Pork Products


When you’re on your way to another city on a Saturday morning to cater a friend’s baby shower, the last thing you want is to hit a giant pothole on the freeway that takes out a tire. This is where I found myself this Saturday, sitting on an off-ramp two miles from my destination, having caught the edge of a giant pothole that I’d managed to avoid every morning for weeks. Luckily, my friend’s husband was available to pick up the food and transport it to the party. I arrived ninety minutes late, deep in the weeds. Fortunately, the food was mostly ready to go.

Brunch food. Brunch food. It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal. I’m not really a brunch person – usually there’s too much sweet stuff – but when I’m cooking, it’s a different story. Brunch in my book also should be heavy on the eggs. And there will be meat. And the meat should take the form of sausage.

We’ve made sausage before here, stuffing it into casings first. Breakfast sausage often has no casing – rather, you form a small patty and fry it up. The advantage to this kind of sausage is the nice brown crust that forms (thank the Maillard reaction for that). Also, fat renders from the meat as it cooks, resulting in a somewhat leaner sausage. Cook them too long, though, and they can be dry, unlike casing sausages, which are juicy and fatty.

I find that a ratio of 1 teaspoon of Morton’s kosher salt to each pound of meat provides perfect seasoning. If you use table salt (which I don’t recommend), use 2/3 teaspoon per pound of meat. If you use Diamond kosher salt, use 1 1/3 teaspoon per pound. Always form and cook a test patty after grinding but before cooking loose sausage or stuffing casing sausages – this is your only chance to add more seasoning.

Speaking of grinding, your job will be easier if you dice and freeze the meat first to about half-solid. Commercial grinders are sharp enough not to require pre-freezing, but most home grinders are not, and your meat – and especially your fat – will smear if it’s not cold enough. The dreaded smear yields a paste-like texture and will clog your grinder, so keep everything well-chilled while grinding.

Pork sausage, fennel, smoked peppercorn

I used a heritage Berkshire pork shoulder, with a creamy white fat cap. Normally I like somewhere between a 3:1 and 4:1 meat to fat ratio, and the pork shoulder filled the bill without any additional fat. If you elect to use a lean meat cut, supplement with additional fat from a fatty part of the animal, such as the belly, or fatback, to achieve the desired ratio.

2 lbs pork shoulder with the fat cap, or 1 1/4 lbs trimmed pork shoulder and 3/4 lb belly or jowl
2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp fennel seed
3/4 tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground smoked black peppercorn
1 small onion, small dice 1/4″
12 cloves garlic confit

Optional: hog casings

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, and garlic confit with the seasoning and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Before the freeze.

Meanwhile, if you plan to stuff the sausage, soak the casings in warm water, and change the water several times. Then rinse the insides of the casings, untangling as you go. Discard or cut the broken parts of casings that burst. Place the casings in a small bowl. Soak the casings well in several changes of water at least an hour before grinding and stuffing. Rinse inside and out.

Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, fennel, paprika if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible. and refrigerate during the next step.

If not stuffing the sausage, form about 2 tbsp of the ground meat into a ball, flatten, and depress the center slightly to keep the sausage form forming a ball when it cooks, as meat fibers contract during exposure to heat. Repeat until you use all the sausage (or freeze a portion of the ground sausage for future use).

If stuffing the sausage, assemble the stuffing feed tube. Lubricate with water or oil and load the casing onto the tube, pushing as you go. Tie off the end with cotton thread or clip it using a food-safe, clean clip. Begin to load the stuffer and stuff the sausage, easing the casing off the tube as the stuffing comes out. Do not overstuff (as in stuffing the casing too tightly). You may tie it off by twisting the casing as you go (tie it with thread later), or wait until the entire sausage is stuffed and then pinch it off at intervals, twist the casing, and then tie with thread. Prick with a thin needle to remove excess air from the links.

Cook sausages in a pan over medium-low heat. You also can freeze sausages for storage. Lay them on a Silpat on a sheet pan, in a single layer, and freeze until firm. Vacuum pack or transfer to plastic freezer bags.

Breakfast sausage patties.

Sausage in casings.

East Asian, Pork Products

Market food.

Contrary to recent appearances on this blog, we don’t really eat a whole lot of Asian food. I’ve been on something of an East Asian binge lately, though, and once I get the bug, I have to let it run its course.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. This binge has brought us yakitori and kara age, kimchi fried rice and Korean pickles, galbi, ma po tofu, and roast pork buns. And yesterday, it was steamed and pan-fried foods, the favorites of night market stalls in Taiwan.

Night markets aren’t unique to Taiwan, but they have reached a sort of perfect expression there. Like most other open-air markets – whether the Camden or Old Spitalfields markets in London, the night bazaars throughout Thailand, or the souqs of Tunis and Marrakech, night markets contain numerous stalls selling everything from music CDs (sometimes the genuine article and sometimes not), paperback books and comics, clothing and shoes, jewelry, and household goods. Where else can you buy – all in one night – a new pair of Pumas, a leather-sleeved varsity jacket that says Horny Boy Do Not Fall In Love If You Are Lonely It Is Dangerous, a bootleg Radiohead cd, and a kilo of mangosteen?

