Sunday, December 3, 2017

Niu Rou Mian Yong Kang Style

I've heard of this soup before and I'd been surfing through Strictly Dumpling channel on YouTube where he has a couple of different videos about Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup.

First up, his video of Yong Kang and two other places. The Yong Kang soup is well known for its quality and affordability.

He has two other related videos. A beef noodle tour in two parts  and a video recipe for how he makes this at home. His recipe seems influenced by the Saveur recipe I used and discuss below, but he does a number of things differently. He also includes potato because he likes potato. 

The Yong Kang style appealed to me and looked to be worth trying. I'm following the Saveur recipe for this blog post, which makes a lot of soup. Well, followed it as much as I could. I had some sourcing difficulties with the beef shank.

My local asian grocer had boneless beef shank, but it seemed to me that bones were an important part of the flavor. So I ended up mixing the marrow bones with the boneless shank. 

As with Strictly Dumpling's recipe, it starts with bringing the beef parts to a boil to help remove extra scum from the stock. 

While that was coming to the boil, I filled a larger pot with the onion, garlic, pepper corns, tomato, star anise and chiles and ginger. Then topped with the "rinsed" beef. 

The pot is very full. Soon, a really interesting aroma of ginger and spiced tomato came from the pot. It was quite appealing. The tomato gave up color to the stock fairly quickly.

Simmering now. Savuer instructs to use a sort of poaching method I've usually seen for chicken in Chinese cuisine. After an hour at a simmer, take the pot off the heat, cover and let stand for an hour. Jeff Smith does this for his poached chicken, though in that case you only bring the water and chicken to a boil, then let stand covered for an hour. 

Well, it wasn't enough. The shank was still quite tough. Now collagen (gristle) breaks down into flavorful juice at 180 degrees. This is the secret of the plateau when smoking pork shoulder or when you're making a pot roast. At 160, that meat is tough and hard and dry. But you get up into the 185 range and the meat is tender and moist when you use tough cuts. I took the shank's temperature, and it was 186. But this is more than regular gristle. It borders on cartilage or tendon.

Now it could also be that my simmer isn't hot enough for the recipe as tested at Saveur. I'm cooking at 5000 feet elevation so my boiling point is only 202 F. It needed more cooking time. I gave it another hour at the simmer.  You'll see I've got better fat rendering as well. 

Remove the solids, reserve the meat, strain the stock. Saveur's instructions on seasoning the stock are weak. Between sugar, soy sauce and black vinegar, you can tilt this a lot of different ways. 

Break up the meat into your desired chunks. Shank has a lot of interior tendon/gristle that gives that slippery but chewy mouth feel that Chinese love. Meanwhile, boil up your noodles and blanch some baby bok choy.  Assemble your bowl. I'm using a lot less noodle than is traditional judging by the videos and photos. But that's just too much noodle for me. 

Add the broth and enjoy. Have some extra soy, vinegar and sriracha at the table. I added four drops of sriracha. 

Yes, this is pretty good soup. I'm tempted to compare it pho but it's a rather different approach and result. This is richer and heartier than pho. I like the stronger flavored vegetable accompaniment in this soup too to give you some contrast to the richness. 

But there are some other variations and instructions to consider. At the second place in the opening video, they offer a chile bean paste at the table as a condiment. Cathy Erway uses chile bean paste in her stock for her version of this soup in her book The Food of Taiwan: Recipes from the Beautiful Island. She changes some other things as well in ways that I think are worth considering besides recommending three hours of cooking. Saveur went with a lot of black pepper corns, probably because it was an ingredient their readership could readily source. Cathy uses sichuan pepper corns in a lesser amount. And more rice wine and the bean paste as noted. 

Having made Savuer's recipe, I'm now more interested in Cathy's version. As a compromise, I added some bean paste to the leftover broth I still have from Savuer's recipe as that's the biggest difference I think. Simmer that for a bit for the flavors to work.   Visibly there was little difference beyond some floating chile flakes. But the flavor was more full as well and better balanced. Do use the bean paste.

Layla Fries (Za'atar Fries)

A local restaurant, Layla's, serving middle eastern food is where I first encountered a za'atar seasoned french fry.  On the menu, they're referred to as Layla Fries. There's a number of recipes for a za'atar fry on the net and it's not really a complicated thing to do. At Layla's, the potatoes are fried a little darker than is common for a french fry and the fries are served with a fabulous harissa-spiked toum.

Some definitions:

Za'atar A blend of herbs and spices common throughout the Levant. Wild variants of thyme, marjoram, sesame seed and savory and often some sumac. It varies some by region and even by household.

