Twice cooked Chinese pork belly – worth the weight!

Right.

I’m back after a bit of an extended lapse in concentration (6months!)

So much has happened in that time – too much to get into here, and more than anyone is really interested in. I have managed to start the MSc Research year of a longer PhD programme after moving over to Edinburgh. That’s mainly what’s been keeping me busy whilst I found my feet.

The biggest news,though, is that Catherine and I got engaged back in October!! This is very exciting for us and the first thing we thought about was the food. No, really. We have some exciting ideas which will make the day yummy and a bit different but I’ll keep them to myself for now…

this blog post, as the title hints at (with the use of frankly painful punnery), is worth the wait and the weight. We just finished this meal and as I write this I’m salivating thinking about the wee lunch portion I’ve got waiting tomorrow.

One of the things about getting engaged, which we didn’t know or we’d have gotten engaged sooner, is that people give you presents. This has seen our tiny kitchen grow even more. Some of the new goodies have been: a timed filter coffee machine that wakes us up with the smell of a fresh pot each morning; a slow cooker which I will write a post about soon but has, needless to say, been a total revelation to us; and another revolutionary item a good solid griddle pan.

The griddle pan has come in handy so far for making THE best steak fresh from the Stockbridge butcher who sliced a slab off a whole cows rump; chicken breast for a warm sweet chilli chicken cucumber salad (a dressing of sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar), ‘Friday night pork’, and this delicious recipe using pork belly.

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This dish is really simple but takes a few hours all told. It’s completely and utterly worth it though! Pork is by and far my favourite meat and this recipe makes pork belly (and mine) sing! The tough fatty cut is best cooked slow but that doesn’t mean that you can’t hit it with a bit off heat at the end and crisp that bad boy up! If you don’t have a griddle pan, just stick it under the grill.

Twice cooked Chinese pork: (1.5-2hrs. Serves 3-4)

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Ingredients:

– Light soy sauce
– Dark soy sauce
– Xiaoxing rice wine
– Tbsp chilli bean paste (optional)
– Two tsp Chinese five-spice
– Three star anise
– Three cloves of garlic crushed
– One whole chilli chopped roughly
– Four nice slices of pork belly

Method:

1. Mix all ingredients above in a pot with about 300ml of water and bring to the boil.
2. add pork to the boiling stock and add a little water, if necessary, to just cover the meat. Bring back to the boil.
3. Once boiling turn down to the lowest heat and cover simmering for at least 1.5 hours. This will tenderise the meat and give it a beautiful spiced flavour.
4. When tender, remove the pork from the stock and turn up the flame to boil the liquid. This will become your sauce.
5. Mix two tsp of cornflour with water (ordinary flour will do if necessary but it’s worth having cornflour in your cupboard) and pour into the stock. Bring to the boil and allow to bubble away until you serve. this will reduce the sauce and thicken it.
6. Slit the fat all the way along the pork to stop it curling on the griddle (this is called French trimming – Google it if you’re unsure what to do).
7. Heat a griddle pan (or grill) until smoking and then add the pork. This is my favourite bit because the spitting fat and the smokey meaty smell remind me of summer and get my senses going for the feast ahead.
8. Finally, serve up the pork with a good ladle of sauce over the top.

We served this tonight with griddled courgette and roasted cauliflower and sweet potato but it’d go we’ll with rice, noodles, mash… Just about anything!

For desert I picked up some treats on the way home. I got a walnut brownie and a salted chocolate tart from Lovecrumbs on the Wesport (our new favourite cake and coffee joint) where the cakes are baked fresh each day and the coffee is some of the best in the city!

We went for the tart tonight with its deep rich chocolate and an almost savoury note hinted at by the salt crystals on top (these are, after all, the people who introduced me to the caramel and smoked bacon brownie!!). Here it is in all its glory along with some bangin HagiDazzle dulce de leche ice cream.

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Ok, so that wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I will try and get another post up soon. I’ve come to the realisation that this will be a sporadic (though hopefully more frequently than biannually!) blog and it’s all the more important that you subscribe for updates 😉

In the meantime, enjoy the pork and if you’re in Edinburgh, check out Lovecrumbs!

Till next time

R

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Xiangbala Hot Pot – An Unmissable Foodie Experience

This is a restaurant review, one which you’d be foolish to ignore!

