Rul­ing the roast

At Boon Sig­na­ture Roast Pork, you’ll see the de­li­cious re­sults of putting a man putting his whole heart into per­fect­ing just a few dishes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By SUZANNE LAZAROO star2@th­es­

ABOUT 15 years ago, I read a book by The French Laun­dry’s Thomas Keller. While os­ten­si­bly a cook­book that fea­tured 150 recipes from the famed Napa Val­ley restau­rant in the United States, his in­tro ex­plored themes that loomed so much wider, as he wrote about do­ing small things, do­ing them of­ten and well.

“Any job worth do­ing is worth do­ing well. But to be able to do that, you have to do it over and over again,” he has said. “This is the great chal­lenge: to main­tain pas­sion for the ev­ery­day rou­tine and the end­lessly re­peated act, to de­rive deep grat­i­fi­ca­tion from the mun­dane.”

It’s a phi­los­o­phy for life, not just for the kitchen, and it has res­onated through the years – long af­ter I for­got the ti­tle of the book (it was The French Laun­dry Cook­book).

And it echoed in my head once again when I en­coun­tered the roast meats from the small kitchen of the also-small Boon Sig­na­ture Roast Pork. Be­cause that is ex­actly what Boon (Cheam Kar Mun, 33) does day af­ter day – turn­ing out per­fectly glis­ten­ing, crunchy-skinned siew yoke, juicy char siew and fra­grant, suc­cu­lent roast chicken, which are top of their class ev­ery sin­gle time.

Bal­anc­ing on this pin­na­cle of roast per­fec­tion, they sit at the in­ter­sec­tion of get­ting many small de­tails right: the sourc­ing of the meat; ex­per­i­ments with mari­nade, cook­ing time and tem­per­a­ture; the pe­riph­eral plea­sures of pi­quant chilli sauce made from scratch, and good qual­ity rice.

It all started with siew yoke – Boon’s mother’s siew yoke, to be ex­act. “From the time I was small, I knew my mother made her siew yoke a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” he said. There was no porky smell to the meat, and Boon was so ac­cus­tomed to it that he never ate store-bought.

Years later, he adapted her sim­ple mari­nade – which in­cluded the cus­tom­ary five-spice pow­der – by adding herbs like oregano and thyme, for­eign to Ori­en­tal kitchen cus­toms. The re­sult­ing meat would strad­dle the roast pork sen­si­bil­i­ties of East and West.

“It took me a year to find a way to get the crack­ling right,” he said. “Other siew yoke is usu­ally made by roast­ing once, scrap­ing the top of the skin, and then roast­ing again. Ours is roasted only once.”

He opened a restau­rant in Kota Da­mansara, but found the lo­ca­tion wasn’t ideal. Boon then closed it and re­turned to his home town of Ipoh for a year; when he came back to Kuala Lumpur, he sold roast meats at the pasar malam – till cus­tomers Li­onel Lau and Bryan Yeow con­vinced him to open a restau­rant again, the duo’s faith in his roast­ing prow­ess driv­ing them to be­come co-own­ers.

The holder of a de­gree in Chem­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing, Boon’s ap­proach to his craft is sin­gu­larly sci­en­tific. One of his siew yoke se­crets is the scor­ing of the pork belly skin be­fore roast­ing in the char­coal-fed Apollo oven – this al­lows some of the fat to ren­der and flow out through the chan­nels cre­ated, which makes the skin puff up and be­come ex­tra crunchy.

It also means that if you take away a whole slab, no chop­ping is re­quired – only slic­ing.

Boon uses lo­cal, chilled sakura pork, free of an­tibi­otics and hor­mones, which gives him the fresh flavour and de­sired ra­tio of meat to fat.

It’s not hard to find tasty siew yoke from var­i­ous ven­dors; what sets Boon’s apart is the fine­ness of his roast pork, the fact that not only is it tasty, but also very fresh-tast­ing, with sub­tle herb and spice nu­ances, an ex­cep­tion­ally crunchy crack­ling and a suc­cu­lent ten­der­ness to the meat.

