Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Meat Primer Volume 2: Pork Ribs

Ribs are one of my favorite pieces of meat to cook. They're the ultimate finger food, make for great stews and curries, and are easily accessible in any local grocery mart. They're an incredibly delicious cut of meat and extremely affordable to buy.

The only problem is that they're quite hard to cook properly if you don't have the right technique. So in this volume of The Meat Primer, we're going to talk about pork ribs. In specific, we're going to talk about how to make the perfect slab of pork spare ribs or baby back ribs.

Before we start cooking ribs, we need to take a look at why cooking ribs are so difficult. The rib cage of all animals serves to protect its inner organs and to facilitate respiration. By expanding and contracting, a rib cage acts as a vacuum for its lungs. This continuous process attributes greatly to why the meat in between ribs is so tough and stringy.

Ribs are laced with an abundance of connective tissue. But wait! I'm talking about the same type of connective tissue that melts and becomes gelatin! This should automatically fire off alarms that ribs are the perfect candidate for braising. In Asian cultures, braised spare ribs are plentiful in many dishes, such as curry. If you've been having trouble cooking ribs in the past, this may be exactly why they are not fork tender. Ribs need time. Low and slow heat with many hours of roasting and braising is definitely the go-to method for cooking ribs.

Lastly, the underside of ribs all have a thick, leathery membrane that will not dissolve no matter how long you cook it. This membrane is called silver skin. Feel free to eat it, but most recipes will call for the removal of the silver skin. To do this, insert the back end of a spoon in between the rib meat and silver skin. Slowly pry away the skin, and remove any pieces remaining.

Cooking Methods
Since we have already established the fact that ribs need time to break down and become fork tender, let's talk about the more intricate methods of cooking ribs. For example, if we must braise ribs, how do such dishes as barbeque smoked spare ribs or baby back ribs exist? It's generally a crime to boil ribs in water and then stick them back into the oven or smoker (it removes all the flavor from the meat)! To do so, we're going to introduce a method called the Texas Crutch.

First, let's establish our goals when roasting ribs. We aim to:
-Achieve tender "fall apart" perfection
-Achieve the Maillard Reaction
-Use proper seasoning in forms of rub or sauce

We can reach all of these goals in one simple process. The Texas Crutch is a barbeque smoking technique developed to bring tough cuts of meat up to ideal temperature without exposing the meat to too much heat and smoke. It was developed using cutting edge technology and done by wrapping the meat up in parchment paper or foil with a small amount of liquid after the first 2-3 hours of smoking. The meat will continue to cook for another 1-2 hours, before finishing up on a high heat grill.

Finishing ribs on high heat will add a seared crust to finish, as well as caramelize any sauces added (usually multiple layers of sauce). By searing the meat at the end, we are performing a reverse-sear method to induce the Maillard Reaction.

Wait a second...isn't that...braising...?

The Texas Crutch is exactly that. It is a simplified and reduced method of braising. But don't ever say that to a BBQ Pit Master. There's at least some technique involved!

There are many variations of how to use the Texas Crutch in cooking ribs, but it needs to be used at one time or another. Each variations will depend on what tools you have available and if you're willing to go the extra mile in cooking delicious and succulent ribs.

Variations Of The Texas Crutch
To make a slab of ribs in your home, all you need is an oven. But of course, we can do better than that can't we? Here are two examples for pork baby back ribs.

With only a oven:
-Wrap slab of ribs with foil as if it were a boat
-Add 1/2 cup of water or broth into the wrapped package
-Seal and roast for 1 hour 30 minutes at 350 °F
-Remove from foil and finish ribs off by using a broiler.

With an oven and a grill:
-Wrap slab of ribs with foil as if it were a boat
-Add 1/2 cup of water or broth into the wrapped package
-Seal and roast for 1 hour 30 minutes at 350 °F
-Remove from foil and finish ribs off on the charcoal grill

Without a grill, the first method is only able to sear the meat at the very end with the use of a broiler. Even so, oven broilers are usually uneven, and do not create a perfect sear.

Using a charcoal or propane grill has many benefits on top of the oven-only method. The high concentration of heat is able to induce the Maillard Reaction after the ribs are finished in the oven. It also serves to help dry and crisp up the surface of the meat and better caramelize any sauces we choose to use. If using a charcoal grill, we can infuse some delicious smokey flavors and the end product is absolutely delicious.

Both of these methods will produce incredibly juicy and tender ribs. But if you can go the extra mile and use the charcoal grill, I guarantee the ribs will be just that much better. 

Shown above, I added about half a cup of water into the wrapped up ribs. Place your ribs meat side down, and pour the liquid on the top half. For better results, try using apple juice or chicken broth!

Seasoning your ribs is based on math. Seriously, math. What we're looking at when dealing with ribs is the fact that they have a high surface area to volume ratio. This means that using a dry rub of seasonings will have more of an effect than using a brine. Marinades won't work either because of the nature of the cooking techniques that using. There is enough connective tissue and fat laced in ribs that proper seasoning is all that is needed to bring out amazing flavors in any cut of ribs. Just make sure not to double salt your meat and any sauces that you end up using on the ribs. 

Before adding our dry rub though, we need some type of adhesive for the seasoning. Besides the high amount of collagen in ribs, the meat is quite flavorless. We need to pack as much flavor as possible onto our ribs, or else they will end up tasting bland. I start by mixing equal parts of mustard and olive oil together and using it as a spread on the ribs before dusting with rub. Mustard is a natural emulsifier of fat, and if you continuously mix the mustard and oil together, you will end up with one single mixture.

This mixture above is actually equal parts Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard and Olive Oil. I was inspired by Alton Brown to give mustard a try, and I must say it produces a huge amount of flavor. A thin coating will be enough to help the dry rub stick.

All that's left to do is to dust and cook! Recipe for baby back pork ribs will come soon!

The Difference Between Baby Back and Spare Ribs
Simply put, they come from different sections of the rib. Baby back ribs are closes to the tenderloin, but are much smaller. In theory, baby back ribs are more tender and juicier. But if we cook spare ribs correctly, I believe they yield a better final product. Spare ribs have more meat, are cheaper to buy, and when bitten into, feel more like ripping into a large chunk of meat. 

The only drawbacks of using spare ribs are their massive size and uneven shape. The bones are thicker on one end, leading to uneven cooking times. Sometimes, they won't even fit on your grill or tray! You can remedy this buy splitting the rack in half. It's much easier to handle, season, and cook.

Baby back ribs are easily found in all local markets, but spare ribs in a full slab may be harder to come by. If you are looking to try your hand on spare ribs, look for a specific cut called "St. Louis Ribs". The St. Louis cut of spare ribs is actually a technique of trimming the ribs so that they have a uniform and even rectangular shape. If you don't do this, the bottom of the spare rib will come with a large bone and some awkwardly placed flabby pieces of meat. They don't exactly cook well, and it's best to remove them and save them for stock.

This Is Not Barbecue 
Barbecue, or BBQ, is a completely different technique of cooking ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and etc. We have barely scratched the surface of what BBQ means, and I will delve into the subject soon. However, this does not stop us from creating finger-licking good ribs at home! 

