Home Cooked

An Omu rice obsession

I still remember the moment I became obsessed with the dish. I was having dinner at home with my sister when she tapped me on the arm and shoved her phone in my face, ‘check this out, check this out’ she said. I watched as a Japanese man with a rock star hairdo cooked an omelette and sliced it open atop a mound of fried rice. It flapped open magically to reveal the creamiest, most tender looking egg I had ever seen; then a piping hot sauce(which I have to assume is Demi glaze since Japanese love Demi glaze for some reason) is poured over. It blew my mind. It blew my mind because I didn’t know omu rice cooked with this much finesse even existed. Omurice in my mind was an often overcooked, insipid omelette served on sauce and rice. This, this was something else.

All along I was taught to believe that the French omelette was the pinnacle of egg perfection, Julia child taught me that, Jacques Pepin taught me that, Thomas Keller taught me that. And yet here in  a tiny restaurant in Kyoto was a chef cooking an omelette that I had never seen before until now. I proclaimed there and then that I would try to perfect that omelette, I knew the idea sounded incredulous, but what took me by surprise was that my sister dismissed me right away. ‘Don’t even bother, do you even know how many years you have to train to get this right’. And on hindsight, she was correct, it must have taken years to perfect, and logically I should have given up at the time, but there was something about the pessimism that made me want to perfect it even more, perhaps that was the catalyst that drove my obsession.
And obsessed I was. Every day I came home from work, I would go straight to my stove and run through 8-10 eggs until either my mom and sister would come into the kitchen and not so subtly hint that perhaps it was time to stop. It’s not like I was cooking blindly either. I scoured YouTube for every clip I could find. ‘Kichi kichi’ ‘omu rice Japanese’ ‘omurice flip’, every video taken of an omu rice made that was uploaded onto the internet, I’ve probably already watched it. I took note of everything- how much egg was being used, how hot the pan was, the material of the pan, the type of pan, the utensils used, the time taken to cook the egg. It sounds crazy to spend this much thought on something as seemingly simple as an omelette, but it’s more than just that. It is a live and ferocious beast, a beast that is uncaged the moment you drop your eggs into the hot pan(high heat is used, no 20 minute bain marie omelettes here). You act too slowly and the eggs get too cooked within seconds. You act too quickly and your eggs are too liquid to be flipped. I would run through all the steps in my head but the moment I saw the eggs start to scramble, I would blank out. What was second nature to that chef was infant nature for me, and I ate all my failures, it seemed wrong to throw them away. Perhaps this was my punishment for failure- every day I would eat egg sandwiches for lunch. I had to take breaks on some days because the rest of my family had rightfully exercised their right to refusal on those failed omelettes. By the fourth day the thought of eating eggs made me gag.
I wasn’t stagnating though, and I think knowing that there was progress was what kept me going, every time I failed I would go back to the drawing board and re-assess what I did wrong. I would re-watch videos on YouTube, try to figure out what I could have done differently. I eventually realized some things didn’t work for me, I had to use a skillet instead of a saute pan because the angled egg of the skillet somehow enabled me to flip the omelette a little bit better. I couldn’t use chopsticks to save my life, I switched to a system of first using chopsticks to scramble the eggs in the beginning, then using a spatula for the flip, eventually I just used the spatula by itself. I couldn’t find a way to make the knocking system he uses to agitate and flip his eggs either, this is probably the most difficult part of it all, the actual flip.
Another style of omurice
 So why is this damn omelette so difficult to make? First of all, you have to get your eggs  creamy, this is a given since a properly cooked French omelette has a creamy center. The main difference is that a French omelette is almost like a thin egg crepe wrapping creamy scrambled eggs, it isn’t sealed, and the unsealed portion is usually hidden because it touches the plate(presentation side), if you pick it up, it unravels itself. This omurice requires the egg to be cooked into a pouch, which means that you can pick it up and nothing would leak out. Sounds simple in theory, but a nightmare to execute.
Pepin shows you how to make an omelette
I must have been a week in before I got it right. I cooked it into a  pouch, prodded it and I could tell it was soft in the center. This must be it, this is the moment, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I carefully placed it on the fried rice. I sliced the top open and…. Nothing happened. It just sat there. That omelette cut me deeper than my knife cut into it, I felt like giving up at that point. I had done everything right and yet it didn’t flap apart like it was meant to. What went wrong this time. I eventually realized cooking it into a pouch wasn’t enough, you had to cook it into a pouch with enough mass so that the weight of its own creamy insides would tear its own skin open(mmmmm). The simple fix would be to add more eggs into the pan, but that in itself made the whole omelette a whole lot harder to flip, more trails were done, more eggs were consumed. And then, I finally got it.
I cut into that omelette and parted it like Moses parted the sea. It was glorious. Perhaps it would’ve been less glorious if I had gotten it right on my first or second attempt. But that was not the case, I was at least 60 eggs in at that stage, and it all cumulated to this moment, it was all worth it.
These days I still use the same technique to cook omelettes, simply because it’s a lot of fun to flip, but I don’t rest them on rice and slice them open, I just put it on the plate and finish it with a drizzle a bit of soy sauce and some sesame oil, they look no different from French scrambled eggs, but if you ever care to take a look on the underside, I can assure you that they are sealed.
Home Cooked