But then there’s the food. You’ll know if you’re in a Taiwanese night market because of the smells. Some night markets are known especially for their food, and as you make your way through the stalls and shops, you’ll find carts vending grilled sweet pork sausages, frying up pungent “stinky tofu” (chòu dòufǔ 臭豆腐) and dousing it in sweet and garlicky sauce, deep-frying huge, flat, crispy chicken breasts dusted with white pepper, chili, and Taiwanese basil, and flipping oyster omelets (ô-á-chian 蚵仔煎). In the summer, you can pull up a seat at any number of tables or bars and cool down with shaved ice topped with fruit, red beans or mung beans, gelatin cubes, and condensed milk (tsua bing 剉冰/刨冰).

Shilin Night Market

Tainan night Market

In a country overflowing with delicious dining options, night markets rank among my favorite places to eat. There’s the XXL chicken stand at Shilin Night Market 士林夜市, possibly the best-known of the night markets, which marinates the chicken in soy, wine, and spices before dredging and frying it. There’s the delicious hot drink that tastes like limeade. In Tainan – home of the best night markets in the country – I always have to have the savory oily rice (Tâi-lâm iû-png 台南油飯), full of pork and dried shrimp, or the noodles – either the danzaimian 擔仔麵 with their unctuous pork sauce and scallions, or the ô-á mī-sòa 蚵仔麵線, thin, brothy noodles with fresh oysters.And there are the meat- or vegetable-filled buns. Some are simply steamed (bāozi)包子); others are fried as well as steamed.

Water-fried buns 生煎包

I just learned the name for these buns, which are so-called because they’re fried in a little oil while simultaneously the dough steams from adding water to the hot frying pan and covering the pan. The technique is similar to frying potstickers. You can fry on both sides, or just one. The absolute best place to eat these buns is at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. just blocks from the Jiantan MRT Station.

Weigh the dough ingredients, in grams if you are able. Measuring before baking yields the best results.

2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
2 oz/55 g sugar
1 1/2 tsp/6 g baking powder
1/2 oz/12g active dry yeast
2/3 c /150 g filtered water, warm – about 105-110F/40-43C
1 tsp oil

Combine the dry ingredients except for the yeast. Proof the yeast with the warm water. After five minutes, combine in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm area to rise 45-60 mins until the dough increases in volume by about 50 percent.

3/4 lb ground beef, preferably home-ground from chuck, bottom sirloin, or another flavorful but inexpensive cut
3 bunches scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch five spice powder

Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the beef and scallions. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Punch down the dough, knead lightly, and set to rise again for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into four equal pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and divide each into six pieces for a total of 24. With a wooden pin, roll out into a thin disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter. Place about a 1 1/2 tbsp filling in the center of each dough disk. Bring the edges together to form a ball, pleating to close, and twist the top knot. Place the balls knot side-down on a Silpat or lightly floured surface until ready to cook.

If necessary, perform the next step in batches. Set a large saute pan (with a lid) over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a circular pattern – do not let the sides touch. Add about 1 c water and cover the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden on the bottom, about 5 minutes. If you like, flip each bun over with tongs and fry on the other side as well.

Glutinous rice in lotus leaf 糯米雞

When prepared with bamboo leaves instead of lotus leaf, this dish is called zongzi 糭子and is a specialty – along with oyster omelets – of my parents’ home town, Tainan. Both the bamboo zongzi and the lotus leaf-wrapped nuo mi ji 糯米雞 are equally delicious – you may find the lotus leaf preparation easier to fold.

1/3 lb pork shoulder
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp white pepper
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 salted duck eggs (optional), yolks only, halved
3 c glutinous rice
2 tbsp dried shrimp
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
3 whole lotus leaves (available at Chinese stores; other types of groceries are unlikely to carry them); if necessary, substitute 12 large grape leaves without rips or tears, soaked in water and rinsed

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, and then soak in filtered water for about 3 hours.

While the rice soaks, prepare the pork. Pour 1 1/2 c boiling water over the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl; when reconstituted, remove the mushrooms, slice off and discard the stems, and slice the mushrooms about 1/4″. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Marinate in 1 1/2 tbsp soy, the Shaoxing wine, and white pepper for an hour, and then remove from marinade (reserve marinade). Place a small saucepot over medium high heat and, when hot, add a small amount of oil. Brown the pork well on both sides; reduce heat to low and add the marinade and 1/4 c shiitake soaking liquid; partially cover with the pot lid. Braise at a simmer for 2 hours, turning the pork as necessary. Remove the pork from the pot and slice 1/4″.

If using lotus leaves, boil the leaves until flexible and drain. Cut off the stem end of the leaves and slice the leaves with a knife into quarters (they come folded in half, so slice once down the middle, and stack slice the remaining halves again down the middle.

