Fusion Index Italian Japanese Pescatarian


[one_half][T]here is perhaps no context in which package copy could be as fascinating to me as it is when I’m browsing the aisles of an Asian grocery. Examples are sufficiently numerous to fill books, but one that has always stayed with me is the seductive teaser that graces the packaging of my all-time favorite candy, Kasugai Muscat Gummy:

Its translucent color so alluring and taste and aroma so gentle and mellow offer admiring feelings of a graceful lady. Enjoy soft and juicy Kasugai Muscat Gummy.

This epigram unironically makes me wish that I could speak Japanese, so I could pinpoint the exact moment the car missed its exit and wound up at, quite frankly, a much more interesting place than it had originally intended to be.

Less commonly, we are treated with what I might call an inverse translation. That is, a translation that undergoes a round trip back to its original language. Of course, translations are not perfectly invertible, so the resulting text is subject to not one, but two transformations. Such was the case with Madonna’s 1996 interview with Budapest newspaper, Blikk. The interview was conducted in English, translated into Hungarian, and then, at the behest of USA Today, translated back to English. Sadly, the USA Today excerpts are unavailable, so we are left with Garry Trudeau’s hilarious re-imagining of said interview. A sample, for those who missed it at first go-around:

Blikk: Madonna, let’s cut toward the hunt: Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?

Madonna: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discotheque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.

You get the idea. The serendipity of words gained in translation. I somehow could not shake the thought of Madonna’s brilliant Blikk interview during a recent meal at Halu, a ramen/yakitori shop in the heart of the Richmond. The friends who had recommended this restaurant to us warned that we were not, under any circumstances, to neglect the pizza. They were, of course, referring to okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish that’s more akin to a savory pancake, or a Korean jeon. At some point, this got translated as “pizza,” presumably because it is often sliced into pie-shaped wedges. Entertaining the unlikely idea that this was Japan’s take on a classic Neopolitan pie, I was compelled to devise an inverse translation: What about an Italian okonomiyaki? If perfectly invertible, one might arrive at a pizza margherita. But where would be the fun in that? Instead, my aim was to construct a dish with the same look and feel of an okonomiyaki, but with Italian-inspired ingredients and flavors.


The concept. There were two main things I wanted to change about the “crust,” or the base. First, I seasoned the batter with anchovies instead of dashi. This gives the crust a flavor reminiscent of a cuddura patteda. Second, a classic okonomiyaki batter contains shredded cabbage. I opted to use radicchio—more specifically, a radicchio salad. A lesser offense is my use of shredded potato instead of nagaimo. This is a fairly common substitution, one that makes this recipe easier to shop for, and let’s face it … mine isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, anyway.

The topping is the fantastic shredded radicchio salad from the Zuni Café Cookbook. Typically, okonomiyaki is garnished with a zig-zagged squirt of kewpie mayonniase. I accomplished a similar visual effect by using Béchamel sauce.

A note on anchovies. I am officially in love with salt-packed anchovies. The flavor is incomparable to the oil-packed variety found in flat tins (which, incidentally, I also like). They are a bit more difficult to find, so you may want to buy them online. Also, they require more handling: Before using, soak a small batch of the anchovies in cold water for 15 – 20 minutes, then remove fins and backbone. Transfer remaining salt-packed fish to an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

A note to the lazy. Honestly? I didn’t bother soaking these. I cut off the fins and chopped them up, bones and all. I used this instead of adding more salt. If I were eating these whole, e.g., over a salad, I would do it the long way. But in this case, I honestly don’t think it makes a difference.

The preparation. First, make the Béchamel sauce. This can be done a day in advance. You want to allow it sufficient time to cool, as it may be too runny otherwise. Note that Batali’s recipe makes 3 cups of sauce. We are using it for a garnish, so may want to scale it down or find another use for the rest of the sauce.

Next, make the shredded radicchio salad, as it is needed for both the crust and the topping. If desired, reserve breadcrumbs and sieved egg until after making the crust. The salad wilts considerably after an hour or two. This isn’t a tragedy, since part of it is being cooked. But it’s best to make this shortly before making the crust. If you also want to serve this as a straight-up salad, reserve some to dress immediately prior to serving.

Babychili’s Italian Okonomiyaki (or Italian-Japanese-Italian pizza)
adapted from Okonomiyaki World

grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 C all purpose flour
2/3 C ice cold water
2 eggs
1/4 C grated russet potato
About 3 tsp salt-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped

Zuni Café shredded radicchio salad
Béchamel sauce

Cover the surface of a cast-iron skillet or griddle with a liberal pour of oil and place over medium heat. Combine flour, water, eggs, potato, and anchovy in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir until just smooth. Add about 1 1/2 C of the salad and mix until evenly coated. Test the batter by frying a small (coin-sized) sample. Adjust seasoning with anchovy (and/or salt, fish sauce), if desired. Ladle batter into the skillet and flatten to a pancake to about 1.5 cm in uniform thickness. You have a minute or so to add more batter if needed, or tuck in the edges with a spoon to make a nice-looking circle. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown.  At that point, flip the pancake and cook for another 2 – 4 minutes until done.

