curried pork belly: swined and dined.

humor me for a second here.

imagine, if you will, a pork belly.

now imagine not rubbing it generously with pink curing salt and/or nitrates.  imagine not curing or smoking it.  imagine not using it to make bacon or any bacon-esque food (e.g. pancetta, proscuitto, speck, canadian bacon, etc).

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raging lamb curry: not for the weak of heart (or stomach)

a lot of people like to generalize about japanese cuisine when it comes to heat.  most people assert that “japanese people can’t handle spicy foods,” and for the most part, i would agree with them.  but i am also of the firm opinion that we (those of us who hail from countries like the usa and canada) have a completely different concept of what “spicy” means.

we are friendly neighbors with central and south america, which means that for a lot of americans, our first introduction to spiciness is through foods like pickled jalapenos and hot sauce.  because both contain spicy chili oils, they leave a lasting capsaisin-based burning sensation in your mouth.  japan, on the other hand, regularly consumes foods like wasabi and ginger, which have a very fresh, short-lived, and intense heat akin to horseradish that builds up in the sinuses.  both chilis and wasabi are spicy, just in different ways.  sure, most japanese people would cry if they ate a raw jalapeno, but i think most americans would cry if they took a bite out a wasabi radish, too.  if you ask me, it depends on what you are used to.

still, capsaisin-based spicy foods can be a little hard to find in japan.  most options for true raging heat come from korea, japan’s neighbor across the sea.  gochujang and doubanjiang are great options to kick up the heat a little bit when cooking, and i regularly implement them when making salad dressings.  but because they are imported foods, they can tend to drive up the price of your dish a little more than you want sometimes.

my staple when i comes to spice is good old fashioned piri piri (a.k.a. capsicum frutescens, african bird’s eye peppers).  during the summer months, these little guys can occasionally be found fresh in huge plastic wrapped bouquets for a pittance in most japanese grocery stores.  in the non-summer months, they can also be purchased in small packages pre-dried and just as potent.

and it is these piri piris to which today’s lamb curry owes its rage.  if you have a pace-maker or chronic acid-reflux disease, you may want to navigate away from this page right now.  just reading the recipe could be dangerous to your health. Continue reading

a rouxed awakening: curry week on pmk.

yeah, i’ve been eating like a king.  i’ve made ceviche, prepared boatloads of raw food, made nine sauces from scratch in a single week, and eaten enough smoked meat in a single sitting to kill a lesser man.  i’ve made a three-course dinner and eaten it all by myself more times than i can count.

but that isn’t what pmk is about.  making a huge quantity of food that tastes so rich you can feel yourself getting gout is all well and good, but the point of pmk is to show that the average person can create kingly meals with a normal person’s salary.  i’ve haven’t truly been living like a peasant to the greatest extent possible, and for that, i apologize.

so in an effort to get in touch with my own slogan, i have officially declared this week “curry week.”  cheap, delicious, and almost infinite in its varieties, curry is the perfect dish to showcase what pmk is all about.  can i feed myself this week for less than ¥2000 (about $20) and still make food that would make your average diner jealous?  i don’t know, but i’m going to do everything within my power to make it work.

most of my money saving efforts will be concentrated on roux.  in japan, your average grocery store has so many different varieties of prepackaged roux it would make your head spin.  mild curry roux, spicy curry roux, beef stew roux, cream stew roux, tomato beef stew roux, hayashi rice roux.  you get the idea.

“wait, did he say prepackaged roux?”  yes, i did.  most people in japan use this roux for exactly what it was intended, namely to make a thick and delicious sauce with none of the waiting, ingredients, or know-how normally required.  is the flavor way too salty?  of course.  is it terrible for you to just eat vegetables boiled in a concentrated high sodium sauce?  you bet you butt it is.  so why, as a person who has no problem spending the time and using the know-how required to make a good sauce, would i choose to use a prepackaged roux?

two reasons.  one, they are crazy cheap.  two, they are one of the best thickeners on the market.  a few cubes of roux eliminate the need to reduce or dilute the flavor of your food with flour/corn starch.  think of japanese roux like condensed soup in the usa.  starting to make a little more sense?  great.

now go look into opening a new bank account, because we are about to save some serious money.

