Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Stack BBQ

Since I’m nearing the end of my stay in Kansas, I am determined as ever to eat as much BBQ as I can. My current plan is to survey the best BBQ joints in KC by the end of June, tally up the results, and revisit the top three as many times as I can before I leave at the end of July.

I tried quite a few at this point. I went to the best known BBQ joints of Gates, Arthur Bryants, Oklahoma Joe’s, and Jack Stack. I have also gone to a slew of less known but well regarded joints such as LC’s, Woodyard, Biggs, Jon Russell’s, RJ’s, and Smokestack. There have been good moments, even great moments, but I never really experienced an affection as intense as the one that was brought by Stack BBQ.

Before my visit, nothing really drew me to that place. It doesn’t have the fun ambience of Woodyard, the fame of OK Joe’s, or the originality of RJ’s. I mean, even the name of the place is evokative of the best known BBQ joint in KC.

However, since I did give myself the mission of trying as much BBQ as I can, I decided to give it a try. I got the for two people Lunch option thing, which included 3 meats, ribs, toast, coleslaw, fries, and beans for 19 bucks.

I knew that sounded like a lot, but I was ready to be disappointed. I often approach dining with extremely low expectations, so that I would not be depressed. Expectedly or unexpectedly, the mound of food that came to our table was huge.

So here’s the meat. A pile of burnt ends, sliced beef, and sausage.

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The meat was simply wonderful. The smell of smoke was almost overwhelming, bringing with the dish an intensity that stood out even in an establishment that already smelled like smoke.  The sausage had a fine texture, with the bouncy feel that told you that this was not just some ground meat in casing, but carefully salted and mixed sausage meat. The burnt ends were fine. I categorize burnt ends into two camps: the byproduct ends that are inconsistent, chewy bits merely cut off from bbq meat, such  as those from Arthur Bryants (don’t get me wrong, these are desirable features and have a charm by itself) and the “burnt ends” that seems to be not a byproduct but is meticulously prepared, with more consistent and often tender results (such as those from Jack Stack and Smokehouse). The Stack’s ends were more of the latter. Wonderful texture and bark, but for somebody like me who believes that the beauty of burnt ends is in its inconsistency and combination of tough, smoked out bits and tender, juicy parts, it was not ideal.

The beef was just beautiful. Unbelievably moist, fatty (but not grisly) and smokey, these were probably the best sliced beef that I had at a BBQ joint.

Then here’s the sides. Beans, slaw, potatoes, and four carefully buttered pieces of bread.

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The sides tell you a lot abou the place. There’s really no half-assed attempts at the Stack. BBQ beans were similar to the meats: rich and intensely smokey. Slaw and fries didn’t really stand out, but in a good way. They were just good standard sides that supported the BBQ without overt presence. The toast was symbolic of the Stack itself. The bread is the product that are often the saddest elements of BBQ meals, with stale bits of commercial white bread that are salvaged only by being doused by meat juices and sauce. The Stack is so thorough that the bread was eatable by itself, toasted to perfection and with a healthy slab of butter.

If you haven’t noticed yet, this place has become my favorite BBQ joint. I have always scoffed at intense loyalty to specific establishments, but I might have to start rethinking my past actions.

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Simple Okonomiyaki, cabbage pancakes.

While I would love to have the materials to make an authentic Okonomiyaki ready by my side, the total cost of bonito flakes, red pickled ginger, tenkasu (fried bits of flour), aonori (strange flaky seaweed stuff), and yamaimo (mountain potatoes) adds up to quite a bit. In addition, none of those are essential for a good, solid okonomiyaki, so the one I often make is a simple, stripped down version.

Osaka style okonomiyaki

The thing that a lot of recipes (a lot of popular Japanese recipe too, I might add) is that they think that a light batter is hard to achieve, utilizing fancy techniques such as the addition of grated yamaimo, or in some extreme cases, adding meringue.

The fact is that to make a light okonomiyaki, the only thing you need to do is increase the amount of cabbage. Having a large amount of batter in the okonomiyaki weighs it down, and also leads to a sad, doughy okonomiyaki that resembles a pancake.

The reason why this cabbage:dough ratio that I propose is not used often is because of the difficulty of flipping. Having more batter leads to a okonomiyaki that resembles a heavy disc of flour, which is very easy to flip. A cabbage heavy okonomiyaki is brittle and delicate, which makes it hard to perform the first flip, yet leads to a light texture.

There’s three things you can do to overcome this problem.

