Noodle/Pasta/Rice

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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SUPPLE SLOW-COOKED SOY SAUCE CHICKEN RICE

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Sometimes ideas arise upon the complete rejection of another.  This recipe is a perfect example of such.

The other day (I say “the other day” a lot, which really means “last year”), I was watching this video on YouTube, a michelin-starred chef explaining how to make his “perfect roast chicken”.  Curious, so I watched, as he demonstrated with a straight face on how he cooks his chicken slowly inside a low-temperature oven for 4 hours, then afterwards, finish browning the skin inside a skillet, and after which, injecting the chicken with melted butter.

I mean, is this guy serious?

I don’t even know where to begin.  First of all, the whole notion that one could crisp up a whole, uncut chicken inside a skillet is basically again the laws of physics.  The extremely curvy and maneuvering silhouette of a chicken is exactly the reason why people resort to a three-dimensional heat source to tackle it in the first place.  Steaks, flat.  Chickens, curvy.  Simple logic.  Is he Doctor Manhattan?  Did his pure geniuses allow him to leap into another dimension of space and time to warp his chicken to the skillet?  Of course not!  That patchy-browned chicken looked like it just suffered from a skin-graft.  But you know what, even if, just because I’m nice, even if one could disobey the laws of physics and pull this whole thing off, why would I spend 4 hours of slow-cooking in the pursuit of supple meats, just so I can over-cook it later while I roll it around a super hot skillet like a total moron?  “Not too long in the skillet.” he said.  Yeah, like you mean just long enough to color the outer patch of the thighs plus to realize that this is complete idiocy?  No injection of butter can help you, my friend.

Can you believe this guy….

But wait a second now…. there there there….

Even though his low-oven chicken method is, in my humble opinion, not the answer for crispy skin roast chickens, it would actually… work perfectly for something else.

I don’t know if you know, but there is a whole other branch of philosophy on cooking chicken where crispy skins are actually not the holy grail.  Instead, it’s the extremely supple, juicy, and almost silky slick texture of the meat that reigns supreme.  And this dish called soy sauce chicken, seen hanging inside the steamy windows of Cantonese restaurants everywhere in the world, is where cooks put their relentless pursuit for such texture to the test.

Traditionally, the chickens are cooked inside a pot filled with a shallow, simmering layer of soy sauce-mixture, turning every so often until the skins take on a deep amber sheen and the meats are cooked to perfection, after which it’s hung to cool down to room temperature in order for the salty skins to tighten and become elastic, and the meats to become “jelled” almost.  Not that this traditional method doesn’t work, but it has its flaws.  First, again, uneven heat source, making it that much more difficult to cook the chicken evenly.  Second, the risk of burning, which requires the cook to stand-by and babysit the chick as it matures safely into perfection.

A low temperature oven, solves both.

The whole chicken encased in its own skin inside a low oven is almost functioning as a sous-vide operation, and on top of which, the coating of that deeply savory and aromatic soy sauce mixture never gets burnt, but instead, gets condensed and caramelized on every inch of the skin as the meats slowly and gently comes of age.  The result, on first trial, is perfectly, and I mean perfectly silky and luscious chicken meats that literally slips down my throat, wth firm and salivatingly salty skins that, in my mind, goes head to head with crispy.

The dish is served with hot steamed rice, a good moistening from the strained sauce, and scallion oil, which is the part that will hear no objection from me.

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CRISPY SKINS ARE NOT THE HOLY GRAIL.

BUT INSTEAD, IT’S THE EXTREMELY SUPPLE, JUICY, AND ALMOST SILKY SLICK TEXTURE OF THE MEATS THAT REIGN SUPREME

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*UPDATED 2017/06/02: Added an internal temperature for the chicken for perfect doneness.

