Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pepperific Training from Ms. Dunlop

I have been trying my hand at a few recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" as Brian is a spice-fiend and I'm learning how to cook with a little more fire than my usual mild palate. We're working our way up to the Sichuan "water-boiled" dishes (meaning covered with chilies).

The chili bean paste whole fish (辣豆辦魚)I made the other night was a huge success. I had picked fresh trout as that was the only non-previously frozen fresh water fish they had at the fish counter that day. I figured that since Sichuan is a land-locked, inland province, working with freshwater fish for its seafood recipes was a better bet. I followed her recipe except I added dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorn which I toasted first.
Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce
1 carp, trout, or sea bass weighing about 1 ½ pounds, cleaned, with head and tail still attached
peanut oil
For the Marinade:
¾ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
For the Sauce:
4 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 ¼ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
½ teaspoon Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1. Use a cleaver or sharp knife to make 4 or 5 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and to pierce its head (this releases more flavorsome juices). Rub the fish inside and out with the salt and Shaoxing rice wine and leave to marinate while you assemble the other ingredients.
2. Season the wok, then heat 1/3 cup of oil over a high flame until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side just long enough to crisp up the skin. (The fish can be briefly deep-fried instead if you have the oil handy.) Remove and set aside. Rinse and dry the wok.
3. Return the wok to a medium flame with 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20 to 30 seconds until the oil is red and smells delicious. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so until you can smell their fragrance. Then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Season to taste with the sugar and soy sauce.
4. Gently place the fish into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish is cooked and has absorbed some of the flavors of the sauce. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, spooning some more sauce over it.
5. When the fish is done, gently transfer it to a serving dish. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir briefly until it thickens. Add the vinegar and scallions, stir a couple of times, and pour the sauce over the waiting fish.

The fish came out perfectly tender and full of flavour. For some reason, the meat had a pinkish hue that made it look almost like salmon. Brian loved it even though he normally doesn't like trout (a fact I didn't know prior to selecting trout).

Since we both like leftovers for lunch, I also made red cooked pork belly (紅燒肉). I prepped the cubes of pork belly and the aromatics. This dish is very popular throughout Chinese and Taiwanese cooking. There are many versions, but the recipe I followed is the one from Saveur linked here.
The resulting pork was rich and lusciously, melt-in-your-mouth. It's hard to have more than a couple of pieces in a meal (yes, it's that rich).
I complemented the intense flavours of the fish and meat dish with a light and simple stir-fry of A-choy with some smashed garlic. Steamed rice rounded out the meal.

Noodles and Fish

I guess I never really noticed this until I was compiling the pics for this post - Brian and I have a lot of pasta and fish for week night dinners. We're both pasta fiends and I like making fish for health and ease. So we have either one or both quite often. We save the big red meat or pork mainly for weekends or when we go out I guess.

Spaghetti with turkey meatballs. Childhood fav for both of us.
Pan fried fish fillets
Spaghetti with kale
Ham and cheese bread pudding with leftover breakfast toast bread that we needed to use up
Baked salmon with mashed sweet potato and cumin fava bean and pesto orzo (orzo from leftover).
Pasta with Italian sausage and brocooli rabe
Seared ahi tuna over arugula

Empire State of Hunger

It's been many years since I moved back from New York but I find myself often longing for the city's culinary pleasures. All that food longing gives me more incentive to go visit often. One of the things I miss the most about New York is its Korean Town (or K-Town). The Korean food in SF proper is pretty dismal. Plus, I love the late hours, the drinks, the private karaoke rooms K-Town offers. But most of all, I love Korean fried chicken.
Mad for Chicken is my go-to spot. It's upstairs and one could easily walk by without notice. The inside is done like a trendy Manhattan lounge. A long bar serving soju drinks help pass the time while one waits for their table.
Our beautiful yogurt soju by the pitcher
The famed fried chicken wings. We went for half spicy and half garlic soy but couldn't really tell the difference. The whole plate was spicy, but damn good and crispy.
Another food that does not have good representation in SF is ramen. Any visit to New York requires that we go to the Holy Temple of Ramen - Ippudo.
The pork buns were savory and buttery soft.
The famous "Modern" ramen. Tonkotsu broth with bits of blackened sesame oil. Perfect noodles, rich broth, and lovely cooked egg. The chasu is nice too. This is the bowl I always get.
My cousin got the wonton ramen with chicken broth which looked nice too but much lighter fare.
I don't know the West Coast does not have snappy casing hot dogs. But I haven't found any. Yes, it's nice that we have grass fed beef dogs, but for me, the beauty of a dog is in the snap. Gray's Papaya still has it. Two dogs and a papaya drink for a bit of pocket change. Nothing is more satisfying.
So so far we talked about all my tried and true favourites. I also try to explore new restaurants when I'm in New York. For the last year, the big buzz in food circles has been Marea. We were lucky enough to get a Sat night prime time reservation and I was super excited to experience the sensation myself. Everyone from Bourdain to Keller to Chowhounders have lauded praise on Marea and in particular on its octopus and bone marrow fusilli. That was the entree I had my sights set on. (Apologies in advance for some fuzziness in some of the pictures).
Salmon crudo amuse bouche
PIEDINI pressed pork trotters, scungilli, potato puree, salsa verde
ZUPPA spring garlic and potato leek soup, charred razor clams, ramps
FERRATINI manila clams, calamari, hot chilies
TORTELLI lobster ravioli, bagna cauda, trout roe
AGNOLOTTI veal ravioli, sweetbreads, funghi
FUSILLI red wine braised octopus, bone marrow
So after months of reading about the fusilli I finally had it in front of me. First bite - wow, that's very strong saucing. Second bite - this is really too much of everything flavour-wise. Third bite - I can't eat any more of this. I had my dining companions taste my dish. Without prompting, they all thought the same. No one liked it. The dish tasted like Bobby Flay cooked it during a severe head cold - meaning the flavours were so bold, so intense, so rich (and not in good ways), the dish was sickening for anyone who can actually taste food. Boy, how's that for the biggest food let-down of the year? Everyone else's entrees were pretty good. But for $28 a plate of pasta, I can think of many other dishes on Manhattan island I'd rather spend those dollars on.
In New York, sometimes the old school is the best. Give me another Gray's Papaya please!