Yes, you read right...."mock eel"....like really. I've found some time to cook a bit recently and am now going to try to make it through those cookbooks I've got stacked on my coffee table. I've often done riffs on Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes. Her cookbooks hold a special place on my shelves. So when her latest cookbook Land of Fish and Rice was announced, I pre-ordered it.
Being married to someone from China and working with several others, I've noticed something quite interesting; the Missus's Shandong cum Hunan lineage struggles with the sweet flavors of Su-Cai and similar cuisines. As does our former coworker "Lily" who is from Shanxi. Meanwhile "YZ" can't deal with "Yang Rou"....and so one and so forth. Me? I love it all. So while I'm tempted to go for the Dong Po Rou, the Missus wasn't having any of that. While paging through, I found a rather simple recipe that caught my atttention it's called Vegetarian "eels" in Sweet-and-Sour Sauce in the book. I was mainly interested because the recipe didn't use tofu; which would probably have been the easy out. Instead, dried shiitake mushrooms were used.
Of course I adjusted the recipe to suit our (the Missus's) taste, upping the Chinkiang vinegar and soy sauce, adding a bit of five spice, mushroom soaking liquid, and a chili for some heat. And of course, using the Big Kahuna which cut the cooking time to mere minutes. The dish is best made in small batches. Also, do a good job of "scattering" the mushroom while deep frying, otherwise they tend to stick together.
The Missus really enjoys this; the sweet-salty-sour-savory components go together well.
Vegetarian "Eel" in Sweet and Sour Sauce:
10-12 dried Shiitake Mushrooms About one-fourth of a good sized red bell pepper About one-fourth of a good sized green bell pepper Three thin slices of ginger One medium sized red serrano pepper Hot Water
1/2 tsp Dark Soy Sauce (you may also want to try Mushroom Soy Sauce) 1/2 tsp Sesame Oil
- Soak the mushroom in hot water for 20-30 minutes - Slice bell peppers into thin strips. Julienne the ginger. Cut the serrano pepper in half, remove seeds than cut into strips. - Remove mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeeze out excess liquid, remove stems and cut into strips. - Strain 4Tb of the mushroom liquid - Combine sauce ingredients until sugar is dissolved - Combine mushroom slices with potato starch and five spice until coated - Heat oil and scatter the mushroom, you may need to do in two batches. Fry until slightly crisp and remove from the oil - Remove all but about 3-4 tb of oil and heat until nearly smoking - Add peppers into the hot oil and stir fry - Add Shaoxing, mushroom liquid, and ginger and stir fry until fragrant - Add the mushroom back into the wok, add the sauce and stir fry until coated. - Remove from heat and add dark soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix well.
I haven't done one of these in a while....so here goes. Stuff I've made recently.
I picked up some nice Bay Shrimp at Catalina Offshore as an impulse buy....without anything in mind. So I ended up making at smoked spicy mayo Louie salad with avocado....really nice with all the hot weather.
And paired it with a nice Edamame - Smoked Corn salad....
One of our favorite things lately is very simple.....a nice heirloom tomato and good quality mozzarella topped with 18 year old balsamic and Arbequina Olive Oil.
You really don't need anything else.....
Remember, the XO Sauce we got as a gift from the Missus's friend? Well, we recently got another batch....so I put the Big Kahuna to work and made some Shrimp Fried Rice....it was delici-yoso.....
Funny thing was....I forgot the bean sprouts. I didn't want to waste, so I made a stir fry dish using Serrano peppers from the yard, black vinegar, and Finadene (I'll get to that post soon).
For some reason, this really hit home with the Missus and was fairly close to comfort food to Her......so I've made this about 5-6 times since! Bean sprouts....sheesh....
Of course there are the old standby items.....
So Faye, this is what the stovetop smoked salmon is really supposed to look like.
Tommy told me he got really busy and kind of forgot about the salmon he was making......
And finally, some breakfast dish I don't even remember making....it must be recently since the picture is dated less than two weeks ago....must've have been tired and on auto-pilot.
