Meat

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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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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Pork shoulder steak w/ light sesame oil and egg yolk sauce

A FEW WORDS…

Dear citizens of earth,

Look, each and every one of us can either choose to self-isolate and let this coronavirus fiasco blow over in a few weeks.

Or, you can continue to meet up with your buddies and talk about dicks and boobs over boozes while dragging your world, correction, our world, into months and months of economic Arma-fucking-geddon.

It’s not really a choice.  Because guess what, it’s too late to be South Korea.  That ship has sailed.

So go and stay home.  Work, watch TV, jerk off, or cook this, whatever.  Just don’t be an idiot.

Pork steak enthusiast,

Mandy

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Book Bait: Squid Ink Ramen

“A bowl of slurpable crude oil, but in the most edible and delicious way. “

WHAT:  Welcome back my utterly self-serving recipe series I would like to call – The Book Bait, a shameless campaign to draw out all cookbook-hunters to our upcoming cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story.  These are brand new recipes that are not in the cookbook but however, in order to make them, you will need one or more essential component from the book to complete which, yes, is yet to be published on October 15, 2019.  And yes, I am still doing that to you to sell books.

WHY:  It isn’t without brag when I say that there is an entire chapter in our cookbook enshrined to the universal religion of noodle-slurping and ten of which are full-blown, no bullshit, the milky broth, the umami, the toppings, the thick and the deep, the sacred and the indecent, the full spectrum of the unapologetic and delicious absurdity that is, Japanese-style ramen.  Yes, I went there, the whole nine yards.  And I feel that I could still go further.  Because in Japan’s traditionally defined food culture, this rare and liberal, democratic even, arena of ramen creation has proven itself unbound by conventions and time and time again, reinvents itself in the most surprisingly pleasurable way.  So no, there’s no such thing as too many ramen recipes.  But too many ramen recipes in a cookbook that is not all about ramen?  Okay, that’s a thing.  So think of this as an extension to my cookbook ramen spree.

HOW:  This particular recipe is inspired and adapted from a tiny ramen shop in Hong Kong called Ramen Nagi.  Its version of squid ink ramen, of which they call the Black King, is a missile of maximized flavors and color, a thick jet black pool of black things on top of, well, more black things, a bowl of slurpable crude oil but in the most edible and delicious way.  But the intensity, both of color and flavors, comes predominantly from black sesame paste that, even though an effective sensational booster, is quite overpowering for the elusiveness and subtleness of squid ink to come through.  So here I have opted to remove the black sesame paste entirely, replaced by the milder toasted sesame oil in a squid ink paste that uses the mighty porkiness of Italian guanciale as a foundation.  Then the indisputable presence of pork belly roll they call charsiu, simmered in a soy sauce bath warmed with star anise and cinnamon, and the jam-like egg yolk, the fried garlic powder, the toasted seaweed, the quintessential spanker of a house-blend chili powder, they are all here.

But no amount of supporting role could deliver a bowl of ramen without the core, the mother, the matriarch that is the emulsified thus milky bone broth to bind them all in a harmonious lagoon, as well as a ramen reasoning that conjures all the harvestable umami from natural ingredients this sweet mother of earth has to give, to bring a bowl of ramen to life.  Well, that, you know where to find them.

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Overnight Taco Meat and Dripping Tortilla Non-recipe

This is an easy, and my first “non-recipe” that I’m leaving you with before heading off to Scotland on a hubby-forced whiskey tour.

What’s a non-recipe you ask.  Well, to my understanding, it means it’s a general guideline of techniques that one can use to adapt to a variety of ingredients.  In fact, I wasn’t really planning on publishing this as a post, as I was simply putting a random dinner together and mid-way through, thought that this is actually a great way of anxiety-free entertaining  so why not share it.

So essentially, blah blah blah, what I’m talking about is this.  You take a big hunk of fatty cut of meat, in this case, beef short ribs, but it could be pork belly, whole duck, ox tongue or whatever available in other marvelous circumstances.  Then you leave this hunk of meat alone in its marinate for a good 12 hours, in this case, a red wine concoction, but it could be whatever bath of flavors that you could humanly imagine.  Then the night before you serve, you wrap it in foil and throw it in utter abandonment inside a low-heat oven and then, you go to sleep.  The next morning, it is removed from the oven and left in neglect in room-temperature until two hours before your serve this baby, you take its insanely aromatic fat from the dripping to make a stack of beautiful flour tortilla before you return the meat back into a blazing oven, just briefly, until the exterior of the roast is gloriously caramelized and the interior is warmed through.  Chop chop chop with a big scissor and toss loosely and triflingly with mustard and pickled peppercorns, then salsa, hot sauce, nadi-nadi-nah, you know the drill.

I don’t feel like I need to explain to you what happens when a well-marinated fatty protein gets broken down low and slow inside its own rendered fat and dripping, and that liquid roast really, is recycled into the carbohydrate that’s going to be used to wrap the protein as a vehicle into your mouth.  I don’t.  I really don’t.