Stay tuned for my personal dry rub, BBQ, and baby back rib recipes!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recipe/Technique: Justin's Kitchen Sushi Rice Specialty Topping

Today I'll be sharing a special assortment of toppings that I use to complement my homemade chirashi bowls. It's not exactly a recipe, just a list of ingredients. There is absolutely no cooking involved!

Imitation Crab Meat
Japanese Cucumber 
Japanese Pickled Yellow Daikon
Calamari Salad
Pickled Ginger (Shoga)
Seaweed Salad
Furikake Seasoning
Kewpie Mayonnaise
White Short Grain Rice
Sushi Vinegar
Konbu Kelp Seaweed

-Try a variety of substitutions! Try kimchi for a korean flare! 
-Add Masago to your toppings! I normally consider it to be part of the sashimi ingredients though, but don't forget to use it!
-Try the many different types of furikake rice seasoning!
-Buy Japanese Imitation Crabmeat, itakes a huge difference!
-Change my ingredients to anything you want! Try Japanese potato salad!  

The Rice
I use a 1 : 1.25 ratio of rice to water for short grain rice. After washing your grains, soak your rice with the final measured amount of water for 30 minutes. I've found that this softens the grains and allows for faster cooking. For a nice additive, add in a small sheet of konbu kelp while soaking your grains. It adds a subtle, but deep flavor to your rice when finished.

I keep bag of tied up konbu seaweed knots for making soups or broths. They come in handy in these situations.

Once the rice as finished steaming and resting (freshly steamed rice can be very sticky and soft), empty the entire contents into a large bowl. Add your sushi vinegar according to bottle instructions and cut the vinegar into the rice. This means to only use your rice spatula and spread the vinegar into the rice as shown below.

Using this picture as reference, the spatula will only move vertically, "cutting" the rice. This method leaves as many rice grains whole as possible, preventing a mushy texture from forming.

If you're not ready to eat the rice right away, cover the rice with a towel soaked in warm water.

The Imitation Crabmeat
For being just an imitation of meat, there is a huge difference in quality between brands of imitation crabmeat. Try to stick with the Japanese ones, such as Yamasa. The texture, taste, and consistency is just not comparable to knock off Chinese brands.

Shred your crab sticks and season with a tablespoon or so of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise. The Japanese is much sweeter, creamier, and not as fatty tasting as your normal mayo. Season with just a sprinkle of white pepper to finish (black pepper works in a pinch).

The Vegetables
All we need to do here is to julienne the vegetables. So it's all about the knife technique. Here are some pictures to help with your fine slicing and dicing.

Slice off one edge of your vegetables to have a flat surface. This allows you to both work faster and prevent injuries on the chopping block.

It's fun to play Jenga with your sliced vegetables, but sometimes it's much faster to lay them across in smaller layers for speed. It also prevents the vegetables from slipping and your hand from missing a finger.

The Assembly

All that's left to do is to top your bowl and eat! Start by placing the rice at the bottom. Sprinkle your furikake rice seasoning on top. Layer your assorted vegetables and condiments on top and you're done!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bringing Chirashi To The Home Cook

Hey everyone, welcome to Justin's Sushi Kitchen today! With the increasing popularity of sushi and sashimi, the thought of bringing home this wonderful Japanese cuisine has surely crossed your mind. Finding a quality sushi restaurant is quite challenging already since they're scattered so thinly amongst many over priced, mediocre sushi stops, but preparing sushi at home is a completely different story and can be incredibly daunting. There are so many different types of fish, condiments, styles, techniques and flavors!

One of the most impressive, but simplest, meals you can order at sushi restaurants is the Chirashi Bowl. Each chirashi bowl is made different, depending on what fish is available and what the chef feels like putting in. By definition it means "scattered fish", which is the perfect dish for us to prep! Let's take a look at an example:

Shown above is a chirashi bowl from Akasaka, one of my favorite sushi places that is both affordable and insanely delicious. The bowl costs about $45 and includes, but is not limited to: Salmon, Hamachi (Yellowtail), Spicy Tuna, Monk Fish Liver, Uni, Red Snapper, Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), Ikura (Salmon Roe), Ebi (Sweet Shrimp), Calamari, Octopus, Scallops, and Mixed Vegetables.

Quite an impressive feast! The sheer variety you get when you order a chirashi bowl is simply amazing. Filled to the brim with fresh, sweet seafood all arranged in a myriad of bright and beautiful colors. To recreate this amazing bowl exactly as shown is most likely not worth the time and effort needed, let alone being able to purchase quality fish in small quantities. So we're going to create something much more simple, but just as amazing!

Here is an example of one of the many homemade versions of chirashi that I have made at home. Ahi Tuna, Salmon, Yellowtail and Masago served with a special topping sushi rice. The portion shown above was obviously downsized for picture purposes, but a full bowl of this wonderful assortment will cost you about $8 a person. It was incredibly delicious and easy to assemble!

Where To Buy Fish:
As long as you're able to get your hands on fresh, quality fish, a homemade bowl of chirashi is closer to you than you think. Find your local Japanese market and take a look at their selection of fish. Marukai offers an amazing fresh sashimi selection with a $1 dollar charge per transaction if you're not a member (it's relatively affordable to sign up for also). I've had mixed feelings about Mitsuwa, but location is key! The Mitsuwa in Torrance, CA is amazing, whereas the Mitsuwa closer to my home is not the first place I would go for fresh fish. H Mart carries some quality fish too! For me, there is a little gem around my neighborhood. The owner visits the fish market once a week to stock up on freshly caught fish! Unfortunately, I'm not going to disclose any more information because there are way too many people lining up for his services and I need to keep my sources a secret.

I arrived at the Los Angeles Fishing Company just as they finished cutting an ahi tuna into large filets.

You can also visit a fish market as I mentioned earlier. Last week, I drove down to a fishing warehouse near Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to prepare for a sushi party. Arriving bright and early at 6:00 AM, I was able to buy 8 pounds of freshly cut fish (he just walked over and cut off a large tuna steak and gave it to me) for about $115.

Quality Of Fish:
One of the best methods of determining if the cut of sashimi is fresh is by smell. Fresh fish smells almost like...nothing! Bad fish on the other hand, smells like some rotting socks sitting in a high school gym locker. The difference is incredibly shocking. But we can't always pick up a filet of fish and sniff away freely. Most sashimi is packaged and wrapped in plastic for display. By using only our eyesight, we're taking a gamble, but there are some tips to improve our odds.

From left to right: yellowtail, ahi tuna, salmon, yellow tail belly cut. This plate was an assorted mix from my local sushi shop. He cuts and prepares everything for you! No work involved at all.

Fresh fish should have a beautiful shine when presented in light. There should not be excess liquid or blood pooling on the plate. Freshly cut fish may still bleed in small amounts, but will eventually stop. Fish that has past its prime will then begin to deteriorate as flesh and water separate. The color of the fish should be very flush, with no pale edges. Color is also a great indicator of the temperature of the fish as well as when it was cut.

If you compare this tuna steak with the sliced tuna above, there is a large contrast in color. Freshly cut, cold fish will have a deeper color, but will lighten with time.

If you happened to buy your sashimi in a full filet, you can very easily cut and prepare it yourself! Using your sharpest knife, slice the filet into bite-size pieces, running your knife in only one direction (do not saw back and forth, for it will separate and flake apart your fish). The size doesn't matter either! If you look back at the chirashi bowl from Akasaka, each piece of fish is cut extremely thick (the way that I prefer)!

