Friday, August 24, 2007

Pork chop and sake-miso sauce

One of my favorite templates for a sauce is the one used in Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks Dinner for "Pork Cutlet with Miso-Red Wine Sauce" (past variations on this dish can be found here, here and here). Mixing a cup of liquid and two tablespoons of miso is ridiculously easy, and the taste when one is done is excellent and downright complex in some cases (depending on the specific ingredients).

Saturday night I tried a new variation. My one "complaint" with this recipe is that it makes a lot of sauce, so this time I halved the amounts to half a cup of sake and one tablespoon of white miso. The sake I used was Momokawa's Ruby sake, a type that straddles the line between sweet and dry (leaning ever so slightly over into the "sweet" camp). As the sauce was reducing, I added about a tablespoon of unsalted butter and some shredded sweet basil leaves from the garden. This was poured over an inch-thick pork chop that had been liberally seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper, then pan-seared on both sides. I served the pork chop with some leftover homemade bread from last Friday's dinner at Lala's house; the bread had been intended to be French bread but it turned out lighter than that. I reasoned that it should still be good for sopping up the sauce (and even better than noodles or pasta for that purpose).

The results were excellent, one of the best versions of this recipe family that I've had yet. The sauce was rich but not overly heavy, the thick pork chop stood up to the sauce admirably, and the not-so-French bread made sure no drop of sauce went to waste. Well, ok, not all of the miso was totally taken into the sauce (you can see the lumps in the photo), but the infusion of butter, while doubtlessly not necessary, did a great job of smoothing the flavors out. The basil added that little extra zing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Korean beef noodles

It's been a while since I made Korean beef noodles, mainly because I eat beef less frequently than I once did.

As always, the prep and assembly of this dish went swimmingly. Every time I cook it, I'm still amazing at how well the timing of the recipe works. The end result is a bowl of tender sliced beef over a bowl of spicy, savory noodles. The blend of garlic, scallions and chile makes the lips tingle without being excessively hot; if you wanted to raise the heat quotient higher, you could easily add more dried chiles. The dried chile is part of the recipe, but I think this is the first time I've prepared the recipe with it; it's definitely better than the Tabasco sauce I had been using since the chile infuses the oil with its spiciness.

I had hoped to illustrate this post with a photo but alas, none of them came out. Food photography can be an unforgiving pastime.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Sometimes a good restaurant meal can send you off in a new culinary direction. It's one thing to sort through cookbooks in search of interesting things to try, but quite another to be confronted with the dish in question.

Saturday night I had dinner with The Deacon at one of our favorite hangouts, Soonja's in Princeton. Soonja's features cuisine from various Asian countries. The Deacon had one of the "create your own noodle dish" entrees, while I decided to visit new territory. I've been eyeing the "Bi Bim Bob" in the Korean section of the menu for a while now. The beef and rice sounded interesting, but the mixed vegetables summoned up images of a plate full of broccoli (a frequent component of "mixed vegetables," in my experience). I don't like broccoli and avoid it as much as possible, but I decided to take a gamble.

When the plate arrived (after the steamed pork dumpling appetizer and accompanying miso soup), I was pleasantly surprised: no broccoli. Mounds of different ingredients ringed the plate; in the center sat the mound of minced beef while the rice, hidden, supported everything else. The plate was a colorful assortment: yellow egg slivers, dark green spinach, variegated green lettuce, coffee-colored shiitake mushrooms, pale bean sprouts and slivered daikon, and orange threads of carrot. It was almost too pretty to eat. The veggies were fresh and just barely cooked; the sprouts and daikon were dressed with a tinge of vinegar. The bibimbap (every place I encounter the name of this dish seems to spell it differently) was served with koch'ujang (Korean hot chile paste); I added a few dollops of chile paste to the dish, mixed everything up and dug in.

All in all, it reminded me of a very substantial salad. The veggies were the real heart of the dish, in the vein of many Asian dishes which use meat as favoring rather than the core of the dish. The mix of textures and tastes had plenty of variety and was welcome on a hot day. As I ate, I knew I had to make this a part of my cooking repertoire.

When I got home, I pulled out Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall's Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen. There was indeed a recipe for "Pibimbap," but I quickly realized why I hadn't bookmarked the recipe: all those ingredients! All that chopping! Well, I didn't care now. I'd seen what bibimbap was like and that gave me more incentive. So did this recipe for bibimbap from evil jungle prince, who made the point that bibimbap is a great use for leftovers. Homemade bibimbap is sure to appear in my kitchen soon.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Back in the kitchen

One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep notes on my various culinary efforts. Despite the recent hiatus in posting here, I haven't stopped cooking, but I've also grown to realize that I miss being able to refer to those notes. So here I am again.

Another thing that's been going on lately is more non-Asian cooking. For example, a few nights ago, I wanted something quick and easy, but something more than a packaged meal. It finally dawned on me that I could toss together some "Pasta Alla Gricia" from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. Just brown some chopped bacon in olive oil (I didn't have pancetta on hand), reserve the bacon and its juices, cook your pasta (again, capellini was what I had on hand, so that's what got used). When the pasta's done, add the bacon and juices plus grated Pecorino Romano cheese. The result is fast, tasty and gives the pleasure of cooking your own food without a lot of work.

Not that I've turned my back on cooking Asian food, by any means. I've been enjoying reading and cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty and Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. That last dish I tried was from Land of Plenty, namely "Chicken with Chiles." I made a few changes in the recipe, most notably skipping the initial velveting step and treating it as a straight stir-fry.

Aromatics are important in this dish; it calls for dried red chiles, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper and scallions. Of course, I only have ground Sichuan pepper, so that burned when it hit the hot oil (whole peppercorns are preferred). None of these seasonings are meant to be eaten; they're there to flavor the oil. Again, I kept the pan too hot, so there was little oil to be had by the end of the proceedings. I had a cup of chicken broth on hand, though the recipe doesn't call for it, so to keep the pan from drying out, I made sort of a pan sauce from the chicken marinade (dark and light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine and salt) and the broth. In the end, the chicken meat had complicated spicy flavors, very intense but still a light meal. Serving this over a lot of white rice would be a good idea.