Peking duck (北京烤鸭) is a classic mainstay of Chinese cuisine. It is often a special treat on the menu of Chinese restaurants, requiring diners to order in advance for serving to multiple people. There’s a reason for this: it’s a major production to prepare and serve. The classic recipe takes three days: the first to remove the neck bones and knot the neck, paint the skin with honey and soy sauce, and hang to dry; the second to blow up the skin like a balloon to separate from the meat then blanch in boiling water; and the third to roast the whole duck in a wood-fired oven. As I recall, I’ve only had properly prepared Peking Duck once in my life, when a bunch of programmers at the place I worked in the 1970s arranged a Chinese banquet at a restaurant in Berkeley, California, but long before and after that I’ve made this recipe or variants, which I find excellent, if not authentic, and a tiny fraction of the work. You can look at this as a special treat, but making it couldn’t be easier.
This week we bring the spicy heat of the Caribbean to this cold and dark northern hemisphere winter with this Fourmilab culinary creation: Jamaican jerk seasoned boneless Cornish game hens with jerk, lime, and coriander seasoned rice. This is a medium-hot recipe (I’ve had much hotter in Indian restaurants), but you can adjust the heat to your own compression ratio simply by adding more or less jerk seasoning to the rice (the seasoning of the meat doesn’t make much difference in the overall heat). I make this recipe using an Actifry, but if you don’t have one, I’ll provide instructions for cooking in a conventional oven.
A classic dish in Szechuan Chinese restaurants is Twice Cooked Pork, a spicy stir-fry with pork and crunchy vegetables that combines interesting favours and textures with enough heat to wake up your taste buds (and, depending on the restaurant, make your eyes water).
There are several styles of this dish, and the traditional way of preparing it is somewhat time-consuming and fussy. If you’ve read my other recipes, you know that’s not for us. Here is a variant where the “first cooking” is done when you make our Chinese Roast Pork and the leftover meat from that dish is the starting point for this one. If you consider this inauthentic, that’s because it is! If you like, call it “Twice Crooked Pork”! It’s still delicious, quick and easy to fix, and can’t fail.
This easy to make, can’t fail meal combines a variety of Chinese seasonings with tender, delicious pork, and will provide you with several meals including an entirely different recipe for the leftovers which I’ll present eventually in a sequel to this post.
The darn stuff is so easy to grow. Find a catalog that offers it, prepare the ground, bung the seeds in, and have patience. Growth is slow compared to that of some of the lettuces, for example, but then you see it is slow to bolt, as well.
A delightful sour taste is the outstanding characteristic of this pot-herb. I’d long used it as a minority leaf in a salad bowl, just for the lemony sour accent. This year, the crop was abundant and I had the time, so I whacked off half a row and brought it in.
The chosen starting point was an online Martha Stewart recipe. At Launch, I hauled out a cauldron, melted butter in it, and added a nice little pile of minced white onion. Those pungent little bits softened up in 5 or 10 minutes while giving up their tear-inducing sulfur compounds.
While that was happening, I cut up sorrel leaves into thin strips. Addition of those strips to the onion was Stage 2. The ratio of leaves to broth was to be 1:2. I had quite a pile of leaves; adding 3 cups at a time, the result was 12 cups of raw, sliced leaf material requiring 24 cups of broth. That used up my leaves, which was a prime object.
It seemed like an outrageous volume of leaf material, but it cooked down to a smaller volume, like spinach and other greens.
At this point, leaf color changed from bright, clean green to dead-turtle-in-a-puddle tint. Can you guess why I was not distressed in the least by this?
The reason was the fragrance. Simultaneous with the color change was the release of many volatile fragrance molecules. It was lemon perfume time, all through the kitchen.
All was ready for Stage 3, addition of the broth. This time I had some turkey broth and some beef broth, qs to 24 cups with an aqueous solution of vegetable bouillon paste from a jar.
I added no salt or additional herbs, the object being to see what these things would do.
