Cooking

Hunanese Chopped Salted Chiles: and Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes

When I first made these chopped salted chiles from Fuchsia Dunlop's book Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province, I didn't have much of an idea of how I'd be using them. But salting and preserving food is always a good idea, so off I went. At the very least, I figured, this is a great way to keep "fresh" chiles on hand. Without salting, chiles would mold and rot. The salt allows you to hold them for months.

A few weeks later, they were ready to go, and so was I. Back into Fuchsia's book to see which recipes call for them. Apparently, a bunch do!

Salted red chilesAbout 1 pound of spicy chiles

They've come to be indispensable around here. I made yet another 1 pound batch, since I was going through the initial batch so quickly. A tablespoon here, a few tablespoons there. Months? This jar won't last weeks.

Here are a couple of dishes from the book that were stupid easy (they're all pretty easy), super delicious, and used these salted chiles. You should cook these:

Red braised fish

Red-braised bream (red snapper, in this case)

 

Fishermans shrimp

Fisherman's Shrimp with Chinese Chives

 

Home style bean curd

Home-style Bean Curd


Piccolo's Gastronomia Italian and H&Y Korean market: Ridgefield, NJ

Guanciale

In how many places can you find yourself surrounded by Korean-speaking people one minute, and then 3 minutes later find yourself surrounded by Italian-speaking people. Probably more than I know, but I'm sure as hell glad I live near one.

I was on my way to pick up some Calabria Hot Long Chili Peppers at Piccolo's when I noticed a Korean market called H&Y. There was no reason to not pop my head in, so in I went.

H&Y is apparently a small chain, with locations in Queens, this one in Ridgefield, and one in Bergenfield as well.

My usual Korean market is H-Mart, but I don't always enjoy my time there. Not sure why. Maybe it's the lake that masquerades as a parking lot. Maybe it's that odd flea market that is attached to it. Maybe it's that funky liquor store that you pass on the way in. I was more at ease at H&Y today, rest assured.

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Hunan Chopped Salted: Chiles

Red chiles1_edited-1
I did this because Fuchsia Dunlop speaks to me. Through her books. Through her Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking and her Hunan cookbook Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.

In the latter you'll find the very complicated process to make these chopped salted chiles (hint: chop a pound of spicy red chiles, mix with 1/4 cup of salt, and put in a tight container so the magic can happen). Apparently this should be a staple pantry item, and who am I to argue?

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Chinese cooking: pork belly with leeks and chili bean sauce: or salt-fried pork

Pork leeks

"Streaky pork." "Fatty pork." "Streaky bacon." "Bacon." I've seen pork belly described using any number of (often unappetizing) terms on Sichuan menus. It's probably just as well that these ominous depictions are sending up red flags, because the unsuspecting customer who is expecting some dry, boring morsels of pork loin might be surprised when they get a plate full of belly.

That surprised person was me about 12 years ago at Grand Sichuan on 2nd Ave and 50-something in NYC. A friend and I were having one of our standard blow-out lunches, and we ordered a pork dish. When it hit the table, we were beside ourselves. "Good God, it's a plate full of bacon!" was our reaction. We laughed about it, but enjoyed the dish as much as we could, along with the three other dishes that we ordered.

We'd continue to bring up the absurdity of that dish over the next few years, half disgusted as we recalled that plate of "bacon." And then one day it occurred to me that this plate full of fatty, luscious pork belly was actually a beautiful thing. One to be admired, not ridiculed. I'm not sure when I experienced this life-changing epiphany, but since then I've been a huge fan of any of the Sichuan dishes that use pork belly. And there are many.

One of those dishes is a standard restaurant order for us. And now, with the help of Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking , it's a standard at t:e headquarters.  In her book, it's called "salt-fried pork." It consists of pork belly and leeks. Lots of leeks, when I cook it. And, as it turns out, black beans and chili bean sauce, and not much else.

As with much of the Chinese food I've been cooking, it's dead simple. The fact of the matter is that you've got some incredibly flavorful ingredients doing all of the work. All you have to do is mix them together and not screw it up. No problem.

The dish is immensely addictive, and packed with intense flavors. It's a bit spicy, a bit sweet, with a somewhat salty backbone. And it's even better as left-overs the next day.