It's been good getting back into the old routine here after our trip. That of course, would mean my weekly trip to Catalina Offshore.....and of course, running into Tommy Gomes. This time around, Tommy asked me if I'd ever cooked White King Salmon.....heck, wasn't that really expensive stuff; like what Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud are serving at pretty hefty prices? And I have a chance at it? A nice center cut piece to be exact.... Tommy, did you miss me??? I'd never cooked this product before and I asked Tommy what the difference was between this and regular wild king salmon. His response, "it's different, kind of hard to put a finger on it, the mouthfeel is definitely different, give it a try...." Which is precisely what I did.
I'm sure you're wondering what this looked like, right?
Ever see salmon that looked like this?
Yes, this is King Salmon, the same species as your run of the mill Onchorhynchus tshawytscha, also known as Chinook Salmon. What causes the lack of pigmentation? Apparently a genetic mutation that causes an inability to metabolize astaxanthin. According to the Alsakan Department of Fish and Game, "research has shown the white kings and the red-fleshed kings are identical in composition of lipids, moisture, protein and omega -3 fatty acids". Different sources state that this mutation occurs in anywhere from 1% to 5% of the population. White King Salmon used to be destined for canning or the smokehouse; but perhaps, like Patagonian Toothfish, aka Chilean Sea Bass a name change from White King Salmon to Ivory King Salmon brought about a larger demand?
Bottom line, does the taste and texture any different from regular wild King Salmon? Some say yes, but the described differences are all over the board and contradicting. Some say no.
So here's the drill; I first went with a simple pan saute, with a quick dill infused olive oil to finish and some stir-fried vegetables.
Wow, this was good, to us it was quite different from the usual King Salmon we get. It's not quite oilier, but somehow richer, reminding us of King Clip in the way it flaked. The flavor was quite a bit milder and the typical salmon flavor was a bit more faint, it also seemed to have a slightly sweeter finish. This was outstanding fish.......
So, the Missus decided that I should figure out a way to crust this, adding pepitos to the whole thing. Easy to say from where She sits when I gotta make this stuff! Anyway, toasted and coarsely ground the pumpkin seeds. Panned seared the simply seasoned salmon; added a smear of dill mustard as "glue" to hold the pepito crust, finish in a hot oven.........holy smokes......
This was my favorite preparation; it had it all, great texture (man that skin had gotten a texture like chicharron), the combination of nuttiness, dill, and mustard did really well, not interfering with the flavor of the salmon. In fact, it just seemed to add the correct instruments to the band.
Of course I had to come up with a different version for our next meal. The Missus wanted something really tender and steamed. I had to grill off some other items for Her, so I went with a version of en Papillote on the grill. My usual M.O. for this would be to add some wine for moisture and flavor....unfortunately, the current diet the Missus is on allows no alcohol of any kind, to drink or cook. So I went with a few slices of lemon on top, a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of Grieben Schmalz.
After 20 minutes, the Missus had Her favorite preparation. This was nice, everybody brought something to the party; the schmalz laced with caramelized onions added some nice sweetness along with the thin sliced zucchini, the tomatoes and lemon juice a nice contrasting acid, the onions a mild sweet pungency....the schmalz and juices from the fish had rendered over the vegetables.
Simpler is often better, as is the case when using salmon belly. I saved that cut to have with a nice salad, salt, pepper, and the Big Kahuna raging.
Melt in your mouth salmon belly.....a nice final dish.
So, if you skipped to the end here and want to know what we think; I'd say buy it if it's fresh.....if I don't get to it first!
I've never been a big fan of bittermelon. Our neighbors growing up were Okinawan, so every so often there would be Goya Chanpuru, basically an egg - tofu - bittermelon, and pork (and sometimes Spam) stir fry of sorts. I still had never developed a taste for it. Same with the Missus......
But a funny thing happened on this trip, we had bittermelon several times, and kind of enjoyed it. I'll pass on dipping it in honey, though. So naturally, after arriving back home, we've been cooking with it.
