Category Archives: Recipe

Chicken Liver Pâté with Apples and Cognac

Ever wondered why some restaurant meals taste so much better than what you’re whipping up at home? How they manipulate their steak so that the flesh reacts like a sponge when squeezed between your teeth, savory juices oozing as you bite down? Or stared suspiciously at a creamy risotto, its rounded grains relaxingly spread out on the plate, glistening as they mock your home cooked version that barely shudders even when violently shaken? Perplexed why those golden nests of pasta twirled in silky sauce look nothing like your go-to lady slayer, spaghetti “sticky strands with watery red goop” Bolognese?

Many a frustrated home cook has justified their shortcomings by laying blame on the evil kitchen duo, butter and salt.

Well they would be right… kind of. What this flippant response ignores is mastery of proper cooking technique. Yes, professional cooks use a great deal of salt, but they also know when to add it. They know that to build flavor, you have to learn to cook with salt rather than showering it on at the end, expecting that it will magically fix the failures in your dish.

Sure restaurant cooks use butter (in a French kitchen they use A LOT of butter). However, they also know the difference between using solid, clarified and beurre monte. Salted versus unsalted. Most importantly, they know that there is no acceptable substitute for top quality stuff.

But it’s not just butter and salt. A good cook knows when to use lime instead of lemon juice, champagne vinegar instead of sherry vinegar. The subtle difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil. What will happen if they use canola rather than grapeseed oil. And how the flavor will be affected if they add honey instead of crystallized sugar.

Knowledge and technique are the so-called tricks to decadent food.

I promised Chef I would never divulge any secrets I learned while apprenticing under him, but I think I can get away with spilling one tiny one… if you want to highlight an ingredients’ natural sweetness without bringing the whole dish into the realm of dessert try adding fruit instead of sugar.

In the recipe below I’ve used an apple to add a subtle sweetness to the pâté that could never be accomplished with honey or any type of sugar. As for the butter that is called for, toss out all the fake “healthy” fat substitutes in your fridge, and go out and get the real thing (I use Kerrygold, Pure Irish Butter).

Wanna cook like a chef? Start with the right ingredients, and take the time to learn how to use them.

1 stick butter + 1 Tbs. (9 Tbs. total) 
1 onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1 shallot, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 Granny Smith apple: peeled, cored and diced
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 lb. chicken livers, trimmed
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. cognac 

  • Melt ½ a stick (4 Tbs) of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, shallot and ½ tsp of salt. Gently cook for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the thyme. Cook for one minute more.
  • Add the apple and nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove mixture from the skillet.
  • Return the skillet to the medium heat. Melt the other ½ a stick of butter. Add the chicken livers, ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes turning the livers occasionally to insure even cooking. Add the onion and apple mixture to the skillet. Cook altogether another 4 minutes, or until the liver centers are just slightly pink (you can cut one open to check doneness).
  • Add 2 tablespoons cognac. Stir through and remove from heat.
  • Place mixture in blender. Process till you get the texture you want. I like my pâté to be very smooth so I do it in two batches. While it’s running, carefully scrap down the sides of the blender with a thin spatula to ensure an even smoothness (this will also give the blender a hand with the processing of the somewhat dense mixture)
  • Add the final tablespoon of butter, blend through.
  • Taste and add a touch more salt and pepper if you desire.
  • Place the mixture into the dishes you will serve it in. I typically hold it in two ramekins. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. This pate can be eaten as soon as it cools and sets. However, it tastes even better the next day.

Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts with Scallion, Ginger and Cilantro Sauce

I was seventeen when I first started teaching English in Taiwan. I began with the preschool-kindergarten age group. Work started at 8am and consisted of me jumping around the room singing songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. There were the occasional wet pants, (always the kids’) and the daily tears (not always the kids’).

By noon I was ready for a large meal and a quiet corner. One of my favorite workday lunches was the local staple, duck rice. I’d bike over to this little roadside stall where 50 NT dollars (a little less than two bucks) would get you half a roasted duck chopped up and set on a mound of rice. It came with a couple little containers of gingery, scallion goodness to be slathered over the moist meat and crispy skin. I’d regularly scarf this down and gather my wits before heading back to school to do my best rendition of Little Bunny Foo Foo.

It wasn’t too long before I moved on to teaching high school and business level English. Thanks in part to make-up and the ability to skillfully dodge questions about my age. The job and pay may have improved but duck rice remained a lunch favorite.

