Our Kitchens: A History PDF
Mark Bittman invited me along with many others to regularly contribute to his newly conceived food "slog"— "salon" + "blog" — created to share some lively communication about food at many levels. It's well worth a visit. And, if you want to see my offerings, you can go directly to my little closet.
In early February 2008, I made a very brief appearance on WFCR, our local public radio station. Listen in while I scramble some eggs.
In late November 2007 I did a stint of often invigorating online interaction with some members of The WELL.You can still read a transcript of the whole conversation 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.)
The other task I had before beginning cooking was to prepare the authors’ seasoned red pepper paste, a heady mixture of coarse red pepper flakes, Korean red pepper paste, finely minced garlic and fresh ginger, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fresh lemon juice, and brown sugar. On the minus side, I didn’t have any Korean red pepper paste (I’ve since checked it out and wasn’t impressed with the ingredients: Chinese broad bean sauce with chili seems a better riff on the idea.) On the plus side, I have a big square of Korean brown sugar, which isn’t as sweet and has much more flavor than the ordinary kind and it worked superbly here. I made enough of this for two meals, since whenever I do something new I like to remake it a few nights later to work in whatever changes come to mind the first time around.
One issue that I needed to resolve before preparing the dish was the source of the clams. Since I live in Massachusetts, fresh clams are available at local markets, but issues of price and spoilage keep them from being a regular part of my cooking. I’m no fan of canned clams either, which was why I was pleased to discover whole frozen lyrate asiatic hard clams
The Simple Cooking website is undergoing a complete renovation, and should be up next month. Meanwhile, by all means poke around here — there are some things to find and you can certainly subscribe or purchase one of our books (see column to the left). Otherwise, please do come back in a bit.