Posts Tagged ‘北京烤鴨’

The Pursuit of Pork-centric Pleasures at FPPQ’s Pig-out Party “La Manifestation Gourmande”

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

"Long live Quebec pork" mural

In the world of gastronomy, food fads and fashions come and go like the changing of the seasons, but one particular trendy, meaty ingredient which has made its mark on the North American restaurant scene over the last several years, continues to gain popularity on menus of fine and casual dining. There has been a renewed respect for pork, the “other white meat,” or rather, the “other red meat” that earlier generations have enjoyed, and porcine pleasures are back en vogue, from pork tenderloin and pork belly to sausages and charcuterie. So what is the skinny on pork? Due to the growing availability of high-quality niche pork products like pastured, milk-fed, organic, and heirloom pork, such as the coveted Berkshire, the esteemed Yorkshire, and the prized Nagano, to name a few, and culinary influences of variegated ethnic cultures like the cuisines of China, the Pacific Islands, Mexico, and Britain, chefs are rediscovering the culinary, gustatory, and nutritious attributes of this red-hot hog meat, which continues to be one of the widely consumed and utilized meats in the world. Succulently flavourful and exceptionally versatile, pork, which is leaner than beef, lends itself to a myriad of different preparations—it can be braised, roasted, grilled, smoked, fried, sautéed, browned, caramelized, cured, brined, sous-vide-cooked, breaded, crusted, crispy or melting, plain or elaborate—and flavoursome combinations—sweet, sour, salty, spicy, smoky, bitter, umami, or simultaneously all of the above. Here and across the continent, chefs are enamoured and infatuated with pork and all things pig, from sweetbreads, rind, and lardo to offal, jowls, and trotters, and they are turning increasingly towards the humble hog for culinary inspiration.

Punches of pork are popping up in dishes at gastronomic establishments and culinary events across North America. At trendsetting chef David Chang’s eateries Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York City, his signature dish of pillowy, soft steamed buns filled with brined and roasted pork belly, hoisin sauce, fresh scallion, and pickled cucumber is an American original twist on a fusion of several Asian classic delicacies: the traditional Taiwanese street food guā bāo (刮包), the well-loved Cantonese finger food char siu bao or chā shāo bāo in Mandarin (叉燒包), the popular Japanese nosh staple nikuman (肉まん), Japan’s variant of the Chinese bāo zi (包子), and the epitome of Beijing cuisine, the famous Peking roast duck (北京烤鴨). Luminary chef Scott Drewno at The Source by Wolfgang Puck in Washington, D.C., also possesses a propensity towards Asian cuisine. As a contemporary and cutting-edge reinterpretation of the Chinese celebratory delicacy siu jyu zyu or shāo rǔ zhū in Mandarin (燒乳猪), his iconic creation reveals tender cubes of crispy-skinned suckling pig slow-roasted and slow-cooked in duck fat, topped with yuzu-pickled cipollini onions, and enhanced with roasted pork jus, Chinese 10 spice, black plum purée, and Chinese sweet bean purée. On a more ambitious level, award-winning chef Michael Mina’s trademark concoction of bourbon-peppercorn-braised Kurobuta pork short ribs served with a hock jus reduction, quince, pearl onions, ham hock croquettes, green vegetables, and crispy pig’s ears offers a glamorous and luxurious taste of the burgeoning food fashion trend of nose-to-tail cooking and eating through the prism of the celebrity culinarian’s refined, Japanese- and French-influenced, modern American cuisine at his namesake restaurant in San Francisco. And at the prestigious Canadian Culinary Championships held last February in Kelowna, B.C., 2011 Gold medalist winner Martin Juneau, rising star chef of Newtown in Montreal, showcased his refined, contemporary French-style cuisine and crafted a confident, Canadian-oriented dish of confited St. Canut pork belly with red beet glaze, red beet purée, cooked and raw beet slices, onion strips pickled in beet juice, fresh dill fronds, and Granny Smith apple jelly, but also a rustic yet deceptively sophisticated dish of soft, freestyle boudin noir, a sausage made primarily of pig’s blood, set atop a purée of white beans, which was plated with a deconstructed chutney of shallots, a reduction of a 2008 La Stella Fortissimo merlot-cabernet-sangiovese wine, and a drizzle of parsley oil, the ensemble adorned with a thin Melba toast garnished with bone marrow butter and a scattering of fresh tarragon, parsley, and scallions. These inventive dishes are just a few of the countless examples of high-fashion pork fare that has fattened restaurant menus in North America.