You can usually find portioned filets of fish as shown above. Aim for at least two different types of fish for a variety and about 6-8 oz of fish per person (don't let that stop you though).

The process of buying fish can be quite simple or incredibly adventurous! I visit my local market quite frequently and can have a fully prepared chirashi bowl within the time it takes to steam rice. So please don't be intimidated! Buying fresh fish is no different than buying quality steak!

The Rice:
To all of those who don't have a rice cooker at home, I highly suggest you invest in one. WIth it, making perfect sushi rice at home is much easier to do than you think. Use short grain white rice, wash, rinse, and let soak in water at a 1 : 1.25 ratio of rice to water for half an hour. No extra water is needed! I've found that this process softens the rice when cooked. If you have it, cut a small square of konbu seaweed and toss it into pot while soaking and cooking. It will add extra depth to your rice!

Adding konbu seaweed to many Asian soup stocks is a great way to introduce umami.

The Sushi Vinegar:
There are plenty of recipes for sushi vinegar available, with specific proportions of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar, but we're trying to make this as simple as possible. Prepared sushi vinegar is readily available at most ethnic markets, so just use that!

Be sure to follow the instructions on the back! Add the sushi vinegar to your hot steaming rice, and "cut" the vinegar into the rice with a spatula (slice the spatula through the rice, more on this in the next post). Avoid over mixing and the rice is prepared!

Extra Toppings:
Believe it or not, but this is the only time we're actually going to be cooking in the kitchen. And by that, I mean chopping up vegetables. You can definitely enjoy sashimi with plain sushi rice, but the extra toppings add so much flavor and contrast that I can never resist adding it!  Thinly slice your toppings of choice, such as Japanese cucumber, pickled daikon, and seaweed, and prepare soy sauce, wasabi and ginger on the side. All that's left to do is to garnish, plate, and serve!

*Coming soon, a quick and easy sushi rice topping that will take your make your chirashi bowl worthy to brag about!*

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Meat Primer Volume 1

Welcome to my collective series dedicated to: Meat

Two freshly trimmed cuts of beef tenderloin, USDA Choice.

Volume 1: Basics and Food Science
1) Introduction
2) Searing Your Meat: The Maillard Reaction
3) Rare, Medium, and Well-Done
4) The Conversion of Collagen to Gelatin
5) How Meat Actually Cooks: Outside In
6) Introducing Indirect Cooking 

*This primer is an introduction to what you're actually doing when you cook meat. There are many more detailed guides available and more qualified individuals to look to about the topic of meat science, but I hope to simplify and compile all of that knowledge to an easily accessible source. Most of what I have learned, I have learned from others and hopefully I can share that with everyone reading this blog. Most of this volume will consist of meat science.*

1) Introduction:
I ran into the most trouble cooking during my third year of college. I always knew my way around the kitchen and can follow a recipe, but I didn't exactly know what I was doing. Why did my pot roast not become fork tender? I marinated this chicken overnight, but it still tastes bland! My ribs are so stringy and tough!

Most recipes available are actually designed for an intermediate chef. Even my own recipe entries are written without a step by step guide. Chop your veggies, season, saute, add your meat, sear, simmer, and etc. They are incredibly simplified and state only what you need to know to cook the dish. If they were to explain the reasoning for every single step of the cooking process, recipes would be essays! Why am I supposed to take out the chicken breast half way through searing and finish it in the oven? What does that do? Can I do it differently? With this meat primer, I aim to fill in the missing dots.

Ultimately, cooking boils down to Food Science. I researched for hours on end to create amazing BBQ and I learned a vast amount of information along the way. For example, you can break down collagen in tough meat cuts to create gelatin. You can find this gelatin anywhere! For example, if you have ever refrigerated food, some of the juices/sauce seem to become a solid gelatin. Taking inspiration from such individuals as Alton Brown, I present to you a simplified version of this food science: The Meat Primer. In this first volume, we're going to talk about the general techniques of cooking meat and what they are actually doing.

2) Searing Your Meat: The Maillard Reaction
Every cook talks about introducing color on your meat. Essentially, we are aiming to produce the Maillard Reaction, which consists of a series of reactions that happens when meat is seared and browned with high heat. It's the difference between eating boiled, grey looking beef and cutting into a seared rib eye steak, with a savory and flavor packed crust.

We're not talking just about incorrectly cooking meat either! Look at the difference between a cut of prime rib and rib eye steak. They are the exact same cuts of meat but cooked differently. Prime rib, known for being extremely succulent, is served with au jus on the side to dip with to enhance flavor and add extra seasoning. This is achieved by roasting a rib roast whole, allowing the meat to slowly come up to that perfect medium-rare temperature. Pan-seared, grilled, or charbroiled rib eye steak takes full advantage of the Maillard reactions to develop a delicious seared crust all around. The crust adds a crisp texture to the surface, enhances the overall beef flavor of the steak, and is the perfect way to introduce aromatics such as garlic and thyme.

Some more examples of this can be seen in something we call Fond. Fond are the bits and pieces of meat stuck to your pan or pot after cooking. Who would have known that a dish washers worst nightmare is a chef's best friend? Fond can be deglazed with any type of liquid, commonly stock or wine, to produce a complex but amazing base for any soup or sauce.

Searing also creates a wonderful Crust on the surface of the meat that we talked about earlier. This crust has had it's water content squeezed out due to the changes in its proteins, concentrating its flavor. It also helps by trapping water content inside the rest of the meat, essentially sealing it in. Not to mention, makes your steak look absolutely gorgeous and drool worthy.

Short and simple? Sear your meat on high heat when first cooking it. Do not overcrowd your pan or pot, for all those extra items can absorb the much needed heat to induce these reactions, or else you end up boiling your meat.

Before wrapping up this tenderloin for beef wellington, I seared the surface to impart more flavor.

3) Rare, Medium, and Well-Done
We all know what these terms mean. Rare means you're a carnivore, Medium is the safe bet in between the two ends, and Well-Done means you're old and don't want to eat red meat...Wait, maybe we're not talking about the same things here.

These terms refer to the final temperature of meat when cooked, producing different textures and completely changing your dining experience. There's not too much to say here about these terms for they are pretty explanatory, so I'm just going to list some temperatures worth knowing.
Rare 130 °F
Medium 140 °F
Well-Done 150 °F

Chicken and Turkey:
Breast 165 °F
Thigh 165-175 °F

USDA changed (2011) to minimum temperature to cook pork at 145 °F for Medium Rare

*All ground meats should be cooked to well done. I enjoy eating some beef burgers medium-rare, but do so at your own discretion*

4) The Conversion of Collagen into Gelatin
This bit of knowledge took me a long time to come across, partly because it wasn't well documented until food science became popular. Everyone has come across one of two situations:
-This meat that I'm eating is so tough and chewy. It's not juicy, dry, over cooked, or under cooked!
-I'm just going to microwave my leftovers...Wait a minute, all the sauce turned into jello! What sorcery is this?

