Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quick and Easy Stir-Fried Noodles

One fun thing about having this blog is that it encourages me to tackle big projects that I might not otherwise undertake—recipes that require research, planning, shopping for strange ingredients. One thing I haven’t really talked about so far is the art of improvising. Having a basic game plan for improvisation is as valuable as 20 great recipes. Perhaps the theme I explore most often is broth, noodle, veggie, protein. But here’s another thing that came out of my kitchen recently. It was late...I was tired, hungry, a tiny bit tipsy. I had no idea what to make and no energy to figure something out. 
Earlier that day, my mom had brought over some Korean egg noodles that she wanted me to try, along with some fresh veggies from her garden. Can I just say that having a Chinese mom beats the pants off of belonging to a CSA? I’m sorry to say that I have no idea what these vegetables are. They’re some kind of brassica that grows at the farm where I used to volunteer. They are absolutely delicious. But you don’t need to head to the farm to make this dish. That’s what improvising is all about. All you need are noodles, vegetables, aromatics, protein, and sauce. Now who doesn’t have those things kicking around?

I chopped up all the ingredients I wanted to use, in this case mystery greens, half a yellow onion, fresh shitakes and a few criminis, along with a couple of serranos, because I like things spicy. You could make this with just about any fresh vegetable: celery, bok choy, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, zucchini, you get the picture. If you haven’t gone to the market lately, you could use canned bamboo shoots, canned baby corn, frozen sugar snap peas. For my protein, I used a couple of sausages, but chicken, beef, tofu, or skipping the protein and using only veggies would work too. I had some homemade chili-tamarind paste on hand, which I highly urge you keep around for purposes like this. You could use your favorite bottled stir-fry sauce in a pinch. Or quickly whip up a sauce of minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, and chili oil.  Cook your noodles (per the package instructions), stir fry ingredients with sauce. 15 minutes later, dinner is served.

Quick and Easy Stir-Fried Noodles
2 servings of noodles (ideally thicker noodles to stand up to the sauce)
Two pork sausages
1 teaspoon of canola oil (or more, if cooking a lean protein)
Two large handfuls of chopped veggies
½ yellow onion, sliced finely
4 shitakes and 4 criminis, sliced finely (optional)
2 serranos, sliced finely (optional)
1 scant tablespoon of chili-tamarind paste
1 tablespoon of broth or water (I used homemade duck broth)
Sprinkle of cayenne
Splash (about 1 teaspoon) of fish sauce
Fried shallots (optional)

1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boiling. 

2. Slice all your veggies into small, evenly-sized pieces. Keeping all the pieces roughly the same size is the fundamental rule of stir frying.  

3. When water is boiling, cook noodles (the egg noodles needed about four minutes). 

4. My pork sausages had plenty of their own fat, so I only added a touch of oil to the pan to get things going. Then I got my wok super hot and squeezed the meat out of the sausages into the pan, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spatula. Cook until pieces are browned on all sides, about 3 minutes.  

5. Toss in all your chopped veggies, onions, mushrooms, serranos (if using) and give it a quick stir in the wok.  

6. Add your seasonings: chili-tamarind paste, fish sauce, cayenne, and broth (or water). Mix well, stirring the whole time, for about a minute and a half.  

7. Drain noodles and add to the pan. Stir until sauce and noodles are thoroughly incorporated.  

8. I topped this with a pinch of fried shallots. You could also chop some cilantro or green onions and scatter those on top.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beluga Lentil Soup with Saffron Cream

I love lentils. This love snuck up on me slowly, starting with the addictive crispy lentils at Cobras and Matadors. I then discovered the endless variety of Indian dals: some mild and creamy, others fiery and studded with roasted vegetables, all amazing. It wasn’t long before I had four or five varieties of lentils in my pantry at all times. My current favorite is the miniscule black beluga. Once you rinse these in a little water, you’ll see exactly where they get their name.

