Thursday, July 28, 2011

A couple dinners of hanger steak

Hanger Steak is not an obvious cut of beef to fall in love with. As far as steak is concerned, most people may opt for the more tender and juicier pieces like sirloin, ribeye or tenderloin, but I personally enjoyed the strong meaty flavors and a touch of chewy texture with a well cooked hanger steak. To me it feels more masculine to have a hanger steak than a cute little filet mignon - just a random thought.

According to Wikipedia, hanger steak (also known as onglet in french) is derived from the diaphragm of a steer (shown on the above picture courtesy of Wikipedia), and it's often called "Butcher's Steak" because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale. It's said to "hang" from the diaphragm hence the name. I was doing some research online about it recently out of curiosity, and surprised that I can't find a "proper" Chinese name for it. Many restaurants called this "牛胸外膜" (literally means diaphragm outside of ribs) which to me sounds more like an anatomical term than sexy food. Apparently it's picking up in popularity among teppenyaki restaurants recently but I don't think the name do the steak much justice in boosting its sales.

Well there are two important keys in cooking hanger steak right -  one is to make sure all the silver membrane lined next to the meat is completely removed. That's unbreakable and often the reason why many people found the meat too chewy. It's not a hard task to do yourself at home but most often your butcher will do that for you, especially when they are asked nicely. Two is to make sure the steak is served well-seared on the outside, and medium-rare inside. Yes you still want a somewhat charred surface to bring out the best of flavors but once it's overcooked, it tastes like beef jerky. For me, I can even live with part of the meat still raw when served. So it's best marinated then broiled in the oven, cooked on a barbecue, or simply seared in a pan. Sous vide works as well if you have the equipment and prefer that be a bit delicate.

There are many ways to serve hanger steak - do it with pomme frites just like how a typical Parisian bistro often do, put it in salad with arugula or spinach and a light vinaigrette, or even make a sub sandwich as a quick lunch option. Better yet, how about a good home-made fajitas served on a sizzling plate with the usual condiments and warm tortilla?

The one hanger steak dish I particularly enjoyed recently is at this new casual Italian restaurant in Central. Marinated, seared and served with a dollop of caramelized onion aioli, the meat's amazingly tender yet flavorful, just what you would expect from a hanger steak. Not melt in your mouth type tender but of the right texture, and the rustic aioli with a hint of sweetness is the perfect complement to the meat. We tried a number of impressive pasta dishes that evening - and by the way, all of them are homemade and prepared with a fusion sort of touch using local ingredients with authentic Italian cooking, but the hanger steak was still my favorite part of the meal. Hats off to Chef Vinny who knew his meat well and did a marvelous job with many of his one-of-a-kind dishes served at this chic restaurant.

Last weekend a couple friends came by for dinner and wine and I did a similar dish for them. This time I sweat some shallots, pour a cup or two bourbon and add a bit of soy sauce in a saucepan, heat that up a little bit to melt the sugar I put in. Then I used the mixture as marinate for the steak for an hour or so in the refrigerator. The marinate was then reduced in heat to syrupy texture and became the sauce for the steak.

The steak was pan-seared in a red-hot cast-iron pan for 3 minutes on each side then I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and left that in a pre-heated oven (110C) for 10 minutes to make sure inside's warm as well. I sliced the steak real thin and on the sides I made a caramelized onions, and use slow-roasted tomatoes I did overnight to go with it. Quick and easy, and went well with a couple vintage Bordeaux we opened. Of course not as good as the one we had at the restaurant, but then it's more chilled and relaxed dining at home (and not to mention, no corkage!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

San Sebastian - Arzak

(I suddenly found this sitting in my draft folder and realise this never made it to the blog - so here you are, some 6 months late)

As self-proclaimed food lovers, it's hard not to fall in love with Basque Country. From pintxos bar hopping along meandering streets to fine cuisine at many Michelin-starred restaurants around (the region boasted the most Michelin stars per capita in the world), there's never lack of choice all year round. That plus the abundance of fresh and unique ingredients from the sea and from the land... it didn't take long for us to go crazy about this place.

