Categories
Baking Desserts Index Vegetarian

Pumpkin Pie Redux

[one_half][M]y extremely talented sister once told me that she had made a pumpkin pie, from scratch, with a fresh pumpkin, and that it tasted no different from a pie made with canned. I was in college at the time, when the idea of cutting open an actual pumpkin seemed tantamount to building your own television. The canned pumpkin seemed like a modern marvel that could possibly render the unprocessed version obsolete.

But times, and curiosities, change. I am now accustomed to seeing (presumably fresh) pumpkin shoehorned into every imaginable food throughout the fall and winter seasons. Pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin crème brûlée, pumpkin soup, pumpkin flan, pumpkin ale, and of course, the abomination that is the pumpkin spice latte. In each of these cases, I find myself asking the same question: What does pumpkin taste like?

The answer invariably seems to be: Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Not that I have an intrinsic problem with those flavors. But aside from the comforting, orange-brown paste we are accustomed to taking in a pie shell, what does it actually feel like to bite into a piece of pumpkin? Perhaps, as I have often suspected, there is a reason we don’t leave the pumpkin meat intact. I could imagine it being bland, slimy, possibly bitter. Perhaps, like quince, it is only palatable in paste form. I considered it a personal challenge to prove that notion wrong.

As a home cook primarily known for slow-cooking meats, I have long felt that I should learn how to make a proper dessert. Years before the genesis of Babychili, I found myself oddly drawn to the numerous pie contests I saw on television. I felt that they were different from other cooking competitions in that, despite being open to professional cooks, the contestants, generally speaking, had no formal training. They were home cooks like me, and they were surprisingly creative. I wondered whether I could win such a contest, and how long it would take to find out.

It’s become cliché for savory cooks to say that they are intimidated by baking, but that has certainly been the case with me. Eventually, work, “real life,” and various other excuses took over, and I never did try making a pie. Sometimes you need to get pushed into the pool. So I committed, this Thanksgiving, to executing my own version of pumpkin pie (actually a tart). And dammit, you were going to get pieces of pumpkin if it killed me.

* * * * *

CANDIED PUMPKIN TART WITH TOASTED PUMPKIN SEED FRANGIPANE

The crust

Regular readers of this blog have heard me say this several times now, but I’ll repeat it for the newcomers: If you are a neurotic perfectionist, or perhaps just like to have things explained to you in pedantic detail, a highly recommended way to learn any new technique in the kitchen is to consult The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. I have rarely attempted a recipe from this book that did not subsequently result in the best version of that particular dish I have ever had. So when it came time to learn how to make a pie crust, I did not turn to any number of classic tomes on baking. I went straight for the Basic Rich Tart Dough, by Rodgers.

But even a recipe as informative as Zuni’s does not necessarily make for a perfect first try. The prominent eyebrow-raiser in this recipe is its inclusion of salted butter. The salt, as I understand it, plays an important role in both the flavor and texture of the dough. Rodgers recommends butter containing 90 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, which is near the high end of the range for salted butters. I neglected to remember this detail, and simply bought “salted butter,” which, in my case, happened to contain a whopping 115 milligrams per tablespoon. This was, in my opinion, too much salt for my recipe. I made three different crusts, and settled on using the European Style Lightly Salted Butter by Straus. In addition to being lower in sodium (45 milligrams per tablespoon), this butter was also significantly lower in moisture than the other two brands I tried. The lower moisture butter behaved with flour exactly as described in the book, while the other two butters (though they worked perfectly fine) were significantly stickier.

* * * * *

The filling

I imagined slices of caramelized pumpkin enveloped in a base of toasted pumpkin seed frangipane. Frangipane is a baked cream, typically made with almonds, that rises upon baking and assumes the consistency of a sticky bread. My first attempt at this was an unqualified failure. The frangipane did not rise, and the butter, all 13 tablespoons of it (which turned out to be only 9 tablespoons too many) leaked out of my poor tart and left it sitting in a pool of molten fat. I made several more versions of the frangipane before arriving at this version, found at Dessert First by Anita Chu. I made two ingredient substitutions: in place of almonds, I used pumpkin seeds (raw, unsalted, and hulled) which I pan-toasted over medium-low heat for 5 – 10 minutes until they became fragrant and slightly brown. So that my pumpkin seeds would not compete with the flavor of almonds, I used vanilla extract instead of almond extract.

