Project 365, Day 8: Egg fried rice is comfort food

Raphe asked for it this morning and I was happy to oblige. When I’m stressed out, overworked or just a little blue, I almost always make myself fried rice. It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s satisfying.

It helps make a crappy week seem a little bit further away.

my comfort food

Fried Rice: The Ultimate Multicultural Food

When you’re done here, check out the rest of the Bicultural Mom blog carnival on multicultural awareness!

As a child of a multicultural family, fried rice holds a special place in my heart.  While keeping the flavors and ingredients of my own families’ food near and dear, it provides the ultimate canvas for experimenting with flavors and ingredients from other countries and cultures.

Kielbasa and cabbage fried rice

Fried rice was never a “special” meal in my Filipino-American household.  Rather, it was a common occurence after family gatherings and holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving.  Events with a surplus of roasted meat and steamed jasmine rice.   Some families had hotdish or stew to clean out those kinds of leftovers – we had fried rice.

Eggs make it breakfast, right?

Pierogies on the side

Cube it up into little nibble-size pieces

Our fried rice had no bounds – honey glazed ham, hamonada, roast turkey, bratwurst, Spam, chicken breast, lima beans, corn, peas, carrots, cole-slaw mix – it all went in with a couple of scrambled eggs, soy sauce and garlic.  Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and American cuisine all rolled into one warm comforting dish.

Saute the onions, then the veggies and pre-cooked sausage. Your nose will thank you.

Today, I keep the multicultural fried rice tradition alive in my Pakistani-Polish-Mexican neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.   Jasmine rice is hard to come by, so I’ve embraced the longer grained basmati rice favored by my Pakistani neighbors.  After six years in New Mexico, my palette still cries out for chiles, so we crank up the heat on an otherwise mild, savory dish.  Raphe will roast Southern-style chickens with paprika and beer on a regular basis, throwing the beer drippings into the rice cooker.  The rice, chicken and even the gravy end up in fried rice a few days later.

Crack the eggs right in there. This is a one skillet meal.


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Hamonada: Braised Pineapple Pork

Roast out of the oven. Courtesy of Mary @ the Kensington Prospect

Let’s revisit the Easter ham, shall we? You know the one – its spiral cut, smoked and cured within an inch of its life, crusted in brown sugar and, if not handled with care, dry. This ham and I have crossed paths many times.  We’ve had some really good times.  We’ve had some not so good times.  We thought about getting together again this Easter, but Raphe and I decided that it’s time to move on to something more moist, less salty and just more… interesting.

Trimming the ham. Sanitize the sink really really well both before and after this.

This is when I remembered hamonada, the sweet and savory braised hamonada my aunt always prepared for New Year’s celebrations.  It’s essentially pork braised within an inch of its life in pineapple juice and sugar.  A perfect solution to tough, dry hams.

Adding the pineapple juice

The decision to make a hamonada was not made lightly because, in all honesty, my track record with hamonada sucks.  I first made it for New Years in 2005-2006.  The traditional stove method (demonstrated at Asian in America) was fine, but I took the “ham” part a little too seriously.  I simmered a traditional American cured ham in pineapple juice for about an hour and a half.  At the end it tasted like a traditional American cured ham with some salty pineapple juice on the side.  Not what I was going for.

Pour on the Apple Juice

The next attempt took place in early 2007, when a pork shoulder found its way into a roasting pan with some pineapple juice, but only stayed in the oven for the hour and a half necessary for stove top simmering.  The time and the cooking temperature (375?  400?  I can’t quite remember) resulted in a rubbery, dry pork roast.

Halfway done. 2 hours to go.

This time, though, I think I’ve finally got it.  Raphe picked up a beautiful uncured, untrimmed 10lb ham, which we decided to partially trim.  The trimmed side sits in the braising liquid and absorbs all the sweet, sweet flavor.  The untrimmed side protects any exposed meat from drying out and adds natural juices.  We took this ham and braised it at a low temperature (300 degrees F) all freaking day.  It went in the oven at 12:30pm and didn’t emerge until 6pm. This finally gave the desired moisture to the meat. The braising liquid began as pineapple juice and enough apple cider to make 4 cups, seasoned with the usual suspects (vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf, pepper), as we like to keep extra sugar to a minimum. After 5.5 hours in the oven and 20 min on the stove the mixture reduced to a sweet brown syrup. Finally, a hamonada worthy of a holiday centerpiece.

Over rice and drizzled with pineapple sauce. Courtesy of Mary @ the Kensington Prospect

Notes:

  1. Kitchen scissors are indispensable for trimming fat and skin from meat. Get some.
  2. In hindsight, I should have just thrown all the pineapple in there without this silly puree business. Next time, next time.
  3. Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a very fatty cut of meat here. There will be a good 1/2 c. of fat sitting on top of the sauce at the end. I say embrace it and eat the skin, too. I suppose you can skim off the grease, if you really want to do it. Just don’t tell me about it.

