Virtually every Chinese restaurant in New York City has an extensive banquet menu, fit to feed an army battalion. And Gong Bao chicken (Kung Pao) is one of those dishes you will be promised. Unfortunately, the Gong Bao chicken you find in these restaurants is not the real thing. It has been sweetened to death, deep-fried, then tossed in with a variety of non-Chinese vegetables. In my distress for good Chinese food, I decided to make it myself, and ventured out with Fuchsia Dunlop and her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice. The recipe is simple, quick, and sensationally delicious.
Gong Bao chicken originates from Chengdu, in the Sichuan province in China. Being the heat capital of China, the use of provincial ingredients like the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn and tongue-tingling chilies is prominent. Legend has it that the dish is named after a late Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have enjoyed eating it. For hundreds of years, chilies have been the bedrock in Sichuan cooking. No other cuisine in the world makes use of such enormous amounts of chilies. Despite their burning heat and the citric numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns, Gong Bao chicken promises one thing: A cornucopia of flavors bouncing off the walls of your mouth. You will be satisfied with the ultimate comfort dinner.
Although the ingredients may not be readily available in your pantry, I strongly urge you to go out and track them down. They definitely add a lot to the table. Don’t be afraid of the amount of chilies required in the dish. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t wish to, but they add a ton of flavor.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts from her book Every Grain of Rice
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 300g or 3/4 pound in total)
3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
2 tbsp groundnut oil
a handful of dried red chillies (at least 10)
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
75g (2/3 cup) roasted peanuts
For the marinade:
½ tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1½ tsp potato flour
1 tbsp water
For the sauce:
3 tsp sugar
¾ tsp potato flour
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chicken stock or water
Serves 2 as a main dish with rice and one stir-fried vegetable dish, 4 with three other dishes
- Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1cm strips and then into small cubes. Mix with the marinade ingredients.
- Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the spring onions into Icm (1/2 inch) chunks. Snip the chillies into 1.5cm (3/4 inch) sections, discarding seeds as far as possible. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Pour a little groundnut oil into the wok and heat until it smokes, swirling the oil around to cover the entire base of the wok. Pour off into a heatproof container. Add 3 tbsp fresh oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chillies and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry for a few seconds until they are fragrant (take care not to burn them).
- Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry. When the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and stir-fry until they are fragrant and the meat is just cooked.
- Give the sauce a stir and add to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and lustrous, add the peanuts, mix them in, and serve immediately.
Sichuan peppercorns and chilies can be purchased at Kalustyans
RASAMALAYSIA: KUNG PAO CHICKEN
appetite for china: Kung Pao Chicken
IOWA GIRL EATS: Kung Pao Chicken Burgers
Fuchsia Dunlop: Recipes
RECIPE girl: kung pao chicken
Once upon a time, there lived a Chinese cook who worked for a British Captain during colonial rule in Malaysia. When asked what he was serving for a gala dinner, he blatantly screamed out “Kari Kapitan!” – The Captain’s Chicken. Not knowing the composition of the dish, panic began striking him from all directions, as if being shot by lethal arrows from the god of death. He had no one to whom he could turn and tell his woes. As the days went by, he grew fatter and fatter with his misery.
One day, when everyone in the house had gone out, the cook wandered away and found himself strolling outside his village. During his walk, a sudden breeze drifted in from a distant house, softly caressing his nostrils. It wafted to him the perfume of cloves, cinnamon, anise, the cooling fragrance of lemongrass, and the scent of newly sliced shallots. Drunk with the intense aroma stolen from the breeze, he found the source – a Malay woman, who was cooking a curry. He went into the house, and in an instant, he was arrested by her beauty. He couldn’t bear the treachery of keeping his misery to himself and told the woman his tale of grievance. As he finished, the woman invited him into the kitchen and taught him the recipe.
They talked and kissed, then laid on a bed strewn with fragrant pollen. As the glimmering moonlight shone through the windows, Eros, the god of love, was waiting with flowery arrows in his exquisite palms. For the first time, the cook felt lighter in his mood. In the ardor of their embrace, their love for each other became entwined. He was satiated by her beauty as he looked fondly at her moonlit, radiant face and asked her to marry him. She agreed.
The next day, he cooked the meal for his captain and his guests and was proclaimed the greatest cook in history. The newly married couple lived happily ever after.