Lentil soup is pretty hard to mess up. You can riff endlessly with the herbs and vegetables, add a generous squeeze of lemon at the end, or in this case, steal the idea for a luscious saffron cream from 101 Cookbooks. You know all those creative tricks vegetarians use to make their food tastier? They happen to make bacon-containing recipes taste pretty awesome too. I want to eat saffron cream on pretty much everything, but it’s perfection paired with this smoky, earthy lentil soup.

Beluga Lentil Soup with Saffron Cream
1½ cups of beluga lentils (you can also use puy lentils)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup of best quality pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of lacinato kale (sometimes called cavalo nero)
1 box of low-sodium chicken broth, plus water as necessary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Leaves from 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt to taste
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon boiling water
Pinch of salt
½ cup Greek yogurt

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch-oven or large stockpot. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, or until pancetta has cooked and added some of its delicious fat into the pan.

2. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.

3. Prep your kale by washing it well and removing the tough stalk. Cut the leaves into bite-sized ribbons. Pick over your lentils for any stones and give them a good rinse.

4. Add the beluga lentils and kale to the pot, then cover with broth and about one cup of water. It’s up to you how much liquid you’d like in your soup. Keep in mind that the lentils will absorb some as they cook.

5. Cook the lentils, covered, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or so. Then add the tomato paste and thyme and cook for another 15 minutes. Belugas are quite small and cook quickly. You may need to cook Puy lentils slightly longer. Add salt to taste.

6. Meanwhile, soak your saffron threads for a few minutes in a tablespoon of hot water. Then add half a cup of yogurt to the soaked saffron, a pinch of salt, and mix well.

7. Serve a bowl of the soup with a small spoonful of saffron cream on top. Warm crusty bread and a green salad make this a complete meal. As with most soups, this is even better the next day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Suicidally Spicy Salsas

I am a serious spice addict. One of my favorite food memories is of a Szechuan meal in Shanghai so hot it literally made me laugh and cry at the same time. I went back the next night for more punishment. In Costa Rica, I carried a little bottle of Linzano chili sauce in my purse, because I didn't want to run the risk of having to brave the famously mild cuisine without any salsa picante. In Thailand, my husband and I ate the incendiary mouse-dropping chilis (50-100K on the Scoville scale) straight up. In fact, wherever I travel, I make it a point to learn three phrases: hello, thank you, and make it spicy (phet mak mak, wo bu pa la, ha di peperoncino?).

So when I say these salsas are spicy, I am not kidding around. I suggest you start by making my super spicy salsas, and only attempt these if you think you can handle nearly twice as much heat. The first is just a twist on the Taqueria Cancun-inspired salsa verde recipe from that post. I eat it on pretty much a weekly basis (it's fabulous on eggs) and wasn't really thinking that it needed improvement. But then I found some intriguingly unfamiliar green peppers at my local produce market. They were in an unmarked box, and no one in the store could tell me their name in either English or Spanish. In the case of chilis, smaller is better, and these were some of the tiniest peppers I've seen for sale in the U.S. I grabbed about a cupful—for the bargain price of $2!—and quickly came home to pickle my peppers. Pickling intensifies the spicy flavor of the peppers and helps them last a lot longer without spoiling.

Explosive Salsa Verde with Pickled Mystery Peppers
The pickling recipe is super simple and comes from the Momofuku cookbook. I cut down the sugar because after cooking four or five recipes from the book, I've decided that David Chang has a much bigger sweet tooth than I do. In an airtight container, combine a cup of hot water (from the tap, not boiling) with half a cup of rice vinegar, two tablespoons of sugar and just over two tablespoons of kosher salt. Mix all those ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved. Put your peppers in. They should be ready to eat in a couple of days and last forever.

To make the new and improved green salsa, I simply added three of these super spicy pickled peppers to the usual ingredients, which have been tweaked a tiny bit since I last posted the recipe (one ripe avocado, handful of cilantro, pinch of salt, six serranos, juice of two limes) and blended it all to a smooth paste. Best batch yet.