Drain the rice. Place a skillet on medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Add the dried shrimp and saute until opaque and crisp; add the drained rice and saute in the oil until the grains just begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat.

Place a leaf vein side-down on a board, and brush with a very small amount of oil. Spread 1/12 of the rice mixture in the center and add 1/12 each of the sliced pork and shiitake mushrooms, and one half of a salted egg yolk, if you’re using it. Fold the rice over the contents, and wrap the leaf into a square package. Secure with kitchen twine if necessary.

Wrapped leaves, ready to steam.

Place in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 2 hours. Serve with a little soy sauce.

Market style potstickers

I don’t know if this style of dumpling (jiǎozi 餃子) has a name. I do know that, for a few years after my parents moved to Taipei, my dad’s office was near a daytime lunch market in the Zhongshan area. Unlike night markets, which often sell food suitable to walking around, day markets focus almost entirely on noodles, soups, and other sit-down meal dishes, as well as fresh produce, meat, and fish for cooking at home. For a couple of dollars, you could fill up on soup or noodles at any of a couple dozen food stalls and carts, or you could buy a tray of a dozen or so dumplings – enough to fill you up. They were pan-fried on both sides, and filled with pork and scallions, and served with a little cup of chile-spiked soy sauce with black vinegar.

Unlike other dumplings I’d had – and I’ve made and eaten a lot of dumplings in my time – the filling in these dumplings wasn’t completely enclosed in the wrapper. And unlike traditional potstickers (guōtiē 鍋貼), these are fried on both sides, not just the one, and no water is added to the pan to steam the dumpling.

1/4 head napa cabbage, chopped fine
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 lb ground pork, preferably home-ground from shoulder or butt
2 bunches scallions, sliced thin
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Toss the salt and the napa cabbage in a colander and allow to drain for about an hour. Squeeze the liquid out.

Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the pork, scallions, and salted cabbage. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
1 c/ 225 g boiling water

Combine the ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into four pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and roll each into a long, thin (1/2″) log. Cover unused sections with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Cut off 1/2″ pieces and roll with a wooden pin into a thin circle. Place a couple of teaspoons in a straight line down the center of each dough wrapper. Gather the sides of the wrapper and pinch together on top. Place the dumplings flat side-down on a Silpat or a plate until ready to cook.

Set a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a row, with sides touching. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden; turn over and fry on the other side. Serve with a sauce mixed in individual bowls – about 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp black vinegar, and 1/2 tsp chile sauce, or to taste.

*Source for Shilin Night Market: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Shilin_Night_Market_9,_Dec_06.JPG
Source for Tainan night market:

Q&A, Random Thoughts, Soup

and the winner is…

For those of you who followed the Essential Vegetable Tournament, we have a winner! Here’s a question, before I tell you which food David Logue’s friends and colleagues dubbed most essential. Which do you consider more important – tomatoes or garlic? And why?

As a cook, I can’t imagine a world without garlic. Not that I’d want to live without tomatoes – pasta sauce, pizza, braised beef, and all kinds of Latin American dishes wouldn’t be the same, and some things – sauce espagnole and sauce americaine, tomato salad – would become a memory. But I’d manage. More than half the pasta sauces we eat right now are sans tomato – either just olive oil, or egg, cream, or butter-based sauces, and there’s always pizza bianco. Asian braised beef dishes almost never include tomato, and neither do many enchiladas, moles, and Latin American stews. Everything would be all right.

Not so if garlic became extinct. For the record, I’m not one of those “more is better” people when it comes to garlic. Except in the rare cases where garlic is the star, you shouldn’t specifically taste it. It’s an underpinning – savory, aromatic, barely sweet; sometimes nutty and mellow, and sometimes sharp and hot. But it’s an essential one. Without it, there’s nothing to counter the acidity of tomatoes, the heat of chiles, the blandness of meat, the bitterness of kale. Garlic plays a role in most savory dishes, in virtually every cuisine. So my vote goes to garlic.

So it should come as no surprise to you that TOMATOES beat garlic, 21-11, after barely edging out wheat in the final four. Tomato partisans defended their choice of the sun-ripened fruit – “give me a plate of plain toms (even sans their normal wheat-based accompaniments) to munch over a pile of garlic,” said one. Another pleaded the case for tomato’s nutritive value, arguing that while the flavor of garlic “is unsurpassed, [it] lack[s] the wholesome nutrition and substance of a tomato.” I asked David Logue for his thoughts on this underdog win, and final impressions about the tournament:

Q: Tomatoes beat garlic 21-11. That’s a pretty steep margin of victory. Were you surprised? How would you have voted, had you needed to break a tie?

A: I thought garlic would win. I would have voted for garlic over tomatoes. I also would have voted for garlic over onions. I don’t have anything against onions; I really would miss Indian food and onion rings, but I would get by. [Indeed, one voter who selected garlic observed that “garlic is the basis for many flavors of widely varying origins, whether one can taste it or not. Without garlic, the world would be a sad, bleak, and bland place.”]

