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Brûlée Coconut, Palm Sugar, Pork floss sticky buns

”  It’s savoury-sweet kinda thing, you know, obviously, but also smokey around where a mixed aroma of coconut, butterscotch and bacon meet and greet.  “

What in the world is pork floss?!

And where the hell do you get palm sugar?!  Or both, for that matter?!

Ok fine, so I knew this is gonna be a hard pitch.  And I’m probably not helping my case when I tell you that pork floss, invented by an anonymous Chinese likely on a night of massive insomnia, is a brownish cotton ball made of predominantly pork, which is cooked, shredded, then painstakingly dehydrated while being tumble-fried inside a wok until what used to be muscle tissues have then transformed into super fine, fiber-like fluffs.  Whaaat?!  And as if that’s not mind-bending enough, its flavor profile wonders in between savoury and sweet with a maple bacon or jerky-like porkiness oozing into your sensory space as your mouth grapple to understand this textural anomaly.

It’s really just like any other culinary ingenuities that took form initially as a means to tackle food preservation before refrigeration, but ended up being cherished by its culture even till this day.  Stretching from southern China down to Southeast Asia, hey, pork floss matters.  For every skeptics, there also stands a loyalists who would cradle and defend this “porky cotton” if you will, against the world’s cynical suspicion.  I too, love this shit.

Having said that, pork floss is not a stand-alone item.  It needs companies.  And as it has been increasingly branching out from its traditionally more savoury roles towards making collaborative debuts in, of all things, sweet pastries all across Asia, I feel it’s time for this surprisingly multi-faceted talent to be introduced to a more internationally recognized platform.

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Crushed sago pearls is the next crust you need

” relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers “

You’ve been doing it all wrong.

Ok, sorry, I’m being rude.  Let me be specific.  If you live outside of Taiwan and have been trying to mimic any number of Taiwanese-style fried street foods like crispy chicken poppers, cutlets, or pork chops, chances are, you’ve been doing it all wrong.  But, it’s not your fault.

Truth is, you’ve been misled.  And in fact, among others, I’ve been one of the guilties who have mislead you.  So please, today, let me correct my wrongs.

To explain, one must start with what exactly is so specific about “Taiwanese-style” fried… well, everything.  Aside from seasonings which is not of today’s focus, what sets these crispy morsels apart from others is a very, very distinct crust.  One that predominantly shares the same laced textural surface of a fried crust that is made of tapioca or potato starch, but in a closer look, is relentlessly speckled with pale, large-sized granules that crunch much more enthusiastically than its homogenous peers.  It is these “white sparkles” that gives Taiwanese-style fried dishes their unique edge.  And it is also, where things go wrong for you.

You see, in order to achieve such meticulously defined texture, one must use an ingredient that I have only seen being used in Taiwan, called sweet potato starch.  It is the only starch that I know of that come in this kind of grainy texture instead of a fine powder.  But what complicates things is that sweet potato starch is rarely seen in supermarkets or even Asian groceries, except maybe in stores that specializes in Taiwanese exports.  Which is why, regretfully, it is often times replaced with tapioca starch or cornstarch that completely lack this unique characteristics.  I too have been guilty of doing it that way.

But, not until I’ve found a solution.

You see, again, sweet potato starch behaves the same way almost in any other ways (as a thickener or in batters and etc) as a much more common ingredient, tapioca starch (made from cassava instead of sweet potato), except that tapioca starch comes in fine powder form without granules.  But, ah-ha, there is something made of tapioca starch that does comes in “granules”, if you will, and equally important, is much much easier to get your hands on.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes that, my friends, is sago pearls.

How could I not have thought about this in my twenty years of hunting for sweet potato starch to no avail?  How could I not have known that, duh, when sago pearls are put through the pulsing magic of a spice grinder, it resembles almost perfectly the exact same niche texture as the elusive sweet potato starch?  And how could I, after having unearthed this revelation for months, took my sweet-ass time to finally bring it to your attention just now?  Bad blogger… bad.

But well, now you know.  Whether you’re thinking about making Taiwanese crispy salty chicken poppers, or something more like this, a classic Taiwanese spiced pork chop that is often served with rice, or whatever deep-fried fantasies your hungry mind is taking you where a crust with starry speckles of salty and crunchy pops glimmers above the horizon, now you know.

It’s better late than never.

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Failproof flakey pastry stuffed with mochi and chocolate

Listen, I’ve made this flakey pastry about four times now.  And each time, no matter how every single signs along the way was pointing towards an inevitable heartbreaking disaster, somehow, miraculously, it always turned out amazing.  I’ve stuffed them with jam and cheese, with fruits and nuts, and this time, with bittersweet chocolate blended together with dark brown sugar and peanut butter plus a good chewy padding of sticky rice mochi on the bottom, and still I couldn’t manage to fuck it up.  More crispy and shards-like than puff pastry, but more defined and layered than pie crust, comes together fast and relatively easy, and goes down even more so.