For the second salsa, I turned to another Mission restaurant for inspiration. I'm obsessed with the super sour salsa at Poc Chuc (a Mayan eatery), and I've been dying to recreate it at home. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get my hands on the magic ingredient, "sour oranges." I tried some bottled sour orange juice that I found in one of the nearby Mexican markets and it wasn't even close. Then, I happened to be browsing Epicurious for habanero salsa recipes and they connected the dots for me. Sour orange = Seville orange. Fortuitously, we happen to be in the middle of citrus season, so I ran down to Bi-Rite and bought a bagful of these beauties. Seville oranges, by the way, also make a fantastically tart dressing that stands up well to strong salad greens like arugula and peppercress. 

Once I found the magic ingredient, the recipe came together very quickly. This salsa will be incredibly spicy when you first make it, but if you let the mixture sit for about fifteen minutes, it starts to mellow out (and the onions take on a lovely pickled quality).

Mayan Salsa (inspired by Poc Chuc)
2-3 Seville oranges
1 white onion, cut into extremely fine dice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 habanero peppers
Pinch of salt

1. Place the stemmed habanero peppers and the juice from your Seville oranges into a blender or food processor and blend until habaneros are basically liquified. Add oregano and salt and pulse briefly to mix.

2. Place white onion in a fine-mesh colander and rinse briefly. Then add it to a bowl with the habanero-orange mixture.

3. Let salsa stand for about 15 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup

How is it possible that I haven't yet blogged about homemade chicken broth? This magical stuff is the secret ingredient to a perfect bowl of soup noodles. I'm not sure who started the myth that chicken broth is hard to make, but I suspect it was someone in the canned broth industry. Sure, I'll reach for store-bought broth if I'm making a super-flavorful dish like black beans or jambalaya, because the heavy spicing totally obscures the flavor of the broth. But in a dish like soup noodles, where you're pretty much drinking the broth straight, you have to go homemade or go home.

First, let's banish the idea that making your own broth is difficult. It only takes one pot, a handful of common ingredients and about an hour, most of that unattended. In return, you get about five to six liters of broth, enough for at least ten bowls of noodles. Plus, if you buy your chickens whole, remove the meat, and freeze the carcasses, making your own broth is practically free. That's right. I just said free soup noodles!! I may as well be telling you the secret to making free crack cocaine, because that is pretty much how I feel about soup noodles. I can't wait to see the Google traffic I get from that last sentence.

Now, in a perfect world, you already have some frozen chicken bones saved up for this project. Otherwise, you'll need to buy bones from a butcher, or buy a whole chicken and find some other use for the meat, for example, chicken biryani. You can also use some of the meat in your soup noodles, as I'll describe below. Either way, you need the bones from a couple of chickens. Because chicken broth is so easy to freeze (and useful in just about any recipe, from risotto to gumbo to gravy, not to mention those bowls and bowls of soup noodles I go through in any given week), I always make as much as possible in one go.

Homemade Chicken Broth
Bones from two chickens
Water to cover
4 or 5 green onions, washed
A few slices of ginger
Salt to taste
½ cup of Chinese rice wine (optional)

1. Place chicken bones in a large stockpot. Cover (barely) with water. As my mom always says "don't get greedy." Add onions and ginger and bring to a boil. As soon as bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium-low and skim off any scum that appears. The easiest way to do this is with a cheapy scum skimmer that you can pick up for about $2 in an Asian market. I got mine at Kamei (a restaurant supply store) and use it at least once a week, giving it easily the best ROI of any single item in my kitchen.

2. Add rice wine (if using) and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Strain out bones, ginger, and green onion. Salt to taste. The resulting broth should taste clean, bright, and almost sweet. 

At this point, you can use the broth. If freezing, allow broth to cool (never place hot/warm items in your freezer), place in airtight containers—allowing a bit of room for expansion—and freeze for up to three months.

Seeing as just about every other recipe on earth calls for chicken broth, I don't think you'll have any problems finding uses for your new ingredient. Here's how 99% of the chicken broth in my house gets used.  

Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup
1 chicken breast or thigh (Note: sometimes I use frozen fish balls, tofu, or wontons as my protein, to keep things interesting)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Fresh-ground black pepper
Splash of sesame oil
¾ cup of green, leafy vegetables (e.g., baby bok choy, spinach, napa cabbage, romaine lettuce), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup of straw or shiitake mushrooms (optional)
1 serving of noodles (I usually use rice vermicelli)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Chili oil and fried shallots

1. If the chicken broth is frozen, you will need to move it into the refrigerator two nights before using to give it time to defrost. Heat 1½ cups of defrosted broth in a small saucepan over medium heat. If chicken broth is freshly made, you can obviously use it straight from the stockpot.

2. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and marinate for a few minutes in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper.

3. Start a large pot of water boiling.

4. In a small frying pan, cook the chicken for a few minutes, stirring so it gets evenly cooked. After about four minutes, add the mushrooms. Saute for another minute. Remove from heat.

5. Add noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Rice vermicelli only takes about a minute to cook. Place vegetables in the water and blanch briefly (30-45 seconds). No matter which noodles you're using, don't add the vegetables until the very end of the noodles' cooking time. The veggies really only need a quick dip in the boiling water to cook.

Place a bundle of noodles in the bottom of your bowl. Top with chicken-mushroom mixture and blanched vegetables. Ladle broth on top. Serve with sliced scallions, homemade chili oil, and fried shallots.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Raw Baby Artichoke Salad with Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

I am a voracious reader. And as you may have guessed, I'm kind of into food. So you can bet that I've got dozens and dozens of cookbooks in my house. And what's more, I keep a list of the dozens more I'm dying to buy but can't sacrifice the shelf space for. So I'm not really sure what kind of voodoo magic The Family Chef worked on me when it leapfrogged right over every last one of the droolworthy tomes that I've been eyeing for months and straight into my Amazon cart. I hadn't heard anything about it. The cover is, frankly, kind of blah. And an endorsement from Jennifer Aniston is more likely to get me not to buy something than the other way around.

And yet, I keep reaching for it again and again. It's packed with accessible, reliable recipes that have just enough of a twist to keep me interested. The dishes all feel healthful without tasting like health food. And the vibrant, appetizing photos feature a lot of my favorite ingredients: beluga lentils, red quinoa, beets, kale. Speaking of favorite ingredients, let's talk about baby artichokes, arugula, and truffles. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was on. I made a couple of small changes, based on what I had in the house, and this one's a winner. Bonus: the leftover dressed artichokes (if you manage to save any) are just the thing to make an otherwise ordinary wrap sandwich into something pretty special.

Lemon Truffle Dressing (adapted from The Family Chef)
The original recipe calls for lemon juice only, but I spaced while shopping so I had to make do with the one lonely lemon already in my house. Luckily I happened to have a bergamot orange on hand, which is more sour than a normal orange (but sweeter than a lemon). Generally cookbooks recommend a ratio of three parts oil to one part acid, but I usually prefer a ratio of one to one, especially when the acid is mild, as in a citrus dressing.

Juice of half a lemon & juice of half a bergamot orange (should total 3 tablespoons)
1 small shallot, finely diced
½ tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Pinch of truffle salt
Fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small container with a lid and shake well until emulsified.

Baby Artichoke Salad
1 baby artichoke per person (more if you plan on having leftovers)
Half a lemon (to keep the artichokes from browning)
A few handfuls of wild arugula, washed
2 tablespoons of raw, shelled pumpkin seeds (sometimes sold as pepitas)
Lemon-truffle dressing (recipe above)

1. To prep baby artichokes, remove the first couple of layers of tough outer leaves. Cut off the stem and the top inch or so of the artichoke. I always buy artichokes that are roughly the size of medium lemons or smaller and have never encountered choke. If your artichokes are larger than that, you may have to slice them in half and remove the choke with a paring knife.

2. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water (this is just water with the juice of half a lemon in it). Using a very sharp knife or mandoline, slice the artichokes thinly and place in the water to prevent browing.

3. Drain the sliced artichokes well and toss them with about ⅔ of the dressing.

4. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes (until light brown and crunchy).

5. Prepare a bed of arugula, scatter the artichokes on top, scatter the pumpkin seeds over this. Add more dressing if desired. In the future, I might even throw a sliced Asian pear to the mix.

