Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gap khao

Gap khao is literally translated as 'with rice,' and refers to, well, whatever you'd put on rice, but generally something with at least a little more substance than plain sauce. Meat or seafood or veggies, in whatever quantity, are generally added to sauces, herbs, chilis, and garlic in some combination. There are hundreds of dishes, but really, it can be anything. It means sort of what we mean when we say "eat an actual meal" - not a snack.
I worked the overnight at work last night and I'm craving something simple thrown on top of rice, something easily eaten, lazily, in front of Parks & Rec episodes on Netflix. Grapao muu saab - ground pork fried with holy basil - fits the bill perfectly, but I have no holy basil available right now, and also  I keep thinking about how delicious that stir-fried cabbage was. So this was the result - a fry-up of some of the cheapest vegetables and meats available, with a few aromatics, over rice. Hot, filling, and nutritionally a step up from buttered noodles...which, let's be honest, I probably would've had for dinner if this hadn't materialized.

Ground Pork with Cabbage and Green Beans

So I know this probably doesn't sound like the most exciting thing ever, and it wins absolutely no beauty contests, but it's surprisingly flavorful and extremely delicious, and very very economical. It's not authentically Thai, exactly, but then again, I don't live in Bangkok anymore, so this is what I have on hand...the very essence of a busy-night gap khao. I also fried up some ginger and garlic in oil to dribble over the finished product, which is tasty, but not necessary. 

1 lb ground pork
5 c cabbage, sliced thinly
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 c Green beans or long beans, cut into managable lengths
3 cloves garlic, minced - it'd be awesome with more, but garlic tends to make me feel sick, so I go with a small amount.
2 inches ginger root, peeled and minced
1 tbsp Fish sauce
3 tbsp Black soy sauce - this is thick and sweet. If you don't have it, use regular soy sauce and a bit of brown sugar or molassas.
1/4 tsp Sesame oil
2 tsp vinager - I had apple cider vinager on hand
Lemon juice
Chilis, fresh or powder
Eggs, optional
Rice, prepared as you prefer. Thai style demands a high ratio of rice to topping, but use however much you like.

Start your rice. Then, in a heavy pan or skillet, fry ground pork with ginger and garlic over high heat until it's broken up and started to brown, but still has some pink. Add fish sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and any chili you'd like to add.  Cook until completely browned, and taste. Add more of any of the seasonings to your taste, remembering that this is going to be distributed over quite a bit more after the vegetables are added.  When you're done adjusting seasoning, scrape into a large separate bowl and set aside. Add a splash of oil to your pan, and a handful of cabbage - I did mine in two batches, but I have a huge cast iron wok that distributes heat to the sides as well, so you might want to go in smaller batches. Add to pork, and fry the remaining cabbage in batches. Fry the green beans and onions together until seared and soft-ish.  Add pork and cabbage back to pan and toss over medium high heat until re-warmed and thoroughly combined.

A fried egg is a fairly common addition to dishes like this in Thailand, and it's tasty and an easy way to add more protein. To make a Thai style fried egg, heat a generous layer of oil in a pan. When it's hot, crack an egg into it. Fry until the white is set (and crispy) but the yolk is still runny...or, if you must, break the yolk and let it set. Flip this on to your bowl full of rice and gap khao. 

Optional nontraditional fancypants addition:

1/2 c vegetable oil
1 clove minced garlic
1" section of ginger root, minced
3 drops sesame oil

Put oil, garlic, and ginger in your smallest pan and turn the heat to low. Let it sizzle away until the edges of the  garlic and ginger are looking toasty. Turn off the heat, add sesame oil, and stir. Let it all cool down together. Drizzle over plain rice, or anything with rice, or soup, or dip bread... this goes with everything. 1 tsp of chopped fresh Thai chilies or a pinch of dried chilis would be delicious too, added with the sesame oil.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Corned Venison, also brown sugar mustard glaze and colcannon

Fun fact: Corned beef - as we know it - is hardly eaten in Ireland. It was a product of cultural exchange between the Irish and Jewish populations of New York City, mixing cheap salt beef with pastrami spices. So, really, it's the perfect thing to eat on St. Paddy's as an Irish-American, because it's actually related more to our specific heritage.

* Obligatory judge-y comments about green beer etc* 

Anyway. My parents generously filled our freezer with venison from the deer my dad and brother shot last fall. We've been slowly working our way through it since November, and have two small roasts and something labelled "stew" left over, and, while thinking about how delicious corned beef is, I thought...venison is very similar to beef, so why not corn it too? 