One practical piece of advice I can offer in making any frangipane is to make sure that the sugar/pumpkin seed (or sugar/almond) mixture is processed or ground to the point where you cannot imagine the pieces of seeds or nuts being any smaller. Before adding wet ingredients, you should arrive at a sandy-colored sugar. There may be flecks of skin from the pumpkin seeds, but there should be no detectable grit from the meat of the seeds. This is apparently essential for allowing the seeds to incorporate into a smooth cream that will rise during baking.

* * * * *

The pumpkin

Finally, we arrive at the $64 question: Do pieces of pumpkin belong on a tart? I maintain that the answer is yes. My treatment of the pumpkin is inspired by calabaza en tacha, traditionally served during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The challenge here was to prepare slices of pumpkin that were attractive, preferably caramelized, had a distinct pumpkin flavor, and could be cut easily with a fork. But how thick can I cut the pumpkin? Should I parcook it? Marinate it? Allow it to cook completely on the tart itself? I struggled to arrive at the product I suspected (but was not certain) was possible, and experienced a key aha moment when reading this recipe for butternut squash tart by Matt Armendariz. Roast it in oil first. Then season and bake. Here is the winning method:

Candied pumpkin

1 small sugar pumpkin*
grapeseed or vegetable oil
kosher salt
1/4 C granulated sugar
zest and juice from 1/2 of a small orange
2 T maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice

*Note: The pumpkin should be small, young and heavy for its size. Its flesh should provide a fair bit of resistance when cutting with a sharp knife. If the flesh is light or spongy, then too much of the starch has been converted to sugar, and it will wind up tasting more like a radish than a sweet potato. A kabocha or butternut squash would also work nicely here.

Peel and quarter the pumpkin and thoroughly scrape out the pith and seeds. Cut into uniform slices about 1/2 cm thick. Lightly toss in neutral oil with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Roast in a preheated, 400F oven for 15 minutes or until tender, turning once to ensure even heating.

While the pumpkin is roasting, combine remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Taking care not to damage the cooked pumpkin slices, arrange them in a single layer on a large plate and coat both sides with mixture. Allow the slices to marinate for about 15 minutes.

* * * * *

Assembling the tart

Spread the frangipane evenly in a frozen tart shell and carefully arrange pumpkin slices in a fan (or other desired) pattern. Bake in a preheated, 375F oven for about 40 minutes, or until both the frangipane and crust have begun to brown. About halfway through cooking, the frangipane should rise considerably, then relax. Allow the tart to cool completely on a wire rack before ravaging.

* * * * *

Needless to say, over this past week, I became extremely adept at peeling and seeding pumpkins. The tart shell, once a terrifying prospect, quickly became manageable. The pumpkin seeds yielded a rich, nutty frangipane. And the roast pumpkin slices married with orange to offer a fragrance reminiscent of marmalade. Did I mention that my tart didn’t last long?

[/one_half]
[one_half_last]

[/one_half_last]

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.

[/one_half]

[one_half_last]

(Photo: Jason Ezratty)

[/one_half_last]

Categories
Desserts Dinner Party Fusion Index Meats Poultry Soups Vegetarian Vietnamese

Mother Peach

[one_half][L]ost in my incessant praise for David Chang has been a quiet appreciation for the deft hand of Tien Ho, former chef de cuisine at Ssäm Bar. Erin and I recently traveled to New York together for the first time in years, ostensibly to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. That we might also sample as much food as humanly possible from the Momofuku empire was, of course, a serendipitous byproduct. Giddy as we were about sampling the litany of dishes that brought fame to The House That Chang Built, the highlight of our tour emerged from a place we least expected: an understated lunch at Má Pêche, where Ho is currently chef and co-owner.

A tidy summer roll mating grilled pork cake with a narrow breadstick sported measured contrasts in temperature and crunch, an interplay we’d come to expect from Ho’s Ssäm Bar lineage. The prix fixe also starred an exceptional cold-smoked chicken, striking our palates with richness and stealthy precision. Our meal was punctuated by miniature bricks of cereal milk panna cotta and Chang’s version of culinary crack. An elegant meal with simple flavors and a keen eye to balancing sweet, bitter and tart.

