Chinese Braised Pork (“Red Cooked”) with Tofu  (Chinese from Southeast Asia)

“Red Cooking” is an old Chinese braising method for meat and poultry, practiced more at home than in restaurants. The “red” refers to the soy sauce in the broth with flavoring vegetables before adding the meat.

This recipe is based on the original method that I learned for braising chicken in Malaysia. The recipe serves six to eight, accompanied by white, unsalted rice.

2 1/2 pounds (before trimming) pork shoulder
1 tablespoon oil
1 large clove garlic or 2 medium cloves
3 medium shallots or 3 green onions
4 slices (1/8-inch) ginger, unpeeled
2 segments star anise
2-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon black soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (1-pound) block firm-style tofu
Several sprigs of cilantro or thinly sliced green onion for garnish

Trim off excess fat from pork. Remove, but save, any bone, and cut meat into 1-inch pieces. Bruise garlic and shallots or green onions. Slice ginger.
Red cooked pork and tofu served in antique Chinese bowl

Heat oil in heavy pot. Briefly fry (15 seconds) bone, garlic, shallots or green onions, ginger and star anise. As soon as fragrant, add water and soy sauces, wine and oyster sauce. Bring back to boil.

Add pork pieces a few at a time, the tougher parts first, so as to keep the mixture boiling. Stir, cover and reduce heat. Stew until pork is tender, 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar and salt toward the end of cooking. Liquid should be reduced somewhat but not thick. Add a little water if necessary. When meat is cooked, remove ginger, bone, and star anise pieces.

Cut drained tofu into 1/2-inch chunks. Drop these, part at a time into the simmering liquid. Gently shake and swirl pot to mix. After a minute or two, stir very carefully so as not to break tofu pieces. Simmer a total of about 4 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Serve with rice. Accompany with a simple stir-fried green vegetable.


Easy: Lemon-Dill Roasted Salmon

Here is the main course I prepared for family this Christmas. Salmon, at least smoked salmon, is a traditional Christmas dish in the British Isles, Scandinavia and north-central Europe. Roasted salmon also appears, especially in Scandinavia as part of the main course at Christmas dinner. I fix salmon because I like it and, more important, because my family likes it.

A double recipe, served for our family Christmas, 2018
I learned this way of roasting salmon from a Greek Cypriot friend whose mother prepared her fish (though not salmon in those days) this way. Pani, as he was called, was one of the founders of Decatur’s Café Istanbul, along with another friend of mine, a Turkish guy named Kazim. They were at the time both married to women I worked with. The idea of a Greek and a Turk starting a joint venture seemed, well, unlikely. They did part company after a while, but it was over very different views on how to run a restaurant rather than politics or religion. But the establishment they founded has gone on to considerable popularity, though under subsequent – and primarily Turkish – ownership.  

Salmon is not traditional in the Mediterranean, but has become popular now even there as local fish has become more expensive and difficult to find. Lemon and dill are both used extensively in the Eastern Mediterranean, including with fish as a natural partner. But lemon and dill are also used with fish in Scandinavia, where salmon is common.

A crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a not-too-heavy Chardonnay go well with this. Viognier is a wine grape I’m more recently familiar with and love with salmon as well as roasted turkey or pork. Oh yes, and a lemon rice pilaf will be in the spirit of the eastern Mediterranean. (See my pilaf recipe in the 8/24/2019 blog posting, and eliminate the peppers, onions, and fruits, and simply add to the rice-cooking water 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, and a bay leaf, broken in half.) 

The salmon recipe serves six generously.

2 pounds salmon filet in one piece, as fresh as possible, and preferably without skin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper,
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill (a weak substitute is 1-1/2 tablespoons dry dill weed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lemons
Extra lemon and sprigs of dill for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (very hot), and temporarily turn off the smoke alarm! 

Rinse the salmon and dry it with a paper towel. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides and dust both sides with dill. Cut the lemons in half crosswise. Slice a very thin slice off each of the halves and reserve them.

On a large shallow-edged glass or metal pan, such as a cookie sheet with sides, spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over an area of the size of the fish, then squeeze two of the lemon halves over this area. Place the seasoned fish on the prepared pan. Drench the surface of the fish with the juice squeezed from the remaining lemon halves. Lay the slices of lemon up the middle of the fish, placed so that when the fish is cut into six pieces, each will have a lemon slice. Drizzle the whole surface with the remaining olive oil and lightly dust a few bits of dill on top of the lemon slices. Let the fish season for 10 to 20 minutes.

