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Friday, March 31, 2006

My favorite curry noodles

The Khao Soi Gai that I made at the Four Seasons Resort's Cooking School

From my very first bite, I was hooked on Khao Soi. Usually served with chicken ("Gai"), this Northern Thai curry noodle dish, most famously served all over Chiang Mai, has become one of my all-time favorite foods. My wife S and I first tasted it a few years ago, while S was on an assignment in Chiang Mai. She was there to write a story for an American magazine on the best Northern Thai restaurants in the area; I was playing hopalong hubbie, tagging along and happily helping her consume the massive amounts of food she needed to try over a 4 day period. However, as soon as I tried my first Khao Soi Gai, my plans changed. I had a new agenda. I began, much to S's chagrin, a mad quest to find the very best version in the city. Over those 4 days, I must have eaten at least a dozen versions, declaring--at the end of the trip--that the best Khao Soi Gai in Chiang Mai could be found at a quaint, modest, old and very famous restaurant called Huen Phen.

Khao Soi Gai from Samoe Jia

For the uninitiated, Khao Soi is a dish of egg noodles cooked in two different ways--deep fried and boiled--served with curry. The boiled noodles are placed in the bottom of a serving bowl and topped with some sawtooth coriander. Over this is ladled a coconut milk based, yellow curry with tender pieces of chicken. On top of this is placed the crispy, deep-fried noodles. This is then served with a variety of condiments, which you add to your own taste: fish sauce, sugar, chili oil, pickled mustard leaves, diced shallots, and some fresh lime wedges. It's interesting to note that this is the only curry from the Chiang Mai region that uses coconut milk.

S and I are just back from another quick 4 day trip to Chiang Mai. This time, S was there to write a story, for the same magazine, on the coolest design and homeware shops in Chiang Mai. Once again, this chubby, hopalong hubby went with her and not only tasted several versions of Khao Soi, but also learnt how to make it at the stunning Four Seasons Resort's Cooking School. The first one we tasted was at a streetside cafe called Samoe Jai Khao Sawy. Samoe Jia is very well-known for its Khao Soi. And while I have to agree that their Khao Soi is very good, it was a tad too spicy for my taste. I did like, though, that the dish was served with little winglets/drumsticks that were so tender I could literally suck the meat off the bones. Curiously, this version also had amost no coconut milk in it.

The Khao Soi Gai from Samoe Jia has almost no coconut milk

My second Khao Soi was at Modiva, a trendy restaurant off the equally trendy Nimanhaemin Road. The Khao Soi Gai here was good, but not outstanding. The curry was rich, with a good, healthy amount of coconut milk. This version was also served with little chicken drumsticks. My next Khao Soi was at the very new and very exciting D2 hotel. This hotel is the first in a hip new line extension of the Dusit group. The hotel itself was awesome, with modern and whimsical interiors and a very cute orange accent that ran across all of the hotel's branding. Their restaurant, Moxie, had a nice menu of local and international dishes. I ordered a Khao Soi with pork meatballs. It was both excellent and beautifully presented. The curry was mild and flavorful. The pork meatballs made for a nice change from the usual chicken. I really enjoyed this one.

The Khao Soi with pork meatballs from D2 hotel

My last Khao Soi (not counting the one I cooked for myself in the cooking school) was the most unusual, a Khao Soi with Osso Buco. We had this at the gorgeous, classy and very romantic restaurant at the Rachamanka hotel. Of all the Khao Sois we ate, S liked this one the best, both because of the unusual meat choice but also because the noodles used with this version had soaked up the very mild and delicious curry. It was, because the curry was the lightest and most flavorful, and because of the surprising choice of meat, also my favorite.

S hard at work prepping condiments for her Khao Soi Gai

Another Khao Soi that I ate--as mentioned--was one that I learnt to prepare myself. S and I had enrolled in a half day "Best of Thai Curries" course at the Four Seasons Resort's truly stunning cooking school. It was a fun course taught in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. I've included below the recipe that the Four Seasons used to teach us how to make this delicious dish.

Khao Soi Gai

100g chicken pieces
2 small portions egg noodles
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 pieces sawtooth coriander, sliced
1/2 tablespoon spring onion, sliced

3 teaspoons pickled mustard leaves, chopped
1/2 piece lime
1 tablespoon shallots, diced
chili oil

Heat some vegetable oil in a wok. Deep fry 1 portion of the egg noodles. Set this aside.

Blanch/boil the other portion of noodles in boiling water, drain and place in a soup bowl with some of the sawtooth coriander. Heat another wok and when hot, add half of the coconut milk, the red curry paste, the yellow curry powder, and stir until everything is blended together and it starts to boil. Add the rest of the coconut milk, the fish sauce and the sugar. When it starts boiling again, lower the heat and add the chicken and chicken stock. When the chicken is cooked, pour the chicken and the curry sauce/soup over the noodles that are in the soup bowl. Then put the fried noodles on top and garnish with some spring onion.

You can add more fish sauce and sugar to taste. Also, add in some of the mustard leaves and shallots and squeeze some lime juice over the noodles. If you like things hot, you can add some chili oil.

S presents her finished Khao Soi Gai

Monday, March 27, 2006

Perfect pies

Having spent 14 years of my life in New York City, I, like most New Yorkers, consider myself a pizza aficionado. In the mid 1970s, my family lived in the East 70s, in an old apartment building that was fortuitously just a few steps away from what I'm told was one of the very first Original Ray's Pizza parlors in the city. Even now, I can see that corner building, painted the colors of the Italian flag, and smell the amazing aromas of freshly baked pies coming out of the ovens. Those wonderful pies were my first. And since then, I've happily and unhappily eaten my way through hundreds of slices, good and bad, all over the planet. Fortunately, my wife S enjoys pizza as much as I do.

While I was away in Hong Kong, S, her friend Baker L, J and my brother W decided to try their hands at making their own pizzas. Because a friend had reported success using a pizza dough recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, they gave it a go. They also tried a recipe for Napoletana pizza dough from a pretty amazing book, Peter Reinhart's American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. This book, which I've since flipped through, chronicles Mr Reinhart's search across Italy and the United States for the perfect pizza. The first third of the book is pure editorial. The rest of the book contains fantastic recipes culled together by this talented baking instructor and award-winning cookbook author.

With these two pizza bases, a tomato sauce made from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a mushroom medley made from a Chez Panisse recipe, a huge variety of cheeses (taleggio, asiago, parmigiano reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, Danish blue) and toppings, S and her fellow bakers made several pies. The gals, I'm told, enjoyed the pies made with both Reinhart's and Stewart's bases, but for very different reasons. S reports that the Martha Stewart recipe "yielded a reasonably thin crust that was forgivingly resilient, making it the perfect base for pizza-lovers who can't resist overloading their pies. Peter Reinhart's base was ultra-thin, yet just thick enough to deliver a hint of chewiness rather then a pure, crisp snap. The unbaked dough was also light and airy, and a pleasure to work with."

This past weekend, S and I hosted a few friends for dinner. One of them is a passionate young food blogger whose posts we've enjoyed reading this past year and whom we've enjoyed getting to know via email. We were really looking forward to cooking for her. Another of our guests, a really close friend who very sadly will be moving from Singapore to Switzerland later this year, is a fellow pizza lover. Like us, he likes crispy pizzas with a thin crust. Eager to put her newly-acquired Miele baking stone to the test, as a second course of our dinner, S put together a lovely pizza margherita with some piquant Spanish pork sausage that a colleague had generously carried back for me from a recent work trip to Madrid. (S had a little bit of trouble getting the sticky Reinhart base to slide of the peel, but the crust turned out crisp and mouthwateringly browned.) The rest of the dinner was also good. We started the meal with a very retro prawn cocktail. After the pizza we served a deboned milk-fed veal osso buco, made with a recipe from Joyce Goldstein's Italian Slow and Savory, plated over some risotto a la Milanese. For an avant-dessert, we made Michel Richard's egg soufflé, followed by an orange cake with some amazing ice cream flavored from a spice mix amusingly called "abracadabra". I'll write more about both the ice cream and the cake in a future post.

