Category Archives: Recipe

It’s Rebooted Beef Stew for Sibling #6

Elaine is sibling number six. She’s tall, curvy & blessed with a wicked set of pipes. She is also generous, smart and kind. I once witnessed a very large frozen mango daiquiri slip off a serving tray and come cascading down her hair and white blouse. She squealed in shock, and then laughed it off to calm the panicked waitress. I can guarantee you that would NOT have been my reaction.

Elaine reminded me that not all comfort food starts out as a childhood favorite.

“One that I remember is Dad’s stew…I remember haaaaating the boiled carrots and huge chunks of potatoes. But of course every time I eat it now I’m transported to when I was 10 and we’d all be sitting at the dinner table laughing about this “crazy western food” dad made for us. Thankfully the stews have gotten better around here. I’m sure dad got the point and incorporated a little Asian flare. I love meaty stews to this day.” 

Now, if you follow this blog you know that my dad’s scrambled eggs have always been spectacular, but I have to agree with Elaine. As kids his stews were a challenge to choke down. You see, in an effort to keep us all healthy our dad would never peel the potatoes or carrots. And so while they were chock-a-block full with all their natural nutrients, they also tasted like bitter dirt. As for the beef, we would dutifully chew the lumps of flesh. Then when our dad wasn’t looking, we’d coyly spit the remaining mass of gristle into a napkin and quickly stuff it under the rim of our plate. I don’t think my dad cooked with wine; perhaps he used stock. However, more than likely the meat and vegetables were vigorously boiled in water with little added flavoring.

Our poor Canadian papa was probably just trying to introduce his own childhood favorite to his rambunctious brood. Unfortunately, our Asian palates were not amused. Thankfully, as Elaine pointed out, over the years the stews have improved—the cuts of beef got better and peeling the vegetables became an acceptable part of the process—and now this very Western dish is a family favorite.

I thought it only appropriate to serve dad’s stew with the Stirling family silver, a lovely gift from my nana on my wedding day. You wouldn’t guess from looking at me that I’m part Scottish but that family crest is my proof!

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 lb. beef (chuck, boneless ribs, etc.)
Salt & Pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned is perfectly acceptable)
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. neutral oil
1 leek, white part only quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. flour
2 cups beef stock
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” thick disks
8-10 cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, wiped clean & stems trimmed
Japanese pickled onions (optional)
Parsley (optional)

  • Heat a skillet over high heat. Drizzle with neutral oil. Cut the beef into 2” x 2” cubes. Salt and pepper generously. When the skillet is lightly smoking add the cubes of beef. Sear each piece on all sides.
  • Once all the beef is seared deglaze the pan by adding a cup of red wine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes & 1 teaspoon of sugar, simmer another 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tsp. of neutral oil over medium-high heat in a pot. When the butter has melted add the sliced leeks and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until leeks become soft. Add the minced garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook another 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of beef stock. Stirring well to incorporate.
  • Add the beef, wine and tomato mixture. Cover but leave the lid cocked a tad to allow some steam to escape.
  • 1½ hrs in, add the carrots (if you like things extra complicated but more perfect, boil the carrots separately with a little salt and sugar, add them at the end). 15 minutes later, add the mushroom caps. Simmer gently for a total of 2 hours or until the beef is tender.
  • Serve over creamy mashed potatoes. Top with Japanese pickled onions* and minced parsley.

Cook’s Note:
* In Japan curry is eaten with sweet pickled radishes and onions. Here the tiny onions add a great textural contrast and their sweetness pairs perfectly with this stew. My advice: do NOT use Western-style pickled cocktail onions. Maybe it’s my Asian bias but I found the resulting flavor far too sour.

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Riffing On Cookbooks: David Chang’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes

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.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
4 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt
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.

