POTATO LATKE WAFFLE FRIES

THE PERFECT HOMEMADE FRENCH FRIES ARE, ACTUALLY, NOT FRENCH FRIES.  NOT ANYMORE.

As a “foodie”, for a lack of better words, I hereby acknowledge and accept all ramifications of these following confessions:

Despite the inexcusable amount of opportunity and close proximity in the past couple decades, I have never, until last Wednesday, had a Shake Shack burger.

That is correct.  Never wanted one.  Never needed one.  I suppose as a food-blogger who’s supposed to know these things, that oozes the same level of non-credibility as a cityscape Instagrammer who hasn’t been hit by a car  — judgements ensue.  But what can I say, because to me, burgers are like children.  Despite the high hopes and dreams every time you wanted one, let’s be honest, most of them turn out to be a disappointing investment with negative returns.  So as a general rule of thumb, I avoid both equally at all costs.  Having said that, I have to admit that my first Shackburger experience — an honest portrayal of a classic cheese burger yet of high caliber — was undeniably satisfying.  But blah blah, who cares, because today’s subject has absolutely nothing to do with burgers.

Instead, it has more to do with Shake Shack’s equally famed crinkled fries.  And how it has nothing but also everything to do deep-fried potato latke waffles.

For the most part, I pride myself as a purist, almost as much as my other less honorable characteristics.  When it comes it fries, it is no different.  I contest the practice of wedge fries, shoestring fries, curly fries, spiral fries, or anything that deviates from the textbook-standard straight-cut 1/4″ thick eternal classic for that matter, is immediately frowned upon.  As much as I would like to say that Shake Shack’s crinkled fries had changed my mind, it did no such thing.  But what it did, in common with all the other attempted contestants, was that it brought an important subject into the considerations for a fantasy French fries — maximized surface area.

In all fairness, each of these criminal deformations done to an innocent straight-cut French fries, were all good intentions to increase the surface area in contact with the frying oil in order to bring more crispiness to their overall performances.  They mean well.  They really did.  Except that in most cases (curly fries, wedge fries and most waffle fries in particular), it has achieved the exact opposite.  Shake Shack’s crinkle fries had came close but unfortunately not close enough to this ideal, still held back by its excessive girth and fast food chain-standard paleness (In fact, the company’s 2013 correct ambition to revamp their fries succumbed to the demands of blindly nostalgic customers, an example where democracy fails).  But its admirable failure had left me fantasizing a perfect world where uneven and warped surfaces could, perhaps, achieve the same level of crunch and crispiness as well-made staight-cut fries.  While it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea, so far, it remained a theoretical hypothesis like Matt Damon on Mars.

Well, that was until Freedman’s potato latke showed up on this Month’s Bon Appetit.

It was a crispy potato enthusiast’s wet dream, where the maximal amount of surface area that could exist inside a 7″ wide and 1″ thick disk is transformed into a sharp, fracturable and golden browned starch-suit, where geometry meets food porn.

Impressive no doubt, but upon my first trial to test the reality of such dream, I immediately realized that its true genius lies not only in its final magnificence, but in how its process has successfully eliminated the No. 1 enemy of making anything that resembles French fries at home.  The despicable requirement of multiple blanching and re-frying.  Anyone who has attempted to create French fries from scratch at home understands deeply both the heinousness as well as the necessity of such process, which removes enough starch and moisture from the potatoes during its first soaking and second blanching so that the ultimate crispiness can be achieved in the final high-heat frying.  It’s a process that, some insist, could take more than a day…

…where potato latke waffle, does not.

All the stunning amount of liquid inside the potato is easily extracted in the shredding step, from then it further evaporates during the brief toasting inside the waffle iron where the potatoes cook and set in shape.  Roughly in a well-spent 20 minutes, the waffle becomes a homogenous body of soft and creamy potatoes held together by their own starchy content and lightly browned hems, which I’d like to point out can be kept inside the freezer on call, en route for greatness.  Inside a shallow pool of hot grease, the granular makeup of the cooked potato disbands subtly around the edges, creating jagged hot spots of glorious crispiness in the same manner throughout the rest of its geometric surfaces, underneath which, the creamy and molten potatoes are captured and sealed, awaiting for the liberation of an audible fracture.  Crispy.  Potato-y.  Incredibly.

