21 Aug2008


I cooked for my birthday dinner at home last night. Many folks would opt to eat out, but I actually enjoy the cooking and a home setting is so much more conducive to eating exactly what you like and in the amounts you desire. And with just four of us sitting down to the dining table, it was totally relaxed and casual. Dinner started off with a near perfect bowl of onion soup, using Thomas Keller’s recipe, earlier post here. This batch was even better than the one I did last year, and would rate a 9.8/10.0 in my opinion. It took 6-7 hours of prepping and cooking the day before, then just a few minutes under the broiler just before dinner. It was just the right consistency, the flavor had serious depth, not too salty but rather, it was naturally on the sweet side without the addition of any sugar. We make it only once a year, but that is what keeps it utterly special.


The experiment for the evening was some salmon wrapped in potatoes and sauteed in butter. It was close to a disaster. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And this puts the nail in the coffin of Daniel Boulud’s first cookbook for me. It is a beautiful cookbook, with several wonderful sounding recipes. And even though I consider myself a reasonable cook at this stage, I just can’t seem to get any of his recipes fro this fancy book right. And I love Boulud’s food in his restaurants. I found massive potatoes that should have been perfect for this dish, and I used a mandoline to cut them into paper thin slices. I wrapped the salmon with the potato slices and them brushed in butter as instructed. But when I tried to fry them, they refused to brown as pictured in the book and the potatoes were darned soggy, not crisp. I think our local potatoes must have a higher moisture content than American russets. Or the butter could be too watery as well. At any rate, the dish didn’t look as appetizing at it should have. And the addition of canned white asparagus in browned butter wasn’t helping… A definite 4.0 out of 10.0. Will not attempt this again unless I figure out how to crisp the potatoes. Besides, I now recall why I don’t really like salmon fillets all that much, it’s rather boring on the palate.


I had bad vibes about the salmon about 1.5 hours before dinner, when I wrapped the fillets and put them in the fridge to chill as instructed. So I decided at the last minute to cook some kurobuta pig’s jowls, and this resulted in the absolute surprise of the evening. I browned several pig’s jowls in a pan, removed the jowl’s and some of the fat, leaving some 1-1.5 tablespoons of fat in the pan, then added chopped shallots, some whole garlic cloves and deglazed the pan with some good riesling (white wine), added chopped semi-dried figs and large sultanas and some chicken broth and let this cook for a few minutes. I added the pig’s jowls back in and let them braise for about an hour on low heat. After tasting the simmering dish, it seemed too sweet so I added a touch of balsamic vinegar and more salt and let it reduce some more. I had absolutely no recipe for this. And the result? FANTASTIC! Cut away at the large piece of protective fat on the jowl and you had the most succulent meat ever. The sweet and slightly piquant sauce with hints of fig, fat and onion was exactly what I was hoping for. Served with some brussel sprouts and bits of bacon, this dish was FAR BETTER than the fish course.


Portions for the dishes so far were relatively modest, as we had to leave room for some cheese and these fantastic “champagne grapes” I found at S&R yesterday. These aren’t grapes used to make champagne, rather a “brand name” given to the tiny little bursts of joy, actually the “Corinth” variety of grapes. And they look so good on a platter…


The Kid, wasn’t thrilled with the fish course and ate half of the cheese instead! And happily, I noticed she was as smitten with the miniature grapes as I have always been and she finished all of those as well!


And for dessert? A small chocolate marketmanila cake from Marta’s, of course, courtesy of Mrs. MM and The Kid. Just my kind of birthday dinner at home!



  1. Glecy says:

    The menu for your birthday looks good. You mentioned your potatoes not browning well, try dry clean your potatoes with a brush like the one that is use for mushrooms, then deep frying it twice. I bet your butter has some water content.I would give you a big credit to putting all this effort to cook on you birthday. Much to the delight of Mrs.M .Happy B-Day !

