The Captain's Table

Tales and recipes from my kitchen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chengdu Chicken

This is a spicy, saucy, tangy and sweet chicken dish that I came across on the net after looking for Chengdu spicy chicken. This one has a healthy dose of Sichuan peppercorns and a little crunch from the celery. You'll probably want to open a couple of windows to let the pungent smoke clear when the chilies hit the pan.

From grouprecipes.com with variations.

Chengdu Gai Yuk

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces (I prefer thighs)
1 egg white
1 T shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry

2 tsp minced ginger
4 dried chili peppers, minced (more if you want more heat)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, white parts finely sliced, greens in small pieces

4 stalks of celery, minced
1 tomato or 1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained

Sauce:
2 T chili bean paste (toban djan)
2 T soy sauce
1/2 T black vinegar (I used balsamic)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 T sesame oil
1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground toasted Sichuan peppercorn plus more for serving

Marinate the chicken in the egg white and wine for 1/2 hour. Prep the rest of the ingredients in the meantime.

Stir fry the chicken in a hot wok with 2 T of vegetable oil until it turns white. Scoop out the chicken and set it aside. Heat the wok over very high heat and add another 1 T of oil, swirling it around to coat the pan. Add the ginger, chilies, garlic, and scallion whites. Stir fry for 5 seconds or so, then add the tomato and celery and toss it for a couple of minutes over continued very high heat. Add the chicken, mix well, then add the sauce. Stir fry for another minute, then sprinkle with the Sichuan peppercorn and serve with steamed white rice.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

That's a Wrap

The perfect looking butter lettuce I saw at the grocery store screamed "lettuce wraps!" I had some ground beef and a few odds and ends, but the direction I took was decided by the garden. Fresh cilantro, basil, Thai bird chilies, poblano peppers, they all went into a southeast Asianesque concoction that even the munchkin liked.

3/4 lb ground beef
2 poblano peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large coves of garlic, minced
1" ginger, finely minced or grated
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
juice of 1/2 lime
1 bunch of basil (Thai basil would have been better)
a few sprigs of mint (I had chocolate mint - good stuff)
butter lettuce leaves for wrapping
chopped cilantro for garnish
to spice it up: Thai chili peppers in fish sauce
served with steamed white rice

The kid-friendly filling had no spice at all except whatever the poblano peppers had, which today was nothing at all. Brown and drain the ground beef, set aside. In the same pan with some of the drippings, fry the onions and peppers until tender. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until aromatic. Add the beef back in, add the sauce, oil, and juice, stir. Add the basil and mint and cook until it is all wilted. Done!

Put a spoonful into a lettuce leaf, top with chopped cilantro and a drizzle of the chili fish sauce. Add rice to the wrap or have it on the side.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu. It's my new favorite dish, and here's the recipe I've made three four times so far. On top of that, I've ordered this 6 times from two local Sichuan restaurants in the past two months. It's that good.

Mapo tofu has small blocks of tofu enrobed in a chili-bean-pork sauce dosed heavily with Sichuan peppercorns. It's spicy, tangy, sweet, funky, earthy... a real explosion of flavors that will leave your mouth tingling. That's the magic that the peppercorns bring to the table. The first time I tasted it was at "Iron Chef" Chen Kenichi's restaurant in the Roppongi part of Tokyo. That branch was best known for the mapo tofu and the chili shrimp, but he also had steamed dumplings drenched in an unbelievably good sesame sauce, and a black sesame noodle soup that I would be perfectly happy drowning in.

This one requires some specialty ingredients that I didn't have in my cupboard prior to my obsession with Sichuan food:

Dried fermented black beans - somewhat soft, very salty and pungent
Chili bean paste - also known as toban djan, a mixture of chilis, fermented broad beans and soy beans; sweet, funky, spicy, salty. This provides the base flavor of the sauce, but too much will leave a strong aftertaste.

Shao xing rice wine - use dry sherry if you want, but a bottle of this cost me $2.19.