With too much respect to this culinary enlightenment, I am almost reluctant to call it a potato latke as it originally intended, or waffle fries as it literally is.  I am almost insistent to say that it is the perfect homemade French fries, when the perfect homemade French fries are, actually, not French fries.  Not anymore.

But in the very moment when I paired them with smoked trout that was still cold to the touch as they do in Freedman’s, and smeared a barbaric stroke of whipped butter and creme fraiche to its zigzag surface as they totally should too, I immediately lost the need to differentiate.  It works undeniably as a perfect potato latke; it works brilliantly as fries.  When something works so sublimely outside the box, throw away the box.

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Granola and no-churn banana ice cream bars

 

IT TASTES LIKE THE LONG MISSING EMPATHY IN ALL HEALTHY BREAKFASTS, AT LAST, FINALY TAKING PITY IN ALL THE UNGODLY URGES WE HUMAN BEINGS HAVE TO DEAL WITH

This is a desperate attempt to counter the tyranny that is summer in Hong Kong while still upholding a minimal level of personal responsibilities such as eating fruits and vegetables, taking fibers, lowering cholesterol and such sad things in life that we all to have bend to at one point or another.  Crunchy yet slightly chewy granola crusts sensibly consisting of rolled oats, corn flakes, seeds and popped grains, sandwiching a less reasonable yet thick layer of no-churn ice cream rampant with cream and sweetened condensed milk, the only good judgment of which is made with the inclusion of two frozen bananas.

It tastes like empathy in a healthy breakfast, at last, finally understanding and taking pity in all the ungodly urges we human beings have to deal with in real life situations.  And I’d say the constancy of 34 degrees celsius with 80% humidity is as real as fuck.

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SUMMER CREAMY TOFU NOODLES

A DRESSING THAT IS CREAMY YET EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT, WITHOUT THE DEPLOYMENT OF MAYONNAISE OR DAIRY-THICKENED PRODUCTS

What drives us?  What fuels the engine that set us in motion through this open water of life?  And to what extend, if any, do we understand and can we even steer this propulsion?  Or are we all, in the end, simply just being moved?  Because when you think about it, doesn’t the phrase “being driven” imply, in the best case scenario, riding shotgun?  So are we all just passengers in an autonomous car?  At this point in life, I ask myself this a lot.

Whatever it is, we are of course all driven by different things, some by ambitions, some by expectations.  Some are driven by responsibilities.  Some are driven by ideals.  I, for one, am regrettably yet hopelessly driven by the saddest of them all — insecurities.  It is, no doubt, a powerful fuel, productive even, if cultivated under the right set of circumstances.  In spite of the inconvenient mandate it has issued me since birth to render all perceived informations as glass-half-if-not-almost-empty situations, it had nonetheless also dragged me through college, got me a job sort of, kept me engaged, however minimal, in some form of social productivities, being the last line of deterrence in between me and rotting unenthusiastically in an endless pit of Cheetos and ice creams.

Where it’s most relevant to the subject on this blog, it had also, with absolute authority, dictated how I cook.

As depressing as it may sound, for me, cooking is not actually about love, gathering, or even about eating.  Cooking, however solitary, is a sport.  And sporting is about performances.  It has to stand out.  It has to exceed.  It keeps a score.  Don’t get me wrong.  I adore this sport.  But as much as I feel happiness and fulfillment through this process, every time I present a dish whether here or in front of friends and families, I am not to nourish, I am to be evaluated.  It’s utterly pathetic.  I hate myself too as I read these sentences, but hey, I’m not driving remember?  I’m being driven.

This unfortunate defect in my character has largely reduced the number of basic recipes on this blog.  Quick or simple maybe, but not basic, at least not in my mind, not without some flare, some ah-ha’s, some kind of charm offensives.

But why am I babbling about this today?  Because today I’m breaking a mould.

The initial objective in this recipe was to create a dressing that is creamy yet extremely lightweight, without the deployment of mayonnaise or dairy-thickened products, as an equally exciting solution to a much-presented problem as we are being harassed by the demands of summer.  Credited to Brook’s Headley’s vegan chocolate ganache, the unlikely firm tofu came to mind.