The small­est por­tion of plain siew yoke or char siew is RM11 (about 100g), the largest RM110 for 1kg. You can also opt for a slightly smaller por­tion of siew yoke, char siew or roast chicken served with Ja­panese pearl rice (RM8.90), springy wan­tan noo­dles (RM9.90) or wan­tan noo­dles with dry curry (RM9.90).

The roast meats can also be com­bined into dou­ble or triple threat of­fer­ings, with rice or noo­dles.

En­joy ev­ery­thing with lib­eral lash­ings of the house-made chilli sauce, made with fresh chilli, gar­lic and gin­ger, and a gen­er­ous squeeze of cala­mansi lime.

The char siew is sweet, as ex­pected, but not cloy­ingly so, and the am­ple fat melts on the tongue. It’s bathed in mal­tose, rose and Chi­nese rice wines be­fore be­ing bar­be­cued in the bar­rel-shaped oven.

The roast chicken (RM15 for a quar­ter chicken, RM55 for a whole) is the dark horse here, an un­der­es­ti­mated dish that is also done very well – moist, well-flavoured meat, crisp skin. It has never met a fryer in its life – many shops sell­ing Chi­nese roast chicken here ac­tu­ally fin­ish the meat with a deep-fry­ing dip – and it’s topped with a gin­ger and spring onion puree for even more fra­grance and flavour.

And if you’d like to luxe up your siew yoke ex­pe­ri­ence, try the Iberico pork belly (RM25 per 100g) given the sig­na­ture Boon treat­ment. It will be avail­able as a spe­cial. The Ibe­rian pigs that pro­vide this meat graze wild on mush­rooms

and acorns, the lat­ter es­pe­cially re­spon­si­ble for the nutty flavour of Iberico pork.

So if you’re go­ing to fork out for this, you want to taste that nat­u­ral sweet nut­ti­ness of the meat and fat – which means char siew is out, since that honeyed mari­nade would over­whelm those flavours. Boon’s Iberico siew yoke un­der­goes the same mari­nade treat­ment as his reg­u­lar, but it’s ap­plied even more sub­tly.

Since the im­ported Iberico ar­rives sans skin, put crack­ling out of your mind. In­stead, the gen­er­ous mar­bling of fat chars slightly, giv­ing it a tex­ture rem­i­nis­cent of char siew.

One bite into the thick cut of pork and its juices flood your mouth; it’s a rich, deca­dent bite, and pos­si­bly the first of its kind here.

If you’d like some­thing with in­stant com­fort food ap­peal, the Ja­panese pearl rice is also served with braised minced pork and peanuts (RM6). There’s some­thing about this dish that makes it ap­peal to the heart as well as the taste buds; some sense of com­fort in the fluffy, in­di­vid­ual short grains with a dis­tinc­tively moist, starchy bite, saucy, sweet-savoury pork and ten­der, squashy peanuts.

And so there you have it. Boon’s fo­cus on the sim­ple act of get­ting all the de­tails of his of­fer­ings right sees him meet­ing Keller’s “great chal­lenge” with ev­ery yield of his oven.

“The process of roast­ing siew yoke is in­volved, you have to con­stantly check it, make sure you’re get­ting time and tem­per­a­ture es­pe­cially right,” said Boon.

The sat­is­fac­tion of his cus­tomers at the first crunch of crack­ling is more than enough to jus­tify his time and care.

Boon may be an ex­pert at han­dling pork, but he’s also re­spon­si­ble for a stel­lar roast chicken. (Right) Very posh siew yoke – made with richly-mar­bled Iberico pork im­ported from Spain.— Pho­tos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

A sim­ple, one-bowl meal with great com­fort food ap­peal – braised minced pork and peanuts with the

Boon’s siew yoke is ten­der, with a lovely, sub­tle flavour of herbs and spices, and a de­li­ciously crunchy crack­ling.

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