This is just one of the many vibrant and colorful accounts in reference to the Captain’s Chicken. Other stories suggest that the title “Kapitan,” was introduced by the Portuguese to denote the ruler of the land or community. Whatever the case may be, we owe much gratitude to the Nyonya culture (people of both Chinese and Malay descent) for their incredible balance of aromatic flavors. From the various spices to the fermented shrimp paste and chilies, these ingredients make up the cornerstone of Nyonya culture, symbolizing their interwoven traditions.
The Captain’s Chicken (Kari Kapitan)
2 lbs. bone-in dark meat chicken
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
3-4 lemongrass stalks, white parts only, bruised
3 whole star anise
3-4 whole cloves
4-5 kafir lime leaves
Water or chicken stock, enough to cover the chicken
3 potatoes, cut into cubes
1 can of coconut milk
For the spice paste
1 clove of garlic
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1 piece of galangal (4-5cm), sliced
1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
12-20 Thai bird chilies, stems removed
3-5 candlenuts, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon of belachan (fermented shrimp paste)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup of water
2 tablespoons of peanut oil
To make the spice paste, place all the ingredients into a blender and puree. Remove and pour into a bowl, and let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
1) Bring a cast iron pot or a dutch oven to heat.
2) Season the chicken meat with salt and potato starch.
3) Pour in 1/4 cup of peanut oil into the pot.
4) When the oil is heated, place the chicken into the pot for browning.
5) When the chicken is well browned, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray with a paper towel.
6) In the same pot, sauté the shallots, garlic, lemongrass, anise, cloves, cinnamon and kafir lime leaves for two minutes.
7) Deglaze the pot with 1/2 cup of water or chicken stock. Allow the liquid to almost completely evaporate.
8) Add the spice paste to the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes.
9) Pour in the remaining water or stock to the pot. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for about one hour.
10) Toss in the cubed potatoes and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for another 20 minutes.
11) When you are ready to serve, mix in the coconut milk and turn the heat off.
Enjoy this dish warm with white rice.
I’ve been meaning to tell you about the pumpkin pie that Andy made, but my energy has been consumed at work and at the restaurant. I’ve read many fabulous recipes, vibrant with meaning. I’ve learned the ways chefs must rule the kitchen, and how line cooks respond to their orders. I’ve watched many cooking shows. I’ve set my heart on Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie from Bon Appetit. Nonetheless, ceaselessly I desire what Andy whipped up a few days ago.
I entered the house feeling exhausted after a long day of work dealing with very difficult guests. That changed quickly when the air in the apartment wafted subtle hints of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. With a single look, Andy’s pie stole my mind. So much that I don’t even have a picture of the full pie. And at taste, it robbed me from all of my work misery.
This is one helluva good pie! It was silky and light, velvety and gently spiked with spices. The recipe comes from Melissa Clark of The New York Times. When I asked him what was it that made this pie so heavenly. He replied, ” I think it was the beer I used instead of brandy.” I rest my case.
Andy’s Pumpkin Pie: A Riff on Melissa Clark’s Brandied Pumpkin Pie
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 grams kosher salt (about 3/4 teaspoon)
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, as needed
- 1 3/4 cups squash or pumpkin purée (see note)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 153 grams dark brown sugar (about 3/4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons brandy (Andy used a light ale)
- 4 grams ground ginger (about 2 teaspoons)
- 3 grams ground cinnamon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- Pinch ground clove
- 1. In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together.
- 2. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- 3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie crust to a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. Chill crust 30 minutes. Cover pie with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (you can use pennies, rice or dried beans for this). Bake for 15 minutes; remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden, 5 to 7 minutes more. Cool on rack until needed.
- 4. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée, eggs, cream, dark brown sugar, brandy, ginger, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, nutmeg, and clove. Pour mixture into the cooled pie shell. Transfer pie to a large baking sheet. Bake until crust is golden and center jiggles just slightly when shaken, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
- Yield: 8 servings
- To make butternut squash purée, peel, halve and seed a 2 1/2 to 3 pound squash and cut flesh into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Coat with melted butter or oil and roast at 400 degrees, stirring once or twice, until the squash is tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool, then purée in a food processor.
I know it’s not a Thanksgiving dinner, and it probably never will be, but I have already been having my fair share of Thanksgiving meals since the dawn of last week: Andy’s butternut squash pie, creamed spinach, roasted beets, and all sorts of meats cooked in all sorts of ways. And, there was this voice at the back of my head, haunting me, ‘Mo,’ make a stir-fry, make a stir-fry. I was tempted to resist that voice, but I gave in and didn’t regret a moment. Shrimp and snow peas, say wha? A hard combination to beat.
Everybody knows the model weeknight dinner is a stir-fry. It’s fast, easy and you don’t have to do much clean up once it’s done. There are some guidelines that need to be adhered to achieve the best results. Below are a list of dos and don’ts.
1) Choose one vegetable and one protein. Most home cooks tend to use everything in their refrigerator, but it’s not necessary.
2) Cook your proteins and vegetables separately. Combine them only after they are fully cooked. Cooking your proteins and vegetables together will result in some undercooked and some overcooked meats and vegetables.
3) Once the proteins hit the pan, resist the temptation of stirring it around. This step will ensure a nice golden brown crust on the outer layer of your proteins. Vegetables however, need to be stirred frequently to ensure even cooking.
4) Add liquids and seasoning at the end of the cooking process.
5) Surface and heat go hand in hand. Unless you have a stove top that has a burner made for a wok, don’t use one. Use a flat-bottomed skillet with lots of surface space. You should heat the pan as hot as possible, until smoke is rendered. This will give you the deepest sear and seal in the natural flavors.
Serves 4 people
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 clove of garlic. finely chopped
1 piece of ginger (4-5 cm), finely chopped
1/2 lb. snow peas
2-4 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking wine or rice wine
A pinch of crushed red peppers
White pepper to taste
1) Preheat a sauté pan or wide surfaced skillet until smokey.
2) Add in the oil and shrimp.
3) Resist the urge of moving the shrimp around. Let them sear on one side for 2-3 minutes, then flip them over.
4) Toss in the garlic, ginger and snow peas. Cook for another two minutes.
5) Pour in the liquids and season with white pepper and crushed red peppers.
Serve this with steamed white rice.
Fall marks the season of festivities, holidays and parties, and no one throws a better party than the Italians. For centuries, they have built their livelihood around food, and as a result, their culture is closely attached to agriculture and locality, the foundation of a successful gala.
New York may be a thousand miles away from Italy, the land of enviable ingredients, but Danielle Oteri and her husband, Christian Galliani of Feast on History cleverly capture the nuances of Italian family dining in their Italian Sunday Dinner events.
A few weeks ago, my friend Rebekah Marler invited me and Andy for her birthday celebration at Danielle’s event. I’ve been waiting to meet this woman and experience her culinary prowess. Nothing gives me more joy than to taste a no-fuss, home-cooked meal. And this is what Danielle does best.
With jet black hair, streaming into a pony tail, playful eyes barely missing any detail, Danielle hardly resembles an Italian mama or nonna. But her obsession with food and hard-charging stories capture the best of nonna’s and mama’s influence on Italian feasts and tradition. Christian Galliani is a wine expert. Their union of food and wine goes deeper than an afternoon feast – it is rich with metaphors and anecdotes about the Italian way. Sure, it may not make you a better cook, but it will give you more meaning to what you do, inspire you to push the boundaries of food, and make unexpected connections with other people.
The event began with a series of antipasti (lupini beans, assorted cheeses and sweet and spicy salami), followed by a mushroom risotto, which I scarfed down within minutes and went for seconds. Then, Danielle cradled a pot of sausage, meatballs and brachiole and brought it to the table. Oh! Her two-hour tomato sauce was also cooked with pig’s skin -delicious! To cool the palate, she tossed together an escarole salad with caesar dressing – remarkable. And for the final course, we had flour-less chocolate cake – not my favorite. But the entire meal registers a then-and-now culinary universe.
Danielle and her husband have opened a window of wonders on Italian culinary history with astonishing richness and expressive power. They both bring an aesthetic sensibility that is largely disappearing in our fast-paced world. Anyone who thinks they have discovered the great power of Italian cuisine should attend Feast on History.
Get on, Get ready, loosen your belts, and get cozy, because feasting is in the air with Danielle and Christian, your ultimate Italian tour guides in New York!
Recipes can be retrieved here.
