Saturday, September 27, 2014

Just a slightly fancier home dinner

It all started with us wanting to open a bottle of Piedmont wine ahead of our trip to the region late next month. Figured it's good to have some background knowledge of the geography and produce of the area to make the journey more fun. This is when I decided preparing something for dinner that would go well with the wine.

I was at the wet market early in the morning to get some meat from the butcher's for another food experiment, so I picked up an extra slab of pork belly for dinner. This time I wanted to do a simple risotto with pork belly - and to make it a bit more interesting, I thought I would throw in some apple in it.

I wasn't very fond of pumpkins when I grew up but came to love it when I realized Kabocha pumpkin, the Japanese variety, was so much sweeter. Now it's becoming my favorite ingredients came fall time and it's so versatile. You can roast, steam, puree, use it as soup base, as sauce, as side dish or even main course. Anyway this time I am trying to match it with a soft-boiled egg as appetizer - since with the pork I need to start my sous vide machine anyway so might put that for another use at the same time to cook the eggs.

For dessert, I pretty much went along with ingredients I have handy at home. I had my fair share of great desserts this summer at restaurants, so I suppose this is in a way the result of all those inspirations combined. I felt like I haven't worked my icecream machine hard enough this summer so I wanted to make a batch before it's getting too cold for it.

With the menu idea set, I began with some light preparation the night before - first with the pork. It's slightly marinated with salt before it's vacuumed in a plastic pouch and cooked sous vide for 5 hours under 85C. I also made the custard honey icecream for dessert which I then put to cool down in refigerator to be churned the next morning.

The next day the cooking became such a breeze. I bake a simple olive oil cake - going along with the Italian theme, and also made chocolate cremeux and set aside until ready for assembly. Then pumpkin was roasted in the oven and then pureed. I also made the hot potato foam using a recipe by Ferran Adria, with a mixture of mashed potato, water, cream, oil, infused with Parmesan cheese, then compressed in a siphon. That was made in advance and kept in bain marie, fully utilizing the sous vide machine.

Risotto was tricky as it's time consuming and required your full attention, but that was pretty much the only thing left undone so I could focus on it. Plus I cheated by using ready-made chicken broth which saved a lot of prep time. It's cooked while the pork belly was reheated on grill pan upside down to turn the skin into crackling.

So all these effort turned into a fancy-looking 3-course dinner, with 64C egg with pumpkin puree and parmesan-potato foam to start, a sous-vide pork belly with apple risotto as the main course, and finished with a olive oil cake with honey icecream, chocolate cremeux and candied kumquat as dessert.

Of course, there's always room for improvement - perhaps I should throw in some croutons in the egg dish to give it more a substantial texture; I could be better in the timing so the crackling won't get too hard and crunchy, and my risotto cooking was far from pro level; and I have yet mastered the skill of turning my icecream into a nice-looking, smooth and symmtrical quenelle.

And oh, the wine. This is the the 2005 Barolo Le Vigne Sibi et Paucis by the famed Luciano Sandrone, a current release of this special line of wines which were bottle-aged for an additional 4 years at the cellar. I opened the wine a bit early and tried to observe how it developed over a period of 3 hours. At first, the aroma was predominantly floral, tar and a bit of leather, and later on, some oak, red fruit or even cherry coke came through. What impressed me most at first was the firm yet smooth tannin clouding beautifully the whole mouth, given it's a relatively young age Barolo... that basically lasted through the entire bottle. Not sure if the extra aging time at the winery has helped with that. Overall it's well balanced and the after-taste was long and beautiful. It's a lovely wine to be enjoyed at home, where we could afford to just sit back and appreciate it at our own pace.

Not a bad afternoon and well worth the effort in the kitchen, I suppose. Most importantly, it's a fun day for me playing with my kitchen toys, something I felt I haven't done enough this summer.

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