Salt Yard (Spanish-Italian), London Restaurant Review

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Despite various positive reviews from the bloggerati, Salt Yard has been sitting on my to-eat list for nearly a year now; so when I had cravings for Spanish tapas this was the first place I thought of.

Located on Goodge Street, Salt Yard is a tiny little restaurant and we were sitting pretty much elbow-to-knee with our neighbours. Although we were early at 6.30pm, the place was already buzzing with happy diners creating a pleasant atmosphere.

We started with some Jamon Iberico de Bellota, my favourite ham to eat from Spain. It is a speciality ham from a specially bred black pig fed on acorns which does make for a difference as the aroma of the nuts actually does come through. This was a great way to start the meal, especially when the ham sits on the tongue and the taste seeps out onto the tastebuds.

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Saffron Arancini with Mussels, Crab, Squid and a Chilli Alioli”. Essentially, a little deep fried ball of risotto, this was a lot better than it sounded. The risotto was actually quite tasty and had lots of the seafood flavour. Texturally, the crunchy skin was an excellent foil to the naturally soft risotto while the occasional little bits of squid inside gave another chewy dimension.

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Stuffed and Roasted Baby Squid with Braised Fennel and Nora Pepper Oil”. Ok so I’m not entirely sure what the stuffing was, but I think I caught the tastes of potato as well as egg. Anyway the squid itself was cooked just nice and wasn’t rubbery at all. The sauce was quite delicious and slightly tart, although I think that if it was thicker (ala Chinese style with the corn starch), it would have coated the squid better.

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Courgette Flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with honey”. This is the one dish I remember from reading Kang and Helen’s reviews over 6 months ago. I wasn’t keen on ordering it at first as I’m not a fan of cheese (especially goat’s cheese!!) but our neighbour had ordered it and it looked so good we couldn’t help ourselves and added this on to our initial orders. The PigPig was certainly very happy we did as she absolutely loved this; the soft creamy courgette was delicately deep fried with a very light batter and the pungent goat’s cheese was complimented perfectly by the honey. Whilst not to my tastes, I can certainly appreciate this simple little dish.

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Chargrilled Lamb Leg with Creamy Polenta, Squash Caponata and Black Olives”. I’m sure you can appreciate the juicy pinkness of the lamb from the pictures; the lamb on its own was already excellent as it was seasoned well. However, it was the combination of the polenta (which I normally dislike but not in this case) as well as the mouth-watering sauce that really brought the entire dish together; this was perhaps my favourite out of many good dishes that night.

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Braised Oxtail with Tomato Gnocchi and Bone Marrow”. As is my wont, I tasted the oxtail first on its own and was slightly disappointed as the meat felt as if it lacked taste and flavour despite being very tender. The gnocchi on the other hand was simply bursting with flavour and complimented the oxtail extremely well. One of those things where the sum is greater than its parts.

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Smoked Wild Mushrooms with Olive Oil Whipped Potatoes, Free Range Egg Yolk and Chorizo Oil”. The last of our main dishes to arrive, but this perhaps had the longest lasting impression on our minds. Firstly the potatoes had a really amazing olive oil aroma to it and the texture was slightly different as it had a rather strange glue-like texture (we theorize the olive oil makes this change in texture as Cambio de Tercio’s whipped potato had a similar texture as well). Next, the wild mushrooms add flavour and texture to the dish whilst the egg yolk provides richness and the chorizo oil and paprika provides more aroma and flavour. Overall, a superbly balanced dish much like the egg dish at Alain Ducasse @ Dorchester.

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Lemon and Cinnamon Doughnuts with Coco Nib Ice Cream”. Whilst asking for the dessert menu, we also asked for recommendations for dessert from one of the staff who advised choosing this, something we would probably have given a miss if left to our own devices. Instead we were pleasantly surprised with the results, especially as the aroma of baked cinnamon goodness wafted to our noses. I felt the doughnuts themselves were a little dry, although very fluffy and light; a view not echoed by the PigPig it has to be said.

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The ice cream contained cocoa nibs, explained by the staff to be blended husks of the cocoa seed. To me, they felt just like chocolate chips and provided crunchy textures to the soft fluffy doughnuts.

