Condiments

HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

 

THE UNFAILING WONDER OF AMERICAN SINGLES THAT MELTS INTO THE MOST VISCOUS INTENTION TO BRING OUT A BIT OF CHILDISHNESS IN ALL OF US

WHAT:  Using Japanese curry cubes – another one of their culinary ingenuities – as a building foundation for an even more complex, cocoa-y and cheesy curry paste that will bring instant late-night slurping to a new height.

WHY:  It’s creamy.  It’s delicious.  And if you need more than that then slap on nostalgic as well.  Because Japanese curry, or shall I say kare, is a deep-rooted comfort in just about every Asian’s dietary habit.  And if done right, it will withhold the same standing in your life as well.

HOW:  Japanese curry cube, on its own, can be a bit sweet and lacking of intensity, born out of this culture’s rounder and more reserved disposition on tastes as well as, I suspect, philosophy.  In the effort to deviate from its original path, I have been for years adding my own “defectors” to bring it just where I like it, more curry powder for spiciness, cocoa powder for complexity, instant coffee for a touch of bitterness and fragrance, and a kiss of Dijon mustard for acidity.  Then last but not least, the junky yet unfailing wonder of American singles that melts into the most viscous intention to bring out a bit of childishness in all of us.

This versatile paste can be used to create, instantly if I may stress, an array of noodle-companions ranging from a milder and drinkable broth for a Japanese staple called kare udon, to a more powerful and creamy gravy to dress any noodles “dry-style” (my favorite), all the way to possibly being used as an instant mix for this fried rice.  A soft-boiled egg, an extra single, or even a nub of cold butter, hell let’s put a few McNuggets on top.  There’s really no possible way to go overboard with it.  And even if there is, it won’t judge.

 

Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves of garlics, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp onion powder
  • 6 cups (1400 ml) low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 regular box (230~250 grams) Japanese curry cubes, such as this one (see note *)
  • 5 slices of American cheese, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground cayenne, plus or minus to your liking
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. In a large, wide and deep skillet (the wide diameter creates more surface area and speeds up the reduction process), cook canola oil, onion, garlics and onion powder over high heat, until the edges of the onions are slightly browned. Add low sodium beef or chicken stock, continuing to boil over high heat, until the mixture is reduced down by 2/3, about 20 minutes.
  2. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another smaller pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can then discard the solids. You should have about 1 1/2 cup of liquid left (it can be slightly under but not more). Now add the curry cubes, American cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, curry powder, cocoa powder, fish sauce, cayenne, instant coffee and Dijon mustard. Cook and stir over medium heat, until all the ingredients are fully melted and evenly incorporated into a thick paste.
  3. Transfer into an air-tight jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed. Can be kept for up to 1.5 (estimate) months in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer.
  4. TO USE THE MIX: You can use the mix to make a lighter drinkable curry broth, or a stronger gravy-like sauce. To make a curry broth, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and whisk in 3~4 tbsp of instant curry mix, and let simmer for a couple minutes. Add udon noodles or other noodles of your choice. To make a gravy-like sauce, cook udon or other noodles of your choice in boiling water according to instructions. Remove the noodles and set inside a serving bowl. Mix a few tbsp of the cooking water with curry mix until it reaches your desired consistency and intensity, then mix it evenly with the noodles. As a general finishing touch, torch a slice of American cheese on top until melty, and serve immediately.

Notes

* Japanese curry cubes, or curry sauce mix, can be easily found in all major Asian supermarkets and/or online. This recipe calls for one regular box, which ranges from 230~250 grams depending on the brands (but they do come in smaller packaging sometimes so make sure you check the package). And they also come in "mild", "medium", and "hot". Here I'm using "hot".

http://ladyandpups.com/2018/06/04/homemade-instant-noodle-mix-series-instant-cheesy-japanese-curry-udon-noodle-mix/

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT PHO BO MIX

 

WHAT:  Instant pho bo noodle soup mix, the answer to the prayers of all the geographically misplaced and physically unable foodies who make the regrettable mistake of watching a Vietnam street-food video on Youtube pass 10 PM.  We know who we are.

