Saturday, June 23, 2007

Roasted Pork Belly, I win!

For the last party we hosted, many things went wrong. I stepped on glass and cut my big toe and in an attempt to keep my oven extremely clean, I removed the door of my oven but I could not put it back. The one thing that went right, and I’m really chuffed about, is the win that I bagged in this head-to-head sio ba (roasted pork belly) competition that I had with my mother.

I was pottering about the kitchen preparing my brine for my pork belly before I headed off to work, when my mother was overseeing the seasoning of her pork belly and explaining that she was going to salt and season hers with five-spiced powder, then freeze it and then toss it in the oven for a good roasting. She then enquired what I was doing with that pot of water I was preparing and then I explained, ‘I making brine for mine to sit in for three days for a good soaking, rinse it off and then toss it in the oven to get super crispy crackling and succulent flesh.’ To which she replied, ‘oh, I think mine will be better.’ I was horrified and wound up by her arrogance, so I challenged her, ‘ok let’s have a sio ba competition!’ ‘Sure, I’m sure I’ll win’ was my mother’s famous last words.

The day before my pork belly came out of the brine, my mother cooked her pork belly, and to be fair, it tasted good but the crackling was not crisp. So after tasting her, I puffed up my chest and said, ‘well, I guess mine is going to be better and my crackling is going to be real crackling.’

On cooking day itself, I removed the belly from the brine, laid it on a bed of diced onions and started it in the oven. As I was clumsily moving around the kitchen, in one smooth turning motion, I have managed to elbow a bottle of vodka off the kitchen island and stepped on the shattered glass. My big toe started bleeding and bleeding and then things started to go horribly wrong. However, even though I was then the walking wounded, I kept my focus, and commanded Mia, who was cooking with me for the night, to check on my pork belly to make sure everything was alright, because I have to win this competition.

My night started to get better when it came out of the oven, it looked beautiful. The pork rind had blistered and was a rich golden brown in colour and it flesh was firm but juicy, and it smelled pretty damn awesome. I sliced my competitor a healthy chunk, hobbled up the stairs and served it with some grace and veiled smugness, and half an hour later, I received a text message on my phone with a short but sharp reply, ‘you win’. I win I win. My crackling was superior but I would admit, my pork belly was a little salty, but it goes down well with drinks, so I can get away with this one this time anyway the bottom line is that mine is better. I won, hurrah!

Brined Pork Belly, Roasted

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*Photo courtesy from Mia

2 kg piece of pork belly, with rinds and bones
2 onions, peeled and chopped
A splash of olive oil
A pinch of coarse sea salt

2 cups sugar
2 ½ cups coarse sea salt
12 juniper berries
12 cloves
12 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
3.8 litres water


1. Start the bring three days before, bring all the brine ingredients together in a pot, and bring to a boil so the sugar and salt melt. Decant into a container and allow to cool, when fully cooled, brine pork belly for 3 days.
2. After 3 days, rinse, then score the rind gently with a sharp knife.
3. Place the onions on the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay the belly on top. Rub the rind with a little oil and then the salt. Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degree C for 1.5 to 2 hours; check it from time to time so it does not burn. Finish the belly under the broiler for about 20 minutes.
4. The end product should be a crispy rind on top of soft and giving fatty flesh. Lift off onions and serve.

*Recipe from The Whole Beast: nose to tail eating, by Fergus Henderson

Sunday, June 10, 2007


27 Lichfield Road
Tel: 6733-5646

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If you like Italian food for these reasons for the main reason of the family-comfort feel, Buono is perfect.

The first thing that you will probably notice is the leopard print slip covers that are on a random number of chairs among the eclectic selection of furniture. They are really cheesy, but (and I hate to admit this) I really like them. To me, it gives the whole place some character and a very unpretentious feel about it.

The second thing I liked about it is the personality, Chef Salvatore Buono. He has got a warm smile and is personable. And he makes good food!

The menu is rather large. On our first visit, to the amusement of Chef who took our orders, we ordered a hodgepodge of dishes from all sections of the menu: calamari, seafood soup, sausage platter, buono pizza, curry seafood pasta and lamb rack with gorgonzola sauce.If you want to go all out and have an antipasti, a first course, second, side and dessert or either just a serving of pasta or pizza, the menu is large and flexible to accommodate your preferences.