Below is my version of the dish, with a couple tweaks. First, I add cilantro to the ginger and scallion sauce. The fresh herbal punch brings another layer of flavor and brightens the sauce. Second, I use chicken breast instead of duck. This is simply because I don’t have the time or the necessary tools (air compressor, fan, wok) to properly roast a whole duck. It’s also friendlier to those (…let’s call them Westerners) who don’t enjoy picking around the bones.

The scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce is great with just about anything—roasts, noodles and stir-fry dishes. If covered well it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple days. Although, it tastes best 15-20 minutes after you make it.

Sometimes I’ll throw this together for my husband’s lunch since it’s simple to make and reheats fairly well. Occasionally I fret that I’m setting the feminist movement back a couple decades by sending my hubby off in the morning with a packed lunch. So in an effort to quell my ridiculous guilt I even out the score by making him sing a verse from Little Bunny Foo Foo in exchange.

2 chicken breasts (skin on)
white pepper
¾ cup scallion, minced
1 Tbs. ginger, minced
¼ cup cilantro, minced
2 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. soy sauce
2½ tsp. neutral oil such as vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
¼ tsp. salt 

  • Heat the oven to 400°
  • Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and a little white pepper. Set aside and allow the meat to temper (come relatively close to room temperature).
  • Cut the scallions down the middle, halving them lengthwise. Slice in half again so that you end up with four long strips. Finely slice the scallion, both white and green parts.
  • Finely mince the peeled ginger. If you have a microplane you can use it instead of stressing about perfect knife work.
  • Mix the scallions, ginger & the last 6 ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  • Heat a skillet and about 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat. Once you begin to see little wisps of white smoke add the chicken breasts, skin side down. Sear for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium high. Continue to cook for another minute. Flip the breasts and sear the other side for 2 minutes.
  • Place the skillet and chicken into the oven and finish cooking through, about 8 minutes. Remove when breasts feel firm to the touch or internal temperature reads 165°.
  • Allow chicken to rest a few minutes before slicing. Serve chicken over rice and top with scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce.

A Compromised Roast Chicken

How many times have you heard the words, “Marriage is about compromise”? It’s an over-used statement that’s tossed out by an exasperated marriage counselor trying to solve a bickering couple’s problems, or by a sheepish husband explaining to his buddies why he bought his wife yet another pair of Louboutin pumps instead of season tickets to his favorite team, or even by a tipsy wife gossiping to her girlfriends about how she dons a French maid outfit in exchange for a 15-minute foot rub and a week off from dishwashing duty.

Marital compromise manifests itself differently for every couple. Those in bi-cultural marriages like myself may find much of it taking place in the kitchen.

Asians like rice. That’s not a stereotype. It’s a simple fact. I NEED to eat rice at least 4 times a week, preferably sushi grade: white, round, shiny, and slightly sticky so that it forms light balls on the tip of my chopsticks. In comparison, my husband would hardly notice if blight destroyed all short grain rice. When we met he could correctly identify only one type; it came in an orange box and was ready in minutes.

I like fish. He hates it. So I don’t cook it in the house (at least while he’s home). I love dried squid, but am banished to the balcony to eat my pungent snack in shame, far removed from his olfactory sensitivities.

Over our 11 years together, my husband’s palate has grown accustomed to—even fond of—Asian flavors. He likes soy sauce, rice vinegar and tofu almost as much as I do, but still craves the occasional PB&J, bowl of chicken noodle soup (ramen doesn’t count) and Italian sub.

The roast chicken below started out as a way to sneak a little Asian-ness into a traditional western family dinner. The spiced brine makes the chicken so flavorful that I’m more than content to leave the chopsticks in the drawer for the night. On the other side of the marital divide, my hubby’s so satisfied with his meat and potatoes that I can usually get a 15-minute foot rub from him… sans further compromise.