I googled methods and recipes, and came to two conclusions:
1. This is super easy
2. I need to buy sodium nitrite.

Sodium nitrite is added when curing meat this way to protect against botulism, as well as give it that rosy pink color and distinctive flavor.  It's sold mixed with salt and dyed pink, most commonly under the brand name Insta-Cure #1. I wasn't able to track it down at Cub or Wal-Mart, and decided to buy it online instead of driving around to various stores to hunt it down. It's fairly inexpensive, but sold in much larger quantities than needed for this recipe - so if anyone in the area wants to give it a shot, let me know and I'll share! My packet of pink mixed sodiums came in the mail today, so I started out when I got home from work. This is the recipe I used:

Corned Venison
Note: I used only whole spices that I already had on hand. I buy them cheap from a local grocery story's in-house packaged bulk, and keep some around for various uses. Recipes vary, but I kept the most common elements (mustard, coriander, pepper, bay) from several and added extras from a few. 

1 1/2 cups salt - kosher or cheap sea salt is best, because it doesn't have that table salt-y flavor that can be off-putting in large amounts
1/2 c sugar
4 level tsp Insta-Cure #1
3 tbsp whole mustard seeds
3 tbsp whole coriander
1 cinnamon stick
5-10 cloves
3 whole bay leaves
2 tbsp whole black pepper
1 cardamom pod
1 star anise - I took this out after about 1 minute because it started to smell like Chinese 5 spice powder and I didn't want that, so proceed as you will. Star anise is supposed to have compounds that bring out the meatiness of meat. 
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped roughly - I just cut mine in half
1 gallon water
Venison, beef, any red meat, tougher and fattier cuts preferred, 2-5 lbs

Mix all ingredients except for beef with a few cups of the water in a sauce pan and bring to boil, and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Put the remaining water in whatever container you're brining in - I'm using a big ceramic baking dish - and then add the hot liquid. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, add meat, and cure in the refrigerator for 5-10 days.   

When it's ready, rinse it off, and prepare however you like.My favorite way is by boiling and then baking, with a sweet mustard glaze. It's got the falling-apart tenderness of the simmering method, without the boiled taste, and a caramelized, tangy crust. 

Oven-Finished Corned Beef With Mustard Brown Sugar Glaze

1 piece of corned red meat
4 tbsp sweet hot mustard
1 tsp mustard seeds, optional
3 tbsp brown sugar

Rinse meat and cover with water in a large pot. Bring to a simmer - not a boil! - and let it cook for about 40 minutes per pound. Drain water and put meat in deep, oven-safe dish, preferably one with a lid, although foil works fine. Slather with mustard, pat sugar on top, and put on lid or foil. Bake at 300 for 90 minutes, or until tender and soft. Take off the lid, and broil for 3-5 minutes to caramelize the sugar. Feast.

Finally: For the potatoes and veggies. I've never liked the common offering of boiled potatoes, carrots, and cabbage - I know it's generally accepted, but I find it bland and insipid. Instead, I like to make colcannon - mashed potatoes mixed with kale or cabbage and green onion. I had cabbage on hand the other day, and rather than just lightly sauteeing it or boiling it with the potatoes, I browned it in butter.I also threw in a handful of frozen spinach for color.  The result smelled a little like potstickers and tasted awesome.

Colcannon, not entirely traditional but I'm Irish-American so whatever

5 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters - I used red potatoes and did not peel them
1 head cabbage
5 stalks green onions, chopped, green and white parts separated
1/2 cup frozen or cooked-down spinach 
Butter, a lot
1ish cups milk, warmed
Salt, pepper

Throw potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water and boil until tender, 10-20 minutes depending on the size and type. Meanwhile, slice cabbage into 1/4in slices and then again into smaller segments. Fry with white parts of the green onions in butter - I think, all told, it was about 6 tbsp, since I worked in batches and wasn't going to add extra butter to the potatoes - until brown and toasty and it smells like gyoza heaven. Drain potatoes, and put back into the boiling pot. Mash to whatever level of smoothness you prefer. Add warm milk in small amounts until it's as thin or thick as you like your mashed potatoes. Stir in green onions and cabbage and and salt and pepper (and, okay, extra butter) to taste.

Corned Beef: How To Cure Your Own - This one's Michael Ruhlman's site, so pay attention
Corned Beef And Cabbage - This has the two recipes my preferred cooking method derives from