This little item arrived in a parcel of foodstuffs I recently ordered from down south. I had completely forgotten ordering it but I ended up being very glad I did …
It is a Cock Brand™ product, and at first, I mistook their logo as being the same as that of the manufacturers who make one of my favorite Sriracha Sauces. They are a different company, however, but when I checked their website, I saw a number of other products I have bought before and which I found to be very good.
The ingredient list on the label specifies the main components being, in descending quantity order: Soybean Oil, Holy Basil leaves, Garlic, Red Chili, Sugar, Salt, and Oyster Sauce. The aroma, on opening the jar, is a little hard to describe in that no specific ingredient leaps out at one… It smells a little like a mild XO sauce, but with a very herbaceous quality … even a little ‘minty’.
The flavor, though, is terrific. It is somewhat fiery, although not blindingly so, and the oyster sauce and sugar lend it a marine sweetness. The Holy Basil, which can be quite pungent, even harsh, when used fresh in some dishes, is nicely mellow in here and really adds a very pleasant herbal note to the overall flavor.
Anyway, just before this product arrived, I was trying to think of a way to ‘round out’ a specific dish I had in mind… this suddenly seemed like the perfect addition and I will be posting the recipe very shortly…
The picture above shows what appear to be three very different things but, in fact, they are just different forms of a product used in Chinese and South-East Asian cookery, and commonly referred to as ‘Fish Maw’. The word maw actually means stomach, or gullet, and, as such, the term for this product is a bit of a misnomer as it is really the ‘Swim bladder’ of certain bony (non-cartilaginous) species of fish. The swim bladder, is a gas filled sac that lies in the belly and allows the fish that possess them to maintain and control buoyancy at different depths.
As with a number of products in Chinese cookery, this item is used primarily for its texture. Some sources state bluntly that it has no taste of its own but, like tofu, takes on the flavors of other ingredients in a dish. In fact, it does have a certain, mild, ‘fishiness’, but it is still the texture that is important. It is rich in collagen, which not only gives a pleasant texture itself, but the collagen will dissolve into soups and braising liquids to lend added richness.
Several species are harvested for their bladders (Yellow Croaker is a favored type), but I do not know what from what fish any of the ones you see picture were taken… the packages I have, all written exclusively in Chinese characters, are silent on that point… In any event, the two basic forms are the plain dried article (the yellowish things at the bottom right of the picture), and the sort that consists of the same thing that has been deep-fried before being packaged for sale… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)”
Discovering this particular product represents one of those bizarre coincidences that sometimes happens in life… One morning I was corresponding with a friend about pickling and I mentioned that I liked pickled eggs but had only had one sort here in Iqaluit. The brand I mentioned were brine pickled (with a little touch of vinegar, as I recall) and I only ever bought one jar. They were, I told my friend, very nicely cooked with the yolks well centered, and could be useful for masking devilled eggs, or the like, but they were pretty bland and could use have used something to spice them up a bit.
Well, that very afternoon, while shopping, I saw these ‘Bad Boys’, described as ‘Spicy Pickled Eggs’, and I had to buy them. The jar lists onions, mustard seeds and ‘spices’ on the label (one wonders what they think mustard seeds are?), but there are black peppercorns in the mix, as well as enough dried chili to turn the vinegar a pinkish hue. On initial inspection, it certainly sounded like these would be an improvement over the first variety…
Sadly, this was not the case. The pickling medium was very tasty, and did penetrate the eggs to some degree, but, unfortunately, they just weren’t well cooked. They were overdone, leaving the texture soft and not very pleasant, and it is damned difficult getting an egg out of the jar without breaking it. They were so friable, I pretty much destroyed too before finally fishing out the one you see in the above picture. Naturally, in that state they don’t even have the advantage of being used for anything involving presentation… I guess the only thing I can do is to have a go at pickling some eggs myself.
