Thai Style Braised Pork Belly

Friday, 30 September 2011

This recipe is adapted from CheatEat using the most basic of Thai flavors: coriander, pepper and garlic. It is savoury, peppery and on the sweet side due to the generous amount of palm sugar used.

Thai Style Braised Pork Belly

Palm sugar is widely used in Southeast Asian cooking for both savoury and sweet dishes. It has a distinct caramelised, nutty flavour and is more complex as compared to refined sugars. There are different types of palm sugars depending on the type of palm sap, cooking method, level of caramelisation and also additives. For this dish, I used gula Melaka instead of the light yellow Thai palm sugar.

Thai Style Braised Pork Belly

Gula Melaka, which means "Malacca Sugar" in Malay, and is named after the state of Malacca in Malaysia where it is believed to be originated in. It is made from the sap obtained from young coconut shoot, which is then caramelised by boiling for a couple of hours until it turns thick and dark brown in colour. The molten palm sugar is poured into small coconut shells or bamboo moulds and allowed to cool and set. The darker colour, the more more fragrant and smoky and nutty aroma one has.

Thai Style Braised Pork Belly

Thai Style Braised Pork Belly

Printable recipe
By Pig Pig's Corner

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 1 1/2 hr
Yield: serves 4-5

  • 850 g pork belly - cut into chunks
  • 200 g brown beech mushrooms/ shimeji (optional)
  • 1 inch ginger - sliced
  • 1/2 bulb garlic - peeled and crushed
  • 1/3 cup fresh coriander roots and stem - finely chopped
  • 40 g gula Melaka (palm sugar) - grated with a knife
  • 1/2 tbs white pepper powder
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs Cheong Chan Thick Dark Soy Sauce (Thick Caramel Sauce) (optional, for colouring purposes)
  • Water
  • Heat up a bit of oil in a pot. Add ginger, garlic and coriander, stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add pork, palm sugar*, pepper and dark soy sauce. Stir to coat.
  • Pour in enough water to cover all the ingredients, bring to boil then lower heat to simmer for about 1-1/2 hrs or until pork is tender and sauce is reduced.
  • Add mushrooms and leave to simmer for a few mins or until the mushrooms are cooked.
  • Season to taste.
*This dish is on the sweet side, so use less if you prefer it to be less sweet. You can always add more later to taste.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

At the time of writing, we’ve been in Singapore for about 3 weeks now but with the hustle and bustle of moving house, we haven’t really been checking out places to eat. However, my parents decided to drop down to see how we’re getting along and since that weekend was close enough to my mum’s birthday, we figured we had to go somewhere nice to celebrate.

For occassions like this, and since we’re both quite clueless about restaurant choices here, cue the internet which supplied Conveniently, my good friend was with me at the time and blurted out that he had a good experience in Otto before. Located near Tanjung Pagar MRT station in the Red Dot Traffic Building, Otto’s interior was smartly modern. The table was quite brightly lit but still seemed better suited for the romantic date or business meal rather than a family dinner.

The waiters were quite happy for us to mix and match degustation with ala carte dishes (unlike most places in London, where the whole table has to choose one or the other) so 2 of us took the Degustation Menu at $88++ while 3 of us sensibly plumped for the more interesting sounding Gourmet Menu ($128++).

Before we finished choosing our food though, some bread was provided. There were 5 types available: cranberry (mum loved this), olive (I thought it was a bit dense), onion (also dense), plain (why eat plain when you can get theoretically yummier ones?).

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-bread

The amuse-bouche was slices of roast beef with some sort of creamy sauce I can’t recall specifically. It wasn’t particularly memorable and I think a little bit more tang to the sauce would do better as a palate-starter.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-amuse bouche

Wagyu beef carpaccio with mushroom and parmesan cheese salad”. We were all pleasantly surprised by the sheer volume of food on the plate as degustation menus tend to be quite miniscule sometimes. This is a salad I can really enjoy as the beef was plentiful but tender and juicy enough to enjoy while the mushrooms and parmesan add extra flavours. I would have preferred more olive oil over the carpaccio or even some shaved truffles for extra aroma but perhaps that’s asking for too much.

