Sunday, February 24, 2013

Steamed Egg/Chawanmushi recipe

Chawanmushi or steamed eggs are showing up left and right. They are picking up popularity at top NY restaurants - it's a staple at Brushstroke, a brunch special at North End Grill, and an available culinary disaster at Sushi Yasuda.

As usual, the internet is filled with recipes, but what is a recipe for something like this, if you cannot tell if it's perfect from the *inside*? For example, the chawanmushi at Sushi Yasuda is quite good looking on the outside, but the inside is filled with bubbles and is tasteless..

The egg needs to be silky and delicious, not too dense, and not too light. Here is how I like it best. With videos!

There are only 2 main ingredients: Eggs and water. Although I'm sure you'd find that recipe riveting, I decided to post a fancier version for the sake of variety.

My mother always made this with water and a little salt, which is perfectly fine. When I'm lazy, I make it with water, salt, and a splash of mirin. I had some extra time this morning, so I made a dashi base, which is just boiled dried seaweed and some bonito flakes. I then scoop out some clear dashi and let it cool for my "water". Remember to add a dash of salt. It helps bring out the taste of the egg.

I like to boil my bonito flakes and konbu with a strainer so that I can remove them from the soup easily.

Like all egg custards, one of the most important things is not having bubbles in the egg mixture. But for the sake of sanity, just whisk the eggs and deal with the bubbles later. Save the egg shells!!

Hopefully you have at least one well-preserved egg shell half. A really nice trick I learned is using the shell to measure the water. The ratio should be and the *very least* 3 half shells of water to 1 egg, and at the most 8 half sells of water to 1 egg. I like a ratio of 6:1.

As you add the water, you'll notice that the bubbles will form a nice little layer on top. They are really easy to skim with a spoon.

I run the egg mixture through a strainer anyway (I reused the strainer from the dashi), because there's always some egg gunk that's not perfectly mixed. Toss it!

This is what the final mixture should look like. Perfect. Bubble-less.

The egg is then left to steam for about 10 minutes.

I love extras. I sliced some green onions...

And made some sauce with the dashi. I just added some green onion bottoms, a little extra soy sauce, and some sesame oil.

I throw the green onions in about 7-8 minutes into cooking so they partially sink into the egg.

To tell if the egg is cooked, you can shake the pot, and it should jiggle like so.

Another way to test if the egg is cooked is by poking it open with a spoon. The liquid should be clear, and the egg should be solid like gelatin.

Here's the finished result.

It's important not to overcook the egg, so remove it shortly after it jiggles like a solid. You have about 5 minutes to get it out of the pot before the egg overcooks and starts puffing up.

Such a delicious warm breakfast. Perfect for a gloomy morning! Each ramekin was 1 egg, so all that water increases the volume quite a bit (by 300% in fact).

The delicious jiggle of a perfectly cooked steamed egg custard.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lotus Blue

More and more Chinese restaurants are moving away from Chinatown. Red Farm, Mission Chinese... well we don't have all night to wait in line, so we stopped by Lotus Blue.

This is a great place to get a light lunch, and the ingredients are obviously high quality, but the cuisine is as confused as the music. Like its location and name, the restaurant seems to want to say that they are Chinese, but not grungy and loud like the restaurants in Chinatown. On the other hand, they want to be affordable and authentic unlike Mr. Chow's.

The decor was tranquil with large lotus blossoms painted on orangey walls. But the air was filled with deafening caterwauling mixed with some bone flute and impossibly slow disco music. During my discomfort, I really did think that perhaps they were playing two songs at once.

Chicken soup in clay pot. It was a little too lightly seasoned, especially since the waiter said that there were "a lot of Chinese herbs" inside. I must say that I didn't taste too many herbs, and the only thing in the soup other than the chicken were the delicious sliced strumpet mushrooms:

These things were cut crosswise. They are the little circular disks in the soup picture.

Overall the soup was good although under seasoned, and there was *a lot* of chicken. A lot of chicken.

Crispy red snapper. This is not what we expected. Instead of a whole fish fried and covered in sauce, the fish was filleted, pieces of fish were fried, and the sauce (sweet and spicy cocktail sauce?) came on the side.

The flavor was okay. Once again I was surprised that the food was under seasoned. There was literally no seasoning in the batter... not even salt.

I did enjoy the fish head though. I picked out all the tender pieces and left them an obliterated carcass muahaha.

The check came in a cute little pouch.

Instead of finding harmony between Chinatown and high end dining, the restaurant seems to have confused itself. The clubby ambiance attracts the loud crowd, but being slightly overpriced and in Tribeca, they have loud and slightly-better-heeled. Without the hype/advertisements/cache, Lotus Blue is not attracting foodies or celebrities, falling into the cracks of the NY restaurant scene. Its only hope lies with the locals.

It would be interesting to see how they do over the years. But for now, it's good for a quick Chinese food date if you don't want to walk in dead fish water (especially if they fix the music), and great for lunch, during which they have generous portions and interesting sides.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sushi Yasuda. Savor the sushi as quickly as you can

Sushi Yasuda has great sushi... and it's all sushi.

