Meat

DIM SUM MONTH: PORK BELLY BUN W/ PEANUT BUTTER AND CAPER

DIM SUM MONTH CONTINUES…

WHAT:  Super cute and tiny steamed buns stuffed with braised pork belly, pan-fried capers and smooth peanut butter.

WHY:  It’s pork bun in baby form!  It’s pork bun in two-bites size!  It’s pork bun but pop-able!  Dispute settled.

HOW:  The idea is to create an over-the-top, porky, fatty and gooey bun-tasy with a built-in acidic element to balance it all out, and this is what came out on the other side.  Inspired by traditional Taiwanese guabao (which is the former life of David Chang’s infamous “pork bun”), the pork belly is first braised with aromatics and spices until melty and tender, but instead of ground peanuts that’s used in guabao, smooth peanut butter is being introduced.  Just when pork belly and peanut butter – both fatty, gooey and intense – are locking tongues in your mouth, the taste buds get a sharp and pleasant zing of acidity and pickle-ness from pan-fried capers, all swirling and dancing inside this slightly sweet and chewy dough.  What’s more wrong?  Eating just one or more?  I can’t decide.

By the way, most of the recipes in DIM SUM MONTH is designed to be prepared ahead of time.  Make each items and store them in the freezer, and at the end of the month, we’re going to have a dim sum blowout party.  See ya!

PORK BELLY BUN W/ PEANUT BUTTER AND CAPER

Yield: 17 buns

Ingredients

    BRAISED PORK BELLY:
  • 17.6 oz (500 grams) skin-on pork belly
  • 4~5 (40 grams) scallions, cut into short sections
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (20 grams) light brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) shaoxing wine, or rice wine
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) soy sauce
  • 2~3 bay leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • DOUGH:
  • 2 cups (250 grams) bread flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp (3 grams) instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup (147 grams) water
  • FILLING:
  • 1/4 cup drained pickled capers
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
  • smooth peanut butter

Instructions

  1. PREPARE PORK BELLY: Cut the pork belly into 1" (2.5 cm) dices, set aside. In an oven-proof pot, heat vegetable oil and cook the scallions until browned all over and shriveled, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced pork belly and cook until the edges are slightly browned and some of the fat is being rendered out. Pour all the fat out of the pot, then add the light brown sugar. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the edges of the pork belly and the sugar are caramelized. Now add the scallions back in along with garlic. Cook for 1 min until fragrant, then add shaoxing wine, soy sauce, bay leaves, star anise and ground cinnamon. Bring to a simmer, put the lid on, then transfer into a 300 F/150 C oven. Give it a stir every 30 min, and cook for about 1:40 ~1:50 hour until it's melty tender (if it looks like there's no more liquid left at any point during cooking, just add a bit more shaoxing wine).
  2. Remove the bay leaves and star anise, and skim off most of the fat off of the surface. Then transfer into an air-tight container and chill until completely cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
  3. PREPARE DOUGH: In a stand-mixer with dough-hook, combine bread flour, granulated sugar, instant dry yeast, salt and water. Knead on medium speed until incorporated, then turn to high speed and knead for 10 min until extremely smooth and elastic. The dough should pull away cleanly from the sides and bottom of the bowl during mixing, but should be soft and pliable. If it's sticking to the bowl during mixing, add more flour. If it feels stiff and dry, add a bit more water. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until fully doubled, about 2~4 hours depending.
  4. MAKE THE BUN: In a small skillet, combine drained capers, vegetable oil, sugar and rice vinegar. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the capers are slightly browned and shriveled. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and fold it over itself a couple times, then divide into 17 equal portions. Tuck each portions under itself to shape into a tight ball, then let rest and relax for 10 min. Take a small saucer about 2 1/2" in diameter, then place 1 dough ball inside. Use your fingers to press and spread the dough outwards until it drapes over the edges with a dent in the middle (the edges should be slightly thinner than the center). Place 1 piece of braised pork belly in the middle, 6~7 fried capers, and a little less than 1/2 tsp of smooth peanut butter. Bring the sides of the dough together and pinch to close tightly. Repeat with the rest.
  6. You can freeze the buns now until hard, then keep in an air-tight bag until needed. If you're freezing them, take them out 6 hours before serving. Place each on a small piece of parchment paper, cover with plastic-wrap, and let thaw and proof until almost doubled (about 80%). If your place is warm and the buns are rising too fast, simply place them in the fridge to slow down. If you are not freezing the buns, it will only take about 1~2 hours for the to almost double.
  7. Place in the steamer and steam on high heat for 7~8 min.
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DIM SUM MONTH: CHARSIU PULL-APART PINEAPPLE BUN

DIM SUM MONTH CONTINUES…

WHAT:  The new poster child of dim sum-scape in Hong Kong, the char siu pineapple buns, pull-apart style!