2 Tbs. Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seeds
5 whole cloves
2 Tbs. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 cups water: one hot, 2 cold
Rind of 1 lemon
10 sprigs of cilantro
1 shallot, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 whole chicken, halved

  • To make the brine toast the first four ingredients in a small skillet. Toss lightly over medium heat for three minutes or until fragrant and slightly darker.
  • Dissolve salt and sugar in one cup of hot water (I like to put the cup in the microwave for 1½ minutes). Add the toasted spices. Steep (sit and soak) for five minutes.
  • Combine the lemon rind, cilantro, shallot and garlic in a deep pot or baking dish (you can use anything large and deep enough to submerge two chicken halves in).
  • Halve the chicken by cutting down both sides of the breastplate. Once the front is halved, flip the chicken over and press down to flatten. Cut along both sides of the backbone, removing it completely.
  • Place the chicken in the deep dish. Add the water with the spices plus enough cold water to submerge both halves. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours.
  • After 6-8 hours remove the chicken from the brine. Pat dry and allow chicken to come up to room temperature.
  • Heat a skillet and oil over medium high heat. Sear chicken on all sides, 6-7 minutes total. Transfer to a 400°F oven. Roast for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160°F (check the temperature in the dense thigh rather than the breast). Flip the chicken skin-side-up for the final 5 minutes.
  • Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven. If your family isn’t mobbing the kitchen like a pack of hungry zombies I recommend resting the chicken for 5-10 minutes.
  • The beauty of a roast chicken is that it can really be served with anything. I like it with pan roasted potatoes and spinach that’s been quickly tossed in a hot pan with garlic and a squeeze of lemon.

Pork buns, Fried & Steamed: Xiao Rou Bao

A favorite night market snack, xiao rou bao have a filling that is similar to gyoza or jiaozi, your common Chinese and Japanese dumplings, but instead of a thin wrapper these are encased and cooked inside an airy dough. Street vendors steam them in large pans and finish them by crisping up the bottoms. Buns filled with just vegetables, typically cabbage, called tsai (vegetable) bao (bun) are easy to find and equally delicious.

The literal translation of xiao rou bao is small meat bun. In Taiwan it’s pretty much a given that the filling will be pork. I’ve beautified the English name here because I didn’t think a recipe suggesting mystery meat would be particularly enticing to my Western readers.

Fingers crossed one day a mad scientist will invent a time travel machine, but until then I’ve found that the best way to relive cherished memories is through flavors. This is my attempt to transport myself to a bustling night market in Taiwan.

Whether you’re making this dish after a recent trip to Taiwan or creating a new food memory these soft bundles of goodness are sure to extract squeals of delight from you and the lucky friends you share them with. The recipe below makes 10 buns.

2 tsp. sugar
¼ ounce (1 packet) dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp. oil

Pork Filling:
1 cup cabbage, minced
2 large shiitake caps, finely diced
1 scallion, finely sliced
½ inch piece of ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
½ pound, (well marbled), ground pork
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. rice wine/Chinese cooking wine
1 tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper

  • Dissolve sugar and yeast in ½ cup warm water. While the yeast is proofing (sitting and activating) mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Pour the wet mixture into the dry one, add oil and mix until smooth. Knead very lightly and briefly in bowl. Cover and let dough rise for 40 minutes.

  • While dough is rising mix all the pork filling ingredients together in a bowl.

  • Once the dough has finished rising turn it out onto a floured surface. Knead lightly and divide into 10 equal sized balls. If you’re gadget crazy and have a scale they should be approximately .80 oz. each. If you don’t, simply make each one a little larger than a ping pong ball. Press into small thin rounds. Fill each with a tablespoon of the pork filling. Seal by pinching dough together at the top.

  • Heat a skillet and one tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add pork buns. Brown the bottom of the buns for 15-20 seconds. Add 1½ cups water, cover. Steam buns until all the water evaporates, about 10-15 minutes. Once water has evaporated and the buns have double in size remove the lid. Finish by browning the tops of the pork buns.
  • Serve with soy sauce and chili oil or sriracha

Hamburger, Hambagu, Hanbagu… Who Cares? It’s Smothered In Sauce and Delicious.

Denny’s in Japan is not the home of the grand-slam breakfast, chicken fried steak, early bird specials and caloric overload. It is a place to go when you’re in the mood for yoshoku or Japanized Western food. Favorites such as “American” club sandwiches, crab spaghetti, grilled winter vegetable curry and hamburger steaks are served to diners in the mood for something “Western”.