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:37 am


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  3. Marketman says:

    Glecy, the salmon was wrapped in potato slices, so it would be difficult to fry twice, the fish would be overdone… and yes, I think the butter had water too…

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:40 am

  4. Swimgreen says:

    happy birthday! cooking with no books and just passion is best!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 11:26 am

  5. ian says:

    MM, kudos to you and your site. LOVE IT!!! happy birthday. I currently work in a 2 michelin star restaurant in Paris. To help you with your potato wrapped fish… brush the fish with clarrified butter then wrap the fish w the potato then with plastic wrap (1hr) in order to keep the potato bounded to the fish then brush with clarrified butter. The potatoes will oxidize but its ok. Next, HOT PAN… season fillets then add clarrified butter to pan and sear. When the potatoes caremalise, turn and finish in the oven(add butter) and BASTE!
    Serve with puree du pomme de terre, ragout of leeks and red wine sauce. Bon appetite!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 11:46 am

  6. betty q. says:

    I will let you on a secret, MM! Restaurant chefs are all too familiar with restaurant equipment…some dishes might not turn out the same if household oven or stove is used esp. if it’s electric as opposed to gas oven or stove…it might need certain adjustments with temp.control. Also, often CLARIFIED BUTTER is used. Another thing you might want to try, MM if you want to give this salmon dish another try is to pat dry the potato slices on several paper towels….much like the same way you would with cucumber sheets when you use them for appetizers. Also try this, …when the clarified butter is nice and hot pan fry your potato crusted salmon until it’s nice golden….THEN FINISH IT IN A HOT OVEN!!!…Did the recipe say coat with cornstarch?

    Aug 21, 2008 | 12:54 pm

  7. Fabian says:

    The champagne grapes look great. Cooking at home and a bottle of wine trump 95% of restaurant meals. Just requires a little more prior preparation, but the results are worth it. :)

    I always end up eating too much at these types of set-ups though!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 12:55 pm

  8. AleXena says:

    A feast fit for you Market Man!

    Cheese and grapes hhhhmmmm…

    Aug 21, 2008 | 2:06 pm

  9. sunset says:

    That onion soup is beautiful… i wish to taste some of it sometime… if you’ll have to serve it in your cafe (if you happen to decide to have one with your cookbook compilation!) i would deffinitely order! but you should be the cook hehehe

    Aug 21, 2008 | 2:31 pm

  10. joey says:

    The braised pork jowl is calling my name in a serious way!

    “Cut away at the large piece of protective fat on the jowl…” – Huh??? I hope you enjoyed it along with the most succulent meat ever!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 4:25 pm

  11. mary joan says:

    that has got to be the best-looking and best-tasting (in my salivating imagination)onion soup ever! makes me wish i was born in your family and thus at the receiving end of your gustatory delights! haaay….

    Aug 21, 2008 | 4:45 pm

  12. Epi says:

    A belated Happy Birthday MM…ahhhh onion soup an absolute fav.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 5:13 pm

  13. toping says:

    Happy birthday, MM! Missed the site for the past week because my connection was on the fritz, and what should greet me back but your birthday spread–awesome! I’ve always wanted to celebrate my special day the way you did yours, but somehow the list just keeps growing (not entirely my fault). Oh well, maybe next year–and I’ll keep that onion soup in mind!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 5:16 pm

  14. Doddie from Korea says:

    Belated Happy Birthday Market Man!

    My tip for crisping the potatoes would be to blanch them in boiling water and then plunge into cold water. Blanch them enough to change their color and let them cool. Dry thoroughly and wrap around your fish. Next time, use olive oil or any vegetable oil for frying, this will crisp up your potato-wrapped fish.

    Want some butter flavor to it? Just serve with a butter-based sauce.