WHY:  Do you need to reason to eat a soft, squishy bun stuffed with sweet char siu pork and topped with crunchy “pineapple” crusts?  The entirety of happiness all in one bite, pillowy, crunchy, salty, sweet, gooey, porky and buttery?  Do ya?

HOW:  Burn all the other recipes that are dumbed down and one-dimensional.  Here’s a thorough recipe to show you how to make them like a pro, either with fresh pork shoulders (my preference), or with store-bought char siu pork.  But what really makes this recipe different is how the delicate balance of flavors are re-imagined.  Instead of the typical, cornstarch-thickened sauce that screams boring, we are going to re-create the stickiness by mixing in honey, ground dates and dried strawberries.  Not only do they provide a natural gooey-ness, they also bring a hidden fruity tone to the flavor-profile, making these sweet and salty buns unstoppably addictive.

By the way, most of the recipes in DIM SUM MONTH is designed to be prepared ahead of time.  Make each items and store them in the freezer, and at the end of the month, we’re going to have a dim sum blowout party.  See ya!

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ALMOND SOULONGTANG /KOREAN OXTAIL SOUP

ASIAN SOUTHERN ALMOND MILK,

WITH THAT DISTINCTIVELY FLORAL AROMA AND REMEDIAL RICHNESS THAT WORKS SO FLAWLESSLY WITH THIS TRADITIONAL SOUP, ELEVATING IT TO NEW HEIGHT

I’ve always pondered about almond, well, not specifically about what this word would mean to most of you, which is probably something like American sweet almond, with narrow leaf-drop shape and minimum coolosity inside what is already not-so-exciting trail mixes.

But I’m talking about what is also called “almond” in Asia.  Same name, but entirely different characteristics.  Asian almond is much smaller with flat heart-shaped profile, but most importantly, an immediate, elegant and floral scent separates itself from the American variety.  You could identify that scent/flavour if you are familiar with almond extracts or some marzipans, unique, subjective, and hard to describe.  Why both “almond” and yet so different?  Well, because they aren’t the same thing to begin with.

American almond is the kernel of a fruit in the drupe family (Prunus dulcis) (see comments for extra information), whereas Asian almond is actually the kernel of apricot.  And it’s extremely important to note that in Asia, even the word “almond” comes in two different, and mostly, dangerous distinctions.  Southern almond (Prunus armeniaca L.), sweet, floral and nourishing, is the common ingredient we consume in both dessert or savory dishes.  Whereas another variety called northern almond/bitter almond (Prunus armeniaca Linne var. ansu Maximowicz), smaller with an even stronger, bitter “almond-y” scent, is actually poisonous if ingested in large-enough quantity, and is only used in small amount for medicinal purposes.  The reason why almond extracts taste/smell like Asian almond and not American almond, is because the extracts are mostly made from bitter almonds (but relax, the extracts are treated in order to neutralize the poisonous elements).

So, a bit of some boring, nerdy botany talk.  But how does it all apply?

Deliciousness is what.

Have you heard of soulongtang?  The Korean ox bone soup that is milky white as a result of hours and hours of rolling boil, reaching a state of emulsion between liquid and gelatin, protein and other minerals – very much the same as tonkotsu ramen broth.  Well, that process is interesting to replicate, if you are one such individual with admirable persistence and disposable free time.  But in this rare reality where convenience and optimal result can actually coexist, we can achieve this rich and deeply nourishing soup in a fragment of the time it takes, by adding almond milk.  But not just any other boring, fake-ass, vanilla-falvoured almond milk sold in cartons please.  I’m talking homemade Asian southern almond milk, with that distinctively floral aroma and remedial richness and depth that, exceeding my own expectation, works so flawlessly with this traditional soup, elevating it to new height.

There’s nothing else I want more than the warmth and comfort of this dish, in this dark and uncertain time that is January 2017.  Hope you agree.

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THE PLAIN GENIUS OF MENCHI KATSU SANDO

IT HITS JUST THE RIGHT SPOT, ONE OF THE FEW LEFT IN OUR HYPER-STIMULATED MINDS THESE DAYS, WHERE IT STILL ACCEPTS OR EVEN CRAVES PURITY

As we know that there are plenty for the taking, but this is perhaps – as far as I know and hopefully true – Jason’s most obsessed of all perverse Japanese creations, the menchi katsu.

Menchi, meaning “minced”, and katsu, is anything “breaded and fried”.