SLOW-COOKED SOY SAUCE CHICKEN RICE

Ingredients

    SOY SAUCE CHICKEN:
  • 1 small-size (1.2 to 1.4 kg/2.5 to 3 lbs) free-range chicken (weight includes the head)
  • 2 (45 grams) scallions, cut into chunks
  • 1" (20 grams) ginger, sliced
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) rock sugar, or light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp ground mushroom powder (see note)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • SCALLION OIL:
  • 2 cups (120 grams) finely diced scallions
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup (105 grams) canola oil
  • STEAMED JASMINE RICE TO SERVE

Instructions

  1. TO PREPARE THE CHICKEN: This dish should be done with small-size chickens. Asian chickens tend to come with the neck and head attached. If yours doesn't, then it should weight even less (around 1 kg/2 lbs). In a pot, combine scallion, ginger, star anise, soy sauce, chicken stock, dark soy sauce, shaoxing wine, rock sugar, oyster sauce, mushroom powder, smoked paprika and black pepper. Bring to a simmer to cook for 5 min, then place the pot over ice to cool down to room-temperature.
  2. I marinated the chicken directly inside the pot, but I would recommend doing it in a large zip-lock bag, because it allows more surface area to be submerged in the marinate. So, place the chicken and the soy sauce-mixture inside a large zip-lock bag, and rub until coated evenly. Transfer to the fridge to marinate overnight (recommended), or at least 4 hours. Either way, turn the chicken once in a while, and remove from the fridge 2 hours before cooking.
  3. PREPARE SCALLION OIL: Place diced scallion, grated ginger, salt and ground white pepper in a large bowl. Heat canola oil in a pot over high heat until it just starts to smoke a little, then pour it evenly over the scallion-mixture. It will sizzle enthusiastically. Stir the mixture evenly with a spoon while hot, then let rest for at least 2 hours before using.
  4. TO COOK THE CHICKEN: Preheat the oven on 300 F/150 C. Choose a pot that will fit the chicken neatly without too much empty space. Remove the chicken from the zip-lock bag, then transfer the marinate into the pot. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat, then add the chicken inside. After turning it once or twice to be coated, transfer the pot inside the oven, UNCOVERED. Every 15 min, come back to it and turn the chicken, basting/brushing the sauce evenly over every surface, then return the pot back in the oven. The chicken will be perfectly done with a beautiful sheen after about 55 to 60 min, until the internal temperature around inner thighs reaches 172 F/ 77 C.
  5. KEEP IN MIND that this timing is for a small chicken about 2-plus lbs. I haven't done it with large chickens (and wouldn't want to), but just purely guessing, I would add 20 more minutes to every 1 extra lb, but go by the internal temperature just to be safe. ALSO, when I say "perfectly done", I mean it as really supple meats with a bit of pink inside the bones.
  6. After the chicken's cooked, hang it either by kitchen-twines around its wings or with meat-hooks, then brush the skin thinly with vegetable oil (keeps it shiny and prevents drying). Let it cool down to room-temperature. Strain the sauce, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can, then discard the solids. Add 2~3 tbsp of chicken stock to the sauce to thin out the saltiness, set aside.
  7. To serve, cut the chicken in small pieces and place over steamed jasmine rice. Ladle everything with the sauce and a good dollop of scallion oil. Sprinkle with ground white pepper.

Notes

The chicken is served at room-temperature over hot rice.

To make mushroom powder, simply grind dried shitake mushrooms in spice-grinder until finely ground.

http://ladyandpups.com/2016/09/20/supple-slow-cooked-soy-sauce-chicken-rice/
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France Part II, and chicken w/ morels and rice pilaf

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ONE OF THE BEST DISHES I COOKED.

I AGREE.

Lourmarin is what it promises, a picturesque village in the Luberon region in Provence, and more.

No matter what kind of cynicism you bring along, or distaste for anything that seems to fit too squarely into Martha Stewart magazines, you come here, you see it, and it’s hard not to surrender, even just for a moment, under Lourmarin’s somewhat curated but irresistible, undeniable charm.  We arrived at 7 o’clock in a summer evening when this village draped with honeysuckle vines and buzzing bumble bees were casted under a slanted, pale blue light.  With just one deep breath of its brisk, floral and light beige linen atmosphere, everything felt just right.  May I even remind you that this was after 9 hours of driving from Lyon cutting through the gruesome, annual European migration to the south in the middle of August?  If it weren’t for the highlight of us stopping midway at an orchard, and me may-or-may-not having stolen a bright red apple and ran, the day would’ve all seem to be in ruin.