So, as someone with a very unlucky track record in the baking arena, I pass this recipe onto you.  I’d say good luck, but something tells me you won’t need very much of it.

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Gluten-free, low-carb, chewy all-purpose noodles made of chicken breast

“  The wisdom in exploring Mars

lies in a single dumpling.  ”

The merits to explore Mars may not be a subject that lands on a food blog very often.  Yet.

Since the 1990’s, the world has spend billions of dollars over the span of numerous unmanned missions to probe at this relentlessly desolate planet far beyond human’s physical reach. And it has incurred questions, perhaps not so unreasonably, about what benefits, if any, that all of these hardcore sciencing could realistically bring to mankind. What’s the point of studying an unreachable plane that most likely cannot sustain any lifeforms but Matt Damon, at least in the foreseeable future?  Wouldn’t it make more moral sense to redirect all those money, instead, on the many more immediate issues left unsolved on good old planet earth?  And at the end of the day, does anyone really want to live on fucking Mars anyways?

While there are many scientific counter-arguments to those questions out there made by much smarter people who do math, here as a mere moron who survived one week in her high school physics class, I am simply going to put it like this:

The wisdom in exploring Mars lies in a single dumpling.

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Bastardized pork belly biriyani

”  NO REASON NEEDED, NO APOLOGY GIVEN.  “

I’m not religious.  I don’t have to explain why there’s pork, or fat-laden pork belly to be exact, in my biriyani.

Some truths hold themselves to be self-evident.  Very few gets realized.

I also don’t have to explain this recipe’s utterly impure pedigree, a zig-zagging parentage between Southeast Asian and Indian and even a little of Chinese, making it an indecent, inglorious, bona-fide bastard.  Drifted increasingly untethered to any particular nationality or culture, I feel somewhat of a kindred spirit to such mis-bred type, comfortable, reciprocal, defiant even.  From one bastard to another, we know what we like, no reason needed, no apology given.

Right is right.  Good is good.

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Chicken crackling smash burger

”  the wonder of chicken is that, even though the meat lags behind pork and beef in intensity, its cracklings on the other hand, are incredibly potent and explosive.  …these itty bitty fragments of fat caramelize and crisps into powerful flavor pellets where bright rays of chickeny-ness are released when crunched through in your mouth.  “

There are many reasons, perhaps good reasons, why humans can’t seem to shake the global spell of beef burgers even in the wake of the negative effect of raising cattle has on climate change.  We as a remarkable species have never backed down from the challenge of a good self-destruction, let alone that in this rare instance, it isn’t absolutely senseless.

For one, out of the few domesticated livestocks we grow for meats, beef, seems to persistently transcend in the robustness of aroma and flavors when its proteins and fats undergo the maillard reaction of browning.  In plain English, meats taste good, but beef seems to taste best.  Secondly, it’s hard to go to a supermarket without bathing in the seduction of see-through packaged ground beef sold in wide open isles in bulk at a reasonable pricing.  Gushing and bloody, they are everywhere at anytime in close proximity where carnivores in practice or in relapses lurk.  Urge plus convenience, its recipe for success isn’t exactly a mystery.  And that is because, last but not least, beef is big money.  It is a hundreds of billions of dollars industry globally, with none other than USA leading the parade as the biggest beef producer followed by countries like Brazil, China, Argentina and Australia.  It doesn’t take a meat eater to explain.  A Buddhist economist could tell you why beef burger is one of the most successful American cultural exports.  Money money money.  Money.

When short-term pleasure is weighed against long-term peril, we humans can always count on ourselves to make the dumb choice.

That is unless, there is a feasible alternative.

No, I’m not talking lab-grown beef, not that it isn’t a promising and totally totally appetizing candidate.  I mean who wouldn’t be aroused by meat grown in a petri-dish?  No, today I want to focus on an option that has long been right in front of our eyes, that can compete in the convenience as well as economic viability of beef.  One that has been overlooked not for lacking in any of the above reasons, but simply because it hasn’t been thought of that way.

Ground chicken.

Before you leave the building, I’d like to shout as loud as I can that I’m not talking about store-bought ground chicken which you only ingested in a terminal stage before you reach the great beyond and reborn as a robotic calories calculator.  The difference between that ground chicken and my ground chicken is the single most under-valued asset of this noble bird, its secret weapon, its Trudeau’s hair.  Anyone who has ever rendered their own schmaltz, aka chicken grease, would know whole-heartedly of what I am about to unveil.  For everybody else, I’m talking about, the chicken skins.

Pork has chicharrón, and chicken has what I’d like to call, chicken cracklings.  It is the crispy remnant of an animal’s fatty mass – in this case the chicken skins – after its moisture and liquid grease is extracted by heat in a process called rendering, leaving behind tiny nuggets of crispy and golden browned brittles if you will, that is an intense condensation of flavors and aromas of its formal self.  But the wonder of chicken is that, even though the meat lags behind pork and beef in intensity, its cracklings on the other hand, are incredibly potent and explosive.  When properly mixed into the ground chicken for the purpose of a flat disk where contact surface area with the hot skillet is maximized, these itty bitty fragments of fat caramelize and crisps into powerful flavor pellets where bright rays of chickeny-ness are released when crunched through in your mouth.  I’m not saying it’s the same as a beef burger.  I’m saying it’s not but equally satisfying.  I crave one just now.