A shot of dinner from a couple weeks back… the bacon version

Cooks’ Notes:

*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

Forbidden Rice with Macadamia Nuts and Garlic

The second best thing about being on vacation (the first being that you’re actually on vacation) is discovering new food—unknown produce, exotic spices, exciting flavor combinations, or even just an ingenious use for a common ingredient. While in Maui this August I was rendered speechless by a beautiful silky coconut and vanilla sauce enveloping delicate prawns at the famous (and somewhat tourist-trappy) Mama’s Fish House. Balancing coconut cream and vanilla in a successful savory dish takes serious skill and restraint. Perhaps even more impressive was the breadfruit gnocchi at Merriman’s, a testament to the chef & proprietor’s dedication to local produce. The cooks no doubt employed a touch of culinary sorcery to turn the starchy tropical fruit into soft pillows for the butter-poached lobster to rest on.

Personally I find the most memorable dishes are often the simplest. Case and point: Merriman’s macadamia nut garlic rice. Simple, obvious and yet surprising—this dish begged to be taken back as a souvenir. Of course when I got home, I couldn’t help but tweak it… just a little. Step one was to bring the macadamia nuts to the forefront. I don’t know why, but at Merriman’s they cooked the nuts and rice together so that although the nuts imparted a deep flavor throughout the dish, texturally you couldn’t differentiate them from the rice. I’ve chosen to highlight the macadamias by toasting the chopped nuts lightly & tossing them with the cooked rice at the end. My second tweak is a splash of walnut oil, a little something to further accentuate the delicious nutty flavor. Lastly, a few slices of scallion finish the dish with a peppery zip.

Forbidden rice is a gorgeous heirloom Chinese grain that turns dark purple when cooked, and has a nice “al dente” texture. This dish is fragrant, exotic, striking & yet straightforward… if it were a woman I think my husband would be tempted to run away with it.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
¾ cup short grain white rice (I use sushi rice)
½ cup forbidden rice
Salt
Handful of macadamia nuts, chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp. walnut oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced

  • Wash the short grain rice gently in a small pot, drain and repeat until the water is clear (about 10 times). After the final rinse and drain, add ¾ cup of cold water & a pinch of salt. Cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil immediately turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • For the forbidden rice simply add the rice, ¾ cup + 1 Tbs. of water and a pinch of salt to a small pot. Again, cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • Add the chopped macadamia nuts to a skillet (you can chop them on a cutting board or slip them into a ziplock bag and pound them gently with a meat tenderizer or similarly heavy object). If the nuts are unsalted add a pinch of salt. Lightly toast the nuts over medium high heat. When nuts are golden brown remove and set aside.
  • Pour 1 Tbs. of neutral oil into a skillet. Add the garlic. Carefully cook the garlic over medium high heat. Remove the garlic from the oil once it is golden and fragrant.
  • When both pots of rice are finished fluff the grains with a fork. Combine the forbidden & short grain white rice. Add the walnut oil, cooked garlic and toasted macadamia nuts. Toss to combine. Taste and add a pinch more salt if necessary. Top with scallion slices and serve.

Eggplant with Spicy Miso Sauce

We’ve all tasted poorly prepared eggplant—a gray, bitter mushy blob so unpleasant that it left a scar on our food subconscious. I’ve sent back eggplant dishes at otherwise fantastic restaurants because their bitter eggplant brought me the same pleasure I imagine sucking on a metal popsicle would. True, it can be a challenging vegetable to work with, but when cooked correctly, eggplant can also be a thing of beauty.

There is a popular dish in Japan called nasu no dengaku: essentially, broiled eggplants with a miso, sake and sugar glaze. While delicious, I find the purely traditional form to be a little too sweet for my tastes. Even so, I love how the skin gets lightly charred and smoky while the flesh turns creamy under the intense broiler heat.

