Thursday, January 28, 2010

Momofuku Ramen

Okay, I am now officially 0 for 2 with the Momofuku cookbook, so it's time to make a teeny tiny confession. I don't really like the food I've had at Momofuku and Ssam Bar all that much. I tend to blame myself rather than the recipe when something comes out kind of meh, but I'm starting to think my tastebuds just don't work the way David Chang's do. For example, when I cook super-intricate restaurant food the way Suzanne Goin tells me to, I pretty much want to lick the plate in an extremely un-ladylike manner.

I stand by my comment that Momofuku is the single most entertaining cookbook I've ever read, but the recipes are not really rocking my world so far. In fact, the ramen broth, despite the fact that it took a whole freaking day to make, was strangely less palatable to me than my super-simple pork broth. Something about the kombu and shitakes added a weird funky aftertaste that muddied the broth instead of adding depth.

...Anyway. I made it. The Momofuku ramen. I admit, I did not take the extra step and make the tare. One thing I'll say is that this project left me with a fridge full of great leftovers: shiitake pickles, a poached chicken, shredded pork bone meat that I've earmarked for my long-planned meat pie project (the leftover pork would be also great fried up in a breakfast hash, or popped into tortillas, taco-style), not to mention boatloads of homemade soup broth. Always a welcome thing.

It's important to note that this is not a difficult recipe, just a time-consuming one. If you know how to boil water, that's basically all this is. Also, despite my kvetching above, this is a perfectly tasty bowl of noodles. I'll take it over Top Ramen any day.

Momofuku Ramen (Adapted from Momofuku by David Chang)

4-5 pounds of pork neck bones (get your butcher to hack it into pieces)
1 whole chicken
2 cups dried shiitakes
2 pieces of kombu (about 3"x6" each)
12 oz. smoked bacon
1 bunch scallions
1 onion, peeled and halved
Soy sauce and salt to taste

1. Fill a large stockpot with 6 quarts of water and the kombu and bring to a boil. Immediately shut the heat off and let the kombu soak in the hot water for ten minutes. After ten minutes have passed, remove the kombu. You can save this for a kombu/bamboo shoot salad that Chang describes elsewhere in the book.

2. Next, throw in the shiitakes, bring water back to a boil, then turn the heat down and let these simmer for about half an hour. The shiitakes should be all plumped up when you remove them, and you can make a fairly quick pickle with them. Per Chang's instructions: Remove and discard the shiitake stems and cut the caps into slices. Heat these in a saucepan with the following ingredients: ½ cup of sugar (I did a touch less), ½ cup of sherry vinegar, ½ cup of light soy sauce, 3-inch piece of peeled ginger. Simmer for about half an hour. Let cool. You can eat right away, or place in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to a month.

3. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the pork bones on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Put them in the oven at about the same time you add the chicken to the broth. (Both take about an hour). About half an hour into the cooking, turn the bones to ensure even browning.
4. Chicken time! Plop the entire chicken into the broth, making sure it's completely covered by liquid (top it off with water if not). Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that appears. Turn the heat to medium low and simmer this for about an hour. Chang doesn't say anything about what to do with the cooked chicken, but I rinsed it under cold water (to keep the texture silky) and turned half of it into drunken chicken. To do this, poke holes in the cooked chicken flesh using a fork and pour about half a cup of Chinese rice wine over it. Scatter some sea salt and sliced scallions on top. The other half, I ate with just habanero hot sauce drizzled over. Poached chicken is also great in chicken salad.

5. Now add the pork bones and bacon into the broth. You know the drill. Bring to a boil, then simmer, skimming scum off as necessary. After 45 minutes, fish out the bacon. I was not clever enough to find a use for boiled bacon, so I discarded it. If that seems wasteful to you, check out the genius bacon waffle at Momofuku for 2. Five hours of slow simmering later, throw the onion, scallions, and carrots into the broth for the final 45 minutes. Lastly, season the soup with soy and/or salt. Strain the broth. Save the meat from the pork bones for other uses.

This is pretty straightforward. Boil some storebought noodles and add toppings of your choice. To make it extra-authentic, make sure you drop the f-bomb a couple of times while you eat it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tangy and Spicy Thai Green Bean Salad

I never ever get cravings for something sweet. And purely salty food isn't that interesting to me either. The flavors that I go gaga for are bright, clean tastes, coupled with sour, bitter, or fermented notes, and an in-your-face blast of pure, sweat-inducing spiciness. In other words: Thai food. It's hands-down my favorite cuisine (with apologies to my Chinese parents), and our recent trip to Thailand only confirmed this fact. Everything we ate was so fresh, well-balanced, and full of flavor. I knew I was going to have to attempt to recreate some of my new favorite dishes once we returned home.