This post is more about my bittermelon education, rather than a bunch of recipes. As you see in the photo above, in my first few attempts, I did the usual cross slicing of the bittermelon, and using a spoon removed the pith, where most of the bitterness is retained. I used to two different tricks to remove excess bitterness..... the first was salting the bittermelon, then letting it sit for 20 minutes or so before rinsing and stir-frying. The second was the blanch method, which is what Ba Ren uses, as you can tell by this photo of their stir-fried bittermelon (which is pretty good, BTW).
It was still a bit too bitter for us, however. That's when the Missus decided that we should "shave" the bittermelon. Doing so would minimize the amount of pith and for our tastes, gave us the right amount of bitterness.
I found that you really didn't need to salt the bittermelon for very long when shaving. Just ten minutes or so, enough time for me to prep my other ingredients (save one). Not to delve too deeply into the "Qi" of food, but bittermelon is considered cooling, thus folks are advised to eat it during the summer. I thought I'd balance things out a bit by adding a few "warm" and "hot" ingredients to the dish. Namely Red Bell Peppers, onion, and blanched garlic. For me this was a natural combination, the sweetness of the red bell peppers and blanched garlic offset the bitterness. There were a couple of items we had in China that seemed to complement bittermelon for our tastes. One of them was Baihe - Lily Bulb. After tasting the sweet-oniony-mildly starchy flavor of fresh Baihe, we ordered it whenever we saw it on the menu. I also loved the onion like flavor that finished with a good bit of starchiness...... onion flavored potatoes.... talk about my dream vegetable.
Unfortunately, fresh lily bulb is hard to come by in these parts. I did find dried lily bulbs (i.e. dragon teeth), which I've had in soups, and wondered how these would fare in a stir-fry.
I made sure to rinse these well, three or four times, I then poured mildly boiling water over the bulbs and covered with a plate for about 10-15 minutes until the bulbs had softened. Getting back to the Qi of food, Lily Bulbs are also considered a major "Yin" food. It is also often used to clear up dry cough, sore throat, insomnia, and restlessness.
A quick stir-fry in the Big Kahuna, with a simple seasoning of good quality sea salt resulted in this:
The bittermelon combined with red bell pepper and blanched garlic was fabulous. It's too bad that the dried lily bulb just didn't work out too well. It is not nearly as full-flavored as the fresh stuff, and the texture is too starchy, lacking that bit of onion-like crunch.
Another item we had with bittermelon were ginko nuts. I won't go into the supposed health benefits of ginko nuts in this post, as they range from asthma and skin ailments to gonorrhea..... And like the lily bulbs, fresh ginko nuts are hard to come by. And when available (Nijiya and Mitsuwa has them once in a while), they are quite expensive. So we decided to go with the canned stuff.... which also needs a quick rinse, since the smell can be pretty off-putting. We also thought the addition of sweet onion would add another nice layer of flavor, along with some "Yang" to balance the "Yin".
A quick, and I mean quick stir-fry over 55,000 BTU's produced this:
Which is what I've been making, sometimes three times a week.
Along with that dish in the background (a recipe is forthcoming), this was one of the several dishes we had in China that we "brought back" with us. I guess I've changed my opinion of bittermelon!
I realize I forgot to list the health benefits of bittermelon, which is a pretty long list. Bittermelon is supposed to help digestion, constipation, promote liver health, and more recently some studies have indicated that bittermelon may be helpful in treating HIV. There are debates as to whether it is quinine that makes bittermelon bitter. Many cultures do use bittermelon both prophylactically, and to treat malaria.
I'm not sure about all that.... so can I just say that I(now) like eating the stuff?
I gotta say, that the first time I had Chao Nian Gao(stir fried rice cake), I wasn't too impressed. It was kinda sticky-gooey, and sank to the bottom of my belly and seemed to "camp out" for a good long period of time. It was interesting, because I'd never had rice cakes prepared in that manner. I did however have Korean Ddukbokki many times. Over the years, it has grown on me, and now I try to order Nian Gao whenever I see it on the menu. I usually see it on Shanghainese menus, though I recently had a version from a Yunnan Restaurant (post coming soon) that I thought was excellent.