I've decided not to copy the Reinhart pizza dough recipe. While easy to make and using very few ingredients, the recipe itself is lengthy. Because of the number of steps required, it covers almost two and a half pages. I'd also encourage all of you to buy a copy of Reinhart's book for yourself.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hot of the press (release)

In my last post, I mentioned a soon-to-be-opened new restaurant in Singapore called Graze that I'm pretty excited about. For readers eager to know more about it, have I got a treat for you! The PR company that's handling Graze has just sent me its latest press release, reprinted below verbatim for your reading pleasure. You'll note that the phone number is below and from what I've been told, they're already taking reservations. So, why not give them a call and be one of the first in the country to try what has the potential to be the city's new "it" restaurant?

Graze Fact Sheet

The word Graze relates to ‘eating at a leisurely pace in a relaxed surrounding’. The grassy lawns of its 5000 sq. foot gardens and the fresh, airy ambience of the colonial house was also an inspiration for its name. A specialty of the restaurant will be a ‘grazing menu’ designed for those who prefer to eat small portions of a variety of dishes. As its name suggests, Graze offers a venue where people can ‘hang out’ for an extended time, experiencing exceptional cuisine in an exceptionally relaxed environment. Continuing its theme of freshness, greenery and relaxation, the upstairs lounge bar is called Mint, featuring specialty chilled cocktails and cool dj music.

No 4 Rochester Park, Singapore 139215

(65) 6775 9000

Late March, 2006

Opening Hours
Breakfast/Brunch: Saturday and Sunday – 9 am to 4 pm
Lunch: Friday-Sunday - 12 pm to 3 pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Sunday -6pm to Midnight
Bar: Tuesday –Sunday 6 pm to Midnight (later on weekend nights)
Last food orders 11pm- ish

Culinary Team
Head Chef - Matthew Lawdorn

Restaurant Highlights
Located in a pre-war, colonial-style black and white house in Rochester Park, near Holland Village. Graze features:
- a casual, chic downstairs dining room with an adjacent gourmet country style produce store.
- an elegant upstairs bar Mint with a dj booth, cigar area and outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens.
- a 5,000 sq ft garden oasis with 100 year old trees and with three architecturally sleek outdoor pavilions for dining or lounging. There’s a sensational water feature that runs through the space and a large outdoor screen for al fresco movies. The outdoor space is perfect for barbeques, events and other special occasions

The use of blonde woods in the downstairs dining area and a long communal table in the produce store give Graze a minimal contemporary style, while the outdoor private pavilions, a unique water feature and subtle backlighting create a sophisticated chill-out ambience which is equally appealing for lazy afternoons or Singapore’s balmy evenings

Mint is Graze’s upstairs lounge bar, fitted with a purpose built dj booth playing cool music, and adorned with comfortable leather sofas, flo stools and ottomans, and a unique bisazza mosaic bar with a floral motif. A special feature of Mint is the cigar bar with an excellent selection of premium and vintage cigars. A large adjoining terrace with comfortable banquette seating overlooks the garden.

The cuisine includes exceptionally fresh home-made fare, featuring simple, yet creative, tasty dishes. In addition to an a la carte menu with a selection of western and Asian seafood, poultry, pastas, great cheeses, garden-fresh vegetables and salads, Graze also offers a BBQ menu of choice cuts and the freshest seafood, a “Grazing” menu for those who want to share, and at weekends, a healthy and hearty Breakfast/Brunch menu.

Set to become a destination for all-day weekend brunch, treats include Graze’s big breakfast choices - The cast iron pan, for meat lovers or vegetarians, banana pancakes, crab omelette, eggs benedict, healthy options, refreshing brunch cocktails and delights for those with a sweet-tooth.

Graze will also host a gourmet produce store, selling home-made conserves, sausages, herb and spice mixes, imported cheeses, chocolates, infused oils and vinegars, pastas, sun-dried goods, specialty coffee blends and boutique wines and beers, some exclusive to Graze.