Many westerners have, at the very least, encountered miso, in the ubiquitous Miso Soup offered in almost every Japanese Restaurant. It doesn’t however, appear all that frequently in the cupboards or fridges of many western homes, and this is a pity, as the umami rich product is extremely versatile, being useful for flavoring soups, stews, and sauces, and also as a marinating ingredient and a pickling agent, to boot. Being rich in flavorful glutamates, it is, one might say, a ‘natural’ MSG … [ Continue reading “Foodstuff: Miso”
For several years now, while dining in Ottawa, I have seen ‘Brome Lake Duck’ appearing in various menu selections, as pate, confit, or what have you … I have yet to try any of the offerings and had always vaguely assumed that Brome Lake was a lake somewhere in Ontario and that the ducks were wild ones hunted in the general area. As it turns out, the lake is in Quebec and the name, more properly ‘Canards du Lac Brome’, refers to an outfit that specializes in raising Pekin Duck (which is also known as ‘Peking Duck’, but doesn’t have any particular connection to the dish of the same name). Anyway, I have been seeing jars of the pate you see pictured above in my local store for some months now and I thought it time I gave it a try… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Brome Lake Duck Pâté”
Kelp Noodles are…. Well, ‘noodles’ made out of Kelp. I came across this Sea Tangle™ product in Vancouver this summer and was curious to see what they would be like. My main interest is that they are supposed to be a low carbohydrate replacement for starch based pasta products, containing only 3 grams of carbohydrate in the entire 12 oz package.
The noodles are actually strips of kelp that have been ‘de-colorized’ somehow and then preserved with Sodium Alginate, a salt extracted from another type of seaweed. Water, according to the package, is the only other ingredient… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Kelp Noodles”
Dried Abalone is one of those special ingredients, such as Shark fin, to use another example, that are highly prized, especially in Chinese cuisine. These sorts of delicacies typically just served for special occasions, not only because of the sheer expense, but also, because of the time-consuming preparation required.
For those unfamiliar, the Abalone is an open-shelled marine snail that is cultivated and harvested in many places around the world. The fresh meat is considered a delicacy in many cuisines, and one can also buy it canned, but the dried variety is most particularly associated with Chinese cookery. I have yet to try the fresh article myself, and so cannot compare it to the dried , but my experience is that dried abalone, while very tasty (and with a pleasant texture), owes much of its cachet, like, say, rare wines, or long-aged single malt scotches, to the expense rather than any special quality. That being said, though, it is definitely worth trying at least once… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Dried Abalone”
Korean Red Pepper Powder is a very versatile food product but its primary uses are in the making of Kimchi and also in the preparation of the Korean fermented red pepper paste known as Gochujang. Most of the ground chili available to me locally is quite coarse, with the exception of Cayenne Pepper, which is pretty fiery. The typical Korean Red Pepper Powder can be quite mild, is very finely milled, and also has a very pretty bright red color that makes for a very attractive pickle… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Korean Red Pepper Powder”
BellaVitano® is a particular type of cheese made by the Sartori family in Wisconsin. The corporate website lists a goodly number of different cheeses, while the BellaVitano type comes in a wide range of flavours beginning with the plain, original BellaVitano® Gold and including such interesting ones as Merlot, Espresso, and Citrus Ginger. My local store current only carried the Raspberry variety and it sounded as though it would so awful I just had to try it and see. Actually, it turned out to be pretty decent…
It turns out that there are no actual raspberries in the cheese itself; Rather, as the label has it, this ‘nutty creamy’ cheese is ‘marinated in hand-crafted raspberry ale. It is quite hard, with a rind, and the color is not completely homogenous, but instead is a buttery yellow, rather like aged Parmesan, with darker and lighter areas here and there.
One report I read, described this as being something of a cross between a cheddar and a parmesan and, while that description certainly didn’t leap to my mind, I wouldn’t say it was far off base either. It wasn’t especially creamy to my mind… buttery perhaps … but it definitely had a nuttiness I liked. As for the raspberry component, there really was nothing about that fruit that made itself apparent (nor any fruit especially), but there was a very real sweetness to the overall flavour that is hard to define except that it was very nice.
I sampled this was a very nice Italian Barolo (because that’s what I happened to have open) and I found it didn’t pair well. The corporate website suggests matching it with Rieslings, Light Italian Reds, or Sherry. I can certainly see the Sherry, and perhaps the light Italian Reds as working well… I am not so sure about the Riesling but I’d give it a shot, I’m sure. Anyway, I doubt I will cook with this particular cheese, but it does make a very nice ‘nibbler’.
Broccoli Rabe has an appearance somewhat resembling regular broccoli, but it is actually more close related to turnips and, indeed, in norther Italy, it’s name ‘cime de rapa’ means ‘turnip tops’. Outside of North America, it is also known as ‘Rapini’.
Sometime ago, I did a post featuring Broccolini and I described it as being something of a cross between Broccoli and Gai Lan. Broccoli Rabe, however, is, in my opinion, more like a cross between broccoli and kale. In addtion to being much leafier than regular broccoli, it also has a much stronger bitterness than broccoli. I don’t find regular broccoli all that bitter myself but some people do and I rather suspect they won’t be all that partial to this particular green… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Broccoli Rabe”