Eat Drink Man Woman

From N., 31 October 2010, a Chinese-themed dinner, meat and vegetarian?

Q: I’m looking for a main dish (and ideally an accompanying veggie dish with no meat, or with meat which can be separate for our lone vegetarian guest) recipe for a Chinese dinner and a movie night. Thinking of duck, but open to other ideas. Someone else is already making crispy pork belly. Traditional is good, but so is more modern. I’ve only made duck once, so am no expert. Any ideas?

Movie is eat drink man woman, if that’s any inspiration. :)

A: Thanks for your question. I have to preface the rest of this by admitting that I never saw Eat Drink Man Woman, so I can’t actually tell you how to make any of the recipes from the movie. That’s right – I didn’t see it. I never go to the movies. So I’m going to have to ad lib a little here based on the little I know. And I don’t know anything, except that it’s an Ang Lee film and he’s Taiwanese.

Taiwanese food is different to other kinds of Chinese food. It tends to be sweeter, and features more seafood and pork. Although there are hot Taiwanese dishes, most aren’t particularly spicy. My parents are from Taiwan and, growing up, I ate a certain amount of Taiwanese food. As a kid, I didn’t love it – my mom always made sure to work a lot of vegetables into our meals, and I was picky about vegetables. And not so great with the manners, either, as it turns out – I assiduously plucked out cabbage, bean sprouts, cooked carrots, sliced onion, cucumber, before taking a few small bites of whatever was in front of me. We didn’t eat Taiwanese food every night – my mom had a deft hand with Ortega tacos and doctored-up spaghetti sauce as I recall, and at least once a week we had Freshy’s take and bake pizza – but I spent plenty of mealtimes staring down plates of Taiwanese food. As an adult, I’m not sure why I disliked it so much. It’s delicious. Steamed dumplings, poached chicken, stewed pork, and fried noodles – what’s not to like?

Earlier this year, my dad called to tell me that he enjoyed reading my blog. I was gratified to hear this, and told him so. Then he offered some advice. “Have you ever heard of fusion?” he asked. “You take Asian food, and you make it different. You know, different … maybe serve it so it looks nice, or make it kind of French. You should try that.” I thought that was cute – I mean, I’ve heard about fusion, Dad. Probably more than 20 years ago, even. But I appreciated the advice nonetheless. In Taiwan, as in many Asian countries (or even, say, Italy), the ability to prepare a traditional dish in the traditionally prescribed manner is prized above novelty or even finesse. Modern cuisine methods are making inroads in Asian kitchens, though, and in cities throughout China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, you can find modern restaurants that emphasize aesthetics and novel textural/flavor combinations as well as tradition.

So let’s try it both ways. Two traditional dishes, an homage to the movie. One modern dish with two components, an homage to my dad. Welcome to the 21st century.

Traditional

In Taiwan, you probably wouldn’t see both of these dishes in one meal. Noodle dishes tend to be stand-alone lunch or supper (or a hearty snack). These noodles are among my favorite things to eat, though, so whatever. Rules were meant to be broken, blah blah blah. Make them both, since it sounds like you’re having a buffet anyway. The below recipes serve 12.

Three-cup chicken

This classic Taiwanese dish is so named because of the three ingredients that flavor the chicken in equal measure – sesame oil, wine, and soy sauce. Because this is a stewed dish, don’t use chicken breast. Use chicken thighs and legs, and – if you have the stomach for it – chop the bone-in cuts in one to two inch lengths before stewing, using a cleaver. Don’t cut off your hand! Leave them whole if you’re not sure you’re up to the task.

4 lbs chicken thighs and legs, preferably skin on and bone-in and preferably chopped into 1-inch segments
1 c soy sauce
1 c Taiwanese rice wine (you can substitute shaoxing wine, but if you can, cut it 2:1 with mirin or the dish will be too sweet)
1 c toasted (black) sesame oil
about 3 inches ginger root, sliced about 1/4″
about a dozen dried red chilli peppers (the kind in kung pao chicken, about 2-3″ long)
granulated sugar
water
Optional: 3 oz/100g mung bean threads (vermicelli)
fresh basil leaves, preferably Taiwanese basil
steamed white rice

Place an earthenware/clay pot or a dutch oven over medium high heat (if using earthenware/clay, be careful to regulate heat and avoid cracking). When hot, add the sesame oil. Add the ginger and chilli pepper, and sauté until fragrant; add the chicken pieces and brown on both sides. You may wish to brown the chicken and batches and then return all the chicken to the pot before proceeding.

Add the wine, soy sauce, about 1 tbsp each of water and sugar to the pot and bring to a simmer, turning well to coat. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the braising liquid has reduced by half. If you plan to use the mung been vermicelli, add at this point and cook until they are tender and have absorbed about half the remaining liquid. If not, continue to reduce further until the sauce has reduced to less than 1/4 the original volume.