Q: You said before the final that you tried to keep the matchups interesting. And in the end – as you said – two pillars of Italian cuisine went head to head. Rice and green onions went out in the first round, basil eliminated cilantro, peanuts stomped soy. Do you think this is telling – that Italian cuisine is, after all, our collective favorite?

A: The voters love Italian and so do I. I’m not sure how representative we are of the general public. About half of the voters are from the Bay Area or San Diego. Either way, they’re used to large Italian immigrant communities and an abundance of California Cuisine restaurants (which are basically Italian restaurants).

Q: Final thoughts on the tournament? Did you cut down a net and drape it around a basket of tomatoes when you tallied the final score?

A: Garlic would have been a great champ. Tomato is kind of cool… better than wheat. I was all set to email the bracket to the Garlic Growers … see if I could get them to use to advertise the Gilroy Garlic festival.

And there you have it. I can’t make up for the loss to tomatoes, but I can post a tribute to garlic – a garlic soup recipe that showcases the sweet, nutty qualities of the bulb.

Here’s the deal with the garlic soup. There’s a restaurant up in Vermont that makes a delicious cream of garlic soup. It’s creamy and mild and when we dine at that restaurant, my husband always has a bowl as a first course. The chef is proud of this soup and refuses to share the recipe. I think it’s weak to refuse to share – 90% of a recipe is in the execution, after all, and anyway, cooking is about sharing with others.

But whatever. I figured it was just a matter of time before I worked it out. The first time I tried replicating this garlic soup, I thickened it with bread, like the classic sopas de ajo, garlic soups from Spain and Portugal. It was delicious, but the texture was wrong. The second time, I tried an egg and cream liaison. Too rich. The third time was the charm.

Garlic soup

1 1/4 cups garlic confit
1 large onion, diced 1/4″
2 c beef stock, plus extra (up to 1 cup)
2 bay leaves
4 branches thyme
1/2 c cream
2 c whole milk

Place a sauce pot over medium heat and add the butter. When melted and bubbling, add the onion. Sauté the onion until fully tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Add the garlic confit and the beef stock; add the bay leaves and thyme branches. Simmer 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and all the thyme branches and transfer to the Vitaprep (or any other heavy duty blender). Purée until thick and completely smooth. Transfer back to a clean sauce pot. Bring back to a simmer; add the cream and simmer 2 minutes; add the milk and bring back to a simmer. If the soup is too thick, thin it with beef stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chicken, East Asian, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts


We’re basically trapped in the house on account of the second blizzard in three days. Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate to drink beer.

In Japan, certain foods complement beer drinking. Yakitori 焼き鳥 or やきとり, or grilled chicken, is threaded on bamboo skewers, dipped in a sweet and savory sauce called tare タレ, or seasoned with salt and lemon juice before barbecuing. Kitchens generally specialize in one preparation or another. All parts of the chicken are popular – the skin is grilled until crispy for torikawa とり)かわ, zuri ずり (gizzards), hatsu ハツ (heart), and reba レバー (liver) provide rich texture and flavor, and bonjiri ぼんじり – the tail of the chicken, that small, heart-shaped bump – is a particular delicacy. Fatty and rich, it grills up crisp out the outside. Foods other than chicken are popular as well – scallions, or negi ねぎ, often threaded on two skewers to prevent turning while grilling, like a raft (ikada 筏); green bell pepper or pīman ピーマン (the scourge of all vegetables, in my opinion); and tofu, deep-fried before grilling on skewers (atsuage tofu 厚揚げどうふ).

The best places to consume yakitori are the small stands – offering only a few seats and cold beer – or the small restaurants specializing in yakitori, called kushiyaki くしやき. You also can find yakitori in izakaya 居酒屋 – drinking establishments that serve food.

Kara age 唐揚げ, or deep fried meats, and agedashi dofu, 揚げ出し豆腐, deep fried tofu in a light broth, also are popular dishes at izakaya. What goes better with cold beer than fried food? Fried boneless chicken (tori no kara age) and chicken wings (tebasaki 手羽先) are ubiquitous, accompanied with a simple squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of mayonnaise. The meat is marinated briefly in a garlic and ginger flavored soy sauce before dusting with cornstarch and frying until crisp. Tsukemono 漬物 (literally, pickled things) – assorted pickled vegetables – and edamame 枝豆, boiled fresh soybeans in the pod, are a study in contrasts.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any tofu or chicken hearts (which are one of my favorite yakitori), and I’m not leaving the house in a blizzard, so we’re eating what we have – chicken meat, scallions, and pickles. And cold, cold beer.

Tare-grilled yakitori (ikada), crisp daikon tsukemono


As tori とり means chicken, you would think that negiyaki means “grilled scallion.” It does not. Negiyaki ねぎ焼き refers to a type of scallion pancake. So use the word yakitori to refer generally to all these tare- or salt-basted grilled foods.

