Tag Archives: Chinese cuisine

Hack the Dish: Fung Tu’s Manila Clam & Black Bean Sauce Noodles

Manila Clam & Black Bean Sauce Noodles

A couple weeks ago, Serious Eats published an article on the clam and black bean sauce noodles at Fung Tu. They interview Chef Jonathan Wu and follow him step by step through a dish that is “a simple one, and easy enough for home cooks to adapt to their kitchens.” There’s enough detail in the article that you can figure out most of the recipe, but there’s no actual recipe published. (Not surprising, I don’t blame Wu at all for not wanting to make it that easy.) Moreover, the steps Wu follows make about 12 servings of noodles. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t cook for quite that many mouths in one sitting.

Well, this sounded like a challenge. Could I figure out how to replicate the dish at home and adopt the recipe for say, four servings?

It helps that one of the key ingredients is manila clams, and I happen to be working for a company that sells manila clams. So after rustling up the other ingredients and doing some educated guesswork, I came up with the recipe below for the noodle dish.

My main problem was that more clam broth was generated than needed for the noodles. I ended up reserving about 1.5 cups of the broth and freezing it for later. If the full amount had been used, the noodles would have ended up far too soupy and salty.

The chili oil was also a bit of a conundrum, since Wu lists the ingredients that he uses (neutral-flavored oil, dried chilies, smoky chipotles, fresh chilies, garlic, confit shallots, fermented black beans and tomato paste) but no proportions. In the absence of any guidance, I simply made something up based on what I had already in my kitchen.

Those issues aside, the final result is quite wonderful: the salty punch of seafood, cut by sweet & tart pickled onions and a dash of smoky chili heat. It is more work than your average weeknight dinner (removing the clam meat from the shells is the most time consuming part), but it’s nowhere as labor intensive as most fine dining restaurant dishes.
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Culinary School: Why I’m making the worst food of my life

Poulet Saute Chasseur

Nights in culinary class move in a dance of steel and time pressure. Yank out the wishbone. Quarter the chicken. Sear the skin. Chop the mirepoix. Simmer the stock. Strain the sauce. Pull the chicken from the oven. Plate the food. Run to the front. Hope for the best.

Chef Ray glanced at my plate of poulet sauté chasseur (hunter-style chicken) and gave me a hard look. “I think I’ve told you this before,” he said. “This plate. What’s wrong with it?” I looked down at my chicken. Among the finely shredded flakes, there were some unruly tufts of parsley perched on top, shamelessly advertising their prowess at escaping my knife. “I know, I know,” I apologized, “the parsley isn’t chopped small enough. And there’s some pieces of stems.”

With a spoon, he pointed at a resolutely intact parsley leaf. “Look,” said Chef Ray, “you spent two hours making this dish, and you put herbs like this on the plate it and it just ruins the presentation.” He chased the offending chunk of parsley to the edge. “The chef that taught me insisted on really finely chopped herbs, so since that’s how I was taught, this is a pet peeve of mine too.” Chef Ray prodded at the chicken. “This is cooked well, it’s not overdone and the skin looks great. But you put parsley like that on the plate and that’s the first thing you see.” I bowed my head. “Yes, Chef.” He sighed. “All right, start cleaning up.”

God damn it, I hate chopping herbs.

You know what it looks like when Chinese people chop herbs? Like a lawnmower belched huge piles of foliage on the table. And that’s perfect. We embrace chunky cilantro and scallions like Sir Mix-a-Lot loves chunky booty. Let me show you some examples:

Five Spice Beef
Here’s a plate of Five Spice Beef from China House in Mountain View. It looks like they didn’t bother chopping anything, they just threw entire stalks of cilantro on the plate.

Mission Chinese Mapo Tofu
Maybe we need to look at a better restaurant? Cult favorite Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco has won all sorts of awards, so let’s take a look at their mapo tofu. Yup, you can definitely see big pieces of leaves and stems floating on that chili oil.

Twice Cooked Pork
And my personal favorite, Double Cooked Pork from Happy Kitchen in LA. THEY ONLY USED CILANTRO STEMS!

Let’s review the most common culinary school sins:

  • Plate not hot enough (forgot to put it in the oven)
  • Plate too hot (forgot to take it out of the oven)
  • Sauce underreduced and not nappant (sticks to the back of the spoon)
  • Sauce overreduced and too thick
  • Vegetables not brown enough or too brown/burnt
  • Meat under or overdone
  • Vegetables not cut uniformly (see taillage)
  • Not enough acid (lemon juice)
  • Food not salty enough (I’ve never been told my food’s too salty, even when I try to overseason)
  • Too much grease
  • Too much sauce (pooling at bottom of plate)
  • Sauce drips on plate edge
  • Using black pepper in a white dish (where’s your white pepper idiot?)
  • And of course, my #1 nemesis, the herb garnish is too big

In other words, no matter how hard you try, your plate is never good enough. Wait, this is starting to sound familiar…

Maybe the solution is to give up on cooking?

At least my extra tournage work at home paid off. Chef Ray looked at my potato cocottes and said they looked great without other comment. Phew.

I can’t even imagine how much of a pressure cooker it would be to compete on TV. (Well, maybe I can. This piece from pastry chef Allison Robicelli is a hilarious read if you’d like to hear more.) I would have a nervous breakdown. Or start pouring fish sauce on the judges’ cars.

Whatever. My new favorite food photography blog is now Dimly Lit Meals for One (exactly what it sounds like).

