Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Recipe Review: Crispy Pork Belly

from My Vietnamese Kitchen by Uyen Luu

 By: Mr Robot

Give me a new cookery book and odds are the first thing I’ll make will involve pork belly. It’s one of my favourite things in the world anyway, and the prospect of a NEW favourite thing is pretty much irresistable. So it was with Uyen Luu’s My Vietnamese Kitchen – an excellent, stimulating book that’s become something of an obsession lately.

Having spent the customary couple of hours monkeying (point...Oooh...point....Oooh Oooh...point...OoohOoohOooh-pointpointpoint) I trotted down to the butcher. A vast slab of meat, my good man, and don’t even think about scoring it. Pigs away.

The recipe itself is simple but very effective. I’m always up for a new crackling technique, and this one starts with poaching the pork belly for 5 minutes in bicarbed water. Then there’s patting dry and rubbing the skin with a mixture of lime and salt, and then starting the roasting skin-side down before flipping it later.

As I say, that’s a new one on me (it may be tiresomely obvious in the Asian world – I don’t know enough either way) but it works an absolute treat. In fact it’s joined the sainted Kerridge at the top of my What To Do With a Lump of Pig list – no matter what you’re doing with your pork belly, this is a damn good way of roasting it if you want the kind of crackling that makes you weep with joy.

While the lime and salt business is going on skinside, there’s a marinade for the meaty bit – spices, soy, fish sauce etc – that gets half an hour or so. If we had any niggle with the recipe at all it’s that this element got a little lost; certainly you don’t want to overpower the pork but next times I make it (there will be many) I might be inclined to marinate it a bit longer.

Then it’s just served up with some rice noodles and a dipping sauce.

Whatever you do, DO NOT SKIMP ON THE DIPPING SAUCE. Give it at least as much love as the pork itself - as with many of these recipes, it absolutely makes the dish: salty, sour, sweet, punches of chilli and garlic . . . . hard not to dribble just thinking about it.

The rice noodles carry the sauce flavour beautifully, which cuts the fattiness of the pork, while that amazingly crunchy skin gives vigorous counterpoint to splidgy meat and soft noodles. It all goes round and round like circular stairway to heaven.

Overall cooking time is about 2 to 2 ½ hours but actual work time is only about 40 minutes or so. At the end you’ll have one of those dishes that triggers cries of delight at the first taste, and tears of regret at the last. Guaranteed.

If you were hoping to blag a free recipe here you’ll be disappointed – we don’t do that. These cooks need to make a living just like anyone else so if you like the look, buy the book

All images (c) PP Gettins

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Finding a good tapas bar in Spain

By: Mrs Robot
Sign in Taberna Miami in Seville
Taberna Miami, Triana, Seville
We usually go to Spain once a year, and it’s usually somewhere inland - our most recent trips have been to Granada, Seville, Toledo and Segovia, with a couple of overnight stops in Madrid. Mr Robot reckons I have a knack for finding good places to drink and eat tapas, so I thought I’d share my method.

First, though, a note on tapas. You only have ONE tapa with a drink. The Spanish have a verb, ‘tapear’, to go for tapas. Don’t stay in one bar, wander between them, having a drink and little snack at each. It’s fun, and a great way to see a city and its people. There’s nothing like having favourite bars for different things, and deciding you have to go to, say, El Cordobes for flamenquines (rolled breaded pork 'cigars' filled with cheese) or El Toboso for ham (both places recommended if you’re in Seville...).

Don’t be nervous
Food in Spain is good. Rarely have we been served anything bad. However, on the few occasions we have been served less-than-wonderful fare, it’s been in very touristy places. One bar in Seville that we’d visited a few times over the years served up tinned meatballs as ‘albondigas’ on our last visit, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the city has become massively more touristy and this bar was seeing a lot of organised groups coming through. In general, though, you’ll get really tasty nibbles.

El Caprichito, Toledo. Better inside...
Step off the tourist trail
I won’t say avoid olde-worlde bars, because in one of Spain’s historic cities you’re sure to find bars that have been proudly serving locals since the 1890s. However, do learn to spot a tourist trap (international menus with pictures? Lots of tables outside? Avoid!) and try to wander down side streets. This isn’t because I think you should avoid your fellow foreigners, but because places that cater to tourists don’t need to worry about repeat custom, so can charge more and have lower standards. Bars that have a customer base made up of locals need to be good enough to encourage return visits.