On a whim, during a recent visit to 99 Ranch Market, I picked up a package of dried Nian Gao disks, you can also find the rice cakes rolled into a rod like form, and cut your own, though you can substitute Dduk..... So I purchased my Nian Gao, and did nothing with it. Finally, the Missus, tired of waiting, told me to make the darn thing...tonight....
The problem being that the instructions say you need to soak these for at least 16-20 hours. So it was going to be a looooong wait for dinner to get on the table.
I decided to go ahead and soak these overnight.... which became two nights when we got occupied doing other things. On the third day I figured I'd better get round to making these. What follows is a basic outline of what I did, not a proper recipe. I used only what was on hand in the fridge and cupboard.
They call these "Shen Lee" at 99 Ranch Market. They have a mild bitter-mustardy flavor.
We usually don't have pork on hand, but always have dried shrimp in the refrigerator. We will use shrimp as a pork substitute in many of our dishes like Dried Fried Green Beans 干煸四季豆. It handles heat well, and will crisp up, tasting like shrimp bacon. So I used a couple of tablespoons of dried shrimp.
Instead of the standard lighter Shanghai version, I went with three types of soy sauce for flavoring, a dark, dark mushroom, and premium light soy sauces because, well, I just felt like it. 1 tsp each dark soy sauces and about 2 Tb light soy sauce. I also added a dash of white pepper. In retrospect, I should've also added some Sichuan Preserved Vegetable, but forgot I had some in cupboard.
And of course the Nian Gao:
Which had been soaking for 60 hours or so! I used half the package, a bit over 8 ounces dry. I made two batches of Chao Nian Gao over two days.
The cooking technique used is, of course Chǎo(炒), a method of stirfying. As mentioned above, I made two batches of Chao Nian Gao. On my first attempt, I cooked on the stovetop to allow for mistakes and adjustments. Here's how it turned out:
Good but a bit more chewy then I would have liked.
On my next try, I broke out my Big Kahuna (now why does that sound so wrong???) and let her rip at 55,000 BTUs. What came out was delicious.......with some decent "wok hay":
Man, this was good. It had turned out better than I thought it would. It was still pretty heavy stuff, it fills you up pretty quickly and you'll stay full for a while. I guess I'm adding this dish to my Big Kahuna Files. It is as a whole just a basic stir-fry, and quite easy to make.
In fact, I just bought another bag of Nian Gao. This one says to soak for only two hours.......
This one is for FOY "Liver" in hopes that he did, or will soon get his Big Kahuna Burner!
Every so often, when I check referring sites, searches, and other stats, I will without fail, always notice that someone has been using one search engine or another using the phrase "high BTU burner" or "Big Kahuna". And it always seems that I'll get at least one comment on any post where I've used my Big Kahuna (why does that just sound wrong). Even though Amazon seems to have replaced the Big Kahuna with another Eastman Outdoors product called the Outdoor Gourmet New Revolution Burner, it looks like Eastman Outdoors still sells the Big Kahuna. With that in mind, I've created a category called the Big Kahuna Files. My high-heat cooking experience has been limited to various stir-fry and noodle dishes, and I usual don't bother to post. Those posts would contain an ingredient list of only oil, dried shrimp, garlic, salt, and "insert green leafy vegetable of choice". I just let her rip.......and high heat will do her thing.
But for a change, here are a couple of other items I've cooked with the Kahuna recently:
Shrimp Chow Fun:
This came out waaaay better than expected, even with the lousy noodles I picked up at 99 RanchMarket. The shrimp were also too large, I had 12-16U, and smaller shrimp would have suited me better. One more thing, I also tried out Lee Kum Kee brand Seafood XO Sauce, which should be renamed, "rancid, second rate chili oil...." Better to go with sesame oil, or even better, make your own XO sauce.... but that's another post.
Some key points - at least for me:
- Don't crowd the wok, more is not necessarily better.
- Have your mis "en place". Have everything, including seasonings within easy reach.
- Control of the heat is important.
- Don't disregard your "nose" it'll tell you so much.