So as a token of gratitude, please leave in the comments of places where a pissed wife stuck with a drunk husband can go for a good haggis in Edinburgh.

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COOKBOOK PRE-ORDER AND PREVIEW: MAPO TOFUMMUS

“IN 2012, IN A FORM OF SELF-ABANDONMENT, I STARTED THIS FOOD BLOG. SEVEN YEARS LATER, I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A BOOK ABOUT THIS JOURNEY.”

I sat here for hours struggling with how to begin the sentence. Stranger things have happened in this world I’m sure, I mean I could swear I saw a sea creature that looks like a glowing condom on the internet, but from where I stand, it doesn’t get more inexplicable than what I’m feeling right now.

It began in 2012. It was just about two years into our miserable six years-long residence in Beijing. In a form of self-abandonment almost, I started this food blog.

With no enthusiasm or objectives, setting out more to be a concession than a declaration, I did what I thought was throwing the white flag to all my other grander ambitions in life, that I was going to be that person, “a blogger”, a non-job made up by people whom I judged, past tense, to be minimally interesting that they had to put themselves on speaker. It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t inspired. It was never expected to arrive anywhere. I was standing on the edge of a cliff. All these thoughts were running through my mind. Would people even read it? Would I even have enough things to write about? My friends kept telling me to look into companies like Ceres PR, who specializes in food marketing and public relations, to see if they had any advice on how to market my blog and to get it recognized. What a great idea. And I consider it every day, but I just wanted to see for myself if what I did would work. And that’s when I took the extra step.

The least of what I saw coming was that seven years later, I am to publish a book about this journey. I’ve been contacted by several publishing companies over the years and have even considered self-publishing but this is finally it! I’ve done it.

So yes, a Lady And Pups Cookbook. The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story.

This book is about my time in Beijing, what started it all. If you are kind of new here, then yeah, no, I didn’t enjoy that. This book is an self-reflective examination of how I retreated to my kitchen as a place to evade from my unpleasant realities. What was wrong, what wasn’t, and answers that I am still unsure of today. It’s honest but also contradictory, opinionated but nonetheless a personal truth. An internal monologue, despicably self-serving and personal, almost to a fault. Because for me this is more than a cookbook. It’s therapy. It’s closure. It’s my attempt to draw a conclusion to what was a very difficult time of my life, to put the unsettlement to rest. You may find it funny. You may find it bitter. You may even find it obnoxious at times. But it was what I had to say in the way that I had to say it, screaming and kicking, uncensored, crude, to boil my emotions down to something better than the ingredients of its making, a consommé of the nasty bits of my experience. If you find that it resonates, I’m glad that you know you are not alone. But if you don’t, then there are 80+ really fucking good recipes with it.

The book will be officially published in October but pre-order is available now. Here is a recipe preview, of page 288 if you want to be precise. I formulated the recipe list when I was still living in Beijing, but most of the book and recipes were written and shot after I left. It is spoken in retrospect, a memoir if you will, where I am better equipped to find humor in past tense. I know I have been away from this blog for quite awhile, but from now on I will be posting more regularly again and continue to share sneak peeks.

I know I should be beating the drums right now. But really, I just want to say Thank you. You’ve made a very strange thing possible in my life. Now go buy it, too.

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KHAO SOI NEUA/BEEF

KHAO SOI HAPPENS TO HAVE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF BOTH EXOTICISM AND SAFETY IN THE EYE OF A CAUTIOUSLY CURIOUS BACKPACKER.

Scad has been said about khao soi on the internet — some well-informed and some, not so much — so I think I will not bother.  It’s possibly the most famous dish from Northern Thailand, a somehow debatable status in my view.  Being back from a quick trip in Chiangmai Thailand, the capital of khao soi, I’m attempted to assume that its popularity among foreigners is contributed to its relatively benign characteristics if compared to the other more “adventurous” yet far more stunning dishes the region has to offer.  Khao soi, being chicken or beef in coconut curry with egg noodles, happens to have the right balance of both exoticism and safety in the eye of a cautiously curious backpacker.  It certainly isn’t, by far, the best thing we’ve tasted on this trip.  But I’ve always wanted to formulate a khao soi recipe after I’ve actually tried it at its source, so here it is.

Pushing it further on its muslim Chinese origin, I’m replacing dried chilis with Sichuan douban chili paste for a more complexed flavor, as well as inviting the mild tinge of numbness and floral quality from Sichuan peppercorns.  Another trick is to dial down on the amount of coconut milk in the broth itself so it can be reintroduced again right before serving, increasing depth and layers of flavors as how it is done in some of the better khao soi restaurants we’ve encountered.  In a bit of a disagreement with the blunt, under-processed pickled mustard greens that are often mindlessly chopped and scattered in the noodle as a failing contrasting agent, I’m replacing it with pan-fried pickled caperberries that provides sharp pops of sourness and complexity.  Then last but not least, a reminder of Sichuan peppercorns in the topical chili paste to bring it all together.

Enjoy.

 

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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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