Generally, soup is very much better a day later, what with flavors melding and all that, but today immediate progress to Stage 4 was a gratifying move. Into each flat soup plate I ladled the sorrel soup and schlagober-ed a goodly blob of crème fraîche.
The soup was a bit salty, probably from the jarred veg base, which I will mix up at 80% of label-directed concentration next time. Stirring the crème fraîche around in it mitigated that defect without masking the delightful lemony sour taste. In fact, the creaminess and the sourness complement each other nicely.
How the stars do align on occasion. Recently I studied a Polish language lesson on the theme of food and dining. The hilarious dialogue was between two people, out for dinner, ordering zupy szczawiowej. And now here it was, the sorrel soup.
When I was a little kid, simpering around with my hair in a pony tail, the relatives took me along on their summer trip to a vacation lodge in Middle-of-Nowhere, Outer Farmworld, run by recent Polish immigrants. Hot cream soup on a 95-degree day thrilled them all but revolted me! Now the stuff is delicious, and we enjoy it on our farm. Perhaps it is the operation of something atavistic.
Be it summertime, I figured I’d talk a bit about on of my favorite matsuri foods. A matsuri (祭) is a festival in Japan. Most towns from the smallest to the largest have festivals, which are usually during the summertime. Accompanying the festivities are food booths with various tasty attractions. One of my favorite happens to by jaga bata. Jaga bata is a deep fried buttered potato. The name is a portmanteau of jagaimo (potato) and bata (butter).
Jaga bata is often topped with just butter.
Many people, myself included, like to put mentaikomayo along with the butter on the jaga bata. Mentaikomayo is mentaiko (spicy, fermented fish roe) and mayonnaise. It gives the jaga bata a creamy, spicy quality. So delicious.
If you are ever at a Japanese matsuri, I highly recommend you seek out and try jaga bata with mentaikomayo.
I feel guilty when I order takeout. Why? Because that’s money I could be saving for a rainy day. The frugal American we-don’t-have-servants mindset is that anything you can do for yourself, you should, and paying others to do something because you’re too lazy, is wasteful.
When my sister’s washing machine broke, she had to send out her laundry for a while as they waited on repairs. She said, “Olive, it’s great. I may never go back. I know it’s such a Rich Lady thing to do, but….”
I began to think: The services that we consider Rich Lady Things–Uber, Seamless, laundry service, etc.–put money in the hands of the poor. If I tip the delivery guy generously I’m putting money directly in his pocket, much more efficiently than a government entity or charity could do.
As much as I love the church, she doesn’t take care of the poor like she’s supposed to. Mainly because the government has stepped in to do her job for her, and made her irrelevant when it comes to taking care of the needy. Church budgets primarily go for buildings, and salaries, so there’s not much left over to give to the poor anyway.
But could paying for services that I could theoretically do, but don’t have the time or inclination, be the modern way of giving to the poor? Those who are perfectly willing to drive me to the train station, or cook my food and bring it to me, are depending on my generosity. Could it be that I actually owe them their commission and tip? I’m stingy if I have the money in my hand, but don’t give them the opportunity.
The Biblical model of giving and helping the poor is outlined in the Old Testament in “not gleaning to the edge of the field.” At harvest time, the righteous were commanded to leave a little bit of crop around the edges so that the poor could come after the reapers and gather what remained.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 23:22
This was the wealthy man’s field–his grain, his land, his laborers–but in the Biblical sense, he owed it to the poor to not reap every single inch of produce his land yielded. Leave a little bit. Around the edges. For the poor. After all, that was there only chance at gathering–they didn’t have their own land or crop.
Yes, you could rightfully command your workers to gather every single stalk, every head of grain, but don’t do it. Leave a little bit around the edges. For the poor.
Today, I could insist on doing my own cooking and cleaning, but why? In one sense it’s a way of being rigid and greedy.