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Plum and Almond Cake with Salted Almond Caramel Ice Cream”. Not so much a cake as a tart, the almond tart bit was a good balance of sweetness as well as being moist. The plums then added a slight tart nature while the ice cream was slightly salty. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of this creation but the PigPig adored it; she felt that it was beautifully balanced and had the holy trinity of sweet salty and sour without each element being too overpowering.

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Altogether, the bill came up to £36 each for a heck of a lot of food and tap water. The service was more perfunctory than friendly and whilst being fairly attentive and prompt, it wasn’t particularly overwhelming.

Food – 7.8
Service – 5.0
Atmosphere – 5.0
Value – 5.0


Basically, I was blown away by the quality of the food on offer. I thought all the dishes were on average of very good quality, and most importantly they all seemed very well thought out and had very good balance, particularly the wild mushroom with potato.

My favourite tapas bar has always been Barrafina (Cambio de Tercio is too simply exorbitant to go for regular eatings) but the Salt Yard trumps it in terms of good food, albeit in a different style.

Best bit: extremely well balanced dishes with the ingredients complimenting each other and coming together extremely well.
Worst bit: knocking elbows with other diners.

Salt Yard
Fitzrovia
54 Goodge St
Fitzrovia, W1T 4NA
Official website

Salt Yard on Urbanspoon


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Chinese Dried BBQ Pork - Bak Kwa, Long Yoke, Yoke Gon 肉干...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

When I first came to the UK, the only food stuff I brought over was a box of instant noodles - Maggi and Indomie mi goreng to be specific - good stuff! After half a year of minty rice and oodles of potatoes at the boarding school, I brought over a rice cooker, lots of instant curry packets, herbal soup mixes, Chinese sausages, dried mushrooms, dried scallops, dried shrimps...well you get the idea. We used to go home 2-3 times a year and come back with lots of goodies. After Summer, we'd come back with mooncakes, and jars of cookies for Chinese New Year after Christmas holidays. Our parents would send us parcels of food...yea...I know, we were a bunch of spoilt, hungry, homesick students...the good old days. Now, any meat, dairy and other animal products are banned from being brought into the UK - no more Chinese sausages, pork floss and most importantly, bye bye bak kwa (the wild boar was devastated when he learnt about this new regulation - he loves his bak kwa).

chinese dried bbq pork, bak kwa 4

I call this 'yoke gon' (肉干), which is Cantonese for 'dried meat'. The wild boar calls this 'bak kwa', which is 'dried meat' in Hokkien dialect and he also refer to this as 'long yoke' (WHY??!! What does it mean?). It took me awhile to figure out what he was referring to. Bak kwa is traditionally made with marinated minced meat, flattened, sun-dried and then grilled over charcoal fire. It is deliciously sweet and is a common Chinese New Year snack. When you walk along Petaling Street (Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown), you'd be swamped by smoke from all the open-air grilling. Not sure if they still do that openly now as I haven't been there in ages - ever since they refurbished the area in 2003. Cleaner, tidier, more civilised yes, but it has lost a little of its charm for me. Nowadays, you can find shops selling this everywhere in Malaysia, the famous ones are Wo Lai Ye Kiew Brothers (a nice write-up here and check out how they grill it in KL's Chinatown here) and Bee Cheng Hiang from Singapore.

When we were home for Chinese New Year 2 years ago, we found this awesome product at one of the Kiew Brothers' outlets:



bacon bak kwa
Picture taken from Bernama Mandarin News

Look at all that gorgeous crispy fats! Yes, it's BACON bak kwa! It's more expensive as compared to the regular ones, but it's well worth the price. The fats are oh-so-good! Do remember to ask for the fatty ones, the fats are the best bits! The meaty part is slightly chewier and tougher than normal ones, so if you are not into fats, you are better off with the regular ones. Go for the FATS!