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brine the bird: smoked chicken on a sunday

when we sat down and started drinking last sunday morning, we did our best to come up with a variety of things to smoke.  we had two giant slabs of pork belly already cured, so that was an obvious choice.  we went out and we got some salmon, too.  and we bought some eggs.  (before you ask, yes, smoked eggs are a big thing here and they are delicious when done right.)

but i also wanted to give chicken breasts a go.  yeah, they are super cheap and i didn’t want to break the bank.  but more than that i wanted to give myself a challenge.  i wanted to see if there was a way to make a notoriously dry and flavorless piece of bird into a juicy and delicious masterpiece using nothing more than time and a few ingredients i had on hand.

and i succeeded.  when we pulled the chicken out of the smoker, it looked and smelled good.  and when we ate it, it tasted so good we all stood around gawking in disbelief.  it easily qualified among the best chicken i have ever cooked.  while chorusing “dang, that is good” over and over again, we decided to make it a staple when firing up the smoker.

what was the secret?  maybe it was the spice rub.  maybe it was the half a head of garlic used in the recipe.  but if you ask me, we owe it all to the brine.

apple-smoked curry chicken breast

you’ll need:

  • chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
  • apple woodchips
  • half a head of garlic
  • a tall can of malty beer
  • curry powder
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • cinnamon
  • sugar
  • chinese hot pepper
  1. rinse off your chicken breasts and dry them.  set them aside.
  2. add salt to a large mixing bowl.  the goal is to make a brine with a 16:1 ratio of liquid to salt, so feel free to go pretty heavy on it.  the salt in a brine allows the meat to become softer and more absorptive of the flavors present in the smoker.  i also highly advise adding an equal amount of sugar to the brine to even out the intense saltiness and provide color to the meat (espeically the exterior).
  3. peel and mince all of your garlic finely.  add it to the mixing bowl.  finish with a tablespoon or so of curry powder.
  4. pour in your beer and stir.  call me an alcoholic if you like, but i didn’t actually add any water to my brine (which is obviously normally the main ingredient).  normally, a brine which includes ingredients that aren’t water soluable needs to be cooked for a while and then chilled before meat is added.  the carbonation of beer allows the flavors of the garlic and curry powder to combine more easily, and it also really does wonders for the softness of the chicken when working in tandem with the salt.
  5. add the chicken.  you can butterfly each breast if you like, but they retain the moisture better when left whole.  make sure all the breasts are completely submerged.  cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for 60 to 90 minutes.
  6. once finished, drain the brine and rinse the chicken.  don’t worry, it should have soaked up most of the flavors you exposed it to.  most people advise patting the chicken dry so it develops a crust in the smoker, but in this situation i kept it a little bit damp from the rinse so that i could apply a spice rub.  sprinkle each breast with a healthy smattering of cinnamon, black pepper, hot chinese pepper, and a little extra curry powder.  use your fingers to massage the spices into the breast, making sure they stick.  if you are worried about the moisture, you can set the meat on a drying rack in front of a fan for five minutes or so, but you don’t need to.
  7. pop it in the smoker.  i won’t go into the detail of how to go about smoking meat here, but rest assured there are all kinds of great blogs that can help you along the way.  i highly recommend patrons of the pit.

notes:

traditionally, the goal is to get chicken to an internal temperature of around 140ºf.  to do this, it is generally recommended to get the smoker to around 230º.  our smoker, at this moment, doesn’t even get close to that temperature.  so we smoked it at a very low temperature for a very long period of time (not to mention with all the other meats and fishes we decided to smoke that day in the same smoker).  although we were skeptical of how it would turn out, when opened the smoker and took out the chicken, it had a beautiful golden crust and was done almost all the way through.

we sliced the chicken and fried it in a pan with just a little bit of olive oil over medium heat (just to be safe).  and honestly, i think it turned out better than any chicken breasts i have had that were completely cooked straight out of the smoker.  the outside was crisp and slightly chewy (as the smoker tends to do) and the interior was super succulent.

curry, back to back.

i make curry well, which is to say that i don’t give up and just add the normal ingredients.  i pride myself on making curries with unconventional flavor combinations and, more than anything, a little something to mix up the texture.  my two best are by far the sweet and spicy kabocha curry and my savory tomato curry.  in a fit of impatience, i decided to plate them together, side by side, and the result was surprisingly fantastic even after they began to mix.