You can make these with tare or salt – I’m providing both methods and a recipe for tare. As much as I enjoy the sweet/salt dimension that tare provides, I actually prefer salt-grilling, especially if the chicken is high quality and flavorful, because salt-grilling and a squeeze of lemon really let the flavor of the chicken shine through.

1 lb chicken breast, sliced into 1/2″ chunks or into long, thin strips
4 scallions, cut into 1 1/2″ lengths, using all the white and light green
Choose one: sea salt and lemon wedges
or tare (recipe follows)
Bamboo skewers (metal are fine as well)

Prepare a hibachi or barbecue with hot coals. Alternatively, use a grill pan with raised ridges.

Thread the chicken chunks or strips onto bamboo skewers. Thread the scallions onto skewers as well, using two skewers – one on each end – to hold them in place and prevent turning while grilling.

If salt-grilling, sprinkle salt on the chicken on both sides. If using tare, dip or brush the chicken in tare. Brush the grill with oil. Grill the chicken and the scallions on both sides. The chicken should be brushed with or dipped in tare, if using, and re-grilled on both sides (for a total of two brushings). If using salt, do not re-salt when turning.

Serve salt-grilled chicken yakitori and all scallion yakitori with lemon.


Many tare recipes add sugar, which makes the sauce overly sweet. This is unnecessary – the sugar in mirin and the sweetness of sake are sufficient. In Japan, yakitori joints that use tare flavor the sauce with chicken, to boost the flavor of the grilled chicken; you should too.

1 c usukuchi (white soy sauce), or another Japanese soy sauce
1/2 c mirin
2/3 c sake
1 lb chicken wings, backs, necks, or other scraps from chicken fabrication (any combination is fine), cut into small pieces if possible

Place the chicken parts in an oven-safe sauté pan large enough to hold them in a single layer and roast in a 400F /200C oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the pieces once if necessary to avoid burning and then remove from the oven and place on the stove. If you don’t have an oven-safe pan, place the chicken in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and allow to brown well, undisturbed, on one side; turn over and brown well on the other side. Whichever method you use, brown as deeply as you can without burning.

Add the sake to the bones over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the sake has reduced by at least half, add the mirin and the usukuchi, stirring well. Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour. Add a small amount of water if necessary to keep the mixture from becoming too thick.

Strain through a chinois into a clean container. You can store the tare in the refrigerator – pour out what you intend to use for a particular recipe to avoid contaminating the clean tare with chicken, or bring the used tare to a boil for three minutes after use.

Tori no kara age

Chicken thighs are traditional and hold up best for kara age in my opinion – they are more flavorful and stand up to frying better than white meat, which dries out quickly.

1 lb chicken thigh and leg meat, diced 3/4″
3 tbsp usukuchi (white soy sauce), or another Japanese soy sauce
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp grated ginger, very finely grated using sharkskin or a Japanese grater
1/4 tsp white pepper
Vegetable oil
Cornstarch for dusting (about 1 c, more or less)
Lemon wedges
Optional: sansho (sichuan peppercorn), ground and mixed with salt 1:1, and/or ichimi togarishi (ground hot chile)

Combine the usukuchi, sake, ginger, and pepper. Add the chicken and marinate briefly – about 30 minutes, not longer than 2 hours.

Heat oil in a deep cast iron pan or a sauce pot to 365F/185C. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess marinade, and dredge in cornstarch, ensuring that the chicken is coated completely. Shake off excess starch. Fry in batches until golden and drain. Serve with lemon wedges and optional sansho salt; sprinkle with ichimi togarishi if you like it spicy.

Tori no kara age (Fried chicken)

Chicken, Seafood, Soup

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

After the storm that dumped more than two feet of snow on the DC region, Super Bowl Sunday broke clear and bright. We had plans to watch the big game with a rabid Saints fan who announced his intentions to support the hometown team with a keg of Abita, red beans and rice, and the finest flavors of New Orleans. Naturally, I wanted to show my support. I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina – for a couple of years I had an ongoing case in Baton Rouge and used to look forward to traveling to New Orleans the night before a hearing to eat at some of my favorite restaurants. I offered to bring some classic Louisiana dishes to the party – gumbo, étouffée, and maque choux.

Louisiana Creole cuisine is mostly city food, blending classical French, Spanish, and Italian techniques with local ingredients. Cajun cuisine is the more rustic food of Acadiana – the parishes where French Acadians predominate – and favors simpler techniques. Nonetheless, the two cuisines share common ingredients – the “holy trinity,” a mirepoix of onion, celery, and green pepper; liberal use of chiles and herbs; and smoked pork products.

There are as many kinds of gumbo as there are Louisiana cooks. Gumbo includes either okra or filé powder from the sassafras tree – indeed, the word “gumbo” likely derives either from the Bantu word ngombo, meaning “okra,” or the Choctaw word kombo, meaning sassafras. Okra and filé never are used together – it’s one or the other. The choice of okra or filé reflects the traditional seasonality of local ingredients – seafood and shellfish gumbo call for okra, and chicken (and game birds) call for filé. Generally, a roux – flour cooked in hot oil or fat – provides additional thickening. In Cajun gumbo, a dark, coffee colored roux provides deep flavor and rich color; in Creole versions, a lighter roux prevails, and tomatoes supply the color. Over time, a Creole-Cajun hybrid has emerged, combining roux of varying intensity with tomatoes for flavor. Tasso ham and andouille sausage lend additional smoky flavor, whether the other ingredients come from land or sea.