Slide into one of their booths in the morning and you won’t be offered stacks of chocolate chip pancakes, skillets of hash and burritos the size of a serving platter. But perhaps you’d like to order the Choose a Salad Morning. Your choice of a salad accompanied by a stack of small pancakes, toast or rice. For the Japanese breakfast lover, there is Denny’s Balanced Japanese Breakfast: rice, miso soup, an egg and a tofu salad. Unfortunately the Grand Slamwich—egg, cheese, ham, bacon AND sausage busting out from between two slices of bread and served with hash browns—is nowhere to be found. However, you can try to satisfy that craving with the vegetable and egg sandwich to be enjoyed with a bowl of yogurt and fresh fruit.

If you’re an expat desperately needing a greasy American breakfast to dilute the alcohol in your system, your best bet is the Denny’s Morningone slice of toast, two eggs, one slice of bacon, a small sausage and a salad. You may have to order two or three of these to obtain the desired results.

As a kid in Japan I often ordered the Japanese version of a hamburger patty. Served with rice, pasta or French fries but never between sesame seed sprinkled buns. Other than the shape, they are pretty different from what Americans think of when they hear the word “hamburger”. If you order off the kid’s menu your patty comes adorned with toothpick flags. I don’t know why there are flags or what sort of marketing tests recommended them, the idea probably originated in a posh Japanese office filled with old men. Over the last 20+ years the flags have migrated from the hamburger to a the nearby rice but they are still present.

The Japanized hamburger or “hanbagu” is enormously popular. Variations make up an entire section of Denny’s Japanese menu. Below is my version of this yoshoku classic. Try to buy ground beef containing at least 20% fat (health freaks, it’s the fat that keeps the patty moist).

Feel free to celebrate successfully conquering this dish by stabbing a flag of your choice into the succulent mound of meat.

Hamburger Patties:
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup milk
¼ onion, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
salt and pepper

Mushroom Sauce:
½ onion, diced
10 shiitakes, stems removed and caps sliced
½ tsp. of salt
2 tsp. flour
1 cup mushroom stock*
1 cup beef stock
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. ketchup
1 Tbs. tonkatsu sauce (or Worcestershire sauce)
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 375°
  • Pour the milk over the bread crumbs. While that softens, mince ¼ onion.
  • Place the bread crumbs, onion, ground beef, and egg into a large mixing bowl. Season generously with salt and ground pepper. Mix with your hands until just combined. Shape mixture into four hamburger patties.
  • Heat a skillet over high heat, add oil and sear the patties on both sides. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions, mushrooms and ½ tsp. of salt to the hot beef grease. Sweat for three minutes over medium heat. Sprinkle in two teaspoons of flour. Cook altogether for another minute.
  • Add the beef and mushroom stock. Stir. Add soy sauce, ketchup, tonkotsu sauce, mustard and sugar. Let it come to a boil while you continue to stir. Turn the heat down and let the sauce reduce by 1/3.
  • Place the hamburger patties in a deep baking dish and pour the sauce on top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • These hamburger patties can be served with rice, potatoes or pasta so long as they’re plated up with a generous spoonful of the mushroom steak sauce.

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*Mushroom stock: when you bring shiitakes home from the market remove the woody stems and put them in a pot with 3-4 cups of cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and put in a container. You now have mushroom stock for stews, sauces, and anything else that calls for vegetable stock.

Banh Mi: My Kind of Sandwich

My two passions, foreign policy and food, are engaged in a heated battle inside this warm sandwich. A result of French colonialism the banh mi is an example of colonialism bad, culinary influence, good.

The Vietnamese baguette is made with a mixture of wheat and rice flour resulting in a thin crusty exterior with a soft, airy interior. Most of us don’t have a Vietnamese bakery in our neighborhood, so go ahead and grab a baguette from your local Whole Foods or supermarket. Try to buy it when it’s fresh though, as it can be discomfortingly hard if it sits too long.

There are numerous variations of the banh mi, but the basics are: pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, chilies, and some kind of grilled meat—often chicken, pork or beef. Pâté and fried eggs are also excellent additions. Sometimes I add torn up mint leaves; the cooling quality of mint balances nicely with the fiery chilies. The recipe here uses the same pork belly recipe that I use for ramen and buta kakuni.

This sandwich has luscious fatty goodness from the pork belly, tangy and crisp pickles, herbal cilantro and a little kick from the chilies. What’s not to love?