WHY:  Widely known as a labor-intensive and time-consuming dish, yet cruelly happens to be the most desired slurp from Southeast Asia in North America, pho bo has been tormenting addicts who are kept apart from a proper fix due to cold hard geography, or, something no less ruthless, a human condition called sloth.  But this barrier is no more, my friends.  Because what is mankind if not the extraordinary will to cheat its way through shortcomings?

HOW:  Every single aromatics and spices that are used in the traditional preparation of pho bo undergoes the exact same treatment in this recipe, the charring of the onion and ginger, the roasting of shrimp paste, the calculated balance of spices.  The only difference is that the mixture is blended together with an ultra-reduction of store-bought beef broth and fish sauce, into a smooth, saucy seasoning.  When the craving hits, the complete obliteration of the ingredients allows their full and speedy release of flavors and aroma where they dissipate into more beef broth (don’t worry, still store-bought), creating a marvelously close-tasting broth to the ones that take hours, all in just 2 minutes.  From this point on, all it needs is a mandatory fine-tuning of lemon juice, sliced onion and fresh herbs to bring it quintessentially Vietnamese.  Then, a couple squirts of Sriracha and hoisin sauce to make it non again.

Here you ask, is this the same as the pho bo you tasted in Saigon where you lost a tender piece of your soul behind and was left to wonder this earth forever incomplete?  Pffff, of course not!  A cheat is a cheat.  Anyone who’s tried liposuction will tell you they don’t look like Gisele Bündchen quite yet.  But I will say this, that in between all the sad Vietnamese restaurants provided by the cities where I’ve stayed in the past almost two decades – New York, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing – or the alternative of plowing through 12 hours of labor whenever the craving hits, honestly, I prefer this instant mix over any of the above.  And if you know me at all, that’s saying a lot.  

 

FOR ALL THE GEOGRAPHICALLY MISPLACED AND PHYSICALLY UNABLE FOODIES, WHO MAKE THE REGRETTABLE  MISTAKE OF WATCHING A VIETNAM STREET-FOOD VIDEO ON YOUTUBE PASS 10 PM

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Homemade instant noodle mix series: Crack slurp mix

 

HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE, WILL NO LONGER BE AN OXYMORON

Today we’re launching yet another recipe series!  One that I’ve been wanting to put together for awhile and, if I’m being totally honest, I haven’t been this excited about something for a long time.

It’s called, Homemade Instant Noodle Mix Series!

This new series is my answer to my own struggle over the years during the frequent occurrences when instant noodles – one of my loyal and trusty, lifelong companion – fails to be A) adequately satisfying, B) available at wherever I am currently residing, C) excessively reliant on chemical flavorings and preservatives, and D) reaching the full potential of the culinary wonderland that instant noodles have every capability to become.

This series will bring you relatively easy recipes that each creates one large batch of an ultra-concentrated seasoning, very much like the flavoring packets that come with commercially packaged instant noodles except in a larger quantity, which you could later use to build better-than-most-commercially-sold instant noodles simply by adding water, stock, and noodles of your choice.  Less than 20 minutes of cooking will secure you with a great number of highly gratified, 5-minutes slurps for months to come.  Just the mere idea of having contributed a few of these into this rotten, twisted, putrid world of our own making, makes me feel like I’ve done my part as a repenting member of the society and thus releases me from a few years of intensive therapies.

Because from this day on, homemade instant noodle will no longer be an oxymoron.  From this day on, whenever we crave either the convenience or deliciousness of an instant slurp, we shall be free from concerns of being mummified by excessive preservatives or growing a fifth limb from the unpronounceable ingredients in fine prints.  From this glorious day on, we the people, shall not be denied of our rights to all the possibilities of instant noodling based on our nationality, wealth, travel visas, broken supermarket inventories, the tyranny of international trading policies and above all, the utter lack of creativity from every major instant noodle manufacturers.  Hear me, Zeus!