The scrutiny that is imposed onto this under-appreciated Asian ingredient, often being measured against other robustly more flavorful competitors on the grocery isles, is sadly unfair and misinformed.  Because tofu was never about flavor.  Tofu is a textural thing.  Being pressed into solids, the curds are silky and fragile on the tongue.  Being obliterated in a food-processor, it becomes unexpectedly thickened, smooth and creamy.  It’s the new perfect mother-sauce.

Upon identifying the subject, my insecurity immediately steered the direction towards sensationalism, something loud, something flashy, something doused in heat and spices then set on fire with lighter fuel.  But something strange if not downright unnatural was happening.  This time, in spite of myself, my mind kept defaulting on a childhood comfort that is neither special or bold — the very simple flavors of silken tofu dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil.

This recipe is not rowdy.  It isn’t trying to make a point.  It quietly invites, and it quietly receives, where it quietly untethers after that.  The weightless creaminess wraps its subjects like the touches of cold satin sheets, cooling and soothing, tightens only to a gentle point by the saltiness of soy sauce, the nuttiness of sesame oil, and the soft prickling of wasabi in the nasal cavity.  It is perfectly unextraordinary.  It’s not how I like to cook.  But it’s what I want to eat.

And believe it or not, that for only a handful of times on this blog, I’m okay with that.  I consider it a triumph.

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OLIVE OIL FROM SPAIN – HALIBUT SOUS VIDE IN HERBY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FROM SPAIN

FIERCELY GREEN, GRASSY EXTRA VIRGIN PICUAL OLIVE OIL WITH ALMOST A BITE TO THE TIP OF THE TONGUE, THAT IS EXTRACTED AFTER IT’S BLENDED WITH GREEN CHILI, LIME ZEST, MAKRUT LIM ELEAES, LEMONGRASS AND GINGER, GATHERED AT THE BOTTOM OF A PORCELAIN BOWL LIKE AN EMERAL LAKE OF FLAVORS AND WELL INTENTIONS.

Sponsored.

There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “Wisdom resembles stupidity.”  If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it came from Spain.

Spain is, of course, well known as a pioneer for the consistently complicated, decidedly not-stupid molecular cuisines that went on to sweep the rest of the world.  But, in my short yet nonetheless life-changing trip to Madrid a few years ago, that wasn’t what I had taken away from it.  What had really stricken me, left a mark, drilled a hole in my perhaps unsophisticated heart, were the traditional, sometimes almost dumbfounded and simplistic everyday-foods from Spain that surprised me.  A few slices of jamón and nothing else in between a crusty baguette.  An omelet cooked with sliced potatoes.  A tomato rubbed against toasted bread.  Fried peppers.  Things that, on the surface, aren’t even trying.  But if you’re not careful, they might just be enough reasons for you to leave everything behind and move to Spain.

Of all the understated yet remarkable, seemingly careless but in fact highly meticulous morsels of Spanish foods, something, perhaps the most unassuming-sounding of it all, stands out near and dear to my heart.  Canned seafood.

This is by no means the dusty can of sardines in watered down tomato sauce that you ate in one regrettable night of desperation and bad life choices.  We are talking top-of-the-line quality oceanic delicacies: mussels, octopus, baby eels, squids, razor clams, attentively packed with flavored or unflavored extra virgin olive oil inside perfectly sized cans where they are cooked, fused, aged even, bilaterally transforming into something that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.  With sufficient amount of time that they lay dormant together, the extra virgin olive oil from spain, viscous and fruity, exchanges flavors and even textures with the subjects that it submerges, making the seafood luscious and silky.

So it goes without saying that the minute I was asked to formulate a recipe featuring Olive Oils from Spain, that was where my mind immediately parked.  Well, sort of.

For obvious reasons, running a seafood canning factory inside a home kitchen presents its obstacles.  But what we can do is mimick the process of cooking seafood submerged in extra virgin olive oil inside a vacuum state, aka, sous vide.  Before I lose your attention, I’d like to point out that, quite the contrary from general beliefs, when it comes to sous vide, A) you do not need a vacuum machine, nor a sous vide machine to sous vide at home, and B) the process is actually significantly simpler and easier than most of the other stuff you cook home.  Say pancakes.  I, personally, rather do five sous vide meals than one batch of pancakes.

