Monday, June 24, 2013

Claypot Pork Belly

If you ask me what my favourite meat is, my answer is pork.

This is kind of predictable because I’m Asian and for some reason or another all Asians like eating pork. It's like in our blood or something.

There is a Cantonese saying that goes “giving birth to a slab of char siu would have been better”. Parents say this to their children when expressing their disappointment in them. It roughly translates to and means – “if I had char siu at least I could eat it, but you, your useless.” 

But why char siu? 

Char siu is one of many famous Chinese BBQ meats that you’ll see hanging out the front of Hong Kong style BBQ restaurant windows. There is also roast duck aka siu ngaap or soy sauce chicken aka see yu gai. So why would people say that they would rather give birth to char siu and not siu ngaap or see yu gai

I asked my parents if they knew where this saying originated from and they didn’t know. I had grown up hearing this saying, I’d often hear it on Cantonese TV shows and movies in family dramas. I then asked my parents why pork and not duck or chicken. It didn’t take us long to figure out why you would want to say “giving birth to a slab of char siu would have been better” and not siu ngaap or see see yu gai because duck is slang for a male prostitute in Cantonese and chicken is what you call a female prostitute… why? I don’t know, but don’t ever say out loud you are calling chicken or duck in Cantonese, it could get awkward.

This makes me think of the time when I was in Japan with my friends Karen and Crispin in 2010 and we were at an izakaya with some of Karen’s Japanese friends. We let the locals order and they asked us what we felt like eating which was met with “I’m easy, order whatever you like”. Karen’s Japanese friends asked what we meant by “I’m easy” and we explained to them that it means we will accept anything that they order. So they started repeating out loud “I’m easy” like it was some cool new English saying they had just learnt and then we realized that they should be careful with saying I’m easy because as with calling chicken or duck in Cantonese, it could get misconstrued and get awkward!

“giving birth to a slab of char siu would have been better”

Well this isn’t char siu, I already have a recipe for char siu on my blog which happens to be my most popular blog post but this is one of my other favourite pork dishes – claypot pork belly. 

This is the kind of dish I love eating in winter. Pork. Fat. What else do I need to keep me warm?

Enjoy :)

Claypot Pork Belly

(An original recipe by the Blue Apocalypse)


•    peanut oil
•    1 kg pork belly, thinly sliced
•    4-5 slices of ginger
•    2 shallots, sliced
•    3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
•    3 stalks spring onion, cut into 2 inch lengths (I only use the bottom third)
•    10-12 dried red chillies (soaked in hot water until soft and deseeded)
•    3 tablespoons oyster sauce
•    4 teaspoons dark soy sauce
•    2 teaspoons light soy sauce
•    1 ½ cup chicken stock
•    2-3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
•    1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
•    salt and sugar


Heat 2-3 tablespoons of peanut oil in a wok and fry the dried red chillies until the oil is coloured red and the chillies are crispy. Then add in the ginger slices and fry together until fragrant.

Add in the shallots, garlic and fry until the shallots have softened

Add in the sliced pork belly and fry until it starts to brown. Then add in oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and fry everything together so that the pork is coated with the sauce. Deglaze with Shaoxing wine and then add in the chicken stock.

Heat up a claypot and transfer the pork from the wok to the claypot. Bring to boil, cover with lid and simmer for 1-1 ½ hours until the pork is tender and the sauce has thickened. 

Stir occasionally and add more water or stock if the sauce dries up.

Add the spring onions, cook for a further 5 minutes and season to taste with a little salt and sugar. Add in the sesame oil last and mix together just before serving.
Serve with steamed rice.

Here are some of my other pork belly recipes:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Panna Cotta Lamingtons – The Best Lamingtons You’ll Ever Make!

There are very few desserts that Australia can claim as its own. We talk up pavlovas but it is fraught with arguments over if it was invented in Australia or New Zealand. New Zealand appears to win on this front but it doesn’t stop Australia from treating it like its own. 

