Noodle/Pasta/Rice

SEOUL, AND CHICKEN GALBI RAMEN

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THANK YOU, SEOUL, FOR CARRYING THIS LIMP SPIRIT THROUGH ITS STREETS, FEEDING HER WITH NOURISHMENT, GIVING HER SUNLIGHTS.

So, 7 days went fast. And we’re back.

This past week, instead of a “vacation”, was really closer to being on a emotional exile. After two years of relentless, losing battles against too much realities, I just wanted, no, needed to be casted away, to somewhere unfamiliar, string-less… without memories, where I don’t have to… function. Where I could just drift. If only for a little bit. So in a sense, it isn’t really fair, to the city that happened to be used as my emotional rebound. Seoul.

We spent two days in Seoul following Hong Kong (which was more like a business trip for Jason). It was, without saying, not nearly enough time to properly court a great city so rich and immersed in its cultures and cuisines, let alone in a state of mind that was… exhausted at best. I think next time we go on another trip, we will need to be more prepared. Even being able to compare van insurance from the comfort of your own home would have made life a little easier for us on this trip. A family friend recommended this to us, but we didn’t take up the offer this time round. But I know we will next time. Normally, I attack my travels with mannerless enthusiasm, seeking if not prying for all it has to give whether or not it’s being offered. But this time, I wasn’t really thinking about that, about work, the duty of a blogger, about the game. I was wondering without thoughts. If I saw something, I ate. If I felt something, I took a photo. At best, the memory was documented in loose fragments, then slowly pieced back together as I uploaded my mindlessness into digital form, computed at last . So I’m not even going to pretend that I was capable of any profound insights, opinions, or even recommendations for Seoul. I would not insult it like that. Nor can I say when to go to Seoul, since I wasn’t in the mind during my visit. Instead, this is a mirage of its potentials, not fully explored, but it lays the promise of future reunion.

But above all else, I should probably say thank you, to Seoul. For carrying this limp spirit through its streets, even if only for a couple days, feeding her with nourishment, giving her sunlights, though at times, she stared blankly into space. For that, I will always be grateful.

Oh and by the way, this chicken galbi thing it’s got? Basically boneless thighs marinated in gushing garlicky red, then caramelised inside a hot skillet then tossed with carbs and hot cheese. Sick. Just sick. Just something, I guess, to miss Seoul by.

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MAMA’S BRAISED CHICKEN LEGS ON RICE W/ FRIED CHILI CAPERS

IT IS, DILEMMA.

FORTUNATELY, ONE THAT COULD BE TACKLED WITH A BIT OF REVERSE-ENGINEERING.

We don’t, most times for good reasons, screw with heirloom recipes.  Recipes that are passed down for generations.  Recipes that our grandmother learnt from her grandmother, so on and so forth, are generally deemed as the sum of all collected wisdoms in a pot, sacred, untouchable.  Recipes that should and will be followed, obeyed even, without any desecrating thought of adding an extra tbsp of mustard here or a dash of unholy spices there, otherwise somewhere inside the dusty family album, grandma’s tearing up.  Because this is how it has always been done, as far as recipes go, is an unarguable instruction.

But should they be?  My family, for one, doesn’t have an “heirloom recipe”.  Not really.  My mom is a fantastic cook, which probably isn’t a credit to both of my grandparents whom, from what I’ve heard, were either too short-lived or too much of a diva to teach her anything in the kitchen.  And as far as paying-it-forward goes, she never writes anything down.  So all in all, a single generation and one big approximation, I think, is probably not an heirloom recipe makes.  But, if I were to pass down anything from my mother’s repertoire of ambiguous recipes, if there’s anything that resonates my memory of cooking and eating together as a family, it is this.  My mom’s braised chicken legs over rice.