Étouffée is the quintessential Creole dish, meaning “smothered” in French. Like gumbo, the étouffée relies on a base of roux (of varying intensity) and the holy trinity, cooked in the roux. Unlike gumbo, étouffée demands a specific technique and more limited ingredients. Once the trinity cooks in the roux, add stock made from the main ingredient – crawfish stock, shrimp stock, or crab stock – and simmer the thickened, saucy mixture until the floury taste of the roux cooks off before adding the shellfish. The method is similar to making the classic French mother sauce, velouté, in which stock is added to a roux of equal parts butter and flour, although étouffée has a thicker consistency, more like a béchamel sauce.

As a nod to New Orleans – a Creole city in the main – try these recipes for chicken and andouille gumbo and shrimp étouffée. And for a taste of Cajun cooking, try the maque choux, a simple corn and pepper stew.

Chicken and andouille gumbo

If you cook the sausage in the gumbo, it will give most of its flavor to the liquid. For this reason, I generally favor cooking the sausage separately and adding it to the gumbo shortly before serving. You can infuse the gumbo as it cooks with rich smoky pork flavor by simmering a piece of tasso ham, smoked pork, or another andouille sausage, but remove that meat before serving.

I dislike green bell pepper so I always use Cuban peppers. If you use green bell pepper, remove the skin if you can, to avoid an unpleasant texture.

Sprinkle filé on each portion just before eating, at the table. Never add filé to the pot of gumbo as filé-thickened gumbos may not be brought back to a simmer or the entire dish will become stringy and gummy. If you don’t have access to filé, or you want to try okra in your gumbo, feel free to use it – follow the optional directions below.

1 c vegetable oil
1 c flour

3 Cuban peppers (or two green bell peppers), seeded and diced 1/8″
2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and diced 1/8″
6 stalks celery, peeled and diced 1/8″
8 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a paste with salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

4 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme

7 c chicken stock
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 lb boned and skinned chicken thighs, diced 1/2″
3/4 lb okra, sliced into 1/4″ rounds (optional; use if omitting filé)
1 lb andouille sausage, or another coarse-textured smoked pork sausage such as kielbasa, diced 1/2″
1/4 tasso ham or smoked pork, diced 1/4″

Seasoning Salt (recipe below)
salt and pepper
hot sauce, like Tabasco or another Louisiana hot sauce
Scallions, sliced thinly on a diagonal
Minced parsley

Cook the roux. In a large, deep pot – at least 6 quarts – heat the vegetable oil until it shimmers. Add the flour and whisk well to avoid lumps. Whisk or stir with a wooden spoon continuously over medium heat as the roux darkens. It will begin to smell quite toasty. Keep going, and make sure to keep stirring. You want a roux that is nearly the color of coffee, a rich mahogany.

As soon as the roux reaches that color, add the onions. Stir well and allow the onions to cook in the roux a couple of minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the celery, stir well into the roux, and cook a minute or two more. Finally, add the diced peppers and garlic, stir well into the roux, and cook another minute. Add the cayenne and stir well.

Add the stock slowly, whisking to incorporate the stock into the roux. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, the thyme and the oregano, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes to eliminate any floury taste from the roux. Add the diced chicken and simmer another 15 minutes. If using okra, add it now as well.

While the chicken cooks, place a skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the diced andouille or kielbasa. Reduce the heat slightly and cook the sausage until browned. Remove the sausage to a bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and add the diced smoked pork or tasso, cooking until browned. Remove that to the bowl with the sausage using a slotted spoon. After the chicken has cooked, add the sausage and ham to the gumbo and simmer another 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves. Season with 1 1/2 tsp Seasoning Salt; adjust heat with Tabasco and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve on steamed long-grain rice, garnished with scallions and minced parsley.

If the gumbo is not okra-thickened, pass the filé at the table – diners should sprinkle just a small amount, less than 1/4 tsp, on their gumbo just before eating.

Chicken and andouille gumbo

Shrimp or Crawfish étouffée

1/4 c vegetable oil
3/4 c butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 c flour

3 Cuban peppers (or two green bell peppers), seeded and diced 1/8″
3 large or 4 medium onions, peeled and diced 1/8″
6 stalks celery, peeled and diced 1/8″
8 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a paste with salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika (if you can, combine hot and sweet)
8 canned tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

4 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, tied together

6 c shrimp or crawfish stock (chicken stock is fine), made from the shells
3 lb shrimp or crawfish meat (weight after shelling)

Seasoning Salt (recipe below)
Hot sauce, like Tabasco or another Louisiana hot sauce
Salt and pepper
Scallions, sliced thinly on a diagonal
Minced parsley

Cook the roux. In a large, deep pot – at least 6 quarts – heat the vegetable oil and butter until it the butter begins to bubble. Add the flour and whisk well to avoid lumps. Whisk or stir with a wooden spoon continuously over medium heat as the roux darkens. This roux will not darken considerably and will take longer to darken. Eventually the roux will reach the color of peanut butter.