Harissa A hot chile paste of North Eastern Africa. You can find jars or cans at most middle eastern grocers even though its not traditional to those cuisines.

Toum A form of aioli from the Levant.

One of the things I do differently is to bake the "fries". It's lower fat, and less hassle for home cooks generally. This method works pretty well with Extra Virgin Olive Oil so you get some of that flavor if you want. Because the oil is applied to the potato, which is full of water, the olive oil is buffered from the high heat and doesn't lose all of its flavor.

Another is for the toum. To make toum from scratch, which is certainly the best toum, makes quite a bit, most of which I end up wasting. Regular commercial mayonnaise substitutes very poorly as the base for toum. It's too tangy, too sweet, too whipped. But being an Asian focused food blog, I have Kewpie Mayonnaise in my refrigerator too. And Kewpie Mayonnaise is denser, less whipped and not as acidic. It works pretty well as a stand in for the mayo-like component of toum with a little doctoring. Allegedly, Kewpie is made with rice vinegar. Toum is made with fresh lemon juice and  a little splash of fresh lemon juice brings Kewpie Mayonnaise into the right flavor profile.

Specific amounts for the fries will vary with the size of potatoes you use and how you cut them. So the recipe will include lots of "as needed" and "to taste". For the photos show here, I used three medium-large potatoes and two sheet pans for baking them. Russets are my preference in a french fry though Yukon Golds are good for this too.

Peel and slice your potatoes into french fry shapes, lengthwise.  3/16" on a side and as long as you can get them is what works best.  Thinner potatoes crisp up on the surface and are soft inside. Larger fries are harder to bake evenly and often end up mushy and limp.

Heat the oven to 425. Arrange racks to the center. If you're using two baking sheets, arrange racks as close low center and upper center as you can. Swap the pans on the racks halfway through cooking.

Rinse and drain the potatoes to remove excess surface starch. I like to spin the rinsed potatoes in my salad spinner to dry them well.

In a large bowl, toss the fries with oil, about 2 teaspoons per potato. If you cut your fries larger, it will take less oil as there's less surface area to coat.  I used a Spanish Extra Virgin olive oil, but canola or plain vegetable oil  will work fine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Using a parchment sheet or silicone liner guarantees good release and you can use a little less oil as well.  Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet so they don't touch. This helps them cook evenly.

Bake them 15-20 minutes, then toss them to move the bottom side to the top as much as possible for even cooking. Switch the pan positions if baking two pans.

Bake another 10 - 15 minutes. if using two pans, combine fries on to one pan. Set the oven to broil. Broil the fries until they have brown spots, and toss to expose less cooked areas of the potatoes. Repeat until the potatoes are to you liking.

Season with za'atar, sumac generously and some salt. Toss the potatoes to coat evenly, repeating the seasoning as needed. Be generous with the za'atar and sumac.

While the potatoes are baking, prepare the harissa accented toum.

1/4 cup Kewpie Mayonnaise
1 large clove of garlic minced to a paste
1-2 teaspoons  fresh lemon juice.
1/2-1 teaspoon harissa using more or less to taste

Mix in the lemon juice and harissa in small additions tasting between each addition. In the photo, I'm adding the first dose of harissa to the Kewpie Mayonaisse.

If you're reading this from Utah, it will look like a pale fry sauce when you're done.

At the table. I grant you that sauted zuchinni, hot dog and fries is a little bit odd for a combination, but it was a birthday meal request. The toum is in the small ramekin for dipping.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Brisket: Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja is traditionally a Cuban dish, but it's a good set up for tacos as well. It's especially well suited to pressure cooking because you cook the onions separately towards the end so they retain their character. Onions in the pressure cooker break down into mush. And while there are times that's what you want, just not in this dish.

Trim excess fat and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Season, brown in the pressure cooker or cooking pot.

As I'm going to use these for tacos, my seasoning is tilted Mexican rather than Cuban.

Add liquid, pressure cook on 15 lbs pressures for 50 minutes. Quick release. Liquid will have reduced.  Or bring to a boil and simmer for 2  to 2 1/2 hours until very tender.  Just before the meat is done, you can prep your onions, garlic
chiles and such. 

Remove the meat from the liquid, reserve the liquid.

Shred the meat. You can break it apart easily with your fingers or some forks. A potato masher is good too. If using some powered aids is more your style then the plastic dough blade in a food processor works well in small batches. Don't use a sharp metal blade as it will cut too finely. The plastic blade just beats it apart along the fibers. You can do the same thing in a stand mixer with the paddle or dough hook. 

Meanwhile, start sauteing the onions and chiles. When the onions have softened, add the garlic. Stir, then add the tomato

Add the shredded meat and reserved liquid. Let simmer a few minutes for flavors to blend. 