Sichuan peppercorns - OK, I had these, but this was the first recipe that really used them to full effect. Tiny husks of the seeds from a shrub. The seeds do nothing, it's all in the reddish husk. These will add a sort of brightness to the dish and complement the chili peppers. They will also make your whole mouth tingle. Toast some in a frying pan just until fragrant, then put them in to a pepper grinder.

UPDATE: I just bought a new bag of peppercorns, and they are 100 times more potent than the old ones I had kicking around the cupboard. I'm going to cook this dish again this week just to give them a try.

No pictures this time. Honestly, it's not a beautiful dish. On to the recipe.

From appetiteforchina.com with variations.

Mapo Tofu

Serves 4 to 5 as part of a multi-course meal, or 2 to 3 as a main. Serve over steamed white rice.

Prep everything first before firing up the wok. Things move quickly once the pork hits the oil.

1 lb ground pork

Mix the sauce and set it aside:
2 c chicken stock
2 T fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped finely
4 T chili bean paste (toban djan)
4 tsp soy sauce
2 T shao xing cooking wine
2 T sesame oil
1 T chili oil (optional)
1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn

Prep the rest:
2 leeks, white parts thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T minced ginger
2 scallions, greens sliced into inch long pieces, white parts finely sliced
1 lb soft tofu, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 T cornstarch mixed with 2 T water
extra ground Sichuan peppercorn for sprinkling on top

Now begin. Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until very hot, then add the marinated pork. Stir fry until the pork begins to really brown. Add the garlic, ginger, leek, and white part of the scallions, and stir fry for a minute.

Add the prepared sauce. Scrape up all the browned pork bits and bring the broth to a simmer. Reduce the heat and gently add the tofu and scallion greens. Allow the tofu to cook for a couple of minutes to absorb the sauce. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Sprinkle the scallion greens on top and dust with ground Sichuan peppercorn. Serve over steamed rice.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Uno, Due

This post is primarily for my own reference in case the original source of this recipe disappears. It's from Uno Restaurant Holdings Corporation, overlord of the Uno Chicago Grill empire, which grew from the humble original Pizzeria Uno in my town, Chi-town. I've always been a Gino's East guy myself, with a soft spot for Giordano's stuffed crust. But going to the original Uno and sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due, were also top notch experiences. Two good things have come from the Uno Chicago Grill idea: One, I can drive five minutes from my house here in Pittsburgh and have an Uno's pizza that tastes kind of like the real thing; and Two, they've posted the recipe on their website. I will make this some day, and compare it to my attempts to make Gino's and Giordano's at home. Here it is, and thanks, Pizzeria Uno Corporation:


MASTER DOUGH RECIPE
Yield: one 20-ounce ball of dough to make one 12-inch Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza
  • 1 Package active dry yeast
  • ¾ Cup warm water (105-110 degrees F)
  • 1 Tsp. Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Corn oil
  • 2½ Cups All-purpose flour
  • 2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Olive oil
  • 12" Deep-Dish Pizza Pan or Cake Pan
In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast with water and sugar. Add the corn oil and blend. Add the flour and salt and mix thoroughly. If using a stand mixer, mix for 4 minutes at medium speed, until the dough is smooth and pliable. If kneading by hand, knead for 7 to 8 minutes. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand for two additional minutes. Add olive oil to a deep bowl. Place the dough ball into the bowl and turn it twice to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.* Let the dough rise for two hours. Do not punch it down. Spread and push the dough ball across the bottom of the pan and up the sides.
*At this stage, the dough can be put in the refrigerator and allowed to rise slowly overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you are ready to assemble the pizza.


PEPPERONI DEEP-DISH PIZZA
  • 1½ Cups Tomatoes, ground
  • 1 Tsp. Oregano, dried
  • 1 Tsp. Basil, dried
  • 2 Tbsp. Romano cheese, grated
  • 5 oz. Part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella, sliced
  • 5 oz. Provolone, sliced
  • 24 ea. Pepperoni Slices (about 2 oz.)
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, oregano, basil and Romano. Set aside.
  2. Lay the slices of mozzarella and provolone on top of the dough, overlapping the slices to cover all of the dough.
  3. Spread the tomato mixture evenly over the cheese.
  4. Dot the top of the tomatoes with the pepperoni.
  5. Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 475° F. oven for 20-25 minutes until crust is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  6. Allow the pizza to rest for 3-4 minutes before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shio Koji Salmon