The Recipe - though I don't think you'll need one! Let's just call this a "pseudo-recipe"....
For Shrimp: 2 Tb Shao Xing wine 1 Tb Light Soy Sauce Salt
1/2 Onion Sliced 1 Cup Bean Sprouts (I didn't bother to pick through them) Up to 1 cup vegetable of your choice sliced. (i.e. celery, green bell pepper, etc) 2 Stalks Scallions, green parts only, sliced in 1" lengths.
2 Tb Dark Soy Sauce 3-4 Tb Light Soy Sauce White Pepper Sesame Oil to Taste
1 - Shell and devein shrimp, marinate with wine, soy sauce, and salt for 10-15 minutes. 2 - Remove shrimp from marinade and use 2 Tb oil to cook over high heat for a few minutes. Remove from wok. 3 - Replace oil and add vegetable (in this case all I used was 1/4 of a red bell pepper) and onion to wok. 4 - Stir fry for 1 minute, or until vegetable starts to barely soften. 5 - Move the veggies to the side of the wok using your spatula. If the bottom of the wok is too dry, add another Tb of oil. 6 - Add noodles separating them as you place in the center of the wok. A clump is a no-no. 7 - Let the noodles sit for a few seconds. You'll notice that they'll start to caramelize and blister. Using a pair of long chopsticks, mix noodles, add dark soy and 3 Tb Light Soy and mix. Don't do the "pour around the rim of the wok" thing, unless you want to add a burnt soy flavor to your noodles. 8 - Lower heat to medium and add bean sprouts and shrimp while using chopsticks to combine ingredients. 9 - I add the scallions last, as I like them crisp, with a bit of a "bite". Keep on stirring.(Keep them chopsticks going....) 10 - Lower heat, taste, add white pepper to taste, and more light soy sauce if necessary. 11 - Remove from heat and add sesame oil to taste.
All of this will take just a few minutes.......
Stir Fried Morning Glory:
It just seemed like we couldn't get enough of this during our trip. The Morning Glory in SEA is much more tender than what we have here in the states. The prep is simple, and I guess this is another pseudo-recipe. The results are wonderful:
In this case, I didn't use any sugar, and just a few drops of fish sauce, mainly for the fragrance.
1/2 bunch Morning Glory (aka Ong Choy, Pak Boong, Kang Kung, Kang Kong, etc, etc, etc...) 3 - 12(!!!) Thai Bird Chilies.(The 12 is out of respect for Joy from Tamarind, who told me, 12 chilies is Lao heat) 2 Tb Canola Oil. 4-5 Cloves of Garlic sliced 1/2 tsp sugar (optional) 1 Tb Oyster sauce Fish Sauce (optional) 2-3 Tb Light Soy Sauce
1 - Slice rinsed and dried morning glory into 1 1/2" lengths 2 - Remove green stem from chilies, and slice garlic. Alternately, you could bruise the chilies and garlic in a mortar - this will make them significantly hotter. 3 - Mix together Oyster Sauce, sugar(if using) and 2 Tb of the Soy Sauce. 4 - Heat wok over high heat. Add oil, then chilies and garlic. Stir quickly. 5 - When the garlic starts to soften (sometimes in a few seconds). Add morning glory and stir fry. 6 - When morning glory starts to wilt, lower the heat to low, and add oyster sauce mixture. 7 - Taste and add Fish Sauce(if using) and additional soy sauce if necessary.
They'll be no more excuses for soggy Ong Choy.......
You know, I haven't been very delicate with my Big Kahuna..... it sits on the back porch, at the mercy of the elements. I should probably treat it better. But it has held together rather well. During their last visit, I cooked a few simple stir-fries using the Kahuna for the In-Laws. They proceeded to tell the Missus that She "shouldn't bother learning how to cook anymore since I've taken my cooking to a whole 'nother level."
