Cooking and eating Asian foods seems to be pretty common amongst the big food nerds. It’s something different; maybe more interesting flavor profiles, atypical spices, bright or funky flavors, and more varied cuts of meats than the average white kid in the US eats along side their boxed mac ‘n cheese. The food-stricken are always seeking the next meal, and variety is a big part of that as well. Oh there is a duck heart larb on special? You better believe that ish will be on Instagram in a hot minute.
Learning a few new tricks in the kitchen and working with relatively uncommon ingredients is fun, and rewarding. The most new material I ever learned from one cookbook was Land of Plenty. Everything was a learning experience – the various Sichuan cutting techniques, how to dry fry meat, red braise pork, manage the wok cooking process, and I learned how to navigate Buford Highway and find just about any ingredient.
Now, when I get together with friends to cook, we often lean in this direction. They are cool projects, and we get to share in the experience. We also distribute the cost dynamics of buying obscure Asian pantry items when we only need 5% of the volume of the jar, with the other 95% of the toasted rice powder sitting in the land-that-time-forgot cupboard above my microwave for a few years until I throw it out.
Here are a few photos of some good times with friends, and some pretty darn good food, starting with an excursion into the Pok Pok Thai cookbook. I made red curry from scratch, and it took a while and I was mad at myself for not making 3x the recipe. There is a reason nearly all Thai restaurants use jarred or canned pre-made curry pastes. Those you can buy aren’t bad, but the aromatics aren’t anywhere close to something this fresh.
Most of the recipes used the same variety of supporting cast ingredients – palm sugar, curry paste, cilantro, fish sauce, lemongrass, scallions, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chiles, etc. I love those flavors. Everything is a little sweet, a little hot, a little intense.
northern thai stewed beef soup (l) – whole roasted young chicken (r)
deep fried whole fish
Next, friends got together to collectively light our asses on fire, Sichuan style. Most everyone cooked Fuschia Dunlop recipes. I boiled fish filets, then topped it with a wok-ed up inferno of fresh, dried, and pickled chiles, including a ton of Thai chiles and jalapeños from my garden. Side note, it’s December and my Thai chile and habanero tree is still bearing fruit. Weird. This dish was hot, hot, hot.
Dan Dan noodles and dry fried chicken
Wines for hot foods
Dry fried green beans, Sichuan peanuts, smashed cucumbers in chile oil (fantastic! addictive!)
Red chile chicken, more green beans
Husband and wife beef (often lung slices, here it was brisket), Sichuan boiled peanuts
Next up – Japanese food, making one ramen from Ivan, another from Reddit. Dude and I each tackled one. Good times. Mine (paitain) was too salty, it’s easy to use too much tare. I also used a pressure cooker so it didn’t emulsify the way it should have – lesson learned. Great thick chicken flavor though. The entire soup turned to a solid gelatin mold in my fridge. The shio was much more delicate, with a more noticeable dashi flavor. Also tasty, and something that could be eaten with much greater frequency.
Chicken paitain – all chicken broth ramen, with pork chashu, menma, nori, Sun Noodles, soy sauce farm egg, togarashi, dashi tare.
Ivan shio ramen – light salt based broth with soffrito, soy sauce egg, chashu, menma
Then a couple days ago I took a crack at a quick tonkotsu (pork broth). Learning my lesson about emulsification I tried something different. I simmered wings and cracked spare ribs and skimmed the dirty water for about twenty minutes. Then removed the pieces and rinsed and put it in new pot of water in pressure cooker with charred onion and white scallion ends. 1.5 hours high pressure. Opened and boiled rapidly for 30 mins. Removed pieces and hard boiled another 20 and hit it with stick blender. Finished with dashi tare, Sun noodles (frozen section at BHFM, throw away the spice packet), aroma chicken fat, six minute eggs, sesame oil, chile oil, scallions.
I give the soup a respectable 6.74 out of 10. But 8/10 for time. It’s really tough to make a tonkotsu end to end in about three hours.
Restaurant Bonus! Here is the spicy tonkotsu ramen at Pijiu belly. Except for the hard boiled egg (not a fan, always prefer soft) and the noodles (no snap or flavor) it was super satisfying. Very good broth, with just enough heat to make it interesting, without being over the top or overpowering the flavor. I had not been to Pijiu and enjoyed it. People were hanging and drinking and playing games on the relatively new patio on a nice Saturday in December afternoon. The beer list is solid. I had a Wicked Weed Pernicious, which I certainly don’t see every day.