Okay that’s a bit much but you get the point.  This series will touch upon new slurpable delights inspired by Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asian and etc, but to kickstart it:

WHAT:  A Lady And Pups classic from the archive called Crack Slurp, now reincarnated in a single, streamlined, simplified and formulated sauce that you can keep in a bottle.

WHY:  This is actually the dish that inspired me to create this series in the first place.  As previously confessed, we eat this noodle possibly more often than any other single item on the menu, so much as that I’ve been wanting, for quite some time, to coordinate its previously tedious components into a single, cohesive formula, one that I could literally grab from the fridge and dress the noodles in one stroke.

HOW:  After some considerations, I’ve removed the one component from the original recipe that may deter some people from trying it out, and that is to render chicken fat, aka schmaltz, from chicken skins and such.  The animal fat would obviously provide an added aroma and richness to the dish, but for practicality sake, I’ve concluded that properly treated vegetable oils could bring the noodles to close standings as well, by dialing up on the uniquely floral fragrance from Sichuan peppercorns.  Then instead of having the fried shallots as a loose component, I blended it together with the rest of the seasonings to create an one-stop, fiercely aromatic, savory, spicy and tingling oil sands if you will, that properly adheres to the noodles of your choosing in a perfect ratio of smooth grit and grease.

If you haven’t been touched by the promise of fried shallots, no thanks needed.  If you haven’t been called to the light of Sichuan chili paste, the mothership of Sichuan cuisines, the pleasure’s all mine.  If you find yourself utterly powerless to pull away from this potentially addictive dope which costs nothing and goes everything, that you need to pour it down the trash before burning it with lighter’s fuel to stop yourself from salvaging… well, I offer no apology as well.

 
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Singapore hawker marathon: Coconut rice part two, lemongrass fried chicken and fragrant salmon cake

 

THE CRUST IS THE HERBS, THE HERBS ARE THE CRUST, ONE AND INSEPARABLE, CRUNCHING TOWARDS A COMMON, GLORIOUS PURPOSE

WHAT:  The overkill toppings for my nasi lemak, none other than the jacked up lemongrass fried chickens, and a salmon shrimp mousse fused with herb pastes and grilled inside aromatic leaves.

WHY:  Nasi lemak wants toppings.

HOW:  I was once floored by a fried chicken I came across in Kuala Lumpur during the Ramadan, and it took me several years and at least six attempts to get it as close to what I remembered as possible.  Instead of heavy flour-based breadings, these chickens are suited in a delicate, crispy, nest-like formation of blazing lemongrass, ginger and spices.  The crust is the herbs, and the herbs are the crust, one and inseparable, crunching towards a common, glorious purpose.  And that is to be the best damn fried chicken you’ll ever taste.  A few of my past mistakes that you should take note from, is that the chicken needs to be marinated inside the herb-puree for at least six hours in order to reach its true calling.  Then instead of a breading, a minimal amount of potato starch or cornstarch is added at the end to form a very loose, very watery “batter”, which acts more as threading than breading, pulling all these dispersed pomace of aromatics into a thin weaving of crispy crust.

Then let’s talk about this thing called otah.  Truth is I’ve only had it once at the airport of Singapore, hardly a credential that qualifies me to speak on its behalf.  But that single encounter was more than enough persuasion to make me believe that my life is no longer complete without it.   It is essentially a fish mousse, made predominantly of mackerels, that is heavily seasoned with a condensation of southeast Asian herbs, nut butter (most likely candlenuts, but you could use cashew, walnuts or macadamia nuts) and coconut milk.  The mousse itself is relatively easy to make.  And I made concessions where I can bear, replacing the act of deboning and skinning mackerels with easily accessible skinless salmon fillets and shrimps.  But the laborious part, like a Mexican tamale, is stuffing it individually inside aromatic leaves which gives the fish cake a significant boost of aroma once it’s grilled.  I’d love to tell you that you can simply cook the mousse inside one big ramekin and call it a home kitchen-friendly rendition, but that would be a sore mistake as you miss out on a simple, best-kept secret.  That nowadays, just because an ingredient is unfamiliar, doesn’t mean it’s hard to come by.  Aromatic leaves such as banana leaves can be easily purchased online.  And once you’ve worked with it, overcoming the fear of the unknown, you’d be wondering where it has been all your life.