Signature Dishes
For Entrées, specialities include: King Prawns 3 ways, tempura, chilled and pan tossed and coconut coriander sorbet (S$ 15.15) and Salt and pepper grilled sea scallop, sliced mango, lime, vanilla syrup and fresh herbs (S$ 13).

Mains with tasty Asian flair include: Soy layered Wagyu Ox cheek, coconut rice and warm salad (S$ 28) as well as Roasted Barramundi, pumpkin and goats cheese ravioli, chili plum salsa and chive oil (S$ 28)and Wrapped roasted chicken with a warm salad of potato, garlic, fried shallot, lemongrass and cucumber nam jim dressing, coriander and thai basil (S$ 26).

Delicious desserts include: Lava Cake- soft-centred hot chocolate pudding with white chocolate ice cream (S$ 10)

Wine List
Both boutique wines and a selection of acclaimed wines, with several available by the glass ranging from S$12 to S$30. There is also a selection of wines by half bottles. Graze’s dining experience also includes the option of recommended wines matched by the glass for items on its a la carte menu.

Signature Cocktails
Berry Blast Mocktail
MINT Cocktail
Graze Cocktail

50 diners - level one “Graze”
60 people - dining or simply ‘grazing ‘and drinking outside
80 people - “grazing” upstairs on level 2 “Mint” Bar
A private dining room seating up to 12 people

Restaurant: Ground Floor – 755 sq. foot
Lounge Bar: Upper Floor – 755 sq. foot
Outdoor Terrace – 350 sq. foot
Gardens: 5000 sq. foot

Average bill per guest
Lunch : S$ 45 (2 courses with glass of wine)
Dinner: S$ 80 (3 courses with 2 glasses of wine)
Brunch: S$ 30 (with a beverage or breakfast cocktail)

Private Events
Cocktail for up to 300. Private dining : 60 people

Dress Code
Relaxed, casual chic.

Credit Cards
All major credit cards accepted.

Street or valet parking available

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hat trick

I'm back in Singapore for 24 hours. This morning, S and I jet off to a fabulous resort in Krabi, Thailand, to attend the wedding of two good friends.

During my last day and a half in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of enjoying 3 excellent meals. The first meal was at a new restaurant on Elgin Street called Tribute. The second was at Hutong, the super-sexy Northern Chinese sister of (my favorite Hong Kong restaurant) Shui Hu Ju, in Kowloon. The third meal was a real treat. The chef at the amazingly popular Opia in the JIA hotel had called me a few days earlier and had invited me to drop by for a tasting. More specifically, he wanted me to taste some dishes that would be on the menu at Graze, a new sister restaurant in Singapore opening next month.

I had wanted to try Tribute ever since the owner of the JIA hotel had mentioned it over dinner a couple of weeks ago. A few days later I read a review of it in the Hong Kong Standard and promised myself that when I was in town, I'd definitely drop in. Tribute is a small, narrow restaurant in Hong Kong's trendy SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) area. It's owned by an architect whose aunt was a famous exponent of Chinese food in California. The food is a subtle marriage of local ingredients and New American cuisine. I had lunch with a friend, a journalist and book editor. At lunch, there is only one menu available. Priced at HK$128, you get a choice of starter, main and dessert. The day I dined, there were two starters to choose from, a pear & watercress salad (frisee, roasted walnuts, goat cheese in a walnut vinaigrette) or a cauliflower & fennel soup (with grilled prawn, burnt butter and grilled bread). I had the soup, which sadly was disappointing. Firstly, it was served hot; I'm a firm believer that cauliflower soup should always be served cold in order for the flavors to really come through properly. Secondly, it was too thick, more akin to the texture of porridge than soup. Thirdly, the soup was simply too bland. For mains, we had many choices: the Tribute gumbo, Portuguese pork & clams, oven grilled frittata, linguine with tomato sauce, fish of the day, the Tribute hamburger, or the New Tribute Hamburger. I had the fish of the day, which was a roasted sea bass stuffed with apple and fennel and served with roasted vegetables (pictured at the top). It was wonderful. The fish was cooked perfectly, i.e. nice and tender and not one bit overcooked. The flavors were fantastic. This dish more than made up for the lackluster soup. For dessert, we had a choice of chocolate brownie or banana cake. Our waiter recommended the banana cake and I'm very glad I listened to him. It was delicious--moist and packed with taste. Friends tell me that the dinner menu at Tribute is excellent, with a much wider range of choices than offered at lunch. I'll definitely check it out again on my next trip, and this time in the evening.
Tribute, G/F, 13 Elgin Street, Central. Tel: 2135 6645