After 2 amazing days at Bilbao including lunch at Chef Eneko Atxa's Azurmendi, we arrived at San Sebastian with the sole purpose of making a full "frontal attack" of Basque cuisine. And among the many fine restaurants in town, Arzak is perhaps the most famous and arguably the most interesting of all. This family-owned restaurant (currently in its 4th generation) has been rated 3 Michelin stars since 1989 and was consistently selected as the top restaurants in the world. Behind the kitchen is the father-daughter team of Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, whom we had pleasure to meet and chat during our dinner.

We purposely stayed in a mansion within walking distance to the restaurant so we saved ourselves the hassle of driving or hailing a cab after the meal. It's a comfortable 15 minute walk from our hotel to the restaurant. As we arrived and being led into the dining room, we were surprised at how modern the interior is - well we always have this presumption of an old rustic building (given the restaurant is 100 years old) but obviously we were wrong. Only a handful of tables in the main dining room - quiet and intimate.

Our tasting menu consists of some 16 dishes - some more of a bite-size portion but a few are quite substantial - we did our pintxos run the afternoon before coming to dinner, not a good idea as it turned out, given the sheer amount of food being served at Arzak. It's hard to describe accurately every single dish so I won't even bother to attempt, and for most dishes I can't even tell what exactly they were to this date - with names like "Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea" on the menu didn't help much either. But among the many courses we had, I was most impressed at a dish called  "Egg with earth tremor" - we have had the most amazing egg dishes while in Spain and this is no exception.

Not all the dishes worked to my liking though I should say - for example, the low-tide monkfish was served with sides that was shaped in the form of sea shells and stars, which I think was too playful, texture too strange and taste too bland. Fun to look at, but not too enjoyable to taste, to be honest. But all in all I love how they took advantage of the many seasonal ingredients found in the region and traditional cooking methods and turn the food into innovative culinary creations that were presented beautifully.

Dessert is another area that totally blew our mind off - chocolate in the form of a marble, basil ice cream with chocolate that shaped like a grape on top of strawberry "soup" (soup and chocolate "between the vineyards"), the dramatic mead and fractal fluid - red syrup was dropped into a plate of clear liquid to form the fractal shape before being poured onto the custard, and lastly, petit fours served in the form of a toolbox with screw caps and nails... With four courses of dessert in the tasting menu, if you happen to come here, my advice is pace yourself for that and you won't regret.

Another day, another fine meal. Wish we could stay here longer.

when? February 9 2011 (Spain Trip Day 6 )
where? Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastian - Donostia, Spain
drinks? Lagar de Cerveza Albarino 2009
menu highlights? Egg with Earth Tremor, Soup and Chocolate "between vineyards"

You can also check out more pics on Flickr:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tiramisu - my foolproof recipe

If I am asked which is the one dish that can win a crowd over yet so easy to make at home, tiramisu has to be top of my list. Creamy and sweet mascarpone combined with coffee-soaked ladyfingers - there's simply no way you will make it wrong.
The recipe I have been (loosely) following was first given to me by a friend and I have kept this since college years. Give it a try at home, and I swear this will become the signature dish of your home kitchen, no matter how skillful you were in cooking.


1 lb mascarpone cheese (approx the whole large tub you see in the supermarket)
3 eggs, separated
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

1-2 packages lady fingers
strong coffee (i tried everything from instant coffee to starbucks to mocha press - to be honest it makes little difference)
whisky, rum or brandy (many recipes called for marsala or kahlua, but I usually just pour whatever i can find in my liquor tray. So far cognac is my favorite since I like it strong)


1. Beat together mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla essence in a bowl. Taste and add sugar if you want sweetness. Don't forget that the lady fingers are already sweet.
2. Beat the egg whites to peaks (this takes a lot of time or else a great electric whisk) and fold into cheese mixture.
3. Mix around 1/2 cup of coffee with around 1 1/2 tbsp of whisky (you might want to taste this to suit yourself). Dip lady fingers lightly in liquid and place a layer in a flat dish. (what I do is dip the ladyfinger in the liquid on one side for a quick second then place it upside down so the dipped side is on top. you don't want it too soggy)
4. Pour a layer of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers.
5. Repeat process, ending with a layer of the mascarpone. You should have 2 layers of lady fingers and 2 layers of cheese at least (Depends on size of dish - i would recommend using a not too large one)
6. If you run out of the coffee/whisky mix before you finish the dessert, repeat the mixture.
7. Refrigerate overnight to set. Strain cocoa powder on top before serving.