Tuna carpaccio with tuna sauce on vine jelly tomato and arugula”. As opposed to the beef carpaccio, this tuna version is much more delicate, perhaps so as to not overpower the milder tuna flavour. I quite enjoyed this although the tomato jelly was quite non-existential.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-starters

Lightly smoked crustacean soup with prawn dumpling”. The crustacean soup seemed very similar to a bisque, but with less of the bitterness I normally associate with a bisque and perhaps less creaminess as well. Nonetheless, it was very rich and flavourful. There wasn’t a dumpling within the bowl either, just a handful of diced prawns at the bottom of the bowl which I preferred as there was less starch.

Pan roasted Foie Gras with grilled pineapple and Vincotta”. The foie gras was heavenly and of really high quality with none of the pate-like texture I sometimes find in other restaurants. It was literally melt-in-your-mouth. Partnering it with the pineapple was new but it seemed to work well as the pineapple was a little sweet and a little tart at the same time, flavours which work best with the nice foie gras.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore

Homemade cinnamon quadrotti pasta with hunter style venison sauce”. We experienced a new pasta type, the quadrotti. Basically it was a square piece of pasta, similar to the lasagna sheets. The pasta were beautifully al dente and the very slight cinnamon aroma from the pasta itself seemed to complement the strong and masculine venison quite well.

Homemade Dutch veal ravioli with sage and truffle emulsion”. The ravioli was also perfectly al dente and while the veal filling was tasty, the consistency was strangely more like a cheese than meat. The gravy was top-notch, even if I didn’t truly notice a truffle aroma about the dish. My only criticism is a lack of a textural element to the dish.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-pasta

Atlantic cod ‘Tagliata’ with ‘Taggia’ black olives crust served with sweet garlic sauce”. For this course there is a choice between cod of beef. The cod remained fairly juicy but the crusting was so flaky it didn’t make for a pleasant dish. My dad chose the beef so I had a couple of bites and it felt like the better choice although it was quite simple.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-fish

Seared langoustine with ‘Allegrini’ lake Garda olive oil and parsley”. This was an extra course on the Gourmet menu when compared to the Degustation menu. The little langoustines were imported from New Zealand and was the sweetest crustaceans we’ve ever sampled. Chef Michele Pavanello explained that he chose an olive oil that was fruitier and less acidic to pair with the langoustine to further bring out the sweetness.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-langoustini

Crispy suckling pig lacquered with ‘black locust’ tree honey and aged balsamic vinegar”. One of the signature dishes, this did not disappoint. The pork was succulent and tender while the skin was thin and crunchingly crispy. This was definitely more similar to the Chinese style suckling pig than a western roast pork but the usage of balsamic vinegar instead of the hoi sin sauce was a great move as the latter is rather overpowering.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-suckling pig

Hazelnut parfait with crispy biscuit and Frangelica sauce”. I’m not sure of the exact difference between a parfait and an ice cream, but it did feel subtly different; it was light, a bit too smooth and creamy perhaps. It wasn’t very obvious that it was hazelnut either and we all thought it was coffee flavoured for a while.

Warm chocolate cake with Haitian vanilla ice cream”. A chocolate fondant is always a popular choice and I think its fair to say that we all preferred this dessert course. The molten chocolate filling was very rich and the cake itself was quite dense too, just the way I like it. The vanilla ice cream had a slightly odd aftertaste though.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-desserts

Altogether, the bill came up to $750 for 2 Degustation and 3 Gourmet menus as well as a $80 bottle of rose wine. Service throughout was excellent with friendly, helpful and attentive staff. I told Otto that this dinner was for my mum’s birthday and they kindly threw in a complimentary mini-cake.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-cake

Overall, the quality of food sampled on two of the tasting menus proved to be of quite high quality. Chef Michele Pavanello explained that his style was to use quality ingredients without over-elaborating, which sounded quite similar to what most Italian chefs tend to say. Suffice to say, his style has worked very well and I certainly wouldn’t mind dining there again, maybe to take advantage of the lunch deal at $35.

