Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian

Chilean Sea Pancakes

[one_half][I] understand that anyone can have an off-day, but to whoever was responsible for naming the mung bean? Maybe you should have focus-grouped that. To be fair, it never occurred to me, all these years, that I was eating products derived from a legume many uninitiated Americans would think sounds vaguely like elimination product. When I started cooking with mung beans myself, I learned quickly that:

  1. An astonishing fraction of my peer group has never knowingly eaten mung beans.
  2. People who’ve never eaten mung beans think I’m the freak.

“Whatcha makin’?”
“Mung bean pancakes!”
“Ohhhhh, that sounds… Great!

The forced enthusiasm accompanies a look of thinly veiled disgust, as if I’d just passed gas, or secretly replaced the tuna salad with cat food. The striking thing is that it’s not as if I’m talking about durian or balut—both cases in which a person might have the foggiest idea why she’s repulsed by the concept. Rather, said person often doesn’t even know what mung beans look like. She simply doesn’t like the sound of it.

As the parent of a picky eater, I understand that certain keywords are a no-no for pitching new foods to a young child. For example, “spicy,” “green,” “new,” etc. On the other hand, Esme reacts positively to spicy, green, new foods that are tagged: “honey,” “chocolate,” “sweet,” or “halmoni,” (the Korean word for Grandma, with whom Esme associates the vast majority of her favorite foods).

In other words, it’s all in the packaging—an effect all too familiar to the Patagonian toothfish, whose wildly successful rebrand as “Chilean Sea Bass” propelled it to the brink of extinction.

There’s no need for me to sell Esme on the premise of “halmoni pancakes,” since she already adores them. I have, however, been able to repurpose the “halmoni” modifier to get her to try jajangmyeon, which she scarfed down with extreme prejudice, despite her general aversion to brown food and noodles.

For you, I offer another Mom Food staple: a savory pancake along the vein of the beloved pajeon, but with a more robust texture.

* * * * *

Chilean Sea Pancakes, or
Bindaetteok
 (Korean Mung Bean Pancakes)

2 C dried, skinned mung beans (or, as I now like to call them, “Chilean Sea Peas”)
1/4 C uncooked, short grain white rice
water
about 2 C spicy cabbage kimchi
kimchi liquid (from the jar of kimchi you used above)
1 round onion, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
vegetable or grapeseed oil
optional:
2 korean or jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeded
salt
fish sauce

Soak mung beans and rice in 4 C of cold water, covered, for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight. Hepinstall advises boiling them for 30 minutes as an alternative to soaking. That has never worked for me. In my experience, cooked beans will blend into a sticky paste that doesn’t form pancakes when fried.

Drain the soaked beans/rice and reserve liquid. Working in batches, puree the beans and rice until just smooth, slowly adding small amounts of the bean liquid as necessary to achieve a consistency slightly thicker than cake batter. Store in the refrigerator during the next steps.

Squeeze kimchi in paper towels to lightly drain. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Tip: Kimchi tends to stain like a motherfucker. Don’t chop it directly on a cutting board, since it’s impossible to clean thoroughly. Cover your cutting surface with a flattened milk carton.

Question: Does it matter what kimchi I use? Yes. There’s a huge dynamic range of flavor and quality here, but as a general rule, you should use kimchi that you’d be thrilled to eat straight. I do tend to use kimchi that’s more on the acidic side, as a chunk of that provides nice contrast with the rest of the pancake. Kimchi gets more acidic the longer it ferments, so don’t use super-young kimchi. Unless, of course, that’s all you have.

Combine pureed beans, chopped kimchi, onion, and scallions and stir well. Add kimchi liquid and bean liquid to achieve a cake batter-like consistency. How much kimchi liquid relative to bean liquid? It really depends on how spicy the kimchi is, and how spicy you want the pancakes. I find cooked kimchi to be pretty mellow, so I add enough liquid to make the batter distinctly orange. I backed off a bit in this case so as not to freak out my daughter:

The pancakes will be crisper if the batter is cold. So if you want, make the batter in advance and chill until you’re ready to cook.

To fry the pancakes, use a 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet. An electric skillet or griddle also works. In any case, heat a liberal amount of oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. The oil should certainly cover the entire surface of the pan when swirled. Use slightly more than that. With a large dinner spoon or soup spoon, quickly spoon batter into the pan to make four pancakes roughly 3 inches in diameter. They should be about 1/2 inch thick when cooked—that should help you adjust the batter thickness as you go along. If desired, add a few sliced peppers atop each pancake. At this point, you have roughly 1 – 2 minutes before the batter sets. I use that time to make the pancakes uniform and round, tucking in the edges with the outside of my spoon. But you know, I’m a bit anal that way.

Once the bottom of the pancakes is browned and crisp (about 2 minutes—you’ll see the edges start to brown), flip the pancakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Optionally, flip once more and cook for a minute. Set pancakes aside and allow them to blot on paper napkins or brown paper bags.

After you’ve made the first batch of pancakes, remove the pan from heat. Taste the pancakes and adjust for thickness (bean liquid), spiciness (kimchi liquid), or other flavor (salt, fish sauce). The pancakes are by far the best when they’ve just come from the pan. They should be crisp on the outside, but not overly browned. The inside should be cooked, but tender. If they’re high and cakey, you’ll want to add more liquid.

Once you’re done futzing, heat the pan, adding more oil if necessary, and make the next batch of 4. I often make twice this recipe or more, so once I’ve got the batter dialed in, the frying goes very quickly. Cook the rest of the pancakes. This recipe yields 15 – 20 pancakes 3″ in diameter and about 1/2″ high.

Adaptation for meatitarians:

This dish is often made with pork. Make no mistake: it is very good with pork. However, that does take a bit more work, and I tend to be lazy/rushed/perfectly satisfied with the pescatarian version. If you must have pork, I don’t recommend doing what some recipes suggest, which is to add ground pork to the batter. My mom and I have each tried that technique, and agree that the flavor of the pork gets diluted in batter and doesn’t add much.

My mom boils about a pound of pork shoulder in water seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. When the meat is tender, she slices it thinly and adds coin-sized pieces of sliced pork to the pancake just after the batter has hit the pan. Alternatively, you could season the slices of cooked pork lightly with yang nyum soy sauce immediately before adding to the pancake.

Serve immediately, or let people eat as you go. I calibrate the amount of kimchi liquid so that they are perfectly delicious without any sauce. However, they are also commonly served with yang nyum soy sauce or any variety of soy dipping sauces. Substitute tamari if you want to keep it gluten-free.

Like I said, I tend to make a lot of these pancakes, which refrigerate and freeze well. When reheating, you can pan-fry them, which will restore the crisp exterior. They are also perfectly fine (albeit softer/soggier) microwaved.[/one_half]

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Soups

On eating one’s favorite animated characters

[one_half][I]t’s easy to think you’ll be that parent who won’t allow a trivial thing like childrearing affect your worldview. You’ll be the one who takes his toddler to cocktail parties, doesn’t give a shit about naps, only allows cool music on the car stereo, etc. Then, one day, you find yourself covered in princess stickers and humming Yo Gabba Gabba! songs at work. There are times when I feel a bit sheepish about my old attitudes. When I finally get why parents do the ridiculous shit they do. Ohhhhh, THAT’s why my nieces go to bed at 6PM! (So my sister can have a life!) Then there are times I wonder who the hell I am.

In particular, when around my daughter, I’ve found myself tiptoeing around the fact that things die. You know, Peep and Quack? On that show you like so much? We’re eating them for dinner. The cow we say goodnight to? Along with the moon and all those other things in that goddamn book? Lunch tomorrow. These are jokes I clearly would have made 5 years ago. But now, I’m worried I’ll freak her out. More importantly, I’m worried that she’ll stop eating those things.

