james street south

Opened by Niall and Joanne McKenna in an old linen mill close to ten years ago, James Street South Restaurant was at the forefront of marrying the best of Irish ingredients with classical French cooking methods and seasonal menus. My return found smartly renovated interiors and a menu which reminded me of just how far ahead of the curve the McKennas really were. Local smoked eel? Pork cheeks? Razor clams? It’s good to discover the city has caught up – and that a restaurant like this can not only thrive, but set the agenda, too.

 

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hairy crab, with style

Hairy crab turns out to be a delicacy best enjoyed in the sleeves-up style of a Maryland crab boil: bibs, mallets, and lots of messy picking, poking, and shell sucking. Following my visit to the wet market, however, a newspaper-covered communal table strewn with hairy crabs was not exactly the meal I had envisaged. Luckily the concierge at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental had a few alternate suggestions – including Island Tang just around the corner from the hotel. This latest venture from Sir David Tang, the entrepreneur behind Shanghai Tang and a host of Chinese-themed luxe dining clubs, oozes nostalgia for 1940’s Hong Kong with antique chandeliers and ceiling fans spinning lazily above an airy dining room of yellow silk banquettes. Tucked into the second floor corner of a shopping mall, the unassuming façade is an easy blink-and-miss and perhaps that’s the point: something tells me Sir David wouldn’t be keen on just anyone stumbling in and spoiling the chummy atmosphere. Dinner started with a bamboo steamer of the fluffiest, juiciest pork buns I’ve ever tasted. In fact, from this point forward all pork buns shall be held up to Island Tang’s imposingly ethereal angel pillows of porky goodness. Braised egg noodles were bound to be a disappointment after the revelation of the bun – even enlivened with tender slices of brisket. Alas, I also forgot that I had signed up for the subtlety of Cantonese cuisine and not the fiery noodles of my neighborhood Sichuan Kitchen. More important, however, was the arrival of evening’s star attraction: hairy crab with fried tofu. Sweet crabmeat, tender as butter, melted into the creamy tofu to create some kind of crazy Chinese version of risotto. It’s the kind of dish that makes you thankful for chopsticks because with a spoon you’d just shovel it in. The rare and elusive hairy crab turned out to be a bit of a misnomer.  Butter crab, anyone? Get the bib – I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.

 

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cassoulet bonne femme

Many home cooks get gun-shy when it comes to French food, having neither the time nor expertise to execute a multi-pan exercise in precision. Yet as Wini Moranville makes clear in her new book, “The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day,” Americans needn’t be afraid of French cooking. They just need to learn the bonne femme style. With a focus on fresh, tasty ingredients and a generosity of spirit, this is French cooking without fuss or fear. Now that the typical bonne femme works outside of the home just like her American counterpart (and now that French men, like their American frères, are often in charge of getting dinner on the table), Moranville’s emphasis is on easy techniques and speedy preparation in a book which shows everyday chefs that it’s possible to feast like the French, without breaking the bank or spending all day in the kitchen. A sterling example of how her recipes reflect the way real French families eat today is this Pork and White Bean Cassoulet Ce Soir, an any night stove-top take on cassoulet, the famous southwestern-France stew of white beans simmered with sausage, pork, and duck confit. While not the three-day extravaganza of a true cassoulet, this version is nevertheless a perfect expression of the book’s everyday spirit. I tried it this weekend so I can promise you it offers a good helping of the warmth and comfort that cassoulet brings – easily done in just a day.  With a crusty loaf of bread and a spicy bottle of Gigondas, it proved the perfect foil to the coming threat of snow.

2 cups dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over

8 cups water

2 to 2 1/2 pounds bone-in country-style pork ribs, cut in half crosswise

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed

1/2 cup dry sherry

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

12 ounces sweet Italian sausage links, cut crosswise into six pieces

1. Soak the beans in the water overnight; drain and set aside. (Or, place the beans and the water in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.)

2. Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the ribs and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes Transfer to a plate. Cook the bacon in the pan until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

3. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sherry and return the pan to the heat. Bring to a boil and boil, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sherry is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the beans, bacon, chicken broth, and drained tomatoes to the Dutch oven; top with the ribs. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover tightly, and simmer for about 1 hour (the ribs will not quite be done at this point).