Meat is essentially muscle tissue. What is muscle tissue laced with? Connective tissue. In particular, we're talking about a protein called collagen. Collagen is what holds meat together (an over simplification). However, we can break down that collagen! At an estimated 190 °F, collagen undergoes a transformation into a type of gelatin, which is packed with meaty flavor and succulent juices!

Let's rewind for a bit. Meat is considered well-done around 150-160 °F! Essentially, to break down the tough cuts of meat, we have to cook them way passed their desired temperature for medium-rare. How do we prevent burning or drying up? This is why braising was developed (you've never heard of medium-rare braising for a reason).

Braising is a technique in which you cook meat in some amount of liquid for long periods of time. Liquid is a great mediator of heat and provides a very gentle method to raise the temperature in meat well passed their limits on the charts. By using this technique, we can achieve our desired temperature of 190 °F!

Some examples of braising are any slow cooker recipes, cooking pot roast in red wine or beef broth, or any type of stewing that involves tough cuts of meats and many hours. For a moment of clarity, have you ever cooked anything for long periods of time without some type of liquid medium to produce anything "fall apart tender"? The only exception I can think of is controlled temperature smoking for BBQ.

Finally, this conversion process is one of the key techniques in making a great soup. Bones are a prime source of collagen, which is why many soups start with some type of bone product. Pork bones in tonkotsu ramen and beef bones in pho are just two popular examples. The gelatin produced ultimately gives the soup a fuller body and slightly heavier feel. Without this process, we'd just be drinking seasoned water!

Shown above is the secret to Xiao Long Bao (mini soup dumplings). I stewed together pork hocks, chicken feet, and pork belly rinds for hours to produce the gelatin needed to essentially solidify the soup at room temperature. When steamed with the XLBs, they melt and become the delicious, decadent soup that we all love. Future blog post incoming?

5) How Meat Actually Cooks: Outside In
This is an easy concept to grasp. We cook the outside of meat, but the outside of meat cooks the inside of the meat.

Confused? Imagine you are roasting a cut of beef. The recipe asks you to take out the meat 10 degrees lower than the desired temperature. We do this because once you take it out of the oven, the outside crust of the meat is still incredibly hot! It will proceed to continue cooking the inside of the meat whether you like it or not!

An important side note: this process is that this sole reasoning of why I will never stuff my meats with other raw meats for roasting. I will never stuff turkey with actual turkey stuffing (but I will stick an apple, onion, and herbs to add flavor from inside out). By the time your meat is cooked, the inside stuffing is practically still raw! Only stuff your meats with cheeses, herbs, or items that are not particularly dense and need to be cooked.

As seen above in this beef wellington, there is a very obvious temperature gradient. The closer you get towards the edge of the meat, the more cooked it is.

6) Introducing Indirect Cooking
One of the great hurdles in cooking the perfect piece of meat is to achieve a great crust, but achieve the perfect medium-rare temperature at the same time. I began to run into a problem with cooking chicken breast. I would create a wonderful sear on the outside, but if I continued to cook the chicken to achieve 165 °F, the outer layers of the chicken breast would be overcooked and incredible tough. 

By using indirect cooking, we now have a solution to our problems! We begin by searing our meat the same way, but we finish cooking by using a more gentle form of heat. For example, with chicken breast, I can add chicken stock into the pan, bring the heat down to low, and cover. You will steam and cook all surfaces of the breast slowly, bringing the chicken to the perfect temperature. Or you can transfer your chicken to a rack, and bake it at 350-400 °F until done. By doing this, we are avoiding the direct heat of the pan.

When using a charcoal grill, place your coals only on 1 side of the grill. This creates 2 zones of heat so you can both sear meat directly over the coals and finish with indirect heat. If using a propane grill, they usually have a top rack raised higher than the main grill. Place meats almost done on the top rack to finish cooking, or just set half of the burners to low (or completely off).

In the near future, I'll be posting about my experiences with BBQ and smoking meats. Smoking meats relies solely on indirect heat, using temperatures no higher than 225 °F, therefore is one of the few exceptions to the methods we talked about in this volume.

Here's an example of indirect cooking with 2 zones on a charcoal grill. It's the basis of making great BBQ. Shown here is one of my first experimental batches of bacon. Pork belly brined with maple syrup and seasonings, smoked over cherry wood.

I've simplified a large amount of material and showed some basic examples here, but hopefully I've enlightened you to different techniques of perfecting meat. I encourage you to research more on the matter for the amount of information available out there is incredibly vast. In the future volumes of this primer, I plan to talk about each type of meat individually, as well as proper marinating and brining techniques. I hope you enjoyed your read at Justin's Kitchen!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Recipe: Cioppino

Cioppino is one of the most popular seafood stews that you can order at piers and fish markets. Originating in San Francisco, it features what is usually the catch of the day. The ingredients will vary depending on where you order it and what's being caught, but it's always a treat to have. When I was in San Francisco a few years ago, I was able to order a bowl at Fisherman's Wharf and I've recreated a version of it at home. Please give this a try!

1 Large Onion
2-3 Stalks of Celery
1 Large Shallot
6 Cloves Garlic
2 Cups White Wine
Hot Chili Flakes
1 Large Can (35 oz) Tomatoes
Seafood Stock

For 1 Large Pot, Cioppino for 2 at restaurants can cost $30-45 dollars. Making this at home will lessen that cost to about $10 a person, depending on what seafood you add in.

-Want more Italian influence? Toss in a bay leaf or some oregano. It will add some earthy flavors to the stew. I opted this part out of my own stews because I prefer the fresh sweetness of all the seafood.
-Chopped, pureed, or whole tomatoes all work for this recipe!
-Serve with some delicious garlic bread!
-Mix and match your seafood!
-Add a slight sour tang to your soup with lemon juice, or sneak in a few capers!
-If using shrimp, save your shells and make a wonderful shrimp stock to bolster your flavor profiles! I just made a post earlier this week about making your own shrimp stock.
-If you want to mellow the sharp tomato flavor of the stock, simmer your vegetable base mixture for longer before adding your seafood!
-Prepare mise en place!

-Overcook your seafood.
-Over salt the stew. When cooking seafood, always account for the natural salt factor that comes in a lot of seafood.

The Seafood:
Try using a variety! I'm partial to using:
-Fish (any white fish will do: Tilapia, swai basa, cod, etc)

Classic Cioppino must have dungeness crab too! I'm personally a bit lazy to work for all that delicious crab meat, but you might not be! Be sure to steam/cook your crabs beforehand. I promise you it will be amazing.

To clean your seafood, scrub your mussels and clams to get rid of debris on their shells. If freshly bought, soak your clams and mussels in a mixture of water, a few tsp of salt, and 1 cup of flour, corn starch, or corn meal. This makes the shellfish pump out the debris in their gut. Fresh seafood is always the best, but I never look down on using frozen seafood. In fact, some frozen seafood is more fresh than what you can buy at your local market! They're usually frozen shortly after being caught. Finally, remember to remove the sand vein from shrimp, crack your crab claws, and give everything a rinse!

And don't skimp out! It's primarily a seafood stew for a reason. You're mostly eating all the seafood that you put in!

The Vegetable Base:
Start by chopping your celery, onion, shallots and garlic. Saute your vegetables directly in your pot with olive oil, salt, pepper, and hot chili flakes. Once translucent, add your white wine (I like using chardonnay). Shortly after, you can add your tomatoes and seafood stock into the pot. You can just use plain water in a pinch (but why would you?). When your pot comes to a boil, you're just about ready to serve.

