Saturday, October 20, 2018

Chef Vs (Paella) Pan

I did say it would be a long while before I will even consider doing the “chef gig” thing again since my “debut” at PMQ Taste Kitchen a few months ago. But when Chef Alex Fargas and his team approached me to be the guest chef for the weekend brunch menu at his restaurant La Paloma, it seems like a project having too much fun to say no to. The restaurant in Sai Ying Pun, with the promise of serving “Sexy Tapas”, has been doing this “Chef Vs Pan” series for a while, in which once a month one outside chef would come in to deliver his/her version of paella (using the giant 40-inch pan) and roast suckling pig as part of their weekend brunch menu.

I had tried the menu myself a couple of times, with each time the chef bringing something interesting and different based on their background and specialty. The proposition of “I can do whatever I want” from Chef Alex was almost an invitation for me to do something totally out of the box, and over a few weeks I was scratching my head over what I should make. With the giant paella pan reminding me of those big woks used in local Dai Pai Dong (casual street-side restaurants serving Cantonese dishes), I decided to combine my favorite Cantonese stir-fry dish with this Spanish classic for something new, using local ingredients as much as I could.

“Fermented shrimp paste” has deep roots in local cuisine, with the stir-fried squid and morning glory vegetables being the most typical dish matching with the shrimp paste, known for its strong, pungent flavor and said to be an acquired taste. Well, I happened to love it and thought it would work just well to go with the equally rich flavor of the seafood paella. And to adopt to the giant paella, I made some adjustments – squid was cut into rings and I added a few more types of seafood (prawns, scallops and mussels), and the vegetables were finely-cut and sautéed instead of stir-frying as the whole stalks. With the restaurant being in close proximity to the “Dried Seafood Street” in Sheung Wan, I decided to throw in some dried shrimps bought from the nearby store, to add to the flavor and textures to the dish.

For the rest I stayed true to the original recipe of the restaurant, including the “sofrito” made with a mixture of lobster stock, tomatoes and paprika which formed the basis for the traditional paella, and I added the fermented shrimp paste (which has been sautéed in a pan) in towards the end for the extra flavor. I have done paella a couple of times before, but not on the giant 40-inch pan big enough to serve a few dozens, but with Chef Alex’s help and showing me how it’s done, I managed to first sautéed the seafood ingredients, added in the sofrito (with the shrimp paste mixed), put in the rice and poured the broth in, so the rice was slowly cooked on the pan in medium heat with the flavor well infused into every grain. Then the dried shrimps and vegetables were added on top as the broth was slowly dried up and rice became juicy and fluffy with the nice amber color.

Towards the end, we turned up the heat so “socarrat” was formed at the bottom of the pan. This crispy bit of rice was said to be the best part of the paella and the most sought-after – similar to how everyone went after the crust of the lasagne, I suppose. Not sure how other people like the fermented shrimp paste (especially for those who have never tried it before) I was a little light-handed on those, but I was quite satisfied with this and thought the combination worked well, with familiar flavor in an unconventional form and many different textures came into the dish.

The second dish I need to come up with for the special menu was the Suckling Pig, which was usually prepared in traditional Segovian style, roasted whole in the oven and cut into chunks before serving. Again, I want to give this a slight twist partly based on the Cantonese roast pig and the American pulled pork waffles, taking elements in both to create a brand-new dish. For the Cantonese roast pig, the pork skin was often done extra crisp, to be served with a small steamed pancake, with hoisin sauce, raw leeks and cucumbers put on top like a mini open sandwich; and for the American version, the pig was often slow-cooked with barbecue sauce, then shredded by hand, and served with a Belgian waffle underneath with generous drizzle of maple syrup.

So what I did was the same classic waffles with chunks of suckling pig, and on top was the leeks and slightly-pickled cucumbers plus a hoisin-maple syrup dressing. Again, you got this familiar hoisin sauce flavor (a common Cantonese sauce made using fermented soybeans) matching with the pork, but nothing like the old-school Canto roast pig, and one can’t say no to the classic brunch dish of meat and waffles for the best savory-sweet taste. I didn’t get to try the rest of the brunch menu this time but they all looked appealing as I saw them being prepared inside the kitchen, with the generous portion of cured cold cuts, manchego cheese served with Pan Con Tomate, or the tuna tartare and the sautéed clams. Plus the churros with chocolate sauce served at the end.

I was happy to have the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen to share with the restaurant customers some new dishes I created. It's been a fun experience working with the crew and with that giant paella pan! Muchas Gracias Team La Paloma!

When? September 22 2018
Where? La Paloma, 1st Floor, 189 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Seafood Paella with Fermented Shrimp Paste and Morning Glory Vegetables

No comments :