Tag Archives: chefs

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

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Chef’s Day Off

I’m afraid that I have a Chinese Tiger Mother living in my head. I strive for perfection. I love lists, schedules, benchmarks and goals. There is very little time for detours or “smelling the roses”. That’s for people with safety nets and back up plans. I have one plan… be wildly successful at everything.

With that in mind, let’s look back at the last year and a half… I jumped off a solid career track to pursue a passion for food. Miraculously, I found myself in one of the top kitchens in the city, worked my butt off, learned a huge amount… and then finally admitted to myself that becoming a chef wasn’t my long term goal and left. No surprise then that on my bad days the Tiger Mama in me lashes out, questioning my life choices and asking what I’ve gained from the decision to detour off the more obvious path. Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a solid answer quite yet. But this past Sunday I came pretty damn close.

A year and a half ago I sat down to the most nerve-wracking interview of my life with Eric Ziebold (Gasp! I’ve finally given you his real name. I feel like the creators of Sex & the City revealing Mr. Big’s real name for the first time) at CityZen in Washington D.C., but on Sunday I was standing beside Eric (a.k.a. “Chef“) and his fiancé Celia, in the kitchen at my in-laws house sipping wine and making dinner. So, the answer to that question is that over the last year and a half I’ve gained confidence and some pretty wicked friendships.

Had I stayed on the safer career path I might be managing an Asian policy program, or getting ready to graduate with an MBA. But I’d also still be going to restaurants and staring at the cooks in the open kitchen and wondering what could have been. So, I’m glad that I traded the locked and loaded cocktail party drivel of my “very important DC job” for the culinary knowledge and friendships that I’ve since gained. Because honestly, in 30-40 years job titles will be a mere footnote in the story of your life. But a friend who will come over, on his one day off in months, with plates of fried chicken, grilled shrimp, freshly baked focaccia and sangria laden with liquor-soaked blueberries—I think we can all agree—is a rare and wonderful treasure.

Dinner is served

Dill potato salad. Green beans with garlic and toasted almonds. Glazed baby carrots. Guacamole

Fried Chicken 

Grilled focaccia. Shrimp and cherry tomatoes tossed with a yuzu vinaigrette and purple basil

From right: Eric, Celia, Chad & Ben 

Sangria with cherry and apricot brandy macerated fruit

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.

Ingredients
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.