Ham, Artichoke, and Avocado Wrap
The next day, the artichoke leftovers were calling me from the fridge. You know those things were pretty tasty if they distracted me from my daily fix lunch of soup noodles. I took a flour tortilla, layered some lunch meat onto it (black forest ham), sliced avocado on top of that, and then added the truffle-lemon artichokes and arugula last. When making wraps, just remember to keep the drier, flatter items on the outside, and the wetter, fluffier items on the inside. You can improve the structural integrity even further with a glue-like ingredient, such as avocado, goat cheese, or cream cheese. Hold the whole thing together with a toothpick, or by wrapping it in foil, and enjoy.

Watch me make it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Triple Noodle Taste-Off (Pork and Preserved Vegetable Noodle Soup)

Let's say there's an ingredient you use in your house all the time. Like, oh, I don't know, noodles. And you've settled on your preferred brand. How can you be sure you've really chosen the best available option? That's where a little thing I like to call the double-blind taste test comes in. You'll need at least two people to perform this extremely scientific experiment.

Select the item that you wish to test, in this case, fresh wheat noodles. One person prepares the ingredients and places them in three identical serving dishes labeled A, B, and C, noting which brand went into which container. That person then leaves the room. Now the second person rearranges the bowls, marking them 1, 2, and 3 (and of course, making note of which number corresponds to which letter). Now both tasters are effectively "blind". Of course, as you can see from the photo, it's often not hard to tell which is which.
For the triple noodle taste-off, I selected Korean noodles, Taiwanese noodles, and Shanghai-style noodles. All are made of roughly the same ingredients (wheat flour, salt, and water). All were roughly the same thickness. I made a pork and preserved vegetable soup as the carrier.
And the results according to both tasters were: Korean #1, Taiwanese #2, Shanghainese #3. The Korean noodles had a nice bite, but also a slippery quality that really gave them a nice mouthfeel, especially in the broth. The Taiwanese noodles had bite, but the texture was mostly one-dimensional. The Shanghai noodles were flabby and tasted bland. Next I need to do an all Korean noodle taste-off.

I've previously talked about a shortcut method for making pork and preserved vegetable noodle soup. For this taste-off, I made it the more traditional way. I also added a bit of napa cabbage, because I love veggies.

Pork and Preserved Vegetable Noodle Soup (for two)
½ pound pork tenderloin, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon corn starch
Splash of sesame oil
Fresh ground pepper
¾ cup slivered zha cai (Szechuan pickled vegetable)
4-5 cups of homemade pork broth
Two bundles of your favorite fresh noodles (I recommend Samdoo brand)
6-7 leaves of napa cabbage, washed and sliced (optional)
Chili oil and fried shallots for serving

1. Mix the soy sauce, corn starch, and sesame oil in a bowl and place the pork in this mixture. Then grind a little black pepper on top, mix well, and marinate the pork for about ten minutes. The corn starch helps break down the fibers in the meat, making it more tender.

2. Boil a pot of water for your noodles. Heat the broth in a small saucepan.

3. In a wok or large skillet, stir-fry the pork for a few minutes, until it is no longer pink on the outside. Then add the zha cai and stir fry for about two more minutes.

4. Cook noodles according to package instructions, about 3-4 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, pour about ½ cup of water in your skillet or wok and lightly braise the napa cabbage until it is just tender.

Place a bundle of noodles in the bottom of each soup bowl. Then divide the pork topping and cabbage between the bowls and ladle the broth over. Serve with chili oil and fried onions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spicy Chicken Biryani

Of all the Asian cuisines, I think Indian used to be my least favorite. This was entirely my own fault. Unless you seek it out, Indian food as it's served in this country is a little bit same-y same-y: buffet-style curries that have been sitting in warming pans for who knows how long, overly-cooked vegetables, greasy naan. Then along came Kasa, which cured my of my prejudices just in time for a three-month stint living in London. I can never resist a good market, and we were living a stone's throw from Brick Lane, a treasure trove of exotic Indian vegetables, spices, and sauces. I'd never cooked in a foreign country before, and it was remarkable how many things I'd taken for granted. The measurement system, for example. Still, being away from home gave me the freedom to experiment. Since everything was a little unfamiliar, down to the electric range in our subletted flat, I had no choice but to embrace the new.

