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Pithy and Cleaver » asian

Archived entries for asian

A distinct disinclination towards the proper precautions: Hoisin Duck Spring Rolls.

It’s a well-documented fact that I am something of a physical disaster in the kitchen. This is in keeping with my general character and way of navigating the world–I’m clumsy, I fall over a lot, and my balance is terrible. As such, it makes perfect sense that I rarely make it out of the kitchen unscathed (as I may have mentioned before, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the face of Jesus or Kate Middleton appears in the tangle of burn scars on my right arm). Knowing this, you’d think I might have the sense to avoid such extreme sports as, say, deep-frying without proper supervision or tools. You’d think I might consider ways in which to avoid obtaining a massive hot-oil burn on my fingertips. You’d think I might show some inclination toward self preservation.

You’d be wrong.

springrolls1

For all the damage it does to my insurance premiums, however, my cavalier attitude in the kitchen frequently nets some really glorious dishes–like the hoisin duck spring rolls I made the other day. For one reason or another, I found myself with an excess of duck meat and a craving for something fried; and, given that my pantry almost always looks like an asian grocery store exploded inside it, a spring roll seemed like an excellent way to deal with both my reality and my desire. Plus, I hadn’t injured myself in a while, and it really was time.

springrolls2

As woman cannot live by duck and oil alone, I opted to bulk up the filling with some braised savoy cabbage–with plenty of ginger and garlic, it’s about as addictive and savory as anything you’d ever hope to eat–and added a little crunch with some chopped scallions. The lightness of the cabbage was an excellent foil to the the rich roasted duck, and the sweetness of the hoisin made it complex, unctuous, and oh-so-irresistible. And, surprisingly, much easier than I expected! Of course, don’t limit yourself to this particular combination–I bet it would be equally lovely with tofu and carrots, or chicken, or anything else delicious that you’d like to fill the spring rolls with (I, personally, will probably try it with chicken and avocado next time).

springrolls3

A quick note before you attempt this, however: no matter how nimble you are, no matter how ninja-like and quick, RESIST THE TEMPTATION to flip your spring rolls over in the oil using your finger. I promise you, you are not fast enough to avoid sacrificing a fingerprint to the gods of molten oil. Trust me on this one.

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Not even remotely authentic Asian-style pork roast.

Living in New York, I am extremely spoilt in certain respects. Without leaving city limits, I get to see the best bands in the world; I can track down two dozen brass paper fasteners made to mimic those belonging to King George (you’d be surprised how often that sort of thing is necessary); I can consume real, true, honest-to-blog chinese food. Not that MSG-laden, gloopy, constarch, mall chinese food (though I will totally say there’s a time and a place for that–don’t get me wrong); I’m talking about the Real Deal. The good stuff. I’m talking, specifically, about roast pork. Crispy, salty, sweet, melting, roast pork. I slip into a bit of a reverie just thinking about it.

Totally inauthentic Asian-style pork roast

Sadly, I’m fairly certain that The Good Stuff is a pain in the ass to make; if the legends are true, people learn at the feet of masters for months (years!) to hone this skill and figure out what’s what. Getting it really right is the study of a lifetime, if you can even find a decent teacher; naturally, that means I am desperate to make it. Of course, I am a realist. I know that I am unlikely to ever showcase the mettle necessary to stand more or less inside an industrial oven with a whole pig for hours, learning how to determine the perfect texture by touch alone and burning myself into jerky in the process. I’ve accepted that. This knowledge, however, will not stop me from tinkering in my kitchen in pursuit of a reasonable facsimile.

Note: This recipe is not that reasonable facsimile. It is, however, incredibly delicious

More totally inauthentic Asian-style pork roast

The latest installment in this quest of mine is a faux-asian-style pork roast, easy to throw together on a weekday night. Essentially, it’s a glazed hunk of pork, tender and moist and delicious–though it bears absolutely no resemblance to the char siu of my dreams. It’s made aromatic by bucketloads of ginger and garlic, and given a savory mystique through hoisin sauce and rice vinegar. What really makes it shine, however, is the addition of some pomegranate molasses, a thick, tangy syrup whose awesome powers I have yet to truly unleash. It gives the glaze  mysterious, fruity depth, as well as a lovely sparkle. (Pomegranate molasses is probably available at your local Whole Foods, as well as at your friendly neighborhood middle eastern store. Should you have neither one nearby, you can also buy it here.)

As I said, this dish bears no resemblance to the buttery, savory roast pork of my dreams, but it is an interesting twist on a Sunday lunch favorite–and absolutely divoon in a sandwich the next day.