So I’ve done things like verbally edit Esme’s storybooks for content. In particular, the scene in Babar, in which the protagonist’s mother is killed by poachers. Or that scene in Snow White, when the Prince, traveling through the forest, falls madly in love with what he knows to be the rotting corpse of a 14-year-old girl. I suggest that, possibly, Snow White is sleeping. Leave it to one of Esme’s classmates to bring me back with a dose of reality:

“No. She’s dead,” she says, matter-of-factly. She smiles, then gives me a reassuring nod. “She’s dead!”

I think back to when I was Esme’s age, and ask whether my parents ever tried to shield me from the concept of death. I doubt that it was ever a concern. From a young age, I was aware that three of my grandparents weren’t living. I heard lots of Bible stories; plenty of death going on there. And there was never any mistaking where my food came from. Meat was almost always cooked on the bone. Fish was served with the skin and head on. I regularly ate feet, stomachs, and livers. It did not once bother me that my favorite soup involved eating the tail of Babe the Blue Ox.

* * * * *

 Kkori Gomtang (Korean Oxtail Soup)

 A childhood staple, this soup continues to warm the soul during our frigid San Francisco summers. If you’ve never worked with oxtail, you might be concerned that it’s hard to find. It’s not. Most grocery stores and butchers carry it. Sections of oxtail are almost always cut at the joint. This is how I prefer it, so that the cartilage caps* are left intact. In rare cases, the tail sections are saw cut. If that’s all that’s available to you, don’t fret. They’ll work fine for this soup.

6 – 8 sections of oxtail (about 3 lbs)
water
optional: 1/2 – 1 lb chuck or flank steak
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, sliced in half
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
kosher or sea salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced
optional: toasted kim (also called nori, or laver)
steamed white rice

Trim any obvious chunks of fat from the oxtail sections. I don’t bother trimming the silverskin. It adds to the broth and is easy to remove later if you don’t want to eat it. Soak the oxtail in ice water for 1 – 2 hours to remove residual blood. Drain, and discard the water.

Add oxtail to a large stockpot with 12 C of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 – 5 hours, skimming impurities. The broth will reduce by about half. Add boiling water if it reduces more quickly than that. When done, the meat will easily pull away from the bone. Remove oxtail segments (keeping them intact) and refrigerate overnight.

Add chuck/flank steak (if you have it), garlic, onion, and peppercorns to the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour, skimming impurities. Remove meat and reserve for other uses. Strain the broth through a fine chinois or cloth and discard other solids. Season the broth with salt, allow it to cool completely, and refrigerate overnight.

Depending on how thoroughly you skimmed, you may or may not see a solid layer of fat atop the cooled broth. If so, remove it and discard. Add oxtails and broth to a stock pot and boil until heated through.

Serving Traditionally, this soup is cooked without salt or pepper and seasoned at the table. I prefer to serve it already seasoned, as described above. Ladle one section of oxtail with broth per person and garnish with sliced scallion and (optionally) kim. Serve with white rice.

* * * * *

Don’t be afraid to get a little messy. I can’t resist picking the bone clean with fingers and chopsticks, and then devouring the meat with a sprinkle of sea salt.

*On each end of an oxtail segment, there’s a cartilage cap that easily comes loose when it’s been cooked this long. I used to fight for these and scrape the softened cartilage with my teeth. These days, I don’t have to fight quite so hard for them. But they are still ritual.

Maybe, when confronted with the facts, Esme will one day decide not to eat meat. It’s comforting to be reminded that I don’t need to conceal those facts. God help me if I ever catch myself pulling pin bones out of a salmon fillet. [/one_half]

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian Seafood Soups

Home.

[one_half][L]os Angeles seems like both a home and a theory to me. I spent the first thirteen years of my life there, and continue to visit every few months. Despite its changes, and all I read about what’s going on in the city (OK, really just what’s going on in food, but that’s admittedly a lot), I experience LA much the way I experienced it as a child. Living a relatively insular life, wandering through slightly run-down suburban neighborhoods, watching television, and eating a LOT of my mother’s cooking.

True to her stereotype, Mom is never satisfied with the amount of food I’ve eaten. She speaks wistfully of the days when I “used to eat a lot.” Yes, Mom. I did eat a lot back then. When I was eighteen. Don’t get me wrong—I can still chow down with the best of them. But I’ll put it this way: my parents live in a one-bedroom, 800 sq ft apartment. With two refrigerators. I’m convinced that one of those refrigerators is for me.

She usually starts asking about a month and a half in advance (presumably so that I have time to start stretching my stomach out): What do you think you’ll want to eat? It’s admittedly hard for me to predict exactly what I’m going to be in the mood for, but there are standbys. Spicy kimchi, of course. Yaki mandu for my wife. Bindae duk. Godeungeo gui. And there’s one dish that Mom knows I’ll want absolutely every time. She doesn’t even bother to ask.

I think of sigumchi guk as a sort of miso soup on steroids. Instead of miso, the primary flavor is doenjang, a Korean fermented soy paste. The flavor of doenjang is saltier, richer and bolder than its Japanese counterpart. The soup is made with spinach, though I also used to request a swiss chard version (kundae guk). And finally, there are small clams, which add sweetness to the soup.

This dish is dead simple, and I can’t get enough of it. I can and do eat the soup at breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I’m home with my parents. And each time I do, I’m instantly transported to our kitchen in Hawthorne, CA, circa 1979.

Sigumchi Guk (Spinach and clam soup)

1/2 T vegetable oil
1/2 round onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
5 C chicken stock*
2 – 3 T doenjang
optional: up to 1 jalapeno, sliced
about 1 lb small clams or mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
1 bunch fresh spinach (about 1/2 lb), cleaned and picked
about 1 – 2 T white vinegar
optional: 1 green onion, sliced

*If you’re dead set on making this the way my Mom does, you’ll make your own anchovy/kombu stock, as I’m sure BraveTart will. However, at Babychili Test Kitchen, we’ve found that chicken or beef stock make an equally satisfying soup. As I’ve discussed previously, I advise making your own, or very carefully selecting a palatable storebought version. (Shhh… I won’t tell Ruhlman if you don’t.)

In a medium saucepan, saute onion in oil over medium heat until barely softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add stock, mixing in doenjang until dissolved. (An easy way to do this is to mash the doenjang in a small bowl with a spoon and a ladle-full of stock, then add back to the pot.)

When the stock comes to a boil, add jalapeno (if desired), clams, and spinach. Cook until the clams open, discarding any that do not. The spinach should be soft, and on the verge of becoming dull green. Add a splash or two of vinegar to correct for acid. Since the doenjang is salty, there should be no need to season further.

Serve hot, with steamed, short-grain, white rice (we prefer the Nishiki brand). Feel free to add rice directly to the soup, if you prefer to eat it that way. Optionally garnish with a sprinkle of green onion.

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Pescatarian Seafood Vegetarian

A potato, a scallop

[one_half][I]t occurred to me at some point that watching Jacques Pépin work is an awful lot like watching my Dad. First, he looks like my Dad. They are exactly the same age and build. For as long as I can remember, Dad has kept his hair parted on the side, spatters of grey peeking out behind a home dye-job, carefully combed into place with a spare application of Three Flowers Brilliantine Pomade. Like Dad, Jacques occasionally pauses to audibly slurp saliva that has accumulated at the corners of his mouth. Both men move with fluidness and deliberation. But what I think reminds me most of my father is the way that Jacques approaches even the seemingly trivial task of chopping an onion with an almost pathological degree of meticulousness. I remember the Rhau household being home to perfectly pattern-matched wallpaper, seams disappearing even over outlets and circular wall plates. Fitted sheets were folded into flat rectangles of uniform thickness. Written driving directions always included an accurately scaled map, drawn freehand. I would try to learn how to do things the way he did, but with my kid hands, I could never get things quite as tight, even, or square as my Dad.