My version of nasu no dengaku came together after a dinner at Kaz Sushi Bistro in downtown DC. Chef Kaz Okochi has the most amazing spicy broiled New Zealand mussels on his menu. The sauce on this dish is incredible. In fact, I loved it so much that I went home and tried to replicate the flavors. Now I’m sure Chef Okochi’s secret is far more complex than combining three ingredients in a bowl, but to be honest my version tastes SPOT ON. Best of all you can easily whip up the sauce in under a minute & it partners beautifully not only with mussels* (see Cook’s Note), but with eggplant and a variety of fish as well.

Miso, a fermented soybean paste, imparts a deep salty flavor. The mayonnaise makes the sauce luscious, and keeps whatever you spread it on moist. As for the Sriracha… do you really need a reason to invite the ever-popular “Rooster” hot sauce to the party?

I prefer to use Chinese or Japanese eggplants because they lack the bitterness of other varieties. But if you want to use other types try curing them first.

1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise.
2. Score the flesh. (Tiny cuts in a crisscross pattern)
3. Sprinkle generously with salt and allow the eggplant to sit for 45 minutes to an hour.
4. Rinse and dry the eggplant halves before cooking

Or you can use baby eggplants which typically haven’t had a chance to develop that infamous acrid flavor. Last Sunday I picked up some gorgeous French and Turkish baby eggplants at the Dupont farmers market (I recommend the French ones). I split them in half lengthwise, scored the flesh, spread the miso sauce over them & popped them in the toaster oven. Twenty minutes later I pulled out a visually stunning and deliciously earthy autumnal side dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients
1-quart baby eggplant or 2 Japanese eggplants
Neutral oil
2 Tbs. Kewpie mayonnaise
2 tsp. miso paste
1 tsp. Sriracha
Chives or scallions, thinly sliced (optional)

• Preheat the oven to 350°

• Mix the mayonnaise, miso and Sriracha in a bowl (spice lovers, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little more Sriracha).

• Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and score the flesh, taking care not to cut through to the skin. Drizzle with a little oil.

• Place a generous smearing of the sauce over the top of each eggplant

• Lay the eggplants, cut side up, on a lightly oiled sheet pan

• The total length of cooking time will vary depending on the size of the eggplants you are using but begin by placing them in the oven for 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on the sauce; you don’t want it to burn. If it starts to get too much color cover the sheet pan loosely with foil.

• Check for doneness by squeezing the eggplant. When it’s ready it’ll be soft and give easily.

• Just before removing from the oven blast the eggplant under the broiler for 30 seconds.

• Top with sliced chives or scallions and enjoy immediately

Cook’s note: For the mussel version of this dish scrub and debeard the mussels. Heat a little stock or sake on the stove in a wide skillet. Once the liquid comes to a boil add the mussels and cover tightly. The mussels will open in 30 seconds–1 minute. Remove from the heat and pull the shells apart. Spread the sauce on top of the side containing the mussel. Place the mussels on a sheet pan and under a broiler set to high. Blast for 30 seconds-1 minute. Sprinkle with scallion slices and serve.

Saying Goodbye to Summer: Vietnamese Beef Salad

Summer in DC has all the components of a passionate but ultimately doomed relationship.  Think about it… it starts suddenly, with very little warm up & quickly overwhelms you with its intense heat. Instead of working you spend hours staring blankly at your computer screen, reliving in your mind the wild moments from the night before, and fantasizing about what the weekend will bring. You play hooky from work to drink sangrias on a patio, picnic in a park, or drive out to the countryside for a long weekend getaway… and maybe for a moment you believe it will go on forever.

But you know how this story goes. Things cool off faster than you were expecting. As the heat dissipates the flirty dresses, lacy under-things & satin camisoles are all banished to the back of the closet. Come November, you’ll be stressing year-end deadlines in an oversized sweater designed to hide the five extra pounds you’ve packed on since summer’s abrupt end.

But just as no relationship worth remembering ends without a final steamy tryst, one day before the first frost you will inevitably wake up to a day that feels just as hot as it did in mid-July. It’ll only last a few hours, but it’s enough to make you momentarily slip back into the dreamy haze.

This is a recipe for that day.

