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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Jamon Iberico, Lardo and Lamb prosciutto

Wine-tasting in Napa could be tricky with a 3-year-old in tow.

They do not have patience for all that waiting, swirling, sniffing, sipping and reading the descriptions. And all those fragile glasses, bottles, elegant souvenirs in the tasting room are very heart attack inducing, for the parents.

After 2 and a half hours of driving, we managed to breeze through 2 wineries while Hayden was snoozing off in the car. Mission accomplished? Not quite. Need to get my sweet tooth fix at Dean & Deluca for the best gelato outside of Rome: Fiorello’s of San Rafael.

With a fabulous zabaglione of unmistakable masala perfume in hand, I started browsing through the deli counter. After much deliberation with my internal piggy, I settled on 3:

Lamb prosciutto from Salumeria Biellese, NY: VERY lamby. Texture reminds me of bresaola, dark red, dry and lean.

Lardo from Salumeria Biellese, NY: Cured pig fatback, a most tender piece of ‘hard fat’ on the center back of a pig. Biellese’s lardo is the best I had outside of Italy. Porky, creamy and smooth. Really bring back a very fond memory at Umbria. The worst lardo I had was from Boccalone Salumeria at the Ferry Building. Tons of sinew, practically a very expensive piece of rubber. A cheat.

Jamon Iberico by Fermin: Ham made from pata negra, an ancient breed of Iberian black pigs. Yes, it’s $89/lb, but quite worth it. Dry, rich and intensely savory, great mouth feel from the extra marbled fat. I have to say prosciutto of either Parma or San Daniele cannot compare.

Jamon Iberico de bellota, of pata negra on acorn diet is $160/lb also behind the deli counter.

$160/lb … I just couldn’t do it …


Rittenhouse, Bulleit, Redemption

Redemption: 95% Rye. 92 proof

Bulleit: 95% Rye, 5% Malted Barley, 90 proof

Rittenhouse: Not sure how about rye. 100 proof

Colorwise, all about the same, golden straw. Bulleit is the smoothest and the roundest. Buttery on the palate. Rittenhouse bites with a notable bitterness. Redemption is rich, complex and strong.

Bulleit feels like a spring/summer sipper on a porch, while Redemption is the one I will hug on a stormy night. I love Rittenhouse for its forcefulness. I will still use it in my Manhatten.

Garlic scape in the field

I didn’t know what it’s called in English until a couple of months ago Rose said: “Hey, I’ve got some garlic scapes in the field. Want to talk to the chefs?”

Garlic … what?!“

In Chinese, it’s literally called: “Garlic sprout”, and it is. It is the shoot that comes out of a garlic plant. When it’s not removed, the plant is going to flower and seed, which is not good for the garlic bulb beneath. Garlicky yet not sharp, it is considered a spring delicacy and scapes sautéed with Asian-style cured pork belly is a timeless classic in Chinese cuisine.

Cured pork belly sauteed with garlic scapes

As a long-time devoted fan of charcuterie, I have enough sodium nitrite that will last me 2 life times. My mom always says my body probably will not rot after I die.

A healthier alternative I can think of is fresh pork belly cooked sous vide, then broiled to get a blistering crust on the skin. Since, unlike Thomas Keller, I don’t have a thousand bucks to update my equipments, a poor-man’s sous vide is ‘confit’.

‘Confit’ is a method of cooking in fat under very low heat for a VERY long time. The most famous example is duck confit. The long cooking process results in extreme tenderness, and the fat sears in the flavor. I always save the duck/pork fat from roasting and freeze them with the hope I might ’confit’ something, someday.

What do you know. Garlic scape gives me a perfect excuse to spend 3 days playing with a dish.

Pork Belly Confit with sauteed scapes

A fresh pork belly with skin on is brined in a sugar and salt, aromatic brine for 48 hours (too long.) Then completely immersed in fat and baked in a 275F~300F oven for … 6 hours. Cooled completely, then cubed, then broiled under high heat to crisp up the skin.