1 carrot
½ daikon (Japanese white radish)
½ large cucumber
1 hot pepper (Jalapeno, Serrano), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons warm water
Pork belly, sliced (see recipe tab)
French baguette
Sprigs of fresh cilantro

  • Start by making a quick pickle: Peel the carrot, daikon and cucumber. You can  julienne (long thick matchstick shape) all the vegetables or, what I like to do, use your peeler and continue to peel the edible flesh. You’ll end up with long identical strips of carrot, daikon and cucumber (stop when you reach the seeds).
  • Put the sliced chilies, rice vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and warm water into a large bowl. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar.
  • Add the carrots, daikon, and cucumbers. Mix. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Slice the pork belly to desired thickness. Heat skillet. Add the belly and reheat, caramelizing both sides.
  • Portion the baguette to desired sandwich size and then slice each piece horizontally. Warm up the bread slightly in the oven (the goal is just to warm through not toast it).
  • Spread mayonnaise on one side of each sandwich (I’m a big fan of Japanese Kewpie mayo). Layer each sandwich with the pickles, chilies and pork belly. Finish with fresh cilantro sprigs.

Grown Up Instant Ramen

My next major culinary project is to learn how to make real ramen broth. The sous chef at the restaurant I stage at kindly loaned metwo Japanese magazines on the intricacies of making ramen. But with my rapidly deteriorating Japanese reading skills I fear I may never uncover the secrets to rich, complex and creamy tonkotsu broth.

However, I remain determined to learn and in the meantime I’ll continue to use store bought ramen packets to satisfy my cravings. I’m not talking about the dorm room favorite— Cup Noodles, rather than buying the packets with dried instant noodles look in the refrigerated section of your local Asian store for the ones containing fresh noodles. They are definitely a major step up.

Prepare the noodles and broth as stated on the back of the package. Then gently reheat three or four slices of pork belly. Quickly sauté cabbage and bean sprouts in a hot skillet with a little chicken stock (liquid or powder form, no one’s judging), salt, and white pepper—finish with a splash of black vinegar and sesame oil. Other great ramen toppings include soft-boiled eggs, seaweed (dried or fresh), bamboo shoots and shiitakes.

Place the pork belly, vegetables and toppings of your choice in a bowl with the ramen noodles and broth. Enjoy this elevated college staple on your real dining room table rather than on a stack of old pizza boxes that you’ve draped a sarong over in an effort to disguise its origins. Seriously, did that ever fool anyone? Congratulate yourself on becoming a grown up… of sorts.

Pork Belly: One Recipe, Three Dishes

I know some people are scared by the fattiness of pork belly, but I can’t resist it. I’ve been cooking pork belly for years and recently figured out a recipe that is perfect for three different dishes: buta kakuni, ramen, and the increasingly popular Vietnamese sandwich – bánh mì.

As with all braised meat, cooling the pork belly in its braising liquid keeps the meat succulent. Refrigerating it makes removing the excess fat simple and slicing the belly a breeze. I like to use tsuyu (Japanese noodle dipping sauce) to jump-start my braising liquid, but you can also use a rich dashi stock instead. The pork will be lighter in color and flavor, but still unctuous and delicious.

Below is the basic recipe for pork belly and serving suggestions for buta kakuni. Click the recipe tab on the blog for the ramen and bánh mì recipes. When I make this I usually serve buta kakuni for dinner that night, then use the remaining belly for ramen and bánh mì later on in the week.

½ large onion, diced
2 inches ginger root, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup tsuyu or dashi
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups water
2½ – 3 lbs pork belly, skin removed
Salt and white pepper

  • Sweat the onion, ginger and garlic in a small saucepot until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add tsuyu (or dashi), soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sugar and water. Bring to a simmer
  • While the braising liquid is coming to a simmer, season the pork belly with salt and white pepper. Sear all sides in a hot pan. Once all sides are browned, place the pork belly in a deep baking dish. Pour the braising liquid on top. Cover and braise in a 325° oven for 2½ hours or until the pork is tender. Remove from the oven.
  • For buta kakuni serve the pork on top of a bed of unseasoned sautéed spinach, and finish the dish by straining some of the braising liquid over everything. Served with steamed rice, pickles and spicy Japanese mustard (karashi).
  • Cool the remaining pork belly in the braising liquid.  Then place it into the refrigerator. To reheat simply slice the belly as desired, and heat the pieces gently in some of the leftover braising liquid.

