Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, p. 67.

My resolve to go meatless during the week crashed into this recipe like tank into a brick wall. Oh, this recipe hit the spot. The crunch of the lettuce, the sweet and sour of the black vinegar-soy sauce, and the zing of the garlic-ginger-sesame oil notes combined beautifully. It’s a great recipe to throw together at the last moment for yourself. All you have to do is figure out your preferred ratio of lettuce to meat sauce. I urge you to consider 1/4 pound of the ground meat (half the amount that Alford and Duguid call for) with a bowlful of lettuce and the full proportion of sauce ingredients. You’ll find your own balance.

This book just gets better and better.

Here is the complete unadjusted recipe with my suggested adjustments…

Serves 4

About 4 packed cups coarsely torn romaine lettuce

Shadowcook: I used a combination of lettuces. As the authors note, “If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer leaves when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuced instead of romaine.” Or, like I said, use a combination and get it to the table while it’s still very warm.

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound (1 packed cup) ground beef

Shadowcook: I used 1/3 pound ground pork. Next time I’ll use a little less. And I’ll have to try it with beef, but I have a feeling I’m going to prefer the pork.

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon Jinjiang (black rice) vinegar, or to taste

Shadowcook: You can find this at any Asian market.

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

 

Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color. Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir.

(The dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to a boil.)

While the dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minutes: the liquid will thicken and become smoother. Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately.

 

David Chang’s Shrimp & Grits

from Momofuku, pp. 110-111.

If you need more incentive to make David Chang’s Ramen Broth (or my version thereof), his Shrimp & Grits ought to be enough. I save the “Grub” category for special occasions, mainly those times when I’m in danger of licking the plate. Using the ramen broth adds two sub-basements to this structure. The flavor goes deep. And I’ll say it again: this recipe is all about umami. I could eat this once a week. But I won’t.

Here we go…

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits from Anson Mills

Shadowcook: I order Anson Mills grits, but they did not arrive in time. The grits I used — Moore’s Flour Mill grits — compare unfavorably with those of Anson Mills, at least according to two grits experts, friends from South Carolina. Well, the grits I made were pretty good anyway. I’ll be curious to taste the difference.

2 cups Ramen Broth

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Shadowcook: Given how I adapted the ramen broth recipe and omitted taré, I used regular soy sauce.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smoky bacon, cut crosswise into 1- to 1 1/2-inch long batons

Shadowcook: Wary of adding more smoked flavor, I used guanciale, which added a surprising sweet note that comes soaring over the top.

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (greens and whites)

1. Soak the grits in the water overnight or at least 8 hours in the pot you’ll cook them in.

2. Drain them, then add the broth to the grits and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes after the liquid simmers, then turn the heat down to low. Chang cites Anson Mills’ instructions in this regard. The first 5-minute cooking period is called “cooking to first starch.” “First starch refers to the early stage of grits and polenta cookery in which fine corn particles thicken the liquid enough to hold the larger particles in suspension. It is crucial to stir constantly until the first starch takes hold and to reduce the heat immediately after it does so.”

3. Add the soy sauce, a large pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper. Keep the heat low and whisk regularly if not constantly; the grits should be thickening, undulating, and letting occasional gasps of steam bubble up and out. Soaked grits will be cooked after about 10 minutes over low heat; unsoaked grits will take 20-25 minutes. They’re ready when they’re no longer grainy, when they’re thick and unctuous.

Shadowcook: I think it generally takes longer. When I soak the grits, I cooked them for 30 minutes.  They were deliciously creamy.

4. Add the butter, stirring until it has melted and been absorbed into the grits. Taste them and add additional salt or pepper as needed. Set aside, covered to keep warm, while you get the rest of the dish together (or serve at once if you’re eating them on their own.)

5. Cook the bacon: Heat a skillet over medium heat for a minute or so, until very warm. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pan and return the pan to the stove.

6. Put the shrimp in a mixing bowl, pour the grapeseed oil over them, and add a couple of large pinches of salt. Toss them in the oil and salt until they’re coated. Wipe the pan cleanish with a paper towel and turn the heat up to high. Cook the shrimp, in batches if the shrimp will crowd your pan, which is probably the case. As soon as the shrimp hit the pan, press down on them, using a bacon press or the back of a spatula, or a smaller pan or whatever works, and sear them for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side.