So you might understand why I continue to watch, with childlike wonder, footage of Jacques, his hands a blur of activity, cutting an onion into a mound of uniform squares in seconds. Wanting to learn how to properly handle a knife, I wasted no time getting Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques. The book needs no introduction to many of you. If it does, and you’re serious about cooking, go get it. It’s an invaluable and extremely thorough collection of step-by-step photo tutorials, presented in the charming, black and white style of an auto repair manual. It also contains a recipe that was new to me, and has since become a go-to move in the Babychili kitchen. I present it to you, with pictures of my hands instead of Jacques’s. Taking a page from Donna Ruhlman’s playbook, key technique photos are presented in black and white, as color does not contribute information in this case.

* * * * *

We last made this dish at a luxury dinner party of another sort, as a shout-out to a different chef: Richard Blais. I really felt for Richard, and what he might feel upon reviewing his decision to make banana scallops for the second time in a single season of Top Chef (three total, in case you missed it). My concept was to make “scalloped” potatoes, where seared sea scallops were paired with soap-shaped, roasted potatoes of roughly the same size, shape and colors. We were so pleased with how they turned out that we decided to make them again.

‘SCALLOPED’ POTATOES

Pommes savonnettes (soap-shaped potatoes) from Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques

5 large, starchy potatoes (Idaho russets work well here)
2 T butter
1 1/2 T neutral oil (grapeseed or vegetable oil)
3/4 C water

I was a bit nervous about making these for a shoot, since Erin had previously been the one executing this dish. The first step does take a bit of practice and patience. It’s important to remember that a mistake is not the end of the world. Potatoes are relatively inexpensive, and imperfectly cut ones can be used for many things (mashed potatoes, home fries, etc.).

Peel and rinse the potatoes, then shape them into cylinders. Carving out the cylinders is by far the trickiest step. Three things I learned here:

1. Use a narrow bladed knife. Like a jigsaw, it is easier to turn and maneuver.

2. Trim the ends of the potato to be square with its long axis. Do this first. The flat ends will provide visual references as you trim the curved body of the cylinder.

3. Angle your knife to make a shallow first cut. If you start cutting too deeply, you will be trimming more potato than is necessary. Observe:

My first cylinder was really skinny as a result. Contrast this with my third potato, starting with flat ends and a shallower cut:

This time, the trimmings were dramatically thinner. It’s easiest to use a sawing motion with the knife, turning the potato to cut along a curve. Try to achieve a rough cylinder, going back a second or third time to refine. For me, this quickly became a fun game, where my goal was to lose as little of the potato as possible while still achieving a nice, clean cylinder. Note the vast improvement that resulted from these few, simple adjustments:

Next, slice each of these cylinders into disks about an inch thick. Optionally, you can bevel the edges, which makes them look a bit less like scallops and more like pieces of hotel soap. The beveling also makes things look a bit cleaner after cooking, since the edges can fray.

Arrange the potato disks into a single layer in a large, nonstick, oven-safe skillet, with the nicer looking sides facing down. Add butter, oil and water. I find it’s convenient to combine these items in a pyrex measuring cup and melt the butter in a microwave. The mixture can then be poured evenly over potato slices. If the surface of the skillet is covered with the potato slices (as it should be), the liquid will come up to about 3/4 of the height of the slices.

Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, then place in a preheated, 475 degree oven at the lowest position (preferably the floor of the oven). Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are soft. The tops of the potatoes should be blistery, and slightly brown.

Allow potatoes to rest at room temperature for a few minutes, then flip them over. The bottoms should be beautifully browned, and the act of turning should allow the potatoes to absorb most of the remaining butter and oil.

Sea scallops with cilantro gremolata and ginger lime beurre blanc

I made the full recipe for the gremolata and beurre blanc, but prepared only a dozen scallops to feed 4. For reasons I have discussed previously, I used freshly cracked black pepper instead of white pepper.

Presentation is always a matter of personal taste, but I chose to plate two potato slices with one scallop.

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(Photo: Jason Ezratty)

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Seafood

Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

[one_half][I] grew up eating a fair amount of salad. Not that I particularly liked it back then. The way my mom always made it, it had tons of raw onion, which was a bit overwhelming for my kid palate. But salad was a fact of life in our household. My father once said, in his characteristically unselfconscious way, It’s like greeeease for the body. (Thanks, Dad.) But there were times when my mom, rather than make a salad, would simply set out a plate of romaine lettuce alongside what my sister and I refer to as “ghetto salad dressing,” or soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

We would most simply dip the lettuce in one of the sauces and have at it. Other times (and this was particularly the case when we had a leafier lettuce, like red leaf lettuce) we would get all fancy and stuff the lettuce with rice, meat and kimchi before slathering on some ssäm jang and sending it down the hatch.

I always thought my mom just did this, as she sometimes admitted, because she was too lazy to make salad dressing. (Hell, sometimes she couldn’t even be bothered to put the soy sauce in.) I had no idea that the thing we were eating had a name, that it would one day become one of the most fashionable dishes in New York, and that it was called ssäm.

* * * * *

My sister was recently in town, and was flying solo for the first time in years. As much as I love my two nieces and brother-in-law, I was eager to have some alone time with my big sis. In particular, I was tremendously excited to think about what might go down in our kitchen during Daisy’s visit. In the past, she’s always taken the lead with cooking. And people who know what’s good for them generally let that happen. Like the classic play drawn up by Doug Collins: Just give the ball to Michael, and everyone else get the f**k outta the way. But this being Daisy’s first visit to SF since the genesis of Babychili, we naturally discussed who might be the alpha cook during her stay. In particular, I had planned to host a dinner party for my sister and her Bay Area friends, as well a few of my foodie locals. We diplomatically agreed that it would be a collaboration, but for whatever reason (Boredom? Fatigue? Morbid curiosity?), Daisy more or less handed me the reins.

By now, you know that I can’t take a shit without going off on how great David Chang is. Ever since reading about it in asian jewish deli, I had really been wanting to try the Momofuku bo ssäm, and predicted (accurately) that it would be an uncontroversial choice for our dinner party. Non-Koreans, Non-New Yorkers, and those unfamiliar with the cult of Chang may fairly ask: What the fuck is a bo ssäm? As I mentioned above, ssäm refers to food that’s wrapped in something, usually lettuce. Bo ssäm is a popular dish in Korea that consists of lettuce wrapped around boiled or steamed pork belly, kimchi, and inexpensive oysters (sometimes spiced to mask their dodginess). It is typically consumed with some cheap-ass beer and some cheap-ass, freezer-cold soju. (In Korea, craft alcoholic beverages are best left to others—the Japanese, for instance.) Make no mistake. Bo ssäm is some delicious-ass anju, or drinkin’ food.

Tip: grapefruit masks cheap liquor.

Leave it to Chang to seriously dress up this classic bar-food dish by stepping up the quality of all of the ingredients: Slow-roasted pork shoulder instead of boiled belly. Oysters suitable for a raw bar. Sauces tweaked to be richer and bolder. Heck, you can even forgo the cheap booze and rock a nice riesling. If you’re in NYC, you can reserve this much sought after dinner for 6 – 10 people at Ssäm Bar for $200. Or, you can (quite easily) make it yourself. And that’s what we did.