First of all, I don't read fish hieroglyphs. Sushi Yasuda is marked by a picture of a fish on a thin strip of lit awning. As far as I could see (which was not very far in the rain), there was no name or identifying lettering anywhere. I had to squint at the articles in the window to confirm that I was indeed at the correct restaurant.

Sake! I wonder how long it took them to get the sake into such a small opening?

Seaweed salad 5/10: Although I enjoyed trying different types of seaweed, and the plate screamed elegance, the seaweeds were not that good. My stomach is more discerning than your neighborhood aquarium.

Flash frozen tuna 6.5/10: I liked it at the time because it was crunchy and fried, but thinking back on it, I feel like it tasted too much like chicken. The seasoning was good but masked the taste of the fish.

From left to right, top to bottom: 2x spanish mackerel, razor clam, uni, 2x king salmon, 2x white king salmon, 2x red snapper (kinme), 2x silver salmon, 2x regular tuna, 2x fluke, 4x toro

9/10: The uni and toro were a.m.a.z.i.n.g. Insane. I could eat more, but I was getting rather full. At least a few times the fish was so good, that we were able to close our eyes and shut out all sounds and other senses and just savor the fish.

I took a point off because as it will become apparent that someone lied.

Tamago 8/10: It was okay. It was good, but not mind boggling.

Chawanmushi 3/10: I didn't even take a picture because it was awful. It didn't have any taste, it has some air bubbles so it wasn't silken, and there were weird clots of food inside.

Don't get the chawanmushi. It makes me so sad.

From top to bottom, left to right: rainbow trout, arctic char, king salmon. As you can see from this picture vs. the picture above, either our first waitress lied or our second waitress lied. I think it's probably the first one who mixed silver salmon and king salmon.

But anyway, all three were good. At this point, we were too distracted by the fact that they were pushing us to eat the fish and order dessert or maybe order dessert before we eat the fish. If we hadn't ordered dessert, we would have gotten our coats delivered to our table.

Green tea and red bean mochi 7/10: They were really good, but someone overdusted the green tea mochi with matcha and it was a little too bitter. I also don't like the high friction of the matcha when the ice cream and mochi are supposed to be soft and forgiving. It's like putting sandpaper on a pillow.

Overall the service was bipolar. The politeness was more than offset by the aggressive schedule. They pretty much told us to finish some courses because others were on the way. ...And we were not there for long.

When you visit ONLY ORDER SUSHI. I don't see the merit of anything else. Okay... sushi and sake. That's enough to make a meal.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Red Cooked (Hong Shao) Ribs

Red cook(ing) is a very common method in Chinese cooking in which protein is stewed in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and whatever else until it turns dark and incredibly tender. The combinations of ingredients and methods vary, but I cook it the way I've always been taught.

The method is not only delicious but firmly rooted in scientific reasoning.

The butcher had trouble following instructions so I ended up with massive ribs that I had to claw apart with my fingers. I like to make this stew with St. Louis style ribs, because I love munching on the softened cartilage. There's also just enough fat to keep the meat tender and the guilt at bay.

The is the only recipe I can think of where you boil red meat as the first step. This is to get rid of all of the extra blood and crap that's going to give it a strange flavor or grainy texture.

A few minutes of boiling will bring all the blood and gunk to the top. You can then dump the water and rinse off the ribs, so that you get a nice clean soup.

In goes cooking wine, ginger, and just enough water to cover the meat. This is simmered covered on low heat for 30 minutes while....

I watched TMZ. But my bf put together a nice soup to go with the red cooked ribs.

30 minutes into the cooking process, the meat is starting to tenderize, and it's time to season. Some people might tell you to put the soy sauce in before this step, but according to my father, sodium ions make the meat tense up prematurely, and the flavor will not permeate. I believe him.

Now for the key ingredients: a few tablespoons of dark soy sauce and a piece of palm sugar. If you have rock sugar, you can add a couple of lumps. I strongly suggest using one of these sugars, because they taste different from your run-of-the-mill sugar. They have a brighter and fruitier sweetness than table sugar/brown sugar/etc. I also threw in 1 star anise to bring out the savory earthiness of the meat. I don't like to add too many extras here, because the meat should be the star.

When the sauce is all mixed with the cooked meat, I added some coarsely chopped carrots. This is then simmered for another 20 minutes or pretty much however long you like as long as the carrots don't turn to mush.

In the mean time, my bf's beef noodle soup is finished and is filling the room with warmth and delicious aromas.

When the red cooked ribs are done, it will look reddish brown (go figure) like this. The sauce doesn't have to be super thick. Super thick soy sauce and sugar stews are actually a different method by a different name.

I scooped out the well-seasoned ribs and carrots. The meat is falling off the bone!

As we savor the sweet and salty stewed meat and the soft cartilage of the ribs, the sauce is being used to make flavored eggs. It's the circle of cooking fluids.