I googled around for bak kwa recipes and found out that it's pretty easy to prepare. I gave it a go and it turned out really good - got a thumbs up from the wild boar =) I would suggest that you grill it if you have a grill for the smokey flavour.
Ingredients:
Adapted from Tazz in the kitchen
Directions:
  • Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, use a pair of chopsticks or a fork and stir vigorously in one direction until a gluey paste is formed.
chinese dried bbq pork, bak kwa 1
  • Cover and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
The next day:
  • Pre-heat oven to 125°C.
  • Place meat on a large piece of parchment paper.
  • Cover with clingfilm so the meat won't stick the rolling pin.
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  • Roll into a thin sheet (about 2mm thick).
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  • Remove the clingfilm and bake at 125°C for about 20 mins.
  • Increase temperature to 180°C and bake for aout 20-30 mins or until the sides are charred. Keep a close watch, as it burns easily at this stage.
  • Cool and cut into pieces.
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Mee Rebus for Rasa Malaysia

Friday, 26 February 2010

My first guest post!!! When Bee asked me to write a guest post for her Rasa Malaysia, I was thrilled! She's like a star in the food blogosphere and her gorgeous pictures always make my mouth water, not to mention - homesick. Bee is an awesome cook, do check out Rasa Malaysia for her amazing Asian recipes. She's also the author of Nyonya food - a website dedicated to Nyonya cuisine, culture, and traditions. This week, Bee's doing a series of Malaysian hawker food posts and started off with an authentic Penang curry mee recipe. My contribution is my mum-in-law's mee rebus recipe.

mee rebus, Cucur Udang/ Bawang (Prawn & Onion Fritters)

I also made some really delicious cucur udang/ bawang (prawn & onion fritters) to go with it. Please hop over to Rasa Malaysia for the recipes! Thank you Bee again for the invite!

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Soseki (Japanese), London Restaurant Review

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

We love eating Japanese food, although I came to the cuisine late, only eating my first raw fish at the age of 18 or so. Nowadays whenever I see non-Japanese kids eating good Japanese food I feel really envious of them. In London we used to go to conveyer belt sushi bars but lately we’ve found more interesting places to eat, Soseki being the latest sampling spot.

Toptable was offering a 50% discount off the £45 set menu so we figured we might as well give it a shot. Also, Helen covered the opening of Soseki in August 2008 and gave it a pretty good review (8.5/10).

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Deep in the heart of a business district, Soseki was in a rather new-looking building which looked rather impressive actually although the entrance was a bit tricky to find. The interior was even better looking with great detail to the décor. Particularly impressive were the more private booths made up to look like out-jutting shacks with a sandy beach underneath (makes more sense when you see it).

soseki

Anyway we had the “Haiku-sushi kaiseki kappo course”, kaiseki kappo being a style of cuisine originating in high class Osaka restaurants for wealthy merchents in the 19th century. The dishes itself were on an omakase principle, varying depending on seasonal produce and the chef’s design.

Being a total sake noob, we just went along with whatever the waitress recommended based on our preferences (cold, not too dry, easy to drink). I was expecting a strong 40% liquor but it was more like a 5% cocktail which went down easily.

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We started with some chawanmushi (or savoury egg custard according to the waitress) which was pretty good, smooth, light and had a nice lovely mushroomy flavour. It was disappointingly cool (in temperature) though, something that CK also picked up on his visit half a year ago so I’m guessing it’s done on purpose.

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That was followed up with some sashimi; the waitress identified them as salmon, sea bream and scallop. Except it definitely wasn’t scallop, it was some other fish I failed to identify, making it salmon + two unknown fish. Well anyway they seemed pretty fresh, but the portion size was far too small.

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We had a choice of either some pork or vegetables for the next course; naturally we chose the meat. What appeared was some braised pork belly which was just awesome; alright fine some more details – melt-in-your-mouth tender, delicious, fatty but not overwhelmingly disgustingly so. The aubergine was also surprisingly good as it was flavoured with some miso and not just plain and boring. Only complaint was that it was a touch too salty, some plain rice would have gone well with it.

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Bearing in mind it was supposed to be a sushi set course, I was surprised the cooked pork came before the sushi. So hopefully the upcoming palate cleanser would refresh my salted buds. The melon juice was surprisingly bitter but the chrysanthemum flowers added a nice aroma; it was my fault really as I kept taking sips of it while the waiter later said I should have just taken it like a shot.

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Rather than detailing each piece of sushi, I’ll just summarise by saying that the rice was quite tasty and seasoned well. I thought the sushi pieces were otherwise fairly ordinary although it wasn’t in any way bad.