Located on the 28th floor of One Peking, an incredibly tall office building in Kowloon, Hutong offers diners a super sexy and panaromic view of Hong Kong island. The restaurant's interiors are equally chic. In fact, the combination of the view and the design might make this one of Hong Kong's sexiest restaurants (rivalled only by upstairs sister restaurant Aqua). And, of course, the food is simply sensational. This is Northern Chinese food at its best. My two friends and I had a veritable feast. We started the meal with baby geoduck served over a bed of mung bean tagliatelle. This was followed by baby yabbies fried with chili and garlic. Then we had a lovely fried fish in black bean sauce and my personal favorite, crispy mutton served with a light but spicy dipping sauce. We ended the meal with some string beans fried with minced pork and chili and a bowl of prawn paste and chicken fried rice. It goes without saying that everything was perfect.
Hutong, 28/F, One Peking Road, Tel: 3428 8342

Graze / Opia
Just a few hours before I flew off, I was lucky enough to get a sample of some dishes that will be on the menu of Graze, opening here in Singapore, in Rochester Park, in April. Chef Dane Clouston let me taste (and actually asked for my feedback on) 4 new dishes. The first was a trio of prawns served with coconut ice cream. One prawn is battered and fried (tempura style), another has been marinated in olive oil and several herbs and sauteed, and the third is poached. As a hot and cold combination, the dish worked surprisingly well. All the prawns were delicious and the ice cream was sinfully good. Especially nice was the contrast of hot and cold, soft and crispy, and sweet and savory when eating the tempura prawn and the ice cream together. This is a really nice starter, especially in our tropical climate. The second dish was also a hot and cold combination, marinated beef served with a spicy cucumber sorbet and onion rings. The marinade tastes somewhat Thai but is neither too sour, spicy or overpowering. The thin slices of beef paired with the slightly fiery sorbet and the very crispy onion rings worked in the mouth much better than I had originally thought they would. This is a nice refreshing dish and a great alternative to a more traditional Thai beef salad. The next dish was a chicken leg, stuffed with breast meat, that has been roasted and then coated with a thin caramel glaze, served over a crisp of chicken skin (yum!) and a salad of peanuts, vegetables, salmon skin, prawns, and a number of other yummy things. The sauce is also very Thai (something I realized the chef is quite keen on). Slightly tangy and spicy, it was good but for my tastes could have been a tad sweeter. The last dish was a real winner and unfortunately, I was too stuffed to eat all of it. It was a wagyu ox cheek served over a som tum salad and coconut rice. The ox cheek was braised until soft and then coated with ground roasted rice and then fried quickly until crispy on the outside. This was a glorious dish. I loved the contrast of crispy and soft and the flavors of the ox cheek married with the very Thai salad and the sweet, rich coconut rice were divine. I can't wait for this to be on the menu at Graze. I can see myself ordering it over and over again. In fact, I can't wait for Graze to open. Chef Dane tells me it will soft-open soon with an official launch in mid-to-end April. You can bet I'll be there as soon as it opens its doors.

Monday, March 13, 2006

White rubber wellies and squid ink pasta

One of the great things about having lifestyle journalists as friends is that they're always sussing out new or cool places to check out. This includes a variety of things, like spas, boutiques, hotels, and of course restaurants and cafes. This past evening, I had the pleasure of tagging along with one such arbiter of taste and style. SS has been one of the more well-known and respected lifestyle writers here in Hong Kong for years. Tonight, she brought me, her brother and sister-in-law and a visiting photographer to a rather cool, obviously popular and decidedly local dai pai dong located in the North Point Market in Hong Kong. One of the reasons SS chose to bring us here was because of an assignment; she needed to interview the dai pai dong’s owner for a magazine she’s putting together for a client. The other reason was because she knew that all of us would appreciate this humble but very happening eatery.