*****
Hamonada
Inspired by the Pork Pina Hamonado from Asian in America and the Braised Pork Shoulder from Vintuba
Serves 10-12

Ingredients Local sources
1 uncured bone-in ham, 8-10lbs Pathmark
3lb pineapple pieces or 1 whole pineapple, pureed and separated into pulp and juice I&D Interfoods
Enough apple juice to make 4 cups when added to reserved pineapple juice Cortelyou Greenmarket (Red Jacket Orchards)
1/4 c. vinegar C-town
1/4 c. soy sauce NY Mart on Ave U
1 large bay leaf various
2 T minced garlic C-town
small palm-full of peppercorns Bobby Dept Store

1. Prep

  • Puree pineapple, strain juice from pulp overnight.  Reserve all liquid and 1 cup of pulp.
  • Trim skin and fat from half of the ham.  The trimmed half of the ham will sit in the braising liquid and the remaining skin and fat will face up
  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Brown and combine

  • Brown exposed sides of roast in the dutch oven (optional if using a roasting pan that is not stove-top safe)
  • Position the ham so that as much sits in the bottom of the dutch over or roasting pan as possible.
  • Add all other ingredients to the dutch oven.  You may need to wiggle the roast around to get the liquid on all sides.  Bring to a boil.

3. Braise

  • Place in 300 degree oven. Braise for 3.5 hours covered.
  • Increase heat to 325. Cook uncovered for 2 more hours to crisp up the skin and reduce the liquid.  Don’t worry about the meat drying out – the layer of skin and fat left on the top of the roast will retain moisture.
  • For extra moisture and flavor we “shot up” the roast with some of the cooking liquid.  Raphe is especially fond of this technique.

4. Finish and Serve

  • Remove hamonada from oven and let cool until you can safely move the roast to a serving plate – about 10 minutes.  Cover with aluminium, and let rest another 20 minutes.
  • If desired, skim some of the fat off the top of the remaining liquid and reduce the pineapple sauce.
  • Slice off chunks of pork.  Serve over rice with pineapple sauce.

Estopao: Tangy Filipino Meat Stew

A blurry picture is better than no picture. Perhaps it was all the beer.

I didn’t even know the name of the dish (pronounced es-toe-pow) – let alone the regional variations on the name (it is also known as estopado or estofado) – when I was growing up. Not for lack of eating it – my sister and I would request it regularly. That conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey Mom, could you make that pork stuff with the potatoes that Staci likes?

Mom: What? Estopao?

Me: Yeah, what you just said.

Mom makes a minimalist version with pork or chicken, potatoes, soy sauce and a touch of vinegar. Sometimes peas. Always garlic. My mom isn’t big on measurements or formal recipes in cooking. She prefers to taste her way through a dish, making sure everything tastes “right.” When the home-sickness hit in college, I’d call home for a recipe and Mom would give me some general instructions, leaving me to rely on my memory to reconstruct the correct ratio of ingredients. Estopao was one of the dishes I dutifully reconstructed and, eventually, reinvented for myself. Mom’s instructions to me over the phone went something like this:

Mom: Cup up the pork and put in the pan so it’s a little bit cooked. Then put in a little garlic and soy sauce and then potatoes. Put in enough water and boil it until it’s done.

Me: How much soy sauce?

Mom: You know, until it tastes right.

Me: What about vinegar?

Mom: Just a little.

Me: Anything else?

Mom: It’s good with peas and some carrots. Oh, and you can put some tomato in.

Well, the carrot and tomato was news to me. For my first couple tries, I stuck with the minimalist version I remembered. Later on, I started playing with the dish and incorporated my mom’s suggestions.

The flexibility is what I love most about the dish because it’s the flexibility that reflects the multi-cultural heritage of the Philippines and myself. The pork and fish sauce (used in many recipes, although we rarely had patis in the house I grew up in) represent the southeast Asian and native heritage. The soy sauce speaks for the Chinese influence. The potatoes, tomato and bay leaf are clearly Spanish additions. Through my own experiments, I’ve expanded my mom’s carrot suggestion to include celery and onion as well (the “holy trinity” of French cooking and the flavor base of many of my Irish/Dutch great-grandmother’s recipes). Sometimes I’ll add chile peppers.

The result is something that the people of around me keep asking for.  The meat is tender from the braising, the vegetables fragrant and slightly sweet from browning, the sauce thick and tangy from tomato paste, soy sauce and vinegar flavors marrying.  The potatoes are tender but keep their shape.  The fish sauce adds depth without tasting “fishy.”   A little tapioca flour thickens things up.

We recently discovered that estopao is delicious paired with a pilsner. On a chilly Friday night, we paired it with the Coney Island Mermaid Pils from Schmaltz Brewing Company.  The beer was a crisp, bubbly lager – slightly hoppy, but not too bitter – which was a nice contrast to the heavy meat and potatoes dish.  Rye gives the light pils depth and keeps it from being overpowered by tangy vinegar in the stew.

I made estopao with beef for Raphe’s old roommate once.  Now every time I see him the conversation goes something like this:

Roommate: Hey Marni, can you come over and make that Filipino beef stew stuff?

Me: What?  Estopao?

Roommate: Yeah, that stuff.  It was aaaaaaawwweesome.

And the cycle continues.
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