• Honeyed 5-Spice Chicken Wings

  • Yi Mein

  • Spinach Pesto Quesadilla

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ahi Poke

All my friends are in Hawaii without me!  Granted, this is blatant exaggeration, but still, it's remarkable that four different sets of friends are all there on vacation or honeymoon (Congratulations Heidi and Fara!!).  While they're in Hawaii enjoying palm trees, cloudless skies, and turquoise waters, I'm stuck in San Diego with all the palm trees, cloudless skies, and... hmm.  Admittedly, San Diego itself is no slouch in the paradise department, but there's no place else quite like Hawaii.  And if I can't be in Hawaii, I might as well eat like I'm there!

The first time I had poke (pronounced poh-keh) was during a visit to my friend Rachel's house in Oahu.  While I'd been to Hawaii before with my family, it's a different experience all together when you've got the low-down on all the local eats.  A substantial part of the trip centered around food, and in fact, for one particularly lavish dinner, we even took before + after photos--proof of our 6 month-sized food babies.  We feasted on everything from shave ice at Matsumoto's, to spam musubis at 7-eleven, shrimp trucks on North Shore, and of course, poke.  

At first glance, my impression of poke wasn't overwhelming; I was greeted by several unassuming containers from Foodland (a local grocery store), but upon opening the lids, the sight of these luscious chunks of ahi made my mouth immediately water.  The simple sesame-shoyu dressing doesn't overpower, but rather enhances, the fresh flavor of the fish.  And to clarify, when I say fresh, I mean really fresh--totally raw.  Throughout my childhood, my parents were constantly paranoid about the dangers of less-than-fully cooked meat, and it wasn't until college that I started to embrace the joy of runny eggs, rare steak, and still-pink pork.  In fact, it was around the time of this first poke encounter that I had begun dipping my toes into the world of sushi and raw fish.  And so, not one to miss out on a true Hawaiian treat, and like the intrepid diner I am, I just dived right in for that first delicious bite of poke and haven't looked back since.  

Left to right: Garnished with sesame seeds, scallions, and nori.
Ahi Poke
Total Recipe Cost: $14.95 for 3 servings!  

While I like to consider myself an expert at eating Hawaiian food, I certainly can't claim to be an expert at cooking authentic Hawaiian cuisine.  But, thank goodness I have friends from Hawaii to consult with (thanks Mikey)!

½ lb ahi tuna, sushi grade
1 large shallot
2 stalks scallions*
1 tablespoon soy sauce (called shoyu in Hawaii)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or similar)
½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Cut the tuna into bite-sized chunks.  Then, mince the shallots and scallions, setting aside some minced scallions for garnish.  Mix everything together.  Garnish with scallions or additional sesame seeds, and serve chilled as an appetizer!  Take a bite, then close your eyes and pretend to be in Hawaii…

Unit Cost
Total Cost
½ lb ahi tuna, sushi grade
1 large shallot
2 stalks scallions*
1 T soy sauce
2 t sesame oil
1 t Sriracha sauce
½ t sesame seeds



*As mentioned in a previous post, scallions are ridiculously easy to grow!  Watering is optional needed only occasionally.  Mine have survived over a month without watering!  But they prefer at least once every few days.  

When you buy scallions (with roots attached), use the stalks as usual, but leave at least an inch or two from the end of the roots.  Fully submerge the root portion in water for a few days.  Then, plant the rootlets and enjoy the bounty of your free food!  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Siu Yuk (Crispy Roast Pork)

Pork belly will never top anyone’s health food list.  With its crispy skin, generous marbling of fat, and succulent (faintly spiced) meat, this roast pork belly is comforting, familiar, but yes—utterly decadent.  Growing up, we ate siu yuk often enough that it might have become commonplace, but still it remained a special treat.  It was treasured enough that when we brought some home from the store, even before the groceries were stowed away, I'd have opened the aluminum takeout tray and would already be crunching away on a choice piece.  I'd get scolded of course, but not before everyone joined me at the counter, all of us scrounging for the tastiest bits.