Because look, you stuff your subjects into a zip-lock bag.  Close the bag while eliminating as much air inside as humanly possible.  Dunk the bag into a large pot of warm water that mostly sustains itself at a constant temperature over the lowest flame setting.  And, well, that’s pretty much it.  Fifty minutes later, the unimpressive thing you walked away from without doing much else has turned into something that is now surreally fantastic.  It’s a method I often deploy against ingredients that are persistently keen on ending up as a pile of cardboards or wood chips, say chicken breasts and fish.

So, tell me how this sounds.  On one side, we have a fiercely green, grassy extra virgin Picual olive oil from Spain, with almost a bite to the tip of the tongue, that is further extracted after it’s blended with green chili, scallions, lime zest, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and cilantro, gathered at the bottom of a porcelain bowl like an emerald lake of flavors and well intentions.  On the other, we have a steak-like hunk of fatty halibut fillet.

Let the fateful merger of these two enterprises collide, settle, left undisturbed inside an airless bag, then send them off into a physical transformation inside a warm, silent, almost meditative bath.  The translucent flesh of the halibut whitens and tightens to the perfectly calculated and controlled state of being opulent and supple, where a small amount of its savory juice seeps into the Spanish olive oil, each releasing and absorbing the essence of the other, born anew.

At this point the duo is as ready to be served as any.  But I couldn’t resist to impose a little element of crispiness on the fish by finishing it in a hot skillet, and to emulsify the olive oil and liquid with yolk and garlics and turning it into a loose, mayonnaise-like sauce.

For more information on Olives Oils from Spain, please visit www.oliveoilsfromspain.org to learn about their quality olive oils. 

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MOLTEN SPICED BROWN SUGAR DONUTS

IT COLLAPSES AND MELTES TOGETHER INTO A VISCOUS DEEP BROWN GOO WHEN IT SURRENDERS TO THE WILLFUL STEAM INSIDE AN EXPANDING, FRYING BUN

As previously confessed on my Instagram (read for context), these days, I’ve been physically and mentally occupied with being a responsible dog mom.  This recipe was developed to be brought to Sesame and SRB’s playgroup – as one is required to do when one’s children are the least well-behaved amongst their peers – to maintain an illusion of their waning popularity and postpone the likely inevitable timing when they get officially kicked out.  When the stake is this high, mom goes to town.

So I’m proposing these fluffy yet chewy donuts stuffed with dark brown sugar that is formerly massaged with honey, vanilla extract, sea salt and spices until all parties clumped into a lustful wet sand, which then fatefully collapses and melts together into a viscous deep brown goo when it surrenders to the willful steam inside an expanding, frying bun.  It’s needless to describe to you how the molasses-y sweetness that’s brought into focus by a hint of cardamon, cinnamon and sea salt, oozes slowly out of a warm pillow, and how narrow of a window they will remain in their best possible state shortly after they came warm out of the fryer.  And so as my respect for these donuts demands, I seized and honored the moment and as a result, none of them had made it to fulfill their original intended purpose.  I’m not explaining anything but just saying.

Well, empty handed but still gotta go.  I’ll see you around.

 
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JALAPENO POPPER DUMPLINGS W/ PICKLING JUICE DIPPING SAUCE

ONE DOES NOT TELL YOU THAT WHEN PICKLED JALAPENO AND CHEDDAR CHEESE ARE IN THE COMPANY OF GROUND PORK, DELIVERED IN CAPSULE-FORM, THEN FURTHER DIPPED INTO A REDUCTION OF ITS OWN PICKLING JUICE, THE COMBO CAN BE BORN ANEW.

My speculation into a jalapeño popper dumpling began many years ago.  It was first brought into light by a specimen from my brother-in-law, who gave us two dozens of online-ordered frozen dumplings which, I was told, had become somewhat of a local internet sensation at the time.  The entire makeup of the dumpling was very well-balanced, a perfect ratio between silky and chewy wrapper, not too thin, not too thick, and a fully-housed filling of pork, chopped Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili, cilantro, plus some other secret stuffs that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It was unexpected, well-flavored, totally legit.

