About Mastering and Enjoying Home Cooking. Drink, Cook, and Live Well!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)

This Sichuan dish may well be the world's most popular Chinese dish. It is also one of the few Chinese dishes that have largely remained authentic worldwide. A blend hot, sweet and sour - this delightful chicken dish is also quick to prepare. The chicken slices easier if it is slightly frozen.

5~6 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin bite sized pieces
3 Cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon finely minced peeled ginger
10 scallion, sliced on the diagonal into 1 inch lengths
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
Handful of whole dried red chilies (show courage)
1 Teaspoon toasted ground Sichuan peppers added just before serving
2/3 Cup toasted peanuts

For the marinade:
2 Teaspoon Tamari soy sauce
1 Teaspoon sweet rice wine or Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1½ Teaspoon cornstarch
1 Teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon water

For the sauce:
2 Teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoon cornstarch
1 Teaspoon Mushroom soy sauce
1 Teaspoon Tamari soy sauce
2 Teaspoon Chinkiang (Black rice vinegar) or seasoned rice vinegar
1 Teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 Teaspoon Marin
1 Tablespoon chicken stock or water

Pick out any black seeds and stems from a tablespoon of Sichuan pepper berries and discard.(It’s just the hulls we grind.) Heat a small pan until hot and toast pepper hulls until fragrant (30 seconds or so). Turn out into a mortar or grinder. Grind into a not too course grind. Set aside.

Prepare garlic, ginger, and scallions. Assemble the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Cut the chicken into thin bite sized pieces. Thin strips cook quickly and maintain tenderness when flash cooked in a hot wok. Add the marinade ingredients and stir in the chicken pieces. Let marinate 15 minutes.
Into a hot wok, add peanut oil and then toss the chilies until fragrant. Add and stir-fry chicken for several minutes until nearly fully cooked. Now add the ginger, garlic, and spring onions and stir-fry another minute. Stir the bowl of sauce ingredient then add to wok. Thicken the sauce then add peanuts. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with ground Sichuan peppers. Serve immediately.

1.       Sichuan (Schezuan) Pepper aka Prickly Ash - This pepper is not actually a member the pepper family. It has a unique aroma and flavor that is neither hot nor pungent; rather it has lemony flavor and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth that enhances chilies usually used with it. Only the outer husks are used; the shiny black seeds are discarded as they have a hard gritty sand-like texture. Husks are stemmed then toasted before mortared or ground then added to the dish just before serving. Sichuan pepper are one of the traditional ingredients in the Chinese spice mixture five-spice powder and also Japanese shichimi togarashi, a seven ingredient seasoning often found as a shaker on the condiment tray of your Asian noodle shop. Shichimi togarashi is made typically with equal parts each of ground red chilies and ground sansho (berries of the prickly ash tree related to Sichuan pepper) plus one portion each of the following: dried orange or yuzu peel, black sesame, white sesame, ginger, and nori flakes. Due to their lemony undertones, this pepper works well with duck, chicken and fish. Sichuan culinary history reaches all the way back to the Ba and Shu kingdoms in the 21st to 5th centuries BC. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), a 50 volume cookbook was published. Despite its reputation to the contrary, not all Sichuan food is red-hot. Of the eight major culinary cuisines in China, Sichuan cuisine is perhaps the most popular throughout the country and across the world.
Sichuan (Schezuan) Pepper aka Prickly Ash

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New York Meatballs

Not once in the seven years I lived in Italy was I served meatballs. The Italian-Americans may have made these popular but no place more so than New York. There are several meatball shops every few miles specializing in meatballs. The best of these grind their own meat. As any fine cuisine, the finest ingredients make the best product. Virtually all the Italian recipes I have seen use bread as a tenderizer but its Italian bread that has some chew and texture. Substitute Sourdough bread if you cannot find Italian bread.  Italians use their bread stale then soak it in water. Freshly ground bread crumbs will do the job just as well. Chef Lidia Bastianich’s dredges the outside of the prepared meatballs in the flour until lightly coated so that they get a crispy texture when fried. Most meat balls finish cooking by simmering in sauce, which defeats a crisp outer layer. Cheese is a common ingredient to add flavor. Mario Batali’s meatballs use pecorino Romano while other chefs use Parmigiano Reggiano. Universal to most other recipe is one egg per  1 ½ pound of meat, Italian parsley, diced onion, minced garlic, crushed red pepper, herbs and spices. Most recipes include pork and ground beef, or just pork. The upscale meatball might also include veal. I have made this recipe to include lamb, beef and pork to maximize its flavor. A mixture with too little fat will be necessarily dry and less flavorful. Ribeye steak and Boston butt have the requisite amount of fat. Most of the fat renders when baking. Mario Batali make simmer his meatballs in a suace without a oven or frying, hence excess fat renders into that sauce.

½ Pound of ground ribeye steak
½ Pound ground Boston Butt Pork roast
½ Pound ground lamb shoulder
1 Egg, beaten
3 Cloves garlic, minced
1/3 Cup grated pecorino cheese
Chopped Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon water
1 Teaspoon Worchester sauce
1 Cup fresh breadcrumbs from sour dough (more for more tender)

Toast these spices (below) until fragrant and then grind in a spice or coffee bean grinder
1 Teaspoon paprika
1 Teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Herb de Provence
1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 Teaspoon black pepper
2 Teaspoon sugar

Have ready a simmering quart of great tomato sauce or ragu to simmer the meatballs once baked.
Prepare meat ingredients. Toast spices then grind. Mix spices into meat. Make a sample meat ball and fry in olive oil. When cooked, taste meatball and correct the seasoning as necessary.

Line a tray with tin foil for easy cleanup. Make golf-ball sized round meatballs and space just ½ inch apart on a foil lined tray. Place meatballs in refrigerator for 40 minutes to firm up. 
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake meatballs on tray in oven for 30 minutes. Using tongs, place meatballs in a baking dish and gently simmer in a prepared tomato sauce or ragu for 15 minutes more.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What about Canola Oil?

We are on the brink of a possible human extinction trends driven by the food industry. At its root is genetically modifying food, which is driven by corporate greed not for the benefit of humankind. Examples include Monsanto1 engineered corn to be resistant to crops grown with the use of Monsanto’s Roundup, a non-specific potent herbicide. Thus, Monsanto's GM corn grown has a toxic chemical right inside every corn kernel. In a recent scientific study, a shocking 70 percent of female rats died prematurely when fed GMOs. Fifty percent of males died early. Almost all of them died from cancer tumors.

The word "Canola" was derived from "Canadian oil, low acid" in 1978. The name was coined partially to avoid the negative connotations of genetically modified rapeseed 00 - A product known as LEAR (for low erucic acid rapeseed).
Since then, the low euricic acid rapeseed plant has been genetically modified to incorporate genes that confer resistance to glysophate (the herbicide Roundup from Monsanto). Unless it is labeled organic, almost all canola oil in the USA is GMO and grown using Roundup to control weeds. Glysophate degrades only very slowly and eventually has to end up as a contaminant in canola oil. Canola oil is typically extracted and refined using high heat (470oC), pressure, and the petroleum neurotoxin and carcinogenic solvent hexane. Most canola oil undergoes a process of caustic refining, degumming, bleaching, and deodorization, all using high heat and questionable chemicals. Currently the FDA sets no limit to the amount of hexane that can be in a food.

There have been no long-term studies on canola oil but it is still suspect but it may be ok as a bio-fuel or lubricant.  Seriously, would you buy olive oil that was processed with gasoline?

GMO labeling was introduced to give consumers the freedom to choose between GMOs and conventional products. Support the right to know by supporting GMO labeling.

  1. Biotech giant Monsanto has been declared the Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society for threatening both human health and the environment. The leader in genetically modified seeds and crops, Monsanto is currently responsible for 90 percent of the genetically engineered seed on the United States market. Outside of GM seeds, Monsanto is also the creator of the best-selling herbicide Roundup, which has spawned over 120 million hectacres of herbicide-resistant superweeds while damaging much of the soil. Despite hard evidence warning against the amplified usage of genetically modified crops, biopesticides, and herbicides, Monsanto continues to disregard all warning signs.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Practical Knives

If you were a painter, you would not want a mop to paint with; likewise, a chef does not want dull knives. The type of knives you buy is important.

There is easy-to-sharpen and hard-to-sharpen. The hard to sharpen probably hold their edge longer but the easy to sharpen need less work to get an edge. Thin knives with non-wood handles are easy to maintain, last longer, and take a keen edge. High carbon steel is actually the best performer providing more toughness and the ability sharpen easily with minimal effort. High carbon steel is not stain resistant. It can rust and will discolor from use. Old high carbon steel kitchen knife blades will actually become dark which is purely cosmetic and does not detract from their performance and are relatively inexpensive.

High carbon stainless steel is a good stain-resistant steel. It has a high content of carbon for hardness and still enough chromium to keep it looking great. High carbon stainless will take a sharp edge but requires a greater effort to sharpen than high carbon steel. It is the most popular steel type used in high quality kitchen cutlery. The Japanese knives use an alloy and heat treatment that produces a harder thinner blade requiring more maintenance and the European knives produce a softer thicker blade requiring less maintenance.

Stainless steel or surgical stainless steel has less carbon and more chromium in the alloy. It is very resistant to rust and stains but not hard enough to maintain the best possible edge. This type of steel is used most often in department store knives. Typically, the angle on these knives is about 50 degrees meaning a thick edge, which is another compromise versus durability. Knives with high vanadium content can take a very keen edge, but are very hard to sharpen.

Here is a picture of some of my Kiwi brand Thai knives that are over 20 years old. They go through the dishwasher and yet are in good shape.
Kiwi and Kom Kom knives are from Thailand and feature thin blades. The Thai chefs love their knives. The knives have a wooden handle and stainless steel blade. Whether you are a serious gourmet chef or value-conscious weekend cook, Kiwi brand offers the best quality and value in knives.  These knives are super sharp and very easy to sharpen using a sharpening stone or hone.  Kom-kom makes an excellent Chinese style butcher's cleaver but I actually use a Chinese cleaver like this one.