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soseki sides

For dessert, the PigPig was eyeing a green tea rare cheesecake and ice cream option, and to her delight that was what we were given. The cheesecake had some good green tea flavour going on, but the PigPig wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by it. Unfortunately, they ran out of the white chocolate and miso ice cream and we were served milk chocolate and miso ice cream instead, which I thought didn’t match the green tea cheesecake as well. The ice cream itself was a bit odd for me, as the miso added a salty undercurrent, but the PigPig quite liked it.

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Altogether, the bill came up to £31 each including a 175ml flask of sake that was about £10 or so.

Just a brief word on the staff, I identified only two Japanese waiters out of all the staff and the sushi chef’s had a brief conversation in Cantonese when they weren’t being productive. The clientele were also mostly non-Japanese.


It wasn’t actually bad, but the food wasn’t exactly brilliant either, just slightly better than average. However, that doesn’t match the prices which are more appropriate for Nobu-quality food; without the 50% discount I would have felt incredibly ripped-off.

Best bit: The interior designing.
Worst bit: The price.

Soseki
Aldgate
30 St Mary Axe 1F
London, EC3A 5AA
Tel: +44(020)7621921

Soseki on Urbanspoon


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Valentine's Day Dinner Dessert - Strawberries & Creme Pattissiere

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

V-day menu 2010


To wrap things up, I served strawbrries with creme patissiere and crushed meringue kisses that I made just before Valentine's day.This is really simple to make. You can prepare the creme and strawberries the day before, assemble everything on the day and leave them to chill in the fridge until they are ready to be served. It's really delicious, not too heavy, very refreshing with the strawberries.


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Ingredients: serves 2
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries - diced
  • 1/2 tbs caster sugar
  • Meringue - broken into small pieces
For Creme Pattissiere:
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup double cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean - split and scraped
  • 1 tbs plain flour
  • 1/2 tbs corn flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbs caster sugar

Directions:
  • Toss together strawberries and sugar, leave to macerate for about 1 hr.
For Creme Pattissiere:
  • Heat up milk, double cream and vanilla bean in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Turn off heat and let it steep for about 10 mins.
  • Beat together egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl. Sift in plain flour and corn flour. Mix until combined.
  • Re-heat milk mixture.
  • Add a splash of milk mixture to egg yolks mixture. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk mixture.
  • Pour this back into the saucepan.
  • Whisk over a medium-low heat until thickened.
  • Leave to cool and refrigerate for later use.
To assemble:
  • Spoon about 2 tbs of creme pattissiere into each ramekin.
  • Add 2 tbs of softened strawberries, then top with the rest of the creme pattissiere, followed by the rest of the strawberries.
  • Serve with some meringue.

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Valentine's Day Dinner Starter - Prawns with Crispy Parma Ham Topping Served with Creamy Garlic & Saffron Sauce --> Recipe here


Valentine's Day Dinner Main - Roast Pork Belly on Pasta with Mustard Seed Sauce, Momofuku Style --> Recipe here
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Valentine's Day Dinner Main - Roast Pork Belly on Pasta with Mustard Seed Sauce, Momofuku Style

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Momofuku is everywhere on the food blogosphere. It is essentially a group of restaurants based in the East Village of NYC. I personally have to tried at any of the restaurants, but I am dying to. NYC is too far but amazon is just a click away, so I got myself the cookbook instead! I received the book a few days before Valentine's day, so I decided to cook something from it. I settled on the most hyped about pork belly which is used in two of Momofuku Noodle Bar's most popular dishes - ramen and pork buns. What caught my eyes was also the mustard seed sauce which he served with the grilled version of his famed pork belly at his Ssäm Bar.

momofuku nbook

The sauce was indeed "good on the pork belly and anything that needs a sharp, pungent, pickle-dotted sauce to brighten it up".

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Roast Pork Belly

I would suggest using a thicker slab of pork belly, the one I got was quite thin and skinny and so not a lot of rendered fat, resulting in a not-so-tender meat. Nonetheless, it was still tasty (a bit on the salty side) and was really good with the mustard seed sauce.

