Condiments

THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART II, SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

This is Idea No 2 for incorporating what I call the red diamond of foods, salted duck yolk, into your everyday cooking regimen (check the previous post for a new age of carbonara!), and that is, it makes an over-the-top, creamy and decadent base in mayonnaise or aioli which goes on to become thousand different sauces with limitless possibilities.

In this case, an incredibly rich tartar sauce which is worlds away from those pale-assed, loose-fitted watery blah that we’ve gotten too used to to question its legitimacy.  This tartar sauce, using cooked then pureed salted duck yolks, has a creamier and velvety mouthfeel with a hidden depth of richness that whispers its secret through its beautiful orange-yellow hue.  Yes, this tartar sauce uses 2 extra salted yolks for the amount that’s made (the yolk-to-oil ratio), and you may be inclined to suspect that the difference may simply just be a result of the extra yolks, regardless whether it’s salted or fresh.  But I can’t sss this loud enough – salted duck yolks do not taste like plain egg yolks!  They just don’t, ok?  Does fresh pork belly taste like bacon?  Huh?  Does milk taste like cheese?  Huh?  We y’all female homo-sapiens but do I look like Giiiiiisele?  Huh?  I think you get my point.  Do not think of the cooked salted duck yolks as an emulsifying agent such as fresh yolks (no seriously, it will not emulsify with oil because all its moisture has been extracted through the curing process), but think of it more as a seasoning, a salty… oily… and almost nutty flavor that is unique on its own.

Of course, this is a sparkly fuse for you to fire up that imaginative brain of yours, because the possibility is limitless.  A herby and garlicky base for your summer potato and pasta salads?  A secret weapon for your weekend brunch hollandaise?  That burger is never going to taste the same with this added flare, and if you like battered fish… oh my friends, if you like battered fish…  Crispy, shattering, and slightly spicy beer battered fish sticks, piping hot out of the fryer to find a pool of cooling and creamy concoction of flavors and textures to wrap their heads around.  If that sounds good to you, this is only a start.

AN INCREDIBLY RICH TARTAR SAUCE WHICH IS WORLDS AWAY FROM THOSE PALE-ASSED, LOOSE-FITTED WATERY BLAH THAT WE’VE GOTTEN TOO USED TO TO QUESTION ITS LEGITIMACY

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SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

Ingredients

    SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE:
  • 2 salted duck eggs, raw or cooked
  • 1 fresh egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 tbsp minced capers
  • 1/2 tbsp minced baby cornichons
  • 1 tsp caper brine
  • 1 tsp tabasco sauce
  • salt and ground white pepper to season
  • SPICY FISH STICKS:
  • 250~300 grams catfish fillet, or any firm white fish preferred
  • 3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for drenching
  • 1/4 cup (26 grams) cornstarch or potato starch
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine chili flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (228 grams) light beer, really cold
  • 2 tbsp finely minced herbs, like basil and mint
  • canola oil for frying

