Everything cooked for a lover is sensual.
~Isabel Allende, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

One variation on a fried rice theme…a motif limited only by your leftovers, pantry and creativity. As some food is best with bare toes plunked in the sand, somehow bowls of fried rice should be savored while adorned only with giddy, knowing grins and chopsticks in the wee hours. Well, this time of year maybe amorously draped in white linens. Nothing wrong, and most things right with intimate garb and grub.

DUCK & GINGER FRIED RICE

2 C long grain rice
4 C chicken or vegetable stock

2 C roasted (or confit) duck meat, skinned, boned and cut into pieces
2-3 T soy sauce
1 T dry sherry
1 T sesame oil
1 T hoisin sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

2 T peanut oil
1 T duck fat
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
4 thin slices peeled ginger

2 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
2 t red pepper flakes
3 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
1 C small mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced (optional)

4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

3-4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Egg yolks (optional)

Use leftover rice, or…place rice and stock in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and continue cooking 12 to 15 minutes, until stock has evaporated and surface is pitted with “fish eyes.” Remove from heat, allow to cool in a bowl and then place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

Toss duck meat with soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil and hoisin, and add black pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a wok or large, heavy deep skillet, heat peanut oil, duck fat, smashed garlic and sliced ginger over high heat until sizzling. Do not burn. Remove garlic and ginger and discard, then add shallots and red pepper flakes and sauté until translucent and almost golden, stirring occasionally. Add minced ginger, garlic, peas and mushrooms and cook a couple of minutes more. Add rice and cook on medium heat until rice is heated through, stirring throughout. Fold in duck meat mixture and sliced scallions until heated. Make a deep, broad well in the center of the rice, and then add a splash more oil and when hot add eggs. Scramble the egg lightly, then let it set without stirring so it sets and stays in big pieces. Fold in the rice and gently toss until until well blended. Season with soy sauce to taste.

When serving, make a hollow in each mound of rice and carefully drop in an egg yolk. Then, garnish with cilantro.

Cooking is a language through which a society expresses itself.
~Jean Soler

With its varied traditions, diverse cultures, notable history and differing terrain, Vietnam is a cradle of supreme cuisine. One favorite at this table is Phở bò a luscious, soulful beef and rice noodle soup.

Phở originated in northern Vietnam in the early 20th Century, then spread to central and south Vietnam sometime after the defeat of the French in the climactic battle at Dien Bien Phu(1954)—marking the end of the French Indochina War and ultimately French colonization. The southward migration of phở throughout the country resulted in many regional variants of the dish, so that the phở in Hue differs from that in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.

Phở, pronounced fuh (as in “what the phở?!) is traditionally served for breakfast in Vietnam, but can also be found as lunch or dinner fare. Understatedly nympholeptic.

Phở Nạm Bò

2 onions, peeled & quartered
6-8 slices fresh ginger, peeled & cut lengthwise into 1/2” slices
10 whole star anise
10 whole cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks

12 C chicken broth
4 C water
2 lb piece of beef brisket
1 lb beef neck and/or shank bones
6 oxtails

1-2 T fish sauce (nước mắm nhi)
2 T sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb dried rice noodles, 1/4″ wide (banh pho)

6 green onions, sliced
6 sprigs large Thai or small Italian basil
2 jalapeño and assorted Thai chilies, stemmed, thinly cut on diagonal
1 lb cut of London broil
3 C fresh mung bean sprouts

Hoisin sauce
Hot chili sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Lime wedges
Cilantro, stemmed and roughly cut
Mint, stemmed and roughly cut

Preheat oven to 350 F

Arrange onion quarters, rounded side down, and ginger pieces on baking sheet. Roast until onions begin to soften, about 20-25 minutes. Cut off dark, charred edges if any. Toast star anise, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks in small skillet over medium heat, until aromatic and slightly darker, about 3 minutes.

Bring broth, water and brisket to a boil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. Skim off foam that rises to top with a spider sieve. Add onions, ginger and toasted spices to the pot. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and gently simmer until brisket is tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Again, skim off and discard any fat from the soup’s surface.  (Or you could increase the broth some and cook over low for about 8 hours.)

Transfer brisket, neck/shank bones and oxtails to cutting board; slice brisket thinly across the grain. Strain soup into large bowl, discarding the strained solids. Return soup, brisket, neck/shank bones and oxtails to same pot and boil 10 minutes. Add fish sauce (nước mắm nhi) and sugar, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low simmer.

For the last 5 minutes or so of preparation have the London broil in the freezer to firm it for slicing. Then remove and slice crosswise into very thin strips with an extremely sharp knife.

Cook rice noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Divide noodles among separate soup bowls. Add brisket (and necks/shanks, oxtails should you wish) to bowls. Then add the onions, beans and chilies to your liking. Top with London broil, and ladle hot soup over the top which will “cook” the steak. Serve with remaining garnishes on the table (hoisin, sriracha, basil, cilantro, mint, lime wedges).

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus