ONE-POT SICHUAN SAUSAGE (OR ANY SAUSAGE) RICE W HERBS SALAD

THE ABUNDANT FAT AND JUICES FROM THE SAUSAGE WILL DESCEND GODLY AND SEEP DOWN THROUGH THE RICE BELOW, FLAVORING AND AIDING THE FORMATION OF THE HEAVENLY BOTTOM CRUST

If you follow my Instagram, then you’d know that I’m head-deep in rushing towards the finishing line on my cookbook.  Yeah, I’m writing one, and this is probably the first time that I’m mentioning it on the blog, all very anti-dramatic and all.  But I promise to talk more about it when the time comes.

For now, let me quickly leave you with a recipe, well more like a technique almost, that I think everyone who struggles with weeknight meals (or writing a book no less) should have in their repertoire.  Inspired by claypot rice, here’s how to turn any type of fresh sausages and a few cups of rice into a one-pot, steaming, savory, fluffy and crispy wonder.  If you have a few minutes to spare, you can prepare this sichuan-inspired sausage thoroughly studded with fatty guanciale bits (Italian cured pork jowl), burning with toasted chili flakes and tingling wtih sichuan pepercorns.  Or, you can use any other types of your favorite, fresh sausages like sweet Italian, spicy Italian, or fresh Mexican chorizo and etc.  Either way, the abundant fat and juices from the sausage will descend godly and seep down through the rice below, flavoring and aiding the formation of the caramelized, heavenly bottom crust.  Then this steaming and comforting one-pot wonder is complimented by a scallion and tarragon salad cooled by a touch of Greek yogurt.  If you’re anything like me, you don’t even need bowls.

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THE PHYSICALLY AND FLAVOR-MASSIVE, BEIJING SUPERMARKET FRIED CHICKEN

SAVORY JUICES GREASED WITH RENDERED FAT RUSHED ARDENTLY OUT OF THE MEAT… A NOSTRIL FULL OF AROMA AS A MIXTURE OF CUMIN, CHILI, GARLIC, AND THE IRRESISTABLE SMELL OF CRISPED CHICKEN SKINS SENT ME INTO AN ANGRY SPIRAL OF REGRETS AND RESENTMENTS

In AA they say, there are twelve steps to recovery.  Well, this fried chicken is my Step Nine. 

Specifically, if you (hopefully) aren’t familiar, this is a stage where the recoveree make direct amends to people whom they had harmed, wherever possible, as a part of the process to obtain emotional balance and closure.

So here I stand, almost two years into my recovery from six traumatic years in Beijing, I am ready to talk about this fried chicken.

To start from the beginning, I first saw these fried chickens inside a supermarket a few blocks away from our apartment in Beijing.  Calling that place a supermarket is a gross exaggeration whereas a glorified convenience store would be more appropriate, but for six long years, I passed by that supermarket about once a week on a conservative average, and I consistently dismissed the peculiar stall that was tucked in a dingy corner by the entrance with a sign that read, “Meixiang Fried Chicken“.

Peculiar indeed, not because there was a random fried chicken stall inside a suspicious convenience store, but that as ambiguous as it was, almost everyday around 3pm, there would be a line cued up at its greasy window, as long and meandering as my bafflement.  Typically, a line exceeding 15% of the total crowd-size stretching the entire block, is a mathematic proof good enough to send me into investigation, but feeling prejudice towards this entire city in general, I thought either this fried chicken was an understated treasure, or these people were out of their minds.

For six years, I went firmly with the latter.

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THE INCREDIBLE CHICKEN TOFU – FROM THE MIND OF A CHEF

TENDER EDIBLE CLOUDS MADE WITH CHICKEN BREASTS?!!  WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY, DANNY?!

Holy shit, did you watch Season Six of Mind of a Chef with Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food?

Did you see where his mentor Yu Bo, in episode two, turned a puddle of pink chicken-slush into pillows of fluffy-looking curds, something they call, chicken tofu?!

Did you gush outloud, tender edible clouds made with chicken breasts?!!  No special curd-forming acid or salt required, virtually fat-free, and answers the prayers of millions of suffering souls of how to triple the volume of two pieces of chicken breasts without adding much more calories, but more importantly, transforming its woodsy nature into custardy, melt-in-your-mouth, weightless pillows of savory delights?!!!

Did you close your eyes and imagine exhaustively of what it’s like to cuddle the impossibly light and quilted bodies in between your tongues, a dream that feels unreal but known to be true?!!

Did you marvel?!

Did you cry?!

Did you say oh please baby Jesus dear Lordy, can someone please tell me how this wizardry is performed?!!

Well, guess what, you’re welcome.

And the spicy version drenched in chili oil, you’re double welcome.