Of all the Thai dishes, I think salads best illustrate the incredible interplay of flavors at which Thai cooks are so adept. The contrasting flavors of hot, sour, sweet, and salty tend to blend together more in a soup, curry, or stir fry. We ordered a salad at every meal, and of the dozens of salads we sampled, my favorite was easily the winged bean salad. Sliced winged beans are blanched briefly so they retain their bite. Then an addictive tamarind-based dressing is drizzled over the top, with a few grilled shrimp and toasted coconut flakes or chopped nuts for crunch. I searched high and low for winged beans in the Bay Area, but couldn't track them down, so I had to settle for green beans. The recipe is from True Thai, the best of the dozen or so Thai cookbooks in my rapidly growing library.

To make the dressing, you will have to first make a chili-tamarind paste, which is a bit involved. But the paste keeps for up to three months in the fridge and can be used in anything from stir fries to soups for that authentic Thai touch. I include a few ideas for other uses at the end.
Thai Green Bean Salad (adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)

½ cup large dried shrimp
1 cup of peanut or canola oil
1/3 cup sliced garlic
1 cup sliced shallots
12-16 dried Japanese chilies (or other spicy red pepper)
3-4 tablespoons of tamarind paste (buy packaged seedless tamarind, soak in a bit of hot water for 10 minutes, then blend the mixture to a smooth paste. You can freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray.)
2 tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar is an acceptable substitute)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce

1. Soak the dried shrimp in a bowl of water. Rise briefly, then drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry the garlic briefly (about a minute), until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon or Chinese spider to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Fry the shallots until they start to brown (3 to 4 minutes). Remove and set aside with the garlic.

4. Repeat this process with the shrimp (1 minute) and chilies (30 seconds).

5. Place your fried ingredients in the bowl of a food processor along with the tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce and blend to a smooth paste.

6. Transfer the chili-tamarind paste to an air-tight container and refrigerate.

Note: The original recipe actually calls for holding the sugar and fish sauce back, then heating them along with the blended chili paste in a pan for 5-8 minutes until the sauce darkens. I did it this way the first time, then just added both ingredients in step 5 the second time. I actually sort of prefer the flavor of the quicker version, but I leave that choice up to you.

1 tablespoon chili-tamarind paste
½ cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
3 serrano chilis, minced

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or fork.

Mixed salad greens
One pound green beans, topped, tailed, and cut into 3-inch pieces)
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
¼ cup chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
A dozen shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Blanch the beans briefly, about 2-3 minutes. They should be tender, but retain a bit of bite. Drain.

2. Toast the coconut flakes in a dry pan over medium-low heat until golden brown (about 7-8 minutes). Set aside.

3. Toss the shrimp with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then grill in a heavy-bottomed pan for about 5 minutes, or until just cooked through. 

4. Combine salad greens, green beans, and cooked shrimp in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Scatter the toasted coconut and chopped peanuts (if using) over the top.
Other uses for chili-tamarind paste
SOUP: Add two tablespoons of paste to six cups of chicken (or vegetable) stock along with fish sauce and lime juice to taste. Add straw mushrooms and protein of your choice (shrimp, chicken, or tofu) and heat through. Top with cilantro and sliced fresh chilies.

STIR-FRY: Stir-fry about ten cloves of minced garlic in some oil. Then add two tablespoons of paste and a splash of fish sauce or soy to your favorite stir fry ingredients. Shrimp and baby corn is the combo that is featured in True Thai, but this would also be tasty with mixed vegetables (snow peas, carrots, bean sprouts, etc.), or slivered chicken and bamboo shoots.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Niu Rou Mian (Spicy Beef Noodle Soup)

A mere year ago, I could have never started this blog, because until very recently, I cooked mostly European food. I know! Crazy, right? For some strange reason, I got it into my head that Asian food is complicated to cook: intensive labor, hard-to-source ingredients, lack of great recipe resources. I am reminded of the introduction to Claudia Roden's "Book of Middle Eastern Food," in which she explains that in Egypt, recipes simply weren't publicly available—they were passed down within families like treasured heirlooms. Even today, the number of truly great, authentic Chinese cookbooks available in English can be counted on one hand. We are talking about one of the oldest cuisines on earth, with literally tens of thousands of recipes.

