Sunday, October 30, 2011

蚵仔煎 Oyster Omelette!

Might be the best thing ever.

蚵仔煎 ô-á-chian, oyster omelette, is a very Taiwanese dish, and a very popular one, at that. If you find yourself in Taiwan, look for it at the night markets! While it pretty much is an oyster omelette, there are a couple things that are somewhat specific to the dish and set it apart from Western omelettes:
  1. The gooey, sticky layer made with potato starch and/or other starches (awesome!).
  2. The spicy/savory sauce (though I bet this would be great with Western omelettes, too).
  3. The green, leafy vegetable, which is traditionally supposed to be A菜 a cai.

Huh, funny thing about a cai, I didn't realize it was literally spelled with an "A" in Taiwan, not having tried shopping for it in Taiwan before. Here's a pic of a cai being harvested. Spinach is a popular substitute in the US, but I find its limpness and lack of substance in the omelette unsatisfying. Bok choi is another possibility... I went for chard recently, and found it to do pretty well when cut into smallish pieces. The crisp texture of the cooked stem portions is a nice contrast with the gooey starch and soft oysters.

Another point: what, I said gooey, sticky "layer" but you've generally had it all mixed together, like a frittata? Well, yeah, I don't think it has to be done one way or the other. However, I think it's better when the vegetables, oyster/starch, egg layers are separate. It looks neater, but also then you have the layers distinct before merging in your mouth. And yes, it's a little more difficult if you want to keep them separate. Man, it definitely took me a number of tries before finding a good approach. I went through two other recipes and more messing around, all with meh-to-mediocre results, before finding this relatively simple recipe with the golden technique tip! Brilliant! From there, it was some more tweaking to make the flavor better. Don't forget the white pepper! I find it accentuates the oysters nicely. My recipe:

Oyster Omelette 蚵仔煎

4 oz. frozen small-sized oysters (defrosted)

3 TBS sweet potato starch
1.5 TBS tapioca starch
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 tsp salt
dash of white pepper
1 stalk green onion, diced

1.5 TBS oil
1 cup green leafy vegetables (A a cai is ideal, otherwise try chard, bok choy, spinach, or other), cut into small pieces
1 or 2 eggs

Sriracha sauce and soy paste (a thick, salty-sweet soy sauce), or other sauce(s)

1.     Add the oysters, the starches, water, salt, white pepper, and green onion to a mixing bowl. Stir gently until the starch has dispersed.
2.     Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat and oil until shimmering.
3.     Stir the oyster mixture so that the starch is suspended in the liquid rather than gathered at the bottom and pour the mixture into the skillet. Spread it out evenly to cover the bottom of the skillet.
4.     Add the vegetables on the top of the mixture as it cooks.
5.     Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without stirring, until the underside turns light golden brown.
6.     Fold the omelette in half, exposing half of the wok, and crack one egg over the exposed wok. Break the yolk and stir, then unfold the omelette onto the egg. Repeat for the other side if desired. Cook for another 2 minutes until egg is light brown.
7.     Flip the whole omelette over so that the egg side is facing up. Cook for another 2 minutes until the omelette is done.
8.     Serve on a plate with sriracha and soy paste.

This is with the one-egg approach found in Taiwanese Cooking blog's recipe. Neat in that it shows the insides as well.

One last note: yes, my approach with the sauces looks more like what they do with Japanese okonomiyaki (which is another fantastic dish), crossing the mayonnaise with the okonomiyaki sauce. Generally with oyster omelette they just pour a copious amount of red sauce on top.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pho Sho

That is the name of an actual Pho restaurant, Pho Sho, and quite possibly more than one. Seen any good ones? There are plenty out there, both laugh and face-palm inducing.

But pho is fantastic--if you've not had it, get thee to a pho-ery. It's also a long and time consuming soup to make. [between this and the ramen last time, what am I doing?] But I got it in my head that I should try making pho, found a good recipe by Andrea Nguyen, finally had a chance to hit up the Chinese/Pan-Asian supermarket, and off I went. Part of what appealed to me about Nguyen's recipe was her use of a technique I've not tried before: charring. She has charred onions and ginger as key ingredients for the pho broth, and lucky me, I've got a gas stove in my apartment so I was able to try doing it! Though, apparently, you can char with an electric stove, too, so that's not an obstacle for everyone with electric stoves. In fact, if you can deal with the extra step of lifting your cooking vessel off the stove top if you need to quickly reduce heat, electric stoves actually transfer heat to your pots/pans faster than do gas stoves (though the coils themselves aren't as hot as the flames themselves). However, electric stoves take longer to heat up and cool down to where you want them to be.

Totally unsure what I was doing, target results not quite clear in the directions, but it turned out alright. I didn't even set off a fire alarm. Though, if you can char on an electric stove, I wonder why charring has to be done over radiant heat rather than just, say, on a skillet? I suppose with a skillet it's mostly the contact points that get the heat, whereas the radiant heat has a broader area of effect.