That ain’t pretty.  But Lourmarin made it worthwhile.

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(may or may not have stolen an apple from here…)

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HOW TO USE KITCHEN TOOLS TO MAKE FRESH PASTA

  

OMG YOU GUYS HAVE TO TRY THIS OUT!

Inspired by @miyukiadachi, a Japanese pasta chef in Toronto who creates beautiful pasta with self-made pasta boards or even vegetable grater!  It made me wonder what kind of pasta shapes I could potentially create in my own home without spending an extra dime, and after testing with what I have in my kitchen drawer, I’m amazed at how many different and beautiful fresh pasta shapes that came out from simple kitchen tools like tongs!  Like rice spatula!  Or even from making my own pasta board simply with wooden skewers!

Here, three types of fresh pasta doughs that could be used interchangeably with each different method.  Really!?  Do you really want to hear me say another word at this point?!  Go!  Run!  Make it now!

  

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MUSHROOM WATER PASTA DOUGH:

Yields 2 servings

  • 1 1/2 cup (195 grams) tipo 00 flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp mushroom water (the water you use to soak dry mushrooms)

Mix flour, egg yolk, salt and mushroom water in a large bowl with a fork until it come into a shaggy dough.  Transfer onto a working surface and knead vigorously for at least 5~6 min, until the dough is very smooth and silky.  The dough should feel soft but not sticky.  If it feels sticky, knead in a bit more flour.  If it feels crackly and dry, wet your hands with water and knead it into the dough.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 1 hour.  Shape into fresh pasta according to video instruction.

*NOTE:  DO NOT add egg whites into this type of chubby pasta, or else it would become really tough!


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FRESH BASIL PASTA DOUGH:

Yields 2 servings

  • 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup (195 grams) tipo 00 flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 4 1/2 tbsp water

In a mortar, grind fresh basil leaves and salt together until it become a fine paste.  Mix the basil paste, flour, egg yolk and water in a large bowl with a fork until it come into a shaggy dough.  Transfer onto a working surface and knead vigorously for at least 5~6 min, until the dough is very smooth and silky.  The dough should feel soft but not sticky.  If it feels sticky, knead in a bit more flour.  If it feels crackly and dry, wet your hands with water and knead it into the dough.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 1 hour.  Shape into fresh pasta according to video instruction.

*NOTE:  DO NOT add egg whites into this type of chubby pasta, or else it would become really tough!


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WOODEN SKEWER PASTA BOARD:

Find a small rectangle of a sturdy material as your foundation (I used a cork pad, but you can use wood board or anything you have on hand).  Cut the wooden skewers into the same length as your board, then line them on top of the board using all-purpose glue (don’t use too much!  just enough to stick!).  Leave wider gap between each skewer if you want a deeper ridge.  After you’re done, press the board down with something heavy (like cast-iron skillet) until it’s completely dried.  Clean the ridges on the board with a toothpick if they are stuck with excess flour after using.

PAPRIKA PASTA DOUGH:

Yields 2 servings

  • 1 1/2 cup (195 grams) tipo 00 flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp paprika powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 5 tbsp water

Mix the flour, paprika powder, salt, egg yolk and water in a large bowl with a fork until it come into a shaggy dough.  Transfer onto a working surface and knead vigorously for at least 5~6 min, until the dough is very smooth and silky.  The dough should feel soft but not sticky.  If it feels sticky, knead in a bit more flour.  If it feels crackly and dry, wet your hands with water and knead it into the dough.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 1 hour.  Shape into fresh pasta according to video instruction.

*NOTE:  DO NOT add egg whites into this type of chubby pasta, or else it would become really tough!


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MATCHA SPAGHETTI W/ CHILI AND CHEESE

It’s probably a bad time to say this but…

Listen, if you were making fresh pastas/noodles for the first time, or the first few times for that matter, chances are, they will probably fall short.