But a perfect burger is not just the patties.  Far from it.  The delicate balance between the texture of the buns, the ratio between components and flavors, sometimes perfection requires restraint more than generosity.  I’m a purist when it comes to burgers, especially this burger. The protagonist is the flavor and aroma of rendered chicken skins, and its voice comes through most vividly without distractions of “over-condimentation”. Simple mayonnaise for moisture, mustard for acidity and a single slice of cheese is suffice.  No onions or garlic powder, tomatoes or lettuce, because this burger (or most for that matter) does not benefit from a big party.

Now you can say nah, I prefer a good-old beef burger.  Hey I sometimes do, too.  But I don’t have children and never wanted one so you’re not shitting on my invested future.  Go to town.  But if you have second thoughts on that matter, then give this a try.  A win-win situation is rarely just a burger away.

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Glazed Tadpole-oca donuts w/ salted peanut dust

Publishing a recipe that is aimed at overtaking an old one on a recipe blog like this, is a bit of a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down in.

For starter, it implies that the old recipe being replaced, however satisfactory it was left for the public consumption in good faith, was after all, only subpar in comparison.  An uncomfortable admission that these recipes, or at least some of them, are only as good as the limits of their developers at the time whose standards may at some point surpass their own creations.  That some recipes are ultimately, imperfect and transitory.  Which then leads to the question that, well, if one recipe here is found to be less than worthy of eternity, or at least till the end of mankind due to disasters of cosmic proportions, then who knows how many other recipes here are potentially shy of such basic standard?  Because if this isn’t the promised space that guarantees unequivocally immaculate cooking manuals that fill the empty pockets of our blip of an existence in a totally indifferent no-shit-given universe, then what are any of us even doing here?  What’s the point?  I mean do you know?  Does she know?!  And when I said she, I meant I.  What’s the meaning of all this??  Do I even deserve to live??!!

So you see, a bit of a hole.

But sometimes, things have to be done, holes have to be jumped into.  Which brings us, to this mochi donut.

A few years ago at an early age of this blog, I published a donut recipe that aspired to yet fell short of mimicking the lovingly supple and chewy texture of a Japanese donut franchise called Mr donut, or aka, the pon de ring donut.  To my defense, the recipe was accurately differentiated as mochi donut instead of pon de ring, because it was made of sticky rice flour instead of tapioca flour, and obviously shaped as a traditional donut instead of a ring of beads which simply can’t avoid suspicious sexual implications as it was typed out loud.  But even as a mochi donut, although deliciously soft and chewy while they were warm, it was slightly denser in texture and even mores so once they became cold.  An issue for people, even if only an untrained few, who aren’t mentally equipped to ingest a dozen donuts in one short sitting.

The truth is since then, for years, I’ve been sitting on a tapioca flour-batter recipe that is extremely easy to put together and lands on a donut that greatly if not perfectly mirrors the light and airy, silky yet chewy texture that had pushed pon de ring donuts to stardom amongst iconic Asian pastries.  But, I haven’t told a living soul about it.

Why?  Let me focus on the word, batter, here, meaning a formless glop that is impossible to shape into ringed beads (stop it) without specifically designed pipping machines to do so, as it is done in Mr Donut factories.  Meanwhile the other pon de ring recipes across the internet which purposely made the batter denser like a dough in order to be formed into tiny beads one by one that are then arranged and stuck together on a parchment before frying just so you can finally have a reason to hang yourself from your shower rod afterwards, is frankly, for a lack of better word, stupid.

So for years, I sat on this recipe thinking, nevermind, it’ll never work, until one day, all of a sudden I realized, I was the one being stupid.

Seriously, who cares if thy donuts aren’t carrying an unambiguous resemblance to cheap second-grade adult play toy?  And if you’re screaming yes yes you do! to that question, who shall safely remain anonymous god bless the internet, then I shall make an even strong, gastronomical argument against such silliness.  Because I realized, by not insisting on an uniform shape and dropping the batter into the fryer in a specific motion, the end result rewards me with these elongated “tails” that became extremely crispy and chips-like which stay crispy several hours after, a pleasant surprise that contrasts the pillowy “main body”, a puffed golden browned air balloon that deflates as your teeth sink into its unexpectedly weightless and uncluttered interior, proportionally coated on a single hemisphere with glossy, vanilla seeds icing.

Held delicately by its tail, a dainty bouncy morsel that curtsies with a crunch.

I call them, the tadpole-oca donut.  And they come with salted peanut brown sugar dusts. Bead that.

”  the end result rewards me with these elongated ‘tails’ that became extremely crispy and chips-like which stay crispy several hours after  “

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