    PS. I found out that cold, leftover baked potatoes make the best, crispiest french fries you’ve ever tasted. Crispy on the outside and soft and tender in the inside.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 5:46 pm

  15. k says:

    Happy birthday, MM!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 5:55 pm

  16. eustressor says:

    Maligayang bati sa iyong kaarawan Marketman!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 6:29 pm

  17. staraguilar says:

    MM – try an oily whitefish – butterfish/sable/seabass – would be nicer than salmon. 1/2 clarified butter 1/2 oil to give butter flavor but nice crisp

    Aug 21, 2008 | 6:31 pm

  18. sister says:

    Betty Q is right.You should always have clarified butter on hand. Melt butter slowly over very low heat. Cool completely and only use the fat on top, discard watery and white residue, that’s what sizzles and burns first. Keep clarified butter in the fridge in a covered container. You might try soaking the potatoes in cold water, patting dry before wrapping the salmon. Add salt and pepper to salmon for a few hours before hand. A quick deep fry in butter will brown it all around, try using a small pan. Or use half butter and half corn or olive oil.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 7:13 pm

  19. sister says:

    Next year you have to make beef stock. It will improve the soup immensely.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 7:13 pm

  20. natie says:

    with all these very good tips, how can you fail!! i admire your creativity…am learning so much from this, too. thanks!!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 8:19 pm

  21. chrisb says:

    You got a lot of advice about the potatoes, I just want to add 2 more. The 1st one you do not do on the potatoes but the fish- when cutting it, make sure you get the slices as regular as possible. Flat sides all around will help the potatoes brown evenly since they will be in better contact with the pan.

    Another trick I’ve tried before: use a peeler, going all around the potatoe to get 1 long ribbon. Wrap the ribbon around the fish. It should be long enough to wrap the fish from end to end in 1 piece. It’ll stay on better and you get a nice stripe pattern going all around the fillet instead of irregular “scales”.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 8:51 pm

  22. chrisb says:

    Btw, it’s brilliant with seabass. You can put fresh herbs between the potatoes and the fish. No oil on the fish so the potatoes won’t slip off.

    Sorry for the typos in comment above.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 8:55 pm

  23. michelle says:

    Happy Birthday MM!!!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 9:20 pm

  24. macpower says:

    Open a resto, MM. And we shall all be your guinea pigs… Whatyathink?!

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:14 pm

  25. EbbaMyra says:

    I like Bettyq’s suggestion, finishing it up on the oven (on broil), with the door slight open. This will give a “burnt” looking the top of the potatoes but won’t overcook the salmon.

    I have not tried pig jowls.. I would have to look for it in the groceries here in Houston. Do you think they are sold in specialty stores? Where in the meat section?

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:16 pm

  26. Marketman says:

    Hi Everybody, and THANKS for the tips on the salmon. Let me go into more detail to see if we can figure this out. Actually, Boulud does not suggest soaking potatoes as that removes starch that is preferred to encourage the potatoes to stick together. He did not, bad bad, suggest clarified butter, rather just melted plain sweet butter. I did dry the potato slices on paper towels. Also, I did make the wraps an hour ahead of cooking and let them sit in the fridge tightly wrapped, to help keep the form and to solidify the butter coating the potatoes. I did use a hot pan, on a gas stove, but with normal butter, not clarified butter. I did also put the pan into the oven on high heat to finish off the cooking… When they didn’t brown, I even tried to use a blowtorch to crisp them up but ran out of butane…

    Chrisb, I like the long ribbon idea, but I fear being able to get that long of a ribbon with a peeler… And yes, salmon isn’t the ideal fish, a whitefish of some sort would work better… hmmm, I like the half oil, half butter suggestions… doddie, wouldn’t blanching make the potatoes soggy? ian, thanks for the tips, and yes, boulud suggests braised leeks and a red wine sauce for this.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:33 pm

  27. chinster says:

    Birthday greetings from Jamaica – Home of the fastest people on the planet. Was wishing for some of the soup, the jowls and the “wangus” steak. luv to Mrs. MM and the Kid.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:51 pm

  28. Doddie from Korea says:

    Market Man,

    Blanching the potatoes would not make them soggy if you dry them thoroughly with paper towels after their ice bath. Once you get them dry, wrap them around your fish and you will see it would be a cinch to crisp them up on the pan. If you have a turbo-broiler, that would work too but I think the fish might get a little dry if you’re not careful with the time.