I don’t quite remember when she started cooking this dish, but by estimation, somewhere right after we moved to Vancouver from Taiwan.  This tastes and smells like coming home after school.  And as a notoriously picky eater back then, this evoked my first acknowledgment of hunger.  In my wishfully sentimental heart and eagerness for an “heirloom”, I would pick this recipe out of it all, to be passed to people by whom I would like to be remembered.  You.  But coming back to what I was saying, I don’t regard heirloom recipe with absolution.  If anything, and I’m sure as in most cases, it is a progression.  If I were to pass this recipe on, looking back, I wouldn’t do it exactly the way she did it.

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HOW TO WRAP ONIGIRI LIKE JAPANESE CONVENIENCE STORE


  

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Hi, here’s a random video on how to wrap onigiri, aka rice balls, like those Japanese convenience stores.  The easy-to-pull-away wrapper separates the rice and the seaweed, keeping the seaweed crispy until serving.  This technique will make beautifully wrapped onigiri, perfect for your next picnic, work lunch, or as a gift!  A few notes on how to do it right:

  1. Use freshly cooked rice, never day-old, but wait until it’s completely cooled (so the steam doesn’t make the seaweed soggy).
  2. Use triangle-moulds to make the onigiri.
  3. Cut the seaweed and allow enough width to cover the sides of the onigiri.
  4. Cut a piece of parchment that is at least 2X the width of the seaweed.
  5. The parchment in the video didn’t actually cover the entire inner surface of the seaweed because it wasn’t wide enough.  Don’t make the same mistake.
  6. Label the onigiri and they’re going to be your newest edible gift.

NOW THAT’S A WRAP.

  
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CLAM CHOWDER RISOTTO W/ CELERY PROSCIUTTO SALT

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CLAM CHOWDER IS A FOOD THAT SPEAKS NOSTALGIA, THE KIND THAT WANTS ME TO REMEMBER SOMETHING… EVEN IF THE MEMORY ISN’T MINE. IT’S A POWERFUL STORY-TELLER.

Today is my favourite day. Veterinarian day + Monday + The-day-I-woke-up-to-an-empty-coffee-jar day. Pure. Awesomeness.

So yes, I did. I selfishly spent every God-damn beautiful hours of this day chuckling at waffle-coned dogs through a glass-wall, powered by a state of mind as sharp as a pile of shredded cheddar cheese melting inside a hamburger. And at exactly 6:30 pm, realised that I’ve left very little time to tell you about this risotto I made last weekend. It’s my fault. The risotto doesn’t deserve this neglect. In fact, this clam chowder risotto with prosciutto-salt deserves every autumn-loving and nostalgic-holic’s attention. Thing is, I’ve always thought of clam chowders as a food that speaks nostalgias, the kind that wants me to remember something, in an almost eager manner, trying to bring out memories even if it isn’t mine. Memories of trips to the San Franciso pier to find and taste the best clam chowder in san francisco and then heading to the beach to enjoy the feeling of sand between my toes, and the smell of the salty sea air. Great memories, however, I was never that girl standing on a beach of grey sands, with the cold waves, that late summer, or on that blue wooden bench and in the knitted cardigan…, the soup wants me, no, it needs me to feel like one when I eat it. Clam chowder is a powerful story-teller.

But again, people who are truly nostalgic about clam chowders probably wouldn’t do what I did, replacing potatoes with equally starchy arborio rice and chewy farro, then instead of saltine crackers, a sprinkle of finely crushed crispy prosciutto and toasted caraway seeds. What can I say, it felt almost natural to me, and even more amazing because now it tells a slightly different story. Of what, I’m not quite sure yet. I need to hear it a few more times for it to become words. Perhaps a rocky mediterranean shore… a brownish tweed newsboy hat… that old sea-port market and the stain of espresso on the napkin. Or perhaps I’m just hearing a food-coma.

How about you? Have you heard any good stories from your table lately?

The beautiful brass dinner spoon is made by the amazing Ann Ladson.

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CUMIN LAMB AND HAND-SMASHED NOODLE SOUP

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FOR THIS WEEKEND….