My first encounter with Andy three years ago was brief. Both of us were in complicated situations, but we managed to keep in contact via emails. And I secretly hoped that we would be together sooner than later. After a while (what seemed like eons), I began to feel discouraged and left, because somewhere behind my wired head, I didn’t think Andy and I were going to make it as a couple.
Andy was still in school finishing up his masters in business administration while teaching math in high school. The night we met, the walking encyclopedia of math was standing in my doorway. He had a bag pack on and was on his way to his next class. This man, fragrant as a rose-which family is he from? What’s his tale? Where does he live and how does he spend his day? I had more queries than I actually imagined. I forgot all my data about him despite our lengthy conversations via emails. All my theories on dating demolished that day, as I stood face-to-face with him. My mind could not restrain his arresting beauty and his dimpled cheeks. Even the moon couldn’t compete with his lovely face. I stood there for a moment, stunt, heart trapped by lust, my pride in ruins. My heart was like an animal caught in a noose set by a hunter named desire. And that noose was Andy’s beauty. I was shaken.
With a single look, he stole my mind. And, I robbed his strength, and took over his energy. That night was so intense, but short-lived. We still had our separate lives.
Days went by, and soon turned into weeks, then months. I wore myself out waiting and pretended to ignore my own request for him to come closer. My pride took over and I temporarily forgot his existence. At that time, I was entwined in my own complex romantic situation. I moved on and so did he.
Then one day, late in the fall of 2011, we reconvened and decided never to leave each other.
I’m not sure that our relationship is all milk and honey. Like any other couples, we face the usual challenges. My favorite color is blue and his is green. I’m always in a rush and he’s never late. I am the creative driving force in anything I do while he performs his duties rationally and abides rules. Together we complement each other with what we have.
My romantic experience with Andy is equally similar to how I cook. I believe ingredients come together wonderfully after getting to know each other over some form of energy. The flavors of tomatoes are far different from parsley. But boiled or baked together, they endorse each others individual character. All flavorful relationships works better with heat. A little bit of sweet and spice, and gut instincts, and faith is all that takes to work it out in the end.
For the meatballs
Makes 20 meatballs
1 red onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of fresh oregano and thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of ground fennel
A pinch of red pepper flakes
2 egg, beaten
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of fresh bread crumbs
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan cheese and parsley for garnish
1) Preheat the oven to 375.
2) Mix all the ingredients above except for the AP flour, panko and one egg.
3) Do a taste test. pinch a little of the mixture and fry in a small pan with little oil. If you approve the taste, proceed with making the balls. If not season with extra salt and pepper.
4) Pinch enough meat into your hands and roll it into a golf size ball.
5) Dust it with flour, then dip in egg, and lastly, coat the balls in panko.
6) Bring a large pan to heat and pour in enough oil for shallow frying.
7) Over medium heat, place ten balls at a time into the pan, making space between each ball. Flip when the bottom of each ball has achieved a dark golden brown color. This should take about 7-8 minutes.
8) Remove the balls from the pan and place them on parchment paper or aluminum foil on a sheet tray.
9) Bake for five to 10 minutes to complete the cooking process.
For the tomato sauce
Makes two cups of tomato sauce
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 whole garlic clove
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 whole dried chilies
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 thyme sprigs
6-8 parsley stems and leaves
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
Salt to taste
1) Bring a deep pot to heat and pour in two tablespoons of olive oil.
2) Add the onions, garlic, peppercorns and whole dried chilies, and stir for 3-4 minutes.
3) Deglaze the pot with a little water.
4) Add the can of tomatoes into the pot along with 1 cup of water.
5) Toss in the herbs and mix well.
6) Bring the pot to boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
7) Cover and cook for three hours stirring occasionally.
8) When the sauce is done, remove from heat and let cool.
9) Pour the sauce into a food mill and grind until al the liquid is extracted.
10) Pour the sauce back into a clean pot and place over medium heat.
11) Adjust for seasoning.
12 ) Turn the heat off and serve warm over meatballs or pasta.
Notes: The sauce can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and in the freezer for up to two months.
Tips for storing in the freezer: Pour the sauce into ice cube trays and freeze. When they are frozen, remove from the trays and transfer them into a zip log bag and re-freeze. When ready to use, you can melt them directly into the pan.