Homemade: Chicken rice, reimagined

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Something a little closer to home. Not a deconstruction per se, but a familiar dish, re-imagined. 

First, a chicken stock is made by pressure cooking chicken bones. It is then reduced until it tastes very close to the soup that you usually get when you order chicken rice(sans the MSG).

The broth is split into two batches, the first gets tossed with rice krispies. They crackle and pop, and soak up whatever liquid you toss them in; in my case, they take on chicken flavor. They are put into a dehydrator and dehydrated at 40C until crisp again. They take on a darker, browner color from the heat and the color of the stock. They have the flavor of chicken, but the flavor is faint. I re-introduce the same chicken broth into the rice krispies, then dehydrate them again as before. The flavor intensifies. The whole process is repeated a total of 5 times until you end up with chicken rice krispies.

The other half of the broth is further reduced until the flavor is intense, pounded garlic and ginger is added to the broth and allowed to infuse. Chicken breast is placed into a bag with this intense broth, then cooked sous vide at 61C. The breast is removed and chilled.

The dish is completed by tossing the chicken rice krispies with rendered chicken fat, this makes it easier to press it onto the chicken breast. The breast is placed in an oven to bake till the rice toasts slightly and becomes extra crisp. It is served on lines of traditional chicken rice chilli sauce and a ginger-garlic paste. It seems unusual, but when you eat a bite of all components, it tastes exactly kind chicken rice, and yet… it is not.

Home Cooked

Uni caviar pasta, a prologue

I recently caught a screening of ‘Pierre Gagnaire: Inventing Cuisine’, and while the movie is hardly new, it was the first time I have actually seen Gagnaire cooking.

I am admittedly not entirely familiar with Gagnaires cooking, I have skimmed through one of his cookbooks, although calling it that would be somewhat of a misnomer, the book is filled with nothing but incredibly artistic shots, usually macro, with a few words from the man himself detailing the thought or the inspiration of the dish. While I gained very little actual knowledge about food, it made me look closer at the finer things, how the membranes of a citrus can be beautiful, or the flesh of a pear that is stained by red wine.

As such, I had high expectations for the movie, and I left feeling both disappointed and satisfied. It was satisfying because he is just as artistic and creative as I thought he would be, although he has trouble at times being coherent because his mind is just constantly exploding with ideas. And it was disappointing because this is by far the most disorganized Ive ever seen a 3 star kitchen before. Pierre basically jumps in on the line and starts taking control of things he shouldn’t be doing, in the process using some very questionable food safety practices, you can view the video of this on YouTube. That, combined with the fact that it was shot by the cameraman whose resume must have included films like the Blair witch project, led to a very shaky 10 minute clip of pure mayhem in the kitchen, leaving me incredibly nauseous in the theatre.