Tung Po Sea Food Restaurant is run by the enthusiastic and ridiculously friendly Mr. Robby Cheung (pictured above). Robby took over this café from his father some 13 years ago. He told us that back then, the place was miserable and he needed to put everything he had into turning the business around. That meant both the experience of having worked in the hotel industry most of his life but also as much capital as he could raise—which at the time meant selling his apartment. Fortunately, today, Tung Po Sea Food Restaurant is packed every night and from what we could see, Robby is both a successful and happy man.

The food at Tung Po Sea Food is pretty interesting. Despite looking like your typical Hong Kong food stall, it’s not quite Cantonese. Robby has taken dishes and flavors from foods he enjoys from across China and all over the world and has adapted them, adjusting them to his own tastes. For examples, one of his more popular dishes is cuttlefish cooked in squid ink with noodles—obviously a riff on the famous Venetian pasta dish. He also serves up deep fried pig trotters, something you’d easily find on menus in Germany. These trotters, though, have been braised prior to being fried and are served with a lovely soy sauce-based dressing on the side. In addition to the very delicious squid ink pasta and trotters, we had some more traditional Chinese dishes. We had prawns fried in salted duck egg yolk, sea mantis served in a style similar to Teochew cold crab, bean curd skin sautéed with fresh broccoli, fish fried with black pepper and mountains of garlic, noodles fried with soy sauce and served with homemade XO sauce, and an old cucumber soup. Overall, the food was good. Some dishes like the trotters, surprisingly the squid ink pasta and the soup were excellent. Others were good but not great. The fish was slightly over fried, but the flavor of the garlic and pepper was wonderful. The noodles were nice but the XO sauce, while good, certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted. The sea mantis was a little odd. Teochew cold crab is served with a slightly sweet and sour dipping sauce. Robby didn’t serve his mantis with anything, which in my opinion was a mistake. It would have benefited enormously from an additional flavor or two. The bean curd dish was okay and the prawns were a little bland but very well fried.

The overall experience, though, was great fun. The restaurant is situated on the 2nd floor of a neighborhood market. It’s noisy, bright, and crowded. Beer is poured in bowls and customers sit on uncomfortable plastic stools around collapsible round tables. Robby, charming fellow that he is, is fabulously shod with customized white rubber boots, a dress shirt, a fleece vest, rolled up jeans and an apron.

If you're looking for an edible slice of the real Hong Kong, with its ability to assimilate all kinds of tastes and cultures, in all its brash boyishness and loud frivolity, this is it.

Tung Po Sea Food Restaurant
2nd Floor, Cooked Food Centre
99, Java Road, North Point
Tel: 2880 9339
open 530pm-1230am

Happy Birthday to me

Regular readers will have to forgive me. I've been in Hong Kong the past few days, running around from event to event and meeting to meeting, and simply haven't had time to post anything new. In fact, I was too busy to even remember that my blog turned one this past weekend (11 March). It's hard to imagine that it's already been a year. It's also mind-boggling to think back on how many new people I've gotten to know because of this website. It's been an amazing 12 months and I'm so very happy that so many people have visited and have enjoyed reading about my greedy and gustatory adventures. Thank you all.

As mentioned, I've been in Hong Kong since Friday. Busy busy busy. And unfortunately, because I'm on a work trip, I haven't really had the time to suss out new or fantastically exciting places to eat. My best two meals so far have been a super-quick bite at Mak's Noodles--a well known wonton noodle cafe with branches on both Wellington Street in Central and Jardine's Bazaar in Causeway Bay--and dinner with some friends at my favorite Hong Kong restaurant, Shui Hu Ju--a small but fabulous Northern Chinese restaurant whose "Crispy Mutton in Peking Style" I am addicted to.