Table centrepiece at “La Manifestation Gourmande”

At a recent gourmet event in which I had the privilege of partaking, the passion for pork continues to be placed in the limelight, in particular, pork from the province of Quebec which graces the tables here and abroad. To celebrate and honour the praiseworthy produce and Quebec’s glory of pork, La Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec (FPPQ), which represents the interests of 3900 pork producers located in twelve regional syndicates in the province, organized “La Manifestation gourmande,” an urban mechoui soirée at one of the Canadian heritage landmarks in downtown Montreal. For the festive fête, which occurred last September, the azure blue carpet, which was rolled out in front of the historic Windsor Station, formerly the metropolis’s central railway terminal and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) headquarters office, led us to the brightly lit main concourse in the interior of the Romanesque Revival monument which was transformed into an inviting banquet hall. More than 900 people, including various pork producers and purveyors, public figures, media personalities, chefs, consumers, and food lovers, attended the tenue de ville affair. Local guest artist harpist and composer M’Michèle, accompanied by DJ Stéphane Leclerc and electric bass guitarist Louis Lalancette, performed during the evening, providing instrumental lounge music through the use of electric harp and sampling.

The convivial occasion marked the unveiling of a new label with an updated logo for cuts that are exclusive to Quebec pork and the launch of two new Quebec Pork television ads marked with a sense of humour as part of the agricultural association’s advertising and publicity campaign designed to further reach out to, and connect with, the current consumer market and to stimulate and promote greater awareness of the fine quality of Quebec pork, which is, incidentally, thirty percent leaner than it was twenty-five years ago. Due to the exemplary expertise and savoir-faire of swine producers, the innovative research in the development of pork production, the stringent food safety regulations and very specific quality standards, and the current demands of the consumer market, Quebec’s hog industry continues to thrive and flourish as it remains a prominent player in domestic and foreign markets. As the second largest producer of pigs in Canada behind Ontario, Quebec currently exports sixty percent of its pork products, from offals to live hogs, to more than 125 countries, including the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, and Australia.

Dinner menu at “La Manifestation Gourmande”

At the pig-out pork party, the highlight of the evening was, of course, the food. Along with the Las Olas Traiteur team, who catered the special event, invited Montreal culinarians Louis-François Marcotte, superstar chef and owner of Simpléchic, Le Local, and Le Hangar restaurants, who is also host of the cooking show “Le Goût de Louis” on Canal Vie and author of four recipe books, and Jonathan Garnier, prolific Côte d’Azur-born chef and co-proprietor of the reputable Montreal cooking school La Guilde Culinaire and co-star of the reality cooking show “Ça va chauffer!” on TVA, prepared the massive mechoui. I was familiar with Marcotte’s cuisine as I found several opportunities to sample a variety of his dishes at the urban, trendy Le Local, and I still remember vividly his delectable dish of pork échine braised in red wine accompanied with curd-cheese-and-roasted-garlic mash potato, bourguignonne egg, cipollini onions, and sautéed mushroom and bacon. As I sipped my fruity vodka-based cocktail the time-honoured Sex on the Beach and nibbled a slice of fresh flaxseed bread from the bread basket on the table, I waited in anticipation to see what Garnier and Marcotte had cooked up for the soirée.

Pork mechoui (photo: courtesy of La Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec)

For the barbecue roast, each chef created his own particular mechoui marinade. In Marcotte’s marinade sèche au sesame recipe, his dry rub was made with toasted sesame seeds, black peppercorns, fresh thyme, garlic, lemon zest, and cassonade, while Garnier’s Mexican version, which was influenced by his passion for travel, incorporated an alluring amalgam of ingredients from smoked chile pasilla de Oaxaca, smoked sweet paprika, and cayenne pepper to coriander, fresh ginger, and tequila. For the evening’s mechoui, a revised take on the traditional North African celebration lamb dish, thirty headless, footless, and gutless pork carcasses were slowly roasted on a spit over burning charcoal embers, each for six hours, in the courtyard just outside the stone venue. In both cases, the lean pork meat, with faint wisps of flavour from the absorbed seasoned and herbed marinade, was firm yet tender, moist, and tasty. Served alongside the barbecued fare, a set of different complementing condiments, all made fresh from scratch, added a palate-pleasing pizzazz to the hearty, slow-cooked meat. Crossing over from the savoury to the sweet side, the pleasurable apple purée enlivened with cinnamon was tartly sweet, while the zesty tomato and pineapple sauce brought together the luscious sweetness of the bromeliad fruit and the acidic tang of the tomato. In the chunky guacamole sharpened with fresh cilantro, the delicate flavour of the fresh, ripe avocados shone through, and the addition of Tabasco sauce imparted a spicy kick to the Garnier-based Mexican-style concoction.

Two hot dishes were offered as side accompaniments to the principal pork dish. Gently browned and generously speckled with minced parsley, the pommes de terre parisiennes were slightly on the salty side, while a mix of orange, yellow, and white Nantes carrots sautéed in butter were delightfully toothsome.