Yeah, this may sound counter-inspirational or perhaps even discouraging from someone who is at this very moment, and repeatedly for a number of times in the past, trying to get you to make one.  But I hope I did, as a diligent practice for myself as well, stressed the key-point, perhaps the only key-point crucial to the success of making fresh pastas/noodles and that is – the only way to be good at making fresh pastas/noodles at home is to acknowledge that it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a straightforward thing.  And whoever’s told you that it is, either sucks at it or…

Yeah, they suck.

WHOEVER TELLS YOU THAT MAKING FRESH PASTAS/NOODLES IS A STRAIGHT-FORWARD THING, EITHER SUCKS AT IT OR…

YEAH, THEY SUCK.

Hey that goes for me as well, as in if I had in the past in any way, made it sound like a failsafe dinner or advertised for any kind of one-dough-fits-all type of pasta-fantasy, like so many other recipe promoters out there, then let me tell you once and for all that – we were fucking lying.

No pastas/noodles are made equal.

Simple, yes maaaybe, if we were talking about the basic makeup of ingredients that doesn’t stray far from some kind of flour mixed with some kind of liquid, but the dummy section pretty much ends there.  What type of flour?  Typical wheat flours, yours or mine?  What type of liquid?  Eggs are largely made with water, too but yolks come with fat and flavor where whites come with proteins that strengthen the dough, and what is it that we want?  What shape is the pasta/noodle?  Thick fat boys may require a softer dough whereas thin, delicate ones may need a bit more build and in between them two, there are fifty shades of chew.

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that spicy, sour Thai street noodle

 

Just came home from an extra long weekend-getaway from Bangkok, my second time visiting this feasting sanctuary and wow, it is even better than I remembered.  I’m not going to play expert and include a traveling guide with this post because when it comes to Bangkok, I’m not, yet.  But I will however, include some links (with or without photos) to some of the memorable moments we experienced on this trip.  It’s not a lot.  After all, it was a 2 1/2 day quickie.  Plus a noodle recipe that brings me back whenever I miss that city, which is to say, always.

JUST STICK WITH

THE DON AND THE HOLY FOURSOME

 

 

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PORK OFFAL SOUP WITH FLAT RICE NOODLE

TOM YUM SOUP WITH RICE VERMICELLI

SIAM PARAGON – shopping mall with an entire floor of food paradise

KITCHEN SUPPLY STORE WITH UNIQUE FINDS

THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE:

Before you say anything, you’re right, this isn’t authentically anything.  It isn’t a particular Thai dish, doesn’t even have a real title (the fact of the matter is, I didn’t have a clue what most of the dishes we ate were called), but what it is, is a recollected combination of flavours that brings me back to that plastic stool and folding table on a hustle-and-bustle street-corner in Bangkok, hitting the right notes.  The aromatic broth… the strings of supple and chewy rice vermicelli… the crunch somewhere in between… the zing, what’s that?… but wait there comes the heat, then savouriness, sweetness, one after the other, tangled but distinct at the same time, intriguing but too consuming to investigate.  That memory, to me at least, is not an absolution, but a chest of vibrant paints and crayons that splatters beautifully over a blank canvas, different every time but always a balance in perfection.

I went with a cheated version starting with store-bought chicken stock which I then built flavours on top.  But you can of course, applauded, start with pig bones, beef bones, or any combination of broth-builder that you prefer, keeping in mind that as long as you get a grip on the major aromatics and template of flavours, chances are, your noodle just can’t taste bad if not delicious.  Aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, pandang leaves, star anise, kaffir lime leaves… they are, together, a proven equation for a damn good reason.  But what the hell is the “template of flavours” you ask?  Which brings me to say…

Just stick with The Don and The Holy Foursome.

On every tables of every noodle-stalls in Bangkok, almost always and if not you’re entitled to get angry, are a fixed collection of condiments, the paints and crayons if you will, which ultimately determines the flavour profile of every individual bowl of noodles, different and deeply personal to every patron’s preferences.  I call them, The Don and The Holy Foursome:

The godfather himself, kiss his hand, is a bottle of fish sauce – SAVOURINESS.  Then, toasted and crushed chili flakes – HEAT.  Blended fresh chili in vinegar – ACIDITY.  Toasted and crushed peanuts and fried garlics – AROMAS and CRUNCH.  A jar of sugar – SWEETNESS.