Best bit: the langoustines, really simple but bursting with the crustacean sweetness.
Worst bit: the cod was pretty dismal, didn’t particularly enjoy any aspect of it.

Otto Ristorante, Singapore-birthday

Otto Ristorante
28, Maxwell Road, #01-02
Red Dot Traffic Building
Singapore 069120
Tel: +65 62276819

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushrooms 冬菇焖鸡脚

Monday, 26 September 2011

Cleaning raw chicken feet is a daunting task. Actually, cleaning a whole raw chicken here is extremely daunting especially when the head and feet are still attached. I've only dealt with headless and feetless chickens back in the UK and I was in shock when I cut open the wrapper and saw this chicken staring right back at me. It took me quite awhile to recover and I felt even more grossed out when I saw the feet...with toenails! It was a whole new experience.

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushrooms 冬菇焖鸡脚

Anyway, grossness aside, chicken feet or feng zhao (鳯爪, which means phoenix claws in Chinese) contain a lot of collagen and can be really tasty and delicious if done well. With almost no meat and being mostly cartilage, chicken feet are very gelatinous. They are commonly used in Chinese cuisine and the most widely known way of cooking chicken feet is cooked dim sum style - chicken feet in sweet and salty black bean sauce. Extremely delicious. They are also used to make soups, which is believed to be good for your skin.

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushrooms 冬菇焖鸡脚

Remember to remove the outer layer of the skin (it's like a thin membrane) and trim away the toenails. If you want the skin of the chicken feet to be less rubbery and more 'puffy', you can deep fry them before braising.

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushrooms 冬菇焖鸡脚

Printable recipe
By Pig Pig's Corner

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 1 hr
Yield: serves 4-5

  • 10 Chinese mushrooms - rinsed and soaked until softened, halved.
  • 20 raw/ deep fried chicken feet - outer skin and toenails removed
  • 3 slices ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic - crushed
  • 3 stalks spring onion - halved
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 tbs oyster sauce
  • 2 tbs light soy suace
  • A few dashes white pepper powder
  • 1 small piece rock sugar
  • 2 tsp Cheong Chan Thick Dark Soy Sauce (Thick Caramel Sauce) (optional, for colouring purposes)
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
  • Water used for soaking mushrooms
  • Blanch chicken feet, drain, wash then leave aside for later use.
  • Heat up a bit of oil in a pot. Add ginger, garlic, spring onion and star anise, fry until fragrant.
  • Add in all the chicken feet, mushrooms and seasonings. Stir-fry for a few mins.
  • Pour in Shaoxing wine followed by all the water used for soaking mushrooms. Add more water to cover all the ingredients.
  • Bring to boil then lower heat to simmer until chicken feet are tender (about 1 hr or more).
  • Season to taste with more oyster sauce/ light soy sauce.
  • Thicken with constarch slurry if you want to.

Pork Knuckle in Sweetened Black Vinegar 猪脚醋

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

This is a popular Chinese confinement food. The Chinese believe that the body is "cold" after giving birth so we need to consume a lot of "heaty" food like ginger and sesame oil after childbirth. Since it is so tasty and appetising, many people enjoy this dish even though they are not going through confinement, even men!

Pork Knuckle in Sweetened Black Vinegar 猪脚醋

The key to this dish is to use the best ingredients you can get. Ginger is traditionally known to dispel postpartum body 'wind', get rid of the 'cold' and improve blood circulation. If your body is not taken care of properly after birth, it may lead to rheumatism or inexplicable aches and pains in the future, that's why ginger is consumed a lot during confinement. I used Bentong ginger, which I was told is the best type of ginger around. It is from Bukit Tinggi, Bentong, which is a town or district in the state of Pahang in Malaysia. It is apparently more pungent and gives a different flavour to the dish. The amount of ginger added in this dish depends on how spicy you want the dish to be. As for black vinegar, it is to help purify the blood and cleanse the arteries. The black vinegar in this dish helps to dissolve the calcium content in the pork bones, which results in a calcium-rich sauce.