As soon as the roux reaches that color, add the onions. Stir well and allow the onions to cook in the roux a couple of minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the celery, stir well into the roux, and cook a minute or two more. Finally, add the diced peppers and garlic, stir well into the roux, and cook another minute. Add the cayenne and paprika and stir well. Finally, stir in the tomato paste and the diced tomatoes, cooking another minute.

Add the stock slowly, whisking to incorporate the stock into the roux. Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, bay leaves, and the bundle of thyme, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about an hour minutes to eliminate any floury taste from the roux. Add the shrimp or crawfish and simmer another 10 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves. Season with 1 1/2 tsp Seasoning Salt; adjust heat with Tabasco and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve on steamed long-grain rice, garnished with scallions and minced parsley.

Shrimp and langoustine étouffée

Seasoning Salt

This seasoning salt combines the spices underpinning Creole and Cajun dishes. Store it in a jar with a tight lid so it stays dry.

1/2 c kosher salt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp dried thyme, crushed
2 tbsp dried oregano, crushed

Combine all the ingredients. Ensure the blend is well-mixed before use.

Maque choux

Maque choux is best in the summer, when corn and tomatoes are fresh, and you can scrape the corn cobs to extract their sweet, milky pulp. That said, frozen corn is a good product and canned tomatoes are available all year (and, sadly, usually taste more of tomatoes than the fresh supermarket product even in summer). So if you want to try this dish year-round, dig a bag of corn out of the freezer and open a can of tomatoes.

3 tbsp bacon fat or butter
10 ears corn, shucked and kernels cut off the cobs (reserving cobs), or 2 10-ounce bags frozen corn
1 large onion, diced 1/8″
2 stalks celery, peeled and diced 1/8″
3 Cuban peppers (or two green bell peppers), seeded and diced 1/8″
4 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a paste with salt
6 canned tomatoes, diced
1/3 c heavy cream (if not using fresh corn)
1/2 tsp dried thyme or leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper

If using fresh corn, scrape the corncobs with a chef’s knife, from end to end, over a bowl to extract the milky corn pulp.

Place a large and deep pot over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon fat or butter. Ad the onion, celery, peppers, and garlic and sweat until vegetables are tender and translucent. Add the corn and the thyme, and cook another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the reserved corn milk (if using) and lower the heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is very tender – about 20 minutes.

If using the cream, add it now and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Maque choux

East Asian, Random Thoughts, Vegetables


If you live in a cave, you haven’t heard that the Eastern Seaboard is being buried by an historic snowstorm right now. As of noon Saturday, we’ve received 25 inches (!) in Baltimore, and the snow continues to fall thick and fast.

I’m from the Midwest and know better than to go out in these conditions, especially because Marylanders don’t know how to drive in the snow. We have plenty of food at home, anyway. In times past, you had to plan for the winter – you couldn’t buy hydroponic tomatoes and arugula year-round, or find blueberries grown in Peru in December. You kept apples and potatoes and rutabagas in a root cellar, and, in the summer, you put up jars of fruit preserves and pickles to eat once the ground froze.

Without romanticizing that era – which sounds artisanal and quaint from a twenty-first century perspective mostly because we’ve forgotten the many hardships – I do appreciate a good pickle. These days, the only pickles available in most grocery stores are pickled cucumbers and peppers, even though the term “pickle” means any vegetables (or fruit) preserved in brine or vinegar. That’s a shame, because the world of pickles extends far beyond sweet cucumber slices, banana peppers, and zesty dills. In fact, if you travel the world, you’ll find that pickle and preserve appreciation continues unabated, even in these days of refrigeration and out-of-season produce.

Korea may be ground zero for vegetable preservation. The mainstays of Korean cuisine are rice and kimchi 김치, which includes brine-pickled cabbage, radish, and cucumber. Kimchi usually is fermented as well as pickled. In addition, Korean cuisine features numerous other types of pickles – some vinegar-based, others soy sauce-based.

Kimchi fermentation is the same type of lactic acid fermentation that occurs in yoghurt, which makes kimchi pungent and tart as well as salty. The most common types are baechu 배추, or napa cabbage, kimchi and kkakdugi 깍두기, or mu radish 무, kimchi; oi오이, or cucumber, kimchi also is popular in the summer. Although kimchi owes its pungent tang to the fermentation process – often helped along by saeujeot 새우젓 (salted shrimp), briny fish, or oysters – most varieties also are spicy due to the use of kochukaru (Korean red chile powder) or gochujang 고추장 (red chile paste). Fall and winter kimchi preserve baechu or napa cabbage for the cold months; as it is high in vitamin C and fiber, it provides an excellent source of nourishment.