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Roast pork butt sandwich

A couple weeks ago, I wondered my way into a small break from cooking.  For no particular reason than because, over one morning coffee, I felt it was called for.  People talk about the ferocity of love and passion a lot, in all forms and sizes that drives humanity for what it’s worth, rising in salute for its consuming, inconvenient, majestic torment and glory.  But what fuels it, what fuels love and passion, is often less marketable.

At certain points, what fuels passion is simply absence.

 

THE AU JUS… AND THE THOROUGHNESS OF ITS RAMPAGE DOWN THE RECEPTIVE PORES OF A TOASTED ITALIAN ROLL, DETERMINES WHETHER THIS IS A SANDWICH WITH PORK, OR,

A ROAST PORK SANDWICH

 

So I took a break, cruising.  I didn’t think about cooking other than making basic sustenances.  I rubbed my dogs‘ heads a lot.  I binge-watched two Netflix original series eating junk foods.  I rekindled with the familiar joy of ordering take-outs.  Holding a brown bag of meal No. 2 and a large diet coke, I waited, on the curb, for the lights to turn.

And just like that, I bumped into Fedoroff’s.

To be exact, Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich shop in Brooklyn.  And by “bumped into”, I really just meant, like everything else nowadays, that I saw it on Instagram.

It spoke to me.  I took one look at this monstrous, ageless battle of meat VS bun, and I felt the jolt of adrenaline seeping back into my veins.  I wanted to cook this sandwich.

For the record, once again, I have not had a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich in my entire life.  Hence, this recipe is not based on any single one of your particularly preferred joint, especially  not Fedoroff’s.  In fact, I’m dead certain that my approach to this beloved classic is as offensive to its disciples as inserting hot dogs onto a margarita pizza.  No one intact trunk of meat to marvel over!?  No searing before roasting!?  Oh sweet mother of Jesus, ginger?  Fish sauce!?

Why?  First of all, it just makes more sense.  To come to this conclusion, you have to be willing to let go of a few fairy tales about roasting.  No 1, there’s no such thing as “locking in the juice”.  Meats don’t get sealed.  They’re not sexual scandals.  Legitimately, they can get seared/caramelized/browned for more complex flavors, but if you think that’s going to stop their juice from leaving the mothership in the oven (the antidote to that would be super low temperature but that’s not the story today), I’m afraid this is the adult’s equivalent of realizing there’s no Santa claus.  Besides, why make the futile effort to “seal”, when au jus, or aka, drippings is exactly what we are gunning for?

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BEEF TARTARE WITH SEA URCHIN FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD

IT HAD ME AT HELLO

Oh geez, in between life in general and an unexpectedly eventful visit to my OBGYN which involved an adorably named chocolate cyst, I’m going to quickly leave you with, nonetheless, a recipe for my favorite thing to eat these days.  This is a dish inspired by a restaurant called Neighborhood in Hong Kong’s central district, which serves predominantly French bistro-style dishes with a spritz of Japanese infusion, and in this case, classic beef tartare served with fresh sea urchin roe on top.  For the record, I have NOT had this particular dish at the restaurant.  It wasn’t offered on the menu by the time I visited, and so I created my own rendition at home.  The major difference is that their standard beef tartare is mixed with chopped raw oysters, which I omitted because fresh oysters just isn’t something that Hong Kong markets excel at, and for the many times that I’ve pushed my luck, I wish I hand’t, so.

But, having said that, you’ve got to try this.  I would want to sell you on how the creamy sweetness and foie gras-like richness of the sea urchin blend almost biblically beautiful with the irony savoriness of the beef tartare, and how the infusion of the two, including the cold and silky touches it feels on your taste buds, comes to a marvelous clash with the warm crunches of the toasted baguette. And I could go on.

But the truth is, if you’re my kinda people, it had us at hello.

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POMELO AND THAI HERBS SALAD

 

THE EXPERIENCE IS BETWEEN EATING A SALAD AND DRINKING A COLD GLASS OF GATORADE

I don’t eat salads.

I think that’s quite self-evident on this blog.  But even a non-salader like me feels a tinge of excitements as pomelo season approaches, the citrus giant with enormous and voluptuous pulps that burst with sweet, floral and faintly bitter juices resembling a lemony grapefruit.  For the record, I’m not a fan of grapefruit, which is why I’m not particularly excited about pomelo’s potential as a stand-alone fruit course.  But what gets my buzz going is its potential to be a fantastic savory treat.