When oven is very hot, place the pan on the shelf highest in the oven. Roast the salmon for 11-12 minutes or just until the surface and edges of the fish are beginning to turn crispy and when a knife inserted into the thickest part of the fish and twisted slightly shows a pale opaque pink color. Do not overcook.

Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges and sprigs of dill. Alternately, this dish can be cooked ahead and served cold as a buffet dish.

The fish can be cut into six serving-sized pieces before seasoning and roasting rather than treated as an entire piece.


Minted Cream Sauce for Salmon or Lamb

This easy sauce, based on Irish cooking, is a delightful accompaniment to a roast of salmon or lamb or grilled lamb meatballs. I served it with our roasted salmon (blog post of 12/28/2019) for Christmas dinner for family this year.

The recipe makes enough for eight to ten people

1 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
1/2 cup mint leaves pulled off the stems, lightly packed
A few tops of sprigs of mint for garnish

In small mixing bowl, stir lemon juice into the cream, until it thickens well. If more lemon juice is needed, add it a little at a time until cream is thick. Stir in the salt.

Mince mint finely with a chef’s knife on a cutting board. Stir it into the thickened cream. Taste and add a little salt or more mint, to taste.

Serve in a small, decorative bowl. Place one or more small mint sprigs on top of sauce for garnish.


Another Easy Dip: Creamy Black Bean Dip for a Party

Here’s a different black bean dip, combined with a tomato salsa for color and contrast, which I prepared for my contribution to a Christmas Eve buffet at my daughter Lisa’s home. (The previous dip, without the tomato salsa, is in the blog posting of 9/23/19.)

Makes sufficient for a crowd as an appetizer, accompanied by tortilla chips.

2 (14-ounce) can black beans, well drained
1 large green onion, green and white part, coarsely cut
12 sprigs cilantro, leaves plus part of the stems
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 large pinch cayenne pepper or a few squirts of hot sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup homemade or commercial tomato salsa, 1/2 cup for dip 1/2 cup for topping

Drain beans well.  Place beans, green onion, cilantro, seasonings, sour cream and 1/2 cup of the tomato salsa in a food processor and puree, scraping down the sides of the container several times with a spatula. Taste, and add salt and/or cayenne or hot sauce if needed, to taste.

Transfer bean dip to a serving bowl. Spoon the remaining tomato salsa into spots on top of the bean mixture. Drag a table knife through the salsa to partially distribute the red color across the top of the bean mixture.

Dip up with tortilla chips.


Northern Thai Honey-Spiced Chicken and Dipping Sauce: for Rose

My granddaughter, Christina Rose (“Rose”), visited Thailand with most of the family several years ago. In Chiang Mai, in the north where we have relatives, she had honey-barbecued chicken that she declared was her favorite dish of the trip. I sought out recipes to reproduce this variety of barbecue, but none were to be had. For many years we have made the more typical Thai barbecued chicken, Gai Yang, but that’s from the northeast, and originated with the Isaan – or Lao – ethnic group rather than Northern Thai people.

Plate: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Based on what descriptions I could get from those who also tasted Rose’s favorite chicken, I sketched out a method and a dipping sauce to go with it. While I can’t vouch for my dish’s authenticity, it tastes Thai and “pretty damn good,” as we say in the restaurant kitchen. More important, it pleased Rose. I’ve made it for family gatherings and even included it on the menu of our restaurant’s Tapas evening when the theme was Thai, where it was well received.

Chicken thigh, boneless and skinless, is a lot easier to work with than a whole chicken skinned and disjointed. I think is the best way to make and grill this, and I developed the recipe for that form of chicken. The meat needs to marinate for at least a few hours before grilling, and even better is overnight marinating.

Steamed sticky rice goes with the chicken (as it would with the usual Gai Yang), but conventional white, unsalted rice, Thai jasmine rice in particular, is fine also. Offer lettuce and fresh herbs to wrap the chicken pieces in, and accompany with a dipping sauce (see recipe below).

Here’s a recipe for fixing three pounds of chicken. This is a crowd or entertainment dish, after all, not particularly something to make just for a couple.

The chicken:
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thigh, tough parts removed and part (not all) of fat trimmed off 

Puree thoroughly in food processor:
1 small garlic clove
2 lemon grass stalks, using the lower 6 inches, thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, stem parts only (use leaves in sauce and other dishes)
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Transfer to a bowl and add:
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1 teaspoon cornstarch
6 double lime leaves, well bruised to release flavors
4 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

Marinate chicken at least a few hours, or ideally overnight, in zip-lock plastic bag, turning and squeezing the bag occasionally to season evenly.