* * * * *

DINNER

First course was a classic ceviche that I started the previous night (at about 10PM, intending to have a late-ish dinner and forgetting that it needed 4 hours to marinate).

The second course was also a bit of a bonus: I had asked for volunteers to supply oysters, and our good friend Caleb was more than happy to oblige. The thing is, I never told him how many to bring. Another beautiful thing about preparing this meal at home: At Momofuku, the bo ssäm dinner comes with a dozen oysters. For the same number of people, we had four dozen.

Oysters were purchased from legendary SF fishmonger, Sun Fat Seafood. Their home page charmingly reads:

*** Good news for Oyster Lovers.  We are currently had a varieties of oysters.

Yes, u haz! Caleb brought a dozen of each:

Beau Soleil (CAN)
Kumamoto (CA)
Hama Hama (WA)
Coromandel Bay (NZ)

We shucked and ate the first 2 dozen, and left the remaining oysters for our main.

Daisy was in charge of the third course, which consisted of 50 of her ridiculously delicious pan-fried mandu. We at this with David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce, which, as many of us agree, makes virtually everything taste better.

Then came The Main Event. A 7-pound pork shoulder from Magruder Ranch that I slow-roasted and served with bibb lettuce, rice, and four garnishes: kimchi (that I bought from First Korean Market), puréed kimchi (a first for me), ssäm jang, and, of course, ginger scallion sauce. What really put this over the top, however, was the oysters. To demonstrate, I carefully loaded a lettuce leaf with rice, pork, and a sprinkling of each condiment. As I readied a meaty, teardrop-shaped, Hama Hama oyster belly, our friend Cecil exclaimed:

You put that on TOP of the pork?
Yes.
Oh, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!

A silence fell over the room, soon to be replaced by sounds of lip-smacking and swooning. The assembled bo ssäm was an insane marriage of umami and acid, creaminess and crunch, sweetness and salt. People actually stressed over whether there would be enough pork (there was, barely). To call this “the best bo ssäm of my life” doesn’t do it justice. This was flat-out the tastiest dish I’d eaten in a long, long time. My sister called me a “genius” for the overall success of the dish. I wish I could take credit for it, but the truth is that it’s absurdly simple to make.

* * * * *

Bo ssäm
from Momofuku

the pork
1 whole 8- to 10-lb bone-in Boston pork butt (skin off)
1 C granulated sugar
1 C plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T light brown sugar

In a roasting pan that snugly fits the pork shoulder, rub a mixture of the sugar + 1 C of salt all over the meat. (If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see footage of Martha Stewart getting really into rubbing down a pork butt.) Discard any excess sugar and salt, cover meat loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated around the pork, and cook the meat, fat side up, for around 6 hours until fork-tender (it took mine 8 hours to reach this state). During cooking, baste the meat with pan drippings every hour. When done, remove pork from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately before serving, rub pork all over with the brown sugar + 1 T salt and cook in a 500F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and formed a beautiful, pig-candy glaze. Serve pork with

the accompaniments
at least 1 (but possibly 2 – 4) dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 C kimchi
1 C coursely puréed kimchi
1 C ginger scallion sauce
1 C ssäm sauce
2 C high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice, cooked
2 or 3 heads of Bibb lettuce

ssäm sauce
1 T ssäm jang*
1/2 T gochujang*
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed oil

*Ssäm jang is a relatively thick paste that (along with gochujang) can be purchased at any Korean market. Typically, this paste is diluted with water or oil. Chang’s version of the sauce gives it added heat and acidity.

Eating instructions: Grab a lettuce leaf. Wrap around any combination of meat and accompaniments. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Dessert was strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. (Thanks, Cecil!)

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(Yes; Caleb is wearing a SpongeBob band-aid.)

The fabulous Miss Akua.

riceandwheat shrinks from the paparazzi.

Her husband, however,

… does not.

Food sis and food bro.

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Soups Vegetarian

Chilled english pea soup, made with pea shell consommé

[one_half][S]mall details often tell you a lot. For instance, you can usually tell someone’s really into clothes by checking out their accessories. Shoes, socks, belt, watch. Someone who doesn’t care will figure, No one’s looking at my socks. On the other hand, are they kinda funky? Like in a cool way, not an odiferous way? Yeah. Didn’t happen by accident. You kind of have to go out of your way to buy funky socks. That’s someone who’s not capable of letting it slide. Same goes for food. When I’m at a restaurant, I know the kitchen is totally geeked out when they send out an absolute killer soup or salad. Doesn’t happen all that often, actually. Sure, if you’re going high end and paying at least eighty bucks for your meal—it better be good. But what about a more casual spot, like a neighborhood restaurant, or a bistro? How many lentil soups have you had where you honestly thought, This is the bomb… ? Whenever that happens (and for me, that was perhaps once), I’m really excited about the rest of the meal, because I know that kitchen’s too proud to send out another fucking chunky, flavorless lentil soup with carrots.

Given my opinion of soup-as-window-to-a-kitchen’s-soul, perhaps it was a bit ambitious for me to decide, on the day of my (already overly ambitious) dinner party, to add english pea soup to the menu. I had originally bought the peas for a salad, but was concerned that most of the peas would simply accumulate at the bottom of the bowl and then be eaten separately from the greens, or not eaten at all. Then I remembered this cool post on Eatfoo about making a consommé out of pea shells. I wanted to try that, so I decided to wing it with a soup recipe and see how things went. Had I ever made soup before? Of course not. OK, my first post was about soup. But I think Korean soups are a different animal. I mean, to my knowledge, no one makes creamy, pureed soups in Korea. If so, those people have not immigrated here and served said soup to me.

At some point that day, I had what I thought was a pretty good soup. Then I thought, You can never add too much sour cream. Apparently you can. Just barely. I had to make a judgement call as to whether it was OK to send the course out. It didn’t taste awful—it was just out of balance. I hadn’t bought enough peas, so the flavor kind of disappeared in all that sour cream. I went back and forth about this, but ended up serving it. Here it is—this pale, pathetic-looking thing:

Reactions were decidedly mixed. Marc says he liked it. Bernadette ate the whole thing, but didn’t comment. I knew I would get an honest opinion from Naya, their nine-year-old son. Eh. It’s so-so. Thanks, kid. That’s actually the answer I needed, but understandably did not get from the grown-ups. But I knew there was a great soup in there. I tasted a glimpse of it during prep, and I felt certain I would have to go back and try it again.

* * * * *

The week after my dinner party, I was on a mission to find more peas. I knew they wouldn’t have any at my local grocery, so I turned to  The Mission Bay Farmers’ Market, which has been a welcome addition to our culinary wasteland of a campus. It’s small and doesn’t have the most exotic ingredients, but does have reliably good produce. I make it a point to stop by every Wednesday to take a break from endless meetings and benchwork. What I found weren’t the prettiest shells I’d ever seen, but the peas themselves were fresh, and still a bit sweet. This time I bought 4 lbs, to make certain that I wouldn’t run out.

Last spring at around this time, Erin made the Zuni Cafe’s Pasta alla Carbonara, and was excited to have found fresh english peas for the occasion. A couple things stood out to me about that experience: (1) In this context, the fresh peas tasted pretty much the same as frozen peas. (2) For a one-and-a-half-year-old, Esme was pretty good at shelling peas, and seemed to really enjoy doing it. She’s always been a busy kid. I try to allow my daughter to “help” me cook whenever I can. She insists on pouring the dry oatmeal into her bowl before I microwave it, wants to have her hand on the measuring cup as I add water, etc. I thought she would get a kick out of helping shell peas again, despite likely not remembering the work she did last year. So I let her have at it.