Exactly a year ago, around this time, I was stuck in Rome because of hurricane Sandy. All flights into New York City were cancelled for at least two days. After digressing on the hurricane hit and not being able to do anything except call my friends to find out if they were okay, my initial reaction was ‘Yay!’ That’s an extra two days in Rome, the exotic city I fell deeply in love with. And then, I thought of Andy, whose birthday is always on November fourth, and who was anxiously awaiting my arrival into New York City. I learnt that my British Airway flight to New York that was due to take off on Wednesday, October 31, was rescheduled for Friday. Aside from waiting eagerly to reunite with Andy after my six months of absence, I was troubled about his birthday celebration. What concerned me more was if I was still going to make it in time for his birthday celebration that Saturday, considering the disasters with flights in and out of New York City. Finally, I made it, and we had been a stellar cast!
This year, he turned 30. In Andy, I had found my ideal counterpart. It’s just another way of saying we ‘re complete opposites, yet somehow we manage to be delighted by each other. I obnoxiously speak my mind and am crude. Andy is calm, patient and well-seasoned with his speech. He’s always put others first. I’m a steaming hot hyper-dramatic opera, while he is a slick, and clever James Bond movie. Everything in my life is unplanned. I tend to drift along and follow my wild instincts. Andy moves with thorough plans and structure. Neither one of us is like the other, yet together we are a glee.
Between the two of us, Andy is the operator. He manages everything from finances to a broken lamp. My duty is to cook well and serve with pride. I’ve also come to rely on his palate for approval. When I make a dish, I always ask him to taste first. If he likes it, the dish goes on the menu. If not, I will not look at it again. Obviously this requires an enormous amount of trust between us.
For Andy’s birthday dinner party, he had invited a dozen of his closest friends. I was in no position to do plated courses, especially without a sous chef around. Instead, I came up with meatballs dusted in panko and a three-hour tomato sauce, shrimp and mussels gumbo, and perfected a chocolate tart in lieu of a cake. That day, I spent nine hours chopping, cleaning, cutting, sautéing, stirring, simmering, frying, and baking – the things I enjoy the most especially for someone I love. I wanted to make sure, each part was carefully thought out and thoroughly performed.
I started the morning with the seafood gumbo, I stirred the roux for at least an hour to achieve the ultimate chocolate brown color, fried the okra and stewed the meat and vegetables in the stock for four hours. I then turned to the Bouchon Bakery cookbook for a indefectible tart crust and to Alain Ducasse for a crowning chocolate ganache. While the gumbo was cooking, I simmered two cans of crushed tomatoes with herbs and spices for three hours, carefully strained it through a food mill for the most powerful tomato sauce. I performed a taste test for meatballs before rolling them up in flour and panko. Andy approved. And that’s all that mattered!
Then, the party began. One by one, guests began to trickle in. Wine bottles were uncorked. The room got louder as more people arrived and conversations floated from every corner. Food was served in three courses and Andy blew his last candle on my chocolate tart.
Happy Birthday Andy!
Ps: in case you are wondering where these recipes are, stay tuned. They will be featured in this weeks entries.
So many things have happened within the past three weeks, and I owe you so many stories. Lately, life has taken a toll on me, and I am feeling the pressure of being busy – all in a good way. I just started work as an editorial assistant with Food Arts magazine, and I am keeping up with my part-time job at a fine dining restaurant. I attended ‘Feast on History,‘ an event by Danielle Oteri and her husband, Christian Galliani of Wine for the 99, featuring no-fuss, family style Italian cooking and wine pairings. I talked endlessly on the phone with my mother concerning family drama, which is an event in itself and celebrated Andy’s 30th birthday. Above all, sadly I found out it was Deepavali two days ago through Facebook! So many things happened in a short period of time. I have been consumed by life.
Between my two jobs and my event calendar, I managed to squeeze in some time to cook. It’s my way of therapeutically soothing myself into a restful night. The kitchen is my sacred retreat. It’s a place where I can connect with ingredients, which don’t actually speak words, but emit flavor – a sort of non-verbal communication. Cooking gives me the freedom to think, to work with as many or as little ingredients as possible, and allows me to see transformations from one state to another. From the rhythmic chopping to the melodic sounds of pans sizzling, I am lulled into comfort, thus assured a peaceful night.