I’m quickly leaving you with this recipe today because I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.  In fact, it is precisely because I’ve already said everything I wanted about them in my previous posts.  This recipe is a good example of how I, and you as well, can utilize all the recipes on the site fluently in combination, to draw to a different conclusion.  This particular dish is mainly a soup-version from my xi’an famous cumin lamb and hand-smashed noodles, but it draws from three different recipes that have somewhat became a staple of my own kitchen.   Plus a little further processing and tweaks, it can become something that scratches an entirely different itch.  So here, whether you are a dry noodle or soup noodle kinda person, or both, you can now travel between two worlds.

  
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UNI CARBONARA WITH PORK SALT

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IF I RANTED, I HOPE IT ISN’T THOUGHTLESS…

The brass dinner fork and spoon is made by the amazing Ann Ladson.

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If I ranted, I hope it isn’t thoughtless.

If I wrote songs, I hope it isn’t comfortable.

If I were a wood-worker, I’ll have a summer cabin.

If I made things with metals, I hope I had made these.

If I were sociable, I hope I am also sincere.

If I were a friend, I hope I don’t mistake loyalty with bias.

If I envied, I hope I could say it out loud.

If I had experienced joy, I hope it is without victims.

If I had a garden, I hope it grows shades for stray dogs.

If I were young, I would change nothing.

If I were a parent, I hope I don’t always think like one.

If I were a believer, I hope I have strength for reasons.

If I were a lion, I hope I respect the lambs.

If I were a vegetarian, I am going to have a pet pig.

If I were smart, I hope it comes with wisdom.

If I were a follower, I hope I wasn’t blind.

If I asked myself questions, I hope it isn’t answered by someone else.

If I were a particle physicist, I hope I can overlook human pettiness.

If I had compassion, it shall be selective.

If I were powerful, I hope I have the capacity to let go.

If I were in the same position, I hope I could resist the mistakes.

If I could live anywhere, I want to live in New York.

But if I lived by the sea, I hope it is home for sea urchins, too.

And if I lived by sea urchins, I hope you would visit me in the summer.

If you visited me in the summer, I hope I make this for you.


  
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GOCHUJANG TUNA-MELT ONIGIRI

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ONIGIRI COULD BE NONE BUT A BALL OF RICE, UNTIL YOU’VE HAD A REAL ONIGIRI AND REALIZED WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT…

A BALL OF REALLY GOOD RICE

The weather in Beijing is driving me mad.  Rainy, swampy, relentlessly brownish grey.  In all the fond days that I’ve been in this dump, all five years and counting, the summers have never been this wet.  Soaking wet.  I mean let’s face it, nothing here is pleasant to begin with I’ll give you that.  But for this region, a supposedly semi-desert climate for fuck sake, that for what it’s worth, the relatively dry summers and butt-cracks used to contribute as the pitiful silver-lining of being in this hell-hole.  The cherry on a very bad cake.  But lately, no.  Not this summer.  Every morning begins with a slow poach inside a thick tarred and slimy cloud of grossness – think the colons of Jabba the Hutt or inside Donald Trump’s comb-over under a baseball cap – then, comes the almost guaranteed torrential rains around 7 pm that marinates everything in a wet mop-like humidity.  Then the next day, it repeats.  Did I mention that the pollution congeals even more enthusiastically in its special sense of sarcasm?  Did I mention that it’s been like this, for weeks.

It’s an understatement to say that these days, I’m not happy much.  All the recent riots of Instagrams flaunting farmer’s markets, elf-like human beings and basic living bliss, only make me bleed jealousy and really hateful thoughts.  If I could stab your heirloom tomato in the abdomen right now, I’d gladly do so with gruesome gratifications and throw in all its cousins for good measure.  It’s also safe to say that these days, I don’t go out much.  The joy of grocery-runs has been reduced down a battle of mind-dragging chores, not to mention, that at any given seconds, the heaven could punish me with an acid-fueled downpour for daring optimistic thoughts.   These days, I made do with what I have.