The salad course consisted of two types of vegetable-laden dishes. Although the fresh, fattouch-inspired salad did not include the customary toasted and “crumbled” pita bread chips, it displayed a colourful, flavourful, and textural mélange of baby leaf greens, cucumbers, red tomatoes, radishes, celery, green, red, and yellow bell peppers, yellow and red onions, and green shallots, doused in a lemon-olive-oil dressing, giving the non-conventional Middle-Eastern peasant salad an attractively refreshing zing. But the vegetable dish that I relished the most was the fresh spinach salad tossed with sliced fresh mandarin segments, diced hard-boiled egg whites, and finely chopped smoky bacon and dressed with a light mandarin orange vinaigrette. The spinach added a sweet earthiness, the mandarin added citrus sweetness, the eggs added meaty richness, and the bacon added smoky saltiness—a harmonious equilibrium of tastes and textures in this delicious rustic dish.

Bacon chocolate brownie with bacon croustillant enrobed in dark chocolate and peanuts

Prior to the final course of the feast featuring a lively assortment of fresh seasonal fruits, including pineapple, various melons and grapes, and skewered strawberries, and post-dinner coffee and tea which concluded the globally-inflected repast, there was the dessert course which, surprisingly, turned out to be the unexpected hit of the evening. What was presented was not the typical chocolate brownie, for there was an audacious spin on the all-time American comfort food classic; instead, the sweet dish turned out to be, in fact, a bacon chocolate brownie. Bacon is one of the most ubiquitous foods in the Western world, and chocolate continues to be one of most universally loved foods in the whole wide world. In my mind, the initial thought of a bacon-chocolate marriage seemed rather unappetizing and off-putting, but after taking just one forkful of the eccentric flight of fancy, I was mesmerized and blown away. In this disturbingly twisted riff on the unassuming and timeless baked bar-cookie/cake item, the sweet-meets-savoury interplay, a culinary aesthetic which is not new, worked unbelievably well. The moist, dense brownie square, cake-like and fluffier than its fudgy and chewy sibling versions, was punctuated with crunchy snippets of firm, baked bacon. But there was more to the whimsical composition of this edgy and provocative pork pastry. Anchored comfortably atop the rich chocolaty block was a large, amorphous piece of bacon croustillant enrobed in dark chocolate and studded with chopped peanuts; in this instance, the perceptible saltiness and smokiness of the bacon balanced gracefully well with by the sweetness and intensity of the dark chocolate, while the nutty crunchiness of the ground nuts and unctuous crispness of the cured meat provided a pleasant textural contrast to the creamy smoothness of the semi-sweet chocolate. The dangerously decadent ensemble was finished with an artful drizzle of salted caramel sauce, another newfangled example of the recurring sweet-and-savoury collision where the salt heightened and accentuated the sweet-natured caramel flavour, and a liberal dusting of confectioner’s sugar over the entire sweet culinary creation. Together, the combined sweet-and-savoury components transformed a simple, ordinary brownie into a sophisticated, extraordinary dessert. It was baconized brownie bliss, and the porky sweet delight was shockingly scrumptious.

A few days later, La Fédération des producteurs de porcs du Québec presented a similar event at the Musée national des beaux-arts in Quebec City. Here, the guests had the opportunity to try three variations of the mechoui pork based on the individual marinade recipes of the three invited chefs, namely, recent grand-prize winner of the second edition of the popular Radio-Canada television show “Les Chefs” Guillaume St-Pierre of Panache at the venerable L’Auberge Saint-Antoine (yogurt, apple, and maple syrup marinade), Jean-Pierre Cloutier of Restaurant du musée national des beaux-arts de Québec (maple syrup, cider vinegar, and essence de fumée marinade), and François Blais of Bistro B par François Blais (plum and ginger marinade). The Quebec City fête gourmande was equally as successful as the one held in Montreal.

As I savour a bite of an indulgent dark chocolate truffle embellished with a sprinkle of tiny bacon bits, I sit back and reflect on the past soirée of swining, wining, and dining. It was not only an evening of celebration of Quebec pork but also one of revelation of unusual surprises and eye-opening and palate-satisfying discoveries, an occasion to taste, savour, and appreciate the fine, fresh, flavourful foods regionally produced from farms and pleasures of the table prepared by artisan producers and culinarians. From Columbian street food stalls to American tailgating events and from Asian dim sum (點心) (or diǎn xīn in Mandarin) houses to European temples of haute gastronomie, the penchant for “pork-centricity” remains prominent in our food-obsessed, multi-cultural society. Through their culinary dishes, pork-loving chefs and tastemakers driven by intuition, inspiration, imagination, and innovation continue to influence and shape the world of gastronomy as they revive, retain, rework, and redefine culinary traditions and gastronomic practices. Thanks to leading chefs here and overseas, the vibrant food scene has become richer, broader, more diverse, and more dynamic. In this pork-crazed world, there is so much more than just Italian proschiutto di Parma, Danish flæskesvær, Japanese tonkatsu (とんかつ), Korean gamjatang (감자탕), and Mexican carnitas. Life is good, but with chocolate and bacon, it is even better.

Related Posts with Thumbnails