Putting some Chang Shui in my cooking and other strange Kombu-nations

I recently borrowed this book from work and have been enjoying it completely.  First of all it is a very fun read. I especially like the part where he talks about how he came up with the name of his restaurant “It is no accident that Momofuku sounds like motherfucker” he states.

Not too long ago I was getting ready for a TV spot on Channel 2 the Deuce and I was talking to my marketing rep about how I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s follow up book Medium Raw and how much I enjoyed it. “He has such a filthy mouth” she says “chefs shouldn’t be like that, you’re not like that.”  Little does she know that I can rattle off a litany of swear words and use them to chisel away at someone’s ego with the precision of Michelangelo.  Most Chefs can and don’t hesitate in their kitchens.  You get into the high energy bust your ass world of professional cooking and this comes with the territory.  I haven’t been in that world for awhile, so I have since adapted to a more polite daily interaction with people (but I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to let loose).

Anyway, David Chang the owner of a small restaurant empire in New York is the author of this particular book and he does not hold back on his thoughts or his language.  If you also read Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw there is a great chapter on David Chang as well as many other great chapters.

Inspired by both the Momofuku book, Anthony’s interview with David and the amazing meal I experienced at David’s Noodle Bar in NYC a few years back, I decided to dig into the book and learn some Chang magic.

It has been fun, easy and tasty so far.  The first dish I attempted was the Bo Saam, the often written about whole pork shoulder dish served with multiple sides, shredded table side by the patrons, wrapped in lettuce leaves and served with all the condiments (including freshly shucked oysters).

The first shock in the recipe was the shear volume of salt in his rub. 8 lbs. of pork shoulder 1 cup of salt + 1 Tbsp. & 1 cup of sugar.  Rubbed over the shoulder and allowed to sit in your fridge overnight.  Removed from the dish and placed in a roasting pan, then baked at 300º for 6 hours.  Way too salty.  I figure that David actually makes huge batches of this salt sugar combo and then rubs his meats to desired amount and then goes on with the recipe.  Trying to rub that much salt on the pork is overkill. So I would guess keep the ratio the same but only try to rub in about a 1  cup of the mixture. The dish is then baked in a 300° for 6 hours or even do it at 250º for 8.  Baste it often and then finish it with a brown sugar rub and brown it under the broiler.  It should shred easily and be interlaced with fat.  He uses Niman Ranch Paul Willis raised Berkshire pork and that is going to give you better results than your factory farmed abominations.  I don’t have Paul’s number on speed dial, however I have access to great locally raised John Long’s pork.

Then I wanted to make his Kimchee. I had most of the ingredients already on hand except for the shrimp sauce.  I made it, put it in the fridge and waited the prescribed two weeks.  Then we tasted it with the Bo Saam.  It was tasty but didn’t not have any of the fermentation qualities that give Kimchee a bad name (no funk).

Clearly it was time for a trip to Pacific Ocean Market in nearby Westminster.  I went on a Sunday and that is not the day to go to an Asian Market.  The place was packed and I was one of the few Caucasians in the place.  The Chinese music was blaring but with a crackly distortion that would make you willing to cut off your right hand in order to find the off switch.  Still I endured and managed to spend 2 hours there trying to decipher the different packages to find what I was looking for.  Fortunately they have separated the different Asian cultures into separate aisles so you stand a chance at finding what you are looking for.  I have had other frustrating trips to this market desperately trying to find ingredients for the IACP conference that I foolishly volunteered for 2 years ago.  Two of the ingredients that I had such trouble finding then are Katsuobushi (I now know is dried bonito flakes) and Kombu which is Dried kelp.

