Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dark Soy Sauce is Less Salty

Well, lesson learned. It's happened a couple times now where I've marinated something in a dark soy sauce mixture, or used primarily dark soy sauce instead of light (which is "regular") soy sauce to season a soup, only to find on cooking the food up that there was very little saltiness. I was mystified because the first bottle of dark soy sauce I bought, myself, was saltier than the light soy sauces I'd used. As tells it though, dark soy sauce is less salty and more full-bodied in flavor than regular soy sauce. Which comports with my subsequent experiences with dark soy sauce. Now I know I need to take that into account for desired saltiness when using dark soy sauce.

As for the picture above, it's of the leftover marinade I used on a pork shoulder recently: a food processor-chopped blend of onion, garlic, ginger, scallion, bird chilies, sugar, and dark soy sauce. I was about to toss it out when it struck me that the texture resembled that of shacha sauce or the blend of food processed ingredients in freshly made curries. So, instead I decided to try using it as the seasoning sauce for some stir-fried peppers.

It smelled fantastic stir-frying. But, as just discussed, dark soy sauce isn't so salty, and the flavors didn't come through very well on eating. Right, light soy sauce next time, or a mixture of light and dark. Or adding some salt.

Looks fantastic, too.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Well, I've been blogging my cooking a couple years now, and have learned a lot along way. But, I'm a person of many interests, and my interest and dedication to particular activities waxes and wanes. Although I still cook a lot, I'm finding that I'm moving toward larger batch preparations so that I have more time to do other things. Now, moving forward I'm still going to keep cooking, experimenting, and learning (I mean, regardless, I do have all those meddlesome food sensitivities to deal with, so doing my own cooking is still the best way to get the kind and quality of nourishment I want), but I'm going to relax on trying to post every week.

I'll still be back from time to time when I have something good to share, but for the time being, I'll leave you with this photo of a really delicious pork spareribs dish.  It's part of a story Andrea Nguyen did for the LA Times on Chinese fermented black beans (the other recipes are good, too).

Happy cooking!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Technique Tips: Roast Chicken - Oh Right, Gravity

I've mentioned this before, but I do a fair amount of cooking in general, especially on weekends/Sundays, to prep food for the weekdays in advance. Hence, the tupperware of carved roast chicken pictured above. There were a couple things I learned this time around:
  • Kosher chickens are handy because they've been pre-brined as part of the kosher preparation process
  • Kosher chickens are also not handy (or at least this one wasn't in this regard) because of stubs of feathers still stuck in the skin...had to pull them out one by one. Know a better way? Please do tell.
The other thing is technique related--about getting the dark meat to doneness without overcooking the white meat. America's Test Kitchen has you roast the chicken on one side for 15 minutes, then the other side for another 15 minutes, and then the last stretch breast up. Thing is, they also just call for roasting turkeys breast down and then breast up, apparently because for turkeys you have to else the breast overcooks and dries out. (I've done chicken the side-side way and turkey the down-up way and results were good in both cases.)

Well, I thought I'd cut out the intermediary side-side steps for the chicken, too. So how'd it turn out? Great! But...well I think I see why they didn't want to do the breast down-up method for chickens. You see, when I flipped the bird breast up, the meat had flattened and didn't look as pretty. A minor detail if your primary concern is flavor and texture. On the other hand, I don't remember that happening with my turkey...hmm. Not sure. But in any case, you can definitely save yourself a step by just doing the down-up technique with roast chicken.

Furthermore, you don't even have to do any temperature adjustment for great results. Some recipes call for starting hot (400+ F) and going cooler (350-375 F). Some call for going the other way. Some call for blasting it at 400 F all the way through. But as Tom Colicchio notes in his book, Think Like a Chef (I've started reading through it gradually; it's great so far), you actually don't need to, and can usually do better treating the meat gently, staying constant in the 325-375 F range (depending on what you're cooking). 375 F for roast chicken.

I roasted this one at 375 F, 30 minutes breast down, followed by 40 minutes breast up. The skin was nice and crisp at the end. But I then tented it with foil for 10 minutes to allow the juices and temperature to redistribute, which of course meant the skin wasn't so crisp afterward being tented with all that moisture coming out of the chicken. Not sure what to do about that. Maybe breast-down time should be longer and breast-up time shorter so that you can cook the dark meat to doneness right at the same time as the white and not need to tent while letting the roast rest? Or--maybe the skin will soften regardless because of the moisture coming out of the meat...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Asparagus-Infused Reduction

You know, I don't ever really make reduction sauces. I realize this is because Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine, my main influences, don't include them. Or, come to think of it, really any Asian cuisines...I think. Correct me if I'm wrong. It seems like traditionally a Western cuisine thing. Also--it adds on a lot of extra time to food prep... But I recently saw a recipe that used the woody asparagus stems in making a sauce instead of tossing them out and thought that was a great idea.

Now, I can eat sautéed and seared asparagus straight, without seasoning; I think they just have that much flavor naturally. Same goes for red bell peppers. Hell, I happily eat them raw. So instead of doing that, I just improvised a simple asparagus infused chicken stock reduction to give the veggies some extra flavor. I also saved a little sauce to go with some seared Mahi Mahi.

I liked it! It seemed weird to me that after adding the sauce, the dish had a Chinese/Taiwanese taste to them. I guess garlic, white pepper, and chicken stock will do that. And scallions. By the way, I will throw chopped scallions and/or cilantro on anything and everything. In fact, I would love to have fresh scallions and cilantro available on demand, rather than have to buy a bundle and have the last bit go to waste or be wilting or decomposing by the time I get to it.

Pan-Fried Asparagus and Red Peppers with Asparagus Reduction

This recipe can be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock.

1 lb. asparagus
1 red pepper, cut into strips

1 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
pinch of white pepper

starch slurry
1/2 tsp tapioca starch
1 tsp water

peanut oil or other cooking oil

1 scallion, chopped (optional)
  1. Wash asparagus and snap off tough stems, reserving them for making the reduction sauce.
  2. Combine chicken stock, garlic, and asparagus stems in a small saucepan and heat over medium low heat. Reduce to about 1/4 cup. Remove asparagus stems and garlic with a slotted spoon.
    1. In a small bowl, mix tapioca starch and water. Stir starch slurry to disperse starch in the water and mix into the reduced stock, stirring constantly until stock has thickened into a sauce.
  3. While stock is reducing, sauté asparagus and red peppers. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Oil should flow freely around skillet. Add asparagus in appropriately sized batches such that vegetables fit in a single layer—don’t crowd the pan. Cook vegetables until browning or seared, several minutes per side.
  4. Arrange asparagus and red peppers on a plate and drizzle sauce over the vegetables. Garnish with chopped scallion if desired and serve immediately.

See? Cilantro. Delicious.