One of the best things about making Cioppino is that once you have reached this step, you can turn off the heat and wait until your guests arrive. You prepare everything ahead of time and still have time to take care of other things!

When ready to serve:
Make sure your pot is at a medium boil and add your seafood into the pot. Everything can go in at the same time, but you might want to save the fish for last (fish is prone is crumble and fall apart in this stew). Try adding in the fish halfway through boiling and place them on top of all of your ingredients, making sure they're still submerged in the stew. Bring your pot back up to a boil, and in about 10 minutes, your Ciopinno is ready to serve! Be sure to discard any unopened shellfish (if you're wondering, yes they taste funky. Don't pry them open).

Remember to taste for seasoning and do some final adjustments. Sprinkle in chopped parsley, ladle into a bowl, and enjoy one of the most amazing fish stews in the world. The sweet juices of all the seafood combining with your vegetable and tomato base makes for an absolutely gorgeous soup. The hint of spice from the chili is a great undertone to balance the fresh flavors, so do try to keep it in the recipe!

Seafood, Eat Food Diet!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Technique: Making Your Own Shrimp Stock

Shrimp shells are notorious for being extremely sweet and fragrant, releasing lots of flavor when cooked. It is why the shell is left on entirely in certain recipes that call for stir frying. But what can we do with shrimp shells when they're not called for in a dish? We make shrimp stock!

One of the goals of this blog is to promote quality home cooking. Sometimes, that means saving and freezing your shrimp shells in a zip-lock bag for the future. Don't discard those shells, chicken bones, or even whole carcasses (rotisserie chicken for example, makes for a great stock)! A great shrimp stock can be added to any simple seafood dish and the returns are exponential.

Shrimp Shells

-You can make as little or as much as you want every time. The stock takes only 30-60 minutes to prepare, and can improve any seafood dish immensely!
-Try adding in whole black peppercorns!
-Use shrimp stock in combination of other cooked seafood! The sweet flavors released from clams, mussels, scallops and all the other types of seafood all complement each other. By adding shrimp stock, you bolster the flavor profiles by creating a wonderful base.
-Fan of Korean cooking? Try changing out the carrots and celery for radish, shiitake mushrooms, and konbu seaweed! The stock would make for any great korean soup or stew, such as Soondubu Jigae.
-Try using this for a base for any seafood styled hotpot! Change out the carrots and celery again and use corn, shiitake mushrooms, green onion, and many other ingredients!

-Freeze the shrimp stock after making it. The flavors don't hold too well after being frozen, unlike chicken or pork bone stock.
-Season with too much salt! You will be seasoning your actual dish and using this stock to enhance the flavors. Think of low sodium chicken broth.
-Add too many different or too much herbs. Chances are, you're adding them to your final dish also. Don't commit double jeopardy!

The Stock:
Olive oil and shrimp shells go into the pot, cook until fragrant on medium-high heat. Add your carrot, celery, onion, and garlic whole (no chopping needed for any of the vegetables) and fill with enough water to cover. The proportions will change depending on how much you need to make. For reference, the picture shown on this blog shows the shells of 1 pound of shrimp, 1 large carrot, 3 stalks for celery, 1 large onion, and 4 cloves of garlic produced the perfect amount of stock to use in the Cioppino I was making that day.

The stock is done when the vegetables become soft and start to give away. You don't have to simmer it until the vegetables dissolve, but 1 hour should do the trick. You can do this while you're preparing mise en place for your other ingredients and dishes!

How To Use Shrimp Stock:
-Making Seafood Pasta! Add in 1-2 cups after sauteing your vegetables, along with your white wine before adding in your seafood. After cooking, transfer your undercooked pasta (by 1-2 minutes) into your seafood sauce, and allow the pasta to finish cooking. The pasta will absorb all the flavors of the sauce, and will become absolutely amazing.
-Making Cioppino! More to come on this, I've got a recipe coming your way soon!
-Making Seafood Soup! Great for any tomato based seafood soup. The orange shrimp color will complement the red tomato color.
-Endless possibilities, just use shrimp stock where any recipe requests for seafood stock!

Seafood, eat food diet for sure!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Recipe: Larb

Not everyday do we have the luxury to spends hours in the kitchen simmering soups or roasting delicious cuts of meat. So here is one of my quick and easy, go-to recipes that you will definitely come back to.

1/2 lb Ground Chicken
1 small Onion (1/2 large onion)
8 Mushrooms (button, crimini, baby bella)
1 large Shallot (4-5 small)
3 cloves of Garlic
1 Red Chili Pepper
Vietnamese/Thai basil
Sesame Oil
Soy Sauce
Fish Sauce
Chicken Bouillon

Cornstarch Slurry (water + cornstarach)
Iceberg Lettuce
Hoisin Sauce
Sriracha Sauce

-Not a fan of spicy? Use red bell peppers instead!
-Big fan of spicy? Add more red chili peppers, hot pepper flakes, or Thai red hot pepper flakes!
-Aiming for authenticity? Add toasted sticky rice!
-Try mixing in mint to change it up!
-Have green onions? Chop them up and add them in too! Because why not?
-Not a fan of chicken? Try pork, beef or turkey!
-Prepare mise en place!

-Over do the cornstarch slurry.

The Meat:
Start by seasoning your mince with pepper, sesame oil, and chopped garlic (no salt! We're adding a good amount of salt later in this recipe, so hold off for now). Sear on high heat with your choice of cooking oil until half way cooked. Remove the meat from your pan and keep in a separate bowl for now.

The Vegetables:
Dice all of your vegetables and add them to your pan. Season with a dash of fish sauce, soy sauce, and a tsp of chicken bouillon. As soon as your vegetables begin releasing water, add your minced meat back into the pan and mix. Add in Vietnamese Basil (other aromatics of your choice). The entire dish is ready to serve as soon as everything is cooked through!

See all that liquid that has been cooked out of your vegetables? You can turn all that liquid into a delicious gravy sauce. Push all of the solid food out of the way to form a well on the bottom of the pan. Stir in some cornstarch slurry (water + cornstarch) and cook until the sauce thickens. Be careful with this stuff! It doesn't thicken right away and needs to be cooked on heat to fully take effect. Don't over do the thickening process, or you're going to end up with a gummy, jelly-like sauce.

I love eating this dish with iceberg lettuce. Simply tear off a leaf, spoon some larb on top and eat! Although not authentic, adding a bit of hoisin sauce and sriracha on each bite is absolutely amazing. The fresh crunch of the lettuce contrasts the meaty mince extremely well. Best of all? Larb can be cooked in less than 30 minutes, holds well in the refrigerator, and can be served on rice, tofu, and noodles (the possibilities are endless)!

On a side note, Larb is a great dish to add to any diet, providing excellent sources of protein and vegetables, with a low carb count.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recipe: Spaghetti Bolognese

This popular Italian meat sauce is cheap to make, very filling, and will change the way you look at "spaghetti sauce". I mean, what is "spaghetti sauce" anyways?