Pork Knuckle in Sweetened Black Vinegar 猪脚醋

Pork Knuckle in Sweetened Black Vinegar 猪脚醋

Printable recipe

By Pig Pig's Corner
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 2 hr

  • 1 whole pork knuckle (about 2.2 kg) - chopped into chunks
  • 2-3 tbs sesame oil
  • 800 g ginger (I used Bentong ginger) - peeled and sliced
  • 1 bulb garlic - peeled and crushed
  • 4 cups sweetened black vinegar
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • A few hard-boiled eggs - shelled (optional)

  • Blanch pork belly. [Place pork into a pot, add enough water to cover. Bring to boil. Once water comes to a boil, remove from heat, drain and wash with cold water.]
  • In a large pot, heat up sesame oil.
  • Add ginger and fry until fragrant.
  • Add garlic and fry until fragrant.
  • Pour in all the vinegar and bring to boil then lower heat to simmer for about 30 mins.
  • Add in pork knuckle, bring to boil then lower heat to simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hrs or until tender.
  • Season to taste.
  • If you are adding eggs, add in towards the last 10 mins of the cooking process.
  • You can serve immediately with plain rice but it's better to leave it and chill the stew overnight before eating. This way, you can skim away the fats and also helps the flavour.

Bubur Cha Cha 摩摩喳喳 for Notabilia

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bubur Cha Cha 摩摩喳喳

You may be familiar with the various traditional kuih-muih (sweet cakes) in Malaysia, but soup-based desserts are pretty popular here too such as ABC (shaved ice with colourful toppings), cendol (coconut-based soup with green jelly), pulut hitam (coconut-based glutinous rice porridge), and this simple and delicious bubur cha cha. Hop over now to Notabilia for the full story and recipe!

Winter Melon Soup 冬瓜汤

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Hello from sunny Singapore! After 11 years of living abroad, we've finally decided to move back to Asia and reside in Singapore. The wild boar started his new job on Monday. We are still trying to get used to travelling by BMW (bus, MRT and walk that is), not really working out as I've been cabbing it everywhere. The heat isn't helping either. We are still bunking over at a friend's place and will be moving into our new place this weekend. That's a summary of our current status =) I'll be back to regular posting after the big move this weekend, so stay tuned!

For now, I have a cooling soup recipe to share. I made this quite a few times when I was holiday-ing in Malaysia before the move to Singapore. The weather is extremely hot and humid in this part of the world and winter melon is believed to help reduce body heat. The exterior of a winter melon looks like a watermelon without the stripes but the interior resembles that of a bitter gourd, so remember to remove the seeds and pulp before cooking. It has a very mild yet distinct flavour and is often used to make sweet or savoury soup. In Malaysia, it is made into a sweet drink that can be served both hot and cold.

Winter Melon Soup 冬瓜汤

Winter Melon Soup 冬瓜汤

Printable recipe
By Pig Pig's Corner

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 1 hr (pressure cooker)

  • 1.2 kg winter melon - skin and inner seeds discarded, cut into chunks
  • 750 g chicken pieces(or pork ribs)
  • 1 handful Yu-zhu/Yuk-chuk (玉竹)
  • 50 g Chinese ham (金華火腿)
  • 5 Chinese mushrooms
  • 10 dried red dates (紅棗)
  • 2 tbs goji berries
  • 8 cups water

  • Place all ingredients into the pressure cooker pot and cook under pressure for 45 mins. If you are not using a pressure cooker, blanch the chicken before boiling to get rid of impurities then place all ingredients into a pot, bring to boil then simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hrs.
  • Season to taste.
Winter Melon Soup 冬瓜汤