Poking holes all over the skin gets it bubbly-crisp, while a light marinade on the meat provides subtle flavor!
In truth, the real scolding came at dinnertime, when my parents sternly warned me to cut away the fat from the meat.  By the end of the meal, everyone else would have a neat pile of discarded fat, but my plate would be curiously clean; "Oops," I'd say innocently.  It's only fitting then that my parents were both aghast and exasperated when I told them last week I'd be testing out this siu yuk recipe, which calls for one of the fattiest (but oh-so-good) cuts of meat—pork belly.  Frankly, I was a little apprehensive myself (since I’m “California-healthy” now, hah) but those worries melted away at the first taste: salty crunch, hot fat, butter-soft meat, and nostalgia all wrapped up in a single bite. 

Siu Yuk (Chinese Crispy Roast Pork)
Barely adapted from Bee Yinn Low's Easy Chinese Recipes
Total Recipe Cost: $6.64 for 6 servings (2 lbs)!  (At the store, siu yuk costs ~$10/lb)

Like cha siu, siu yuk is ubiquitous throughout Chinatown; these roast pigs hang in restaurant windows at every street corner, tempting passersby with their gloriously golden, crunchy skin.  Unlike cha siu, siu yuk (in its usual form) is nearly impossible for the home cook to attempt.  After all, how many ovens can accommodate a full-sized pig?  Fortunately, all you need to recreate siu yuk here is a handful of spices, a small slab of pork belly, and a healthy appetite!

The key to this recipe is crisping the skin properly:  
1) Don't skimp on the air-drying step, which removes most of the moisture from the skin.  
2) More importantly, make sure to thoroughly prick the skin with holes.  During the roasting, hot fat and oil will bubble out from the holes, crackling the skin.  I've never seen this, but my dad says that in Chinatown, they have actual boards with nail-like protrusions to smack against the full length of the pig.  In comparison, my method of poking (by individual bbq skewer) is pretty inefficient, but effective nonetheless!  Make as many holes as possible, no matter how exhausting.  Your arms may get tired, but your stomach will thank you later!

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2 lbs pork belly

Combine all the marinade ingredients and set aside.  (Don't be alarmed, the mixture stays a bit gritty.)

First, the pork belly skin must be carefully cleaned (and kept intact).  This is very important, since the skin is the most delicious part!  To clean the skin, scrape the surface with a sharp knife to remove residual hair/debris.  Rinse the meat off in cold water and thoroughly pat dry.

Using a barbecue skewer (or similar), thoroughly poke small holes all over the skin.  This will help with crisping the skin later.  Turning the pork belly over (skin side down), use a sharp knife to score the meat part of the pork belly with shallow slits.  Brush the marinade mixture onto the meat and in between the slits.  Be careful not to get the marinade onto the skin, though if you do, just pat it dry.  Flip the pork belly over, so its skin side up, and salt the skin generously.  Let the meat sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours.  This dries out the skin, so that it can get crispier!  (You can also use a fan to help air-dry the skin.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Tightly wrap the meat side of the pork belly in aluminum foil (two layers), leaving the skin exposed.  Roast the meat for 40 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, brush the skin with oil, and sprinkle with additional salt.  Change the oven setting to broil, and position the pork directly under the broiler (~6 in away).  Broil for 3-5 minutes, (carefully monitoring) until the skin is golden and bubbly-crispy.  If the skin is not crispy enough, you may need to poke more holes in the skin; alternatively, the meat can be briefly fried (skin-side down) in a heavy skillet.

After removing the pork from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes.  Cut the pork into pieces, and eat immediately with hoisin sauce for dipping!

For leftovers:
While siu yuk tastes best when fresh and crispy, I've found a few ways to still enjoy it the day after.  Remove the siu yuk from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.  Heat up a lightly oiled skillet for several minutes.  Place the meat (skin-side down) in the skillet, and fry it for a few minutes until crispy.  If you flip over the pork to heat the meat side, try not to cook it for too long--the meat will dry out quickly.  After all, a partially-warmed meal is a small price to pay for crispy skin, tender meat, and full flavor!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
1 ½ T soy sauce
¾ t salt

½ t 5-spice powder
½ t sugar
¼ t white pepper
2 lb pork belly