1. Cut the cabbage into long, thin ribbons. Many okonomiyaki recipes call for minced cabbage, but that will lead to a completely destructed dish with my ratio. If you cut the cabbage into ribbons, the cabbage creates an intricate web or nest of sorts, helping in holding the structure.

2. Crisp up the okonomiyaki very well for the first side. I do this by having my cast iron skillet smoking hot, then lowering the heat for a slow and steady cooking session.

3. Use two spatulas. One of them I use the long metal thing that cooks smash burgers with, which is extremely helpful.

Even if your okonomiyaki falls apart, you can always pat it down and reshape on the pan. Cook it for a few more minutes, and nobody can tell that it looked like a sad mess a couple minutes earlier.

So, for one okonomiyaki you’ll need:

Batter:

about 50 grams of flour (comparable to 1/3 cup plus a bit of flour)

60 mm of fish stock (water with hondashi or water mixed with nuoc mam or other fish sauce)

a dash or two of salt

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

Ingredients:

150g or 5 ounces of cabbage (comparable to 1/8 cabbage, but depends on the cabbage)

1 egg

Additional stuff (cheese, bacon, pork belly, seafood, ham, whatever you have)

Mix your batter. You can do this in advance and store it in the fridge. Try not to overmix it, its ok if its a bit lumpy. Don’t mix your egg in just yet.

Slice cabbages into thin ribbons, and prepare whatever ingredients you have.

Right before you make the okonomiyaki, throw the cabbage into the bowl. Crack an egg on top, and stir everything together. Try not to mix it too much, and try to incorporate air into the whole thing. If you are putting some cheese in, this is when you want to do it.

Dump the whole thing into a heated pan, shape it a bit, and lower the temperature to mid heat.

Put your raw ingredients on top, and leave it for 4 minutes. Don’t touch, pat, or stroke it with your spatula.

After 4 minutes, the outer parts should be solidifying. Flip the whole thing. Don’t hesitate. Just flip. This will probably be the most stressful part of the process. Practice in the corner of your kitchen a couple times, imagining the heft of the okonomiyaki on your spatula, and the disc retaining its shape after a successful flip. It’s like playing pool, having a clear vision of your success will help you in the process.

Leave it for 4 minutes after the flip.

Then flip it again. This time, the okonomiyaki should be pretty solid, and much easier to flip.

Leave it for about 2 minutes.

Then, after 2 minutes, put on the condiments while the okonomiyaki is still in the pan. Mayonnaise with either okonomiyaki sauce, ketchup, or sweet bbq sauce will work. Don’t be conservative with your condiments, the condiments dripping on the hot iron pan, sizzling with the heat and releasing their wonderful aroma is the high point of making an okonomiyaki. Making a charred soy sauce flavored one by drizzling the top with soy sauce and flipping it for about 30 seconds to char the soy sauce is pretty easy and quite delicious.

And then eat.

kansai seafood okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki that's mostly cabbage

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Filed under Food, Japanese noodles

Fake Kewpie and iphone in a can

kewpie mayo attempt

I changed my mayo buying ways after being exposed to the wonderful 2-minute mayonnaise article on Serious Eats. Since I only use mayonnaise occasionally, but usually in large quantities, it made more sense to just make a cup at a time when I needed it, as opposed to having a large container of mayonnaise in my fridge. I also could not get used to the gloopy quality of US mayonnaise, so the adjustable quality of DIY mayo was appealing.

Soon after beginning to make my own mayo, I started looking into ways to replicate the wonderful taste of Kewpie. To achieve this goal, I poked around the Japanese Kewpie website to find any details about their production process. What I gathered were: there are 4 egg yolks for 500ml (roughly two cups) of mayo, the vinegar they use is a blend of apple and malt vinegar. Details can be found here. I played around with the amount of water to add (to achieve that Kewpie creaminess) and the salt content, and I think I have a fairly good replication of Kewpie mayonnaise. Might not sound like much experimenting was done, but considering how long it takes to go through a cup of mayonnaise, I think I did some substantial experimenting.

However, I am not that much of a credible source, since my financial situation forces me to rely on an year old memory of what Kewpie tasted like, rather than buying a one for reference. I still feel there’s a slight difference to the Kewpie I remember from childhood and this fake Kewpie. It might possibly be due to the fact that real Kewpie uses pasteurized eggs, which I’m too lazy to make myself.

So here’s the recipe:

1 cup of vegetable oil

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of water

a dollop of mustard (to stabilize the emulsion)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

Just throw them in a jar, and whiz away with an immersion blender.

Now, about the iphone.