Softened and fragrant.

As for the results, the flavor of the broth was excellent and full-bodied. Nguyen chides people who suggest diluting their beef broth, saying you've worked so hard to render it, why dilute? However, I found that her recipe made a lot less broth than advertised (I may add some water in as the broth boils down over the hours, next time) and that dilution with some chicken stock actually worked out very well. The pho broth doesn't need to be so rich, in my opinion. Though, if I add some extra water in during the rendering, maybe dilution before serving won't be necessary.

To cook the raw beef slices on top, you pour scalding hot broth over the top of the noodles and beef just before serving. I don't know, though; I found that my soup ended up warm, but not hot like it is in restaurants. I bet they preheat their bowls...maybe they don't do a cold rinse of the noodles to stop the cooking...I also probably just loaded up with too much beef and noodles, ha.

The real treats, though, are the tendon and marrow that come with the bones used in the broth! If you're not too freaked out by the thought of eating tendon and/or marrow, you should try them some time. Done correctly (i.e. cooked for a long time), tendon is, well, tender. Marrow is very rich. Probably too rich for my taste (as are crab innards). But what about the cholesterol in marrow, you say? Well fear not: it turns out that it's not dietary cholesterol, but rather saturated and trans fats that have big effects on blood cholesterol levels--unless you're part of the unfortunate 30% susceptible to dietary cholesterol. This was a shocker for me, too; eggs have been exonerated. On the other hand, I think marrow may also have a lot of saturated fat in it..

Anyway, too much rambling from me. Back to work. And here's the link to Andrea Nguyen's recipe again. Be sure to check out her basic tips, linked on her recipe page.

The thigh bones, with their marrow mostly cooked out. You can see the piece of brown marrow inside the bone at top right.

Wow. That's a lot of fat. Don't skim all of it off, though! Fat's where richness in the soup comes from. I kept about a third of it. If you are so inclined, you could use the fat in other dishes, too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoyu Ramen 醤油ラーメン

[UPDATE: see my excellent recipe for shoyu ramen here!]

If your only experience with ramen is the college-undergrad-cuisine-associated instant ramen, then you must seek out a good non-instant ramen in a restaurant specializing in ramen some time to taste its inspiration. For your taste buds' sake. It's dawned on me that when I'm talking about "ramen" with people, sometimes we're not actually talking about the same thing.

Really good ramen is tough to find in the US, but it can be found. And when it is, the lines are horrendous--a good indication of the quality of the food, but bad for the time- and food-starved. What to do? Make it at home?? It turns out, making ramen broth is very time consuming and rarely done at home. Furthermore, as Marc Matsumoto and my friend Sawa note, recipes from restaurants are jealously guarded secrets for both the noodles and the broth. Looking through the recipes people have posted online, you'll notice wide variation in approach.

Long and complicated process? Japanese people don't even make it at home? Oh hell, let's do it. Eye's on the prize. I've actually tried making shoyu ramen (shoyu meaning soy sauce, referring to the broth, which is a pork and chicken broth with soy sauce) a couple times before, based on another recipe, but found the results unsatisfactory. For this attempt, I tried the recipe that Sawa translated and posted, which was quite good. I will say, though, that you're left with a ton of concentrated pork-soy sauce broth at the end (which you can use to cook other things). I'll probably play with the approach next time, making the stewing soup more dilute with water or chicken stock. This way you don't need quite so much chicken stock or water to dilute the soy sauce broth with at the end. On the other hand, you can always cook other things with the extra soy sauce broth, as well as the other side products from the process (pork broth, lard--though I got very little for some reason, and pork-soy sauce broth), which Sawa gives suggestions for.

I'll try for tonkotsu ramen (pork bone ramen soup, which is much richer thanks to the bone stewing--that's where all your meat stocks come from, if you weren't aware) some's my favorite.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Fried Rice Interlude

I've figured out how it is that restaurants always have adequately dried, cooked rice on hand to make fried rice!

In my previous post on fried rice, you'll note that I talk about the refrigerating-your-rice method. For restaurants, though, it wouldn't seem to make much sense to use precious cubic footage and electricity keeping refrigerators full of rice ready to go for whenever an order comes up. This is conjecture, but: no, rather, things work out for them to use their rice straight out of their (industrial sized) rice cookers because they have to have rice ready to serve during their hours of being open. Rice slowly dries out as it's "keeping warm" in a rice cooker. In fact, it dries out very nicely for use in fried rice--and is often too dry eaten as steamed rice. The other thing is that they seem to use medium to long grain rice more commonly in restaurants rather than short grain, which is more moist and sticky.

I realized this recently when I used some rice that'd been sitting in the rice cooker for a day or two to make fried rice. (One of my roommates cooks exorbitant amounts of rice at one time and then just abandons it to sit in the cooker or in the refrigerator...)

