Thursday, April 28, 2011

Enchiladas esta Noche!

Enchilada literally means in chile, the enchiladas are dipped into a red chile sauce to concentrate the chile flavor into the tortilla. The tortillas are not baked in the oven, they are lowered into hot oil to make them pliable, then dipped into the sauce, the fillings are layered, and then the enchilada is rolled up and served right away. This is the Mexican way of making enchiladas!

The weather has been a real downer of late here in Milwaukee so I thought preparing and eating Mexican, food I typically over-indulge in, the summer, would lift my spirits. I've always had enchiladas at Mexican restaurants but have only made them once before. I got inspiration from the latest edition of Saveur magazine and their article on Mexican cooking. Making enchiladas won't bring the sun out but it at least puts my mind at ease.

I headed to the southside of Milwaukee to El Rey Supermercado to buy quality Mexican ingredients. You will need:

8 dried New Mexico chiles
1 ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 saltine crackers or 2 1/2 tablespoons of bread crumbs
1 clove garlic
1 whole clove

To make the red chile sauce, start out by heating up the dried chiles on a skillet. Cook until fragrent. This should take about 4-5 minutes. It deepens the flavor of the sauce.

Add the chiles to a blender along with chocolate, oregano, cinnamon, garlic, clove, bread crumbs, and 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Let the ingredients steep for 5 minutes and then puree until smooth.

I love putting my face right above the blender and smell in the hot fumes of the sauce, all the separate ingredients hit my nose. I can pick out each one. Oh yes!

Drain the sauce into a bowl through a fine sieve.

Add the sauce to a pot and add a tablespoon of oil and cook over medium heat, constantly stirring until the sauce thickens. Set aside.

What better filling for an enchilada than pork right? There are many ways you can cook the pork to add as a filling and many types of cuts of pork but my favorite is to slow-cook pork shoulder. I cooked a 3 lb pork shoulder, seasoned with salt - pepper - garlic powder - Mexican spice for 8 hours. The pulled pork fits well in the cigar-shaped rolled up tortilla. Damn, look at that bowl of pork!

Instead of dipping the tortillas in hot oil, I opted for a healthier method. I cooked the tortillas on a skillet until pliable and set aside. Too much oil tastes too greasy for me. Make sure you get good tortillas. I got store-bought rather than make my own and the tortillas weren't the great of quality, they tended to tear when rolled. I really hate when that happens.

Dip the tortillas into the red sauce until coated and transfer to a plate, add pork filling and roll up like a cigar. Sprinkle queso fresco on top of enchiladas and add sliced onions.

You can add different types of filling along with the pork if you want, cheese, onions, cilantro, etc...I went for a simple version. Yes, the enchiladas were very tasty. The red chile sauce adds a lot of depth to the dish. You can really notice the hints of cinnamon and clove. I'm not the biggest fan of the taste of clove but I'm getting more used to it. It is a staple ingredient when making moles and sauces so I wanted to include it. The Ibarra chocolate is there too although more subtle than the other ingredients.

The pork was a real winner and the queso fresco always makes a dish better. My only problem were the tortillas. Perhaps I bought an old batch, one that was sitting on the shelves too long. I would recommend making your own if you have the time.

Last note:  These aren't Gringo enchiladas, they are packed with real Mexican flavor. Go get 'em!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Iowa - Fried Pork Tenderloin

If you ever find yourself at a truck stop in Iowa, you'll most definitely find fried, breaded pork tenderloin. It tastes as good as it is easy to make. Like most popular foods from a certain area, there are controversies on what is the correct way to make it, season it, bread it, so on and so on. The tenderloin lends itself to be experimented on but anyway you make it, you will be in for a delicious ride.

The cut of pork brings up a heated conversation too. Traditionally, pork tenderloin is used but it can also be created using boneless pork chops. But the main thing you want to do, is bang that pork silly and pound it out thin. I butterflied a section of pork tenderloin, placed it between sheets of plastic film and walloped it with a small cast-iron skillet.

I pounded the tenderloins to about a half inch thick but you certainly can pound it thinner. Make sure to achieve even thinness for equal cooking.

Another debatable topic is the breading of the tenderloins. Some use mashed-up crackers, others use cornmeal. I like the crunch of yellow cornmeal so I used that to bread the tenderloin. Soak the pork in milk and coat it with cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper.