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Ingredients:
Adapted from Momofuku cookbook by David Chang & Peter Meehan
  • 700g pork belly (skinless)
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs salt

Directions:
2 days before:
  • De-skin pork belly if you can't find any skinless.
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  • Nestle belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly.
  • Mix together salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mix onto the meat; shake/ brush off any excess salt-sugar mixture.
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  • Cover pan with clingfilm and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hrs, and as long as 24 hrs. (I left it overnight.)
The day before:
  • Pre-heat the oven to 230°C.
  • Discard any liquid that has accumulated in the pan.
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  • Roast belly in the oven for 45 mins - 1 hr, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it's an appetising golden brown.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 120°C and cook for another 30 mins or so. The belly should be a little resistant, a little firm, shy of jiggly tenderness.
  • Remove pan from oven, decant the fat and the meat juices (reserve for later use i.e pasta).
  • Allow belly to cool.
  • When the belly is cool enough to handle, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge until it's thoroughly chilled and firm. (I left it overnight.) You can shortchange this step if you are pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.
On the day:
  • Switch oven to broil mode.
  • Slice pork belly and broil pieces of belly until well browned. You can also grill the meat if you have a grill.
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Pasta with Mustard Seed Sauce

This was a last minute thought. The original pork belly ssäm was served with rice.

IMG_1532
Ingredients:
  • 150g spaghetti
  • Pickled cucumbers - drained and diced (recipe see below)
  • 1/2 or more of mustard seed dipping sauce (recipe see below)
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable stock OR water
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
  • Mix together 1/2 the amount of the mustard seed dipping sauce with 1 cup of stock or water and whatever pork belly juices you managed to reserve after roasting in a pot or pan.
  • Slowly heat this up (the sauce will thicken as it heats up).
  • Add more mustard seed dipping sauce to taste.
  • While sauce is simmering, cook pasta according to instructions on package. Drain and reserve for later use.
  • Mix diced pickled cucumbers to mustard sauce.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Mix together pasta and mustard seed sauce and serve with roast pork belly.

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Mustard seed dipping sauce

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I used English mustard instead of Chinese mustard here and left out the 3 tbs of pickled cucumbers as I wanted to add the cucumbers straight to the pasta sauce. Very flavourful with ust the right amount of kick. The addition of mustard seeds added a really nice nutty flavour.
Adapted from Momofuku cookbook by David Chang & Peter Meehan

Ingredients:
  • 6 tbs pickled mustard seeds (recipe below)
  • 3 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs English mustard
  • 3 tbs Japanese Kewpie mayonaise
  • 3 tbs spring onions (greens & whites) - thinly sliced
  • Salt

Directions:
  • Combine everything in a small bowl and stir until evenly mixed.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Store in fridge, use within a day or two.

Pickled mustard seeds

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Adapted from Momofuku cookbook by David Chang & Peter Meehan

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs water
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
  • Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the gentlest of simmers over low heat.
  • Cook the mustard seeds, stirring often, until they are plump and tender, about 45 mins.
  • If the seeds look to be drying out, add water as needed to the pot to keep them barely submerged.
  • Cool and store in a covered container in the fridge.

V-day 2010 01

Pickled cucumbers

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This recipe can be used for many different types of pickles like radishes and daikon. The book suggest sprinkling some thinly sliced vegetables witha 3:1 mix of sugar to salt and toss. 10 to 20 minutes later, they are ready to eat and the resulting pickles have a fresh snap. I find it wasn't tasty enough after 10 minutes, so I suggest leaving it for at least 1 hr.

V-day 2010 08

Adapted from Momofuku cookbook by David Chang & Peter Meehan
Ingredients:
  • 1 small cucumber - cut into 1/8-inch-thick disks
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
  • Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  • Toss to coat.
  • Let sit for 5-10 mins. I suggest leaving for about 1 hr before using, toss to coat every now and then.

Final dish - Roast Pork Belly on Pasta with Mustard Seed Sauce, Momofuku Style

WB: It sounded rather odd to me when I first heard it from the PigPig, but later it does mix together quite well. The mustard based sauce provides sufficient taste to the pasta to be eaten on its own, but when mixed with the roast pork there is really good symbiosis going on; the meat providing saltiness to the dish while the mustard sauce goes naturally well with the pork. My only complaint is that I would have preferred more sour pickling of the cucumbers.
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Valentine's Day Dinner Starter - Prawns with Crispy Parma Ham Topping Served with Creamy Garlic & Saffron Sauce --> Recipe here

Valentine's Day Dinner Dessert - Strawberries & Creme Pattissiere --> Recipe here
Read More...