Shadowcook: A bit fussy, that. Just make sure not to overcook them. Sear them but do not overcook them. So, pay attention to the following.

Watch as the gray-pink flesh of the raw shrimp gradually turns white in the side pressed against hot metal, and when that white line creeps about 40 percent of the way up the shrimp, flip them and press down on the second side. Sear that side only long enough to get a decent but not necessarily superdeep brown on them, about a minute. They should be just slightly shy of cooked when you pull them from the pan — they’ll continue to cook after they come out of the pan. (And nobody like overcooked shrimp.)

7. Poach the eggs.

8. Make up plates for everybody: start with a big helping of grits, nestle a poached egg in the middle of the dish, and arrange some of the bacon and shrimp in separate piles and then some sliced scallions in another. Serve at once.

An Abbreviated Version of David Chang’s Ramen Broth

from Momofuku, pp. 40-41.

An eight- or nine-hour ramen broth is as likely strike you as excessive and obsessive as it did me when I first read the recipe. But I do love a good ramen broth. This looked promising. Not only did I want to make a bowl of ramen that stood a chance of comparing favorably with broth in a ramen shop, I also recognized that it was a necessary component of David Chang’s absolutely scrumptious Shrimp & Grits recipe (to follow).  This recipe’s essential virtue is umami, which, to the degree that I can describe it, is Japanese for “pretty frickin’ delicious,” as distinct from “salty,” “sweet,” or “sour.” Chang builds the broth in layers of flavor: first the konbu, then the mushrooms, followed by the chicken and then the pork bones. The result is a deep, complex broth whose flavor turned out to be less fragile and more stable than I anticipated it would be. Following Change’s advice, I reduced the final broth by half to save space in my freezer. If you boil it down, you can reconstitute it with an equal amount of water.

However, I’m going to provide here an adulterated version that no doubt you will still find excessive in the amount of time it takes. If you want the complete recipe, buy the book. It’s worth it. Here, you get a second-rate broth that is not such a big production as the full version. Smaller amount and a bit less work may lead you to make it more often. David Chang would probably spit on my efforts, but that’s ok. We need purists like him against which we measure what we do.

So, I’ll begin by cutting the quantities in half:

1 piece of konbu (the thick square seaweed that is the basis of the Japanese broth, dashi)

3 quarts water

1 cup dried shiitakes, rinsed

2 pounds chicken (bone-in breast, leg and thigh, back or rib cage with meat still attached)

3 pounds meaty pork bones

Shadowcook: If you can’t find organic pork bones, try using smoked ham hocks and skip the smoked bacon. It would be a good idea to have a butcher cut the hocks in two or three pieces, depending on their size, since you’ll be roasting them.

1/2 pound smoked bacon

Shadowcook: Towards the end of making the full version, as I tasted the broth and adjusted the seasoning, I thought the smoky flavor dominated the other subtler ingredients. I still do, although the smokiness calmed down by the time I got to straining the broth. So, be aware of how strong the smoky flavor of the bacon is.

3 or 4 scallions

half a medium onion

1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

kosher salt

1. Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and rehydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the pork bones or ham hocks on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and roast for an hour. Turn them over after 30 minutes.

4. Right after putting the pork bones in the oven, remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth. Replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until it does. Then remove it from the pot.

5. Remove the chicken from the pot and add the pork bones or hocks to the broth, along with the bacon (if you’re using pork bones). Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, scoop out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.

Shadowcook: Does it need that long? I’m skeptical. But I went whole hog anyway. When I made the abbreviated version, however, I stopped after four hours. The broth was fine. Follow your tastes buds and please yourself.

6. Add the scallions, onion, and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.

7. Remove the bones and vegetables. Strain the broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. At this point, either use the broth or reduce it by half to freeze. Reconstitute with equal amounts of water.

Shadowcook: At this point, Chang instructs you to finish the sauce with a bit of taré, a concentrate of salt, soy sauce, mirin and the gook that accumulates around roasted chicken backs. Sorry, I own up to not having made this sauce, which is its own recipe. Finding chicken backs — much less organic ones — is tough even in our Asian markets. So, to finish the broth, I seasoned it with the tablespoons of dark soy sauce and mirin and adjusted the salt. I was happy.

Chang concludes this recipe with a sentiment in which I heartily concur: Underseasoned broth is a crime.