My first couple of experiments were nothing special. But then, one night, I made a suprisingly successful tikka masala. Another time, it was a spicy cilantro-flecked dal that beat anything I'd tasted back home. The very thing that makes Indian food intimidating to try—the preponderance of unfamiliar spices—makes it surprisingly easy to come back to. Once you've purchased that initial supply of spices, you may as well use it.

As soon as we returned stateside, I bought a couple of Indian cookbooks. I discovered Madhur Jaffrey through her wonderful memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees. I've found her recipes to be precise, easy-to-follow, and (most importantly) delicious. Her chicken biryani is absolute perfection. The last time I made this, I tried to roast cauliflower at the same time and I split the difference on the oven temperature. All I can say is, don't do this. Both dishes will turn out poorer for it.

Chicken Biryani (adapted from An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey)
I'm a fan of any spicy rice and I added quite a bit of red chili powder to the original recipe. If you prefer your food milder, you can omit this ingredient. You will need to start this roughly four hours before you plan on serving it. This allows time to prepare the marinade, two hours for marination, about half an hour of stovetop preparation, and one hour in the oven. Even though this is a fairly time-consuming dish, it is ideal for dinner parties, as the last hour of cooking is completely hands-off, leaving you free to cook any side dishes or starters you wish to serve.

6 medium-sized onions
3 cloves garlic (peeled and roughly chopped)
Thumb-sized piece of ginger (peeled and roughly chopped)
10 whole cloves
20 whole black peppercorns
8 whole cardamom pods
¼ teaspoon ground cinammon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon whole poppy seeds
¼ teaspoon ground mace
2 tablespoons of red chile powder or cayenne (Caution: very spicy! You can reduce or omit this if you wish)
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons lemon juice (roughly 1½ lemons)
8 ounces (1 small container) plain yogurt
Vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
4 large black cardamoms (if available)
1 whole, organic chicken (3-4 pounds)
2 teaspoons saffron
2 tablespoons milk
2½ cups long-grain or basmati rice
2 tablespoons golden raisins

1. Start by making the marinade. Peel and coarsely chop three of the onions. Place them, along with the garlic, ginger, cloves, peppercorns, cinammon, coriander, cumin, poppy seeds, mace, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt into a blender or food processor. You will also want to add the seeds from your cardamom pods (not the black cardamoms, but the pale green ones). To remove the seeds, simply smash the shell with the handle of your knife or the bottom of a bowl and remove the fragrant black seeds with your fingers. Add the cardamom seeds to the other ingredients and blend to a smooth paste.

2. Peel the three remaining onions and slice them into fine rings. Using a 10-inch, heavy-bottomed-skillet, heat about two tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the bay leaves and black cardamoms. Fry for about ten seconds. They will infuse the oil with flavor. Next add your onions and fry them in the oil for about ten minutes. Stir them so they cook evenly and do not burn. You want these to get golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon, squeezing out the excess oil into the pan. Reserve the flavored oil, bay leaves, and black cardamoms.

3. Find a bowl large enough to hold your chicken. Hold back about a third of your fried onions for garnishing and let them rest on a paper towel to draw out the excess oil. Into the bowl, place the remaining two thirds of your fried onions, all of the spice paste from the blender or food processor, and the container of yogurt. Mix these together to make the marinade.

4. Break your chicken down, or, if you are not comfortable doing this, you can buy your chicken in pieces. Save the wings for another use. Remove the skin and cut the meat into largish chunks (about three inches across). I always save any chicken bones in a plastic bag in the freezer to make broth. Place meat in the marinade, mix well, and refrigerate for at least two hours. Turn occasionally.

5. After two hours have passed, take the bowl out and heat its entire contents in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid. I use my Le Creuset dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

6. In a separate pot, bring about 15 cups of water and pinch of salt to a boil. Rinse and drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. As soon as the water returns to a boil, cook rice for an additional five minutes. You do not want the rice to cook through. Drain in a colander.

7. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate, shaking any excess marinade back into the pot, and cook down the marinade paste until it is reduced by about half (about ten minutes). Turn the heat off. Put the chicken back into the pot, mixing it well with the reduced marinade.

8. Preheat the oven to 300°. Microwave the milk for about 30 seconds and add the saffron. Let this soak for a few minutes.

9. Place the drained rice on top of the chicken and marinade. Then arrange the reserved bay leaves and black cardamoms on top. Drizzle most of the onion-flavored oil on top of the rice, holding back a tablespoon or so to fry the golden raisins. Pour the saffron milk over the rice in streaks.

10. Cover the pot with aluminum foil and place the lid on top of this, crinkling the edges of the aluminum against the side of the pot to create as airtight a seal as possible. Bake for one hour.

11. Fry the golden raisins for about a minute in the remaining onion-flavored oil and set aside.

To Serve: 
I like to show off the beautiful saffron-streaked dish to my guests as it comes out of the oven. Remove the bay leaves and black cardamom. Mix the chicken and the rice together, then scatter over the fried onions and raisins. I serve this straight out of the cooking container, but you can also transfer to a large platter as Jaffrey suggests. Clearly she is a far classier hostess than I.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Udon with Mushrooms Three Ways

Ever since my husband got way too excited about a fairly unremarkable bowl of udon at Narita Airport, I've been kicking around a bunch of ideas for my own recipe. Calling a bad bowl of noodles tasty is like waving a red flag in front of me. Though, in fairness to my husband, we had been eating nothing but airplane food for the better part of a day.

I knew my version would feature homemade dashi. And a few entertaining blog entries about foot-kneaded udon got me thinking I could make my own noodles from scratch. Then I noticed that this month's Beet 'n Squash You contest is battle mushrooms, which happens to be one of my favorite ingredients. Suddenly all of my ideas began to coalesce.
Sadly, the homemade udon experiment did not go that well. The noodles were a little too chewy and doughy for my taste. I might have gone overboard with the bread flour to all-purpose flour ratio. Plus I added tapioca starch for good measure. If you're interested in making your own udon, I suggest you head over here for further instructions.

Meanwhile, the rest of the soup was well worth making again...with frozen udon next time. Frozen udon is surprisingly high in quality, about on par with what you would get at all but the best Japanese restaurants in the U.S. (or at the airport in Japan). The homemade dashi was much better than instant hon-dashi, with a subtle ocean-y flavor that wasn't overpowered by salt or MSG. I splurged on some really nice looking kombu (kelp) and bonito (dried skipjack). The bonito came in large flakes, and looked much nicer than the tiny shavings I usually buy in individually-wrapped packs.
But what could I do to make my soup extra awesome? I mean, the overall quality of the entries in these Beet 'n Squash You competitions is pretty mind-boggling. I knew I had to take things to the next level. So I decided to prepare the mushrooms three ways: pickled, tempura-fried, and poached in my homemade dashi. I bought a nice assortment of mushrooms in Japantown. Look at how cute they are! They're like the three bears: baby is enoki, mama is beech, and papa is maitake, or hen of the woods. Here's how it all came together.

Homemade Dashi (inspired by Gourmet Magazine)
1 oz. kombu (broken into 4-5 inch pieces)
1 large handful (about a cup) of bonito flakes
6 cups of water

1. Heat kombu and water together until water is nearly (but not quite) at boiling point. Lower heat and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Remove kombu.

2. Immediately drop bonito into the broth and steep for 3 minutes.

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids.

Mushroom Udon Soup
By poaching the mushrooms in the dashi, I wanted to infuse the dashi with the mushrooms and vice versa. The results were umami-tastic.

2 servings of udon noodles (fresh or frozen)
Assorted fresh mushrooms (I used enoki and beech, maitake for the tempura recipe below, and pickled shiitakes).
Handful of spinach, washed
1 green onion, sliced thinly
6 cups homemade dashi
Soy sauce to taste
Ichimi togarishi for serving (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Season your strained dashi with about a tablespoon of soy sauce (add more or less as you prefer). Taste. If you are satisfied, add the washed mushrooms to the broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for about five minutes, covered. Turn heat to low and keep pot covered, so that the broth remains warm for plating.