It exists in many different forms and spirits, each and one of them equally bizarre to the conventional wisdoms of the west, but one in particular, the menchi katsu sando / fried ground pork patty sandwich, will send many scratching their heads inside a Japanese convenience store.  That is because its pure genius can only be realized upon one fateful encounter – one that reflects truly on its seemly simple but in fact, delicate preparations, and the childish yet complex satisfaction it plays on your tastebuds – which, unfortunately, can be a rare occurrence outside of Japan.  Actually, outside of Japan, this idea sounds more desperate than anything else.  Why do we want to fry a disk of ground pork – by the way, an almost comically massive disk of ground pork – then leave it with nothing else, and I mean absolutely nothing else, but just some tangy brown sauce in between two pieces of flimsy, flappy white breads?  You’ll question its painful simplicity, whether is from desperation, or, by choice.  Why not add something else to it?  Tomato?  Bacon?  Cheese?  Fried egg?  Jalapeno?  Two hotdogs and a jug of Bloody Mary with a mini umbrella?  Come on, anything, anything to satisfy this North American instinct to pile shit up.

But no.

I can’t explain it to you.  You’ll have to experience it.

But I can’t take you to Japan.  I can only bring the recipe home.

This recipe is my very controlled but slightly adapted, and perhaps,, in my opinion, enhanced version of the original.  And when I say that, I’m mostly referring to the katsu sauce.  Slight variations on this sauce are applied to a vast number of different dishes in Japan, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki to name a few.  But most of the recipe in English that I found online is, well, lacking, if not insulting.  Ketchup plus worchestire sauce, basically, with some soy sauce and sugar?  Please.  The sauce is much more complex and deserving of our respect than that, which requires several different angles of acidity and sweetness that adds up to be more than the sum of its parts.  There is a depth that, I feel, cannot be achieve with the conventional balance between vinegar and sugar, which is where “fruitiness” comes in aid.  Prunes.  Blended into the sauce, they built volume and flavours into the back-note, then pounded and added as a thin film in between the sandwich, they added textures and subtle sweetness.  This sauce plays brilliantly with the fatty richness – 35% fat if I failed to mention – of the menchi katsu, and brought both a voluptuous sort of moisture and adhesiveness to all parties.

You’ll realize why you don’t want to do anything else to it.  It hits juuust the right spot, one of the few left within our hyper-stimulated minds these days, where still accepts or even craves purity.

This is not just a slapped-on emergency sustenance.  There are thoughts and wisdoms, upon many generations, that evolved and stripped it down to its now, brilliant plainness.  If you are going to make it into a Big Mac, at least call it something else.

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Sichuan/Chongqing Little Slurp w meat sauce and chickpeas

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COULD THIS WORK?

THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.

Sorry I have been absent.

Boy, do I have a good reason.

Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life.  I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix.  Am I going to be unplugged and wake up?  Or am I trapped here forever?  For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States.  And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.

Actually, unexpected may sound understated.  Unfathomable, comes to mind.

I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak.  I want to share everything with you.  But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet.  Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point.  It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray.  In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything.  But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.

This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile.  In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles.  It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan).  It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time.  The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect.  It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil.  Could this work?  That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.

Believe me.  I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy.  Imagine what it could do to you.

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CRACKLY PORCHETTA AND SWEET GORGONZOLA SANDWICH

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I want to tell you about my trip back in New York in extensive details, I really do.  But I’m jet-lagged… drowsy… sleepy but awake… awake but not really… and the only words I can pound out of my marshmallow of a brain right now, repeating itself in an almost undetectable frequency, are these:

I’m sorry, Di Palo’s.

If you also don’t know what Di Palo’s is, then maybe I’ll feel a little better about myself, but it’s the iconic Italian grocer standing on the same corner in Little Italy for more than 80 years which, for some unforgivable reasons, I had failed to visit in the entire seven years I lived in New York.  But this time around, a friend brought me to its doorstep and introduced me to its porchetta sandwich smeared with dolce gorgonzola…  Ridiculous, just ridiculous, as if the sheer volume of Italian salami’s and cheese it carried wasn’t enough to make me weep in regret, but I had to walk away with an audible sandwich?  Yes, audible, as in even with just one bite, I could hear the sound of the chips-like skin crack under the pressure between my teeth, and tasted its fatty, savory and sticky meats mingle and be with the gentle funk of sweet Italian blue cheese.  Right then and there, walking down the contagiously energetic sidewalks of New York in my joyous steps, I knew I had to recreate the recipe for you.

So here it is, as the ultimate redemption for never visited Di Palo’s in all my times living in New York, a seriously, seriously tasty sandwich.  Just checking out the photo with the knife sticking out and the photo after that, you know how good the skin cracks.  And if you think you see a nipple or two while browsing through the photos, yes they are.  Just bonus materials, you’re welcome.