Actually, Patricia Tanumihardja at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook has a good summary of tips for great fried rice on her blog. I agree with all her points, though I hadn't thought of the "blazing hot wok" one. And I always eat short grain rice, so I don't ever have medium to long grain rice on hand. [EDIT: and by short grain, I mean medium grain. ;) Checked my bag of rice which is the brand I usually buy.]

Back to my usual, pictured posting, soon to come-

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Traditional" || "Tilapia Sinigang"

I'll just put it out upfront: this post is going to be disjointed. There's a link I've been meaning to post for some time now but haven't had a good opportunity, and won't for some time, so I'll just do it now.

I stumbled on this blog a while ago, and it looks like a fantastic resource for Traditional Chinese Recipes--which is also the name of the blog. He really seems to know what he's doing. He also has a really good bit on traditional versus "authentic" as well as mapping out how "Chinese food" in America came to be greasy-stir-fried-mixed-things. I completely agree with him (I had a little paragraph against obsession with "authenticity" in one of my earlier posts) and am glad now to have the word "traditional" to use instead of "authentic". Hmm, it looks like the author, John Sinclair aka "Chef Wang", might self-identify as being Chinese more than White American. I wonder why he's "Chef Wang"... In any case, I'm definitely planning on trying out some of his recipes.

--abrupt transition--

Yeah, I'm not even going to try to swing a transition.

I find that bad recipes annoy me, but this one--well, the terrible recipe that made me develop the recipe that made this dish--was particularly annoying. Probably because for some reason it had 4.5/5 stars averaged over many reviews, but was really bad, in taste and technique, both. I just can't understand why it was rated so highly (and I'm assuming no foul play). The recipe was for tilapia sinigang, which is a Filipino sour soup with tilapia in this case. The soup was just sour and thin, lacking body and any savoriness like it should have. And what really got me was the just plain wrong directions on what to do with the fish. It was solidly overcooked and tough.

Sincere apologies if any of my recipes have been disappointing. I can think of some that may have been. However, no one's saying that my recipes are 4.5/5 stars. I'm not going to link the original recipe that got me to make this redo. Granted, the recipe was apparently "very simple and quick". I imagine the creator used it as quick, weeknight kind of food.

In any case, I made some modifications: replaced the water with a mixture of chicken stock and water, added browned onions, a touch of fish sauce at the end,  and made sure not to overcook the fish. If you're not going to stew fish for a long time, then you've only got to cook it for a minute or a minute-and-a-half (more if it's thicker cut) before it's done. Any longer and it'll dry and toughen up. However, if you get it just right, the fish will be tender and, in tilapia's case, creamy.

I probably made mine somewhat less sour than sinigang should be--more in line with Taiwanese sour soups. Or at least what we'd have at home as I was growing up. I don't know if it's a Taiwanese thing. There are sour soups in many Asian cuisines.

Erg, I don't have time to type my recipe up this time...sorry! I've got a mass of notes and amendments on my printout of that other recipe. Man, but my revision was good...if I may say so myself, haha.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jjajangmyun 짜장면

I got one for ya: what do ramen and jjajangmyun have in common? Alright, yeah, they're both delicious and both involve noodles. But what I was looking for was that they're both originally from China and took root in another country to be developed into a new, important part of that country's food culture; ramen in Japan and jjajangmyun in Korea.

It was very interesting to me to learn that about jjajangmyun, because I'd first come to know of it as a Korean dish, and only afterward learned that I'd had the Chinese version occasionally over the years, too. (Hey, you don't ask for the name of every dish you eat at home, right? Oftentimes there isn't an official name and it's just a thing people make.) The Chinese version is called 炸醬麵 zhajiangmian and has a different flavor profile. According to Wikipedia, there are also specific noodles for the Korean dish.

The recipe I followed when I made mine was Maangchi's. It's interesting also that jjajangmyun is considered Chinese food in Korea, as it's apparently served in all the Chinese restaurants in Korea. (Alright, this is probably less noteworthy to people who had zhajiangmian more often than I have and associate it strongly with Chinese cuisine. Zhajiangmian is northern Chinese, and Taiwan is far to the south.) This is similar to how ramen is considered Chinese cuisine in Japan (and sometimes served with potstickers and fried rice in restaurants--two other Chinese imports). Though, it seems that ramen may have developed much further away from its origins into a Japanese thing, with all its specific regional variations, than jjajangmyun has in Korea. I can't say I know very much, though. Anyway, the sauce is a specific Korean sauce called chunjang (spring sauce), that is a black colored soy bean sauce.

After making this (successfully), I've been intrigued to try making the Chinese version, now. I'll have to seek out a recipe.

 Pork belly is always delicious. Next time I'll cut it into cubes, even though that means separating the layers.

Looks kinda scary, I know. But it's excellent.

This is just before I added the chunjang. Once I did, I was a little worried since it didn't darken the stew up nearly enough to look like it does in restaurants.

But then I add the potato starch and in just about a second, it looked just right. Really in an instant. Corn starch, on the other hand, I often have trouble with.