Grill chicken (discard marinade) over charcoal or gas grill or under broiler, turning frequently, until thoroughly done. Cut into 1/2-inch strips with the grain. Accompany with rice, lettuce leaves and cilantro (plus optional mint) sprigs to roll the chicken pieces in, and small bowls of dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce for Northern Thai grilled chicken:

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
Salt to taste, start with 1/4 teaspoon
Chili-garlic sauce, or hot pepper sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1 bruised clove garlic

Mix all ingredients well together to dissolve. Taste for salt and hotness and adjust to taste. Let sit for 20 minutes or more. Remove garlic before serving.


Wasabi-Miso Crusted Chicken with Chili-Garlic Aioli

A few years ago I cooked with a student friend, Clint, who at the time carried the diagnosis of Coeliac disease (totally gluten intolerant) and had to be very careful with his eating. Both of us enjoyed cooking, and we started a food blog on international dishes that by nature did not contain gluten (dishes that traditionally were free of wheat, barley or rye) rather than substituting gluten-free ingredients into normally gluten-containing dishes. One of our creations was this Japanese-influenced wasabi-miso grilled chicken. It was to be served with rice.

But we never published it. After posting half a dozen recipes, we suddenly lost interest and purpose in our blog. Clint discovered that the clinical diagnosis he had carried for seven or eight years, including all through college, wasn’t correct. He was totally fine with wheat (pizza, pasta, bread, cakes and pies, soy sauce, hoisin sauce) as well as barley – notably beer!

Here’s a tweaked version of our working recipe that never made it into print. It serves four to six when accompanied by a rice or noodle dish.

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breast
3 tablespoons non-wheat-containing miso
2 teaspoons non-wheat-containing wasabi paste
1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 green onion, thinly sliced for garnish

Trim off tough, or fatty parts from chicken.  Cut meat into 1/2 inch thick medallions. 

Mix well with remaining ingredients.  Spread chicken pieces out on large baking sheet. Roast on top shelf of pre-heated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Flip pieces with metal spatula.  Roast for 4-6 additional minutes, or until lightly golden. 

Serve on a generous streak of chili-garlic aioli (see below) and garnish with thinly sliced green onion.

Chili-Garlic Aioli

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chili-garlic or Siracha sauce
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Combine ingredients.

Apricot or Nectarine Chutney

Dried fruit is easily made into chutneys, which can be served as a condiment to a meat dish or meat sandwich. Even more usefully, especially around the holidays, top a log of goat cheese, Brie, or even a Mexican-style cheese like Queso Fresco or Cotija, for an easy appetizer for a buffet or party. Chutneys are best made ahead and stored refrigerated in order for the flavors to develop.

The recipe serves six to eight as a condiment.
1 cup dried apricots or nectarines (packed) or a combination, chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated (or 1 tablespoon candied/crystalized ginger, minced)
1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
1/4 cup wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
A generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
A generous pinch of cayenne

Place all ingredients in an enamel or stainless steel pan. Stir and heat, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. If the mixture is too dry (it should be moist) add a little water as needed.

Taste, to check tenderness of the fruit and the seasonings. Add a little salt, sugar, and/or vinegar to reach the desired taste.
Store in covered jar in refrigerator, ideally at least overnight up to several days before serving.

This chutney compliments a variety of cheeses on the buffet or appetizer table, accompanied by low-salt crackers, like “water crackers,” or sliced baguette.


Spiced Applesauce for Potato Pancakes or to accompany Roasted Pork

This sauce serves as a condiment, particularly for potato pancakes, or Hanukkah latkes. A variation on the applesauce theme is to add chopped dried cranberries. I taught the cranberry version to accompany Latkes in a recent cooking class on holiday foods, that featured Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year dishes.

The recipe makes sufficient condiment for a group of diners.
3 large (1-1/2 to 2 pounds) Fuji or Gala apples
2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Peel and quarter apples. Cut out cores. Slice apple quarters crosswise 1/2-inch thick. If using dry cranberries, chop them finely on a board with a chef’s knife.

In stainless steel or enamel pot, combine apples, cranberries if used, butter or olive oil, water, lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer, covered, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Uncover pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally until apples are very tender and liquid is reduced. If mixture becomes dry, add a small amount of water.

When apples are very tender, remove from heat. Break apples up with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Taste and add a little sugar or salt, if desired.

Serve warm or at room temperature in a bowl, to accompany potato pancakes or roasted pork.

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