1 lb Ground Beef
1 lb Italian Sausage Meat
1 Large Carrots
2 Stalks Celery
1 Large Onion
6 Cloves Garlic
1 Pack Mushrooms (baby bella, crimini, button all work)
1 14.5 oz can of Chicken Broth (or use water and chicken bouillon)
1-2 28 oz cans of San Marzano Tomatoes
*These measurements will make for 1 large pot, enough for 5-6 people easily*
Red Wine
Hot Pepper Flakes
Parmigiano Reggiano
Tomato Paste

-Try eating with different types of pasta! Penne or rigatoni works very well!
-Use any type of grated Parmesan cheese you like! I frequent the Trader Joe's selection of many different cheeses.
-Use more garlic if you love it as much as I do! Personally, I would add 1 whole head of garlic in for a large pot.
-Plan to make a big batch, this stuff holds extremely well in the fridge and freezer!
-I recommend using at least one 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes,  but I've used up to two regularly for a large pot. This is so you can adjust how much tomato you want in the end. But when in doubt, use two!
-Prepare mise en place (prepare everything before cooking)!

-Use store bought pasta sauce for this. For this recipe it just won't work.
-Use the hot pepper flakes that you've been collecting from all of that delivery pizza. Their flavor and heat are not as strong as store bought chili flakes. Be careful if you're using the good spicy stuff!

The Meat:
For a large pot, I use about 1 pound of ground beef (85/15) and 1 pound of Italian sausage. Season the mince with salt and pepper and toss into your pot on high heat with a good amount olive oil. We're going to essentially fry the outside of the meat and create a lovely fond (meat bits stuck to the pot) at the bottom. To help break up the meat, I've had success using a potato masher. Keep it on high heat until you see the bottom covered with bits of fried meat. Whether the meat is fully cooked thru at this point doesn't matter.

The Vegetables:
I prefer to grate my carrots when making this sauce. Finely chop your celery, onions, and mushrooms (yes we're chopping the mushrooms, they should look like little bits when you're done). I aim for a size less than 1 cm wide. Add all of your vegetables to the pot with the seared meat, along with a tin of anchovies (half a tin for a small portion). Saute until soft and translucent. Finally, add your minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.

The Tomatoes:
I get a kick out of buying whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and crushing them with my hands at home. Empty the can into a large bowl, and break up the tomatoes with your fingers. Or just used the diced variety (you're missing out!). Before we add our tomatoes, open up a well to the bottom of the pot and add 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. Tomato paste is concentrated tomato. It makes our sauce hold more tomato flavor as it stews over time. And don't let the word paste scare you off.

 Shown above is the ingredients list of Prego's Italian Sausage & Garlic.

Used in the right way, tomato paste will no doubt improve your bolognese. We want to cook the tomato paste for about 1 minute first, then add 1-3 cups of red wine (I Toscana, but adjust for your own taste. The more red wine you add, the more bold, heavy, and stringent the sauce feels on the palate). Go ahead add stir in your tomatoes now too.

Simmering and Aromatics:
If you decided to use chicken broth, add the can into the pot now and add water until the liquid sits 1-2 inches above all the ingredients (depending on the dimensions of your pot). If you decided to use chicken bouillon, add 1 tbs to start or 1 cube, then add water until the liquid sits above the ingredients as mentioned above. The is almost no difference in what method you choose, but do pay attention to the salt content of either methods (taste test accordingly).

At this point, I'll chop in a large handful of basil and add some hot pepper flakes. Bring the pot up to a boil, and then back down to a simmer for 2 hours. I can guarantee that the flavor of the pot right now will taste completely different with time. Be sure to check on the sauce for water content! I like my bolognese to be thick and meaty as shown earlier.

The recipe is done and what you do next is entirely up to you! Serve your bolognese on top of your pasta and feast! Garnish with basil? Grate some fine aged Parmigiano Reggiano on top? Just some ideas to play around with.

*Below are some miscellaneous tips and other things that I found useful when making spaghetti bolognese*

-Most ground beef is made from beef chuck (shoulder), which has lots of connective tissue ground into it. By simmering the sauce for a long time, the meat actually becomes more tender as the connective tissue breaks down. This also releases a lot of flavor from the meat, which is perfect!
-Split Italian sausages out of their casings and use their meat directly. But don't let that be the only way to do it! You can sear the sausages whole to develop even more flavor! You can cut the sausages up after, or just let them fall apart in the sauce.
-Taste testing before simmering often has weird results. You still taste every ingredient separately and it's hard to gauge the actual flavor.
-Want to increase umami? Cook your bolognese in a dutch oven. Instead of simmering, bake your entire pot at 350 F for a few hours to caramelize the bolognese on the side of the pot. Scrape them down later and stir in before serving.
-Wrap up your extra tomato paste in plastic wrap and freeze in 1-2 Tbsp portions for easy use!
-Only use a red wine you would drink for your cooking. In fact, drink some as you're cooking!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's missing in your tomato sauce?

I'm going let you in on some trade secrets for creating an amazing tomato sauce. But what makes a tomato sauce great? Flavor? Sweetness? Aromatics? There always seem to be a missing component, but you can never put your tongue on what is.

Shown above is spaghetti bolognese, a meat sauce using a pomodoro base.

Let's start with the basics
There are two general types of tomato sauce you can make: marinara or pomodoro. To simplify, marinara sauces do not simmer for long periods of time, producing a bright, chunky, and fresh sauce. A pomodoro sauce on the other hand is stewed for hours, developing a different set flavors and textures. For now, we're only going to talk about the latter.

The key to an incredible pomodoro sauce is to not think of it as a sauce, but as a soup. We build the layers of flavors on top of each other in such a way that the body of the sauce becomes more than just stewed tomatoes. Take chicken stock for example. You start with your aromatic vegetables consisting of carrot, celery, and onion. Chicken bones are roasted for more flavor and added to the stock. Herbs are added and the entire pot is simmered to meld all of the flavors together. We are going to do the exact same thing with our tomatoes.

Consistency and Body: The Vegetables
Try eating a spoonful of your sauce. Does it feel watered down? Too thick? One of the things I hate most about tomato sauces is when the water separates from the body of the sauce. This is a common problem when using store bought pasta sauces. Do I still use them? Of course I do, they're incredibly convenient (I do prefer using San Marzano tomatoes though). Even with store bought sauce, I start with the same base every time. Grated carrots, chopped celery, finely diced onions, and lots of minced garlic. After everything has simmered away for a few hours, the vegetables break down and create a wonderful body. I like to enhance this mouthful feeling by adding red or white wine, which adds a small stringent factor to the palate. Plan to simmer the sauce and reduce it until the desired consistency is reached.

Umami: The Meat
A word commonly obsessed over by food critics. The easiest way to add umami to your pot is by adding meat. But wait! If there was one thing I wanted you to take out of this entire lengthy entry, is to try using this:

Don't freak out! I know anchovies have a bad wrap for being just plain weird, but think about the other common sources of umami. Fish sauce is the liquid extracted from fermenting fish and soy sauce is a variety of soy products fermented with mold! If anyone has ever eaten any of the Italian dishes that I have made in the past two years, then you have eaten anchovies. It is the equivalent of using fish sauce as an umami bomb in non-Asian cooking. A large pot can use a whole tin of anchovies as shown above, whereas a small pasta dish made for two people can use just 2-3 filets. I usually add the filets in while I saute the vegetables. Don't forget to use the olive oil in the tin! It's packed with flavor! Just be careful in not over salting your food.