While in Phnom Penh, when not checking things out, or eating, the Missus was glues to the television.....and the 3 Taiwanese channels!!! Beyond the various soap operas, there were a few Taiwanese cooking shows; and one of them featured Fresh Bamboo Shoots. Needless to say, the Missus was smitten, and upon returning home, She requested a dish using Fresh Bamboo Shoots. Fresh Bamboo was pretty rare when I was growing up, and quite expensive as well. We had a neighbor, whose son would, on occasion, return from "hiking" with Fresh Shoots. These were usually eaten raw, as "sashimi", or after a few days, simmered in the water left from rinsing rice. I've read that rice bran is also used instead of the rinse water to cook Bamboo Shoots. Needless to say, the shoots we bought weren't what I would call super fresh, but they would pass muster in a stir fry.
It just so happened that we had a ton of leftover rice, and we really don't keep rice bran in the house.....so remembering the cooking show, I used 1/8 of a cup of rice instead. I cut off about 2 inches of the top of the shoot at an angle, and also about a half inch of the bottom, which had become hard. Brought the bamboo shoot to a boil, reduced the heat to a mild simmer, covered, and simmered for about an hour and a half. I knew it was cooked when I could pass a skewer rather easily into the shoot. I left it to cool in the water. Although most recipes recommend adding a few chilies to the liquid to reduce bitterness, I didn't do that. After the shoot is cool, you proceed to peel the thing. I cut off the tender tip, and gave it to the Missus as a snack. She thought it was fairly sweet, and loved the "crunch".
So what to do with the beast? Having left over Hunan Smoked Pork from another recipe, we decided that a simple stir-fry with the smoked pork and leeks on the Big Kahuna would do fine.
This is so easy, it's kind of embarrassing.....but it just shows that the simpler the better. You can do a number of things with the recipe...add chilies, other veggies, and so forth.
Hunan Smoked Pork and Fresh Bamboo Shoots.
1/4 Sliced Hunan Smoked Pork 1 Bamboo Shoot sliced 1 Leek Sliced 2 Tb Good Quality Light Soy Sauce Salt and Pepper to taste
1 - In a hot wok stir fry pork until it releases some fat.
2 - Add Bamboo Shoots and stir fry, until fragrant, and it starts getting tender.
3 - Add soy sauce, and leek, and stir fry until leek is tender, but not soft and mushy.
I've usually mentioned my Mother In Law in cooking posts. She carries on the family's Jiaozi tradition. But I thought I'd give my Father In Law some equal time. The Missus's Father is from Hunan Province, which has its own great culinary tradition. My FIL is a pretty quiet and reserved gentleman. And he'll defer to my MIL when it comes to food. There were a few times when I've seen and learned about the foods he grew up eating. His family's business in the highly agricultural Hunan province was growing and drying Lily Bud. With no refrigeration, smoking was the main means of preserving meats. In fact "La Rou", Hunan smoked pork/ham is quite well known.
I first got a hint as to what He considered home style Hunan flavors when I bought some of the wonderful Smoked Marlin that is available at all the poke and fish counters back home. I had also purchased some Shishito Peppers, I really don't recall why, perhaps I had some tempura in mind. The peppers ended up in a stir fry, along with a good amount of the smoked fish.
Thus began my introduction to Hunan food, not a very traditional dish, but I started understanding the flavors. I'm still a neophyte when it comes to Hunan cuisine, but I'm learning. The biggest problem for us has been finding a decent brand of Hunan La Rou. Most of them are terrible, too much camphor, too much salt, too many additives, which many times adds up to a mothball-plastic flavor. Not good eats. But recently, we found a decent brand, pictured above. It is still not top notch, a bit too hard and nitrite laden, but the texture when cooked is pretty good, and most of all it doesn't taste like plastic.
I've always noticed Shishito Peppers at Zion Market, usually at a pretty inexpensive(for Shishito) $1.99/lb. The peppers are usually on the "old" side, and not suitable for tempura. You can tell by how hard and brittle the pepper is. The Missus is a stickler for "correct cuts", and over time I've developed a way of slicing the peppers that keep the shape, and yet allows you to remove the slightly bitter seeds, which can be really hard in older peppers.
I slice the top off the peppers, and make an incision along three-quarters of the pepper.
I remove the vein and hard seeds. You can tell by how brown the seeds are, that these peppers are on the "older" side.