Kombu on left and Katsuobushi on the right

I struggle to look at every package in the Japanese aisle to find Kombu written anywhere.  Lots of Kelp and seaweed (shredded or whole), but nothing that says Kombu.  Another bewildered caucasian lady is searching the aisle with a little more confidence and I ask her.  “Hell if I know” she says.  Back to the search. Refusing to leave empty handed I grab a package with whole kelp and hope for the best.  Then I try find my nemesis the Katsuobushi.  Finally I come across a one pound bag of the stuff hidden away in a cubby at floor level. $17 for a bag of what looks like fish food that might take me a lifetime to use.  Then I search a little longer and find the ideal solution for my casual exploration of Japanese cuisine.  A bag of individual portions of Katsubushi and upon further inspection it actually says Katsuobushi on the packages.  Relieved I continue on my quest for the products described in the book.  Usukuchi light soy sauce, I can’t find anywhere either but as you can see from the link there is no obvious label that I could be looking for.  Next trip.  I get the the shrimp sauce to add the funk needed to make my kimchee authentic.  I grab a bunch of other stuff: pigs feet and neck bones, various different noodles etc. and head to the check out counter with my eco-friendly grocery bags.

The next big recipe I attempt (with great success I might add) is the ramen noodle dish.  This involved many different steps. Making a ramen broth which includes Taré a vaguely described product that sounds more like the classic fond you would find in roasting bones for a veal stock, except this time you use Sake, Mirin and Soy Sauce to deglaze the meat drippings that are thickly embedded in the roasting pan.  He’s right this liquid is awesome tasting but so is the French version.  I made a classic dashi (which is a broth with Katsuobushi and Kombu). Then I started to freestyle on his recipe by adding the mushroom to the dashi and then again adding them to the ramen broth.   It took two days to get the product I felt might be worthy of the broth he describes.  Adding the pig’s feet (not called for in the recipe) really gave tons of gelatin to the broth and I was going to freeze it and use a modern technique called Gelatin Filtration to turn it into a crystal clear broth.

I made the Kimchee but this time I used the shrimp sauce that I was missing the last time I made it.  If you have ever smelled Southeast Asian fish sauce and recoiled in disgust then this stuff is like nasal napalm.  I of course made my wife take an uninhibited snort of the stuff (she was already feeling a little nauseous) and she almost yakked in the bathroom.  This was clearly gonna make this batch of Kimchee funky, I mean this stuff could put the funk back into a Black Eyed Peas Superbowl halftime show.

David Chang talks about making various pickles and how easy it is.  So I also made a few of those. Daikon Radish, Thai Bird Chilis and I turned the dried shiitakes I used in the making of the ramen broth into the soy sauce pickled ones he describes in the book.  I agree with him on pickles as well.  They are super easy to make and I indeed wonder what has taken me so long to start pickling things.

Finished ramen dish plated on February's Bauscher Deep Plate entry

Now nothing to do but wait and let the shrimp sauce do its magic to the Kimchee.  The time came two weeks later and we had my brother in law’s family over for dinner before they went  to the Furthur show.  I had slow roasted the pork shoulder à la Bo Saam method described above (but with about half the amount of salt).  I slow poached the eggs in the method described in the book which is to keep them in water between 140º-145º for 45 minutes and I could remove them from the shell whole with a still runny yolk.  Hardly a new concept for me, but I had never attempted it without a thermo-recirculator before.  It was a challenge to keep the temperature at the exact temp I wanted and I ended up keeping it hovering at around 143º which was not quite enough to firm the egg white.  In my subsequent ghetto style effort I found that hovering at 145º yields the desired effect.  I used Asian wheat noodles I bought at the market and put the dish together.  The verdict very tasty.  Needs more refinement, but very close to what I experienced at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York.   The noodles were the downfall.  There were no fresh ramen noodles at the Asian Market. A week later I made a batch of pasta which he suggests as an alternative and it was much better.  But now I will have to try and make his actual fresh Ramen noodle recipe.  But as he also mentions finding the Sodium Carbonate and Potassium Carbonate is a “pain in the ass.”  I’ll let you know what I find out.

So overall I would say that Chang’s book rocks.  Easy to produce recipes that are filled with great forward flavors and I am learning a little along the way.  Next I will try to cook his famous Momofuku pork buns of which I also have a fond memory from eating at his restaurant. Kimchee is on week four and the funk is on.


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