Instructions

  1. MAKE SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE: If using raw salted duck egg, wash clean under water (if they come encased in black salted sand) then place in a small pot and fill with water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6 min, then transfer into cold water to cool down. If using pre-cooked salted duck eggs, omit this process.
  2. Crack open the cooked salted egg then scoop out the yolks. Place them into a food-processor or blender, along with fresh egg yolk, garlic and Dijon. Start running while slowly, SLOWLY, pouring 1/2 cup of vegetable oil to form an emulsion. Once all the oil is added, you should have a sauce with mayonnaise consistency. Transfer into a bowl and add minced shallot, minced caper, minced cornichons, caper brine, tabasco sauce. Mix well, then season with salt and about 1/8 tsp of ground white pepper. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or best overnight before serving.
  3. MAKE SPICY FISH STICKS: Pop your beer in the freezer for a few min while you work. Add enough canola oil into a frying pot until it reaches 2" deep (7 cm), and bring to 340 F/170 C over medium heat. Cut the fish fillet into long strips about 3~4" long (13 cm) and 1/2" (1.5 cm) thick. Season LIGHTLY with a little salt and ground white pepper, set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup flour, cornstarch, ground white pepper, baking powder, baking soda, chili flakes and salt. Pour in the cold beer, add the minced herbs, and stir with a fork gently just until it comes into a loose and lumpy batter (lumps are fine. don't overwork it).
  4. Drench 3~4 pieces of fish in plain flour, pressing the flour into the fish so it sticks well and dusting off excess, then transfer the fishes into the batter. Once the fishes are coated with a thin layer of batter, transfer gently into the frying oil. ADD THE FISH ONE AT A TIME and fry for 10~15 seconds before adding the next, so the batter has crippled up and won't stick together. If the fish is sticking to the bottom of the pot, give it a gentle nudge on the bottom with chopstick to release it.
  5. Once the fish sticks are golden brown and crispy, drain well and set aside on a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest. Serve immediately with salted yolk tartar sauce.
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THE PUNCH-IT BURGER AND HOUSTON, WE’RE READY TO TAKE OFF

I’ve waited six years… wow, six… to say this son-of-a-bitch line.

I’ve imagined saying it while beating its saggy ass with a whip rubbed with the most homicidal Mexican chilis as it wriggles in pain.  I’ve imagined saying it while twisting its balls with electrically charged clamps as it howls in my upmost amusement.  I’ve imagined saying it while watching, ever so pleasurably, as its ugliest face twisted angrily into an even uglier version of itself if that’s even grammatically possible.

I’ve imagined, for six years… wow, six… to say this line with a fuck-you.

And now, when the time has finally come, I can only feel it exhaling through the gaps of the keyboard, in a long heavy breath of bittersweet…

We’re leaving Beijing.

Can… can I say that again?

We are.  Leaving.  Beijing.

Yes, leave, move away, to Hong Kong if that’s important to mention, but more importantly the point is, out of Beijing.  I mentioned last week that I have “eeeewge news” to break it to you, but truth is, this is more than news.  It is a long-awaited, mental or physical, release.  Why is it such a big deal?  Well, I know, I know that the context of my predicament hasn’t been thoroughly explained on this blog.  Most of you are probably only aware that One:  I/we live in Beijing, and Two:  I don’t like it.  But why am I here and why don’t I like it, well, is a subject I thought was too boringly political or unappetising to be discussed on a, after all, food-blog.  I thought if I were to really explain it, I’d need a book to do the job.  But now that we’re leaving, I feel like I owe it to its final ending to, at least in a brief effort, paint the short story.

The first part of the question of why we’re here, is much simpler.  We left New York in 2008, Jason, our dog-children Dumpling, Bado and I, for what was thought to be a very logical career opportunity of his.  Our beloved island New York was, at the time, tilting like a breaking iceberg, and so we jumped into a less vogue but sturdier looking boat – China.  We actually lived in Hong Kong for 1 1/2 year  (so technically we’re moving back to HK) before moving to Beijing in 2010.  Then it was without any foresights to say the least, that what came after, the next following six years, was the unhappiest, destructive even, but also self-realising and perhaps fruitful period of my life.