Thankfully, my mom is pretty modern (and an excellent cook). So when she divulged her recipe for niu rou mian—pretty much the quintessential Chinese noodle soup—I took notes. She also happens to hail from Taiwan, known to nrm enthusiasts as "heaven on earth." Her method calls for making a broth from beef shank, then separately making up a sort of tarka to toss into the broth. This combination then stews for about four hours, slowly turning the humble shank into luxuriously tender meat. Definitely do not undertake this project on an empty stomach!

Niu Rou Mian (My Mother's Recipe)

2-3 lbs of beef shank
Water to cover
Green onion and ginger
Soy sauce/salt to taste

2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 teaspoons of sugar
6 tablespoons of Szechuan peppercorn
2-3 tablespoons of minced (or grated) ginger
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
2-3 star anise
2 tablespoons of spicy chili bean paste
1 tablespoon cayenne or Indian red chili powder (optional)

1 lb tendon (optional)
½ lb of Chinese greens (I used Shanghai bok choy hearts)
Noodles (homemade or fresh store bought)
Green onions
Slivered zha cai (Szechuan pickled vegetable)

1. Place the whole beef shank in a large pot or Dutch oven with enough water to cover. Add about 4-5 stalks of green onion (well-rinsed) and 4-5 slices of ginger. Do not salt! This will ruin the flavor of the broth; you will be adding soy/salt at the very end. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a strong simmer for about half an hour. Remove and discard green onion and ginger. Then take the shank out and carve it into largish chunks, placing these (along with any juices) back into the pot. You will want a very good serrated knife for this task, as the shank is very tough to cut.

2. Heat the oil for the seasoning paste in a medium-sized frying pan. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved and just starting to caramelize (you will see a golden brown color appear in the bottom of the pan). Then add the rest of the seasoning paste ingredients and stir vigorously for about 90 seconds. This will smell fantastic, and you will want to eat a bowl of beef noodles right on the spot. Not so fast, my friend, you've still got three or four hours left to go. Throw this delicious mixture into the broth pot. 
3. If using tendon in your soup, simply boil it whole in a separate pot over medium-low heat until tender (about 2½ hours). Make sure to keep topping up the water level if necessary. Chop into bite sized pieces and add it to the main soup pot. Note that tendon will dissolve if you cook it for too long, so you may want to keep this aside if your soup isn't close to ready yet.

4. Every recipe I read claims that after two hours of simmering over very low heat, the beef will practically be falling apart. This was not the case for me. Mine took about four hours, at which point it became so lusciously tender that it practically dissolved upon contact. It was well worth the wait.

5. About 15 minutes before serving, add soy/salt to taste. I added about 2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Remove the peppercorns and star anise with a Chinese spider or skimmer. If you miss a few peppercorns, don't worry. They're edible, just a little bitter.

6. Prepare your noodles according to the package instructions. Shanghai noodles are available at most Asian markets, and work the best here. Or you can make your own, a surprisingly simple task that I document here. You have about six hours to kill anyway. Blanch veggies in the same pot of water. In your soup bowl, place a ball of noodles, followed by veggies. Pour about two cups of beef broth over, then add a few pieces each of beef and tendon. Scatter the top with slivered zha cai and green onions and serve.

Bonus: making a big pot of nrm will steam your windows up on a cold SF day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Homemade Hand-Cut Noodles

I've been calling myself a noodle addict for years, but it turns out I was just a recreational user. How could a supposed noodle junkie never even attempt to make her own supply? But yesterday, I went for it. In my search for the ultimate niu rou mian recipe, I stumbled onto gaga in the kitchen and her recipe for homemade noodles sounded so irresistibly easy that I had to try it. Guess what? Noodle making is a snap! Do people know about this?

All you need is a largish cutting board, a rolling pin, a butter knife, and some flour and water. The trick is to use lots and lots of flour when dusting. This will make a big mess, but never mind that, flour wipes right up with a damp cloth, and you will be too busy enjoying your tasty, chewy, homemade noodles to be bothered. I used a very different proportion of flour to water than gaga. Not sure if this was a typo in the original recipe, or if she uses a very different kind of flour. Anyway, I did three parts flour to one part ice water and it turned out great.

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup ice water

1. Mix flour and water in a mixing bowl until all flour is incorporated. Knead for 3 - 5 minutes on a lightly-dusted cutting board. Set aside, covered, for at least ten minutes to rest.

 2. Break dough in half. Roll out half of the dough to about ⅛ inch in thickness. Flour the side that's facing you. Roll loosely, shorter side facing you, sprinkling flour as you roll.