At first, she was shelling like a champ. She’d sometimes miss the peas in the corner of the pod, but went about her work at an impressive clip. She particularly liked throwing the empty shells into the large mixing bowl, where I had been collecting them. So much so, that she eventually just started throwing intact pods in there. I had to gently distract her, so that I could go back, fish out the good ones (which was not trivial), and finish the job.

* * * * *

A worthwhile decision to make, though I didn’t see any mention of this in any of the recipes I read online, is whether to use your peas raw or cooked. To some extent, it depends on the freshness and age of the peas. If they are mostly on the small side and are tender, juicy, and sweet, I am very much in favor of using them raw. I like being able to highlight the more delicate flavors that elude us for 3/4 of the year. If the peas are more mature, large enough to fill most of the volume of the pod, or are at all starchy, you probably want to cook them. Either method will yield a fine soup, and a good portion of the flavor will come from your shell stock, which you can’t get from the frozen section. Cooking them accomplishes two things. First, it improves the yield of the recipe. Unless you have an extremely powerful blender, a purée of raw peas will leave behind a significant amount of pulp. This will accumulate in your strainer and less will make it into the soup. Secondly, cooking, even a little bit, tends to mellow out the flavors. Raw peas can be a bit grassy-tasting, but a quick blanch can take that edge off. A superficial benefit to cooking the peas is that (as long as you don’t overcook them) you can get more vibrant color. Something to keep in mind is that any amount of cooking begins to summon the richer, split-pea flavor that is for the most part absent from fresh snap peas, english peas, etc. The longer you cook, the bigger role that family of flavors will play, so it depends on what you want.

Let’s start with the consommé.

English pea shell consommé

about 4 lbs fresh english peas in the shell
water
kosher or sea salt

Make sure to pop a couple of the pods open at the market and taste the peas. They lose flavor rapidly after picking (and even more rapidly after being shelled). Ideally, you want peas that you would have been happy to eat raw. I’ve made this with young, immaculate shells as well as the slightly wizened shells pictured here. I couldn’t tell a big difference, so don’t be put off by discolored shells. Remove peas and reserve. (You may want to enlist a small child to help you with this.) Rinse shells thoroughly. Go through the spent casings and discard any obviously rotting or excessively dirty ones. If there are a lot of woody stems attached to the end of the pod, as there were here, I would go through with a pair of scissors and cut those off. For really young pods, this isn’t really necessary.

In a large stock pot, barely cover the cleaned and trimmed shells with water and bring to a boil, optionally adding about 1/2 tsp of salt. Immediately lower heat and simmer for 20 mins. Remove from heat and strain solids. At this point, the stock will be dilute and very lightly colored. Reduce at medium-low heat until the stock becomes golden and intensely flavored. For me, this happened at about 1/4 to 1/3 of the original volume. (You can mark the original level with a rubber band on the handle of a wooden spoon to track how much you’ve reduced the stock.) Periodically taste the stock and add salt, if desired. Be careful not to add too much at the beginning, since the stock will continue to become more concentrated. You can cook it down quite a bit more, if you want. In the Eatfoo post where I saw this recipe, David reduced the stock by 20-fold. Yowza!

Starting from 4 lbs of peas, this made 6 – 8 cups.

Incidentally, this consommé would be a fantastic vegetarian option to use as a stock for my kong namul guk recipe. For the soup itself, I consulted quite a few recipes, but ended up essentially adapting the Chilled Pea and Tarragon Soup from Bon Appétit.

English pea soup

about 1 lb of shelled english peas (I didn’t weigh them, but I think 4 lbs of pods yielded about 4 C of peas)
2 T butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
salt
4 C english pea shell consommé
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 T heavy cream
2 T sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until bubbles subside and sauté shallots at medium heat until tender, but not brown (about 3 mins). Add consommé and bring to a boil. Add peas and salt and boil until peas are bright and just tender (no more than 3 – 4 mins). Remove from heat and add to blender along with tarragon, both creams, and several turns of black pepper. Purée until smooth (do this in small batches if you have a small blender—safety first!) Correct seasoning and strain through a fine sieve or chinois. I prefer not to force the contents through the mesh, because then you end up forcing fibers through that you were trying to strain out on the first place. If it’s going too slowly, you can tap the sieve and/or use a spoon to stir and redistribute the unstrained fraction. I can’t resist eating the pulp, but you can also just throw it away. Allow soup to cool and serve chilled or at room temperature. If desired, garnish with fresh tarragon and some sour cream. If you use heavy cream, as I did for the top photo, it creates a “slick” on top of the soup, which you may or may not find disturbing.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Try as I might, I could not convince Esme to taste the soup. She may have had flashbacks to her first experiences with solid baby food. Puréed peas were the first thing that she absolutely hated. My mom got such a kick out of watching Esme grimace with disgust (and perhaps a sense of betrayal?) that she kept feeding it to her to elicit that reaction. Esme does like frozen peas, however. Not just peas that were once frozen. She likes them straight out of the freezer.

Esme, do you like these peas better, or frozen peas?

Frozen peas. But these are pretty good, too. They’re too crunchy.

Did she like the fresh peas enough to eat more than a few? Hard to say, really (see left).

* * * * *

The Ben rating

So Erin and I recently went to this cool restaurant in the Mission called Schmidt’s (as in Christiane Schmidt, of Walzwerk). They sell these light-as-air pea pancakes that beautifully juxtapose deep-fried crunchies with peas so fresh I find myself wondering whether fryolator is their natural habitat. Anyway, after all this, I saw a pea soup with lemon and mint on their menu. I had to order it and check out the competition.

All’s I’m saying is that the head-to-head score is Ben/Esme: 1, Christiane: 0. Not even close, actually. Though I’m sure she’ll come back to haunt us in the braised red cabbage category …

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Rant Salads Vegetarian

Sunday Dinner, Part I: Spinach with Marcona almonds, Beemster, gremolata & walnut vinaigrette

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“If you have time, confidence, and energy for no other cooking endeavor on a regular basis, focus on the salad.”
—Judy Rodgers

[F]ollowers of my Facebook status may be aware that I braised a pork shoulder this weekend. In Coca-Cola. So why, then, an entire post about salad? Why waste everyone’s time? The short answer is that in This Household, you have to have your vegetables before meat or dessert. All kidding aside, isn’t that how many of us were brought up? OK, we Asians may have gotten a slightly different message (“If you’re not hungry, then just eat the meat”). But we seem to be told, over and over again, that salads aren’t eaten for pleasure. They’re eaten for nutrition, losing weight, “being good,” or whatever other guilt-inducing reason. As a result, the ability to make a good salad continues to be shockingly underrated. Think about the typical family restaurant in your neighborhood. What does the “side salad” look like? It’s often leathery, wilted iceberg or romaine lettuce; pink, mealy tomatoes; sliced cucumbers; and your “choice” of thousand island, french, blue or ranch dressing from a jar. Not that any of these ingredients itself needs to be terrible (OK, the dressings are terrible). But they are so often thrown together in an uninspired, thoughtless and unappetizing way. So what do you do? If you’re like most normal people, you throw it away. If you want to be good to your body, you choke it down. Have you ever thought about how ridiculous this is? Is this why you came to the restaurant to begin with? To suck-it-up/choke-it-down/take-one-for-the-team? For chrissake, you’re paying someone to make you a salad. That thing better be goddamned delicious! Similarly, if you’re going to go through the effort to make yourself a salad, why not make something that you’re not just willing, but excited to eat? The answer, for me, for most of life, was that I didn’t know any better.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: Next to my sister, the person from whom I’ve learned the most about cooking is Judy Rodgers, via her informative and superbly written Zuni Café Cookbook. In it, Rodgers describes, in eloquent, anal-retentive detail, how to make great salad. The book has turned my wife, the unlikeliest of herbivores, into a salad-lover. For Erin, the revelation was proportion. She previously thought that she hated salads because the dressing was, by definition or necessity, too sour. Truck out your ancient bottle of Paul Newman vinaigrette (or virtually any other brand, for that matter), and you’ll see what I mean. Mouth-puckeringly sour. And it makes perfect sense that this would be the case. People hate salad. That dressing’s going to be in the fridge for years. So how do you make sure the dressing doesn’t spoil? Bring its pH down to point where nothing could possibly survive in it. They’ll definitely be happier with that. Unfortunately (for your tongue), there is such a thing as too much acid, particularly when that acid is white vinegar. Enter Rodgers. We learn that by using a lighter touch, and a trusty 4:1 ratio of oil to acid, salads suddenly become infinitely more palatable. Interested? Almost? Stay with me. I’ll do my best to convince you further.