Lamingtons are something that Australia can definitely claim as its own. It was invented around the 20th century in the kitchen of Baron Lamington, the governor of Queensland. Legend has it that it came about when stale sponge cake was covered with chocolate and coconut as something to offer to visiting dignitaries or another story is that a maid accidentally dropped cake in chocolate and was ordered to cover it in coconut to make it less sticky.

I made lamingtons with a modern twist for the Secret Cake Club Perth in May where the theme was classics. Lamingtons are a classic Aussie icon. 

The setting for Secret Cake Club Perth in May

Someone at cake club told me that it was the first time he had eaten a lamington and my response was “What is wrong with you?!” but that statement was retracted when I later found out that he was from Ireland and had only been in Australia for 1.5 years.

If you grew up in Australia, lamingtons would be a part of your psyche. Mass produced commercial supermarket lamingtons were a lunchbox staple and schools always had Lamington Drives as a fundraiser.  

The lamingtons I made for Secret Cake Club were panna cotta lamingtons – sponge cakes soaked overnight in a panna cotta mixture and then covered with chocolate ganache and moist coconut flakes. These were not the kind of lamingtons I grew up eating. The lamingtons I’m used to had a sponge which would be a bit dry (possibly stale), and was covered in some chocolate icing mix (ie: not real chocolate) and dessicated coconut.

I was first introduced to panna cotta lamingtons on Instagram where many people that I followed in Sydney kept posting photos of this amazing lamington that they ate at Flour and Stone. When I was over in Sydney last November to see Radiohead, I made a point of visiting Flour and Stone to see for myself what all the fuss over this lamington was about. After all, it’s just a lamington. I had not eaten a lamington in ages, it was not something that got me excited or interested me when there are always so many other great sweet treats on offer. 

When I ate the panna cotta lamington from Flour and Stone for the first time, I got it. I totally understood why people were raving about it – the sponge had a soft and creamy texture from being soaked with panna cotta, it was filled with a raspberry compote, and covered in real chocolate and flakes of coconut. The classic lamington had been turned into a decadent dessert and it was real pleasure to eat.

So when the theme for Secret Cake Club was classics I wanted to try making panna cotta lamingtons. I figured that I would just have to find a lamington recipe and a panna cotta recipe, and combine them together somehow but this did not have to happen as the recipe for the panna cotta lamingtons at Flour and Stone is available online. The owner and baker of Flour and Stone, Nadine Ingram has shared it

I decided to follow the recipe and see how I would go but I didn't have two 8x12 inch cake pans as specified in the recipe so I just used one large 20x30cm baking pan. The original version at Flour and Stone sandwiches two squares of sponge cake with raspberry compote but as I was baking it in one larger pan, the resulting sponge was a bit taller than what it should be so I decided to skip the raspberry filling. I made the quantity of panna cotta specified which contained 4 ¼ cups of cream but it looked too much and I only added in half of it, and poured the rest into little cups to set as individual panna cottas. Rather than making the chocolate icing in the recipe I made a simple chocolate ganache to coat. So much for following a recipe…I just adapted it to my liking along the way!

I was happy with the panna cotta lamingtons I made for Secret Cake Club Perth and received a lot of compliments with many saying they were the best lamingtons they had ever eaten. But having eaten the panna cotta lamingtons at Flour and Stone I knew that mine were lacking in panna cotta because I had chosen not to follow the recipe exactly and only added in half of the panna cotta mixture I had made. It seemed like a lot of panna cotta to add at the time and I was worried about drowning my sponge and it ending up too soggy.  But why didn’t I just trust the recipe? Why did I think that I knew better than the recipe author? I’m sure that much testing was done to obtain the perfect amount of panna cotta for the sponge. So I have made the panna cotta lamingtons again, tweaking the original recipe a bit and I used ¾ of the panna cotta mixture this time and poked lots of holes in the sponge to help it seep through and now I am happy with how they are :)

So this is my take on the panna cotta lamingtons from Flour and Stone.

 Panna Cotta soaked sponge cake. Love the soft and creamy texture!