Pomelo is rarely too sweet, and it carries an uniquely floral and bitter note that blends wonderfully with other more robust or rich-tasting ingredients that seek a refreshing medium.  Take herbs salad for example, flavorfully too sharp and aggressive most of the times to be a dish on its own, but together with pomelo, it becomes a juicy and rounded symphony tapping on all the right notes in a cascading, orchestrated tempo.  First thing that hits the senses is the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce and shallots anointed with olive oil, which escalates along the individually distinctive sharp bites from the assorted fresh herbs, too sharp, almost, if it isn’t immediately awash with sweet and quenching juices with the rupture of each pomelo pulps.  The experience is a marriage between eating a salad and drinking a cold glass of gatorade.

A refreshing and guilt-free lunch on an overheated autumn day, but I know that it cries to be an equal partner alongside heavy and rich pre-winter dishes like roast pork belly or braised short ribs.  And next year, you’ll be counting the days for its arrival.

 
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SIMPLE YET SURPRISING AMSTERDAM PANCAKE

 

I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK MUCH.  I PROBABLY WOULD’VE BYPASSED IT IF I WASN’T STUCK IN AMSTERDAM.  BUT I’M GLAD I WAS.  AND I KNOW YOU WILL, TOO

I’ve been to Amsterdam.  For a total of 18 hours.  I don’t know what people do during an overnight layover in a city they know nothing about, and I knew nearly nothing about Amsterdam.

However, pancake, seems to be a thing.

What did I know about “Amsterdam pancake”, or as I later found out, pannenkoeken?  Not much, really, aside from that it’s starkly different from the verticality of common stacked pancakes, in fact, it’s one of the flattest stand-alone foods I’ve came across.  And in my long years of hunting for culinary clues, when something spreads so unseemly, so 2D, so unornamented to a point of bleakness, yet is still adored as “a thing”, further investigation is warranted.  And rest assured, I was not disappointed.  To clarify upfront, during the only few hours of daytime we had, we only tried Amsterdam pancake once, from an unresearched, random cafe close to our Airbnb apartment, and had only a single pancake with cheese which we shared.  All in all, what I’m trying to say is, I am no expert.  But from the moment since the waitress placed something that looked exactly like this in front of us, as unflatteringly as it came, and I tore a small corner from the edge and put it faithfully in my mouth,  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Chewy.  Chewy was the first word that came to mind.  But soft though, really soft.  A combination of textures that, from the start, was already far more interesting than any of the spiritless associations of common pancakes, say, pfff, fluffy.  Flavor-wise, it wasn’t exceedingly eggy like Dutch baby or french crepe, nesting comfortably in the natural and mild sweetness of wheat flours and milk.  I also couldn’t stop thinking about how daringly minimal it presented itself on the table, a bare blanket of confidence with nothing else but a few slices of melted Dutch gouda on top, almost making a statement, declaring its independence from BS, secure with assurance.  It felt playful to eat, interacting, but comfortable, like having a conversation with a soft-spoken but funny stranger who underdressed with ease, while the whole time I wondered if it was too weird to ask if we could be friends for life.

And that’s exactly what I did.  All eight times of trials and errors.  It felt funny going after something, with this much effort, when I wasn’t even sure if it’s a classic representation in its category.  Is this the pannenkoeken?  I have no idea.  But I don’t really care.  I just want to find my way to back to that particular one that I really liked.  It was expectedly tricky to replicate that softly chewy texture which I hold as a key to its charm, leading to a combined conclusion of both wheat flour and potato starch in the batter.

I know it doesn’t look like much.  And I probably would’ve bypassed it if I wasn’t stuck in a city full of it.  But I’m glad I was.  And I know you will, too.

 
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WORLD PEACE CURRY, AND HAPPENS TO BE GLORIOUSLY DELICIOUS

SOUTHEAST ASIAN AROMATICS, KOREAN CHILI PASTE, INDIAN SPICES, GREEK YOGURT, ITALIAN SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, CHINESE ANISES, AND IN THE END, A LITTLE PUSH OF ALL AMERICAN CHEESE.  AN OTHER-WORLDLY CURRY THAT TASTES LIKE THE PINNACLE OF HUMANITY

I’d like to introduce you to world peace curry.  

Why?  Because curries are better than humans.  Curries know how to coexist in unity.  Even though at a glance it feels like an impossibility, a chaos without logics, a discord of competing self-interests and cultural clashes, but curries always find a way to be the most delicious repeal of our disbelief.    Don’t believe me?  I put it to the test.  An unlikely coalition of southeast Asian aromatics, Korean chili paste, Indian spices, Greek yogurt, Italian sun-dried tomatoes, Chinese anise seeds, and in the end, an intrusion of American cheese?!   It should end in war but instead, it rejoices slowly and bubblingly in a lusciously rich, creamy, intensely aromatic, complex yet beautifully balanced alliance of flavors, savoriness and tang.  It tastes like the pinnacle of humanity, our best hope for world peace even against our cynical judgements.  And also, perhaps most importantly, the best you’ll ever put in your mouth.

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