 

FRAGRANT SALMON SHRIMP CAKE 1

FRAGRANT SALMON SHRIMP CAKE 2

FRAGRANT SALMON SHRIMP CAKE 3

FRAGRANT SALMON SHRIMP CAKE 4

FRAGRANT SALMON SHRIP CAKE 5

LEMONGRASS FRIED CHICKEN 1

LEMONGRASS FRIED CHICKEN 2

LEMONGRASS FRIED CHICKEN 3

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Singapore hawker marathon: Coconut rice part one, tomato chili sambal and lemongrass ricotta

 

An incredibly fragrant coconut rice cooked in pandan extraction, a tomato-based chili sambal boosted with Italian anchovies, and a lemongrass-infused coconut milk ricotta crumbled with thinly sliced shallots and bird’s eye chili marinated in fish sauce

WHAT:  Nasi Lemak, Malay’s signature fragrant coconut rice cooked in coconut milk and served with a spicy and sweet chili sambal.

WHY:  You haven’t really had rice until you’ve tasted nasi lemak.  And if you have tasted nasi lemak and consider this statement grossly exaggerated – as I once was – then it’s highly probable that it’s because you haven’t had this nasi lemak.  Best yet, most components can be made days ahead of time.

HOW:  Let’s face it.  There are a lot of underwhelming nasi lemak out there.  And I say this with the full acknowledgement that it’s an explicitly personal opinion resulting from my deeply rooted disagreement with more than one of its traditional, possibly beloved, practices.  The coconut rice, without any dispute, is the heroine of the entire dish.  We should all agree that if this part isn’t done right, then none of the others shall matter.  But in my three to four encounters of nasi lemak in Malaysia and Singapore, more often than not, the rice appears fragrance-less and purpose-defeating, a crime that even if I could overlook, is sentenced to death with an aggressively sweet chili sambal slapped over the top where the scattered insult of dried anchovies and roasted peanuts lurks nearby.  I don’t care for whole dried anchovies and/or roasted peanuts.  Two ingredients that, in its entirely intact, crude and un-manipulated form, is only acceptable as cat snacks and dive bar nuts.

So here I’m setting out, if for no one else but myself, to make things right.  In order to inject my desired level of fragrance into what is truly coconut rice in my mind, the cooking liquid is blended with pandan leaf and lemongrass before brewing for a short while over heat.  The result is a jade-like green extraction that in conjunction with coconut milk and coconut oil, nursed the most incredibly fragrant pot of jasmine rice that I’d be happy eating with just a sprinkle of sea salt.  Then in exchange of the overdue removal of whole dried anchovies, I went for a tomato-based chili sambal flavored with Italian anchovies in olive oil and dried shrimps, which provide a deeply nutty, seafood-y backdrop as the tangy sweetness of tomatoes and apricot jam forms an addictive conflict with fiery and condensed red chilis.  It is a general wisdom – and happens to be true – that amongst two rich and intently juggernauts, a refreshing and preferably sharp medium is duly warranted.  In rejection of the common trifling of sliced cucumbers, I say a lemongrass-infused coconut milk ricotta crumbled with thinly sliced shallots and bird’s eye chili marinated in fish sauce, is just the creamy yet laser-sharp liaison to bring this epic coalition to focus.

These few components without much else (or at least how they are traditionally made), together inside cleverly folded wrappers, are little pouches of portable delights grabbed on the go by busy Malaysians and Singaporeans alike.  But for the most insatiable amongst us all, there are also some much available overkills.  For lemongrass fried chickens, and fragrant fish cake they call otah, please proceed to Part Two.