I work in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. There still isn’t much here (except for nonstop construction), but there are oases of foodie-dom, particularly in the nearby, possibly-still-up-and-coming Dogpatch. I’ve walked past an inviting restaurant called Piccinomany times, and have been consistently struck by how gorgeous the salads are. People who know me are generally aware that I’m a big meat guy. But I appreciate a beautiful plate when I see it, even if it “just” has plants. So I finally ate there, managed to not try their signature, thin-crust pizza, and was absolutely blown away by a spinach salad. I actually didn’t remember a ton about it, except that I couldn’t place some of the flavors. So I looked it up:

Spinach Salad
Mariquita Farms spinach, shaved sunchokes, parmesan, and truffled gremolata in a walnut vinaigrette

I thought, OK, I know most of this stuff. But do they carry truffles at my neighborhood grocery? Well actually, yes … But I thought that it would be a tad obnoxious to suggest to you a recipe that includes any ingredients costing more than $1000 per pound. So I set out to make my own version of the salad.

* * * * *

Spinach with Marcona almonds, Beemster, gremolata & walnut vinaigrette
Inspired by the Spinach Salad @ Piccino Café, San Francisco

1 1/2 T champagne vinaigrette
2 shallots, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
6 T roasted walnut oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 C chopped parsley
Zest of 1/2 lemon, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 ounces of hard, salty cheese, finely grated (Parmesan would work great—I used Beemster because I accidentally bought it twice)
1 oz roasted, salted Marcona almonds, finely chopped
Several bunches of fresh spinach (however much you want to eat)

Choosing and washing the greens I prefer to buy bunch spinach, because it’s much easier for me to judge its freshness. If I see significant discoloration of the leaves, I can induce that the whole bundle/head is no good. My mom says that it’s a good sign when there’s a reddish tinge on the stems near the root end, so I look for that, too. For this salad, I like spinach with slightly larger leaves and a firmer texture than baby spinach, but not so firm that the stems are tough. Cut off the stems and discard any wilted, damaged, or discolored leaves. Add the “good” leaves to a large bowl of cold water and gently swish around, changing the water until it remains clean. Gently spin dry, taking care not to bruise the leaves.

Making the dressing This vinaigrette is a classic dressing, but I got my proportions from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I wanted to explore a couple different oils and three different vinegars for this dressing. So I geeked out and screened a 2 x 3 matrix of small dressing batches. I tried almond oil, because several friends and family are allergic to tree nuts. But as I feared, it lacked the richness of the walnut oil, which I thought was crucial to this recipe. I also tried mixing almond oil with olive oil. This held up better than almond oil alone, but didn’t taste very almond-ey to me. Sorry, guys—anaphylactic shock, it is. I was also curious to see how Verjuice might work. It was wonderfully fragrant, but disappeared in this dressing. This left me with the two different champagne vinegars that they carry at Andronico’s. Both worked quite well. The Vilux was a bit oakier, while the one in the pretty bottle (by O Olive Oil) had a clean, bright acidity.

To assemble the dressing, add the vinegar, shallots and salt to a bowl and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Then add the mustard and slowly add the oil, whisking to emulsify. Correct oil/vinegar levels to your preference. Add a sprinkling of grated cheese, and black pepper to taste.

Making the gremolata Shortly before serving, freshly chop and mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic.

Dressing the salad If you take nothing else from this post, remember to dry the leaves  thoroughly  before dressing. Failing to do so will effectively dilute your dressing 1- to 2-fold in tap water, resulting in salad that my pal Judy repeatedly describes as “insipid.” If you zoom in on the spinach picture above, you can see tiny droplets of water. These can be removed by tossing the leaves with small pieces of dry paper towel.

In a large salad bowl, toss the (now dry) spinach in slightly more dressing than is necessary to wet the leaves. Dust the leaves with chopped almonds, gremolata and cheese. Toss again. Adjust ingredients to your taste.

* * * * *

The salad was definitely a winner in our house. My wife tells me that, combined with the entrée, this may be the best meal I’ve ever made. (The caveat, of course, being that I’m more or less completely new to cooking.)

Up next week—Sunday Dinner, Part II: Coke-braised pork shoulder

To be continued … [/one_half]

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spinach leaves in paper towels

meyer lemon and shallot

champagne vinegar and walnut oil

gremolata

coke bottle with champagne vinegars

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Italian Poultry

Chicken with two lemons

[one_half][Y]ears ago, in what could fairly be described as a life-altering moment, my wife and I first tasted the Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, a dish that has rapidly developed a cultish following among foodies worldwide. We instantly concluded that there was no reason to roast chicken any other way. We made it repeatedly, with and without the salad. We used a similar technique on Thanksgiving turkey. Erin even tried to enter it in my annual beercan chicken competition. So I was more than intrigued by the following email from my sister  Daisy (who had clued me in on the Zuni chicken in the first place):

I tried her roast chicken from that book you gave me.
You take a chicken and you stuff two small lemons in it. Salt the bird, sew it up and lightly truss. Roast for 90 minutes, until the skin is golden and puffed up so that the chicken looks like a crunchy balloon. When you slice into it, the meat is so juicy that the balloon explodes, and this intensely, surprisingly flavorful meat falls off the bone, deeply basted in its own fat and the lemons, which had totally deflated and caramelized in there.

It was shocking. Just chicken, lemon, salt.

With a Viognier, it was basically heaven.

“That book” was Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I had already been toying with the idea of this blog, and the thought of posting a picture of this magical, juicy, non-Zuni-yet-somehow-relevant, balloon–chicken was too appealing to pass up. So I was on it.

Like I’ve said before, though I’m very interested in and passionate about food, I’m still a bit of a n00b when it comes to cooking. So while someone with a bit more chops in the kitchen might be able to take a roast chicken recipe and adapt it on the fly to account for nonideal circumstances, I followed the recipe (mostly) by the letter. I was disappointed to find that the chicken was:

  1. Not a balloon! Possibly the most disappointing aspect of the bird. Erin, with her trusty Nikon D80 cocked and ready to shoot, just patted me on shoulder. “We’ll get ’em next time …”
  2. Not crispy on the outside. I’ve come to expect the wonderfully salty, parchment-like skin that accompanies a Zuni chicken. And this one just didn’t have it.
  3. Not actually cooked enough for my taste (although safe to eat at 165). A little reddish, and a still a little rare in texture.