Remove from heat and garnish with basil. Serve with steamed white rice. The sauce will be oily and should be very rich, salty, and slightly sweet – it makes a great sauce for rice.

Taiwanese fried noodles

One of the greatest dishes ever. My mom made this dish using flat wheat noodles sometimes, and mung bean vermicelli other times. Unless you are comfortable working with the mung bean vermicelli, I recommend using Chinese wheat noodles. If you can’t get those, substitute linguine – it won’t be the same, but you’ll get the idea.

The dish should be sweet from the onion and carrot, well-seasoned from the soy, and savory from the mushrooms. The traditional preparation features thinly sliced pork (and sometimes dried shrimp), but it’s good as a vegetarian noodle dish as well. Add more mushrooms if you want to maintain the meaty quality of the original.

2 lb Chinese wheat noodles (mian) or 1 1/2 lb dry linguine
4 carrots, peeled and julienned
two large onions, peeled and sliced thinly pole to pole
6-8 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water and sliced thinly
Optional: half a small head of cabbage, shredded
1/4 c soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 c water
1 tbsp sugar
white pepper
2″ lengths of scallions, sliced diagonally
vegetable oil

Because you are cooking a large portion, divide the ingredients into two or three portions and cook in batches.

Combine the wine, mirin, water, sugar, and soy. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the noodles, cooking until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Place a wok or similar large pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the onions and sauté until translucent and beginning to turn golden; add the carrots and continue to cook, reducing heat if necessary, until they begin to turn tender. Add the mushrooms and cabbage (if using) and sauté a minute more.

Add the liquid mixture and cook, reducing by about half. Add the drained, cool noodles, stirring to coat well, until the liquid has been absorbed and evaporated. Add the scallions and season well with white pepper. Adjust salt with soy if necessary.

Modern

Gingered duck breast, braised cabbage

Duck and cabbage are a classic combination – think of eastern European cuisine, where tangy braised cabbage pairs with roast duck or goose. In this dish, rice vinegar substitutes for the red wine vinegar typical in European preparations, and a julienne of ginger and scallion adds bite.

Increase quantities as necessary. One good-sized duck breast per person is appropriate if this is the only main course, but for a buffet consider half a large breast per diner. The recipe assumes twelve buffet/tasting portions.

Six large duck breasts (magret), off the bone, skin on
1 tsp coriander seeds or ground coriander, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
1/2 tsp sichuan peppercorn, whole or ground, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp kosher salt
vegetable oil

Optional, for sauce:

1 shallot, minced
2 c riesling or viognier
1/2 c duck or chicken stock
6 tbsp unsalted butter

Braised savoy cabbage

two medium heads of savoy cabbage, trimmed and shredded
one leek, white and light green only, washed well of all grit and sliced thinly
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
water
salt
white pepper

4 scallions, white and light green only, 2″ lengths, julienned
two 2-inch chunks of ginger, peeled and julienned

Combine the dry spices and salt. Score the duck breasts with a sharp knife, slicing diagonally through the fat at 1/2″ intervals to score like a checkerboard, being careful not to cut all the way through the fat to the meat. Rub with equal amounts of the spice salt. You may not use all of the salt.

Place a large skillet over high heat. When hot, add the oil and then the duck breasts, skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium and render as much fat as possible from the skin side. Then turn the duck over. The skin should be deep golden brown and most of the fat should be liquid, in the pan. Baste with the fat while cooking. Cook until medium rare (warm red in the center). Remove to a plate and rest.

To make a simple pan sauce (optional but good), pour out all but 1 tbsp of the duck fat and return the pan to heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce to au sec (until nearly dry). Add the stock and reduce again by 3/4. Remove the pan from heat and swirl in the butter, taking care that it does not break.

While the duck is cooking, place another large sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter, reserving 2 tbsp. Add the leeks and cook until tender. Add the shredded cabbage and sauté until tender (covering the pan if you can). Do not cook too long – about 6-8 minutes is sufficient. Add the vinegar and cook until the acid has evaporated/is absorbed. Season with salt and white pepper to taste and swirl in the remaining tbsp butter.

To serve, slice the rested duck breasts about 1/2″ to 3/4″, season lightly with salt, and arrange on a platter, beside the braised cabbage, Garnish with the julienned ginger and scallion and spoon sauce around.

3 thoughts on “Eat Drink Man Woman

  1. Pingback: Movie night. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Chef de Cuisine says:

    Outstanding post! I was laughing out loud. LOL, as my sister would say. Your Dad sounds so nice, and your Mom, too. And the picture in my mind of you staring down a plate of Taiwanese food as a child – LOL!!!!!

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