Friday, June 25, 2010

Mozzarella di Bufala: Better Warm Than Cold

Fig.1. A proper mozzarella di bufala is blissful. When warmed, the aromas are milky and lay claim to the animal from which it derives. I like to open the cheese into a pocket so it can collect the oil. Great ingredients like this require no fuss--assemble and eat.

Sitting in a tiny restaurant in Ceprano waiting for whatever antipasti the chef deemed appropriate for the night, it came as no surprise that we were served some mozzarella di bufala, what was surprising was the manner in which it was served: warm. In a small terracotta bowl, sat three mozzarellas, warmed slowly in the briny, whey liquid they were preserved in. I asked the chef/owner (who occasionally ventured out of his kitchen to perform some table duties) if this was typical of the region or culture, he answered somewhat hastily that eating the cheese warm brought out the essence of the milk. I like to say that it brings out the essence of the animal.
Mozzarella di Bufala from Italy has become easier to find in Montreal; look for full-fat water buffalo’s milk, usually indicated on the container. Fior di latte, made from the milk of cows, can also be purchased in brine and is a far cry better than the vacuumed packed rubbery, cheese products which in Canada misguidedly bear the name mozzarella. Many Italians (from Italy) believe real mozzarella di bufala to be fleeting and ephemeral, that unless it is eaten within hours of being made, the cheese looses its flavors. This is true, but seeing as how there are no buffaloes being milked anywhere near Montreal, we'll just have to settle for the imports. Mozzarella di bufala is expensive, and in my opinion, is wasted if melted on pizza (a fior di latte is perfect for pizzas and sandwiches) Enjoy mozzarella di bufala on its own and see if you can taste the animal.

Fig.2. I recommend a small oven proof bowl, if you don't have one, a coffee cup would do the trick seeing as how you're only warming up the cheese and not cooking it.

Warm Mozzarella di Bufala with Olive Oil and Bush Basil


Mozzarella di bufala (available at most specialty, Italian food shops)
Olive oil (use your very best, first, pressed olive oil here.)
A few springs of bush basil (you can also use leaf basil)
Sea salt

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Place the cheese and its brine in a very small, oven proof bowl and place in the oven for about ten minutes, (you don’t want to melt the cheese you just want to warm it up) After ten minutes, rotate the cheese so that the exposed part can also warm up in the brine, warm for another five minutes. Place the cheese (without the brine) on a plate, tear slightly in half, sprinkle with basil, drizzle with olive oil and salt and enjoy slowly. You won’t need bread for this one, however, if you add some good tomatoes you will find yourself with a very good insalata caprese.

Grilled Tomato with Warm Mozzarella di Bufala and Bush Basil oil

Fig.3. The mozzarella holds a lot of liquid so if you have too much on your plate, pour some off before adding the oil. Some brine is good, especially if you have bread to sop it up with.

Place some basil in a mortar and pound it with a pestal, once your basil is mushed up add some olive oil, stir well and set aside. Cut a large tomato in half and grill until you get some grill marks. Warm the cheese as indicated in the above recipe and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with the basil oil, and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Korean Pulled Pork-Momofuku Style

Fig.1. After 8 hours, and a final brush of brown sugar, the bo ssam gets that perfect deep, golden brown skin. The outside is sweet and crusty.

Sometimes the best piece of meat you can barbecue is one that needs the least amount of attention—and one that doesn’t require a barbecue. Pulled pork has got a lot of attention within the last couple of years; probably because it looks great in pictures. But for some reason it’s perceived as elusive and impossible to make at home, unless you live in Texas, have 5 grills, and your name is Dr. BBQ. Well, let me tell you that pulled pork is probably the easiest authentic barbecue you can make, and my inspiration came not from the American deep south, but in Korea.
Bo ssam is essentially Korean pulled pork. The version below comes from the Momofuku cookbook. In David Chang’s version of bo ssam the meat is slow cooked in the oven for 6 hours. I started the pork shoulder in the oven and transferred it to my gas grill for the last couple of hours. I love using my smoker grill, but sometimes you just want to stay indoors, especially when the weather isn’t cooperating; and the smell in my house was insane-pork heaven.
In Korea, the pork is usually steamed, and served in a lettuce envelope with fixin’s consisting of raw oysters and kimchi. I used the lettuce as suggested, but made David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce as the accompaniment; believe me, the meat didn’t need any help, in fact, might I suggest unleashing your inner carnivore and eat with you hands.

Bo Ssam (from, Momofuku, David Chang and Peter Meehan)
Serves 6 to 8

1 whole 8 to 10 pound bone-in pork butt (In the United States, a pork shoulder is referred to as a pork butt, so if you go to a Canadian butcher, ask for a pork shoulder.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 to 4 heads Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, well washed, and spun dry (If you can’t find any Bibb lettuce, you can substitute curly lettuce.)

Put the pork shoulder in a roasting pan, ideally one that holds it snugly. Mix together the granulated sugar and I cup of the salt in a bowl, then rub the mixture into the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Heat the oven to 300F. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and discard any juices that have accumulated. Put the pork in the oven and cook for 6 hours, basting with the rendered fat and pan juices every hour. The pork should be tender and yielding at this point—it should offer almost no resistance to the blade of a knife and you should be able to easily pull meat off the shoulder with a fork. Depending on your schedule, you can serve the pork right away or let it rest and mellow out at room temperature for up to an hour.
When ready to serve—sauces are made and lettuce is washed and dried—turn the oven to 500F.
Stir together the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and the brown sugar and rub the mixture all over the pork. Put it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the sugar has melted into a crisp, sweet crust.


Ginger scallion sauce

2 ½ cups thinly sliced scallions (green and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
½ cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 ½ teaspoons of light soy sauce
¾ teaspoons sherry vinegar
¾ teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste.

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge.

Fig.2. After six hours the pork gets its color, it's important to baste the meat every hour. And don't use any kitchen tongs or forks to move the meat, you'll ruin the skin. Except for the basting, the pork doesn't need to be touched at all.

Note: It takes about 2 to 3 hours before you see any pan juices, so don’t panic at the beginning. I cooked the shoulder at 275 degrees F rather than 300 degrees F as called for only because I believe that when cuts such as pork shoulders are concerned, slower is better. Also, my pork shoulder weighed about 15lbs so I cooked it for a total of 8 hours: 6 hours in the oven, and the last 2 hours in my gas grill. If you’re worried about whether the meat is cooked, use a meat thermometer, (if it isn’t cooked after 8 hours, you forgot to turn on your oven), look for a reading of 165 degrees F. Place the whole pork shoulder in the center of the table and let your guests serve themselves, place some of the meat in a lettuce leaf (think of the leaf as pita bread) top with some of the ginger scallion sauce and tuck in.
If you have any leftovers, cut up the meat and add it to a tomato sauce, what you get is a “ragu di maiale” (pork ragu). There you have it; I had to add the Italian element somewhere.