 

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 1

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 2

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 3

COCONUT RICOTTA 1

COCONUT RICOTTA 2

COCONUT RICE 1

COCONUT RICE 2

COCONUT RICE 3

COCONUT RICE 4

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CHI SPACCA’S FOCACCIA DI RECCO, OR THE CLOSEST YOU’LL GET TO IT AT HOME

DOLLOPS OF FRESH COW’S MILK CHEESE COCOONING IN BETWEEN TWO PAPER-THIN FILMS OF UNYEASTED DOUGH, AND BAKED INTO A BALLOONED AND BLISTERED PIE WITH CHEESE-FILLED UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS.

What is obsession?  When is it helpful and when does it get silly?

Ever since that episode of Chef’s Table on Nancy Silverton, I’ve been dwelling, not upon, but inside this subject.

The episode, of course, celebrates a chef’s willingness to spend an inexhaustible amount of effort to close that last short climb between what is already a great dish to a conceivably perfect one.  A distance too short and steep no doubt, for most to commit.  But to Silverton, especially when it comes to breads, being obsessed is not a question of should or shouldn’t, but do you have what it takes?  I am, however, at least not today, talking about the theoretical aspect of obsessions.  Instead, I’d like to bring forth the physical one that I was sent into after watching her episode.

During that show, there was about a 30-seconds scene showcasing a flatbread-looking pie, a glowing golden-brown mirage.  Captivated by that glimpse, nothing but a glimpse, without even knowing what “it” actually was, I plunged into a months-long pursuit from grasping what I saw to realizing it in my own kitchen.   First, it took me a considerable amount of Googling to find out what I initially thought was a “thin double-sided pizza stuffed with mozzarella?”, to be something actually called focaccia di recco from her restaurant Chi Spacca, an extremely crispy-edged, flatbread-like creature that has nothing to do with either pizza nor mozzarella, or the typical focaccia for that matter.  The dish is essentially dollops of fresh cow’s milk cheese cocooning in between two stretched, unyeasted, paper-thin films of dough, and baked into a ballooned and blistered pie with cheese-filled underground chambers.  Mostly cracker-like crispy, partially soft and stretchy, all in all and bona fide gastronomic wonder unlike anything I have ever seen.

It, allegedly, took her two whole years to perfect.

Since then, I bled over bringing it into my reality.  I don’t have anything else to elaborate other than the every words already written in the instructions, each summarizing hours and hours of theorizing, testings, failings, staring, and re-testings, presented to you, as shortly and concisely as I think what a normal human being has patience for.  The result rewarded and justified every last drop of sweat and tears spent, and whatever difference there may be from the real deal, I confide in my belief to be a result of hardware issues (commercial oven VS. home electric oven).  Except, maybe, whatever experience I cannot transcribe through words.  And if so, then that my friend, is where only your obsession can take you.  But it’s worth it, let me tell you.  It’s all worth it.

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DIM SUM MONTH FINALE: Tapenade short ribs, plus dim sum party game plan

AT LAST, DIM SUM MONTH FINALE…

WHAT:  Beef short ribs in super garlicky tapenade sauce, an adaptation of a classic dimsum item – pork ribs with fermented black beans but with an American/European twist.

WHY:  The unexpectedly supple texture of the beef (thanks to baking soda) melting gorgeously into a pool of bold and complex mixture of flavors, a revelation that can be easily prepared ahead of time and cooks in under 8 min.

HOW:  For both flavors and accessibility, I have swapped the traditionally used diced pork ribs with the more luscious and rich-tasting beef short ribs, and Chinese fermented black beans with the equally bold and forward black olives.  Trust me, if I may say so myself, the reinvented combination works even better than tradition.  The surprisingly tender and velvety texture of the beef – achieved by adding just a tiny pinch of baking soda into the marinate – disintegrates in your mouth in a medley of perfectly orchestrated flavours that you didn’t even know would go together.  Black olives, strawberry jam, soy sauce, sesame oil, Dijon mustard, and a depth created by using both raw and fried garlics.  It’s easy to put together, and a cinch to cook in a blink of an eye.  You’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life.

Now, simply follow the instructions below on how to throw a hassle-free dim sum party!

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