I'm off tonight to meet a journalist friend who is taking me to eat in the North Point Market, where she says an ex-hotel chef has set up a wonderfully modest little stall. But the meals I'm really looking forward to--and I promise to post about both of them--are lunch tomorrow at Tribute, a Californian-Asian restaurant in SoHo, and dinner, also tomorrow, at Hutong, the much, much sexier and more sophisticated sister of Shui Hu Ju in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Food for kids and adults

I'm a big believer that food should be fun, for adults as well as for kids. Which is why, when I saw the recipe for the delightful dessert pictured above in a new cookbook my darling wife S had just purchased, I knew I had to make it. The book, which I urge all of you to buy (for two reasons), is called Off Duty, the world's greatest chefs cook at home. Not only is this book filled with great profiles of and recipes by 48 terrific cooks like Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Raymond Blanc, Nobu Matsuhisa, and several generations of the Roux family, proceeds from this book go to The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation was started by chef David Nicholls after his son was left paralyzed following a swimming accident. It's mission is to fund research to cure spinal injury.

One of the chefs featured in Off Duty is Michel Richard, considered a pioneer in Franco-Californian cooking. I've owned Richard's book Home Cooking with a French Accent for years and have always treasured it. Understandably, I was excited to discover some new recipes by this talented chef. The first two recipes in his section are Salmon Rillettes and Aubergine with Scallops and Goat's Cheese. But it was his third recipe, for Egg Soufflé, that had me jumping up and down like Cruise on Oprah.

This is a great dessert. Looking at it puts a smile on my face. It's fun, delicious and easy to make. It's so very surprisingly easy to make. Which was one of the reasons why I was so taken with it and so astounded that it worked as well as it did. You see, the only cooking that is required is done in the microwave... yup, you read correctly, the microwave. Essentially, the dessert, served in an egg shell, is two layers of meringue with a surprise "yolk" filling made of lemon curd. The top of the soufflé is blowtorched briefly, giving it a lovely browned color while also puffing up the meringue.

S and I hosted some friends for dinner last Saturday. We served these gorgeous and humorous little soufflés, accompanied with a scoop of homemade Almond Roca ice cream, for dessert.

Egg Soufflé
Makes 8 portions

8 eggs
Juice of 3 lemons
325g sugar
40g unsalted butter

Using an egg cutter, cut the tops off the eggs. Discard the tops and separate the yolks and whites of 4 eggs. Reserve the remaining 4 eggs. Make the lemon curd by placing the 4 egg yolks, lemon juice, butter and 100g of sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the mixture for 5 minutes, pulling the bowl out to whisk every minute. Cover with cling film and leave to cool. The curd will thicken as it cools. Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours. This can be made a day in advance.

To prepare, whisk the egg whites, adding half the remaining sugar little by little, until they form soft peaks. Fold in the remaining sugar with a spatula. Place the eggshells in egg cups. Put the meringue in a piping bag and fill half of each shell with meringue. Put the lemon curd in another bag and pipe a teaspoonful into each shell. Then add more meringue on top to make it look like a soufflé. Place the eggs in the microwave for 5 seconds right before serving. If you own a blowtorch, quickly brown the tops of the soufflés; if not, use a hot broiler and broil the soufflés for a few seconds.

Note: you can actually replace the lemon curd with other ingredients. I've made these with chocolate and they're equally delicious.

In addition to the egg soufflés and ice cream, we prepared 3 savory courses. For a first course, I made some crispy sweetbreads with curry sauce, plated over some risotto à la Milanese. For a second course, S made a lovely steamed ocean threadfin with ginger and spring onions. She got the recipe from a book she's just helped finish editing. The book is being produced by uber-kitchen manufacturer Miele and is a compendium of steamed food recipes, as contributed by 8 big-name Asia regional chefs. This threadfin recipe was created by Justin Quek, chef-owner of La Petite Cuisine in Taipei.

Our last main course combined two of my favorite foods, braised pork belly and macaroni and cheese. S made the pork following a recipe from Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef. I made the mac & cheese. The pasta was cooked in a simmering combination of milk and water that had been flavored with a bay leaf and some salt. It was then tossed in a sauce made from reduced chicken stock, a little of the milk poaching liquid, some reblochon, parmesan, and a generous portion of Tetsuya's truffle salsa. Each portion of the pasta was placed in a ramekin, topped with more parmesan and then grilled under a hot broiler for a few seconds. Not exactly the mac & cheese of childhood memories, but it's something that I think references our youth well while appeasing our more adult tastebuds.

