Throughout this process of bringing out the “chef” in me I get caught up with a few minor setbacks along the way.
I’ve been juggling with the terms “snooty”, “pretentious” and “vapid” a lot lately. Just a few hours ago, I was at this new cafe that sat on top of the deli store that my mom and I frequent. This cafe serves their iced tea along with goblets and no ice. I mean, come on, who drinks iced tea from a goblet? I think it’s…unnecessary. And pretentious.
Well, I’ve called myself a snoot on some occasions. Like this afternoon, when I was plating my dish for the camera. Food styling is my frustration. I look at all these food magazines and page after page of pure awesomeness makes me feel so inferior as an amateur photographer. Sometimes I subscribe to this idea that a great food photo has all the bells and whistles. And sometimes the end product kills me.
What I’ve learned from food styling so far is that a dish looks better if colors just pop. So adding a pop of color I did. I cut some red and green bell peppers into rings and at the end I decided to just put in a red one, to keep it subtle. It doesn’t translate well on camera. I was a bit disappointed. OK, I was really disappointed.
I can’t really believe myself but I actually called my plating vapid and soulless.
But there’s another styling tip that I take for granted. The best way to bring out a food’s soul in the photo (YES I AM THAT PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD!!!!!) is to keep it simple.
Puff Pastry, I’ve learned, loses its light flakiness when it’s overworked. When you knead and mix it to the point of death, it’s not puff pastry any more. That’s a good principle I can live by. There’s a fine line between perfect and too much. I’m heavy handed when it comes to my cooking – I season a lot, I over mix, I over plate, I over think everything. Man, I need to loosen up and pull it back a little.
With that being said, there’s nothing vapid with the taste of what I did. It’s basically fried five spice pork belly. I’m not really over Chinese Five Spice because it takes me back to the days of Peking Duck and this really great stew I made. The meat was tender and the subtle taste and aroma of the five spice was there. I didn’t really have to try too hard with this dish. It’s Chinese-inspired because it uses cornstarch and egg as the breading. No flour.
And if ever there’s a desperate cook out there, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that makes great puff pastry.
Five Spice Fried Pork Belly with Honey Soy Sauce (serves 4 – 6) – adapted from yummy.ph
- 1 kg pork belly
- 2 tsp five spice powder
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 three-inch piece of ginger, grated finely.
- 4 tbsp liquid seasoning (I used Knorr)
- 4 tbsp gin
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups cornstarch
- oil for deep frying
Honey Soy Sauce
- 1/2 bulb of garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp oil
- 5 tbsp light soy sauce
- 4 tbsp honey
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
- Mix together pork belly and the rest of the seasonings. Marinate for at least two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, mix pork with beaten egg.
- Heat oil in a deep pan. Dredge pork in cornstarch and fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
- Make the sauce: Fry garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, honey and the cornstarch slurry. Allow to reduce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve meat with a steaming cup of rice and drizzled with sauce. Enjoy!