Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

Kung Pao Chicken

Sunday, May 30th, 2010


Some things are so tasty that people you know demand that you make them over and over again. This is one of them. Both a Chinese-American standby and a classic Sichuanese dish, the Americanized version tends toward the gloppy, sugary and watery, while the real deal is an architecture of flavor constructed around spicy chilis, numbing but floral Sichuan peppercorns, nutty fried peanuts, and tangy marinated chicken flavored with garlic and scallion. My version is close to the real deal but a bit non-traditional, with celery, chilis de arbol, and cilantro. Have with beers — especially if you use the Sichuan peppercorns, steer clear of wine. When half your tongue is numb, wine just tastes really wierd, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to happen with beer. This is not a complicated recipe but it does require some fussy sautéing at the last minute, so I recommend you mise-en-place just so you’re not chopping one thing while burning another. All of the more unusual ingredients are easily obtainable in a good Asian market, except for the Chilis de Arbol, which can be purchased here.

Kung Pao Chicken


2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp shaoxing cooking wine
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp toasted sesame oil


2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing cooking wine
2 tbsp brown sugar

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in to 1 cm cubes
2 tbsp canola oil
15-20 whole dried chilis de arbol, chopped into 1 cm pieces
1 tsp-1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns (start with fewer to see if you like them)
5 large stalks of celery, cut lengthwise in thirds, then into 1 cm pieces
4 cloves of garlic, chopped medium
4 scallions, green and roots removed, cut by slicing once diagonally, then rotating 120 degrees, then slicing, then repeat (the idea is to get thin angled slivers)
Deep fried salted peanuts (some Asian markets like New Kam Man on Canal St. have these housemade) or dry roasted salted peanuts
1 large handful cilantro, washed, dried, and chopped fine

Make the marinade in a medium bowl (I usually make the sauce at the same time in a separate container). Add the diced chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

If you haven’t already, make sauce by combining soy, shaoxing, and brown sugar. Stir well. Heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed skillet. When oil shimmers, add chilis and Sichuan peppercorns and agitate the pan for a few seconds until the oil colors and smells fragrant. Add celery and sauté until barely cooked, about 2-3 minutes. Remove celery and spices from pan and reserve. Try to leave as much oil behind in the pan as possible. Add chicken to pan and sauté until browned and cooked through. Add celery back to pan. Give the sauce another stir and pour over the chicken and celery. Add garlic. Cook for another minute until some of the moisture cooks off and the sauce gets a glossy look and coats the chicken. Turn heat off and add scallions and peanuts. Add salt to taste if necessary, and garnish with cilantro. Serve with plain rice. Serves about 4.


Tuesday, April 21st, 2009


This morning I got a wild craving for char siu bao, which are Chinese buns filled with barbecued roast pork and either steamed or baked. The baby and I headed into Chinatown, (where all the bakery ladies were very nice and made him smile), and we bought everything we could possibly want, including a scallion roll (no idea what’s in there), two baked char siu bao and one steamed, plus steamed Chinese sausage and combination bao. We’ll have them for dinner with some bok choi sauteed with ginger, and maybe some bad beers or vinho verde. I can’t wait!

June Farmer’s Market Supper

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Carmelized Scallops, Sugar Snap Peas with Mint, and Roasted Beet Salad

The McCarren Park Farmer’s Market is starting to get exciting! The fish guys have been here for a few weeks (although sadly, no weakfish), but now my favorite weird vegetable guy is back, along with stalwarts RonnyBrook Farm, RedJacket Orchard and Dines Farms, among others. To celebrate, I made a super-plain, super-fresh dinner of fresh vegetables, herbs, and scallops.

If you want to make everything, the beets take about 1 1/2 hours, so start them first, then do the prep and cook the scallops and peas once the beets are finished roasting.

For Beets

1 bunch small- to medium-sized beets, greens and tips trimmed off
3 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp walnut or olive oil
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Wrap beets individually in aluminium foil. Roast 1+ hours. When beets are done, a knife should pierce them easily. Remove beets from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove skins, and cut into regular cubes. Dress in remaining ingredients.