When my brother goes to the bank, he gets $100 in singles, in order to tip his baristas every morning. The idea of tipping as a way of giving comes from him, who declares he does not give to charities generally. But if you go out to eat with him, you will see that he gives generously to the poor.
Thoughts? Are there any Rich Lady (or Man) things you do, that may actually benefit someone?
I’ve written before, in “Two Pineapple Grenades”, about what can happen when you forget something in the pantry. But that usually happens slowly and requires serious neglect (which programmers can easily summon).
Ever since I discovered it in the early 1970s, I’ve loved that spicy Korean treat, Kimchi: fermented cabbage seasoned with garlic, ginger, and chili peppers, among other spices. It’s difficult to obtain in Switzerland, so when I’m abroad, I sometimes bring some back. In January of 2016, I packed this in my suitcase to savour later.
Kimchi is fermented and, if properly prepared, continues to ferment after you take it home. I took the package out of my suitcase and put it in the frigo, and went on with my life. Around a week later, I happened to notice that it had swollen up into a spheroid of adamantine hardness. I was almost frightened to handle it. I did what any self-respecting programmer would do: throw it in the freezer to deal with later.
Two years and a couple months later, I’m clearing out the freezer and there it is! Well, it should have been in biostasis after having been frozen, but the doggone thing is still hard as a rock from internal pressure. Gingerly, orienting the snip toward the drain of the sink, I cut the bag. There is a release of gas, but no geyser. Opening up the package, I extract the following bolus into a glass casserole.
This is now in the frigo, thawing out. There was no disaster, but despite everything having been frozen, most of the house now smells of kimchi.
When it thaws out I will give it a try. If it seems off, I’ll consign it to the poubelle, as there’s a rumour that overly-aged kimchi was what made Kim Jong-il before his final demise in 2011.
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.
‘How to be a Bourbon Badass’ an educational, brown spirit book
By MARK LARDAS
April 3, 2018
“How to be a Bourbon Badass,” by Linda Ruffenach, Red Lightning Books, 2018, 175 pages, $24
Bourbon is a uniquely American liquor. Born in Kentucky in the 18th century, it is the trendy drink of the 21st century.
“How to be a Bourbon Badass,” by Linda Ruffenach reflects bourbon’s growing popularity. It introduces first-timers to the mysteries of bourbon and offers suggestions for bourbon aficionados to further enjoy the drink.
The author is a Kentucky native. She grew up around bourbon and is on a mission to get everyone to embrace her passion for the brown spirit. Along the way she founded Whisky Chicks, women who enjoy bourbon and using as an opportunity to socialize and learn more about bourbon. (The group uses the “whisky” spelling because it ends in KY — the abbreviation for Kentucky.) While bourbon is viewed as a man’s drink, Ruffenach believes it’s something everyone can enjoy.
The book begins with bourbon basics. What is bourbon, and the elements that make bourbon interesting. This includes discussions of different bourbons. She provides a lineup of bourbon brands recommended for novice bourbon drinkers, enthusiastic learners and bourbon connoisseurs.
The book takes readers through the process of manufacturing bourbon, from growing the grain through bottling. The discussions are broken up with intriguing sidebars. These include discussions of bourbon-flavored chocolates, how to read a bourbon label, the bourbon flavor wheel and exploration of the history behind different bourbon brands.
Ruffenach also introduces individuals important to today’s bourbon industry: leading-edge distillers, the educators at Moonshine University teaching the next generation of distillers and popularizers such as brand ambassadors and event managers.
Another section presents bourbon cocktails, everything from the classic old-fashioned to more daring drinks, like a blood orange bourbon mimosa. (Some are for the very daring. Most would pass on the bourbon cream root beer float.) The book devotes significant space to recipes using bourbon for every meal from breakfast to dinner and for every stage of a meal: appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts.
Lavishly illustrated, enthusiastically written, and filled with fascinating detail, “How to be a Bourbon Badass” offers a great opportunity to learn more about bourbon and the ways to use it.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.