Topped with savory beef & drizzled with a spicy lime and fish sauce vinaigrette, this dish is the opposite of a dull everyday lunch salad. Purple perilla brings an herbaceous complexity, while mint further brightens the crisp lettuce, slippery noodles, peppery radishes & sweet onions. You can easily throw this salad together in 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the final warm moments of summer.

So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a tall glass of icy plum wine, close your eyes, and begin the pleasurable task of deciding which summer memories are worthy of a permanent spot on that racy highlight reel of yours.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
Vinaigrette
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 red chilies, sliced (Vietnamese or Thai chilies if you have them)
2 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. oil

Salad:
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
1 lb. skirt steak
1 pack rice noodles (or about 4 oz. per serving)
1 head butter lettuce
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
3 radishes, thinly sliced
Mint leaves
Cilantro leaves
Perilla (look for Shiso or Tia To at your Asian grocery store)
Crushed peanuts (optional)

  • To make the vinaigrette mix the first 6 ingredients together in a bowl or small container. Stirring well with a small whisk, incorporate the oil. * If you prefer, you can substitute the oil in the dressing for water. But if you do it’s better to turn the dressing into a dipping sauce as it tends to make the salad watery.
  • Mix the soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in shallow bowl. Add the skirt steak. Cover and let the steak marinate while you prep the rest of the salad.
  • Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt generously. When the water comes to a boil add the rice noodles and follow the cooking direction on the back of the packet. (Typically, rice noodles take about 5 minutes).
  • Once cooked rinse and drain the noodles well.
  • Wash, dry and tear the lettuce. Slice the red onion and radishes.
  • Place a skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Remove the skirt steak from the marinade, tapping lightly to remove any excess liquid. When the oil begins to lightly smoke add the skirt steak.
  • Sear on high for 1 minute, turn the heat down to medium and sear another minute. Flip and repeat on the other side. The thickness of a skirt steak varies slightly but overall it tends to be a rather thin cut of beef. Cooking time will be roughly 2 minutes per side for medium rare.
  • When you reach the desired doneness remove the steak from the heat and set it aside to rest a couple minutes before slicing.
  • You can present this salad anyway you like but I like to set out individual servings. Divide the lettuce between two plates. Add the rice noodles, red onions, radishes and herbs to your liking. Drizzle with spicy vinaigrette.
  • Slice the skirt steak thinly, against the grain. Fan the steak over the salad. Top with crushed peanuts and extra chilies from the dressing.

Pop Quizzes & Potato Salads

Two weeks into my voluntary indentured servitude at the restaurant, Chef handed me a stack of A4 papers stapled on the left corner… a take home exam. It asked for detailed descriptions on how to make basic sauces & classics such as duck confit & rice pilaf. Then there were sections for mini dissertations on the key points of big pot blanching and the right way to cook & cool root vegetables. The final two pages housed a list of ingredients & French cooking terms for memorization (think—aiguillette, cuisson, cubebe) and the names of prominent chefs & their flagship restaurants. It was a given that the corresponding quiz for the final two pages would be given at the moment one least expected it.

My innocuous super power (everyone has one) is the ability to memorize just about anything. Thus I kinda’ kicked butt on the second part of the exam. A week later, convinced it was a fluke, Chef gave me the test a second time. I missed one. (I still have nightmares in which I am hunched over one of the stainless steel countertops staring blankly at the word SOUBISE).

Needless to say, in all the places where memorization played no part I stunk it up. Embarrassing, but I learned a lot. Not the least of which was to master the fundamentals and not be afraid to ask or research anything I didn’t know rather than absentmindedly going through the motions.

Below is a simple recipe that utilizes two of these fundamentals—cooking potatoes and making mayonnaise. Prior to working in the restaurant I always used store bought mayo. Now I make my own, often “fancying” it up with garlic, herbs or other condiments. And occasionally I’ll use the Japanese mayonnaise Kewpie because contrary to what other blogs may say there is no acceptable homemade version.