It’s pretty yummy. Indeed very moist and tender and broiling gets a nice crust and caramelization. 48 hours of brining is too much. Next time 24 hours to tame the saltiness.

Roasted Freedom Ranger with purple potatoes

The true test of a good kitchen is a well-roasted chicken. It is not easy making all parts fully cooked yet no part is overly cooked. On top of that, crispy skin still? Personally I can count with one finger of the places I know that can do that, consistently.

But nowadays what‘s on my mind is, does it taste ‘chickeny’?

Most chickens sold in supermarkets are Cornish cross. Even at Whole Foods, organic, air-chilled, rocky, whatever, they are all Cornish cross. The problem with that breed is it grows FAST. The meat outpaces its skeleton structure and according to my last chicken farmer who wanted to raise Cornish Cross free range, they just ’dragged themselves around’ towards the end. They also tend to die of heart attack when they are exercised too much, i.e. on pasture.


Unfortunately, Petaluma Poultry is pretty much the only game in town, so Cornish cross it is … until a few weekends ago. A new chicken vendor showed up at Sunnyvale’s Farmers Market: Surfside Chickens. It is based in Watsonville and all organic feeds. Sarah the owner told me she also rents pasture from her neighbor’s farm (raises pigs and lambs) for her chickens to roam.

Sounds good to me.

I did a side-by-side tasting of her supposedly free-range Cornish cross with Whole Foods’ air-chilled. Same preparation. Roasted at the same time, and the taste? Exactly the same. Tender and juicy. It’s good.

Then last weekend from Surfside, the husband Aurelio brought an additional breed: Freedom Ranger. Since it’s slaughtered the day before, I let it rest in the frig for 72 hours to minimize the rigor mortis effect. Then butterfly and roast it 500F for 15 minutes, rotate then additional 20.

This is the clear winner. More flavorful, more ‘chickeny’. Still has the factory breed’s tenderness and juiciness which makes it more palatable for toddlers. The high roast method also gets me a golden crispy skin.

According to Wikipedia, Freedom Ranger is a French breed that’s developed originally for the Label Rouge program. It is slow growing so suitable for free range. Mine is definitely leaner, longer in structure, and the meat decidedly darker. The age is a mere 12 weeks so it is only 3.4 pounds, versus the typical 4-5 pounds of the factory birds, which may have contributed to its tenderness.

No more Cornish Cross. Freedom Ranger is the bird for me.

Spring Onion Custard with crispy bacon

I have been eyeing the spring onions at Full Circle Farm for weeks. They almost sparkle under the morning sun with the damp earth still. I asked a couple of times, and we always had just enough for the CSA shares. Oh well.

A couple days ago, Michael was rinsing them off at the packing shed after the morning harvest. “For CSA again, huh?” I asked without any expectation. “No … these are for farm stand actually.”

We have extra for the farm stand now?! In that case …

I actually had never made anything with spring onions. But hey, I am an ingredient-driven kind of cook. Vaguely remember somewhere in time, I had an onion custard. So here we are. The crispy bacon adds texture contrast and a little bit of piggy never hurts anybody.

Spring onions

Adapted from Jacques Pépin Celebrates. Makes 4.

  • A bunch of spring onions from Full Circle Farm (4~5 roots), thinly sliced, 90% whites. I reserved the green tops to make risotto
  • 1 tbsp butter plus more to coat the ramekins
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup organic heavy cream
  • 2 pasture eggs from Full Circle Farm
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  2. Sautee onions in butter until nice and soft, ~10 minutes. Add garlic, water and cover to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more. Uncover, and cook till almost all water has evaporated. Add onion mixture, heavy cream, eggs to an immersion blender. Process until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Generously butter 4 ramekins with softened butter. Divide custard mixture evenly.
  4. Prepare the water-bath. Place the molds in a roasting/baking pan and fill it with hot water. The water should come up to ~2/3 of the way up the ramekin molds. Bake in the oven for 38-40 minutes until well-set.