Why do I hate it here?  Why is this “an angry food blog”?  This to me, is a funny question, as if asking why wouldn’t I like a burger soaked in whiskey then force-fed to me in a rubber tube?  I mean, where do I begin and how much time do you have?  There’s nothing wrong with burgers, nor is there with whiskey, but they just don’t mash well together, like me and this place.  Maybe if I was a politically indifferent outcast who enjoys pale skins more than sunlights, and the scent of burning coals in the atmosphere because it marvellously reminds me of BBQ briskets… Maybe if I was a juvenile man-child who sees uncivility as a safe haven to misbehave like an utter douchebag…  Maybe if I simply like being somebody here because I was a nobody back home, or better yet, just plain too self-secured to be emotionally affected by any shenanigans…  Then I believe, I would have a shot of being happy here.  But I’m, unfortunately, not.  I don’t mean it sarcastically.  I’m not “gifted” in that way, to see the vanilla ice cream behind the annoying chocolate chips and be able to happily eat around the obstacles.  They bother me.  Internet censorship bothers me.  Authoritarian politic bothers me.  Pollution bothers me.  Blind nationalism bothers me.  Douchebags bother me, and worse yet, blindly nationalistic douchebags who are happy being douchebags, reeeaaally bother me.  Hey look, I’m sure this city is more complicated and deeper than that, so I guess, I’m just too simple for this city.  I have no problem being too simple for bullshits.  But aside from political factors, and maybe (just maybe) for no faults of its own, Beijing is also where we lost Bado and Dumpling.  Two of the most spirit-breaking episodes of our lives happened here, skin-deep, back to back.  It used to be just an angry place – the good old times – but now it’s a sad place.  And though it might not be fair, but the feeling that we came here in whole and now left in pieces, is a negative association I don’t need.

IN TWO WEEKS TIME, WE WILL BE GONE.

NO, NOT FROM YOU OR THIS BLOG, BUT FROM THE PLACE THAT BROUGHT US TOGETHER, WHERE IT ALL STARTED

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JERKED SRIRACHA ROAST PORK TACOS W KIWI SALSA VERDE

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 WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST BEHAVE LIKE TACOS?

I don’t know, if there was any other single food-item in this world that, in the best sense possible, welcomes manipulations as much as say, tacos.

I mean think about it.  In this world where the not-so-secret food-police who enforces the law of authenticity, still patrols much of the way we perceive and evaluate what and how we eat, this iconic Mexican establishment seems to be freely, and deliciously if I might add, looming well outside of its strict jurisdiction.  They have applaudedly gone over and beyond their traditional origins, shown more adaptability and dare I say, humour, that’s unbound by the narrowness of ethnicity without muss or fuss.  How does it do it?  This means, to me at least, more than eating.  If you just take a look at this mad house we’re all living under now – where you can’t cook a pot of bolognese sauce without turning some Italian nonna in her graves, or enjoy any other blurred out version of mapo tofu without stepping on some bitches’ toes (who me?), or fucking crack a joke without hate – it would appear that, fingers crossed, the modern tacos are practically a beacon for social miracles.  This is not me saying pure authenticity, in food or anything else, is bad, nor is it good.  I guess, it’s only natural, a mean for us to identify with something, to belong, to cling onto a place in this world where we could find familiarity, call it pride, then do things to defend it.  But here we are stuck, on this globe that we were told is supposed to be getting smaller and smaller by the days, and inherently for the same reason, more and more hostile by the minute.  Diehard authenticity can taste more intolerant than delicious.  And I mean that in a lot more ways than foods.  So I guess here’s my question:

Why can’t we all just behave like tacos?

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MASHED POTATO BUTTER AIOLI W/ FRIED CAPERS

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IS IT MASHED POTATO, OR IS IT A SAUCE?  IT’S THE BEST OF TWO WORLDS.

In the past few days, I don’t know if you can tell, but my year-long travel-ban situation (recap: sick soupy Dumpling has been losing his juice) has advanced to some sorta voluntary house-arrest, and besides spending all my time migrating him in between the bed and the bathroom, I’m also doing everything I can to not make it too obvious, that I’m trying to live out of a single potato.

And now I’m doing it again.  Guess I gave up.

But really though, am I the only one fascinated?  I mean, what’s the one thing most feared, about an aioli or butter sauce?  No, not that it’ll grow you an extra thigh, which it will and that’s that.  But it’s actually, with radical willingness, that both itself and your heart, it’ll sadly break (so true, Yoda.  so true).  Which is what makes this recipe, a hybrid between mashed potato and butter aioli, so superbly amateur-friendly.  We all know how the line between a “side-dish” and a “condiment” goes increasingly blurry for the most creamy and buttery “mashed potato” of its kind.  So why not smudge the line even further?  A smooth and silky butter aioli infused with Dijon mustard and fried capers, but with finely mashed potato as its solemn foundation.  The starch acts as a buffer, a liaison let’s just say, between the good butter that wants you to be showered with compliment, and the bad butter that just wants your world to separate.  And in the end, you’ll have a rich and indulging swirl that’s all the flavourful, and (sorta) (almost) (don’t tell me otherwise) half the calories.