So what had gone wrong? This was supposed to be a simple recipe. Was it the case, as I had suspected all along, that one needs innate skills to cook anything of consequence? I got on the horn with tech support (Daisy) and made some very minor modifications to the recipe. I tried it again a week later and it knocked my socks off. My daughter inhales it. Yes, there apparently is life beyond Zuni roast chicken. It’s not better than Judy Rodgers’s classic recipe, but different and equally satisfying. I now make some variation of it every week.

I’ve since passed on my modifications to Hazan’s recipe numerous times, and felt that they would be useful to share in this forum. However, I was recently chagrined to find that I was partially “scooped” by Michael Ruhlman, who wrote a witty and insightful post about American food culture, laziness, and roast chicken. It even inspired my brother-in-law (himself terrified of the kitchen), to give it a whirl. Via SMS txt:

A chicken + 1 hr = I cooked something. AWESOME.

The one criticism I would have about Ruhlman’s post is that, in its glibness (which is arguably a huge part of its appeal), it does gloss over the fact that someone who has never roasted a chicken in his life could very easily make the same mistakes I did, and end up with something … uninspiring. To be fair, these people are somewhat unlikely to be reading a professional food writer’s blog. I have instead chosen to go over things in pedantic detail, hoping to show that anyone can make this elegant and practical dish.

Note:  I’ve made this at least a dozen times, and I still have never gotten the skin on the bird to puff up like a balloon. Every time, I think: “This chicken is going to be The One.” I’ve googled around, and found that this has mostly to do with how intact the skin is on the bird upon purchase. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. If anyone can actually get this to work, could you please email me a picture? I just want to see what the SOB looks like!

* * * * *

Chicken with two lemons
adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

A 3 – 4 lb. chicken*
Salt
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
2 rather small lemons

*I have successfully used a larger bird—see below

Selecting the bird I believe that it’s worth paying up for a quality chicken. Particularly in the Bay Area, it’s very easy to find sustainably farmed chickens. They tend to cost about twice as much as the factory ones, but the advantages include (1) the animals are treated humanely; and (2), related to point (1), birds taste significantly better when they’ve been treated well. You don’t have to go crazy. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, they usually offer several varieties. One thing that is sometimes difficult to find, however, is a bird that actually weighs only 3 – 4 lbs. The first time I made this, I couldn’t find one. So I used a 4 – 5 lb chicken. What’s the difference? Cooking time, for one. Huge difference. That’s why you can’t just count on putting the chicken in for an hour (as Ruhlman suggests) unless the bird is actually this size. Also, there is a lot more skin per ounce on a smaller bird, which, in addition to being delicious, does a better job trapping moisture and keeping the meat  tender, particularly for high-heat recipes like Zuni or Ruhlman’s. I’ve done it both ways, but I usually buy a larger bird, because I’m busy and I want to stretch it to more meals. If prepared as I describe below, it still tastes great.

Salting the bird Marcella suggests rinsing the bird, removing all the fat, patting it dry, and letting it sit for 10 minutes for the liquid to drain out. I don’t do it this way.

Rinsing is OK, but I think optional. As Jacques Pepin has said, anything that survives the heat of the oven deserves to live. Also, the FDA recommends against rinsing and potentially contaminating your sink. Doesn’t really matter to me. If it makes you feel better, rinse it.

But for the love of God, DO NOT CUT OFF THE FAT. This recipe was originally published about 35 years ago, and since then, chickens are bred to be quite a bit leaner, especially if they’re big. But don’t worry, much of the fat will come off in the drippings. And you’re not required to eat the delectable skin. You want what fat stays in the bird to give it moisture and flavor.

I also think that you need more than 10 minutes to drain. What I do is salt the bird down at least a day in advance. That’s Judy Rodgers talking. If you’ve made the Zuni roast chicken before, you don’t really question this step. But long story short, the “dry brine” technique gives the meat flavor, moisture and tenderness. Also, letting the bird sit for this long ensures that excess liquid drains out. What you want is for the skin to be blistered and dry, while the meat inside is juicy and tender. The draining step accomplishes this. It also makes it faster for me to prep the chicken on the day of roasting—it’s almost ready to throw in the oven when I get home from work.

To salt down the bird, put a generous amount of kosher salt (about 1 – 2 T, depending on grain size) and mix it in a small pinch bowl with plenty of freshly crushed black pepper (amount is a matter of taste). Set the chicken in a large bowl or baking dish and rub the salt/pepper inside and out, rubbing more salt on the meatier parts (e.g., the breast meat). Cover loosely with saran wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 1 – 3 days. In a pinch, overnight is better than nothing. On the day of roasting, pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Preheating the oven I often hear or read 10 minutes to preheat an oven. I don’t know where people come up with this number, but 10 minutes is definitely not enough time for my (gas) oven to come to 350 degrees. Buy an oven thermometer for $2 and get the oven to 350. In my kitchen, this takes at least 20 minutes.

The lemons The recipe calls for washing two lemons, softening them by rolling with pressure on a hard counter, and poking 20 holes in each. I use a poultry lacing needle (although a toothpick will do—they just tend to break) and put as many holes in those lemons as I can without injuring myself.

Preparing the bird Put the two lemons in the cavity and close up the openings with toothpicks or needle/string. Hazan suggests very loosely trussing the bird only to prevent the thighs from splitting apart as the skin balloons. Well, like I said, I don’t really have that problem. I think the trussing is optional. I’ve done it both ways. What you get with trussing is more even cooking. What you get without trussing is more exposed skin to get brown and crispy. Up to you.

Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. I use a 10″ skillet for this. What matters most here is not the material (I use cast iron), but the size. The bird is self-basting, so you want a pan just large enough to hold it, but small enough that the drippings don’t evaporate.

Roasting Put the pan/skillet in the upper third of the oven and cook for 35 minutes. Turn the chicken to have the breast side facing up, and cook another 35 minutes. Increase the oven thermostat to 400 (mine will actually only get to around 375 before the chicken is done). Using a meat thermometer, check the temperature of the meatiest part of the thigh about once every 20 minutes. Cook until the thigh is between 170 and 175. For my 4 – 5 lb bird, this ends up at around 2 hours of total cooking time. You don’t need to turn the chicken again.

Resting Remove the chicken from the skillet and let it rest on a serving platter or large plate for 15 minutes before serving. A lot of juices will flow out of the chicken during resting and carving (particularly if the chicken was wet-brined). Spoon these over the chicken slices when serving. [/one_half]

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian Soups Vegetarian

Inaugural post: Kong Namul Guk (soybean sprout soup)

[one_half][I]f you’ve read my About page or been over to our house for the dinner hour, you know that my 2-year-old daughter Esme is what our pediatrician calls a “small eater.” We’ve been reassured several times that she’s getting plenty of nutrition, is just showing age-typical behavior, yada yada. Whatever. As a parent, all I can do is wonder where my daughter summons the energy to do anything when she barely eats. I try to keep things in perspective, but it definitely stresses me out. I can’t help it—it’s the Asian mom in me. So imagine my delight when Esme, after eating the solids from a soybean sprout soup that my mother made, picked up the bowl and drank the broth. I had to get her more of this stuff.

Energized by my new I’m-going-to-be-a-great-Dad-and-start-cooking-for-my-family-so-watch-out attitude, I picked up the phone and asked my Mom for the recipe. “Just boil it!” was her reply. True to her Korean roots, my Mom’s not so much into recipes. She pokes fun at me for measuring things, and shoots me suspicious glances if she senses that her actions at the stove are being mentally recorded.