The process of whipping up a mayonnaise is simpler than what you’re probably conjuring up in your head, and it’s worth the effort.

As for the potatoes, the technique below yields potatoes with uniform texture that hold their shape when you toss them with the other ingredients. I guarantee the next time you serve a potato salad, guests won’t be wondering if the main component is last nights’ leftover mashed potatoes.

My husband blames my Canadian blood for my unhealthy obsession with mayonnaise. Maybe he’s right. Love it or hate it, mastering emulsification (blending two ingredients—such as oil & vinegar—not normally found together) will aid you greatly when you advance to the realm of “fancier” sauces. And hell, at the very least you’ll be prepared should someone ever decide to give you a culinary aptitude test.

Mayonnaise Ingredients:
1 egg yolk
¾ cup neutral oil (such as canola or grapeseed)
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

Potato Salad Ingredients:
2 lbs. yellow potatoes
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tsp. minced tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper

Japanese Potato Salad Ingredients:
2 lbs. yellow potatoes
1 Japanese or Persian cucumber, peeled & thinly sliced
½ Fuji apple, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tbs. Kewpie mayonnaise
Salt and white pepper

First the mayonnaise…
• Twist and form a ring out of a dishtowel. Place the towel on the counter and a large mixing bowl over it. The towel will securely hold the bowl allowing you to whisk the mayonnaise with one hand while drizzling in the oil with the other.

• Drop the egg yolk into the bowl. Add a pinch of salt, whisk. Drizzle the oil in slowly, whisking quickly. Chef liked to point out that all the action is in the wrist. Your elbow shouldn’t be moving.

• Once you have the beginnings of a sturdy emulsion, add the vinegar & lemon juice. Continue whisking, adding oil as you go along. I like to add a ¼ tsp. of sugar because I think it rounds out the flavor, you can add it or leave it out.

• If you want a firmer mayonnaise keep adding oil until you reach the consistency that you want. The more oil you add the thicker your mayonnaise will be.

• Taste and season accordingly.

On to the potatoes…
• If you’re making the French inspired potato salad, peel the potatoes & cut them into wedges (I usually get eight out of one potato). Place the potatoes in a small pot. Cover with cold water. Salt generously.

• If you’re making the Japanese version, peel and cut the potatoes into quarters and then slice across, into ½ inch thick triangles. Place potatoes in a small pot. Cover with cold water. Salt generously.

• Bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat. Once they come to an aggressive boil turn the heat down to medium. Continue cooking until you can insert a skewer or fork easily into the flesh.

• Remove from the heat. Place the potatoes under gently running cold water. Let them cool this way for a few minutes.

• Drain and dry on paper towels.

For the French inspired potato salad…
• In a large bowl combine the potato wedges, the minced shallot, mayonnaise (exact amount depends on your preference) and minced tarragon. Taste and season with salt and a few turns of the pepper mill.

For the Japanese potato salad…
• In a large bowl combine the potato slices, Kewpie mayonnaise, cucumber and apple slices. Season with salt and white pepper.

The Palettes of TCKs: Sibling #4 Requests Chicken Wings

Sibling number four is my very beautiful sister Janai. In addition to the usual identity crises associated with TCKs Janai has had the added complication of having a foreign name. In Chinese her name (pronounced jen-ai or ren-ai) means “true love” but unfortunately, in Japanese ja-nai means “am not” or “is not”. Thus Janai spent many years of her life reluctantly being called by her second name, Clare. Guess what my darling husband jokingly said to her when they met in Taiwan? “Clare? That’s a fat girl’s name.” Thank you John Hughes and The Breakfast Club!

However the shy girl grew up into a sassy lady who often renders men speechless when she extends a manicured hand and introduces herself, often repeating her exotic name several times for the bumbling gentlemen that can’t seem to get it right.