I have since then, for a handful of times, attempted to replicate that particular dumpling outside of Taiwan where Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili aren’t always a common item, and had found such task to be extremely impractical at best.  First of all, Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chilis are, even when available, highly inconsistent in quality between various brands, ranging from awesomely crunchy and peppery with a tinge of sweetness, to barbarically over-sweetened, flaccid and tasteless.  Then what complicated the matter even further was that every attempts to replace it with another type of pickled chilis, had resulted in a flavor profile that was completely unrecognizable.  In some work, documentary for example, there are certain values in writing recipes involving ingredients that are highly specific and exclusive, necessary even.  This, I decided, isn’t one of’em.

I decided that the idea of a dumpling involving a delicious pickled chili, one that is available and reliable nonetheless, could only be realized from a perspective ungoverned by its original inspiration.  Which brings us to, jalapeño popper dumpling.

I made a jadeite-green wrappers colored by green scallion puree, sturdy yet soft, smooth yet chewy, a proper capsule for a filling that is fully specked with spicy and peppery chopped pickled jalapeño and cubes of sharp cheddar cheese, each occupying tiny gooey pockets throughout a fatty pork filling that is brightened with fresh cilantro.  The compatibility between pickled jalapeño and cheddar cheese requires no dispute, but one does not tell you that when they’re in the company of ground pork, delivered in capsule-form, then further dipped into a spicy, briny and tangy reduction of its own pickling juice, this classic combo can be born anew.

Sometimes the destination isn’t where the starting point had intended.  And often times that pisses me off.  In this case, I am not.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT CREAM CHEESE SHIN RAMYUN/BUDAE JJIGAE MIX

WHY CREAM CHEESE?  BECAUSE COMPARED TO THE COMMONLY APPLIED AMERICAN SINGLES, CREAM CHEESE PROVIDES CHEESINESS AND CREAMINESS WITHOUT ADDED SALT.

WHAT:  Perhaps the most internationally embraced instant noodle of our time, Shin Ramyun, now homemade, thickened with cream cheese, and… also doubles as an instant budae jjigae mix.

WHY:  I wish to pay a tribute to the untimely passing of Anthony Bourdain, the original, the first and the last, who is perhaps, in the end, a great speculator without answers.  Here’s a dish from Korea, budae jjigae, which he had openly embraced and advocated for without irony, both being a mutated creation that exists on the tipping point of conflictions and yet, brings epiphanies and enjoyments to their subjects.  We will sorely miss him.

HOW:  The flavor profile of the base for budae jjigae and the instant noodle Shin Ramyun is, to no surprise, close siblings from the same family.  Both prominent on the fragrance and heat of Korean chili powder, smoothed by a bit of sweetness from fermented chili paste called gochujang, followed by subsequent notes of garlic, a bit of onion, and a hint of soy sauce.  By successfully creating a base for one, you would’ve done it for both.  But to aim at a higher end goal with more complexity, I like to approach the question from the perspective of budae jjigae.

There is perhaps nothing more ironical about making budae jjigae than to try to stay “authentic” with budae jjigae.  The spirit of the dish was founded on improvisation, creating something special from the givens, making lemonade.  I first set out to build the groundwork by rendering, browning and pureeing pancetta, anchovies and shitake mushroom powder, which are not traditional but they lay the common bricks for this type of Korean soup-dishes that are often a mixture of meat broth, dried seafoods and mushrooms.  Then guess what?  That’s all the cooking there is.  The only step left is as easy as blending it together with gochugaru (Korean chili powder), gochujang (Korean chili paste), garlics, onion and seasonings, then last but not least, cream cheese.  Why cream cheese?  Because compared to the commonly applied American Singles, cream cheese provides cheesiness and creaminess without too much added salt.  Not mention that it blends more effortlessly into any H2O-based substances.

From this point forward, simply simmer the mix with low-sodium beef stock for Shin Ramyun.  OR, add kimchi, SPAM, hot dogs, and just about anything that sounds really wrong to make something that tastes really right, budae jjigae.   It will be thick.  It will be spicy.  It will be heavy, and it will be enlightening.  It will be too much, and it won’t be enough.  If this can be, then what else is out there?

Go, find out.

Move.” – Anthony Bourdain

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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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