During these times, I tend to make fast and delicious meals like a simple fried rice, a one-pot meal if you will. What I love in this fried rice is the addition of dried shrimp, which brings a particularly interesting, salty, umami taste that can uplift the flavors of any savory dish. They are made from small unshelled shrimps that are boiled, then sun-dried and are popular in Asian, Mexican and Louisiana cuisines. In the U.S, the history of using dried shrimp can be traced back to the kitchens of Louisiana, when Chinese and Filipino immigrants found the shrimp-rich region as an opportunity for export.
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/8 cup of dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing cooking wine or rice wine
1 tablespoon of sambal belachan or any chili paste
3 cups of cooked rice
1 pack of soft tofu, cut into small cubes
Salt and white pepper to taste
Scallions for garnish
1) Bring a medium-sized pan to heat and pour in two tablespoons of peanut oil.
2) Add the garlic, shallots, red bell pepper and dried shrimp. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes.
3) Make some space in the middle of the pan and pour in the soy sauce, shaoxing cooking wine and the sambal belachan. Stir all the ingredients in the pan for 1 minute.
4) Mix in the rice, breaking any lumps. Coat the sauce on the rice.
5) Toss in the tofu and mix well.
6) Season with salt and white pepper
7) Garnish with scallions.
Life was much simpler growing up in Malaysia. Nothing was meant to be in a rush, whether it was visiting friends or having standard eating practices. Our neighbors, friends and even the grocery store that we visited knew and trusted us. In my school canteen, there were varieties of food vendors whipping up fresh foods during breakfast, lunch and tea time. My parents gave me a stipend of $1.50 a day. With that money, I would purchase a plate of hot charred noodles at 75 cents. And when I saved enough money, I would be able to buy a more expensive plate of chicken and rice.
Having these delicious, quick and fresh hot meals was something I looked forward to each day. When I came to America, I experienced the contrary. While attending college, I was exposed to pre-packaged foods in boxes and instant microwavable meals. I had no idea how to enjoy cold cuts and multi-colored cheese that came in vacuum sealed plastic bags, which my American friends gobbled as if they were foods from a royal banquet. Hamburger meats were made in batches. Fish was cooked to the point that it tasted like a rubbery substance. And nothing cost under $3.50. Even in Central Florida!
Time has passed. People have changed. Attention spans have decreased. Cultural values and identities have been bartered for the modern fast-and-easy lifestyle. People are enjoying life less and less, and working on mundane activities more and more. The world has become one saturated marketplace with inactive people and fast food joints. For what? Making our lifestyles easier? I think not.
Despite the fast paced world we live in, I think, some things shouldn’t be negotiated. Good meals fall in that category. I, for one, am never satisfied with instant meals, nor bother with pre-packaged meals – even if it says organic! If you are in a hurry and need to cook something quick, here’s a great recipe. And if you are not into fish, you can use tofu, diced chicken, beef or pork.
Malaysian Fish in Black Bean Sauce
1 1/2 lb flounder fillets
Flour for dusting
Peanut oil for frying
2 Garlic cloves, finely minced
1 piece of ginger (5-8 cm), finely minced
White part of scallions, finely diced
1/8 cup of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sambal belachan
1/4 cup of Shaoxing wine or rice wine
2-3 tablespoons of fermented black beans
White pepper to taste
1) Fill a wide pan with peanut oil for deep-frying.
2) Dust the flour onto the fish fillets.
3) When the oil is heated, gently place the fish fillets into the pan.
4) While the fish is cooking, being a medium size pan to heat with 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.
5) Add the garlic, ginger and white parts of the scallions into the pan. Saute for about 2-3 minutes.
6) Add the sambal belachan, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine.
7) Toss in the black beans and stir for another two minutes until a thick consistency is achieved.
8) Sprinkle white pepper to taste.
9) Turn the heat off and let rest.
10) Once the bottom of the fillets begin to turn golden brown, carefully flip the fish over.
11) When the fish is cooked (approximately 5-9 minutes), remove them from the oil and set them on paper towel on a sheet tray.
12) For plating, place the fish on a long rectangular plate. Pour the sauce over.
13) Garnish with scallions.
Remember the time when I did my hands-on Malaysian cooking class with Global Kitchens NY (two months ago)? And that I promised a video? Well here it is: live in Edible Manhattan. Hope you like this.
VIDEO: Behind the Scenes at Global Kitchen | Local Food Magazine of Manhattan