Will this horribly long, dark and snowy evil winter ever end?
I am finally reaching the end of my tolerance for braises and long slow cooking and I am craving bright flavors, scorching heat, fresh tasting, salty things. I've been reading the end of summer blogs in Australia and New Zealand and craving languishing near the grill with only a lemon wedge and some salt to make things complete.
Right around now the only flavours that will make me happy are Asian and I have learned that take-out Asian food never, ever satisfies. Oh sure, it all seems like a good idea, the descriptions are mouth watering, and I might add often amusing, but on the delivery...not so much. Perhaps if we lived in New York, or on the left coast we might get decent Asian food, maybe if I even lived on the other side of the Muddy Charles in the People's Republic of Cambridge, maybe then I could get good take-out. But over here in Newton. Sorry folks, its all a pipe dream. I woke up Saturday with a craving, so books were perused, inventory of ingredients taken and a shopping expedition to nowhere more exotic than Whole Foods was taken and then I settled in with a few tivo'd episodes of United States of Tara and started chopping and mincing and mise en placing.
First I made the Ma po dou fu or Pock-marked Mother Chen's bean curd, since I knew it would benefit from hanging out in the salty and chili-hot sauce reheating it wouldn't be an issue. A block of tofu was cut into 1-inch cubes and rested in just boiled salted water in a bowl on the counter. I rinsed a few tablespoons of fermented black beans. Into the oiled hot wok I tossed some ground beef and stirred it around until it was brown. Into the wok I splogged 3 TBS of the chili paste I had on hand which was Nam Prik Pao, mainly because chef Jan got us all addicted to it and I am never without a jar in the fridge. I sloshed it around, added the fermented black beans and then some chicken stock. Season this to taste with some sugar and soy sauce. Add your tofu which you have drained well and gently, so it doesn't break up, squish it around in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and let it get all flavor filled and happy for awhile. I shut it off and then when we were ready to eat I turned it back on, in went a slurry of cornstarch and water to thicken it slightly and then I added a good sprinkling of szechuan peppercorns that I dry toasted in a hot pan and then ground fine in a spice grinder and a handful of sliced scallions. There are a million ways to make this dish, I just happened to follow Fuchsia Dunlop's method.
I also love her dry fried green beans or Gan Bian Si Ji Dou. Top and tail a bunch of washed green beans. In a smoking hot wok fry up some ground pork and sprinkle it with Shaoxing rice wine and some soy sauce. You can either dry fry your green beans until they get all wrinkly, or since I was already going to be frying something later, I fried my green beans until they wrinkled nicely but still had texture. They were drained and added to the pork and wine and then some sesame oil and maybe a smoodge more soy was added.
Next we headed over to Japan and made an izakaya style nosh of asparagus that has a thinly sliced piece of pork wrapped around and the whole thing is dipped in a tempura batter of flour, baking powder and club soda and then fried tempura style.
I made a gyoza sauce of malt vinegar, sugar, oyster sauce, garlic and chili ground in a mortar and pestle with some salt, some soy sauce and a few dribbles of sesame oil. We used this as a dipping sauce for the asparagus rolls and the tori kara age.
In the fridge I dragged out a few cups of cold rice from the other night and made a sauce of hoisin, tamari, sugar, malt vinegar and sesame oil. Into a hot oiled pan went some minced ginger and garlic, when it was fragrant I tipped in the rice and broke it up so it was individual grains, in went the sauce and a load of chopped scallion.
Tori kara age. When I got home from the store I marinated pieces of chicken thighs for a few hours in soy, sake, sugar, oyster sauce and ginger. I drained it and tossed it with a beaten egg, some cornstarch, a few pinches of oregano and thyme and then it was quickly fried.
Total prep time was about 20 minutes (marinating took a few hours, but it was put together in 10 minutes) cooking time took about 30 minutes. If I got take out from Dining in, delivery time is 1 hour. I assure you, I cant find take out this good in my neighborhood. And now I have the added bonus of leftovers for Monday lunch.