Always.  Always.  Respect them, but be playful.  I always like mine with high pitch in heat and acidity, with a good dose on aromas and crunch, then subtle on sweetness, but I’ve also seen others dousing sugars over their noodles like it’s breakfast cereals.  And, of course, a dash of The Don is always an offer you can’t refuse.

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THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE

Serving Size: 6~8 depending

Ingredients

    TOASTED CHILI FLAKES:
  • 3 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR:
  • 5~6 (21 grams) mix of red and green Thai chili
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) white rice vinegar (not Japanese sushi vinegar)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • FRIED GARLIC AND ROASTED PEANUTS:
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • THE BROTH:
  • 7 cups (1750 grams/ml) chicken stock
  • 3 lemongrass, roughly chopped
  • 1" galangal, roughly chopped
  • 2 frozen pandang leaves, roughly cut
  • 2 " cinnamon stick
  • 4~5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1 large handful of cilantro stems
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp garlic oil
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 8~10 Asian pork or beef meatballs
  • MINCED LEMONGRASS CHICKEN:
  • 2 (340 grams) skinless boneless chicken legs
  • 1 (30 grams) lemongrass, white parts only
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2~3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • TO ASSEMBLE:
  • rice vermicelli, variety depends on your preference
  • Thai basils and bean sprouts
  • sugar and fish sauce to season
  • MSG

Instructions

  1. MAKE TOASTED CHILI FLAKES: Mix chili flakes and vegetable oil together in a skillet until it resembles wet sand. Set over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn darker in color and smells fragrant. Transfer immediately into a bowl to cool (it will burn quickly and become bitter).
  2. MAKE BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR: Over stove-flames or with a torch, char the skins of the chilis until completely blackened, then scrap away the black skins and seeds with a small knife and discard. Blend the chilis with vinegar and sugar in a blender until coarsely pureed. Set aside until needed.
  3. FRIED GARLIC AND TOASTED PEANUTS: Combine finely minced garlic and vegetable oil in a small pot over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlics start to turn light brown in color (this will take a few minute)(*don't let them turn dark brown or they'll be bitter*). Drain immediately through a fine sieve and let cool. Reserve the oil. Once the garlics are cooled, pound them together with roasted peanuts in a mortar until coarsely ground.
  4. MAKE THE BROTH: Blend a couple cups of chicken stock with lemongrass, galangal and pandang leaves until coarsely blended. Transfer into a large pot with the rest of the chicken stock, along with cinnamon stick, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, star anise, reserved garlic oil, dark soy sauce, ground white pepper, light brown sugar and ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 min, then add the fish sauce and meat balls, and cook for another 10 min.
  5. Meanwhile, make the minced lemongrass chicken: Cut the chicken into small pieces then set aside. In a food-processor, blend lemongrass and ginger until finely chopped. Add the chicken, fish sauce, ground white and black pepper, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground (like sausage consistency). Add 2 tbsp of the reserved garlic oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook until fragrant, then add the chicken-mixture, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until slightly browned on all edges. Set aside until needed.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: On the table, arrange a bottle of fish sauce, a small jar of light brown sugar, toasted chili flakes, blended chili vinegar, fried garlic/roasted peanuts, and a couple bunch of fresh Thai basils.
  7. Cook the rice vermicelli according to instructions and divide into bowls, with a small handful of bean sprouts and a good pinch of MSG (that's how it's done, ok? that's how it's done). Pour the broth into the bowl through a fine sieve, then add a couple of meatballs and a good large spoonful of minced lemongrass chicken into each bowls. Adjust your own season with the condiments then slurp.

Notes

This broth can be built on store-bought chicken stock, or from scratch with pork bones and water.

http://ladyandpups.com/2016/06/15/that-spicy-sour-thai-street-noodle/
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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART I, CARBONARA 2.0

I understand what it’s like.  It’s totally okay.  Happens to everyone.

We venture into unfamiliar, “exotic” markets coming from strange corners of the world, seeing bewildering ingredients for the very first time of our small existence, feeling intrigued, curious, excited even, and then at the end of a good thorough lap we walk out of the markets with our sparkly eyes wide open and our shopping bags, utterly empty.  Hey, I do it all the time, like last week in an Indonesian grocery store, and then again yesterday in this “sports goods” shop?  It’s no fault of our own, actually if anything, only human nature, to take caution with unfamiliarities.  It’s survival instinct 101.  As far as I know, no one has ever died from tomato sauce in a jar or freezer-section pizzas, right?  I guess I’m just trying to say, I can relate.

NESTED WITHIN, IS A JEWEL, DENSE AND COMPRESSED WITH THE ESSENCE OF ITSELF, HIDDEN TO BE EXCAVATED FROM THE BLACK SALTED EARTH

A RED DIAMOND

But growing up from two distinctively different backgrounds and cultures also means that, I too, relate to the other side, perhaps from your perspective, the scary side, the side that is teeming with strange and unfamiliar ingredients, flying pig-parts and deeply rouge sauces that hurt.  Being a Taiwan-born, Canada-fed then New York-aged piece of mind, one foot half-in half-out on all sides for as long as 25 years, naturally, you know for my thighs’ sake, I want to find ways to close the distance between each, a distance that is all but illusions and narrower than anyone thinks.  Because I’m also from the other side that knows stuff that you don’t.  The other side that tries to shout “Hey there’s good stuffs here, really good stuffs, and you should try it!”, but often times in inaudible volume with a world that is too busy to investigate.

It’s not anyone’s fault.  We didn’t shout loud enough.

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HONG KONG’S CURRY FISH BALLS OVER RAMEN

Drifting over moving chaos, under the clouds of settling dusts, weeks… have passed.  It’s been almost a month since my last post, the longest it has ever been.

This posting gap was considerable in blogging years, unplanned nor welcomed, and in many ways in fact, nerve-wrecking.  But I wanted to do the first “official” post properly, to wait, to get all the shit that needs to be done in our apartment, one that we renovated ourselves 6 years ago before moving to Beijing, so I could include a proper introduction of our new life to your all in this post.  Kind of…  Friends, apartment.  Apartment, friends.  Now help yourself at the buffet.

But turned out, as it seems, that there is more work involved behind those House And Garden variety of apartment showoffs that I used to take completely granted for.  After 4 weeks of grinding constructions, big and small, to touch up those little imperfections that, really, bothered nobody but myself… the apartment, is still not there yet.  So I decided not to wait any longer.  This post may not include apartment therapy – maybe in another week – but worry not, it’s still got food.

Now, for the first “official” post marking a new beginning in Hong Kong, I thought it was only fitting that we start with something iconic to this city.

Every city needs a hero.  Best yet, an nourishing one, dependable, non-judgmental, and accessible to all under its shelter, big or small, rich or poor.  One that doesn’t care if you were hustling sober through the high traffics or stumbling drunk on the stone-cold pavement, always and forever, as the city promises, the rescue that is steaming just around the corner.  Dirty water hot dog in New York, jian-bing in Beijing.  Here, this thing called curry fish balls is the food-hero that bonds between Hong Kong’s identity and its people who hold it dearly.

The fish balls, pre-fried, are boiled in a large tank of neon-yellow water which gets replenished as more fish balls are removed from the water, and served with a spoonful of curry sauce and hot sauce to standing customers huddling around the booth.  This boil-and-sauce technique, I suspect, is catering more to a streamlined service with higher turn-overs than say, optimising flavours.  The fish balls, without actually being cooked in the curry, are slightly bland and therefore have to draw all their flavours from the topical sauces instead of being a single, together, perfect entity.  This makes sense for street vendors, of course, especially in this relentlessly expensive city where any means necessary to speed up services are justifiably, if not rudely, executed.  But if we were to recreate this dish at home – and I would argue that it’s in the best interest to honor its complexity – we shall do things a little differently.

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