Janai sent me the following response to my comfort food inquiry, “Remember how we used to bake all those chicken wings?? Made our own marinade with soy sauce, mustard, ketchup, and any spice we could find? That’s what I crave…basic yet delicious…it’s what I remember as ‘home’.”

Ah, I remember those chicken wings well. They were the frequent stars of our dinner table because wings were cheap and the sauce was composed of just about every spice in the cupboard, and every condiment in the refrigerator door.

We’ve been making chicken wings in my family for years, but my relationship with them wasn’t always amicable. In Japan we would cook the wings in a skillet on the stove since we only had a very small oven (most Asian kitchens aren’t outfitted with large ovens; toaster ovens are usually used for baking at home instead). Just about everything in our kitchen was stainless steel and our cooking utensils were metal, which was great for cleaning. But when the pilot light in the stove shorted (and it did, ALL THE TIME), you got a free lesson in electrostatics. Question: What happens when you happen to touch the stove with metal tongs while your other hand is resting on the metal counter? Answer: The electrical currents have a play date in your body! To this day my body tenses in preparation for a jolt whenever I smell soy sauce and sugar caramelizing.

But we left that house, and eventually Japan. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves in a bigger kitchen, and we transferred the wings from the skillet to the oven. Nowadays I bake the wings first with just a little salt, pepper, lime juice and oil, (you could add other spices like Chinese five spice or chili powder) and then glaze the wings with the sauce right before I throw them under the broiler. With this method the meat is nicely seasoned and the sweet-salty sauce gets deliciously charred and sticky under the intense broiler heat.

Hopefully your kitchen is in compliance with safety codes, so making these simple Asian wings won’t leave you permanently traumatized.

Ingredients:
1 lb. chicken wings
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. lime juice
1 Tbs. neutral oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
1 half medium sized onion, diced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
1 Tbs. ketchup
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. Sriracha

  • Mix the first 5 ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside to allow the chicken to marinate and temper (come up to room temperature)
  • Preheat the oven to 400°. When oven reaches desired temperature place the chicken wings on a sheet pan and into the oven for 10 minutes
  • While the wings are baking sweat the onions, garlic and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Combine the soy sauce, water, ketchup, mustard, sugar and Sriracha together in a bowl. Mix well.
  • Once the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes) add the liquid mixture to the saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain. Pour the strained liquid into a large bowl.
  • Add the semi cooked chicken wings to the sauce and toss to coat. Return the chicken wings to the sheet pan and place them under the broiler (turned to high) for a couple of minutes. Remove and flip the wings. Return to the broiler and sear the other side of the wings (1-2 minutes).
  • Remove when you have the color and caramelization you want.

Can be served as is….

Or with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro…

Cilantro and extra Sriracha…

Or with a dusting of shiso furikake—shiso, the popular Japanese herb (also called beefsteak plant), flavored rice seasoning… salty, tart and slightly floral.

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant: Yuxiang Qiezi

Fish-fragrant eggplant is arguably one of the most popular vegetable dishes on many Chinese restaurant menus. Unfortunately, it is frequently violated by excess sugar, soy sauce and corn starch. This recipe, adapted from the Beijing cooking school Black Sesame Kitchen, is beautifully balanced. The black vinegar adds a touch of acidity that lifts the whole dish. Try infusing the oil with a few Szechuan peppercorns prior to cooking, their tongue tingling properties are sure to add a bit of mystery and fun to your dinner.

 


Ingredients:

2 Chinese or Japanese eggplants
Rice flour (about 1/2 cup)
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
2 tablespoons broad-bean paste*
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 leek (white part only), minced
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch (dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water)
1 teaspoon black vinegar