5. After the ribs have cooked for about 45 minutes, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage pieces, turning as needed to brown evenly, for about 5 minutes (the sausage will not be cooked through at this point).

6. After the ribs have cooked for 1 hour, add the sausage pieces to the Dutch oven, pushing them down into the stew so that they are submerged. Bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the sausage is cooked through, the ribs are nearly tender, and the beans are tender, about 15 minutes more.

7. Uncover the pot and increase the heat so that the stew comes to an active simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced, the ribs are tender, and the stew has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

8. Serve in wide, shallow bowls, with a piece of sausage, a piece of pork, and plenty of beans in each bowl.

 

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the gift of pork

To my mind, nothing says love like the smell of bacon.  So it’s kind of ironic that having eschewed red meat for about eight weeks, a four-pound box of the world’s best arrived at my desk this morning. Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham out of Tennessee is as artisanal as it gets: hickory-smoked by hand in small batches using a little wood-stove smokehouse. It’s the same process I experimented with last summer on my roof – without fear of the fire department unexpectedly showing up. Seitan be gone – I’m salivating in anticipation of a weekend with this little piggy.

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jamon it (wikki-wikki-wikki-wikki)

Have you spotted the trend in Madrid?  Art then food, then art and food – and it’s starting to add up. For a country teetering on the precipice of insolvency, Spain is a bit more expensive than anticipated.  Which made stumbling into Museo del Jamon – literally “House of Ham,” a mini-chain with a few outposts across the city – a fortuitous bit of lunchtime economy.  I was lured by the enticing front window: hanging by the hoove were hundreds of haunches of jamon Iberico, the cured Iberian ham also known as pata negra, or black leg after the breed of pig prized for its smooth texture and savory taste.  I hadn’t realized it was a restaurant until inside where, hams cascading down from the ceiling like a chandelier of pork, I discovered a lunch counter and delicatessen cheek by jowl. And more importantly, the best bargain in town: the one Euro menu.  Serrano ham on a baguette: one Euro. Ham and cheese croissant: one Euro. Diet Coke: one Euro. A cortado: one Euro.  Atmosphere to spare and cheap enough to hand the counter man a fiver and say, keep the change, señor, made this a lunch worth oinking about.

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bom dia, portugal

It’s Mediterranean Month here on the site, with March trips to both Portugal and Spain. (Technically, I guess that makes it Iberian Month, but that’s not nearly as euphonious, n’est-ce pas?) Curiously, this is my first trip to the Iberian peninsula, so I am excited to see what’s in store:  the food and fado of Portugal, the art and architecture of Spain.  And of course, all that glorious Iberian ham.  For now, I think I’ve made the right choice in eschewing the city to start my travels in the lush Sintra countryside at Penha Longa, which traces its origins back to the 14th Century.

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five-spice pork wraps

I tend to view recipes found in catalogs with a jaundiced eye. Essentially they exist only to sell you something from the catalog. Something frivolous and decidedly non-essential like a tagine, for example. Or a spice blend you’ll dutifully use once before relegating to the back of the cupboard – hidden behind that tagine no doubt.  The pictures are always pretty, yet the recipes themselves never seem all that trustworthy. So perhaps it was the absence of a glamorous photo in the current Williams-Sonoma catalog that piqued my interest in the Five-spice Pork Wraps.  I needed something for a party that I could make in advance then quickly reheat and leave on a buffet for guests to serve themselves and this seemed ideal. Braising the pork shoulder a day in advance was key. I allowed it to cool before shredding the meat, skimming any excess fat, and covering it in the fridge.  Like a good stew, the day-after effect only intensified the complexity of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty that makes five-spice such a sensory explosion. Served D-I-Y-style with butter lettuce leaves for wrapping, steamed jasmine rice, scallions, bean sprouts, papaya relish, chopped peanuts, cilantro, hoison sauce, and sriracha it was addictive as well, pairing perfectly over the course of an afternoon with the whiskey which flowed and flowed.

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