Clearly the solution is to start chopping like this guy:

Komatsu after learning Food Honor

On Fast Food, Money and Child Labor: I Grew Up as a Restaurant Brat

The roach skittered towards a cardboard box, and Cheryl raised her hand to smash it before the customers could see. The kitchen was in the weeds—we were short-staffed because the fry cook had been jailed last night for a DUI. Dad would stop by later to bail him out and give him another futile lecture. Meanwhile, the insistent beep of the drive-through sensor rang out. I scurried back to my post atop an overturned milk crate and pressed the speaker button. “Welcome to Lucky Phoenix, can I help you?” Just another June afternoon working at the family restaurant.

From the million-watt smile of Racheal Ray to the rock star trappings of Anthony Bourdain, there’s no question that it is a very good time to be famous in the kitchen. Americans may not be cooking any more, but they’re certainly soaking up every TV show, cookbook and blog they can find, as food takes on an unprecedented, fetishistic spotlight in pop culture.

But let’s talk about something a little less glamorous: Chinese fast-food restaurants. You know the sort, the dingy corner take-out joint named some combination of {Golden, Lucky, Jade, Happy} {Moon, Buddha, Wok, Phoenix, Panda}. The kind that serves ambiguously Chinese dishes from a 100-item menu, located in a building converted from an old Taco Bell. The kind that relies on labor from family and friends, the unwitting members of a Chinese restaurant fraternity open automatically to FOB immigrants with no English skills and an eye for cash. You walk past this restaurant every day, in Chicago, in Tuscaloosa, in small-town Italy.

This was my playground.
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Recipe: Potstickers, Politics and Pork

Photo: Valeria Necchio

Last week marked a new lunar year, so in conjunction with my UNISG classmates, we held a Chinese New Year celebration, with all the Asian-style dishes you can possibly concoct (using the limited supplies found in Italy). There were all the classic, prosperity-bringing foods, like fish and tangerines, along with Thai-style noodles, pork with black bean sauce, and a heaping bowl of deep-fried squid. Yum, bring out the Sriracha!

For the occasion, I decided to make jiaozi (餃子) and nian gao (年糕). Now, I am pretty pro at making potstickers (although I haven’t figured out how to pleat them one-handed yet), but usually I just buy pre-made wrappers. Hey, stop judging, it takes long enough to mince the filling, fold and cook everything! However, in the bountiful land of Italy, packages of jiaozi wrappers are a little more difficult to come by. I could spend the day going to Turin to search them out, or alternatively, make them from scratch. It probably would have taken the same amount of time. In the end, cost won out and I decided to tackle making wrappers by hand.

So, I skyped my mom and asked her for a wrapper recipe. Now, you have to understand that when you ask Asian moms for recipes, they tell you something like, “Oh, that’s easy. First, you take two spoonfuls of X and a bag of Y, then you mix in some Z and add a cup of water, then steam it until it’s done. Is that clear?” Wait, what do you mean a spoonful? Is that a tablespoon or a teaspoon? And a bag, how much is that? “Oh, I mean a Chinese soup spoon. And you know—a bag! The brand of flour I always buy, I just use the whole bag.” Whoa, hold on, so when you say a cup of water, what kind of cup is that? “Oh, I always use this cup [gestures], the porcelain one with the flowers on it.” Um, okay, what about the steaming? How do you steam this? “What do you mean, how? Don’t you know how to steam things? Ai-yah, college-educated and brains are still empty!” At this point, we both throw our hands up in dismay.
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Chasing the Forbidden Dragon: Lyon’s Quartier Chinois

We were in France, and by god, I was going to get some Asian food.

Before your jaw drops off in horror (sacre bleu!), let me back up for a minute and explain my mad logic. The UNISG masters students had arrived in Lyon, a land of fine haute gastronomie…and the third largest Chinatown in France (after two enclaves in Paris). At lunch, we had just gorged on a stunning French meal, accoutered with boisterous grand chefs, wine, and healthy doses of cream and butter. The University was allotting us a stipend of €15 for dinner, which does not go a long way in Lyon. Besides, I was itching for something chili and umami-laden. According to Wikipedia, Lyon’s Quartier Chinois could be found in the city’s 7e arrondisement. Our hotel clerk had marked “Le Guillotière” on the map, and armed with that knowledge, we set out to search for the best bowl of pho in Lyon. It might not have been French food, but it was at least French colonial food?

After wandering across the Rhône river, I saw a number of Moroccan restaurants, African barbers and veiled women. Hmm…it appeared as though we’d found an “ethnique” section of town, but not Chinatown per se. I craned my neck searching for ideographs, as we wandered further east and north from Le Guillotière. It was time to break out my expert Franglais. “Pardon monsieur, pouvez-vous me dire où est le Quartier Chinois?” Again and again, this question elicited quizzical looks and head scratching. “Er, le Quartier Chinois? Je ne sais pas…il y a un quartier chinois?” No one even knew of the neighborhood’s existence; it was as if we were trying to find Diagon Alley.
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Food Anthropology: Chitalian Cuisine

Last week, as part of a class on food anthropology, we all had to conduct an ethnographic study of a food production place in town using participant-observation methods (read: hanging out and discreetly taking notes). Rather than choosing one of the town’s many pizzerias or gelato shops, I decided to investigate the one place that has elicited a sort of morbid fascination for me for the last month: The Chinese restaurant in Bra. That’s right, there’s only one, and there isn’t too much other ethnic food in town to speak of, aside from a couple small kebab shops.

After enlisting the help of some comrades who claimed to be strong of stomach, we ventured toward Nin Hao Ristorante on the northern outskirts of town. It was 8 pm on a Monday night, and the restaurant was ostensibly open, but the dining room looked dark from the outside, and there were no signs of life, other than a Chinese man who was sitting on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. I hesitated and gave a cautious tug on the door. The restaurant was desolate and the lights were even off. At that point, a server marched out, then turned to us with a smile as she flicked the light switch. We turned to each other apprehensively. I don’t know if I have ever dined at an entirely empty restaurant before.
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