For Scallops

10 large sea scallops, muscle removed (the little tough bit stuck to the side)
1/2 tbsp butter
kosher salt
1/3 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lemon

Heat a heavy-bottomed medium-large size saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add half the butter to the pan, and swirl to coat the surface. Place scallops in the pan on one flat end, in order from largest to smallest (so that the larger scallops cook for slightly longer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Do not shake the pan or move the scallops in any way for 2 minutes, then carefully turn them over (tongs are the best scallop turner,) sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for another two minutes. Remove scallops to a warm plate, add the remaining butter, and cook the garlic in the butter for 30 seconds until just barely beginning to turn golden. Add wine and swirl over the bottom of the pan to deglaze, then use a rubber spatula to bring up any bits of scallop or friedness. Reduce to about two tbsp, and spoon over scallops before serving. Serve with lemon wedge.

For Peas

1/2 lb fresh sugar snap peas
1 tsp butter
1 bunch purple scallions, cut into julienne
a good handful of mint leaves, pulled from their stems and cut into chiffonade

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add peas and saute for several minutes, until the peas turn bright green and lose any trace of “uncooked” taste. Just as they’re finishing, add scallions and mint and saute for about 30 more seconds until scallions lose their sharpness. Remove from heat and add salt to taste.

Serves 2.

An International Perspective on Buying Produce

Thursday, June 1st, 2006
(originally published on

Being susceptible to the appeal of adventure eating, I’ve embraced the consumption of oddities of brows both high and low in places across the globe. I’ve had foie gras in some of New York’s finest restaurants, calf fries in Fort Worth, and street food in Hanoi, and never has my cast-iron stomach failed me. So as I shivered through gut-wrenching pain under a heavy blanket in a sweltering apartment in Hong Kong, my sense of betrayal was plaintive and vast. Even worse, I suffered at my own hands: I knew there was something amiss with the Chinese scallions I sliced into my tuna salad, but my better instincts abandoned me. Fortunately, like most sufferers of food poisoning, I was back in the saddle in a day or two, but I did have some lingering questions: would I have gotten sick if I’d spent another HKD $10 (about USD $1.30) for Japanese or Australian scallions? How does one go about trying to buy healthy and sustainably-produced fruits and vegetables in an unfamiliar landscape?

The Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong has negligible agriculture, and it imports the vast majority of its food supply. Produce in Hong Kong supermarkets has clear labels of origin, and many people have very particular ideas about what is safe to consume. After Greenpeace raised the alarm in April about off-the-charts levels of pesticides found in Chinese produce in popular supermarket chains, many swore off these cheap and widely available imports. Rumors about Chinese imports on ex-pat forums, likely apocryphal, tell of vegetables and fish contaminated with human waste and other vile substances. US imports are suspect for some, as a large percentage of them may contain GMOs (Hong Kong residents, like those of many Western countries outside the US, are suspicious of genetically modified food, and the government is in the process of implementing The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.)

The other primary sources of produce for consumers are the so-called “wet markets.” These open-air markets operate in neighborhoods all over Hong Kong, selling fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, seafood, and flowers, mostly from China. My first instinct upon arrival was to head straight for the wet markets, as I am a regular at my Brooklyn farmer’s market and I’m a big fan of locally-grown, but after my food poisoning experience and learning about pesticide contamination, I’ve steered clear.

Organic produce is popular with locals and expats alike, though standards can be uneven with so much international variety. In fact, “organic” is one of the more recently popular Engrish superlatives to appear on shops and flyers purveying items like books or clothing, along with “yoga” (my personal favorite is the “C.E.O. Flow Organic Bookshop.”) However, if you seek it out, it’s fairly easy to find organic produce. Several delivery services will bring organics to your door from a variety of different origins, and if you are willing to put in a day, you can even pick your own, although unless you live on Lamma, one of the outlying islands, you’ll need to take two ferry trips and a short walk to do so.

In recent years, the Hong Kong government has encouraged organic farming across the SAR, and the number of farms participating in their organic program has increased to over sixty farms. Organic produce is a niche for which local growers can charge a premium, and can be competitive with produce grown more cheaply in the mainland. However, the 2-3 metric tons of food produced by these farms each day can feed only a tiny portion of the SAR’s nearly 7 million residents.