But back to the good bits, one of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Pierre visits an art museum. The wise curator/owner of the museum offers what has got to be the best quote of the whole movie, “A craftsman is someone who does well,what they already know. An artist is someone who does things that they do not yet know.”

Okay. I’m feeling inspired. It triggered some thoughts I used to have about art and artforms. I believe all great artists start out with similar thought processes, but they all have different methods of externalizing those thoughts based on their trades. Writers write, singers sing, painters paint, cooks cook. The sources of inspiration are bound only by ones imagination, and often in time, artists inspire other artists and vice versa.

I wanted to do something with my food, the uni caviar dish had already been made, so I wondered if anyone could do anything with It. I eventually sent out a photo of the dish to a friend of mine who writes for leisure, explaining the dish to him. I told him he had no walls whatsoever and he could write whatever he felt like writing, based on what the food(well, technically the picture of the food) was telling him to write. And these are his words

When you’re up eventually you’ll come down, but that’s not always true in reverse. I will overcome, I’m stronger now… hush. Shhh, here she comes. I smelt her perfume. I’m remembering her… no, I mean us; I’m remembering us as a light shining over the ocean, immortal; undying in deep orange-red. The light is warm, but not enough… the light is just right… she gets closer and the light becomes too much. Our eyes meet and I unfold, like an umbrella being tormented by the wind.

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Home Cooked

Homecooked: Uni caviar pasta

Uni has got to be one of my all time favorite premium ingredients, quite possibly my favorite. Caviar is right up there with it, why do the two go together so damn well? The sweet unctuous flavor of the uni, usually coming with a hint of bitterness, combined with the briny and often complex flavor of the caviar, they seem to pair perfectly together. I first saw a combination of the two on one of Anthony bourdains shows, I believe it was the aptly titled ‘Food porn’ episode, Eric Ripert prepared it in his kitchen and it was truly an eye opener. I immediately listed it down as one of the things I have to eat before I die. 

Unfortunately, I did not have the dish when I was at Le Bernardin, I really doubt that I will go back anytime soon, so late last year I set out to recreate the dish at home. It is one of the simplest dishes to make, but the cooking of the pasta and the sauce have to be absolutely spot on. The uni is first blended, then passed through a tamis, then folded into soft butter to basically make a uni compound butter. The butter is that turned into a beurre monte and the pasta is dressed in it. It is basically a uni flavored butter sauce, incredibly rich and heavy. The first time I made it, it looked a little something like this

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I used spaghetti over the linguini that was called for in the recipe, I cant remember if I did this because all I had was spaghetti, but I do remember thinking that the pasta should be thinner: More sauce, more decadence. I also did not manage to get my hands on osetra caviar because I was a pretty poor guy serving the army in Singapore, bringing home $400 a month.

Fast forward to September, I wanted to do the dish again, but do it right this time. This is my second take on the dish

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I went with angel hair this time, I personally think it works better with the dish. The breakdown is as such: Angel hair pasta dressed in an uni beurre monte, topped with osetra caviar, kissed with specks of chive and threads of parmesan, drops of lemon juice, uni-milk foam, and edible gold leaf.

This is the kind of dish I can only afford to make one a year. This is as close to the original Ripert dish as I want to go, I think the uni milk foam is a nice balance to the very heavy sauce, it is lighter, and carries a very calming sweetness to it, contrasting the heavy and very punchy flavor of the uni beurre monte. The gold leaf is there because… well, it is the kind of dish that calls for it.