If you haven't tried playing around with stock pots/cubes/powder/bastes, now is the time! Some chicken bouillon does wonders for this type of sauce. In a pinch, chicken broth will do, but will add to the cooking time if there's too much liquid in the pot. We can also sear meat in the bottom of the pot before adding your vegetables in, giving us those lovely meat bits packed with flavor and umami. Any meat will do, just pick! I suggest using any tough cuts with lots of connective tissue, like ribs or shoulder cuts. The collagen will eventually break down into delicious gelatin, providing more body to the sauce and improving the consistency and adding to flavor.  If this is a meatless sauce, then just stick with the anchovies.

Tomatoes: The Red Thing In Your Sauce
As mentioned above, store bought pasta sauce works in a pinch but San Marzano tomatoes are king here. Try it once and you will understand why. They come in whole, dice or puree'd varieties. Pick and choose whichever you like! I would add in the tomatoes after the vegetables have cooked down and become soft. If the batch of tomatoes you're using are a bit tart and sour, a pinch of sugar will do the trick.

Aromatics: The Herbs
I'm partial to adding basil and oregano, but depending on what you want to do with the sauce, you can change it up! Hot pepper flakes, parsley, thyme and etc. Certain herbs should be added right before serving (like parsley), where as others should be stewed. Most recipes will specify when to add what, so don't worry too much about that.

Time: The Waiting Game
I suggest a minimum of 2 hours on simmer. Always remember to taste for seasoning and don't forget about reducing/adding water to the pot. I always do the final taste test before serving. It's always better to under salt at first, than to over salt and try to fix it.

Shown above is an Italian Sunday meat sauce before simmering and reducing. I used a combination of beef shin, pork spare ribs, and Italian sausage for the meat. Don't forget the anchovies!

I never said that achieving a great tomato sauce can be done in 20 minutes. But it definitely is simple! Start with a vegetable base, introduce umami, add aromatics and simmer!

I hope you enjoy this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Recipe: Carbonara Pasta

Let's face it, we've all tried to make Carbonara and failed at one point or another. There is so much dispute about this dish: to add cream or not, to use guanciale, pancetta or bacon, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, or even what type of pasta to use! The answer? It doesn't matter at all.

Shown above is a Bucatini Carbonara made with pancetta. Yes, it was delicious. No, it was not my preferred way of making it. Point is, make your dishes so that you love to eat them! 

Below is the recipe of how to make this delicious pasta dish. Even further below that are some tips, food science, history, and how to argue with Italians.

Spaghetti or Bucatini
Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
Pancetta, Bacon, or Guanciale

-Take into account that 2 eggs is perfect for about 8 oz of pasta, which is enough for about 2 people!
-Use whatever choice of meat you want, whether it be bacon, pancetta, or guanciale!
-If you're using bacon, about 2-3 strip per person will be enough.
-Do remove some fat rendered and replace with olive oil for a slightly less greasy palate (optional)!
-Prepare mise en place (get everything ready before you start cooking)!
-Salt your pasta water generously!

-Pour in all of the egg mixture at once if you don't know what you're doing.
-Cook your meat on high heat, for it will burn and fry before fully rendering out the fat.
-Use too much meat. More on this later.

Preparing the cream sauce:
Beat your eggs and a generous amount of grated cheese into a bowl. We're talking about at least 1/2 - 1 cup of grated cheese. Be sure to add lots of pepper, enough til where you can see many specks of black pepper in the mixture. The black pepper is almost worthy of calling a main ingredient in this dish.

Preparing the pasta:
Boil your pasta according to instructions, or until the pasta is fully cooked (do not undershoot by 1-2 minutes for al dente/absorption).

Shown above is some delicious pancetta that I bought at a local Italian market.

Preparing the meat and timing:

Briefly gauge how long your pasta will cook, for it will determine when you should start cooking your meat. You want the pasta to be hot and right out of the boiling pot for this dish to work. Begin by slicing your meat of choice into small chunks or slices. Cook your meat on medium heat. If you were to use high heat, the meat will be fully fried before the fat has had time to render out all of its goodness. The meat is done when it's slightly crispy, but doesn't look like you're stirring around fried bits.

Optional tip: I know of some people who do not like the extremely fatty palate of the all the fat produced in this dish. I suggest absorbing half of it out with a paper towel, and adding in some olive oil instead, which is much healthier and emulsifies into sauce just as well.

The assembly:
Everything in this step happens very fast and you may want some help. When the meat and pasta are cooked to your liking, transfer the pasta directly from the boiling pot into your pan. For good measure, add a ladle of pasta water into the pan. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and slowly drizzle in your egg and cheese mixture, stirring as you go. Don't have a helper? Spoon in the sauce in small amounts, making sure it's fully incorporated before you continue. By adding it in slowly, you prevent the eggs from cooking regularly and becoming a pasta dish with a side of eggs. The hot pasta and residual heat from the pan will cook the egg and cheese mixture as it's mixed in, turning into a most creamy and decadent sauce.

I have to say, I don't have any good experience with how carbonara sits in a refrigerator as left overs, so try to finish all of it (and get FAT). Not that you would have any trouble for how amazing this pasta dish can be.

*The recipe ends here, but below are some things that I have learned when preparing the dish and some extra information for the scholarly*

Shown above is Carbonara made with spaghetti and bacon. My girlfriend had the brilliant idea of seasoning and toasting breadcrumbs to top the dish with. It was absolutely amazing. The crunch contrasted the creamy texture, and I would definitely suggest it if you're willing to branch out of the norm.

The Meat:
-All three types of meat are cured to have immense flavor. When I bought pancetta to make this dish a second time, I made the mistake of adding too much of it into the dish, resulting in a salty and very "ham" tasting pasta.
-When using bacon, try to use an non-smoked variety and avoid maple/sweet bacons. In fact, the package should just say "Bacon" on it.
-Guanciale is cured pig cheek. It is the most traditional meat you can use for this dish, followed by pancetta, then bacon. But honestly, I think the bacon version of this dish is just as amazing.

The Pasta:
 -Bucatini pasta is a fat version of spaghetti, but with a hole that runs thru the center of the pasta. I've found enjoyment in using both.

The Cheese:
-Pecorino Romano is the authentic cheese to use for this dish, but Parmigiano Reggiano works just fine.

The Black Pepper:
-My sources (the internet) tell me that the term Carbonara was to refer to the carbon-like speckles that the black pepper appears as in this dish. So be sure to use enough black pepper to achieve this appearance.

Carbonara History:
-If it had to be said, Carbonara would be the one pasta dish that defined Roman pasta. So as I've encouraged you to make the pasta dish however you want to, be ready to don gladiator gear and ward them off. Be sure to use many hand gestures.

Technique: Steakhouse-Style Lobster Tails

Ever wonder how steakhouses serve such amazing lobster that looks as delicious as it tastes? Well, it's an incredibly easy technique and all you need is a pair of scissors.
-Prepare an herb butter to spread on top!
-Remove the sand vein!
-Be gentle!

-Forget about it in the oven. You will regret it.