Be warned that this is the kind of thing, an inconvenient happiness, that plays too well with others.  Before you even realize, it’s already got its paws on all your favourite proteins (meant to be healthy) and veggies (meant to be healthier), which will no long be enough without it.  One miserable night during my lock-down, a pan-fried piece of frozen salmon had never tasted so far far away from reality.

So is it mashed potato?  Or is it a sauce?  Who cares?  It’s the best two worlds.

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CAULIFLOWER RICE CAKE + POOR MAN’S X.O. SAUCE

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YOUR DESIGNATED DIM-SUM PLACE CAN’T TOUCH THIS

Have you had Chinese turnip cake with X.O. sauce?

Well, the thing is, you probably have without knowing.  Over the dizzying array of small dishes on a dim-sum table, your friend passed you a plate of square white cakes with browned and crispy exteriors, served with a small oily dollop of brownish condiment.  You ate it, mmmmmmm…., probably even asked for the name of the dish, but let’s be honest, who the hell can remember any names from a feeding-frenzy over a dim-sum table?

Well, that, my friend, you just had Chinese turnip cake and its side-kick, X.O. sauce.

I’ve been long trying to come up with a X.O. sauce recipe.  X.O. sauce, suggested from the name given, is made with a large proportion of expensive ingredient, being soaked and shredded dried scallops, and thus lands as a prestigious condiments on the table of Chinese banquette.  It’s usually served in small spoonfuls, as an intense, savoury and spicy flavour-booster to highlight stir-fry dishes, rices and noodles, or dim-sum classics such as the turnip cake.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?

Well… I mean, dried scallops are great.  Fancy stuff.  One of those things that are pocket-burning to buy, a pain in the ass to prepare, and in the end of course as all fancy stuffs must be, highly fucked-able.  One miss-step in the prepping and cooking procedure, what was supposed to make this sauce supremely “X.O.”, will also easily turn it into a pile of rubbery and teeth-flossing donkey-hide.  In this particular juncture in my life where several “bad apples” are on the brink of collapsing, I’m not going to risk my iphone 6-fund on something that could potentially malfunction, too.  Especially, not when I believe the beauty of X.O. sauce could be replicated with ingredients that are more, literally, down to earth.

Instead of shredded dried scallops, I’m using dried shitake mushrooms.  In combination with dried shrimp which is also a traditional ingredient in X.O. sauce, this poor man’s version came out well beyond my highest expectation.  It’s robust, complex and intense, embodying the sea-essence from the dried shrimps and oyster sauce, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms and ham.  It’s a symphony of notes that cannot be described unless personally experienced.  And it’s my next it-sauce to be slathered on a bowl of rice, a quick slurps of noodle, or if I’m feeling like going the extra mile, this cauliflower rice cake.

Wait, what happened to turnip cake?  Because I’ve also, long been trying to come up with a turnip cake recipe.  Turnip cake, suggested from the name given, is made with a large amount of Chinese turnip aka daikon, along with Cantonese sausage, dried shrimps, and a batter made with white rice flour.  It’s usually steamed inside a rectangular mold, then sliced and browned over a hot skillet right before serving.  A humble, homey and delicious staple that’s as beloved as anything can get if you came from an Asian background.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?


 

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MY FAVORITE CHILI SAUCE – THE MEAN SANTA

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THIS, this is my favourite chili sauce yet.  And that’s saying a lot.

One of the perks about growing up from an Asian background is that, pretty much since birth, most of us have been prepped in a semi-military-style training to resist torture and pain… that’s inflicted onto our taste-buds.  We’ve been conditioned to be susceptible, embracive even, to all forms and types of heat-source applied through all kinds of torture devices, that it will take a Jack Bauer to break our affiliation with the red terror.

