, Deezi has seemed to lose itself in an atmosphere of culinary apathy.

Despite the shabby flea market look of the outside (more on that later), the first trip to Deezi held promise. A warm, inviting room, all the right smells, a demure but friendly greeting, an air of quality was pervasive. The food was pretty standard Persian fare. The stand-out dishes were the mirzaghasemi (a smoky mash of roasted eggplant, tomato and garlic ), the mast o mosir (thick yogurt and shallots) and the sir torshi (pickled garlic). Deezi’s fresh made flat bread was fresh, hot, good. The kebabs were just a bit above “good” but not great.

Ordinarily, this would be a nice evening out, with some good and sometimes excellent food but the presence of a few tiny fruit flies flitting around the table was off putting. We chalked it up to an anomaly – the food (and bread!) kind of made up for it.

The second trip was not so great. Remember that shabby flea market out front? I guess it’s one thing to put out couches, and stuffed chairs and small beds in front of your restaurant for your waiting patrons to rest themselves on if you always have a long line of people waiting to get in. But every time I have driven by (which is often and at different times of the day – I live about 1/2 mile away), I have never seen even a full parking lot. So the entrance looks like a Salvation Army truck just dropped a load of donations.

Dinner this night was a train wreck from the first step into an empty, and sadly waitstaff-less room. Eventually, someone came out and seated us. Rather than tell us that there were some items on the menu that they were out of, we were left to drool over the descriptions of the food and plot our feasting. It was only when we started to order that our waitress told us the bad news. And that was only for starters. OK, fine. But even then, the starters seemed as out of whack as the miscues. The most o mosir was as thick and tasteless as cream cheese, the mirzaghasemi tasted steamed instead of roasted, and the only saving grace for the apps was the fresh bread. But they seemed to be running short on that as well.

For the main, the kebab list was decimated too (again, we were left to order and then she told us they were out of several that we wanted) and she finally said that she’d bring us the combination platter of kebabs. The koobideh was undercooked just enough to make the texture of the usually semi-crispy, ground lamb-beef like mushy meatloaf. The chicken and beef were under seasoned and slightly over cooked.

The final event of the evening was being informed of a credit card machine malfunction and the possible 15-minute wait for “authorization”. Eventually, the card was swiped enough times to get everyone paid and by then we were all more than glad to leave.

Deezi Cafe could really be a great addition to the other Persian/Turkish/Middle Eastern places here in the South Bay but these experiences leave me wondering it they really care about staying in the restaurant business.

First Pancetta

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

About two weeks ago, I finally decided to dive in and start on some of the recipes inMichael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book. I chose pancetta as it seemed to be the most straight ahead (read: easy) ones and the fact that my love affair with the peppery Italian bacon goes back to my childhood.

The photo above is the result of just over a week of curing. The pancetta was washed, thoroughly patted dry, peppered, rolled then tied. Since it’s getting warm here in the Bay Area, it’s not real practical to dry this in my usually cool garage, it now resides (hanging, of course) in my refrigerator. Theoretically, I could use it now but since it’s the first one, drying it and letting the flavors concentrate is more important. It is really just a (hopefully) delicious science experiment to pave the way for further curing exploration.

The Piglet

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

A few days after joining the Boccalone Salumi Society, the first “Sacchetto” of tasty salted pork parts was ready for pick up.

“The Piglet” is the membership level that my chef friend anne and I chose (we chose to split figuring that we’d get a taste of Chris Cosentino’s work but not have to worry about consuming two pounds every two weeks…), and judging from the contents of this package and comparing it to the larger one, The Piglet is the way to go if you only want a little fleeting taste to savor.

This week’s package contained a piece of Pancetta, a slice of Paté di Campagna, a package of Easton’s Breakfast Sausage, and a small Soppressata di Calabria.

This pork belly had quite the layer of fat on it (in fact, it’s nearly all fat). It has a nice, subtle taste – think sweet-ish, slightly peppery – and the best use of it is searing the fat to release its richness.

Paté di Campagna:
Pork, pork liver, pork kidney, pork blood. Very earthy with a semi-smooth grind. Given all of the blood-based pork offal in this, one would expect some pretty strong iron tastes. Although it’s there, it’s not overwhelming and it has an interesting creaminess because of it.

Easton’s Breakfast Sausage:
Nice, mild and a hint of orange (juice, zest) but nothing earth-shattering.

Soppressata di Calabria:
A stubby irregular length of nicely chunky soppressata. The spice (heat) on this one is not too heavy and the cross-sectioned-when-sliced fat chunks contrasting with the meat is a sight of beauty. It’s also decently dry which concentrates the flavors.

The next Piglet is due to be picked up in two weeks.