On Saturday, I’m attending a Wok Star cooking class taught by the Wok Star herself, Eleanor Hoh, for an upcoming story on Short Order. Her approach doesn’t revolve around cookbooks or recipes. It’s instead about learning a few techniques that can help you improvise your way to simple, healthy Asian meals at home using only a few ingredients. Sounds right up my alley.
I’ve always been fascinated with the far east, both cuisines and cultures. You name it, I love to eat it and learn about it. Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese… another helping, please? But in my own kitchen? Leave it to the experts, I would say. “I’d sooner attempt brain surgery!”
I mean, where does one begin to create something close to what a bonafide restaurant of any of the above persuasions can plate? Asia summarized in a pre-made sauce like Soy Vey was the, shall we say, lazy extent of my foray.
A couple months back, I had read about Barbara Tropp’s cookbooks in the New York Times Bitten Blog, usually the realm of recipe brahman Mark Bittman, but that spring day offered up to his friend Edward Schneider for a tribute to the late author and San Francisco restaurateur. It was one of those online reading excursions of infinite tangents when you read a story and then get lost in the comments, only to link elsewhere to better understand what people are referring to in the thread. It was as exhausting and enlightening a surf as any, and three Chinese cookbooks from Amazon later (two of which were Barbara’s,) I was on my way to attempting the “goop” her fans swore by in the thread.
Online search led to offline hunt, as I piled my weekend-bum-self into the rental (thanks to previously tweeted car crash) on a Sunday afternoon. Destination: North Miami Beach, the P.K. Oriental Market. Mission: China Moon Hot Chili Oil ingredients. The China Moon Cookbook (first printing 1992) calls for:
2/3 cup shockingly pungent dried red chili flakes
1/3 cup Chinese fermented black beans (do not rinse them), coarsely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups corn or peanut oil
1/3 cup Japanese sesame oil
The “goop” Barbara refers to is the yummy stuff that settles to the bottom of the just-as-yummy oil. My first try was a success, and it actually reminds me of the hot oil at one place in Miami, Stir Moon in Coral Gables. But so much better, of course. It’s very easy. Add all the ingredients into a sauce pan on the stove and cook at a soft simmer on low heat for about 12-15 minutes. Let it cool and then pour into a clean, air-tight container or glass jar for storage and use whenever you want to “light a spark” in sauces, noodles, salads, marinades… you get the idea. There’s a whole section of divine condiments like this one to drool over, not to mention the other 250 recipes I’m rarin’ to tackle. China Moon Cookbook. Get it, use it, love it. End of story.
Here are some other things I found while at P.K.’s. It can be an intimidating experience, being unfamiliar with most of the products and foods, especially with such an absence of English packaging and like-speaking staff. But oh what fun, especially when you run into something you recognize from a special meal you once had in Chinatown, or something completely foreign that turns out to be a taste treat of infinite possibilities once you bring it home. Thanks to helpful tweets, I will be trying Lucky’s closer to my neck of the woods next time. Not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy P.K.’s, with Sang’s next door and King Palace with its shrimp stuffed bean curd down the street, but it’s kind of a haul.