In fact, we’ve grown so twisted in our relationship with such sensory violence, we search for it even when it isn’t given.  It’s almost guaranteed that at every food-serving locations, there would be some kind of hurt-yourself-if-you’d-like chili condiments available upon request, and you’re damn right we smother it onto just about anything until the subject bleeds red and begs for mercy, or wait, is that just the screams of my own consciousness?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Because we know that there’s no gain without pain, and even a candy, sooner or later, needs to learn how to be a man.


”  ONCE YOU’VE DEVELOPED

AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP,

INTRODUCE HIM TO

YOUR BREAKFAST EGGS  “

 


Naturally, this type of die-hard environment breeds a certain level of snobbery.  If there has been any doubt on how we perceive our paler friends from the west when it comes to cooking and bottling heat, even though this is clearly not a competition, I’d like to end all speculation by saying… we win.  You see it’s not just about the heat and murdering brain cells, but about the flavour as well.   Whereas most North American brand hot sauces are vinegar based – some of which I have no doubt, is adequately hurtful – with little difference between them except for intimidatingly named chilis as ingredients, the world of Asian chili sauce (or Chinese ones alone) is a kaleidoscope of varieties.  And instead of pureed and in liquid-form, they are mostly oil-based with chunky textures, striking almost as a… side-dish.  Because for us, the red terror is not to be gingerly dabbed.  Dabbing is for baby-buttocks.  When we want to eat our chilis, we want to eat our chilis.

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So I hope I’ve made myself clear.  Throughout a life swimming in a red sea of hurt, it’s saying a lot for me to name a “favourite”, but I believe I’ve found one, so far at least, and I’m calling it, or him… The Mean Santa.  Why?  Because the ingredients are a vibrant combination of red → as in red chilis of course, and green → as in green chilis but more importantly, a giant stack of shiso leaves which give him a subtle, background fragrance.  But even more importantly, why is he my favourite?  Because he’s not just a spicy mean asshole, but he’s got flavours… substance… and depth, that make him so painfully loveable.  And despite of the suspiciously Asian-central ingredients (ginger, fish sauce… shiso), he is a fairly universal condiments that will make just about anything east or west, shall we say, not boring.

Hey, this is not a theory untested.

In the span of the last couple of weeks, The Mean Santa has scorched through my soft parts in company with just about anything except for the kitchen sink.  He will bear gifts to any grilled meat or seafood that you have prepared for the grilling season (chicken… duck… hanger steak… Heck, I’ve even spooned it over half-shell oysters and grilled them).  He will even turn any deadbeat, socially unexciting grilled vegetable into early Christmas, or a bland summer tomato sauce… a bowl of lonely noodle… a box of left0ver rice… ANYTHING!  Oatmeal.  Yes!  Oatmeal!  And once you’ve developed an intimate-enough relationship, you introduce him to your breakfast eggs.  Then together, you shall live happily ever after.

Spend a little time for your chili sauce.   It will hurt you good.

  
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Makes:  approx 2 cups

The sauce may look universally deadly, but in fact, the spiciness can be easily adjusted by changing the ratio between large long red chilis (vibrant color and mildly spicy), long green chilis (fragrant and medium-spicy) and small Asian red chilis (really, really spicy).  The ratio I have used in this recipe will yield the perfect, “intermediate level” spiciness.  Then again, even the same types of chili can sometimes vary in heat-level, so you should judge it by the chili you’re used to.

Small Asian chili is, I think, pretty common in supermarkets nowadays.  But if you have difficulty finding large long red chili, or long green chili, try substituting with red/green jalapeño.  Since the sizes of chilis come very different all the time (the large long red chili I used this time was ginormous), I would strongly recommend weighting the ingredients.  If you can’t find shiso leaves, you can still make the recipe without, and it’ll still be fabulous.