  • Cut the eggplants into 1 inch diagonal pieces (turn the eggplant slightly after each diagonal slice so you end up with diamond shaped pieces). Toss the eggplants with the rice flour, lightly coating each piece.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan. Heat for about 5 minutes (you want to see white smoke drifting off the sides of the pan)
  • Add eggplant to oil, deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until golden. Remove eggplant with spider or similar straining device. Drain the oil from pan (feel free to use a second pan or wok if you want)
  • Return two tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add broad bean paste, cook for 30 seconds. Add minced ginger, garlic and leek. Cook for another 30 seconds. Add water, sugar, soy sauce and salt. Stir.
  • Return cooked eggplants to the pan, toss gently in the sauce for a few minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken. Add black vinegar.
  • Remove from heat and serve immediately
Cook’s Notes*When purchasing douban jiang, broad-bean paste, look for ones from Pixian. This is a county in Szechuan where the best brand comes from

*If you want to add Szechuan peppercorns and/or dried chili peppers roast them in the oil before adding the broad bean paste. Just remember to remove them once they turn brown and before adding any other ingredients.

*When cooking with a wok you want to have all your prep completed and on hand before you begin the cooking process so that you can work quickly and efficiently. Actual cooking time should be minimal.


Shrimp & Pork Fried Rice

I knew I’d get at least one request for fried rice when I emailed my siblings asking about their favorite childhood dishes. Sure enough, the following reply came from my older brother, “I would say a proper Chinese/Japanese fried rice is a staple comfort food for me. It’s simple but always takes me back to childhood food”.

Disclaimer: I am a HUGE snob when it comes to fried rice, as is my older brother, which is why I understood when he prefaced his choice with the word “proper”. But what is proper Chinese/Japanese fried rice? For starters, Japanese fried rice is really Chinese fried rice. I’m not looking to veer off into touchy foreign policy issues here. It’s not an invitation to begin debating Japanese history textbook revisionism or who really owns the Senkaku islands…  This is just a simple statement; good Japanese fried rice is really Chinese fried rice.

I am willing however, to argue over what goes inside said fried rice. Perhaps it’s best to start with what should NOT be included. There shouldn’t be any chunks of softened pineapple dominating the dish with its sweetness. No bean sprouts poking out like tadpoles from a mound of rice. And no bright green broccoli florets with their promise of nutrition. As for the protein component this is not the time to start defrosting those questionable items in the back on the freezer. The rice shouldn’t be yellow from curry powder, or red from ketchup. And it should definitely not be brown from thickened soy sauce.

For me the best fried rice is flavored with both shrimp and pork; the rice is still white rather than stained brown from soy sauce, and the vegetables are uniformly cut and cooked.

The first really great fried rice I remember eating with my older brother was at the Seagull Hotel in Shanghai when he was six and I was four. We had just travelled with our parents, two-year-old brother and one-month old baby sister by ship, from Japan to China (that’s right, I said SHIP). At the hotel my brother and I would alternate between ordering the fried rice and fried noodles. I’m sure we ordered other dishes as well, but none stuck in my memory like those two big starchy plates of food.

Nowadays our massive family has a system for ordering when we go out for Chinese food (imagine the mayhem without one). Two or three of us will scan the menu and call off suggestions for the others to reject or accept, while another sibling furiously scribbles the orders on a scrap of paper. Fried rice with its salty nuggets of ham, just-cooked pink shrimp, and delicately scrabbled eggs always gets a round of head-nods and an enthusiastic “definitely” from the whole family. I’m hoping that the version below gets the same unanimous stamp of approval.

Ingredients:
Neutral oil for cooking
½ cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced celery 
5 shiitake caps, diced
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1/3 cup cooked peas
¾ cup diced ham or Canadian bacon
10 small or 5 large (cut into 3rds) peeled and deveined shrimp
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups cooked white rice *cook’s note I*
1 tsp. chicken bouillon *cook’s note II*
¼ tsp. white pepper
½ cup sliced scallion
2 tsp. sesame oil

*As with all Chinese food timing and speed are the keys to success. Make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you turn on the stove.