I promise, hesitantly, that I will talk more about my time in New York, no matter how complicated the mixture of emotions were.  But right now, let’s just get the pork on.

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AS THE ULTIMATE REDEMPTION FOR NEVER VISITED DI PALO’S IN THE ENTIRE SEVEN YEARS I LIVED IN NEW YORK…

AND YES, THOSE ARE NIPPLES.

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FRANCE PART I, and Lyonnaise sausage w/ warm beans and sage butter

All the best things in life are clichés.

Paris, is a cliché.

I’ve fought consciously throughout my adult life not to fall for it, or at the very least, say it out loud, fearing I’ll sound like a girl wanting to model or a guy in a sports car.  It oozes unoriginality.  But in the end, excuse mine if you will, as we sat predictably at an open cafe at 6:30 am, watching this city in beige and pastel grey slowly waking up in a wash of golden summer lights, acutely aware of its both corny and extraordinary allure.  Paris, I succumbed, is Paris for a reason.

But I knew that four years ago, when I visited Paris for the time time.  This time, I wanted more.

I wanted more not from Paris, but from the country that it has instilled great bewilderment for inside my mind.  If that was Paris, then what is France?  An embarrassingly stupid question no doubt, for a pre-middle age woman to ask but frankly, I’m too old to pretend that I’m better.  If I were destined with death-by-sugar then fuck it, bring out the ice cream-truck, and I want her every single available flavors including the weird ones against my best judgement.  Not just to see her polished beauty but – almost out of both cynicism and total respect – I wanted to slowly cruise through her central veins, starting from Paris, then Burgundy, Lyon, Luberon, Marseille, then along her riviera that ends in Nice.  What would I find on a road trip in France?  Perhaps a side of her that looks no different than places just off of the New Jersey turnpike (and yes there are).  Or perhaps more beautiful cliches?  Those perfectly imperfect ancient villages and chateaus freckling along her cheeks.  Would I be able to have one?  To find it unmistakably amidst all, to go back to it again and again?  My favorite freckle of hers?

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SUMMER PHO BO ROLL

In the walk of a cook who fancies herself a genius, there is no pain more excruciating than to realize when someone else has out-genius her.  If you were one of “her” (not saying that I am)(I mean genius?  Who?  Me?), careful, because this is gonna hurt.

This guy, Tyler Kord, who wrote this book, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches, is really pissing me off.

Okay, fine, go have a super successful and ever-expanding sandwich shop all over New York City as if that was a dream of mine or whaaaatever.  Dream-stealer….  And then sure, why not, go publish a refreshingly hilarious and strivingly honest cookbook that touches subjects beyond the otherwise self-absorbing stand-alone topic of foods, as if that was my personal 2014 2015 2016 resolution that is wilting faster than baby spinach in a hot skillet.  Face-rubber….  But I don’t care, see, don’t care!  But above all of his dream-stealing and face-rubbing behavior, which I have generously forgiven and let go, none has made me scream more in agony when I saw this recipe on page 168…

Pho mayo.

I’ll spare you the whole pretense of “I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like until I put a spoon in my mouth…blah blah blah blah blah”.  Truth was, the minute I read through the recipe, I knew it would work.  The combination of flavors and seasoning just made sense, guaranteeing, even just on paper, a creamy concoction that would embody all the magical essence of a bowl of pho.  Pho, in mayo form.  This realization sent my body into a self-strangling twist on my stone-cold kitchen floor, thinking, no, bleeding from the eternal question that haunts all mankind – Why, why wasn’t I the one who come up with this?

But I wasn’t.  So that’s that.  And by the way, this fabulous creation of what I call Summer Pho Bo Roll, is not in his book.  Yeah, I took his pho mayo… used it to generously coat a truck-load of thinly sliced beef short ribs, bean sprouts and finely chopped Thai basil, then stuffed them into a hoisin sauce -smeared potato roll, topped with chopped onions and a revengeful squeeze of Sriracha sauce.  It’s like eating a bowl of pho bo (by the way, the word “pho” on its own just means “rice noodle”.  Pho bo (bo means beef) is what you are actually referring to), but no cooking!  And it’s summer-friendly!

Dat’s right, Tyler, I stole your pho mayo.  Now you know what it’s like to be hurt.

I’M REALLY MORE LIKE ACHILLES IN THAT… I CAN MAKE MAYONNAISE BEND TO MY WILL USING ONLY MY MIND BECAUSE ACHILLES COULD DO THAT.  HOMER DOESN’T REALLY GET INTO IT THOUGH.

– TYLER KORD

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