Blot with paper towels, if desired. Dress with the shredded radicchio salad as a topping, being sure to include the toasted bread crumbs and sieved, hardboiled egg. Pan-crisped pancetta might also be nice here. Drizzle with Béchamel sauce and serve immediately.

Further notes. For crisp pancakes, use ice-cold water and eggs for the batter. The side that gets cooked first will be smoother and more even-looking. I tend to place this side face-up when serving. Finally, these are best when served, as much as possible, hot from the pan. If the pancakes must be reheated, this is best done in a skillet as opposed to a microwave.

Update: This post is now available in translated form[/one_half]





Index Italian Noodles Pasta Vegetarian

Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

[one_half][F]ellow lo-temp cooking freaks can rest assured that my suburban sous vide rig is up and fully operational. I have so far been using it to make perfectly cooked eggs, unconventionally moist chicken breast, and most recently, a smokeless pastrami. Descriptions of all will come in due time. But I have been meaning to post about green garlic, and given the rapidly changing season, I felt I should do so while it is still actually available.

I like garlic so much that I have to physically restrain myself from automatically tripling it in every recipe. I’ve had dishes in my life that, even for me, had too much garlic—but I can probably count them on one hand (for you Columbians: garlic chicken at the sadly departed La Rosita was one of them). When people make faux knee-slapping jokes about “making sure that we all have garlic” so as not to suffer from one’s bad breath, I profoundly don’t get it. Garlic smells good. It smells like food.

So I was myself surprised when it hit me one day that I had never actually worked with green garlic. I’ve heard people rhapsodize about the ingredient and it always sounded great to me, but I guess I never got around to it. Availability is generally limited to the first month or two of spring, so I was determined not to miss out this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar, most of the garlic we buy comes in the form of mature bulbs, which have been cured and stored dry. Green garlic refers to young garlic plants whose bulbs have not yet differentiated into cloves. When very young, they look more or less like green onions. As they mature, the stalks broaden, and they begin to resemble leeks. They are quite a bit more delicate in flavor than mature garlic, and can, in fact, be eaten raw with little discomfort. When cooked, they take on a nutty flavor, as well as a sweetness and texture one might expect from onions or leeks.

A couple weeks ago, I triumphantly returned from my local farmers market with bunches in hand. Problem was, most of the articles about green garlic I could find online mostly discussed the very young variety, of which the entire stalk can be used. Mine were of the leeky variety, and I wasn’t certain they could be used the same way. Much like leeks, the outer leaves and ends were very tough, and didn’t seem like they would cook down easily. I was reminded of a mishap I suffered years ago when making a caramelized leek soup. I hadn’t read the recipe carefully, and thus failed to realize that you don’t use the tough, dark green part. (That went a ways toward explaining why I couldn’t get it to caramelize.) At any rate, I consulted my sister (of course), and a couple of foodie friends. They also had never used the big, leeky green garlic. So I decided to wing it and treat them like leeks. I’ll give away the answer: Yes. They are awesome. Instructions below.

* * * * *

There’s a fascinating book by photographer Melanie Dunea called “My Last Supper,” in which Dunea interviews 50 great chefs and asks:

If you were to die tomorrow, what single dish, what one mouthful of food from anywhere in the world or anytime in your life would you choose as your last? What would be your choice for your last meal on earth?

Being a food geek, I was much more interested in the answers than the accompanying portraits (though the pictures, admittedly, are stunning). They ranged from the ostentatious (e.g. Gary Danko) to the elegant (e.g. Nobu—I respect him enough to overlook his desire to listen to a Kenny G CD while eating it). My all-time favorite answer is the one from Eric Ripert, who wants toast with truffles. The reason is made clear in the recipe section at the end of the book (did I mention there are recipes?). He outlines in completely anal-retentive detail how to do everything, even down to the thickness of the bread (1.27 cm), percent acidity of the olive oil (0.3), and why you should use cold butter (so that it doesn’t soak into the bread—thank you!). If anything could cement my not-so-subtle man crush on Eric, it’s this recipe. I love how you can see exactly how much of a control freak this guy is.

Obviously, I’m not a chef. But in the make-believe world in which I’m shooting the shit with Eric Fucking Ripert, my last supper is definitely spaghettini with garlic and oil. I may post about it someday, but honestly I don’t get it right every time. When I figure out how to consistently make it work the way that it does when I have those last supper moments, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I felt that the most fitting treatment for my first green garlic experience should be a simple dish with pasta. What I made will not qualify for my last meal on earth. It will, however qualify for many meals between now and the end of May.