Is Má Pêche the best restaurant in Midtown? Probably, no. But the 60 minutes we spent there were, for us, unthinkable luxury. There we were, in this city we knew like a college roommate, our daughter in capable, loving, 3000-miles-away hands. A quiet meal in the middle of a workweek that wasn’t, with no appointments to keep and no place in particular to be. It was the briefest taste of a life we’d had, one that we’ve mourned losing, while acknowledging the bleary-eyed exhilaration that comes with having lost it.

So when tasked to create a “Luxury Dinner Party” menu, I devised a home cook’s tribute to Tien Ho, inviting dear friends (and Mission Bay It Couple) Caleb and Akua. This is what we ate.

* * * * *
FRIED PICKLES

This course is perhaps more Noodle Bar than Má Pêche, and was inspired in large part by a wonderful post by Kelly at The Meaning of Pie. I’ve always adored fried pickles, and was struck by the use of panko to enhance the difference between the dry and wet varieties of crunch. My contribution to this dish was the replacement of kosher dill pickles with an assortment of Asian pickles—something I’ve been curious about, but have never seen done. I used thinly sliced takuan and two different types of kimchi: baechu (napa cabbage) and oi sobagi (stuffed kirby cukes). I also used pickled shiitake mushrooms, made with a recipe from Momofuku.

To more easily appreciate the effects of deep-frying, I also plated raw versions of these pickles. I served two dipping sauces: a “ghetto salad dressing” (mayo mixed with a splash of soy sauce) and a “ghetto rouille” (mayo mixed with a squirt of sriracha). My mayonnaise of choice was Japanese kewpie.

Notes I would definitely make this again. The deep-frying mellows out the heat and raw garlic of the kimchi, as well as the saltiness of the pickled shiitakes. A high-sided, cast iron saucepan is a convenient and economical tool for deep frying small portions of food while minimizing splash. Lead time here is minimal. The pickled shiitakes are optimal if made a week in advance, but perfectly delicious when eaten immediately.

Wine opened Franck Bonville “Brut Selection” Blanc de Blancs Champagne. For the early portion of this menu, I was looking for a beverage with crispness and acid to cut the oil from the deep-fried dish and the rich terrines that would follow. A sparkling wine made sense to me, and this Champagne was an economical and well-received choice.

Music cued Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, Guided by Voices.

* * * * *

BÁNH MÌ CLUB

A bánh mì sandwich was the anchor point for my menu. For starving graduate students such as myself, the $2.50 bánh mì is a dietary staple and gustatory wonder. Classically, it consists of an airy baguette made with both rice and wheat flour, toasted, spread with mayonnaise and topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeno, and (typically) a mix of terrines. As was the case with my bo ssäm post, I was compelled to make this dish after reading asian jewish deli’s assessment of it. Like Phong, I was completely taken with the pickled daikon radish. I had always thought of daikon as the boring, bland stepsister of the Korean mu radish. But cured with Momofuku’s vinegar pickle master brine, it brightens inordinately, revealing an astonishing amount of fragrance and verve.

It’s always a risky choice to mess with perfection, but I felt that taking some minor liberties with Tien Ho’s masterful interpretation of this sandwich (from Momofuku) was necessary to incorporate it into a five course meal. My key modification was to to make this sandwich a miniature triple-decker, using pan-grilled toast made from a loaf of sour batard from Acme. I also added some parma prosciutto, crisped in an oiled skillet, to mimic the bacon element of a more traditional club sandwich.

A note on portion size Even a small sandwich (as pictured here) is tremendously filling, particularly in the context of a multicourse meal. I presented it this way to accommodate the notorious appetite of a 6’4″, 205 lb, basketball-playing scientist. For mortals, I recommend a single tower, using toast points roughly 2″ square.

Preparation As is the case with the pickled shiitakes, both the daikon and carrot pickles benefit from a week of curing. In a pinch, however, overnight is better than nothing. The sandwich contains both a chicken liver terrine and ham terrine, which need to be made at least a day in advance. I advise also taking into account the amount of time it takes to locate 4 lbs of fresh ham. In San Francisco, it’s not so difficult. Often only available during the holidays elsewhere. Terrines and pickle recipes can also be found in Momofuku.

* * * * *

PEACH GAZPACHO

My favorite course of the evening served three purposes. First, as a nominal salutation to Má Pêche (“mother peach”) and Momofuku (“lucky peach”). Second, to bid a fond farewell to this year’s peach season, which was extraordinary. And functionally, I wanted to give my guests a breather from the assaulting richness of the surrounding courses. I managed to scavenge the last gasp of peaches last week from the Kashiwase Farms fruit stand, home to the most remarkable stone fruit ever to have crossed my jaded taste buds. I got about a dozen, cherry-picking the best 3 for my soup. This dish was cribbed directly from Daniel Humm’s Go-To-Dish segment on Chow’s fantastic new series. Humm’s soup is predictably stunning.