Once you are done, the pepper retains a reasonable facsimile of its shape.
Yes, it is a pain, which is why I don't make this very often. You can substitute green and red bell peppers.
The recipe itself is, as all of the stuff I make very simple. The real wildcard in the mix, is that I used the Big Kahuna to make this. There ain't nothing like high heat for these dishes. Plus, I get to channel my inner pyro....
Hunan Smoked Pork with Shishito Peppers
1/4 lb Sliced Hunan Smoked Pork 1/2 lb Shishito Peppers seeds removed, and sliced 5 Dried Chilies 2 Serrano or Jalapeno Chilies seeds removed, and sliced 2-3 Tb Light Soy Sauce 3 Tb Canola Oil Salt(if necessary) to taste
1 - Heat wok until smoking.
2 - Add canola oil and swirl to season wok.
3 - Tear dried chilies in half and scald.(Wear protective gear, i.e. haz-mat suit, if necessary)
4 - Add Smoked pork and stir fry until pork has released some fat, and is starting to caramelize.
5 - Add Serrano or Jalapenos and quickly stir to mix.
6 - Push ingredients to the side of the wok, and add Shishito Peppers. Stir fry until fragrant and peppers have softened, but is not mushy, nor burnt.
7 - Add Soy sauce and mix. Taste and adjust flavor.
My poor old wok had seen better days. The bottom had developed a dip, and portions have "peeling", and the poor fellow was pretty much ready to be retired. I think alot of the damage was due to a poor job of seasoning and care, on my part. When I got the wok as a gift a dozen or so years ago, I had no idea of what wok care, or seasoning consisted of. I had decided to get a new wok last year, but hadn't really made any effort to purchase one. Then I read a post on Barbara's blog; Tigers and Strawberries, that was a post on Asian Kitchen Equipment Essentials. In that post she mentions that The Wok Shop in San Francisco does Internet and mail order. The Wok Shop has always been one of my favorite places to visit, when in San Francisco, and I've bought a few knives, and other items. But I've always hesitated on purchasing a wok, and putting it in my luggage. But now, here was my chance. So I ended up ordering 2 woks from The Wok Shop. I placed my order on Tuesday, and by Saturday my woks had arrived!
I purchased a 14 inch Carbon Steel Wok($16.95), with a rounded bottom, and a 14 inch Cast Iron Wok ($14.95) imported from China. I decided to start with the Carbon Steel Wok. Grace Young's excellent book The Breath of a Wok, has several wok seasoning methods. One of the methods included in the book is Tane Chan's oven method. Tane Chan also happens to be the owner of the The Wok Shop, and sent me email wok seasoning instructions along with my order confirmation. So I decided to use that method.
"The wok is carbon steel and has to be seasoned to prevent it from rusting. The seasoning process is relatively easy to do. Just wash and dry your wok thoroughly. Coat lightly, interior and exterior with cooking oil. Bake in hot oven, 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Place in oven upside down. Remove from oven, let cool to touch and scour wok with an abrasive pad. Scour the "seasoning" or patina away...like you want the wok back to its original finish. Wash, dry, coat and bake again...same process. Do this 4 times. After the 4th baking, you will not be able to scour the seasoning away...and that is the result you want."
The Wok had achieved a dark, golden, lacquer like finish. I don't quite know if it's perfect or not, but it seems to have worked. After cooling, I did the typical "pungent" post seasoning cooking. Using about 1 tablespoon of oil, I stir fried ginger and green onions until somewhat charred, making sure to "hit" all of the cooking surface. I cleaned my wok using the basic instructions from The Breath of the Wok. After this session, the wok had started to blacken.
Looks like I'm on my way....... Next we'll see how the wok holds up to the 50,000 BTU Big Kahuna.
Now the shipping for my woks had come to $13, almost the price of a wok. But I didn't mind, since I expect to have these woks for a long time. But I guess The Wok Shop felt bad about this, and included a few items with my woks.