Take note that the kitchen includes a fire wood oven, produces lovely fresh bread and thin crusted pizzas, hence this place already has the right foundation to be a good pizzabar.

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The menu has accents of Salvatore’s imagination. The signature buono pizza, topped with both mozzarella and cream, along with sausages and rocket is deluxe comfort food, but a little too heavy for me to stomach on my own, so have this but share this. Intriguing ‘fusion’ dishes such as the curry seafood pasta, spaghetti along with a generous portion of prawns and scallops is tossed in a mild creamy curry sauce, is again comforting and perhaps a potential differential dish for the restaurant.

Along side the more imaginative and distinctive menu items, Buono also present good versions of familiar and classic dishes. The fried calamari, simple but well fried to produce a good crisp with no odours of stale oil is good, and their seafood soup that they should hold up with pride is simple divine.

The food is good enough reason to go back, and another good reason is that the prices for a good meal here will not break the bank. What I like most about this place is that it has got a nature of a good friend. This place is not stocked with designer furniture or starched white table cloths for that matter, but its down-to-earth nature and the personality has got my attention, and I think this is one of those places that I’m going to make mine.

*See the whole set of pictures here.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Kaisan fan club

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Kaisan is one of those places that I frequent but haven’t blogged about. The biggest reason for that is, it is such a small place with limited sushi counter seats and it is my spot (I even have this chair that I regularly sit in) and I don’t want too many people to there, it’s MINE. But seriously, who am I kidding when this gem has been blogged about repeatedly.

This is how I rationalise telling people about one of my favourite sushi places: firstly, Kaisan deserves to survive (a) it is a fabulous place where the food gives me so much pleasure and delight (b) the people are delightful, Chef Thomas Kok is a great guy and fatherly in his fish fish/sushi/food education that he always gives us and these is this rather funny waitress that I’ve come to know called Candy. Secondly, if there is a steady flow of traffic through the restaurant, it keeps the fish and produce fresh, and this is a very important and selfish reason of mine.

To be honest, I’ve never ever seen the menu in Kaisan. I usually just take my seat at the bar and leave it to the skilled hands of Thomas. Unless I spot a thing or two at in the glass chiller in front of me, I would make a request, and if I fancied some sake, I’ll ask Candy, she’s got a good sense of taste in that field. Oh and always ask if he has the bamboo clam. Apparently I’ve been a real charm since Kaisan has always had it when I’ve dined there so Chef Thomas has deemed me, ‘lucky’. Ask for the bamboo clam because it is rather amusing to see the clam fighting back for their lives as they hit the hot grill and get slapped with some tasty mentaiko dressing, but spectacle aside they are damn tasty too, I could have two, but I would miss out on the other good stuff.

The sushi/sashimi selection, it is fresh and it is good. I have had the best maguro sushi in Kaisan. The tuna he gets is from Japan, and it isn’t the yellowfin but the bluefin tuna, the kind of tuna that could easily outweigh two human beings and oh, it is so gooood. In my last visit he served us, aka uni, a seasonal product from Hokkaido. The urchin is smaller than the usual sea urchins that is served, and hence more expensive and the gonads are redder in colour, and hence its name. Taste-wise, it is superior to the usual uni, creamier, stronger in flavour sans the fishiness that is sometimes presence. Paired against his crisp nori, my first bite was a sense of crisp crunch, then the uni exploded and filled my mouth, absolutely sensational. On every visit, he also usually ensures that we each get a piece of toro sushi, but the last time we went there, he practically made us a toro sandwich, two slices of toro with sushi rice sandwiched between, total luxury and I was in toro heaven. In short, he is a great sushi chef.

The importance of the raw bar in a sushi bar is top priority, but Kaisan also has a splendid selection of cooked food as well. I’ve had fabulously grilled whole fishes and fish cheeks that were perfectly seasoned with salt and beautifully sweet. The person who mans the grill also does a great job in grilling up the numerous orders of bamboo clams and anago sushi, charred on one side and soft on the other. On my last visit, I had also tried something new to me, but traditional in Japan – a combination of tofu, unagi, grated yam and topped with ikura, it looked and tasted great.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was a member of the Kaisan fan club?

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the view from my regular seat

*See the whole set of pictures here.

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