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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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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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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 soupier and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I discovered my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche). I didn’t even find out about my intolerance until later on in life after having a food intolerance test. I just thought the bloating and fatigue was just part of me but now I know the real reason behind my body playing up. 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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Singapore hawker marathon: Hokkien prawn mee (prawn bisque stir-fried noodle)

 

IT IS “UGLICIOUS”

WHAT:  This will be the last span in Singapore hawker marathon.  Another aesthetically underachieving, possibly unappetizing-looking dish called Hokkien prawn mee (basically noodles stir-fried with prawn bisque) that became one of the few Michelin-blessed hawker dishes in Singapore.

WHY:  At first glance, let’s be honest, it looks like shit.  Clearly, this is a dish that gives little to zero fuck about what anybody thinks about it.  But how on earth does a spatter of yellow and unenthusiastic gloop land effortlessly on the Michelin Guide, kind of made me curious.  And if you also care to find out, you’d be blown away just as well by the powerful and intent talent and flavors that traffic underneath all that unbothered facade.  As the highest compliment for both ends of the comparison, it’s the Ed Sheeran of noodles.

HOW:  Forget about making it pretty.  It’s not about being pretty.  It shouldn’t be pretty.  What this dish should be about, at all cost, is the nuclear fusion between two of the most powerful elements in gastronomy:  lard, and prawn fats.  Every bite of this lightly saucy strands of noodles is a perfectly engineered explosion of porkyness from rendered lard with crispy cracklings, and a concentrated prawn bisque extracted from blended prawn heads which is then fully fused into the noodles.  The brief “stewing” between liquid and starch inevitably gives the noodles a gloppy look, but it’s the best-tasting glop you’ll ever cross path with, a deep and glorious saturation of flavors per every millimeter tubes.  It will be thick.  It will be rich.  It will be intensely shrimpy, and porky, and garlicky, and almost irresponsible with that extra clash of hotheaded chili sauce.  With a little squeeze of citrus, it’s unstoppable and uglicious.

 
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FISH WONTON W/ ANCHOVY, GARLIC , TABASCO

 

HOW DARE YOU.  I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE TASTE-BUDS OF HIGH CALIBER

As we are preparing for our Tuscany vacation that is fast approaching this Saturday, I’m going to quickly leave you with an even faster recipe.

I threw this together in less than an hour today, in a frantic effort to clean out the freezer (duh, to make way for the incoming fleet of smuggled imported Italian goods), and they turned out to be little drops of afternoon delights.  So why fish wonton?  Why fish?  See, I don’t know about you, but when other people stock up their freezer with prime rib-eye steaks from Cosco, I do mine with frozen catfish fillets.  I don’t know why.  Cheapness, possibly.  Don’t make me admit that I like frozen catfish.  I’m supposed to have taste-buds of high caliber.  How dare you.  No, the point is, I was saying… as I was cleaning out my frozen fish tank, I thought, fish wonton, why not?

Ground fish, here in Asia, is actually quite a common ingredient with wide applications.  What it lacks in meaty-ness, it gains in an uniquely light, soft and creamy texture which resembles between ricotta filling and French quenelles.  It makes a wonton that is light in body and texture, with a particular sweetness in its gentle nature.  To dress it up, I used a deeply savory olive oil with salty specks of anchovies and crispy garlic, brightened with fresh grated ginger, chopped herbs and a subtle zing of tabasco sauce.

Satisfying afternoon pick-me-ups, or, if kept ready in the freezer, light and well.. relatively healthy meal on demand.

 
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