Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Noodles T-Shirt Up for Voting

Do you like food? I'm guessing you probably do since you're reading this blog post. Would you be interested in wearing food? Not literally, but a food themed t-shirt? This is much more palatable than wearing raw meat, anyway. Well, I made my noodle background for my Tumblr blog Will's Plate into a t-shirt design that's up for voting over at Threadless.

Check it out, and if you like it, please give it a high score and share it with others!

You won't be obligated to buy it just by voting, but it doesn't even go up for sale if it doesn't score well with voters.

Thanks in advance!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Technique Tips: Sichuanese Yu Xiang Eggplant

Oh wow, this is how eggplant should be prepared. The two big things I learned this time making braised eggplant were: (1) brining your eggplant makes it cook faster, sear and develop richer flavor more quickly, and absorb less oil, and (2) actually don't stir-fry, but rather keep the skin side away from the wok surface as you sear the eggplant if you want it to stay purple.*

[*Update: hmm, this isn't the whole story--there's something more going on, since when I tried it again, I didn't get quite as good of results. I'll need to try and figure out what's going on.
Also, I tried the microwave technique Kenji mentioned in his piece linked below. Don't do it. The eggplant collapses and dries out too much, turning a little tough and chewy. Stick with the brining.]

Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats has the details on brining your eggplant to extract excess fluid versus other methods (salting, steaming, microwaving, and nothing). Drawing out the extra moisture collapses eggplant's spongy structure, making it so that you don't need so much oil to cook it, and the eggplant also soaks up less oil while cooking.

Where my approach diverged from Kenji's (seems easier than typing/saying Lopez-Alt whenever you want to refer to him) was that he seared his eggplant without regard to the skin, which makes it turn brown as it cooks--which, let me be clear, is totally fine and doesn't affect the flavor at all. But how to keep eggplant purple has been a backburner question of mine for a while now.

The common suggestion is that you have to deep fry eggplant to keep it from turning brown, but it's just not worth it to me to use all that extra oil. I've also read talk of how you have to painstakingly keep the skin from coming into contact with air as it cooks (skin side down in water, weighted with a plate?), but that's probably even more of a pain. I haven't bothered trying it, but it sounds fishy to me, since with deep frying eggplant it's still exposed to air...though I haven't tried the deep fry method either.

But look at this beautiful purple hue! And I didn't deep fry at all!

Basically, what you want to do is sear the eggplant one side at a time, but never on its skin side. You get all the delicious searing and softening of the eggplant still, but it's also gorgeous on the other side. Yes, this is just about presentation.

Anyway, for flavor, the important thing is brining or otherwise drawing out the moisture from your eggplant first before you get to frying and braising. My recipe below, adapted from Kenji's, seems like it's not that different from my previous one, adapted from Grace Yang's, but the brining step actually makes a big difference. Besides what I've discussed above, the shorter searing and cooking time means that it doesn't need to braise for very long either, which means you don't need to add the extra water in my previous recipe for the braising to soften the eggplant. The sauce gets thick quick, and the flavors are just stronger and clearer. This is how I'm making Sichuanese eggplant moving forward.

“Fish Fragrant” Eggplant Yu Xiang Qie Zi

Coarse salt
1 lb. Chinese or Japanese eggplants (about 2 large ones), trimmed, split into quarters lengthwise and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths

3 TBS vegetable (or peanut oil)

3 dried red Chinese chilies, sliced, seeds discarded (or Thai bird chilies, any small hot red chili)
~1-inch knob ginger, minced (about 1 TBS)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tsp)
4 scallions, whites thinly sliced, greens cut into 1/3-inch segments

1½  TBS Sichuanese chili broad bean paste (doubanjiang)

sauce ingredients
2 TBS rice wine for cooking
1 TBS sugar
1 scant TBS soy sauce (gluten-free or tamari)
1 TBS black or chinkiang vinegar (use a not-too-fancy balsamic vinegar in its place if unavailable)
1¼ tsp tapioca starch (or corn starch)

Roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Combine ¼ cup salt with 4 cups water in a large bowl (1 TBS salt per cup of water), stirring to dissolve the salt. Add eggplant pieces, skin-side up, and set aside to soak for at least 10 and up to 20 minutes. If that’s not enough salt water, add more in the same ratio until all your eggplant has exposure to the brine.
  2. In a small bowl, combine rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and black vinegar. Add corn starch and stir until dissolved. Set sauce aside. Drain eggplant and spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Reduce heat to medium add eggplant in a single layer, fleshy side down to sear. Once one side is well browned, flip to the other fleshy side, keeping the skin side up. When the eggplant has softened somewhat, it’s done and you can push it up the side of the wok away from heat, or remove from the wok. Cook eggplant in multiple batches if necessary.
  4. Push cooked eggplant to sides of wok. Return wok to high heat and add ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broad bean paste and stir, about 30 seconds. Give the sauce mixture a stir to mix up the starch that’s settled at the bottom, and pour over the eggplant in the wok.
  5. Cook, tossing constantly, until sauce is thickened, glossy, and coats eggplant, 1 to 3 minutes (if the sauce over-thickens, thin with a few tablespoons of water). Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped cilantro leaves, and serve immediately.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kkakdugi - Radish Kimchi

Hey, I'm finally writing up my radish kimchi (kkakdugi) recipe, as foretold.