 
  • Heat a wok or large skillet and 1 Tbsp. of oil over med-high heat. Once wisps of smoke begin to appear add the diced onion. Cook for 1 min. Add the garlic, ginger and ¼ tsp. of salt. Cook for 1 minute more.
  • Add the diced carrots. Cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat to high. Add the celery and diced shiitake caps. Add 1 tsp. oyster sauce. Cook for 1 min. Add the peas, stirring through. Remove and set aside.
  • In the now empty wok/skillet heat 2 tsp. of oil. Add the diced Canadian bacon or ham (I prefer Canadian bacon for its fat content). Fry quickly over high heat until lightly brown and fat begins to render. Remove. Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the shrimp to the pork fat. Add ¼ tsp. of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and no longer translucent. Remove shrimp, leaving any remaining fat behind.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the lightly beaten eggs to the center of the hot wok/skillet. Cook as you would scrambled eggs for 15 seconds, add the rice to the pan. Mix well with the partially cooked eggs. Sprinkle in 1 tsp. chicken bouillon, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. ground white pepper. Continue stir-frying for 1 minute.
  • Add the cooked vegetables, pork and shrimp. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring well to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Add the scallions and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  • Remove from heat and serve.

Cook’s note I: To get the best results the rice needs to be cold. Freshly steamed rice is too sticky to fry properly. Use leftover rice or cook it early in the day and let it cool for a while in the refrigerator.

Cook’s note II: In an effort to develop a recipe as close to the version my older brother remembers from his childhood I’ve used chicken bouillon. I doubt it comes as a surprise to anyone that this is an ingredient frequently used for seasoning in Chinese food. It received a bad rap for a while due to its MSG content, but these days it’s pretty easy to find a MSG-free version.

Kara-age: Japanese Fried Chicken

I have an insatiable appetite for fried chicken. If I spot it on a menu, at a street fair, or night market it’s just a matter of time before it ends up in my mouth. I’m not overly finicky about how it’s prepared, but I do have one rule: don’t strip it of its skin and fat. I want a brown crackling exterior and juicy meat that tastes like it spent some time soaking in good brine or marinade. In order to accomplish this you essentially need two things—skin and fat.

Japanese enjoy this simple fried chicken with their after-work beers, alongside a bowl of ramen, or tucked inside a bento box. Traditionally potato starch is used for coating the chicken but I find that when used alone it can be a bit powdery on the tongue. Rather, try using a mixture of flour and potato starch; you’ll get a crisp exterior without the dusty flakes.

 

Once I debone the chicken thighs I like to pound each piece until it’s an even inch across. I do this so that each slice has a good skin-fat-meat ratio. You can cook the thigh as one uniform piece, or cut it into strips before dredging and frying.

My hubby believes that food is simply a vessel for sauces, so I serve this chicken with Japanese mustard and a spicy mayo (a mix of sriracha and Kewpie mayonnaise). But the traditionalist in me is satisfied with a simple squeeze of lemon and a cold Kirin beer.

 

Ingredients
6 chicken thighs, deboned with skin on
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin (or sake)
1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1 cup potato starch
1 cup flour  
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. salt
White pepper for dusting
Lemon wedges

  • Place the boneless chicken thighs between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound till about one inch across. Cut into one-inch strips.
  • Mix the soy sauce, mirin and grated ginger together in a bowl. Add the chicken. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but no longer than 45min.
  • Place a pan (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat and fill two inches deep with neutral (sunflower, peanut, canola) oil.
  • Mix the potato starch, flour, curry powder and salt together in a shallow dish. Coat the chicken in the mixture. Shake off any excess.
  • When the oil has reached 325° gently lay the chicken into the pan, taking care not to overcrowd. (If you don’t have a thermometer test the temperature with a little piece of chicken. You want to see tiny bubbles quickly rising with the meat. The oil should not be smoking)
  • Cook for approximately 5 minutes per batch. If you’re frying the thigh as a whole piece rather than strips cook each side for about 4 minutes.
  • When the chicken is a deep golden brown remove and drain on paper towels.
  • Dust with finely ground white pepper and serve with wedges of lemon.