“You just want to measure it!”
“I’m just trying to determine, when you say ‘add x,’ whether you mean 1 tablespoon or 100. I know it doesn’t have to be exact.”
“Just taste it! You’ll know!”
etc.

So I did a little digging, and found that making this soup is a bit more complicated that just boiling the sprouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not much more complicated. So I offer my take on it below. Just so I don’t get dirty looks at daycare from my friend Amy over at Kimchi Mom, I’ll tell you up front that I don’t cook a ton of Korean food.Yet.

* * * * *

The first important thing to know about making soybean sprout soup is that it’s made with soybean sprouts, and not the visually similar and more readily available mung bean sprouts. They are typically available at Korean grocery stores (though, oddly, not at Park’s Farmer’s Market in the Inner Sunset, where I live). Occasionally, I will see them at Chinese markets, so if you live near one, it’s worth a look.

At the market, inspect the sprouts for freshness. They should be clean-looking and crisp. The heads should be evenly yellow and the shoots silvery-white. If they look at all dodgy, then forget it. Try again next time. You can’t recover from bad produce, and the next step will take far too long. If they look good, then you’re in business. You’ll need about a pound for this recipe. Keep in mind that they have a very short shelf life, so be sure to cook them on the same day.

The first step is to clean the sprouts. This is by far the most time consuming step. Rinse them several times in cold water. Go through and pick out any obviously bad/rotten ones (there are bound to be a few). Trust your instincts here. If you see browning or liquifying of the shoot, dump it. Here are some groddy-looking ones that I picked out, as well as what they should look like when clean:

You’ll notice that the clean, unbroken sprouts still have a thin root attached to the end of each shoot. I’m told that some people snip those off. Hey, if you’ve got that kind of time, more power to you. I leave them on, and my Mom claims “that’s where all the vitamins are.” There will also be a lot of yellow heads that have broken off and accumulated at the bottom of your bowl. I usually toss these, as well. I don’t like getting a spoonful of just heads, and they don’t look as good in the soup. At first I was self-conscious about wasting them, but remember that you’ve paid about $1 for all of those sprouts. You can let the loose heads go.

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The one major decision you’ll want to make is whether to used canned or homemade stock for your soup. This soup works very well with chicken, beef or anchovy stock. (I’ve never tried using vegetable stock, but presumably that would also be OK. **Update 24 October, 2010: Made this with pea shell consommé, and can confirm that it still rocks.) You may be familiar with Michael Ruhlman’s rant against canned stock, in which he famously encouraged people to use water instead. While I admire Michael’s culinary purism, I’ll warn you that this dish does fall into the 10% of cases where canned stock is probably better than water. It used to be that you could make this soup with water, but with mass agriculture the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have soybean sprouts with enough flavor to carry the soup by themselves. So to summarize, with this soup:

homemade stock > canned stock >> water

Fortunately for you, stock is ridiculously easy to make. Many of you are aware of this, but still resist. So to prove my point:

Chicken Stock
5-6 lbs meaty chicken parts (not just the necks and backs—dark meat works best, or a whole chicken)
3-4 quarts of water (to cover)
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1 rib of celery, cut into 4 pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1 tsp kosher salt

Rinse the chicken. Put the ingredients in a stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts. Start warming the pot on the stove while preheating the oven to 180-200 degrees. When the pot has barely reached a simmer, put the pot into the oven. Take it out in 3 hours. Strain it very well. Cool it down. Remove the fat (you can skim it, but it’s easiest to wait until it’s refrigerated, and remove the solid fat from the top).

That’s it. I used to make it on the stove, monitoring the heat with a thermometer, but Ruhlman’s tip on using the oven makes it super easy. Don’t have all the ingredients? Doesn’t matter! The most important parts are the chicken, water and salt. You can more or less improvise the rest of it without doing much harm. Want to get crazy? Don’t put the vegetables in until the last hour. That’s honestly as complicated as it gets, and using your own stock will drastically improve your soup. Oh yeah, and don’t throw away the chicken meat. I usually remove the skin (which has become rubbery and gross) and eat the wings right away with a little bit of salt. The rest of the meat is great on salads, or dipped in yangnyum soy sauce, which I’ll tell you how to make below.

Still not convinced? OK, use low-sodium chicken stock from a box. But you’ll always wonder… (**Update 21 February, 2011: Though it can’t compete with homemade stock, I do find Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock—NOT the Chicken Broth, which is disgusting—to be usable, in a pinch.)

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Now that you’ve sourced your sprouts and made your amazing stock, the rest is relatively easy. In a large stock pot, saute 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic in 1 T of sesame oil for about a minute. Which sesame oil? The one with the dragons on it, says my Mom. That’s the good sesame oil.

Add the sprouts  (1 – 1.5 lb), toss them a bit in the oil, and then add 6 – 8 cups of stock. Cover the pot and turn the stove to medium-high heat. When it has become clear that the stock is boiling (steam shooting out from beneath the lid), allow the contents to boil with the lid on for 3 – 5 minutes. It is important not to uncover the pot, because, by some unknown mechanism, prematurely uncovering the pot will impart an off-flavor to the beans. I have not done a rigorously controlled experiment to verify this, but it suffices to say that it’s very easy to just leave the lid on, so I do it.

Once this crucial time has passed, it is safe to uncover the pot and lower the heat. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning (salt). The sprouts should still be slightly crunchy, but if you’d like them cooked longer, cook them longer. The soup is basically done. At this point, I usually prepare a dressing to make a salad with half of the cooked sprouts. Whether you want to do this is completely up to you. You may like the ratio of sprouts to liquid as is, which is fine. I like cooking with a lot of sprouts because they flavor the soup, but I end up putting a lot of liquid in the bowls, so if I don’t do something else with them, I’m left with a lot of sprouts at the end.

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Again, the following step is completely optional, but you may find the recipe useful. Kong namul is a classic banchan, or side dish. If you want to make the salad without the soup, boil the sprouts in 1/2 C of water instead of stock.

Kong Namul (seasoned soybean sprouts)
adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook

roughly half of the sprouts from the soup you made above
1/2 T soy sauce
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 T sesame oil (pref. from a bottle adorned with dragons)
1 green onion, chopped
sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds
black pepper to taste (opt.)
red pepper flakes to taste (opt.)

At some point (e.g., while you’re waiting for the soup to boil), add the above ingredients, minus the sprouts, to a medium-sized mixing bowl. When the soup is done, remove about half of the sprouts and drain thoroughly, reserving the broth to return to the soup. Add the sprouts to the bowl, toss, and refrigerate.

Note that the dressing for this recipe is essentially yangnyum ganjang, or seasoned soy sauce. This is a wonderful dipping sauce, which I use on pa jon and muk, as well as leftover chicken from stock, leftover beef shanks from stock, leftover brisket from stock, etc.

* * * * *

Now you’re ready to serve the soup. I like to garnish the bowl with some chopped green onion, and season with black or red pepper. I particularly like the red pepper flakes typically found in Japanese noodle shops—S&B Ichimi or Nanami Togarashi. Here they both are, nestled among my various red spices in the fridge. If you look closely, you can see a small ziploc bag of Korean kochu karu peeking out from behind them (Yes; I am a traitor).

So there you have it. Not only is this dish a big hit with by daughter, but with barely more effort than boiling water, I can now recreate one of my favorite dishes from childhood. It’s both comforting and light, and (I’m told) a mean cure for hangovers.[/one_half]

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soybean sprout bag
Yes
mung bean sprout bag
No
funky, rotten soybean sprouts
compost
cleaned soybean sprouts
keep

sesame oil with dragons

kong namul ingredients

kong namul mixing

kong namul plating

togarashi and other red pepper
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