Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly

I just remembered that today is our community’s fiesta back in Zamboanga. Fiestas are what you would imagine them to be: a melange of beautiful chaos, delicious food and no-frills gatherings of both the invited and uninvited. Over the years my family has had our fair share of all of that. There was this one particular time when a man and his little daughter just when inside our home, got a plate and helped himself to the food, while he and his daughter were sitting on the dining room floor. Sure, that was pretty inappropriate but it comes with the territory. Some just wait outside the gate and beg and who are we to deny them of food? It makes me feel sad and awkward that it’s during these moments of celebration that the reality of what we have and what others don’t have sinks in.

Today I was lucky to be able to curb how much I miss fiestas and family. And I also felt really good. The school organized a feeding program in coordination with the local parish. We were able to feed around a hundred kids who were attending catechism sessions. It’s nothing grand, but it works just like a fiesta. Kids were happy and full, and I can take comfort in that. Waking up too early for a Saturday was worth it.

Generosity can be expressed in so many ways. But I’d like to believe that food can best reflect it. I’m no authority (yet) when it comes to this but cooking with love (among other things) can make good food great. I heard that bit on the radio a few days ago when I was on my way to school. It makes sense, really.
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It’s one thing to throw together things from your pantry into a pot and call it experimentation, and it’s another to make sure that the flavors you’re marrying actually go well together. Thinking outside the box is good. By all means it’s something I want to hone, but once in a while, falling back on tried and tested flavors does the trick to satisfy not just the body but the soul.

With this dish, I think I did a little bit of both. Hey, it’s Vietnamese-inspired! I’ve never tried using coconut water to braise pork, but with adobo as my foundation, I knew I was not treading into uncharted waters. Ever since I watched Christine Ha do it on MasterChef, I felt the urge to replicate it because it looked incredible.
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After going through a few recipes, I finally managed to adjust the recipe to suit my preferences. I made this a few Saturdays ago, but if it’s still even possible, the taste still lingers. The coconut water does a great job of softening the pork, and the addition of patis (fish sauce) gives it that familiar salinity that makes it adobo’s peculiar cousin who enjoys indie music. It also made sense to use coconut sugar for that pleasant sweetness. All that was missing was the hard-boiled egg. But it didn’t really matter in the end because the dish already knocks it out of the park with its indulgent taste.

This, my friends, is generosity on a plate.
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams pork belly, cubed
  • 3 – 4 cups coconut water
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • chili oil, to taste
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

In a pot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and reduce it to a simmer. Allow the pork to braise in the liquid for at least an hour, until it is tender. Adjust taste and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce. Remove from heat and serve with rice, hard-boiled egg and salad greens on the side.

Peach Marmalade and Tomato Braised Pork Steaks

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Weekends are golden days for me. As soon as Friday creeps in, that feeling of having a few uninterrupted hours to catch up on all things mundane excites me. I think you might know by now that I’m a geek who loves children’s fiction, and I’m currently halfway done with The Mark of Athena. Usually I can devour a book in a day, but I choose to savor the third installment since the next one will be out in the fall of 2013.

This weekend was a good one for me. After a long while, this blog’s pulse has been racing again, with a few updates on my life as a would-be glorified cook, the new header image and I think I boldly declared that I’d be posting a recipe soon. I couldn’t post a recipe without actually cooking something, and cook I did.
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My routine doesn’t involve a lot of cooking at home. The horror, I know. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to cook something for my survival – and because the place where I live doesn’t run out of places to eat (thank you, my friendly neighborhood ihawan/barbecue place), I find it pretty convenient that my needs are satisfied.

It’s funny that it took making a proper home-cooked meal to realize just how I missed myself. By “myself”, I mean the food blogger. And not just the blogger who writes about what he ate, but the blogger who writes about and shares what he cooked. The latter has always been who The Hungry Giant is.
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This is a simple recipe that involves only a few ingredients. I needed to practice my tourne abilities, hence the shaped carrots and chayote. They were simply steamed while the rice was cooking, using the steaming basket that comes with almost every rice cooker.

I wanted something other than the usual adobo (not that there’s anything to hate about adobo), and the idea of braising something in a thick tangy tomato sauce made me not miss adobo that much. And thanks to that trip to the Pancake House, where I had peach waffles, I asked myself why it took me this long to appreciate the sweetening power of anything made with peaches. A few heaping tablespoons made all the difference.

Not all weekends are like the one I had recently, but at least I milked it for what it’s worth.
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Tomato and Peach Braised Pork Steaks with Steamed Vegetables (serves 3 – 4)

  • 1 carrot, tourneed (or just slice it like you would thick fries)
  • 1 small chayote, tourneed (or just slice it like you would thick fries)
  • 1 -2 tablespoons butter
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 6 pieces pork steaks (choose a cut with good marbling; this is roughly a kilo)
  • one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup water/stock
  • 5 – 6 heaping tablespoons peach marmalade
  • 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  1. As you cook the rice in the rice cooker, place the vegetables in foil or in a bowl with the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Place it in the steaming basket and place it over the rice to steam. Once the vegetables are cooked (not too soft that it becomes mushy), remove.
  2. Pat-dry the pork and season it pork with salt and pepper on both sides.
  3. In a pan, heat a little bit of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until aromatic. Remove from pan. Turn up the heat to high. Add around a tablespoon of oil.
  4. Sear the pork steaks on both sides, until they start to brown. Remove from pan.
  5. Add the tomatoes (together with the liquid in the can), marmalade, garlic, onions and water.
  6. Place pork back into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender and the sauce has reduced. If the pork is still not cooked through and the sauce dries up, add more water. Season to taste with salt, pepper and the cayenne.
  7. Serve with rice. Enjoy!