Notes Child’s play to execute, but really demands exceptional peaches. If your peaches are crunchy, mealy, or odorless, don’t try it.

Wine opened 2007 Vigneau-Chevreau “Cuvée Silex” Vouvray Sec. This dry chenin blanc was originally selected to pair with the next dish. The lady being dry, and the Vouvray being a rather promiscuous partner, we opened it. It worked surprisingly well with the creaminess of this soup.

Music cued Quarantine the Past, Pavement.

* * * * *

GA RO TI

I would have loved to replicate that smoked chicken I had at Má Pêche, but adding a cold-smoking step to my prep list was just not in the cards this time. I did feel that, given careful management of portion size in this menu, chicken was the correct protein for this course. Not excessively heavy, and in no danger of disappearing among its counterparts. I was looking for something simple and bold, and looked no further than this traditional Vietnamese roast chicken. Like The Ravenous Couple, I opted for cornish hens, a longtime favorite of Erin’s. I served halves of the cornish hen, seared off in a cast-iron skillet and drizzled with a pan gravy described as Dipping Sauce in the referenced post.

I did choose to serve this with tomato rice, forgoing the fried egg and adding a liberal punch of ground sumac, a tip I picked up from fellow blogger Jean at Lemons and Anchovies. The sumac provides acid, aroma and texture to the rice, and takes the dish very slightly to the left of faithful. I hesitated to include the rice, thinking that adding a starch might be  bit much for an already loaded menu. However, this is definitely one of those cases where it’s better to cut portions than courses. The tomato rice was an unqualified hit, devoured by Caleb and reminiscent of jollof rice from Akua’s native Ghana.

Notes The halved birds can be cooked in advance and held at room temperature until the final sear. In the interest of accuracy, I used a mixture of white and black pepper in the marinade, as the recipe specified. I’ve since concluded that I dislike white pepper, whose aroma tends to unpleasantly dominate anything I have seasoned with it. I am apparently not alone in this opinion. I recommend sticking with black pepper (preferably tellicherry). I used the same master brine from Course 2 to make the pickled beets that I’ve shown on the plate. In retrospect, the beets look exactly like takuan, and I may opt for a different color next time.

Music cued High Violet, The National.

* * * * *

LEMONGRASS GRANITA

To finish, I wanted something both refreshing and fragrant, and had in mind a sorbet or granita made with lemongrass. I adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

3 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer leaves discarded and root ends trimmed
3 C water
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
juice from 1 lime

Trim lemongrass stalks of tougher, dried portions and thinly slice. Simmer sliced lemongrass in water, covered, for 5 minutes. Add mint and simmer, uncovered, for about a minute. Remove  from heat and add sugar, salt and lime, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Purée mixture and strain through a chinois, discarding solids. Correct for salt and lime. Chill the filtrate, covered, until cold (this can be done quickly by immersing your mixing bowl in icewater) and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

Notes This dish can be served immediately as a sorbet. If held in the freezer, its texture will become more crystalline, allowing it to be served in the form of a granita. Garnish with a mint or basil leaf, if desired. The aromatic components of this dish are volatile, so it is best consumed within 1 – 2 days.

* * * * *

As if on cue, Esme arrived from a classmate’s birthday party shortly after we finished dessert. Our luxurious dinner came to a close, and we stood, rapt, as our daughter regaled us with tales of princess outfits, bouncy houses, and cake.

[/one_half]
[one_half_last]

[/one_half_last]

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 …

[/one_half]
[one_half_last]





[/one_half_last]

Categories
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.
Noooooooooo.
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?
Yeah.
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.

 

[/one_half]

[one_half_last]


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

[/one_half_last]

Categories
Gluten Free Index Rant Salads Vegetarian

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

[one_half]

“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]

[one_half_last]

spinach leaves in paper towels

meyer lemon and shallot

champagne vinegar and walnut oil

gremolata

coke bottle with champagne vinegars

[/one_half_last]

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.

* * * * *

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.)

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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]

[one_half_last]

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
[/one_half_last]