Getting them out intact is a little tricky. Good luck.

Resurrected, improved version, see 5/25/11 update below

For you who aren’t familiar with my love affair with this sandwich, here is the gist: When it’s made properly, the bread crusty and toothy, the meat proportional; the flavor complex. For $5, it was the best tasting, best value sandwich in the south bay, IMHO.

Then one day, the health department dropped by. To make a long story short, the sandwich cannot be sold fresh and cut to order anymore. It must be refrigerated, for health reason (my foot.)

For anyone who knows anything about bread, cold kills it. So my workaround was to come home and re-toast in the oven to revive the bread and the flavor. But there goes my lunch-on-the-go while running between errands.

Then Whole Foods just completely killed it, the whole thing. No more.

Now they are offering it again every Wednesday. Still refrigerated and not made by Greg, but apparently he shared his secret and recipe.

Still $5, and it’s humongous. I bought it at lunch, then carefully pressed it down with a gallon of milk in the frig. I wanted to share it with William for dinner. After 6 months, 7 more hours is nothing.

Resurrected Best Darn Sandwich, initial version

It is still very tasty. I don’t want to complain about meat since I love meat and who doesn‘t like a good bargain. But they added probably 50% more meat than what it used to be. The flip side of extra meat is, it makes the whole sandwich saltier. I like the extra meat but maybe tone down the salt in the dressing will balance out the sodium.

What makes me really miss ‘the way it was’ is the bread. Never mind that it is just not the same, but that the bottom crust is soaked. Either there’s too much dressing or the peppers weren’t drained, it was completely soggy. No amount of toasting could restore mush to springy bread. If I had eaten it for lunch, it’s probably OK. The 7-hour-press-down probably did it in. But I always ate Greg’s sandwich a day or two old this way, and it was always as if it’s just made.

Verdict: It is a still the best value in town and a solid, good sandwich. Just not a great one anymore.

This begs the question: How hard is it to bring back Greg for one lunch a week? And have him prepare it two way. One side reads: “Refrigerated. You will live.”

The other side reads: “Made fresh. Never seen the cooler. If you have ever been hit by a meteor rock, there’s a slight chance you might get sick eating this. DO NOT SUE US. For everyone else, enjoy.”

5/25/2011 Update: Went to Whole Foods 9:30am in the morning and ran into Greg. He proudly informed me that he tried a sample of today’s sandwich and it was ‘darn good’. Because it was so early, they hadn’t had the chance to send my babies to the Refrigerator of Death. There was less meat now and the flavor was more balanced. The bread was a big improvement: crackly, wheaty, resilient, almost like it before.

OK, that’s not fair to Larbi who is the sandwich man now. I should move on: Greg is not gonna make this sandwich anymore but in all pratical sense, this resurrected version is just like it before.

The challenge now is to show up at the right time before they are sent to the cooler …

Fava Leaf Chips

As a foodie, I have to confess it felt pretty good when the chefs at Parcel 104 asked how I made my fava chips. The flavor is sweet and nutty with an unmistakable fragrance of smoked tea. Its texture delicate and light. When handled with care, the perfectly flat leaves make a compelling presentation.

They are far more interesting than dino kale chips.

Pretty much the same way as making kale chips, just lower temperature, less time, and more care.

Lightly toss damp fava leaves with olive oil. Spread them out in single layer on baking sheets. Lightly salt on top, then bake in a preheated 200F oven with convection on. Turn off the oven after 10 minutes and flip each leaf over with an off-set spatula carefully. Return to the oven and let them dry with the residual heat.

Some breakage is unavoidable and not every leaf will be perfectly flat. To ‘encourage’ flat leaves, make sure you don’t use parchment paper and make sure the leaves are damp. The moisture relaxes them to lay flat. However the same moisture makes parchment paper a wrinkly surface.