The Technique:

Start by snipping off all of the tiny lobster legs and clean up the general appearance of the entire tail. This must be done to separate the flesh from the shell. Take your pair of scissors and cut straight down the top half of the shell until you reach the last segment before the tail. Take your fingers an carefully separate the meat from the shell and gently pull the flesh out to sit on top of the shell, as if the meat is resting on the shell (piggybacking). Do not remove the flesh completely, it should still be attached at the tail end. Remember to clean the sand vein (intestine) out by removing it.

And that's it! You're done! Now how do we cook it?

Start by preparing an herb butter. Microwave some butter to soften it and mix in your choice of herbs. Some suggestions are garlic, parsley, shallots, olive oil, onions, and or paprika. Don't forget salt and pepper and do try as many different flavor combinations as you would like.

Preheat your oven by turning on the top broiler and moving one of your baking racks to the highest (or second highest) position. You want the lobster to be about 2-3 inches away from the top broiler flames. Spread your herb butter mixture on the lobster tail and broil for exactly 7 minutes.

And there we have it. Perfectly cooked lobster tails that look gorgeous. And to dispell the myth of price, if you can find a way into Costco each tail will run for about $6-7 each.

Recipe: Strawberry and Basil Infused Peach Vodka

Peach Schnapps

-Add fresh or canned peaches (hold off the syrup)!
-Try using Mint instead of Basil!
-Using other types of fruit and herb combinations!
-Mix with ginger ale or any light soda for an instant spritzer!

-Forget about the infusion and leave it alone for too long.

The Infusion:
Place all of your ingredients in an air tight jar (mason jar works perfectly). Leave mixture to infuse for 24 hours and then strain all solids from water mixture. Discard solids. If not, some undesirable flavors will begin to seep into the alcohol.

Recipe: Pan-seared Salmon w/ Strawberry Salad, Portobello Mushroom and Scrambled Eggs on Baguette

Salmon Filet (4-8 oz per person)
Eggs (1-2 per person)
Gruyere Cheese
Green Onion (1 -2 sprigs)
Portobello Mushroom (1/2 - 1 per person)
French Baguette (6 inches per 2 people)
Lime (1 Large)
Goat Cheese (1 Tbsp per person)
Handful of Candied Walnuts  (small handful per person)
Strawberries (2-3 per person)
Mixed Salad Greens

-Use chives instead of green onions if you're a fan!
-Use other types of mushrooms if you want (chanterelles, button, shiitake)! Mix and match!
-Try using arugula or spinach for the salad greens!
-Use other types of fruit, like mangoes or mixed berries!
-Try replacing the salmon filet with skirt steak!
-Use Sourdough bread, or other robust loafs instead of a baguette!
-Use any type of cheese you want, or none at all!
-Use other types of nuts (don't have to be candied)!
-Prepare mise en place (wash, chop, and have everything ready before you start cooking)!

-Use a heavy dressing, like Ranch.

*Note* I will only give exact proportions when I feel it is essential for the recipe. I gave variations in the ingredients above to allow the common grocery shopper and cook to make however much he or she finds fit.

How to prepare each dish item:

Portobello Mushroom:
Saute mushrooms with salt and pepper with a small amount of oil. In the case of portobello mushrooms, toss them on a pan at medium heat and let them take care of themselves. Flip once and continue cooking until finished. Their size will have decreased and released a large amount of liquid (which is full of mushroom flavor, and you can pour that over the mushrooms as you're ready to serve).

Salmon Filets:
Portion salmon filets and score the skin (twice if the filet is large). Season with salt, pepper, and rub with thin coating of oil. Sear on high heat, skin side down until you can see the opaque layers reach above the halfway mark of the filet (3-5 minutes, depending on size). Flip salmon over and bring heat down to medium to finish cooking. Cook until desired state (1-2 minutes for medium rare). Don't be afraid to cut into the center and see how cooked it is.

Scrambled Eggs:
Prepare scrambled eggs, or french style scrambled eggs with herb of choice. This is left to however you want to cook your eggs. I will post in the future how to make creamy french styled scrambled eggs. Serve over toasted baguette with cheese of choice.

Salad Dressing:
Mix in a 1-3 ratio: Lime juice - Olive oil. Season dressing with salt, pepper, and honey. Toss together with salad greens and other items.

What better way to start the day than with brunch?

Brunch is one of those things that people make difficult. Brunch is actually the easiest meal to put together. The goal is to keep it fast, simple, and easy. That way you can chat with your friends with that lovely glass of mimosa on the side and not be stuck cooking the whole time.

This past Sunday, I made pan-seared salmon with a strawberry salad, portobello mushroom and french scrambled eggs on top of a baguette. It sounds like a mouthful to just say and it would run you around $15 dollars to order in a restaurant, let alone at least an hour wait on a Sunday just to get in the door.

The actual cost of this plate? About $5 if I did the math correctly. It also took me a total of 1 hour to buy all the groceries, cook, and plate. Luckily, I had the help of my girlfriend so we were in and out of the kitchen in almost no time at all.

One of the best ways to go about planning a brunch menu is to have a balance of all the different flavors and textures, while retaining a fresh and light feel. I would never stop someone from having a juicy cut of prime rib at 11 AM, but I wouldn't call it brunch either. An example of this is the strawberry salad shown above. The creamy tang of goat cheese paired with the sweet crunch of candied walnuts works incredibly well. I created a lime, honey, and olive oil dressing to to have a sweet, sour, and bright contrast to the savory taste of salmon and portobello mushroom. Finally, the French scrambled eggs gave a creamy and fluffy mouth feel to the otherwise robust baguette.

I will post a more detailed recipe to follow soon! Happy brunch making!

Welcome to Justin's Kitchen

Dear friends, family, and readers,

As many of you know by now, I love to cook. I love to cook more than I love to eat and I want to share that with everyone. It's one of my favorite hobbies and seeing the smiles on the faces of others makes every dish worth making. There's just something special about seeing a well planned meal finished exactly the way you wanted it to, or even better!

Everything that I have learned was taught to me by my family or by the wisdom of others (the internet). I must have been 6 years old when I started to make my own scrambled eggs on the stove. Now it's become about nailing that perfect medium-rare filet mignon by using sous vide, or spending two weeks on a cut of brisket to prepare pastrami, making my own smoked maple bacon from pork belly, wrapping up tenderloin for beef wellington,  and stewing tough cuts of meat for hours to create the perfect Sunday meat sauce for homemade tagliatelle.

I am not a trained chef and I blend techniques from all the different cultures of food together. I will never say my dishes are authentic, but I will guarantee that every single recipe I put on here is worth making. I will not blabber about trivial things or how my Aunt sometimes double lane drives in her SUV.

This blog is partly for myself. It is a way for me to track my own recipes and write down everything that I've learned to one day pass on. It will have Do's and Don'ts, substitutions and tips, suggestions and much more.

I will always list all the ingredients I used, but I will not write down exact measurements unless I think it is crucial to the taste. I will never script your kitchen experience by numbering out how you should cook. I will group together steps and and cooking tips together so you can work at your own pace.

Thanks for stopping by and taking a look at my new food blog project! I hope you enjoy what you find here. Please let me know if there's anything you would like to see or read about!

Justin Tsan