Ingredients: (chilis are weighted after stems removed)

  • 5.6 oz (160 grams) Large long red chili
  • 2.1 oz (60 grams) of long green chili
  • 1.2 oz (33 grams, or about 15) of small Asian red chili
  • 0.6 oz (18 grams, or 20) shiso leaves, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, grated then divided in 1/2
  • 1 tbsp of grated ginger, divided in 1/2
  • 1/2 cup (104 grams) of canola oil
  • 3 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp of rice vinegar

Wash the chilis then finely dice all of them.  Add all the chilis, finely chopped shiso leaves, 1/2 the amount of grated garlic, 1/2 tbsp of grated ginger, canola oil, fish sauce and ground white pepper in a sauce pot.  Cook the mixture over medium to medium-low heat and stir occasionally.  At first, liquid would start to emit from the chilis, then it would start to evaporate.  Continue to cook for 10 min until there is no visible liquid left, then continue to cook for another 3 ~ 4 min to extract more liquid from the chili without turning them into mush.  The mixture should have reduced in size and the chilis should be soft.  Turn off the heat, then stir in the other 1/2 amount of grated garlic and grated ginger, sugar and rice vinegar.

Let the sauce cool completely then transfer to an air-tight container.  Let it sit for at least a few hours to another day to develop flavour.  It will keep inside the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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Mashed grilled eggplants w/ Mean Santa:

  • 2 Asian long eggplants
  • 1/2 cup of Mean Santa chili sauce, or more to adjust
  • 1/2 tsp of ground sichuan peppercorn
  • Soy sauce to taste

Preheat the top-broiler on high.  Peel the eggplants and cut into quarters length-wise.  Rub with a little bit of olive oil and grill a few inches under the broiler until partially browned and soft.  Remove from the oven and cut into short segments, then transfer to a mortar.  Add the Mean Santa chili sauce and ground sichuan pepper, then mash until evenly broken up and incorporated.  Taste and season with soy sauce for saltiness.  Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.

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KOMBU MISO BUTTER SAUCE + DISK FRIES

“DANCE…AND FEAST…AROUND THE BIG BONFIRE OF TOTALITARIANISM”

I apologize for the speechlessness today.  In the past couple days, it has been next to impossible to compose anything on wordpress because…

Every year in China around a historical holiday known as 6-4, a massive and elaborate celebration takes place.  The great beast of China and its army of cyber-minions will gather, dance hysterically, and feast on the corpses of information freedom, and any non-Chinese-friendly internet activities around the big bonfire of totalitarianism.  I have about a 5 minute window to finish/publish this post before the beast finds me.  So my friends, please, help yourself with some disk fries and kombu miso butter sauce, for it is unbeatable in deliciousness and unrelenting in spirit….  A small and insignificant thing it may be, but nonetheless makes me feel slightly better to say – you can bet that the beast….

…ain’t fucking getting any

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SICHUAN DRESSING & BOUQUET OF FIRE

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THIS IS WHAT I CALL, STUFFED ARTICHOKE”

I’ve never understood salad.

And by “salad”, I mean it in the most traditional sense of plant-based lifeforms being tossed in vinegar-based dressings.  I’ve never understood the idea of it, or the taste of it.  It seems that all salads are ever “dressed” with, are the nonstop BS campaign and PR efforts, the pretence of hippie-wholeness and “feel-good” sentiments designed to talk us into laying down our appetites and picking up that cucumber.  Excluding vegetarianism which is a whole other subject, the only peace I find in salad, is if we could all just admit to the blunt and clear motives of why anybody eats it.

We only eat salad because we have to.  Period.

We eat salad because we don’t want to be fat.  We eat salad because we don’t want to die prematurely.  We eat salad because what, you think you have a choice?   Underneath whatever self-hypnosis, there’s only strictly medical purposes.  And I think that if everyone could just quit dancing around it and just say that.  People would actually eat more salad, because truth, is the most powerful persuasion.

However, after moving back to Asia, that view is slightly, or at least in the progress of, changing.

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