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Guanciale

Guanciale 1

Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasts dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is Guanciale… which are salted and dry-cured hog jowls, or ‘pig-cheeks’ for the more genteel among you.

The preparation of guanciale is a bit more complex than for the belly pork equivalent represented by Pancetta. The fatty jowls are rubbed with salt, sugar and spices (pepper, thyme and fennel are common), and then hung and air-dried for three weeks or so. In the above picture, you can see a 200 gram piece I bought in Ottawa… You should be able to make out the mixed herb and spice mixture that was used, as well as the string that was looped through one corner in order to hang it.

The beauty of Guanciale, in contrast to the belly, is the dense, white, very creamy fat that lends a lovely sweet unctuousness to pasta carbonara, or, indeed, to any other dishes where it is employed.  As the product is cured, it can also be eaten ‘raw’ as is and, before cooking myself a carbonara with some of my current chunk, I tried doing so… I was a little hesitant as the cut has a very high ratio of fat to meat, but it actually proved to be delectable. I cut it a little thicker than paper-thin and it was delightfully chewy and unctuously tender at the same time, with the sweet, slightly apple-like flavor of a good prosciutto.

Mostly, of course, Guanciale is used as the decadent focus in several different pasta dishes… Continue reading “Guanciale”

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Foodstuff: Camel Meat

Camel Meat 1

A little while ago, one of our local stores was offering several different types of exotic meat for sale, all packaged by a Canadian company called ‘Blue Mountain Fine Foods’ based out of Thornbury, Ontario. I grabbed several types for later examination and the first I tried was the rather interesting sounding ‘Moroccan Camel’. I am glad I got to try it, of course, but I found the experience a little disappointing for a couple of different reasons… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Camel Meat”

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Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder

Instant Dashi 1

Some years ago, I wrote a post featuring the Japanese soup stock known as Dashi. In that post, I mentioned that Dashi could be a simple mushroom stock, or a stock made using just the seaweed called Kombu, or, more commonly, a more complex stock combining Kombu and the dried, smoky tuna known as Katsuobushi

Anyway, in my Katsuobushi post (see the above link), I showed several varieties of the proper fish product and one the ‘instant’ powdered versions. I was, it must be said, a bit scathing of the latter, indicating that it wasn’t, for several reasons, as good as the ‘real’ thing, but, while that is generally true, the same can be said for homemade chicken stock versus one made using bouillon cubes or extract. One uses homemade if that is practical but, sometimes, especially if only a little stock is needed, using an ‘instant’ substitute is perfectly acceptable…

Today, I thought I would take a little more detailed and closer look at the basic product, and also do a bit of a comparison of a few different brands. There are literally scores and scores of different instant dashi products to be found but the ones you see pictured here are three of the bonito tuna based ones that I have most commonly come across in my part of the world… Continue reading “Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder”

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Foodstuff: Baby Octopus

Baby Octopus 1

To be honest, I am not 100% sure that what you see here are, in fact baby octopuses. It said so on the package, but, for all I know they are the adults of a very small species. Thus far, though, the only sort I have cooked at home from fresh have been much larger sorts and so I bought a couple of packages when I saw them in my local supermarket freezer cabinet.

These little guys are only 5 or 6 inches long overall (the red thing in the corner of the picture is the handle of a pairing knife, for comparison’s sake). If you recall my previous ‘Foodstuff’ post on Octopus, the larger sort generally require a bit of tenderizing before being cooked. I figured, however, that these tiny ones can probably be fried or grilled without any other preparation. I decided to try a simple deep-fry to test… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Baby Octopus”

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Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix

Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix 1

I picked this little item up on a whim while shopping for other stuff. I don’t use pre-packaged sauce mixes all that frequently, nor do I use tofu often, but I have been curious about the classic Sichuan dish,  Mapo Doufu (spelled ‘Mabo Tofu’ here), and I thought this might be an interesting way to experience it for the first time. The package states that you need to add nothing except ground meat and tofu, and so I used nothing else myself except for just a little scallion… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix”

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Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing 1

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

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Foodstuff: Tamarind Soup Mix

Tamarind Soup Mix 1

Of late, our supermarket has stocked quite a wide variety of spice and seasoning blends for all sorts of International dishes. This product is made in the Philippines and is meant to result in a Tamarind soup to which you add your own seafood ingredients. For those unfamiliar, Tamarind is used in many dishes to produce a natural sour flavor… However, in looking at the ingredient list, I saw that, while the product does contain Tamarind powder, it comes fairly low on the list compared to Citric Acid which appears as item number two and is, quite clearly, the chief souring agent in this preparation. Generally, I prefer making things from scratch rather than using processed preparations, but once in a while, I end up buying things just ‘to see what this is like’… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Tamarind Soup Mix”

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Foodstuff: Fake Parmesan

Fake Parmesan 1

Well, ‘Fake Parmesan’ is clearly not how the manufacturer actually identifies this particular product… rather it is identified on the label as a ‘Grate Soy Topping’ with “Parmesan flavor”. Now, I have to say, here, that the double quotes around the ‘Parmesan flavor’ in the previous sentence are intentionally applied there because, having been curious enough to sample this item, the description is just a bit…well, optimistic… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Fake Parmesan”

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Foodstuff: Beef Marrow Bones

Beef Marrow Bones 1

Marrow, the rich, fatty substance in the center of certain animal bones, has long been used as a food by humans. It is very nutritious, and thus has been used for eminently practical reasons, but it has also, at various times, and in various cuisines, been regarded as something of a delicacy.

Chiefly, one finds bones being used in the preparation of hearty stocks, and occasionally  extracted and eaten as sort of a ‘side benefit’ in certain dishes, but, for a long time, the idea of marrow being a treat in and of itself has been a bit dormant in the west. This, however, has been changing in recent years, and the appetizer of roast marrow bones you see posted above, and for which a recipe will follow, is a common representation of the trend … Continue reading “Foodstuff: Beef Marrow Bones”