I was in a situation where I wanted musicin the kitchen, but was too lazy to turn on my main stereo system. However, I hate the unbalanced sound of my iphone speakers, and wanted to at least get it up to the level of an old radio clock, which is still pretty horrible. Since the iphone has a pronounced treble but weak bass, I figured it might sound better if I used the logics behind bass reflex/quarter wavelength loudspeaker, by basically cramming the iphone into a tube of sorts that would eliminate the treble and accentuate the bass.

The result:

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I played around with a couple of cans and glasses. I thought a pint glass with its horn-like shape would fare well,  but in fact a 28 ounce tomato can worked the best. It actually reflects the sound in a way that the volume of the iphone sounds louder. It sounds quite similar to those little clock radios that you see people constantly slamming in 80’s movies, which is saying it still sounds pretty bad, but at least it has that nostalgic quality to it. Anyway, it balances out the sound, increases the volume, and works with stuff you have in the kitchen.

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Filed under condiments, Western stuff

Deep frying and coffee filters

Taiwan fried chicken (鶏排)with zucchini namul and homemade kimchi

 

The picture above is a Taiwanese fried chicken that I made recently.

 

After about a decade of cooking for myself, I finally started deep-frying. I’m ashamed that I didn’t start earlier. There were several reasons I had reservations for deep-frying at home. They were

1. Its unhealthy

2. There’s the need to use a lot of oil (and hence costly)

3. You can use very little oil, which produces inferior fried food.

4. Its labor intensive.

5. Cleaning up is too troublesome.

I gradually overcame these ideas, finally arriving at a situation where I deep fry every week or so. These were the reasons I gave home deep frying another chance:

1. I remember very vaguely about some Good Eats episode where Alton Brown said that fried food doesn’t absorb much oil when done right. I forgot the reasons behind this, but if Alton Brown says it, I believe him. In addition, when I only ate fried food outside my house, my cravings for fried food would be so intense that I would only eat fried food. When I went to a gourmet burger place, I got a large order of fries (feeds about 4 people as a side, 2 people by itself) and devoured it. I figured that was probably much unhealthier than frying food at home.

2-3. I figured that to make good fried food, you need a lot of oil. And you do. However, what I did not put into consideration is that oil is dirt cheap. Also, I saw a Japanese food programme (one of those that breaks down cooking scientifically. Imagine Good Eats or Serious Eat’s Food Lab column turned into a TV show) where they found out through experimentation that oxidization of oil does not occur that dramatically, especially when you’re taking good care of the oil, filtering it and keeping it out of sunlight. The show had data of oil used for a few dozen frying sessions. Although I don’t know if I would go that far, I’m very willing to believe anything that is advantageous for my life with fried food.

4. Not really. The thing is, anything breaded and fried is tasty. However, a lot of other ingredients require a lot of steps to make them tasty. With frying, you know that the worst food you’ll end up with is still up to a certain standard. Tempura, for example, is just battered and fried stuff. Very little work needed. But its still delicious.

5. This was the thing that I was struggling with until very recently. Oil splatters aren’t a problem, since I use a 14 inch wok for frying, and there’s very little oil that make it out of that vessel. However, taking care of the leftover oil was a pain in the ass. In Japan, they have these oil pots with built in filters, but here in Kansas, I had no choice but to use two layers of kitchen towels. First, the towels will be soaked in oil by the time I’m done, covering anything that’s in contact with the towels with a layer of oil. This also meant that a lot of the oil was lost, disappearing into the paper towels. Secondly, the oil took forever to seep through, so I took about 20 minutes pouring oil, resting, and pouring oil again. I would have to thoroughly wash my hands in between pouring so that my keyboard won’t be covered in oil. I started to consider using my aeropress to expedite the process, but stopped because I could not drive the image of me, covered in oil after some freak accident. I’ve been covered in vegetable oil before, and once was enough. Washing up using dish detergent is pretty depressing.

However, I recently remembered that I had one of those Swiss Gold reusable coffee filters made out of very fine steel mesh. This was when I had grand plans of having an in-house pourover setup, until I found out the Swiss Gold stuff fits very uncomfortably in pourover cones.

I set it up over the remaining pot part of a Monet french press

oil

And it worked beautifully. The oil filtered through quickly, even in its cold state. Even though I ran the oil through AFTER I filtered the oil in one of my sloppy paper towel setups, the mesh caught a good amount of fine sediments that the towels somehow did not get. And cleanup was very easy.

I guess I will be frying much more often now. I fear for my arteries. Or whatever mythical organs that get damaged by eating fried food. I’m not going to believe that kind of health nut propaganda.

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Filed under Food, Fried food, Uncategorized