* * * * *

Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

1/2 lb thin spaghetti (no. 11)
kosher or sea salt
2 – 3 C chopped green garlic (or about 2 of the big, leeky kind, trimmed and cleaned as described below)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
about 1/2 C beef stock (probably any stock would work here, as long as it doesn’t come from a can—I used beef because I had recently made it.)

Particularly in the Bay area, you can readily find green garlic at farmers markets or Whole Foods right now. I have regularly seen both the baby (green onion-looking) garlic, as well as the large, leekish ones. When scheduling your shopping and cooking, keep in mind that their flavors fade rapidly in the refrigerator. If possible, cook them on the same day. Otherwise, leave them, bulbs down, in a cup or vase of water in the refrigerator and deploy as soon as possible.

Trimming and preparing the green garlic Like I said, I got the bigger kind of green garlic. The first quandary that presented itself to me was: how much of  it should I use? As you can see above (and incidentally, you can click to zoom on any of the pictures in this blog), each plant consists of a bulb, a light green stalk, and darker green leaves alternating from the stalk. Many people, when encountering leeks of similar description, simply look for the border between pale green and dark green on the outside leaf, and make a single cut there through the entire plant. The problem with this strategy is that you then lose a lot of pale green material in the inner leaves. If you need a lot of trimmed leeks, you may, for example, have to monopolize all of the leeks from 2 or 3 different markets in Brooklyn Heights (hypothetically speaking). A better way to deal with this is to systematically cut away only the dark green parts of each leaf, starting from the outside and working your way in. This strategy can also be used with larger green garlic, so that what you are left with is a tapered stalk.

Next, trim the roots from the bottom of the bulb. You’ll then want to clean the garlic, particularly of any dirt that may be stuck between the layers. The way to do this is to make a cut, lengthwise, down the midpoint of the stalk, leaving the bulb intact. Turn the garlic 90 degrees along the axis of the stalk, and make another slit down the middle. You are now left with a bulb attached to streamers that can be splayed out and rinsed in the sink.

At this point you can either chop the garlic, or slice it into larger (say, 1″ long) slivers. It works either way; I think it just depends on what kind of texture you want.

In a large fry pan, sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until wilted and beginning to turn golden (about 10 minutes). Use enough oil to comfortably prevent the garlic from drying out, but no more. Add beef stock and deglaze the pan, if necessary. Add lots of black pepper, to taste. Cover the pan and lower heat, cooking until the garlic becomes tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Selecting and cooking the pasta I do think the kind of pasta matters. For sauces like this, I am partial to thin noodles, either spaghettini or angel hair. The commonly found store brands I like best are Barilla and De Cecco. In almost all cases, I will go with pasta made from refined semolina flour. In the interest of keeping my daughter healthier than me, I did briefly investigate whole wheat flour pastas. I uniformly hate them. The flavors are not always offensive, but the texture is brittle, and that really kills it for me. (For the record, Esme doesn’t like them, either. She knows what’s up.) A compromise that I have found acceptable is Barilla Plus, which is not a whole grain pasta, but rather one made from refined semolina durum flour enriched with other grains. I find this palatable, but prefer traditional pastas.

Boil the pasta in a medium stockpot with at least a teaspoon salt, and taste often, correcting when appropriate. In this case, I advise seasoning slightly beyond what you feel is necessary, because salt doesn’t dissolve well in oil. Therefore, the garlic is likely to be underseasoned. Your goal here is to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. At that point, drain the noodles and add them to your warmed skillet. Toss until evenly coated with garlic and oil. Add more stock or black pepper, if needed. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until pasta is done.

In the presentation below, I took some optional steps of tossing the pasta in fresh miner’s lettuce and serving with a farm egg that had been slow-poached and quickly seared.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Note to self: When describing to a 2-year-old child what she is about to eat, do not use the word, “garlic.”

I don’t like garlic, Daddy.
Try it. I think you will.
OK, then do you want to try some crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah. Can I have some of your noodles, Mommy?
(Esme often confuses Erin and me, and then immediately corrects.) Daddy? (She eats about 10 noodles.)
Esme, do you like your crazy Daddy noodles?
Do you want to eat them again for lunch tomorrow?
I want to eat them … right … noooooooow.
OK, baby. I’ll get you your own plate.




green garlic

trim green garlic
trimmed green garlic

slice green garlic lengthwise

layers of sliced green garlic

spaghettini pasta with green garlic poached egg and miner's lettuce

baby esme smells green garlic

child serving of spaghettini pasta with green garlic and miner's lettuce


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*
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]