Get a cast-iron skillet nice and hot and add oil. You can also deep fry it but I fried it is some shallow oil, three minutes on each side until it gets nice and brown and crispy.

Toppings for the breaded tenderloin is also up for much experimentation but I went with what seems to be the traditional route, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, topped with pickles.

Get a nice, soft bun and stack it, starting on the bottom: tenderloin - tomato - lettuce - pickles - mayo.

Since the breading adds a layer to the pork, I see I could have pounded the tenderloin thinner. You will see in Iowa that the pork can be two to three times the size of the bun! So feel free to make it any size you want.

In Iowa, they don't call this a sandwich, they simply call it Tenderloin because everyone knows what you are talking about. But damn, this sandwich is real tasty and very satisfying. Crispy breading on the outside, succulent pork on the inside, oh baby! The tomato and lettuce adds that garden freshness and the tang from the mayo and the vinager bit from the pickles pulls the flavor all together. You'll be banging tenderloins all day because people will not want to stop eating them, I'm serious.

The fried pork tenderloin is so easy to make and yet the taste is so big. I've been thinking about sandwiches since I saw the latest edition of Savuer Magazine, the sandwich issue. Check it out if you haven't. It has a ton of mouth-watering photos on sandwiches from everywhere. The Iowa fried, breaded pork tenderloin can easily match up with the sandwiches you see in that magazine.

I'm going to have another one! Thanks Iowa.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Baseball Brats - Usinger's vs Johnsonville - Milwaukee Style

Major League Baseball is here and underway. I've been watching a lot of Brewers games and reading boxscores. Great weekend series win by the Crew over the Cubs was made sweeter by indulging into my favorite baseball pastime, grilling brats.

Yes, this is my third post on bratwurst but I like to share my love for them. In Wisconsin, two bratwurst-making companies stand tall, Johnsonville and Usinger's. Both are great, both are fabulous and while listening to Bob Uecker and the Brewers on the radio, I decided to decide which brat is better. Truely a tough call.

It began in 1945, when Ralph and Alice Stayer opened up a butcher shop named after their hometown of Johnsonville. Today, Johnsonville is one of the most popular sausages and is available all over the U.S. and in 30 countries.

Usinger's have been making sausages for 125 years. It is located on Milwaukee's Old World Third St, the original site of the store. Usinger's slogan states it all, "America's Finest Sausage."

Both sausages are made with pork and seasoned with fine spices. While Usinger's sausages are a little longer than Johnsonville's, Johnsonville brats contain a great juicy flavor.

These brats are delicious enough to eat without condiments but sausages are perfect hostesses to adding mustard, sauce, or sliced vegatables. For me, I'm combining sauerkraut with Secret Stadium sauce and Koops' spicy brown mustard and Koops' Dusseldorf mustard.

To achieve the juiciest brats, I am grilling them low and slow on the indirect side of the grill. No flare ups, no bursting of the casing, just slow cooking while I listen to the game on the radio. The brats took about 45-50 minutes on the indirect grill.

To height the pleasure factor of this test, I choose to include Pretzel Buns from Miller Bakery in Milwaukee. Those buns just look oh so perfect.

The brats are done, the kraut is resting, the Brewers are winning, lets eat!

For the Usinger's brat, I placed it on the pretzel bun, added the sauerkraut, and squeezed some Dusseldorf mustard on it. 
The spicy brown mustard is a perfect match for the Johnsonville. Secret sauce-flavored kraut also is must add to the bun.

The verdict of the Baseball brats:

The Usinger's brat was a juice explosion. Yes, the chin was covered in runny, juicy brat goodness. Cooking it a low temp held in all the flavor. The seasoning of the ground pork gives it that old world flavor. The brats are sold fresh so it leaves the shop within days. It is not frozen and that quality really comes out.

The Johnsonville is a shorter brat but packed full of bratwurst power. Snappy, crunchy texture from the casing combined with the tender, fatty pork lends iself for an amazing bite. The spice of the horseradish in the brown mustard also highlights the seasoning of the sausage.

Both wursts are top notch and it is hard to pick a winner. I tried each bratwurst sans bun and condiments and Usinger's had better flavor but the Johnsonville brat really shined with my additions. The sentimental favorite goes to Johnsonville as I grew up eating them. I learned how to grill brats by grilling Johnsonvilles. I love them brats. But this test is about taste and quality. I chose Johnsonville in a slim margin.