    Aug 21, 2008 | 10:56 pm

  29. zena says:

    I love onion soup and yours is the best looking one i’ve seen. I’ve only made it once for a Crhristmas party and it was good except no broiling. Just topped with homemade croutons and grated cheese. Too much people. I just saw champagne grapes for the first time yesterday and thought they were really cute. They’re about the size of aratilis, hehe.

    Aug 21, 2008 | 11:19 pm

  30. chrisb says:

    Check out this Le Cirque classic:

    Paupiette of Sea Bass

    Link: http://www.forbes.com/2002/06/06/0606food.html

    I remember watching the Le Cirque challenge of the previous season of Top Chef. Only a couple contestants got it right.

    Aug 22, 2008 | 12:45 am

  31. Teresa says:

    Happy Birthday MM! Your onion soup looks oh so delish! and I simply love the champagne grapes, your silver grape scissors made the plate simply gorgeous! Your birthday cake is such a work of art. More power to you and cheers to many more years of blogging :-)

    Aug 22, 2008 | 12:52 am

  32. Alan says:

    Hi, MM! Please comment on the cake. A birthday is coming up next month and would like to know how Marta’s cakes are. Thanks!

    P.S. Your Onion soup looks really Yummy!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 2:19 am

  33. lucadong says:


    if you’re still searching for pork jowl, try talking to the butcher in your favorite vietnamese market; usually, they get whole pig cascass from their supplier and have a butcher onsite do the retail cuts. (it is not unusual for “insiders” to reserve these special items for themselves though)

    or you can start a search from localharvest.org using your zip code.

    or if you don’t mind buying fresh meat online, go to heritagefoodsusa.com

    “We are proud to offer all parts of the pig – from head to tail! ”

    that’s a direct quote from them. aside from berkshire, they also offer on a less frequent basis, other breeds: red wattle (my personal favorite for belly to make lechon kawali), duroc and tamworth.

    i hope this helps on your search.

    Aug 22, 2008 | 5:49 am

  34. michelle h. says:

    That French Onion soup is calling my name. My friends and I used to have a list of foods *never* to order on a first date, and French Onion soup was near the top. All that stringy cheese is difficult to eat with poise :) I really have to try making this when I have a free afternoon, and when the price of onions goes down!

    Belated Happy Birthday Marketman!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 6:10 am

  35. Dita says:

    While googling for taisan cake, I chance upon your website and have been on it for the last 30 min. Did you say your birthday was your birthday? Then it is the same as mine.
    Happy Birthday!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 6:18 am

  36. Apicio says:

    OT Dita, Taisan is simply a sponge cake baked in a pavé loaf pan, allowed to cool, brushed with melted butter and dusted with sugar. It is called taisan because of its shape, like a whetting stone which is called taisan in Pampangeño.

    Aug 22, 2008 | 7:32 am

  37. dina says:

    happy birthday MM!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 8:12 am

  38. Marketman says:

    Apicio and Dita, I have made Taisan before, but I found it so unremarkable, that I didn’t blog about it… if I recall, I had a great picture, but the taste was nothing to write about. :( michelle, yes, onion soup can get a bit pricey, but the results were worth it! Alan, we had Marta’s chocolate cake which is always well done. But it’s more about the design on top of the cake that makes her stand out against the other bakers… chrisb, thanks for that link… I think with all the comments here I will HAVE to try the recipe again, it’s like the readers are taunting me…heeheehee. Now to find some good sea bass… chinster, what are you feeding those sprinters over in Jamaica??? Or is it drink and or smoke? :)

    Aug 22, 2008 | 9:10 am

  39. mike says:

    Happy Birthday MM!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 12:46 pm

  40. witsandnuts says:

    Happy birthday! The cake was well-designed.

    Aug 22, 2008 | 2:17 pm

  41. Jun says:

    Belated Happy Birthday MM. Hope you had a good one and that you have many more blessed years!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 2:23 pm

  42. dhayL says:

    Belated Happy Birthday MM!