An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon

There’s this really amazing food blog that constantly fills my google reader with almost daily posts – Ang Sarap. That in itself is a feat because the voice behind it, Raymund, a fellow Filipino residing in New Zealand, is a working man whereas yours truly is currently bumming around (that’ll all change SOON) and I can’t even muster up the gumption to post frequently lately. His blog is filled with recipes I wouldn’t mind trying every single day, so early on I was sold.

Ang Sarap is currently hosting guest posts from food bloggers all around the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that tight circle. My guest post is currently up on his site, so you might want to check it out.
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Before I left for Manila I made Boeuf Bourguignon for a cozy dinner among friends. A few hours prior, I was staring in front of the black hole that is my pantry, trying to figure out what to cook. I’ve been known to hoard ingredients that I don’t get to use often. So sifting through everything was a challenge. Making a simplified version of Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon was always at the back of my mind. The last time I made it was for Christmas lunch, which was a hit with the family.

This time, I stripped it down until I was left with the core ingredients of beef and wine, and whatever remotely related to bourguignon was left in the fridge and pantry found its way into the pan.
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(excerpt from the guest post)

But is what I made still Boeuf Bourguignon? I implore you to never second-guess this dish! Bourguignon or not, it’s still something incredibly special.

This still requires a few hours in the oven to cook, BUT if you ask me, I think cooking this in a pressure cooker for an hour would do the trick. I would do that eventually once I get my hands on a pressure cooker. Sometimes what we would do at home is to pressure cook the raw beef then place it in a container and just leave it in the fridge. When we need it for quick soups or stews, then it’s good to go!

I stumbled on a goldmine when I dotted the dish with butter before I placed it in the oven. Your kitchen will thank you. For a servant-less Filipino cook like me, this might as well be godsend. 

I wish I could make this dish soon but the tiny kitchen I have right now is making it a challenge. I’m still in the process of easing myself into this new lifestyle in the big city so you might notice that it’s been quiet here at THG lately. But because Manila’s food culture is amazing, you might see more of what I ate than what I cooked.

But for now, with a spoonful of nostalgia and homesickness, here it is….Boeuf Bourguignon 2.0
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An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams beef rib eye
  • 115 grams canned whole or sliced button mushroom
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 beef broth cube dissolved in 1 ½ cup hot water
  • ¾ cup red wine (use wine that you would drink)
  • 6 bacon strips, roughly chopped
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • Small cubes of butter

In a large nonstick pan, heat olive oil over medium heat then add the bacon. Fry until fat renders. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Season one side with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place the rib eye on the pan, seasoned side down. Season with salt and pepper the side facing up. Cook both sides until it starts to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions until limp. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 30 more seconds. Using the spatula, nudge the onions and mushrooms to the sides of the pan, and then add back the beef and the bacon. Add the beef broth water and the wine. Season with thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in the flour and gently mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the pan in the oven and allow to cook for 2 – 3 hours or until beef is tender. Remove from the oven and adjust the taste to your preference. Serve warm with rice or buttered toast and enjoy!

Honey Chicken

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My eating habits scare me sometimes. Sometimes. I was too full for lunch at 12 because I ate breakfast at 10. Then at around 2pm, I thought I was glued to the bed watching NCIS reruns, but no, I craved for honey chicken. I just had to press the pause button.

Truth be told I just went with my gut on this one. There was no recipe, just inspiration from a few odds and ends, particularly the vivid taste of Lotus restaurant’s iconic honey chicken masterpiece, and the sauce I made a while back for the fried pork cutlets. And the end result was devoured in record time, even by my grandmother who, today, also told me that she tried my macaroni and cheese and thought it was “walang kwenta” (worthless). But hey, don’t take her word for it!!! The rest of my family defended me of course, so it’s probably just grandma’s isolated and skewed opinion (but don’t worry I still love her to bits).

The only thing I wished I could have done was to make some more because it was the first thing gone from the table during dinner. Yeah, they really liked it.
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Honey chicken (serves 4)

  • 1.5 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Half a head of garlic, minced
  • 1 240ml can pineapple juice
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white cane vinegar (apple cider vinegar works too)
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup honey (or more, to taste)
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Sear the chicken on both sides, until it begins to brown, around 5 – 10 minutes on each side. You might need to do this in batches.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large sauce pan (large enough to hold the chicken pieces as well) over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and allow to fry until fragrant but not burnt. Add the pineapple juice and the cornstarch mixture. Mix well.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir everything together over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning to your preference.
  4. Lower the heat and add in the chicken and cook, covered, for 30 – 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked tender.
  5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, increase the heat to high and cook until the sauce has reduced, thickened and is slightly sticky. Frequently stir everything together to stop it from burning. When done remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!