For decades, I have enjoyed the highly addictive salt and pepper shrimp at Chicago’s Moon Palace. For the uninitiated, salt and pepper is a style of Chinese cooking where the food is crispily fried, tossed in a spice mixture, then combined with sauteed garlic, onion, ginger, and hot peppers. It’s a preparation I long and crave for like some people do sweets. There’s something absolutely magical about the combination of sharp, pungent, and salty flavors with crunchy textures. And if you are into that, then Moon Palace is the place to be. Their menu boasts of at least ten different salt and pepper preparations to choose ranging from tofu, squid to my second all-time favorite, salt and pepper pork chops. …
Every Fall I start to crave a steaming bowl of mussels. Mainly because most of my favorite mussel recipes are a comforting cross between a soup and a hearty hot meal. I started out desperately wanting to make Mouclade, a curried mussel dish that originated in the French port city of La Rochelle but ended up with a more Asian feeling bowl of turmeric ginger mussels. In some ways, curry and mussels sound weird together, but the flavor combination is off the hook, especially when backed by coconut milk and hot chili peppers.
I was craving for the comfort that only a good glass of wine and a soothing bowl of brothy braised meat could provide for me to combat the chilling effects of a late Fall Pacific Northwest drizzle. I couldn’t decide which to eat, so I settled on both: a batch of oxtail pho and a classic French ‘pot au feu’, France’s version of a boiled beef dinner.
I arranged all the ingredients on my counter and began cooking. I came to the quick realization that both were very similar; each dish featured meats being braised for long periods of time with similar spicing, the main difference seemed to be how each culture finished their dish. The Vietnamese serve with basil. mint, bean sprouts and rice noodles while the French with potatoes, cabbage, and root vegetables. …
General Tso’s chicken did not preexist in Hunanese cuisine,but originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty.
– Chef Peng Chang-kuei
Lisa and I just finished watching the fascinating documentary “In Search of General Tso’s Chicken”. I found it so interesting not so much for the study into the origins of one of America’s most iconic ‘Chinese’ dishes, but because it confirmed my long held belief of why American Chinese food is so damned sweet. Chinese immigrants realized we Americans have a cultural sweet tooth and add copious quantities of sugar to our food to make it loved. The issue and reasonings are far more in depth and complex, but will also shed a lot of light on the story of Chinese immigration in America. The persecution Chinese immigrants were subjected to relates a recurring storyline in America that has happened with many different ethnic group. In some ways, it could be the story of Muslims today.
The side effect of watching was I went on an all out Chinese food marathon shortly after. One dish I ‘created’ was a take on General Tso’s chicken. Perhaps Chef Peng Chang-kuei, the man credited with creating General Tso’s Chicken, would be rolling in his grave if he knew of my spin on his classic Hunanese dish. I couldn’t help it, all the ingredients were just sitting around at my house waiting to be part of something epic.
It’s a good thing that dumplings are small because Lee Anne’s goodies will make your willpower vanish as you reach for ‘just one more’. ~ Roger Mooking, Musician and Celebrity Chef
True confession. I have two massive obsessions in life, collecting cookbooks and eating dumplings. Both started sometime early in my adolescence and only intensified as I aged and cured. The limits of how far I would travel for either knows no boundaries and certainly there is no excess too great in order to obtain just one more. I attribute both of their roots directly to my dearly departed father Real. He was a classicist with an unbridled passion for literature and books combined with a mastery of language unmatched. He learned to speak, read and write fluently in Chinese and Arabic in less than two years through an aggressive immersion deep into their native cultures. Well, at least as immersed as one could be based in Chicago.
The Arabic Years
The ‘Arabic Years’ were spent sharing plates of kibbeh, hummus and pickled turnips in the smoke-filled dingy back rooms with Lebanese taxi drivers teaching my father the finities of street Arabic between fares. During the ‘Chinese Years’, we visited many dim sum palaces in search of truth and enlightenment deep within the often hidden, underground populations of Chicago’s two Chinatowns. My father’s unabashed penchant for answering anyone who looked Chinese in perfect Chinese opened many secret doorways to hidden worlds of immigrants largely out of view from the general American public.
It was in the skilled hands of Chef Jimmy of Moon Palace that I experienced my first real profound dumpling revelation, a moment in time I can and will never forget.
Sous-vide (/suːˈviːd/; French for “under vacuum”) is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times (usually 1 to 6 hours, up to 48 or more in some select cases) at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 to 60 °C (131 to 140 °F) for meat and higher for vegetables. The intent is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture. –Wikipedia
True confession: I am a closet sous vider. I come from the last of the old guard that rejected sous vide in favor of more classical techniques. I was first exposed to sous viding when I did a stage for Joel Robuchon in Paris in 1996. He had a pork belly dish I vividly remember, the ultimate Petit salé aux lentilles, a melt in your mouth dish of cured pork belly served over creamy lentils. Petit salé is far too bourgeois for most diners of a three star Michelin restaurant and I am convinced the dish was not actually on the menu but there only for gastronomic regulars in the know. Each morning at Robuchon a plastic tub was filled with warm water and a strange device attached. The machine gently hummed while vacuum-packed bags of cured pork belly were lowered in. All throughout prep and service, the machine circulated water heated to a precise temperature around the packets. It felt like Christmas whenever someone ordered it. Time stopped. Everyone’s attention was fixated on the opening of that one single package and I always wondered who was on the other side of the swinging kitchen doors eating it. Since then, every “modern” kitchen I have worked in had at least one such circulator.
Finally, companies like Anova are making this extraordinary technology affordable and within reach for home cooks to use.
Sweet, delicious Dungeness crab is always a treat. – Tom Douglas
A lot of people asked what I did with my Dungeness crabs Patricia Edwards, from Linda Brand Crab, graciously gave me at the Portland Farmer’s Market last Saturday. I was in the mood for Asian flavors and decided upon doing a take on salt and pepper crab. It quickly escalated to a sizzling rice version done as a soup….