Monday, March 06, 2006

IFFA Homemade Soy Sauce

2nd Annual Independent Food Festival Awards:
Best Hand Crafted Virgin Soy Sauce in Southeast Asia

Many thanks to Hillel from Taste Everything for once again organizing the Annual Independent Food Festival Awards. This unique web-based Festival asks participating bloggers to come up with an award to present to a person or organization creating exceptional food. My award is for a soy sauce manufacturer that produces the best-tasting soy sauce I've ever tried. More importantly, they make it by hand.

I never knew that soy sauce could be special until I visited Penang in 2001. My wife S and I spent a few days there while working on a book we were putting together on Malaysian and Singaporean food. While there, we were lucky enough to be taken around by two charming women, cousins and local food experts. We followed them around the island as they took us to cafés, restaurants, hawker stalls, a durian plantation, and several markets.

At the edges of one of these markets, we came across a curious sight. Dozens of large vats, filled to the brim with a dark liquid and what looked like crushed beans, covered a large vacant lot. As we got closer, the smell was overpowering. The air smelled toasty, salty and slightly yeasty. Opposite the lot was a small one room, open-air store. It was manned by an old man and his wife. Our feisty and energetic tour guides were regular patrons and quickly introduced the couple to us.

The couple, they explained, were part of a dying tradition, that of making soy sauce by hand, with no extra ingredients, unwanted additives or preservatives. They make their sauce the same way that it had been made for generations before them but which, sadly, is becoming more and more rare today.

This traditional method for making Chinese soy sauce uses cooked soybeans, wheat flour and sometimes a powdered starter from a wheat-flour based mold block. This is mixed with salt water and left to sit in large earthenware pots or vats. The vats are then left outdoors, open during the day (positioned under the sun) and covered at night. This is stirred once or twice a day. The warmth from sunning accelerates the fermentation and enhances the sauce's color and aroma. After about 3-6 months, a slender strainer or sieve made of woven bamboo (sometimes wrapped with a course cloth) is pushed down into the surface of the fermented mash; the liquid soy sauce that is collected in it is ladled or siphoned off into smaller earthen jars, covered with cloth and bamboo leaves, placed in the sun for about 2 more weeks. This resulting sauce, bottled without being heated or pasteurized, is considered the very best soy sauce, i.e. "first grade". European food fans can consider this the equivalent of extra virgin olive oil.

Meanwhile, more salt water is added to the original vats and fermented for another 1-2 months before a second drawing. This method of drawing might be repeated a total of 3-4 times, with each drawing representing a lower grade of soy sauce. All of these soy sauces, I should point out, are what people are speaking of when they refer to "light soy sauce". Dark soy sauce, which is both darker and thicker, is essentially light soy sauce mixed with caramel.

Our new friends and guides convinced us to buy several bottles of both light and dark soy sauce from Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong. They especially recommended buying the first grade soy sauce, or "virgin soy sauce" as S and I have taken to calling it. Because we were rushing around all day, we didn't have the time to taste the sauces when we bought them.

When we eventually did, we were astounded. The virgin soy sauce, especially, was really special. It was also nothing like all the factory-made commercial stuff that we'd been buying and using for most of our life. Where most supermarket soy sauces are simply salty, this hand-crafted sauce had depth. It also had a distinct and delicious flavor. The level of salt was strong, but not overpoweringly so. More importantly, we could taste the flavor of the soy beans, something that I had never gotten from factory-made sauces.

Since having discovered Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong, we've become hooked. We now make any friend who visits Penang pick us up a few bottles, always encouraging them to buy a few for themselves of course. Right now, however, we're down to our very last bottle--and it's a bottle of dark soy sauce as well. Which means that unless someone we know is heading to Georgetown, I might have to make a special trip to Penang really soon. Not that I'd mind; Penang, as many know, has some of the very best hawker food in both Malaysia and Singapore.

Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong
No 7A, Jalan Pasar
Pulau Tikus, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 04-2265452