Panna Cotta Lamingtons

(lamington recipe adapted from Nadine Ingram of Flour and Stone and chocolate ganache recipe adapted from Gourmet Traveller)

Sponge Cake
300g butter, softened at room temperature
300g caster sugar
5 eggs, beaten
300g cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
150ml milk

Note: Cake flour is not available in Australia but I found some in an Asian supermarket. 

Cake flour delivers a more delicate and tender crumb for cakes. If you can’t find cake flour, an appropriate substitute is to mix together flour with some cornflour. For every cup of flour, take out two tablespoons of flour and replace with two tablespoons of cornflour. Sift the flour and cornflour together a few times to incorporate well.

Panna Cotta Mixture
3 leaves of gelatin
3 ¼ cups pouring cream
150g caster sugar
½ vanilla bean pod or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Coating
500g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
250ml pouring cream

Plus about 400-500g of shredded coconut (I used moist coconut flakes)


Sponge Cake

Preheat oven to 175C. Line a 20x30cm baking pan with greaseproof paper.

Mix the cake flour and baking powder together and sift three times.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Then gradually add the eggs in and beat until fully blended. 

Use a spatula to gently fold in the flour and milk alternately until the batter is smooth. (This can also be done with a mixer on low speed. I have a hand held electric beater which doesn’t have a low speed so at the end of folding in the flour and milk, I beat the mixture for ~10 seconds to fully incorporate everything and smooth any lumps).

Pour the batter into the lined pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean and the middle of the cake bounces back when pressed with finger.

Remove from the oven and cool. 

Panna Cotta Mixture

Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water to soften.

Place the cream and sugar in a saucepan. Use a knife to split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds out, add the seeds and the beans into the saucepan (alternatively, just add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract). Stir and warm over low heat until sugar has dissolved, then just bring to the boil before removing from the heat.

Remove the gelatin leaves from the water and squeeze any excess water from them with your hands.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat and add the gelatin leaves. Whisk well until all the gelatin leaves have melted. 

Strain through a fine sieve and leave at room temperature for an hour.

Assembling the lamingtons

Once the sponge cake has cooled, use a skewer to poke holes all over it and use a small knife to slice the cake into square portions (4-5cms) but only cut halfway down into the cake (I find that this will allow more of the panna cotta to soak through evenly). Pour the panna cotta mixture all over the sponge.

Refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, remove the sponge from the pan and slice into 4-5cm squares. 

Prepare the chocolate ganache coating - combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. When chocolate begins to melt, stir gently until combined and smooth. Set aside.

Scatter the coconut flakes over a tray. Using 2 forks, dip each square into the chocolate ganache and shake to remove the excess. (If the ganache starts to thicken, place the bowl over gently simmering water to thin). Cover the chocolate square in coconut, shake off the excess and place on a wire rack (sitting over a tray). Repeat with other sponge squares. Stand for at least 1 hour or until the chocolate sets. 

Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chicken Ragu – Braised Chicken with Rosemary

Social media has influenced the way I dine out. I like reading restaurant reviews in the paper and blogs to find out good places to eat but I also make a note of things that come up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sometimes a short simple 140 character tweet or a photo I’ve seen on Instagram can spark my interest in a place. This kind of information can be more clear and precise, without repetition or waffle, and just enough for me to know whether or not I will like a particular place. 

But like traditional restaurant reviews or blogs I follow, any recommendation that I accept via social media will be based on trust, where I have judged that person to be a reliable source of information. 

Last year I favourited this tweet from Pat Nourse who is the editor of Gourmet Traveller.

On my trip to Sydney last November to see Radiohead, I made a visit to La Rosa. I wanted to try this dish based on a tweet that I saw because a) it’s hard to find good pasta, Italian food is more bastardised than Chinese food in Australia and b) a chicken ragu? I’ve always associated ragu with red meats (pork or beef) so I was intrigued and I wanted to taste a chicken version. 

I am wary of ordering chicken pasta dishes when I eat out. I’ve never eaten one that I have really liked. So many chicken pasta dishes don’t seem to work, where it feels like the chicken is there for the sake of being there but it doesn’t really blend into the dish well or contribute in a valuable manner.  