3. Once your large pot of water is boiling, blanch your spinach and set aside. Return to a boil and cook noodles according to package instructions.

4. Drain noodles. Place a bundle in the bottom of a bowl and top with mushrooms, spinach, and a few ladlefuls of broth. Then scatter some green onion on top.

Maitake Tempura (inspired by Flavor Explosions
I read a lot of different recipes for tempura batter, but all agreed on one point: the water must be ice cold so your batter turns out crisp, not soggy. 
2 cups of rice flour
1 egg yolk
2 cups of ice cold sparkling water
Corn starch for dusting
4 cups of canola or grapeseed oil
1 bunch of maitake mushrooms
Sea salt to taste

1. Mix flour, water, and egg yolk together into a wet batter.

2. Clean your maitakes and dry thoroughly. You can also dust with a bit of corn starch to make them even drier. Break maitakes into smallish clumps.

3. Place oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Try and pick one that isn't too wide, so the oil is deep enough for frying (hence, deep-frying). Heat oil on high for about five minutes. You can test if the oil is ready by dropping a bit of batter into it. It should sizzle immediately. Turn the heat down slightly. Now, in batches, dredge the maitake thoroughly in the tempura batter and drop into the hot oil. Cook until crispy, turning once (about two minutes total). Do not crowd the pan, or the temperature of the oil will drop too much. I did these two at a time.

4. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue frying until all maitakes are cooked. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve (either atop your soup noodles or on their own with a squeeze of lemon).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

East vs. West: Two Types of Fish Eggs

Here's another east/west post. In this case, Italian spaghetti con bottarga goes up against mentaiko kimchi udon, a Japanese-Korean fusion dish I found on Momofuku for 2, one of my new favorite food blogs. Not only are the photos and food-styling on Stephanie's site major eye candy, but it's packed with fantastic tips, like the substitution of cast iron pans for stone bowls to make a crispy bibimbap-inspired dish. So smart!

Both of these dishes are super simple, with a cooking time of maybe 15 minutes apiece. The hardest part will be sourcing your fish eggs. I found the bottarga at Boulette's Larder. For those who don't live in SF, try your local Italian deli, or order it online. I used mentaiko from Nijiya in Japantown; look for it at your local Japanese or Korean market. The spaghetti is a classic: a perfect pairing of olive oil and garlic, with bottarga standing in for the salty hit usually provided by parmesan. The second dish is a surprisingly successful combination of creamy butter, spicy kimchi, and slippery strands of chewy udon. Both are winners, in my book.

Spaghetti con Bottarga (inspired by Mario Batali)
About half a packet of spaghetti (preferably artisanal)
1 oz bottarga
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Handful of chopped parsley
Lemon zest

1. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Because there are so few ingredients in this dish, use the best quality pasta you can find.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and briefly cook the garlic until fragrant. Remove from heat.

3. Drain the spaghetti, toss with the olive oil mixture (and a spoonful of pasta water, if necessary). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon zest and divide between two bowls.

4. Using a peeler or grater, shave half of the bottarga over each dish. I used a peeler in this case, but I think I would use my microplane grater next time, for more even distribution of the bottarga.

Mentaiko Kimchi Udon (inspired by Momofuku for 2)
2 bricks of frozen udon (or homemade, if you have time)
1 sac mentaiko
1 tablespoon butter
1 scallion, sliced thinly
1 sheet of nori, snipped into thin strips
2 tablespoons kimchi, roughly chopped

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, prep your other ingredients (chop onions, kimchi, nori). Place the tablespoon of butter in a small microwave-safe bowl.

2. Once the water is at a full boil, drop in your two bricks of udon. They should only take about a minute to cook. Microwave the butter for about 30 seconds (or until melted) and scrape the contents of a sac of mentaiko into the melted butter. Discard membrane.

3. Drain noodles and toss them in the mentaiko butter. Add the kimchi and mix well. Then divide between two bowls and scatter the nori and scallion on top.