Toast corn tortillas on a cast iron comal or skillet. 

Add your toppings. i like to add the cheese first so it has some time melt. Sour cream, salsa, cabbage round out my taco toppings. 

And one that is better constructed, but not any tastier.  If you're wondering about the disparity in plates, the picture above is from a trip at my brother's place and the one below is with leftovers from the same batch at home. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Chirashi is a rice bowl. More specifically it's Chirashi-Sushi building a rice bowl from sushi style ingredients. It's a simpler proposition compared to assembling and rolling sushi. In traditional Japanese cuisine, Chirashi is more structured than what I'm describing. But the concept has deep versatility.

Simply layer in your preferred ingredients. This one was based on Spam Musubi, fried pieces of spam glazed in a teriyaki sauce. 

Simply layer in your preferred ingredients. While I list some below, those lists aren't the only possibilities. In the picture above, it was based on Spam Musubi, fried pieces of spam glazed in a teriyaki sauce; cucumber, julienne carrot, avocado, nori and furikake. But there is a broad range of things that can and do work well. 

Sushi rice, cooked and seasoned

Vegetable choices
  • Wilted spinach
  • Cucumber in small chunks
  • Carrot sliced or julienne
  • Green onion, chopped
  • Sauted onion
  • Fried garlic slices, use a vegetable peeler, fry briefly until it barely changes color
  • Bamboo shoots, sliced or julienne

Protein Choices
  • Any sushi grade fish as for regular sushi
  • Shrimp
  • Asian roast port
  • Asian omelet or boiled egg slices
  • teriyaki chicken or salmon
  • Spam, as above
  • Tofu
  • Mushrooms
  • Tobiko

  • Shredded Nori (cut it with scissors, much easier than with a knife)
  • Furikake

Sauce Ideas

Not every bowl of chirashi needs sauce but you'll want to match your sauce to your ingredients when you do use a sauce. 
  • If I used a teriyaki flavored meat, I'd use teriyaki sauce. 
  • For eel, eel sauce. 
  • For roast pork, a blend of hot Asian mustard and some soy sauce.  
  • Thai Sweet Chili Sauce is pretty versatile
  • Wasabi Mayonnaise or Wasabi Cream
  • Sriracha Mayonnaise
  • Wasabi -- while many would mix wasabi and soy that's not my personal preference. I'd drizzle some soy on the dish and pickup a bit of wasabi on my chopstick or fork by the bite. 
Give your assembled bowl a mix and enjoy. I admit, I often break down and use a fork for eating chirashi. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuna on Toast with Furikake

Except for Furikake, the heading is pretty obvious what this is about.

Furikake is a savory seasoning usually based in dried seafood, sesame, nori and some other things that vary from type to type.

In the US, the most commonly available type is Nori Komi Furikake

Even Walmart usually has it.

Most often it is used as a rice seasoning and sometimes with sushi. In addition to the Nori Komi Furikake there are many other varieties from the same maker. I like the Kimchi, and Katsuo from JFC and there are many I still need to try.  And I have a Shrimp based one from a different maker I like a lot too.

But it's a nice simple addition to a tuna sandwich as well. Mix your tuna with mayonnaise to taste. It's most versatile to let each person season their sandwich to their own taste, and prettier too I think. Season to taste and enjoy.

tuna sandwich with furikake

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Buying and Using a Whole Beef Brisket

Beef prices have climbed strongly over the last couple of years. In the few months I spent compiling parts of this brisket series, the price per pound has gone up over a dollar.

A trimmed flat or point of brisket will cost 6-7 dollars per pound or even more. A chuck roast probably more as well.  Buying a whole packer of brisket (includes the point and flat as one large piece) runs @2.50-3.68 per pound over the course of these posts. Finding a whole brisket is a little trickier, but Walmart has had them fairly consistently and at a good price.

You can trim the fat down to about 1/4 inch layer and cook it a variety of ways. Smoking the whole brisket is popular of course. You can pot roast in the Yiddish Gantze Tzimmes style or any other you like. On Big Bang Theory, when Howard Wolowitz speaks of his mother's brisket, Gantze Tzimmes is one possibility of what he means.

But more likely, you'll want to butcher your brisket further, at least down into the point and flat cuts and remove as much fat as you like along the way. I often trim it all the way down to the meat if I'm not smoking it. There's enough interstitial marbling for good flavor as it is.