Refrigerator garlic dill pickles

I confess that this cucumber pickling is all happening out of season. I came upon a huge display of Kirby cucumbers at the H Mart before the storm. My husband has a colleague whose sister makes amazing garlic dills down in Texas, hands them out as holiday gifts, and refuses to share the recipe. Leaving aside my feelings about people who don’t share (what, is she planning to become the next Vlasic? I’m not going to steal her freaking recipe and open a pickle factory), dill pickles are my favorite, they’re easy, and there’s no reason not to do this at home.

I have given two options – the first is for refrigerator pickles, not canning pickles, which must be stored in the refrigerator and eaten relatively soon – within a month. The second method is for canning pickles, which may be processed and stored on the shelf.

2 lbs Kirby cucumbers, sliced vertically into spears
2/3 c distilled white vinegar
3 c filtered water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c kosher salt or pickling salt (do not substitute table salt)
8 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp crushed red chiles
2 tsp dill seed
2 tbsp pickling spice

Combine liquids, sugar, and salt, and heat to boiling.

If using the refrigerator method, place the cucumbers, garlic, and spices into a container with a lid and pour the hot liquid over the ingredients. Allow to cool at room temperature, seal, and store in the refrigerator.

For the canning method, tightly pack cucumbers into hot, clean quart jars. Add to each jar equal quantities of garlic and spices. Fill the jars with the hot liquid up to about 1/2″ from the top of the jar. Screw the lids onto the jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes, making sure the water in the bath covers the tops of the jars. When the jars cool, check the seals. The pickles should age for at least a month before eating but will keep much longer.

Oi kimchi 오이 김치(fermented cucumber pickle)

This pickle, based on David Chang’s technique in Momofuku , doesn’t keep as long as the other kinds of kimchi as it uses somewhat less salt. You can enjoy it for up to about two weeks, at which time it will become too pungent to eat. Again, I’m making this out of season – it’s really a summer pickle, to be enjoyed shortly after preparation, rather than a preservation method to store cabbage for the winter.

Galbi (marinated grilled short rib) with oi kimchi and vinegar pickled mu radish

1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 lb Kirby cucumbers, cut into 6 spears each
1 tbsp soy sauce (preferably white soy, usukuchi)
2 tsp fish sauce (preferably Korean, but any fish sauce will do)
1 tbsp kochukaru (Korean red chile powder) or 2 tsp gochujang (red chile paste)
scant 1 tsp saeujeot (salted shrimp), optional
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienne
1 scallion, julienne
1/2 onion, sliced thinly pole to pole

Salt the cucumbers in a colander. Allow to drain for about fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients. Once the cucumbers have drained, add them to the mixture. Toss well and allow to combine for at least an hour. This kimchi is best within the first couple of days; it becomes increasingly pungent, which is not such a problem, but the cucumbers become soggy after a few days.

Vinegar pickled mu radish

I have no idea what this is called, but on a number of occasions, I’ve encountered this pickle at Korean barbecue joints, sliced thinly and served apparently as a wrapper for a type of ssam 쌈, wrapped foods. I can’t be sure this is how it’s made, but it tastes exactly like the radish pickle I’ve eaten. It is absolutely delicious with barbecued short rib, ssamjang 쌈장, and scallions.

Mu radishes

If you can’t find mu radish (and you probably won’t unless you live in an area with a Korean market), daikon will work just fine, as will any other large, solid radish. In the summer, if you grow watermelon radish, you can enjoy a spectacular version of this pickle, which is ready to eat within an hour.

1 pound mu radish, peeled and sliced thinly (less than 1/16″) on a mandoline. The slices should be thin enough to be totally flexible
1 c hot water (about 150F)
1/2 c rice wine vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt

Place the radish slices in a container with a lid. Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, ensuring that the sugar and salt have dissolved completely. Pour the liquid over the radish slices and seal the lid. Allow to stand for at least an hour before eating. The radish pickle will be ready to eat after an hour; try to eat it all within a few days for optimum flavor.

Kimchi bokumbap 김치 볶음밥

Who doesn’t like egg-topped dishes? And who doesn’t like fried rice? This dish, which translates literally as “kimchi mixed rice,” combines the two – a spicy fried rice that uses up bits of kimchi before they become too pungent to eat, leftover rice, and the runny yolk of a fried egg. Or a poached egg, which I prefer.

2 c cooked short-grain rice
1/2 onion, diced 1/4″
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, minced
1/2 c (or so) baechu kimchi, diced, with any liquid
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce (preferably usukuchi, white soy)
vegetable oil
4 eggs

Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the onion, garlic, and scallions, and sauté until tender and barely golden. Add the kimchi and saute a minute more.

Add the rice and sauté, breaking up the rice, adding any remaining kimchi liquid and the soy sauce.

Poach the eggs or pan-fry them, sunny-side up. Serve the rice in individual serving bowls, each with an egg, with a generous quantity of gochujang mixed in.

Kimchi bokumbap