As consumers world-wide become more aware of how their families and their environment can be affected by unsustainable or toxic food production methods, they are putting pressure on their governments to legislate on their behalves, which in turn puts pressure on countries that produce large quantities of the global food supply to improve their methods. Hong Kong has begun to implement stricter monitoring procedures to control pesticides in the food supply from China, and pressures continue to mount on China and the US from countries around the world to curb the use of pesticides and GMOs and to improve food safety practices.

Did that scallion make me sick? I still think so, although even if it was unrelated, my illness had the upside of making me look closely at where my food comes from , which is always a good thing to know.

Hanoi Tasty Fish Fry: Cha Ca

Monday, March 14th, 2005

Vietnamese food is really tasty, even the crap they feed to tourists on your all-inclusive trip thingies. Our Hanoi favorite was a local specialty called cha ca, so good we had to have it twice even though we were only there for about four days. Cha ca is a DIY dining experience consisting of cold noodles, chopped herbs, fish sauce, and chopped roasted peanuts, topped with an oily yellow fry-up of fish. You eat cha ca in a restaurant called “Cha Ca” on a street in the old city called “Cha Ca.” There are no menus — you climb a tiny pirate-shippy stair case to a slanted poop-decklike second floor, and sit in a folding chair. Then you order aTiger beer, and a server comes and brings you bowls of noodles and seasonings, then a pan of fish in oil over a wooden bucket of charcoal. They dump a bowl of dill and some scallions into the pan of fish, and emphatically pantomime that you should put everything together in your smaller eating bowl. The combination of flavors combine alchemically to produce a flavor that is complex and delicious.

Cha ca in Hanoi.

I knew that I would want to make Cha Ca at home, and the ingredients were pretty obvious, but my first time I was still a little worried about having the right kind of noodles, fish sauce, etc. I went down to Kam Man, a pan-Asian grocery on Canal between Mulberry and Mott, and to a fish market a few doors down for ingredients, and also made a pit stop at my local bodega, which happens to have very fresh produce — that was all it took. And I just have to say, I f***ing rule, because it came out PERFECT. If you want to make cha ca at home, here is how.

For the table, you will need:

Cold Noodles — I bought two kinds of dried noodles: one clearer looking “bean vermicelli” from Kam Man that listed its ingredients as “green beans, water” and another package of “rice vermicelli” from the bodega. I preferred the taste and the slightly stickier texture of the “bean vermicelli,” as the rice vermicelli seemed too chalky and slimy. Both types of noodles are prepared by submerging them in warm water (tap water is fine) for about 5-7 minutes until the noodles rehydrate. Then they should be drained and placed in a large bowl.

Nuoc Cham — Be sure to purchase Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam), not Thai fish sauce (nam pla) . You can either make nuoc cham by combining the nuoc mam with water, rice vinegar, garlic, chili pepper, and sugar, or you can be a lazy slob like me and buy it pre-mixed. The brand I bought called it “Spring Roll Sauce.”

Chopped Herbs — You will want one bunch of dill and one bunch of cilantro. I also used one bunch of mint just for the heck of it but that’s not the way it’s done over there. Wash, dry, and roughly chop each of the herbs and place in separate bowls.

Chopped Scallions — Two bunches should do it. Cut each scallion down the middle, and then diagonally into slices.

Chopped Roasted Peanuts — I used Kam Man’s roasted peanuts, which actually look like they have been deep-fried, rather than roasted, but who knows. Toss into the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

For the fish, you will need:

Semi-firm fleshed white fish — I bought two large fillets in Chinatown that I was told was flounder but I suspect of being scrod.

Turmeric and Rice Flour — Combined in equal parts, enough for dredging. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Peanut Oil — About 1 cup per batch.

Butter — If you’re naughty. I used just about 1 tablespoon per batch to add flavor. Clarified butter would have been better, as the milk solids can spatter a bit.

First prepare everything for the table. Set out a cork mat or a trivet on the table for the fish pan.

Cut the fish into 1 1/2 inch squares and dredge in the turmeric mixture. Add oil and butter to a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and get it nice and hot (shimmery texture, just before smoking.) Add the fish, but don’t crowd the pan. If there is too much to go in one batch, reserve fish for a second batch. Cook the fish in the oil, turning once, for about five minutes. Bring the whole pan to the table, and add dill and scallions to taste. Each person then assembles their own bowl as they like.

A good accompaniment is shitty Asian beer, like Tsingtao or Tiger beer