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HOW TO ACTUALLY COOK PERFECT RICE WITHOUT A RICE-COOKER

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LET’S SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, ONCE AND FOR ALL… DON’T YOU EVER, EVER, AND I MEAN NEVER EVER, BOIL YOUR SUSHI RICE

There are a lot of rumours out there about cooking rice without a rice-cooker. Obviously, it will be much simplier with a rice cooker. This is why a comparison of the best rice cookers, or comparatif meilleur cuiseur à riz as the French would say, could be very useful. And when I say “rice” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to the Asian short-grain white rice, or mostly known as, the Japanese sushi rice (but not exclusively for making sushi). Whether or not you grew up cooking/eating this type of rice, that for every different reasons, the idea of cooking it on the stove can be a very confusing matter. Because if you did, like every other sensible Asians out there, you’ve been deferring this task to a trusty rice-cooker and the idea of doing it without one, for as long as you’ve been eating rice, has never even occur to you as a potential reality. But if you didn’t, like every other typical non-Asians out there without a rice-cooker, the assortment of instructions for cooking this type of rice on the stove with bare flames and pots, is a maze laid out with conflicting informations, false promises, and more often than not, guaranteed failures.

And when I say “failure” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to anything but the state of its optimal textures. Look, it’s fairly easy to cook rice, or anything for that matter, until it’s no longer raw and passably edible, but it’s something else entirely to do it properly. Asian short-grain rice/sushi rice, when cooked properly, should glisten with a gentle shimmer on the surface, where every grains are consistent with a soft but bouncy mouthfeel, moistly sticky but ease gracefully into individual selves when being chewed. Now this, this is not something easily obtainable, not even for some less competent rice-cookers out there, let alone if you did it on the stove following many of the wrong directions online, which is to say, almost all of them.

So today, let’s set the record straight, once and for all. Here’s how to actually cook sushi rice on the stove.

THE CORRECT RATIO AND TOOLS

The ratio between rice : water is perhaps the single, most confusing information on cooking sushi rice. Most recipes out there ranges from 1 : 1.1 (too much water) to 1 : 1.5 (waaaaay too much water!). But the correct ratio should always, and I mean always, be 1 part rice : 1 part water BY VOLUME. Always! It doesn’t matter if you are cooking rice for sushi, or just for plain eating. Always. And when it comes to the right pot, I would highly suggest using a small, heavy-bottomed non-stick pot with clear glass lid. There is a reason why all rice-cookers uses a non-stick inner-bowl, because when rice sticks (and it will stick), it breaks. Broken rice = bad rice. Then, instead of flying blind, the clear glass lid allows you to get a good idea of what’s going on inside. Also, we don’t want a steam-hole for the lid, so if yours comes with one, simply block it with a damp paper-towel. So:

Makes about 4 cups cooked rice:

  • 2 cups (400 grams) Asian short-grain white rice, or Japanese sushi rice
  • 2 cups (429 grams) water

UPDATE 2015/08/04: You may be able to tell that the type of rice used in this particular example, was a typical Asian short-grain rice, which took 15 min in STEP 2. But if you were using an even stubbier short-grain variety, specifically for making sushi, with a wider and rounder body, then please increase the duration of STEP 2 to 20 min.

* The instruction is for 2 cups of rice only. Anything more or less by 1/2 cup will require adjustments on the cooking time.

UPDATE 2015/12/1: Months after I tested this recipe on the gas-stove, I finally had a chance to test it on induction stove, and the heat-setting turned out to be a bit different. It seems that induction stove requires a slightly higher setting to reach the description of each steps. In STEP 2, instead of 1~2 for heat-setting (on a scale of 10), induction stove needs around 3~4. Then for STEP 3, instead of 2~3, induction stove needs around 5~6. So whatever stove you’re using, adjust the heat-setting to get you to the description for each steps, instead of relying on absolute heat-settings.

STEP 1: Put the rice in a large sieve, then rinse under running cold water. Gently rub the rice between your fingers, removing the excess starch, until the water runs clear. Drain very very well, until the last drop of water seem to have been shaken off, then transfer the rice to heavy-bottomed non-stick pot. Add the water and give it a stir, then put on the lid (if there’s a steam-hole, block it with a small piece of damp paper-towel.

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