Having just moved back to Edinburgh from Glasgow recently we have been exploring the local area for coffee, shopping and eating options. We’re living in the West End of the city now and have been doing most of our shopping at Lidl on Dalry Road (which I have to say I’m pretty impressed with). The only problem with this arrangement is that after doing a shop – whilst hungry (an activity fraught with danger!) – we’re forced to walk home past the Xiangbala Hot Pot. After a number of these episodes I decided that enough was enough; we were going in.

The first thing you notice, after the amazing aroma which seems to transport Dalry road directly to tea-time Beijing, is the almost exclusively Chinese clientèle – students looking for the authentic taste of home perhaps? The bright orange façade is unassuming in its garishness and the interior, a mix of neon painted walls, abstract paintings and christmas decorations, is deliciously kitsch to boot. Don’t let this put you off though because This restaurant offers what is regarded to be one of the most authentic Chinese dining experiences around. The idea is: eat as much as you like for 2 hours for £15 per person and cook your own food.

If you’re looking for gloopy sweet’n’sour or greasy spring rolls this isn’t the joint for you. If, however, you want some tasty, fun and healthy Chinese grub then you’re on the right track. Xiangbala Hot Pot only does one dish but the possibilities are endless. We sit down (booking required on Fri and Sat evenings) and are given an extensive wipe clean menu and a highlighter:

Xiangbala Hot Pot Menu

Xiangbala Hot Pot Menu

From here, as you can see above, we chose starters, a few broth bases and a whole array of raw ingredients.

We started with cold braised soy sauce beef, tea leaf eggs (eggs boiled in salty tea; not much to write home about) and chilli chicken’s feet. The chicken’s feet are an acquired taste and I actually fairly enjoyed their gelatinous rubbery texture paired with the background heat of the chilli but they aren’t for everyone and I’d steer clear if you’re squeamish.

Starters

Starters

We went for a clear broth – plenty of garlic, ginger and spring onion as well as dried red Chinese dates – and a hot and spicy broth with chilli oil and a load of dried red chilli. These were brought to the table in a big split pan and placed on a hotplate in the middle of the table where it boiled and bubbled between us throughout the meal (topped up with stock by the friendly waiters as necessary):

Xiangbala Hot Pot

Xiangbala Hot Pot

This is where the fun begins!

The hotpot is like a big Chinese fondue and because it’s a boiling stock (as opposed to cheese, oil or chocolate) it’s actually very healthy! Our raw ingredients arrived on one massive platter and a number of smaller plates:

Raw ingredients platter

Raw ingredients platter

The majority of the platter was made up of various types of seafood including fresh crab claws and legs, razor clams, king prawns and fish balls:

Seafood

Seafood

Platter

Platter

There were also a number of vegetable offerings here including cauliflower, pak choi, Chinese leaf, dried fungus and wild mushrooms. We had also ordered pork and beef and these came wafer thin and also raw:

Meat

Meat

At this point we were taken over to the sauce table by our waiter. In my excitement at being allowed to mix my own sauce up using a range of ingredients (including: peanut paste, soy, sweet chilli, fresh coriander, spring onion, rice vinegar, chilli oil, sesame oil, oyster sauce, hoi sin and slightly worryingly MSG) I forgot to take a photo of the table. I did, however, manage to get a snap of my sauce before I mixed it:

Sauce

Sauce

As you can see, I went heavy on the peanuts, peanut paste and chilli oil to make a sort of satay style dipping sauce. I went back and made a few more over the course of the evening and they all had different qualities.

We spent the next hour or so experimenting with cooking times, dropping ingredients into the broth and forgetting they were there, getting it just right, getting it wrong, laughing and enjoying the experience.

Cooking

Cooking

The food is only as good as you are at cooking it and for some this is not the idea of a fun night out. If you’re a foodie (and let’s face it, you’re reading a food blog…) it almost certainly will be.

We finished up with some sweet dim sum dumplings. Steamed balls of dough filled with a sort of sweet date paste and shaped into a cute hedgehog. This came with a slice of refreshing watermelon.

Dim Sum

Dim Sum

Overall:

The food here is good and fresh and the fun of cooking it yourself would lend itself well to a group night out. Perhaps not a first date kind of a place…

The decor isn’t exactly chic but it adds to the fun atmosphere and many of my favourite restaurants (e.g. Kampong Ah Lee Malaysian Delight) have fairly suspect interiors. The deal – the one and only option – is good value if you’re hungry, essentially encompassing three courses for £15. The house wine’s not bad and there is the option to BYOB (however, with a rather hefty £5 corkage).

I highly recommend trying Xiangbala out at least once and I bet, like me, you’ll be hooked on hot pot!