I have an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks, chef memoirs, food and travel related novels. These hefty volumes used to anchor the bottom rungs of my living room bookshelves, but recently have begun to climb upwards—even threatening to evict my “please-be-in-awe-of-my-intelligence-and-take-me-seriously” foreign policy books.
Given my affinity for Asian cuisine, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of my favorite cookbooks is Chef David Chang’s, Momofuku. His recipe for fried chicken is reason enough to buy the book. Brined, steamed, fried and tossed in a spicy, salty, garlicky, gingery vinaigrette, it just might be the best fried chicken I’ve ever cooked or eaten. Unfortunately, making the delectable fried chicken requires a 2-day commitment (there’s the brining, steaming and drying before you ever get to the actual frying part!), thereby limiting my juicy bird feasts to a few sporadic times a year.
However, there are other recipes of note. One of which is the Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes. Onions, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies, Chinese fermented bean sauce & spicy Korean chili powder make for a complex and highly addictive dish.
As tasty as Chef Chang’s dish is, after a couple times of faithfully following the recipe I began to deviate. In fact I don’t use the recipe any more, rather I use the idea of the dish as inspiration for my own. Each time I riff on the original, simply using whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll use ground pork, the next time bacon (if you use bacon sparingly it won’t overwhelm your dish, just enhance everything with its goodness). This weeks’ version consisted of a shiitake & enoki mushrooms, bok choy, onions, silken tofu, Korean rice sticks and ground pork.
And for a robust vegetarian dish simply cut out the meat completely and colorfully market it as a… Mushroom & Tofu Sichuan Ragù.
4 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ lb. ground pork (or 2 strips of bacon, thinly sliced)
10 shiitake caps, sliced*
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, last inch of the ends removed
1 cup dried chilies
1 Tbs. Sichuan peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbs. chili black bean sauce
1 tsp. kochukara (Korean chili powder)**
1 Tbs. soy sauce
½ cup mushroom stock
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 cup mini rice sticks
2 cups roughly chopped Chinese greens (snow pea shoots, tatsoi, bok choy)
1 packet silken tofu, drained
2 scallion stalks, sliced
½ cup fried shallots***
- Put a large pot of water on to boil (if this boils before you are ready to add the rice sticks just turn it off and keep it covered until it’s needed)
- Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring often until the onions begin to melt and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. About 10 minutes longer.
- While the onions are cooking place another large skillet & 1 Tbs. of oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking add the shiitake, cook for 1 min. Add the enoki and cook 1 minute more or until mushrooms are soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Return the skillet to the stove. Turn the heat to high and add 1 Tbs. oil. Add the ground pork and ½ tsp. of salt and ¼ tsp. of white pepper. Brown the pork, breaking apart any clumps as you go along. Once the meat is brown, about 1-2 minutes, remove & set aside.
- Buzz the Sichuan peppercorns in a spice or coffee grinder. Pour 1 Tbs. of oil into the skillet. While the oil is still cold add the sliced garlic, dried chilies and ground Sichuan peppercorns. Turn the heat to medium high. When the color of the chilies begins to darken and the garlic becomes fragrant pull the skillet off the heat.
- Stir in the chili bean sauce & kochukara. Return to the heat. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring quickly. Add the mushroom stock, soy sauce and sugar. Stir.
- Add the onions, mushrooms, ground pork & sesame oil. Stir through for a quick minute. Remove from the heat.
- Salt the pot of boiling water generously and add the rice sticks. Cook for 2-3 min. Add the chopped greens. Cook for 30 sec – 1 min. Greens should be slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain.
- Return the mushroom mixture to the heat. Add the drained rice sticks & Chinese greens.
- In a separate bowl whisk the tofu until creamy then add it to the mixture on the stove. Stirring through as the ragu returns to a boil.
- Divide the ragu between 2 bowls. Top with scallions and fried shallots.
- Serve with steamed rice and enjoy immediately.
*When you bring home the mushrooms remove the stems from each shiitake cap. Place them in a small pot with 2 cups of cold water and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 min. Strain and reserve.
**I found kochukara at Super H Mart in VA. It’s incredibly spicy so be careful when adding it to the dish.
***Readily available at Asian supermarkets