3. Using a butter knife, cut noodles to desired width. They cannot be too skinny, or they will be impossible to unroll. Unroll the noodles and lay them flat on a cookie sheet or other flat surface. Flour liberally.

4. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

5. Get out a very large pot and fill it about ¾ of the way with water. Bring to a boil.

6. While your water is getting hot, arrange the noodles into little bundles. As with all fresh noodles, these cook very, very quickly (in about a minute), so you want to throw them in all at once. Make sure your noodles are very well-floured, or they will stick together. Once the water is boiling, blanch and remove any vegetables you plan on serving. Then, when the water has returned to a rapid boil, toss your noodles in and give them a little stir with some tongs to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. As soon as your noodles start floating, remove them from the water with tongs. You could also drain them in a colander, if you choose.

This made two generous bowls of noodles. We ate every last one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quickie Cassoulet

My husband is kookoo for cassoulet. Therefore, it has long been my goal to make a cassoulet completely from scratch. Before I got really into cooking, I used to pick recipes based on what looked easy/do-able. But now I just make the things that I (and a few lucky loved ones) really crave, effort-be-damned. We tapped my father-in-law for the deets, since he's from cassoulet central, aka Castelnaudary. He told us that the selection of meats doesn't really matter, but we had to make sure to get lingot beans, which are skinnier than normal white beans. Sadly, we failed to find the one critical ingredient, but I tried my best nonetheless.

Cassoulet definitely involves some ingredient hunting, which is a marvelous excuse for me to drag my husband down to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. We bought some beautiful dried cannellinis from Dirty Girl farms, and duck confit from Boulette's Larder. There was only one lonely-looking Toulouse sausage left at Golden Gate, so I made a supplementary trip out to Andronico's for some garlic sausages. The breadcrumbs came courtesy of a long-term project involving me, my Cuisinart, and my freezer. I've finally figured out what to do with all the stale bread that accumulates in our house. (Blitz in the food processor, place crumbs in a freezer bag, and freeze for future cassoulet and/or meatball making occasions). They're basically free, and one hundred times better than the weird store-bought breadcrumbs, which appear to be made of sawdust.
I worked mostly off of this recipe by Paula Wolfert, except—true to form—I neglected to take into account the 6-8 hour cooking time and I'd already soaked the beans overnight. What follows is a highly compressed version of her timeline, the results of which passed muster with my French husband. Interpret that as you will. I choose to interpret it as a free pass to make cassoulet in two hours instead of six. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to recreate that unctuous, savory sauce that the beans swim around in. Turns out that melted carrots + salt pork = slightly sweet/slightly salty/total deliciousness.

Quickie Cassoulet
(inspired by Paula Wolfert and Saveur Magazine)
1 lb dried white beans (lingot if available, flageolet or cannelini if not)
Duck fat (from the confit) and/or olive oil
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
2 medium onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 smoked ham hocks
½ lb salt pork (in one piece)
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into chunks
1 box (4 cups) of low-sodium chicken broth
4 pork sausages
1 plum tomato, chopped
2-4 duck confit legs
1 cup homemade bread crumbs
½ cup parsley, chopped

Bouquet Garni
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves

Previous Night: Soak a pound of white beans overnight in enough water to cover.

1. Heat about two tablespoons of duck fat (or olive oil) in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the pork shoulder cubes in the fat and set aside. Add the carrots and onions (and more olive oil if necessary) and cook until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Then add the smashed garlic to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the salt pork and the ham hocks for about 10 minutes. This will rid them of some of their saltiness.

2. Now, add back the ingredients: browned pork, boiled salt pork and ham hocks, soaked beans (drain them first), chopped tomato, and bouquet garni (in a metal mesh strainer or cheesecloth) into the Dutch oven containing the carrots, onions, and garlic. Add the box of chicken broth and a cup or two of water. Bring the entire pot to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked but still have some bite to them.

3. Roughly 15 minutes before the beans are cooked, take the duck confit and fry it in a pan, for a few minutes on each side. Set aside. Now take the sausages and grill them in the duck fat for a few minutes per side, until cooked through. The stew should be adequately salted from the salt pork and ham hocks, but if not, salt to taste.

4. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

5. Once beans are cooked, remove the bouquet garni. Cut the meat from the ham hocks into bite-sized pieces and discard the bones. You can also throw out the salt pork, unless you are very cavalier about your cholesterol levels. Arrange the pan-fried duck and sausages on top of the stew. Then mix the breadcrumbs with the chopped parsley and cover the entire surface of your cassoulet with the breadcrumb mix. Drizzle the remaining duck fat (from the pan) on top.
6. Place the cassoulet (uncovered) in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. You can turn the broiler on for a few minutes at the end to help the browning process.
Now let's pretend for a moment that you are not French. And that your tolerance for eating a bowl full of pork products cooked in duck fat is limited to maybe...once a week, tops. The good news is that cassoulet freezes very nicely. I popped the leftovers into individually-sized Snapwares and created perhaps the fanciest tv dinner ever. Which means that some of us can get back to eating soup noodles for virtually every meal, as God intended.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Meet My Meat

Last week, my husband and I watched Food Inc., which was informative and eye-opening, and a little bit hard to watch. Apparently I've decided that I never want to eat again, because I'm also reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I won't go into all the info I've gleaned about chicken farming practices in the past few weeks, since I'm assuming that anyone reading a food blog does plan on eating again in his or her lifetime. Suffice it to say that today I bought a $30 chicken. It was from Soul Food Farm. It was humanely raised. And it was delicious. I made Hainanese Chicken Rice, and even though I botched the cooking time and had to throw the halfway-carved chicken back into the broth pot to cook some more, it was still juicy, moist, and flavorful when I served it. I would totally eat chicken half as often in order to have something that tastes three times as good. Now I'm dreaming about getting my hands on some of their famous eggs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Party Food: New Year's Eve

I had a somewhat sad moment today when I realized that I form crushes on chairs rather than men these days. Is this what being married does to you? Your fantasies start featuring sofa shopping instead of bed hopping? Planning a party used to be all about who I was going to make out with, now all I care about is what I'm going to make. By the way, can you tell that my husband and I have been re-watching old Sex and the City episodes on a regular basis?

Now that I've thrown a party or two, I can say that the key to a successful shindig is all about finding the right mix: the right mix of people, the right mix of music, and the right mix of easy, tasty standby recipes and one or two more complicated dishes to keep things interesting...and frankly, to show off a little bit. This New Year's Eve, I think we succeeded on all three counts.

Olive-Artichoke Crostini (Mario Batali's, via Smitten Kitchen)

Place one garlic clove, one cup of pitted green olives, one can of artichoke hearts in water (drained), and one tablespoon of capers, and a bit of best-quality olive oil into your food processor and blend. Add salt to taste. Smear this on little rounds of baguette that you've toasted in your oven at 350 degrees.

Other great crostini combos include smoked mackerel smashed in with some creme fraiche, chopped celery, horseradish, and a squeeze of lemon (sort of like a super fancy tuna salad) or white beans dressed with a bit of black olive tapenade, basil, garlic, and a simple red wine vinaigrette.

Make Ahead: 
Bacon-wrapped dates (inspired by Suzanne Goin)

Pit about two dozen Medjool dates. Stuff blue cheese (I used gorgonzola) in the center. Cut 12 strips of bacon lengthwise. Wrap bacon around the dates, holding in place with a toothpick. Once these are assembled, they can hang out at room temp for at least an hour, or in the fridge all day. Half an hour before you plan to serve these, place them in a foil-lined pan (the bacon will give off tons of liquid fat, so definitely do not use a cookie sheet) and bake for about 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven.

Asian-y Tuna Ceviche

This takes about 20 minutes to assemble and is a Jamie Oliver concoction. Take one pound of sushi-grade tuna and dice it. Place in a bowl with two finely diced serranos (or jalapenos), the juice from about three limes, a drizzle of sesame oil, a splash of soy, and one or two diced, ripe avocados. You can also grate in a bit of fresh ginger if you like. Stir. I serve this with flat seeded crackers, but it would also work with blue corn chips or toasted bread.

Slightly Advanced:  
Firecracker Shrimp
This is basically the shrimp roll recipe from my Vietnamese salad bowl. I prepped the rolls during the party, since the spring roll skins have a tendency to dry out. However, you could certainly make these far in advance and freeze them. To cook frozen rolls, you do not need to defrost. You can place these directly into the hot oil from the freezer. For a vegetarian version, stir fry some chopped cabbage, carrot, scallions, and tofu briefly in some oil. Season with a tablespoon each of soy & oyster sauce. Wrap tightly in spring roll skins, sealing with a simple paste of flour and water. I served these with some leftover tamarind dressing from the night before, but some nuoc cham, or any Asian-y dipping sauce would be great here.

Even Easier Than Easy:
I always put out a bit of cheese and fruit and maybe some wrapped chocolates. It gives your feast a real feeling of abundance without any added work.

I hope you all had a happy new year! What's your can't-fail party recipe?