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So good, she used it twice: Warm black rice salad

Ahoy, mateys! I’m back from a week stay-cay, and raring for action! It was a week that was simultaneously lazy and action-packed–for every languorous chardonnay and chinchilla afternoon, there was an exhausting, exhilarating mermaid practice; every picnic was bought with a handful of long-overdue (but absolutely necessary) errands. So while it wasn’t exactly relaxing in Tahiti with a pina colada, it was just the slowdown I needed in order to reset after the absolute insanity of the last month. It was also the first chance I’ve gotten in some time to just get in the kitchen and tinker. And just in time, too–barbecue season is rapidly upon us, and as woman cannot live by meat alone (or so I’m told), I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with some smashing side-dish action. Last summer, I was all about anything and everything involving chickpeas and raw garlic (I was a both a joy and a pleasure to behold, let me tell you); this year, I seem to be drifting in a more easterly direction, as manifested by the warm black rice salad I threw together the other day.

black rice salad

Confession: this was another one of my fleeting, random, magic kismet dishes, born of the random bits and pieces lurking around my kitchen rather than any grand and/or nefarious design. I had plans to lunch outside with a friend, but wanted to pony up more than a leftover pulled pork sandwich (or rather, my arteries begged me to). So, to the cupboards I went, discovering that I had some scallions, a whole bunch of black rice, and a handful of frozen edamame–and a whole bunch of homemade duck stock in the freezer, just begging to be used as the cooking liquid for the rice. Once that connection had been made, the warm salad came together in a flash–light, aromatic, refreshing, and perfect for a picnic. In fact, it was such a success that I recycled the leftovers for dinner the following night, padding it out with some flash-sauteed green beans and some sea scallops.

warm black rice salad

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A Winner: Asian Marmalade Chicken

I can’t remember ever winning a contest or giveaway, so I was shocked when the lovely Marisa of Food in Jars alerted me that I was the winner of a huge container of her gorgeous blood orange marmalade. I’ve been enjoying spoonfuls of smeared on Sunday-morning bagels and homemade scones, drizzled on frozen yogurt and cornbread, but I wanted to include it in a savory dish, too.

The tangy marmalade perfumed a marinade that reminded me a bit of childhood (back when “Asian” recipes almost always included orange juice). I added a little fish sauce, thinking of the sweet chicken wings at Pok Pok restaurant, and spiked it with just enough Sriracha to warm it up. Orange, ginger, hoisin, and soy may be a retro/Americanized combination, but it proved so delicious that I’m glad I wrote down the measurements as I cooked.

I piled the chicken on top of some fresh steamed spinach and sauteed garlic scapes. Jasmine rice would also be nice on the side. If you can find scapes in your local farmer’s market, you should grab them—they’re also great grilled, a little like garlicky green beans. Plus, they’re kind of adorable.

And now, a peek into the dinner conversation of two nearly-weds enjoying a home-cooked meal and watching the sunset:

Maggie: This chicken is so good! Chicken on the bone is so much better than boneless.
Matt: Yeah, but it’s so much work.
Maggie: It wasn’t too bad…I just dumped it into a marinade and put it in the oven!
Matt: No, I mean it’s so much work to eat.

I thanked him for his tireless effort, and then I made him do the dishes.

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Fresh and Light: Spicy Green Papaya Salad

We’re not quite there yet, but soon the apartment-dwellers of New York will shudder to think of turning on the oven. The air will be thick with humidity, and we’ll rely on our little grill, big salads, and the numbers for delivery food we’ve saved in our phones.

When that happens, I’m betting this fresh green papaya salad will make frequent appearances on our table. There’s no cooking required (though you could throw a little grilled meat on top if you wanted to turn it into a full meal) and it’s satisfying, filling and refreshing. This would be a fabulous thing to bring to a barbecue, and can certainly be made and chilled a few hours ahead.

I scored two big unripe green papayas in Chinatown, but we ended up only using one, and it still created a giant bowl of salad with plenty of leftovers for lunch. In the Thai grocery where I picked up a container of fragrant palm sugar, a little package of searingly hot Thai chilis, and some nice-looking dried shrimp, the manager made sure I didn’t leave without one of these shredding tools, for which I am grateful. Reducing the papaya to an even, delicate julienne with this little peeler was a breeze. Though I wonder if they use a food processor in restaurants.

The recipe, adapted from Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, OR as printed in the June issue of Food and Wine makes a pretty authentic-tasting dish. You can adjust the chilis to your liking: we used three for a mild burning sensation, though you could go up to four if you’re really a chili fiend. Those little suckers are HOT, so stick to one or two if you’re sensitive. We felt like the dressing could have been just a touch more lime-y—perhaps a pounded kaffir lime leaf would help? Or a shaving of lime zest? I’ve noted to try that below.

I love food magazines (I wouldn’t need to say this out loud if I knew you’d seen our coffee table, piled with stacks of glossies and cut-out recipes stuck into binders) but something struck me as I prepared this dish. Why has it taken so long for a food magazine to feature this very basic preparation? This isn’t a newfangled fancy spin on a classic, it’s just a standard version of a Thai classic. Readers of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Martha Stewart’s publications, etc, get a million variations on chicken, pasta, etc, but I would wager that many American cooks have never made green papaya salad, even if the ingredients have long been available in Asian markets (and even standard suburban grocery stores). 

I’m glad the glossies are finally listing authentic ingredients in their recipes, and I’m glad to find more variety in the recipe sections, but I think we’ve been underestimated for a long time. We want the real stuff! Don’t tell us to use sherry when we really need to find Shaoxing wine! We are not afraid of fish sauce! (Well, most of us aren’t, anyway, except my father, who is convinced that he doesn’t like it. I’d definitley still serve this tasty salad to him, though, and just keep the fish sauce a little secret between you and me. Deal?)

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