I thought the back scratcher was a nice touch, the Missus was immediately drawn to it. A skimmer was also included, and I also received an email telling me that The Wok Shop was including the skimmer. The last sentence of that paragraph cracked me up:
"This skimmer is durable and will last a long, long, time. Dishwasher safe and boilable! (fyi...great for cat litter too!)"
I'm hoping they aren't expecting the skimmer to do "double-duty" after doing the cat litter thing......
The Wok Shop, fast service, they sound like good people, and they have a sense of humor too!
The day after our visit to the Wat Thai Temple's food court, the Missus asked me to make Pad Thai. The request filled me with a bit of apprehension. You see, first of all, I hadn't made Pad Thai in about 6 years, and have never used the Big Kahuna to make any type of noodles. Also, I must admit, I really don't deal with last minute cooking requests real well.
First of all, I had to find "My" recipe. We used to cook alot more when we lived in Los Angeles, and became obsessed with Pad Thai. Not cooked using any particular recipe, but made to our taste. We must have made at least a dozen versions of these noodles before coming up with something that we enjoyed. Now after all these years, I dug up the crumpled sheet of yellow legal pad paper I wrote the recipe on. What follows, is that recipe, though this version was a bit different, which I'll get into later. And of course a quick trip to 99 Ranch Market was in order.
This time, the Missus wanted Shrimp as the meat for her Pad Thai, so we replaced the Chicken and Dried Shrimp with fresh shrimp. The other item I really feel strange using in Pad Thai is Ketchup, yes, I use Ketchup. I never said it's authentic, it's just the way we like it. Also, we tried to cut out the amount of oil when we originally made Pad Thai, and ended up using low-sodium chicken broth to keep the noodles from sticking to the wok. High heat has made the chicken broth a relic. Amazing what 50,000 BTU's can do! In this case shell and devein 1/3lb shrimp; season with salt and pepper(I added 1 Tb Xiao Sing), and stir fry over high heat:
Also as with any stir-fry, have everything prepped. It's especially important if using high-heat!
Here's my original "crumpled" recipe:
Pad Thai 1/2 lb dried rice noodles - soaked in warm water about 20-30 minutes, drained, cut in half. 1/3 cup chicken broth 2-3 TB oil - most Pad Thai recipes use 1/4-1/2 cup of oil - we get away by using chicken broth to avoid sticking 3 cloves garlic minced 1/4 lb chicken sliced thin and seasoned with S&P and marinated in 1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water for 15 minutes 1/4 lb baked or fried tofu sliced 2 eggs beaten - can use 2whites/1yolk season with S&P 1/4 cups chopped roasted peanuts 1/2 lb bean sprouts 2-3 stalks green onions - green portions cut chinese style, parts of the whites finely sliced 1 lime
Pad Thai Sauce: 3-4TB Brown sugar or Palm sugar 3TB Tamarind Paste - we use dried tamarind and reconstitute it in boiling water into a paste and strain 3 t finely chopped dried shrimp. 2TB Ketchup – Yes, ketchup 5-6TB Fish Sauce - We use Tiparos - you can adjust. Pad Thai tastes best with Tiparos which has almost a caramel fragrance when used. 3-4TB Shoyu 1t(or more) Red Pepper - optional
Head oil and saute garlic and white part of green onion until garlic is light brown. Add some chicken broth to make sure that bottom of wok is covered. Add chicken and tofu, then add egg, let set about 5 seconds and then stir fry until chicken is cooked Add juice from 1/2 of the lime Use broth to keep from sticking as necessary
When chicken is cooked add 1/2 of the bean sprouts, green parts of green onions, and rice noodles and mix
Add sauce and cook for a few minutes until cooked and well mixed - use chicken broth to keep from burning/sticking
Plate Pad Thai, add the rest of bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, place sliced lime wedges around plate. You may also want to garnish with chinese parsley.
The verdict? Well, we've never achieved that bright orange-red color of some of the Pad Thai we've eaten, but it tasted pretty good. In my rush I bought some pretty lousy noodles, but that'll be rectified in future versions.
Whew, I survived Pad Thai! We included some of the Papaya Salad we bought at Wat Thai.