What won me over was the total package. Quality pork, great seasoning, juicy inside, snappy outside, great on its own or with condiments, it really is "heaven on a bun."

Decide for yourself, go the store and fire up some bratwurst, taste Wisconsin at its finest.

Buy Johnsonville.
Buy Usinger's.

Love them brats!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly (Thit Heo Kho Tau)

Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly with Egg, Fried Tofu and Coconut Juice

Vietnamese food, for me, is a new thing but I've loved everything that I've had. I hope I represented this dish well as I don't want to disrespect it. I need more practice making Vietnamese food and I'm not the best braiser of meats in the world either but I gave it a go anyway.

Start out with:

2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
2 shallots, chopped fine
green bell pepper
fried tofu, quartered

For the braising liquid:
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons of palm sugar or dark brown sugar
1 can of coconut juice
1.5 cups of water

Brown the pork belly on all sides and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pot, hot enough to fry the aromatics and caramalize the sugar. Add the shallots, garlic, pepper and star anise. Cook until fragrant. Add the sugar and stir for a few minutes. Add the fish sauce, water, coconut juice, soy sauces, as well as the pork belly and fried tofu.

Braise for a few hours until the pork belly is tender. I braised for about 1.5 hours with the lid partially covering the pan.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pan. Poke holes into the hard-boiled eggs with a toothpick to prevent any blowups when you fry the eggs. Pan-fry, not deep fry, the eggs on all sides. Be careful of hot oil splashes. Set aside when done.

When the pork belly is done braising, let it rest on a board to cool. Cut the belly into slices and arrange on a plate or bowl. Drizzle with the pan sauce and serve with cilantro, chopped green onion, and steamed Jasmine rice.

The dish definitely had a lot of flavor. The star anise was not over-bearing at all but you could not ignore its presence. But I think that is a good thing. I loved the hard-boiled fried eggs. I will be cooking these a lot more now. They added a creamy, pillowy texture to the dish. The tofu soaked up all the good sauces and paired well the green peppers. I've never combined tofu and hard-boiled eggs and pork together before but it really works.

I will admit that I over-cooked the pork belly a bit. It was drier than I would have liked. The pork wasn't super tender and buttery but it still worked for me. Need to practice more braising!

All in all, I really enjoyed the Vietnamese-inspired braised pork belly.It had different flavors and combinations I haven't tried before. I will give it a professional try when I see it on a menu next time I'm in a Vietnamese restaurant.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pad Ped Moo - Thai stir fry

Pad means stir fry and any type of Pad Thai is perfect for the grab-and-go. You can find pad thai sizzling in woks on the streets on Thailand. Cooked very hot and very fast, it is a popular food for street food vendors.

It has been a busy March (sorry, no posts.) so a quick yet satisfying dish was needed. Pad Ped Moo is made with belly pork, Thais tend to use many parts of the pig and the fatty part of pork belly makes the dish. The hot wok will sear the pork and render the fat quickly, cooking the pork in its own fat. You know that sounds tasty.

Many types of vegatables can be used to accompany the pork belly. I went with peppers and beans. Feel free to use Thai peppers but I stayed away from using them. They are great peppers but I had a situation once where I ate a whole one in one bite and due to the extreme hotness, I basically passed out for 20 minutes. I'm sure the beers aided in me taking a little nap but I couldn't take the heat.

1 lb pork belly, small dice (freeze for a bit to make dicing easier)

2 cups of Chinese long green beans, cut into bits
1/2 cup green bell peppers, sliced
1/2 cup Thai red peppers, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons red curry paste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon Palm sugar or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt and pepper

Add pork belly to the hot wok and sear until the pork turns brown. Add the red curry pastes and mix.

Then add the fish sauce, garlic, sugar, chilis/pepper.

Stir fry for a few minutes to combine flavors.

Garnish with chopped green onions and coriander and serve over streamed Jasmine rice.

The dish had really great flavor. It would taste very different if another type of pork was used. I'm a big fan of pork belly, nice layer of fat, meat, and skin. Cooked right and you will get crispy skin and moist, fatty meat. Combine it with snappy pepper and beans and you have a great pad ped moo.

I love the flavors of Thai food and though it doesn't take much to cook and prepare this dish, it doesn't disappoint in any way. Any time I get roasted meats combined with rice, I am a happy man. More Thai food on the way.....