Saturday, April 25, 2009

For Jeremy: Pork, Jicama and Wasabi

A few posts back, I challenged my readers to take control of this blog and suggest three ingredients that Darling Husband and I would use to create Chopped-style appetizers in head to head showdown. Two of you took on that mission; the first was Jeremy, who suggested pork steak, jicama and wasabi. Thank you, Jeremy! I don't know you but I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in!

Tonight we tried our first head to head challenge. Since we don't have his&hers stoves, we took turns using the kitchen in a very democratic way. I had a little bit of prep time, but then my bit needed to rest a little and so did I. Darling Husband used the kitchen for a bit then. We tagged back and I finished up mine and prepped his pork, too. Then I plated while he grilled (more on this later). Finally, he finished plating and we ate. Phew!

Pork steaks, jicama and wasabi. To start with, I should mention that we were unable to find "pork steaks," so we got a loin roast and cut it into steaks. This may or may not be a suitable substitution, but it was as close as we could get. The jicama was easy to find. (It's a large vegetable that looks like a cross between a potato and a giant white raddish. The flavor is mild but there is a definite starchiness to it. It's not as moist as a potato, but I wouldn't call it dry, either. It's a bit hard to explain, if you're not familiar.) We debated what form the wasabi should take; we had access to paste and powder. In the interest of conformity and accessibility, we chose paste.

For my appetizer, when I heard the three ingredients, the wasabi immediately swung me to the asian influences. I imagined the jicama in a water chestnut kind of way: crunchy but without much flavor on its own. Several options ran through my head, but I decided fairly quickly on an edamame and jicama salad with wasabi vinaigrette, soy marinated pork and a wasabi cream sauce. (One idea I had, then forgot, then remembered just now was to shred and fry some bok choy for crunchy interest on top of the dish. Darn it. Must remember that for later.)

I cut my pork into... well, I like to think of it as octopus, but Darling Husband referred to it as a hand. Point being, I sort of cut slits like a fringe for 3/4 of my pork steak, leaving it connected at the top. I made a marinade with soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic.

The edamame I buy comes frozen in the pod. I just defrosted in some cool water, removed from the pod and was ready to eat. Mmmmmm, edamame... I could (okay, I have) eat a meal of just edamame and some sea salt. But I digress. To add interest to my edamame salad, I found dried seaweed and reconstituted it in water, per the directions on the package. Dry, it looked like black loose leaf tea. It must've quadrupled in volume with the water, because I ended up with a huge mug of seaweed that tasted distressingly like seaweed. (I know, right? What did I expect?) As a remedy, I gave it a quick pickle in rice wine vinegar and sugar.

To achieve my water chestnut vision, I had considered cutting my jicama into little disks. Time and energy constraints led me to just do a small dice. My vinaigrette was just some wasabi, olive oil, pepper and some of the pickling liquid from the seaweed. Combine with the edamame, seaweed and jicama and voila, salad.

Only, I felt like it wouldn't tie in to the pork so I quick grilled two pieces of bacon that I brushed in maple syrup, chopped and mixed in to the salad. I also grilled the pork (or, more accurately, Darling Husband did) and then added it on the plate next to my salad. I finished the plate with some heavy cream that I had mixed with wasabi and grated ginger, then whisked until thickened but not at all whipped cream, then dabbed on the plate. It was creamy and yet flavorful, a subtle softener for the saltiness of the soy pork (in retrospect, I would have added something sweet to balance the salt in the marinade). The edamame was meaty, in its way, and paired nicely with the crunchy jicama; the seaweed added black color contrast, its own somewhat crunchy texture and sweet/sour interest. Wasabi was a subtle flavor in the dish, but was certainly present. I'm pleased with the way my dish turned out.

Presentation wise, however, it was nothing compared to Darling Husband's dish. He made beautiful pork nigiri, complete with nori belts and a wasabi dipping oil. Instead of sushi rice, he grated (for probably an hour) a surprising amount of jicama, then pressed the moisture out of it before combining with sushi rice vinegar and forming into the customary little pillows. His pork was flavored with a pineapple juice and szechuan peppercorn marinade which he made in a small sauce pan. It sounds simple, but it was a really labor intensive dish. The result was absolutely stunning visually, and the jicama was a real trompe d'oiel. It looked just like rice. It tasted a bit like rice, but also like a slaw in many ways. Darling Husband had also sprinkled a little black sesame seeds on top of his nigiri, and they added a subtle counter crunch and nutty flavor. The biggest thing I remember about this dish was how balanced the flavors were. Considering the assertiveness of the ingredients, it should've jumped up and hit me over the head, but it all harmonized and came together much like dancers on a stage. I'm surprised by how effortlessly he seems to put these complex dishes together... and pleased that I get to eat them.

Since we were doing appetizers, we had soup, cheese, crusty bread and little crudite type nibbles to round out the meal. Tapas, if you will. Of course we had underestimated how much food this was, so we only actually added on some cheese and bread to our prepared appetizers. We have soup and tapas for another night's dinner, I guess!

I would like to point out that my wonderful mother, when we were discussing how dinner went, was moved to muse and ponder the ingredients. She suggested wasabi honey would maybe taste good, possibly brushed on pork chops. Realizing she had inadvertently started playing the game, I urged her to come up with something for the jicama, too. "A slaw, I think. With a remoulade dressing." YAY! See how easy it is? Her idea sounded good, too. We're planning on trying it out soon.

First, though, we have to complete our other reader-submitted idea: clams, brie and avocado. Hmmm, better get thinking!

Thank you, Jeremy, for your suggestions. I hope you like what we made, and I'd love to hear what you think!

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