Round 2 with shio koji was simpler than the chicken experiment, but the results were stunningly good. My usual method for grilling salmon is to oil the skin side of the fillet, place it on foil, and grill it in a closed grill over medium high flame until it's fork tender at the top surface of the thickest part of the fillet, about 10 minutes. I like mine medium rare, so I check on it occasionally until I find the flesh is just beginning to come apart with a fork. Off the grill, a little splash of soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice are all that are needed to finish it off. Serve with rice, a side dish of vegetables, and maybe some miso soup, and you've got a fine meal ready in 20 minutes.

The magical mystery sauce of shio koji took the flavor up a big notch and made the salmon irresistibly good.

Shio Koji Salmon

1 salmon fillet, skin on or off
1 Tbsp shio koji
little bit of vegetable oil
splash of soy sauce
squeeze of lemon juice

Coat the fillet in the shio koji and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to a day. Grill as described above and dress with soy sauce and lemon juice. Or don't dress it and let that salty fermented rice speak for itself. It's pretty good on its own, but does bring out the best in other flavors.

The biggest down side to this sauce is that it isn't available in the U.S. yet. You can buy koji from certain wine making supply stores that are geared for making sake, and then add salt. But once my supply is done, I guess I'll have to go back to Japan.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shio koji? Ooh, Mommy!

Sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami. If you don't think you're familiar with that last taste, think back to the last time you had Doritos. Do you remember that lingering, not quite salty, not quite sweet, but profoundly delicious taste that kept you wanting more? That's umami, and in this case it came from monosodium glutamate. Don't be afraid, it's not a bad word. Glutamates can be formed during some fermentation processes, much like wine or beer, and they're added to enhance the yumminess of many foods.

Enter shio koji, the latest condiment craze in Japan. It starts out as koji, a type of fermented rice used to produce sake, shochu, miso, and more. Add salt to koji, and you have shio koji. It looks like rice porridge, and it packs a big umami punch.. It's often used as a marinade for meat or fish to both tenderize and bring out the best in the dish.

Thanks to a recent visit to Japan by my better half, the Captain's kitchen is now well stocked with shio koji. This is what we did for our first trial, and even though I overcooked it a bit, it was delicious. Fresh tomatoes are essential.

2 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbsp shio koji
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
a few handfuls of broccoli florets or other veggies
a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 Tbsp soy sauce
black pepper

Marinate the chicken in the shio koji for at least two hours. In a dutch oven or similar pot, heat up the oil on medium high heat, then add the chicken in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Let the chicken brown for a minute, then add the veggies, tomatoes, soy sauce, and pepper. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes. Serve over steamed white rice.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

For the Birds

So I just want to reassure all of my loyal fans (search bots) that I'm still cooking, still eating, and still writing (rarely) on this blog. Unfortunately, I eat everything too quickly to publish pictures, and I'm on to the next dish before I can think about writing about it. There is an exception today: homemade suet.

In the process of making harira (you'll want to look that one up again), I ended up with a good half pound of lamb fat. What to do with all that flavor? I certainly wasn't going to dig in myself, but having just run out suet in the bird feeder, I decided to render it and make a little treat for my feathered neighbors.


Into the pot went all the lamb fat, cut into small pieces, and a half cup of water. I simmered the whole thing for about an hour until I had mostly melted fat and just barely a little bit of water. I didn't want to start deep frying the cracklin's in lamb fat...
Wait, that would have been delicious.

OK, well that opportunity is gone. Having rendered all the goodness I could, I strained out all the leftovers and let the liquid separate and cool in the freezer. After not too long, the fat had formed a nice creamy head, and the artist formerly known as water was now a gorgeous gelatin that I added to the harira.

The fat went back in the pan on low heat with a cup of mixed birdseed and sesame seeds, and it was all warmed up just to melt the fat. I poured the mixture into a mold and it's now hanging in the suet feeder waiting for my first customers.