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Hot Pot: Any Way You Like It

Hot pot is popular in many Asian countries including China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Each country’s version differs slightly but all are comforting, satisfying and healthy. It is the perfect winter dinner and the best recipe ever…  because there’s no real recipe to follow. Even better, it is a dish that requires very little prep or actual cooking time.

The one catch… you’ll need a “hot pot”. I purchased an electric pot at H Mart, and it works like a charm. Another option is to use a propane camping stove and mid-sized pot.

This is the perfect meal for families—kids will have fun adding their favorite items to the pot, watching them cook, dipping them in the sauce and devouring them seconds after they’ve finished cooking.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite hot pot items but you can add whatever you like.

  • Thinly sliced beef, pork, lamb, chicken
  • Seafood: shrimp, slices of fish, clams
  • Fish balls
  • Dumplings
  • Taro (rather than eating it I prefer to let it break down and thicken the soup)
  • Shitake, enoki, oyster mushrooms
  • Leafy greens: snow pea shoots, napa cabbage, bok choy, tatsoi
  • Noodles: Korean sweet potato noodles are my current favorite, but udon noodles also work well

Condiments: Mix and match. The perfect sauce is one that tastes good to you!

  • Soy sauce
  • Pon Shabu
  • Sha Cha, Tuong Sate Dac Biet
  • Black vinegar
  • Creamy sesame sauce (look for a light brown shabu shabu sauce at your Asian grocery store)
  • Chili oil (la-yu)
  • Cilantro
  • Scallions
  • Raw egg yolk

A few basic steps to get you started:

You can either use a stock, or just make a simple soup with water, hon dashi, and a little soy sauce. Bring to a boil on the kitchen stove. Once it boils, add the noodles and cook half way.

Put the hot soup base and partially cooked noodles into your tableside cooking device. Bring the soup back to a boil, and start adding items. Frozen dumplings and fish balls will take a little longer to cook, so put them in first. Add your mushrooms, vegetables, seafood and meat. Don’t dump everything in at once; rather add the ingredients into the soup in batches. This insures that nothing gets overcooked. The thinly sliced meat is best eaten within 20-30 seconds. Once something is cooked, swirl it around in your dipping sauce and enjoy.

*Hot pot lovers, did I leave out a secret ingredient or your family’s favorite add-in? I’m curious to learn about tasty variations and to try new items, so let me know.

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Spicy Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken: Tom Kha Gai

Arguably one of the most flavorful soups you’ll ever taste. Bold flavors perfectly balanced – richness from the coconut milk, heat from the chilies, depth of flavor from the fish sauce, and acidity from the lime juice.

I adapted this version from a recipe I used at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts in Koh Samui. It is hands down the best Tom Kha Gai I’ve ever tasted.

2 cups coconut milk
½ cup water
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bias-sliced *
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, stems removed and torn in half **
2 inches fresh galangal, thinly sliced ***
3 fresh red chilies, bias-sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 crushed coriander root or 2 full sprigs chopped
1 tablespoon chili paste, tom yum paste or Thai chili paste
1 cup fresh oyster, straw or button mushrooms, sliced or quartered ****
3 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ a chicken breast, cut into bite size slices
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼ cup scallion, bias-sliced
¼ cup coriander stems and leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
6 small dried red chilies

  • In a pot (or wok) heat the coconut milk over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, red chilies, shallots, coriander root, and chili paste. Boil until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the mushrooms and tomatoes. Boil another minute
  • Add the chicken, without stirring boil for 30 seconds. Stir and boil another 40 seconds.
  • Add the fish sauce, scallion, and chopped coriander. Boil another 20 seconds
  • Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and taste. If necessary add more fish sauce or a pinch of salt
  • Garnish with dried red chilies and fresh coriander leaves.
  • Serve immediately

Cook’s Tips:

*Bias-sliced: cut at an angle so that you end up with oval rather than round pieces

**If you can’t find fresh kaffir lime leaves you can use 3 dried leaves instead. Soak in room temperature water for 5 minutes before using

***You can substitute the fresh galangal with ¼ cup of dried. Soak in room temperature water for 5 minutes to reconstitute

**** It’s best not to use dark mushrooms in this soup, their favor is too rich and will overwhelm many of the other ingredients

You can use a white fish, shrimp, mussels, or squid instead of chicken if you’d like (the version in the photo). Or make it semi-vegetarian by adding tofu (remember it will still have fish sauce).