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Notable Nosh: Braised Pork Belly

Braised Pork Belly

I had this little appetizer at Sabor in Edmonton. A few days earlier I enjoyed a terrific meal there but this particular item was not nearly as good and I feature it here because it illustrates the pairing of two foodstuffs that have become ‘fads’ in recent years.

Pork Belly, until 5 or, perhaps, 10 years ago, was a very under-appreciated and underused cut but  which has since blossomed as a ‘foodie favorite’ such that any restaurant that aspires to fine dining is essentially required to include it in at least one dish. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it should mean that the cut should be prepared in such a way as to let its special qualities shine.

In a similar way, Balsamic Vinegar exploded onto the culinary scene about a decade or so ago, and went from relative obscurity to overhyped and undeserved culinary stardom. I love the scene in one of ‘The Sopranos’ episodes when Carmela entertains her parents for dinner and the mother asks what is in the escarole. Carmela replies that it is Balsamic and her father interjects:

‘Balsamic, Balsamic, Balsamic … my mother never heard of Balsamic’

Thirty years ago, I used to see Balsamic Vinegar mentioned in the odd Italian cookbook, but it was years before I ever saw a bottle in a store here in Canada. True Balsamic Vinegar is originally a specialty of Modena in Italy, and the properly aged article can sell for hundreds of dollars for just a few ounces. Nowadays, however, you see it everywhere and the truth is that most of the stuff available in stores, or used by restaurants, could easily be substituted with a plain Apple Cider vinegar colored with a little caramel. As in the little appetizer featured here, you can stick the name Balsamic into a name and it lends a cachet to a dish that is out of proportion to the actual quality.

The menu at Sabor described this dish is being ‘Braised Pork Belly in a Quince-Balsamic reduction. I cannot attest to the use of quince here as I couldn’t detect much on the way of fruity sweetness, but it was pretty clear that the drizzled dressing did contain one of the products that pass as Balsamic Vinegar. The effect was not bad, I suppose, but really nothing special.

As for the pork belly itself… it may have been braised briefly, but it appeared to have been finished quickly on a grill or griddle. The latter process was not long enough to lend it any nice charring or caramelization, and the ultimate result was pretty much the same as plain pan-frying, without the unctiously tender qualities you get when the cut is well prepared. The entire production, in short, was really just a glaring example of exploiting the cachet of certain foodstuffs and failing to deliver anything special at all.

Anyway… here endeth the rant…

 

 

 

Honey Garlic Riblets

Honey Garlic Riblets 1

Honey Garlic Ribs are a standard on almost every westernized Chinese restaurant menu. There are endless permutations on the theme but the basic requirements are that they be garlicky and sweet, with the sweetness almost invariably coming from sugar rather than actual honey. Indeed, I have made versions using honey several times and the result is just not the same at all.

You can, of course, make Honey Garlic Ribs using long back ribs, or short-cut spare-ribs, but today I am using the irregular trimmings of the rib cage that you quite often find used in restaurant offerings, and which are sometimes sold as ‘Riblets’. They generally have more cartilage than bone (the bones are often fragmented) and they tend to be quite fatty. As I mention, there all sorts of ways to cook and produce this dish, but the method I am using here is particularly suited to this cut of the rib-cage… Read more

Edmonton: City of lazy cyclists?

Edmonton 2

Well, folks, my trip to Edmonton (announced over a month ago) is now over and followers of my blog will see that I have posted 14 restaurant reviews from that city. It was a pretty good trip all in all but it was really nice to be back in my own kitchen again.

BTW, I am sure that a lot of people will think me a major rube for taking a picture of a bike rack on a bus but I have actually never seen one before.  It made me wonder…

  • Do cyclists in Edmonton get tired really easily?
  • Are Edmonton buses prone to breakdowns a lot… OR
  • Do Edmonton bus drivers get to mount trophies when they hit people on bikes?