Separating the point and the flat

The first post of Brisket Butchering 101 is a good guide to this with helpful pictures. You basically follow a seam of fat between the point and the flat. And trim off the fat cap to your desired thickness.   A sharp knife 5-7 inches long is a good tool for this. A Boning knife would be good too.  In BB101 guide link above, notice that the point is much coarser in texture and less evenly shaped. For these reasons the flat is more popular. You may also see that the grain of the flat and the point don't run in the same direction so carving a whole brisket for service can be a little tricky to get optimal texture.

Char Broil has a helpful video on Youtube as well. In this video, he carves out the majority of the fat between the flat and point, but leaves it otherwise intact for smoking in one piece.

And here is a packer brisket I picked up at Walmart.

Just start cutting away excess fat until you find the meat. I prefer to work in shallow strokes of a sharp knife, using mostly the tip. You can see the successive cuts in the flap of fat I'm pulling on. 

Follow the contours of the meat pulling away the fat to expose the junction of meat and fat. The knife will follow the seam pretty naturally. 

Notice here how the grain of the point and flat run at angles to each other. 

Eventually you'll reach the other side of the meat slab and just trim things off. 

The Flat, finer grained and of a more even shape and thickness, this is often the preferred cut for a corned beef.

The Point is coarser grained and thick at the pointed end and thinner on the flared end.

The fat trimmed from this brisket, 6 pounds worth. Even after the fat loss,  the price per pound of the remaining meat was a bit over $5.00. Buying a trimmed brisket would probably still have a pound of fat  to trim. As you can see above, I left no fat cap. So I save some money and some fat consumption by trimming it out myself. And you can too.

Up next, I'll post some things you can do with parts of brisket.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Simple Asian Slaws

Salads aren't really common in China though the concept is picking up. Frankly, the safety of raw vegetables wasn't very good historically speaking. While the green head cabbage common in the West isn't part of historic Asian cuisine, they had a range of its relatives and mustards. Still, green cabbage is a versatile and inexpensive vegetable and I like it. It works in most places the celery cabbage or Napa cabbage would be used more traditionally.

When cooking Chinese on a weeknight, there's not usually much time to prepare a vegetable if you're stir-frying the protein or your wok is otherwise occupied. This is when knowing how to season up some simple sliced cabbage, carrots and onions is a handy thing.

Nuoc Cham

Nuoc Cham is one way. I do this more for accompanying a steamed fish dish as I like how the lime plays to the cilantro and fish.

For speed, dress the slaw with nuoc cham to taste just before serving. For better flavor and texture, dress it early and let it stand refrigerated a couple of hours, stirring now and then. Just before serving, pour off the dressing and accumulated liquid from the vegetables. Dress again, using a bit less nuoc cham to account for what was absorbed.

If you're going to use nuoc cham, don't do a salted drain period with the slaw vegetables. Because fish sauce is so salty, it's best not use salt to wilt and drain the vegetables before hand.

Chinese Salad Dressing

There are a number of variations on this out there, and even some good commercially bottled dressings. This is a simple one to mix together and is easy to scale up or down as needed. This one is close to one by Nina Simonds, but modified by myself under the influence of Mai Leung's cookbooks. This works well measured in teaspoons or tablespoons for a triple batch. Just depends how much you need.

4 light soy sauce (not lite or low sodium)
3 rice vinegar
2 toasted sesame oil
1.5 sugar
1 dark soy sauce

Combine and mix until the sugar is dissolved. This one doesn't emulsify well, just stir before pouring.  It's good on many vegetables or salads. I'm particularly fond of it on sliced cucumber with a little chopped green onion. It's also a welcome dip for a hot pot.

Because I use Ve Wong XO soy sauce which is low in sodium naturally, I can salt the slaw vegetables to wilt and drain off their liquid. Otherwise, it's as with the nuoc cham where it would be too salty.

Spicy Red Dressing

I first encountered this in  Yong Yap Cotterell's Chinese Cooking for Pleasure as the flavored base for Sichuan Chicken Cakes. Shortly after seeing this there, I came across Lexington Slaw which is a pretty similar concept.  It's surprisingly simple, basically spiced up ketchup. Yong Yap just used ketchup and dried chile flakes.

Ratios suggested below are a broad guideline. Start small and increase the amounts to taste. Dress it very lightly.

10 parts Ketchup
1 part Sriracha (Huy Fong will work fine, but Shark is better if you can find it)

Prior to mixing:

After mixing:

As cabbages and such are not uniform in size and people's preference for heat varies widely, it's best to assemble this to taste. Start lightly with ketchup, a 1/4 cup will dress quite a bit of cabbage. Similarly, sriracha gets hot fast so start with a small amount, mix it in and taste. Continue adding ketchup and sriracha in small amounts until the balance is to your liking.

This is the slaw I served with the Hoisin Simmered Strips.