We're in the daikon season right now, so there's a lot of really great, fresh daikon at the farmers market. Lots of moisture so the flesh is firm and not squishy as you'll find with older radishes. Also, the flavor is light and can be lightly spicy to even sweet! Great stuff. Not like the bitter funk and harsh spiciness old daikon can have...

Now, daikon isn't traditional for kkakdugi--rather, the Korean radish varietal of the species is. But daikon substitutes in perfectly well and is much easier to find.

I referenced Maangchi's and Marc Matsumoto's recipes in developing mine.


3-4 lbs Korean radish (or daikon), peeled, diced into ¾-inch cubes
2 TBS salt
2 TBS brown sugar

  • Combine diced radish, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and toss well. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Meanwhile, do the prep work for the seasoning ingredients (see below).
  • Once the radish is done dry-brining, drain the juice from the radish into a small bowl.

5-6 cloves garlic
½-inch piece ginger, peeled
¼ cup fish sauce (substitute with soy sauce for a vegetarian version)
½ Asian pear or sweet apple (e.g. fuji, red delicious, etc.), diced roughly
⅓ cup of the radish juice

  • Combine the ingredients above (not the radish) in a food processor and pulse until a thick sauce is formed.

⅔ cup gochugaru (korean chile powder)
4 stalks green onion or 2 stalks leek (tough green portions removed), chopped

  • Add the sauce, gochugaru, and green onion into the large bowl with the radish and toss well, making sure the radish is completely coated on all surfaces.
  • Put all the ingredients into a container with a tight fitting lid*, pressing down on the top of the contents to squeeze out air from between the radish cubes. Pour in as much of the remaining radish juice as needed to fill in the gaps and just cover the radish. Leave the container on the counter at room temperature for 1-3 days to give the fermentation a head start before refrigerating to slow down the process and extend shelf life (and avoid mold). If you put it in the refrigerator right away, the culture doesn’t get a chance to grow enough, and fermentation will be extremely slow in the refrigerator. You can enjoy the kkakdugi immediately, as well as over time as the fermentation proceeds.

* You don’t actually want to seal your container air tight (like with a glass jar and screw-on lid), because as the food ferments, gas is released. Carried too far, your container will explode. Alternatively, you can occasionally open the lid to release gas. I use a Systema Klip It container, which has a rubber lining around the edge of the lid. I put the lid on but don’t clamp it down. This way as gas is released, when the pressure is great enough, the gas will simply escape on its own. Additionally, I’ll lay down some plastic wrap on top of the radish and press down, just to limit the air in contact with the radish, again to avoid mold. I don’t plastic wrap to airtightness, though, and leave it open around the edges for the reasons stated above.

What do you do with the savory fermenting sauce that's left behind? You can make kimchi fried rice with it! Or kimchi soups and stews! Or as a savory and punchy flavor base for anything you want.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Streaming My Cooking Consciousness

I’m starting a Tumblr blog for my cooking and food musings since I’ve long liked the simple, abbreviated posting that Tumblr encourages. I’ll often come across something, an article, a dish, or make something that I don’t feel like merits writing a full blog post on. But I like the flexibility Tumblr offers over the super terse Twitter posts. Just right for what I’m looking for, I think.

For the time being, I’ll keep my recipe posts here on Escapades. We’ll see how things evolve, but you can check it out over at Will's Plate!

I'm also going to start another Tumblr blog analogously named "Fail's Plate", too, for short posts about the inevitable fails I have when experimenting. Really struggled between that and "Failscapades". I think it can be even more helpful to hear from people what not to do and why, rather than just what to do to get a certain result. Should be fun and educational. :)

Happy holidays, everyone, and see you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heavenly Duo: Fried Smelt and Kimchi Fried Rice

This is really eclectic, but a really great harmony of flavors. Pictured above is fried smelt on the right, dredged in corn starch, salt, and white pepper, drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and a bit of sliced chiles, and kimchi fried rice on the left (and some steamed broccoli tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, but that's not what we're here to talk about).

I know, not super commonly seen together, but if you've got a chance, trying pairing them--their flavors sing together! Something about the rich oiliness of small fry smoothly marries with the stronger kimchi flavors.

A fried egg on kimchi fried rice is fantastic, too, but y'all probably already know that. Similarly, the rich smoothness of the egg blends with the stronger kimchi flavors really well. I'll be writing up my kkakdugi (radish kimchi, and from whence this kimchi fried rice eventually came), probably next.

I went through the trouble of gutting the smelt (it's really easy), but noticed the guts looked like eggs--and they were! D'oh! I should've just left the heads on and eaten them whole! Totally was going to do it from the get-go, but the recipes I saw all seemed to have the smelt gutted and beheaded. Should've stuck with my Asian instincts. Next time, time.