Since I don't strictly follow Ms. Dunlop's recipe, I'll go with the "adapted from" approach here (that's what you do when you want to steal someone's recipe and post it on your blog--you say "adapted from" to make yourself feel better--like I just did):

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Red-braised Chinese: Pork

Red braised chinese pork belly

One of my first experiences with real Chinese cooking was at the highly-regarded China 46 in Ridgefield, NJ. This restaurant, which specialized in Shanghainese cooking, was knocking it out of the park during its run from 2001-2007. We had countless meals here, each more memorable than the last.

The owner, Cecil, was always very helpful in steering me in the right direction, often offering us little samples of some of the more interesting stuff. One time, as I rattled off our order of dishes, he abruptly interjected "NO! Too much MEAT."  He was right. I was ordering like a gluttonous American.

China 46 was our go-to place for big groups of friends and family. For those well-attended meals, we'd look forward to ordering a monster of a dish called Superior Ruby Pork, with a magnificent description: "A giant pork shoulder with mixed herb simmered for hours. Served very tender as melt in your mouth." I just love that. I don't recall much in the way of herb, but it was certainly flavorful, and no doubt tender as melt in your mouth. And it was red. And braised.

With little understanding of that type of cooking at the time, I had no idea what one would have to do to make this type of dish. It was mysterious. It was magical. But now, I occasionally buy and read books, and as the folks who follow this blog (and its Facebook page) may have noticed, I'm really into Chinese cooking these days. And I've been relying on books from Fuchsia Dunlop pretty much exclusively. So when I saw a recipe for "Chairman-Mao's Red-Braised Pork" in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province , well I just had to give it a whirl.

Ms. Dunlop was apparently nice enough to share a version of this recipe with epicurious.com, so you can view it here. It does differ a bit from the version in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, but I suspect the results will be very similar. Two differences are that the version from Revolutionary Chinese cookbook calls for par boiling (for 3 minutes) the pork belly, and caramelizing the sugar as the first step to create some color and flavor. I think both are probably good ideas.

This dish is incredibly easy to make and requires no special skill or equipment (other than a braising pot).  Ingredients-wise, there's the pork belly, and a few basic items that you should have in your pantry anyway:

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Muffuletta olive salad: elevate your stuff

Marconi muffaletta

Most anyone who has been to New Orleans and has even a passing interest in food has gone to Central Grocery (which apparently has the most awesome website ever...seriously, click on that link) or one of the many places that serve the glorious beast of a sandwich known as the Muffuletta.

For the uninitiated (please, hang your head in shame at this point), the Muffuletta is a big, round sandwich of cold cuts (ham, mortadella, salami, provolone, mozzarella, did I miss one?), with an oil-based olive salad as dressing. Served on bread that is too thick and, to my mind, not terribly good. Although it gets better as the oil soaks into it.

That olive salad is really the only truly remarkable component of the sandwich. Without it, you'd have a pretty boring, yet complicated sandwich. The olive salad elevates and unifies the whole mess.

Thankfully you can buy olive salad in jars and elevate your own stuff, right at home.  That's what I did earlier today. I elevated my own stuff.  Also, I made this sandwich.

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Velveeta shortage: alternatives to Velveeta

By now you've heard that Kraft is claiming that there could be a Velveeta shortage in the coming weeks. The timing couldn't be more perfect to put the brakes on your processed food-studded Super Bowl party.

So what is the uncaring and heedless host to do in light of the shortage of this staple? Well, I'll just tell ya.

To help you ensure that your party is the effortless and barbarous event that you had hoped, I am offering some assistance. We'll get through this, together.

Here it is. Just what you need, and just in time:  alternatives to Americas's favorite Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product:

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Spicy Thai Basil Beef: Pad Gra Prow?

Thai beef basil chili

Is it called pad graprow? Possibly. Either way, what I was going for was that dish that's on every Thai menu in the US. Generally called "beef/chicken/shrimp with basil and pepper and chili," or something like that.

The description of the dish on these menus pretty much sums it up: "onion, basil, pepper, garlic, hot pepper, chili paste." All self-explanatory, other than that chili paste. Well I'm here to tell you it could very well be nam prik pao.

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Hot Italian Sausage: Swiss Pork Store: Fair Lawn, NJ

Swiss Pork Store Sausage 001

You probably know that the Swiss Pork Store, in Fair Lawn, NJ, makes some sort of veal loaf that is just other-worldly.

You probably also know that they grind their beef to order, and it's always very, very good (you'll never buy supermarket ground beef again). 

And of course you know that they have all sorts of smoked sausages, breakfast sausages, and a very fine lamb sausage indeed.

But I'm here to tell you about their hot Italian sausage.

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