I was not disappointed by the chicken ragu offered by La Rosa. The dish contained braised chicken thigh with rosemary and was generously topped with parmesan and parsley. The use of chicken meant that the dish was lighter, it didn’t have the heavy depth of flavour that you would find with pork or beef, but it still had a rich flavour where you could tell that the basis of it would have been a good chicken stock, accented with the flavours of tomatoes and rosemary throughout. What I liked about this dish was that there was a purity and simplicity to the flavour which was really satisfying and felt homey, where you can tell that it was one of those family recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation. On the menu the dish was called Spaghettini della Mamma aka Mum’s Spaghettini! It was one of my favourite dishes of the trip. 

Have you ever eaten somewhere based on a tweet?

When I eat a dish that I enjoy, I like to try replicating it at home.

But first of all I had to figure out what a ragu was.

From my research, my understanding of it is that it's a meat based sauce, slowly cooked with sautéed vegetables in a liquid. The distinguishing aspect of a ragu is that the tomatoes added are limited in quantity to the meat and there is only a small amount of sauce. The sauce should cover the pasta a bit but there shouldn’t be much more. Not to be confused with the bolognese sauce variety where you drown your pasta with sauce. Also not to be confused with the French ragout which is a meat or vegetable stew.

Using my new found knowledge of how to cook a ragu where you basically sear meat, cook a soffritto and braise the meat with some liquid (wine/broth), tomatoes and herbs, I have been cooking a lot of ragu over the past few months. I started with cooking a pork ragu and then tried cooking chicken ragu, continually refining my method.

This is the third time I have cooked chicken ragu, learning from earlier attempts and tweaking the recipe overtime to a result that I am pretty happy with now. 

The chicken has been cooked until it is tender, 
falls off the bone and is pull-apart goodness

I use leftover chicken ragu to stuff some jacket potatoes :)

Chicken Ragu with Rosemary

(An original recipe by the Blue Apocalypse)

•    Olive oil
•    4 chicken Marylands (
butcher's cut of meat consisting of the entire leg of thigh and drumstick)
•    1 cup of finely diced shallots
•    1-2 minced garlic cloves
•    2 grated celery sticks
•    ½ grated medium sized carrot
•    1 cup dry white wine
•    1 bay leaf
•    2 sprigs rosemary
•    2 (400g) cans of whole peeled tomatoes
•    1 cup chicken stock
•    salt and pepper
Garnish – parsley and parmesan

Plus packet of dried pasta, I used linguine


Preheat oven to 150C.

Wash, pat dry with paper towel and season the chicken Marylands with salt and pepper.

Heat some olive oil in dutch oven/overproof pot over medium high heat, add the chicken Marylands skin side down first for a few minutes and sear all over until browned (do this in two batches). Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.

Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the garlic, celery, carrots and cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Deglaze with white wine and simmer for a few minutes until it reduces by half.

Add bay leaf, rosemary, cans of tomatoes, chicken stock and return the chicken Marylands back to the pot. Bring to boil, cover and place in the oven.

Cook for 2 hours until the meat pulls away from the bone easily. Remove the bones and shred the chicken with forks.

Put the pot on the stove and bring to boil, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta until al dente and drain, reserving some of the pasta water.

To serve - put 1 cup of the chicken ragu in a frying pan and heat gently over medium heat with 2-3 tablespoons of the pasta water. Add one serve of pasta to the frying pan with the chicken ragu and toss until it is combined. Transfer the chicken ragu pasta onto a plate and garnish with parsley, parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Preparing a serve of pasta

To make jacket potatoes stuffed with chicken ragu
Preheat oven to 200C. Wash a potato, wipe dry with a paper towel and then use a fork to poke some holes in it. Rub some olive oil onto the skin and some salt. Place the potato on a tray and bake for 50-60 minutes or until tender when a skewer is inserted into the centre. Cut a deep cross on top of each potato, fill with chicken ragu and garnish with some parmesan and parsley.