Home Cooked

Home cooked: Modernist 汤圆 (tang yuan)

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It has been a long long time since I blogged properly, I had to look through some of my older posts because I can’t even remember the format of which I blog in. To those who still read this, I haven’t been dining out in Singapore all that much, but I have been cooking very actively. I spent about 3 months as a stagiare at Guy Savoy in Singapore(only on the weekends), although I wasn’t very involved with the actual cooking of the food, the pace was intense and I learnt a lot of techniques and skills that I am able to bring back into my home cooking. If you want to keep up to date with what I am doing, it is best to follow my on my instagram: Lennardy

Today I’ll be talking about a dish that I came up with. This is a modernist take on Tang yuan, a traditional chinese dessert usually eaten on certain festivals. A peanut/sesame/red bean paste is trapped in a sticky skin made with glutinous rice flour, it has a consistency similar to that of mochi. I personally find the skin to be the least enjoyable part of the dish because it is very heavy and starchy.

The soup it is served in varies, some serve in a sweetened soup with ginger, some serve in a sweetened soup with pandan, my family serves it with a canned peanut soup. I wanted to recreate this flavor without the chewy/starchy element.

I took the same peanut soup from the tang yuan I am familiar with, added some glutinous rice flour and cooked that down. Then dehydrated it and fried it into a crisp. For the Tang yuan, I reverse-spherified and intense black sesame liquid, before finishing the dish with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

 

 

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Home Cooked

Home Cooked: A tale of two salads

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The first, a robust one. Greens dressed with a sesame vinaigrette, emulsified with liquid lecithin. Oranges bruleed to provide acidity and sweetness, bringing the salad to life. A ramen egg gives body and richness to the dish.

The second- light, crisp flavors. Asparagus cooked in butter with pear slices, finished with a sauce made from butter and lemon juice, and shaved white button mushrooms

 

Home Cooked

Homemade: Earl grey tea sorbet

 

 

 

I browse through groupon everyday like a housewife in search of great deals. They have some pretty surprising items that are worth buying at times, case in point, I found them selling a cuisinart ice cream maker for S$200. I pounced on it.

This was my first creation, one of the best sorbets, and possibly best sorbet Ive ever had in my life was the earl grey tea sorbet at Guy Savoy, which I first tasted at Guy Savoy paris. There arent many things as refreshing and versatile as it, as a palate cleanser, at the end of a heavy meal, it is delicious either way. When I eventually ended up staging at Guy savoy Singapore a few months back, I used to pray that the dessert station would have extras, but alas, the only ice cream I got to try during my time there was a strawberry ice cream. Nevertheless, I wanted to attempt to replicate the sorbet at home, and the moment the Cuisinart was delivered, I knew this would be my first creation.

The sorbet failed on my first attempt, it wouldn’t set up and didn’t even get to a slushy point. I started troubleshooting and concluded that my freezer wasn’t cold enough. I reattempted the sorbet a couple of days later, churning the ice cream in my air conditioned bedroom(Singapore is incredibly hot). It worked, the question was what to serve it with.

The make up of the sorbet is simple- earl grey tea, sugar, lemon juice(I added a little leftover yuzu as well), pinch of salt. Serving it with a lemon curd seemed glaringly obvious, the curd providing a creamy mouthfeel that the sorbet would quickly wash away, as well as reinforcing the lemon flavor. It was perhaps a fortunate coincidence that just a week ago, I attempted to make Christina Tosi’s(of Momofuku) arnold palmer cake, and one of the components of the cake was an almond tea crunch(feuilletine, almond butter, powdered sugar, iced lemon tea powder, toasted almond slivers), it was truly one of the most delicious things Ive ever put in my mouth. I could spoon that tea crunch directly into my mouth over and over until I reel over from the amount of sugar. This was another obvious addition, crunchy, nutty, and backing up the tea-lemon flavor, a winning combination.

The final dish: Almond tea crunch, lemon curd, earl grey tea sorbet, toasted almonds, microwave fried mint, black pepper

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