Anyway, I’m back in the North and glad of the cooler temperatures… just not crazy about starting Court circuits again (sigh)…

 

Review: Haweli

10220 103 St. NW, Edmonton – Website

Haweli 1

Date of Visit: July 14, 2015

I tried a couple of times to have dinner at this place after seeing it near my hotel but was initially thwarted; first, I was sidetracked by a Tapas Bar that happened to be on the way and, on the second attempt, on a Sunday, I discovered they close that day only after I arrived. I finally made it for lunch on the very last day of my visit to Edmonton… Read more

Experiment: Apple Baked Ribs

Apple Baked Ribs

Since posting my Apple-Sage Pork Ribs recipe not long ago, I have been playing with the basic theme and today’s post represents one little experiment I tried…

Basically, I wanted to do something a little ‘saucier’ than the glazed appetizer dish I presented in that earlier post and I changed the cooking process somewhat. Basically, I marinated the ribs for a full 24 hours in a fairly liquid marinade composed of 1 cup of applesauce, 1 half cup each of dry sherry and water, 2 tablespoons each sugar and Dijon Mustard, a little dried sage and some garlic salt. Afterwards, I baked the ribs in the marinade at 400 degrees, turning them once in the middle of the cooking time.

In the above picture, I have again presented a few of the ribs as an appetizer portion but, in fact, I served the whole pound of ribs (basically about 6 ounces of meat) as a main course with baked potato. The result was really tasty and I think that the sherry had the same effect as red wine does with pork insofar as it intensifies the umami flavors and lends the result a ‘wild boar’ taste.

Anyway, I am not finished playing with this general idea just yet and I am going to be trying something slightly different using smaller rib sections rather than the longer ones used here. Stay tuned…

 

Review: Craft Beer Market

10013 101A Ave. NW, Edmonton – Website

Craft Beer Market 1

Date of Visit: July 12, 2015

I spent a pleasant few hours at this establishment one afternoon, not merely because it is a nice place, but because they boast an impressive 100 different beers on tap. I noted, during that visit, that they do a brunch on Sundays and so I made a point of checking it out on the second to last day of my vacation… Read more

Review: Sabor

10220 103 St. NW, Edmonton – Website

Sabor 1

Date of Visit: July 11, 2015

Sabor is right around the corner from the hotel I was staying at in downtown Edmonton but it initially escaped my notice as most of my explorations thus far had been in the other direction. I passed it on my way back from lunch one afternoon and, after I saw that it has a Tapas menu, I switched my original supper plans and came here instead… Read more

Review: Blue Plate Diner

10145 104 St., Edmonton – Website

Blue Plate Diner 1

Date of Visit: July 11, 2015

When I was planning my visit to Edmonton, I made a not if this place as the online menu listed a Shepherd’s Pie actually made with lamb instead of beef. I rather forgot about while exploring other places but then came across it as I was strolling through the summer Farmer’s market one morning. It was actually well over an hour until the lunch service began (and I’d had a breakfast), but the place has a number of local beers on tap and so I was happy to wait… Read more

Clams and Pork with Basil

Clams and Pork with Basil 1

Clams and Pork may sound like an unlikely pairing to some but it is actually a pretty popular combination in the cuisines of both China and Portugal. However, though the Chinese generally use ground pork, as I do here, the Portuguese tend to favor larger chunks of the meat. Basil may seem like an odd addition for a Chinese preparation but in fact Basil is quite well known in that nation, most notably by the Hakka people, who sometimes use it in very large quantities in a single dish. Beyond that though, I have also used soy and rice wine among the flavorings here so, ethnically speaking, we have pretty much taken a left turn at Portugal and headed straight on to China…

By the way, instead of waiting until my usual verdict in the end-notes, I am going to come out and tell you right away that this preparation is absolutely scrumptious… Read more

Review: Rose and Crown Pub

10235 101 St., Edmonton – Website

Rose and Crown 1

Date of Visit: July 9, 2015

I arrived at this place after a 3 minute walk from my hotel on a very, very hot afternoon. Within minutes of being seated, I discovered that the establishment is owned by the same group, and has exactly the same drink and food menu, as the Sherlock Holes Pub I visited the day before. I was a little bit disappointed by this but it was over 30 degrees outside and I decided to stay… Read more

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