    Aug 22, 2008 | 8:45 pm

  43. corrine says:

    Haberdey MM! The French onion soup looks fantastic! I agree…our potatoes has too much water..so does our butter. I wonder why…

    Aug 22, 2008 | 9:34 pm

  44. dyanie says:

    belated happy birthday MM! :)

    Aug 22, 2008 | 11:34 pm

  45. EbbaMyra says:

    Lucadong, thanks for the tip. Problem ko lang, anong itatawag ko sa Pig Jowl pag-order ko dun sa vietnamese? Eh yung ibang parts of the meat nga pahirapan pa eh. And then in some stores, mga mexicano ang tao, so naku lalo pa. I know they have it, kasi yung pork skin, they put it aside because other people buy it in bulk for chitcharon. Siguro I’ll ask some vietnamese friends. Wish me goodluck.

    Aug 23, 2008 | 12:55 am

  46. betty q. says:

    Oh, EbbaMyra: I can relate to your problem as well! I know too well what you’re undergoing through….I have the same problem each time I go Chinatown. Without my mother-in-law or husband with me to translate, I end up with a different cut of meat!!! So, try this…I call it the “POINT SYSTEM!!!” Most of the times, it works! Usually, they have a chart on their wall of the different kinds of meat cuts…If they don’t, I point to my cheeks or my neck and pinch my “BABA” for pig jowls…I hope this works for you!!!!

    Aug 23, 2008 | 5:59 am

  47. Homebuddy says:

    Happy Birthday MM. What a wonderful birthday dinner! Amazingly you chose to celebrate by slaving in the kitchen. I think birthdays are meant to be celebrated by relaxing and letting others do the cooking. Hehehe!

    Aug 23, 2008 | 9:22 pm

  48. EbbaMyra says:

    Bettyq, salamat ha. I’ll try your system this weekend. Some stores usually have display in their counter, yun maituturo ko, pero wala talaga akong makita na parang pisngi, tenga meron. So, ayun nga I will just point at my own cheeks. Hahaha, this will be something. I’ll post here whatever happen to my experience.

    Aug 24, 2008 | 1:15 am

  49. betty q. says:

    Hey Ebba: If that still doesn’t work…I went to see my Vietnamese friend earlier so I could ask her what pork jowl in VietnaMESE is…she told me that is is the cut she prefers when she was in Vietnam to make BARBECUED pork …I think she meant for grilling…she said it’s… fatty but PORK or FAT RULES!!!! …right Lee?Anyway, here goes..hiet ma con heo…There I am not sure if it’s thit or hiet but she said it’s pronounced het? ma con heo(pronounced yaw)…I hope your Vietnamese butcher can make something out of these words!!!…she also told me to point at the part of your neck where your CAROTID artery is….more like where your jawbone is….THAT SHOULD REALLY WORK!!! not all meat markets have it so for those of you guys wanting to try it…she said go to CHONG LEE in Vancouver….and no, she doesn’t work there!!!

    Aug 24, 2008 | 6:57 am

  50. momsy says:

    Belated Happy Birthday Mr. MM

    Aug 25, 2008 | 12:01 am

  51. EbbaMyra says:

    bettyq, cam’on (thanks in vietnamese). That really really helps, I will copy the words and bring the paper with me to the butcher here in Houston. I told my hubby about it and he said he knows.. it is one of the part of the pork that is used to make “barbacoa”. I know some Taqueria or mexican meat market close by us, I think I’ll pay them a visit. Salamat.

    Aug 25, 2008 | 8:23 am

  52. john paul sarabia says:

    dear mm, happy birthday.

    Aug 27, 2008 | 2:21 pm

  53. kikay says:

    Hi MM,

    Can you recommend a good supplier of salmon fillets, salmon sashimi, and smoked salmon? I read your post about Citra Mina in Parañaque but it’s too far from me. :(


    Sep 11, 2008 | 5:02 pm


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