Some of the nicest places we’ve found have been near offices and local government buildings: two in Toledo didn’t just serve delicious tapas, they gave customers a free tapa with every drink. El Caprichito, our favourite, didn't look like much at all from the outside, but was brilliant inside. In Seville, you’ll find prices cheaper and the food every bit as good if you pop across the river to Triana - if you’re lucky, you’ll see some authentic flamenco too, by locals for locals, not a tourist performance.

Don’t mind the decor
As I said, you can find plenty of authentic old bars, but don’t be put off by modern looks. I’ll often try new foods for the first time in Spain, because I know it will be done well, and had my first taste of tripe in an unprepossessing bar in El Arenal (the district near the bullring) in Seville. It had cheap plastic garden chairs and aluminium tables, and lots of local custom, so I knew it was getting repeat visits, and not for the decor!
Bodega Santa Cruz, Seville. Fun!

Sit inside
You’ll get a better sense of location and prices are sometimes cheaper if you sit inside. Some of the best bars we’ve been to don’t really have much outside - that’s more for tourists. We walked though one narrow doorway in Seville and found ourselves in Dona Lina, an incredible vintage, fully-tiled tapas bar/restaurant... which was virtually empty because most tourists were sitting outside the place serving tinned meatballs down the street. (Dona Lina has bad reviews on Tripadvisor, but it was great when we ate there.)

More than you bargained for
It rarely happens in Seville, but in Granada, Toledo and Segovia we got free tapas with drinks. The down side of this is we got no choice of tapas. It’d be even worse for a vegetarian or someone with allergies (I guess you’d have to learn the Spanish for ‘I am allergic to shellfish’ or whatever before going), but Pete and I hate anchovies. These do get dished out fairly regularly; we’ve learned to swallow the noxious things as quickly as possible. Being British, we also have hit points where we didn’t want to eat any more, we just wanted a drink, but again that seems to baffle the staff, who insisted on giving us food anyway. All you can do is shut up and eat it!

All images (c) PP Gettins

Monday, 12 May 2014

Heading East

By Mr Robot

We’re having a bit of an Asian kick in the kitchen this month. Partly to finally overcome a gross deficiency in our skill set, and partly a (probably vain) bid to lose a bit of wobble from the waistline.

You see, in our two weeks in Burma we lost LOTS of weight - I went down a whole belt notch in a fortnight - with absolutely no effort at all. We ate pretty much as normal (i.e.: to bursting, and then some, plus all the beer they’d let me have) and though were doing a bit more exercise in terms of touristy walking round it wasn’t that much: most of the heavy lifting was done by car or boat.

So, stuff yourself silly, have all the beer you can get away with, and still lose weight? That’s clearly the diet for me.

I have a couple of theories:
First, the food was jolly tasty. Very strong flavours, lots of variety and - I can’t stress this enough - extremely rich. The curries especially were dark and intense; pickles were salty and tangy; everything spiced and subtle. So while rice was served in infinite portions (it just didn’t stop) and we ate until we ached, we probably consumed rather less to hit that full-to-bursting point.

You're not supposed to serve curry in a pickled tea dish, but it is pretty!
A bit like eating in a really swanky restaurant I suppose, though rather more manageable on a day-to-day basis!

Second, the starch was almost entirely rice - we had hardly anything wheat- or spud-related - and virtually no dairy either (much to the cheese-eating monster’s chagrin). Now I’m not going to go all mentalist/nutritionalist on you but it seems more than coincidence that cutting out the bloaty stuff left us less bloaty...

An experiment then - to spend a month or so revisiting that style of food in the hopes of living like kings and looking like models. Almost certainly too good to be true of course, but it’s got to be worth a go. At worst we should end up rather better noodle-whackers than we started.

Our primary inspiration for this is coming from:
MiMi Aye (Meemalee)
Uyen Luu
Ching-He Huang
Naomi Duguid

So thanks in advance to those lovely people, and we’ll let you know how we get on.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Let's eat!

a selection of squashes
Welcome to Greedybots! We decided to start this blog simply because we like cooking and eating, and we love sharing food. This seemed like the logical way to keep sharing.

Name     Mrs Robot
AKA      Mim
Makes    Pastry & puddings
Loves    Cheese, tea
Does     Words
Also     Blogs about vintage/retro/steampunk stuff at Crinolinerobot

Name     Mr Robot
AKA      Pete
Makes    An almighty mess with every pan in the house
Loves    Beer, bacon, burgers, baconburgers
Does     Pictures
Also     Blogs about photography at Gettins Images

Spanish food is a favourite of ours, we love British classics like meat puddings and toad-in-the-hole, and we’re currently exploring more Asian cuisines thanks to a trip to Burma and a big pile of cookbooks. However, it’s fair to say we’ll try most things. We hope you enjoy trying them with us.