A panel of editorial arbiters at The Daily Meal recently (March 2015) dubbed me "one of the coolest people in food and drink for 2015." Flattered? How about incredulous? However, I discovered this in July, which kept me from introducing myself around the neighborhood as Mr. Cool, as the list had vanished into the bowels of the site. If you're curious — and not just about me but the other 60 or so of the chosen (yeah, that does dim the lustre a bit, but, hey, I'm right there with Michelle Obama), you can find it here, or, cut to the chase and read about me here.
I started writing this diary as an antidote to the mandatory stylizing of published recipes, where simplicity and clarity are everything. In real life cooking, however, simplicity often takes back seat to impulse and/or necessity, and clarity is often booted right out of the kitchen — at least if the cook’s mind, like mine, is more attuned to fuzzy logic.
To put it another way, explaining to someone how to prepare at dish, means making all sorts of compromises and leaving out lots of interesting bits that would take too long to explain (if they can be explained at all). Writing this diary, I get to put them all in.
Self-indulgent? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing, or that it won’t offer the right reader some unusual rewards.
Clam, Pork, and Tofu Hotpot
This dish leaped out at me as I was leafing through Taekyunk Chung and Debra Samuels’s The Korean Table (Tuttle, 2008), a cookbook with several seductive dishes that seemed both possible and worth the effort. (Others that caught my eye include an egg-custard beef soup, chicken with raw Chinese cabbage, and pan-fried cod with broccoli rabe.)
In essence, the dish is a casserole combining pork, clams, and scallions in a flavorful meat broth, enhanced with a chili sauce made with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, a touch of oyster sauce, a squeeze of lemon, and, of course, a heaping amount of red chili pepper. At the last moment lumps of silken tofu are floated on top, and the finished dish is topped with a poached egg.
I gravitated to this recipe for two particular reasons: it uses both pork and clams as its flavor base, and it calls for silken tofu, the only kind of tofu that I really enjoy eating. The other plus was a short ingredient list, although the recipes often call for already prepared pastes and sauces that, in my kitchen, are never already prepared.
Also, as is usual for me, although I know next to nothing about Korean cooking, I immediately started quarreling with the recipe. It calls for two cups of beef stock (or water), and yet it is made with pork and clams. I decided to make a fresh pork broth by poaching some baby spareribs with a few scallions, chunks of ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried red chile peppers, seasoning it, of course, with salt.
I let this simmer at a carefully monitored 175 degrees (the stem of the thermometer is just visible in the lower right of the photo) for three hours, then fished out the pork, cut the meat from the rib bones, and returned these to the broth, straining them and the rest of the detritus when it was time to make the dish. (The shiitake would be sliced up and incorporated when I stir-fried the vegetables.)
Matt and I have closed our post office box and any mail sent there will be returned to you. The only mailing address by which we can be reached is:
John & Matt Thorne
73 Prospect St. Apt 3
Northampton MA 01060-2182