Who's the Baketard?

Why Baketard? Love to cook, hate to bake. Despite having gone to cooking school and working in some top kitchens, I never learned the baking side of things. I'm building my baking and photography skills, while sharing recipes that rock my world in the mean time.

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Entries in xi'an (2)

Friday
Sep142012

Guo Kui - 锅盔 

I am obsessed with Chinese food. Especially “real” (authentic) Chinese food. Not that I don’t love the Americanized Chinese food, fried and covered in globby sauces bragging neon colors not found in nature. Come on, admit it, you like it. You don’t want to admit it, but you do. My friend Henry says, “Even bad Chinese food is better than no Chinese food at all.”  I completely agree.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China over the years thanks to a job that has enabled me to manage business relationships in Southeast Asia. Of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to experience, China is the place that feeds my passion. I love visiting the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Seeing the Great Wall for the first time, shopping in the food and hawker markets, trying to bargain for the perfect souvenirs to take home—all of these are so different than what I had in my mind as my “normal.” I just couldn’t get enough. Getting outside of those cities to see daily life in more rural areas is absolutely stunning.

A few years back, David and I decided to take a trip with an Australian tour company called Intrepid Travel and explore the country for a few weeks. They had tours tailored for 4-star dining and foodies all the way down to “Roughing It” packages. These packages were significantly cheaper, guaranteed you “Chinese 4-star” hotels and had a higher physical rating. We opted for this both to save money and to experience as much of the real deal as we could. We’d never done an organized tour before and feared the visual we had in our heads of blue-haired grannies with oxygen tanks being carted from tacky tourist spot to tourist spot in an air-conditioned bus. The tour was NOTHING like we expected. We had the time of our lives and made some life-long friends. In spite of the hotels being a bit rougher than we expected, they were clean. We navigated the language barrier and had a good laugh staying in places where we were forewarned about getting a call at 10:30 p.m. from downstairs asking if we wanted “special massage.” Tempting as that is for some, we passed on the opportunity to have our Happy Ending.

One of my favorite stops was Xi’an, home of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. The warriors are magnificent, but it was the street outside the Muslim mosque area that completely grabbed my attention. This was Chinese street food unlike anything I’d ever tried: Crispy pastries filled with lamb, Sichuan peppercorns, chiles and aromatics. Mutton soup with hard crumbs of bread soaking in and absorbing all that richness. Hand-made noodles in the most aromatic and comfort-food-happy broths. I was in heaven.

This past year, I had the opportunity to return to Xi’an for a work meeting and I was determined to learn to make some of the dishes I kept talking up to my friends and the team. I arranged for us to take a private dumpling and hand-pulled noodle making lesson at our hotel with the chefs from their main restaurant. I bargained my way behind the counter of one of the street food stalls to learn to make the dish I loved.

I bought every English-translated cookbook they had at the city’s main bookstore -- and a few Sichuan and Hunan cuisine books that weren’t translated. (The advantage of having a bunch of bossy Chinese women in your life is that they’ll gladly help with translations and will even MORE gleefully tell you how and why everything you are doing with the recipe is WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!!!!!) The problem is, there aren’t many English recipes for the street food dishes I loved the most. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know what my absolute favorite was called until I read about it in Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoir, “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper,” chronicling her time at the Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu. I’m re-reading the book now, because I’m heading there in a couple of weeks for an intensive two-week cooking course at the same school.

I mentioned this dish, “Guo Kui,” to a Chinese colleague who lives in Singapore and lamented that there are no English recipes out there for the version I remembered. He offered to check some Chinese language websites and sent a few links (with pictures) to me to see whether any of them linked up with my memory of the dish. One did, so I copied the recipe and sent a plea for help to my bossy ladies. My friend Kairu offered to assist and had her mother translate the recipe for us, taking great glee when her mother asked if I knew what it meant to “fluff meat.” No, really, it’s an English translation of a real cooking technique. “Bitch, please,” I replied with an instant eye-roll. “I know how to do BOTH versions of that expression.”

Last weekend we gave it a try, made a few tweaks and came up with a version pretty identical to that which I remember. There are many versions of Guo Kui in china. Some are thicker and doughier, served as a large heavy roll to accompany dishes. Some are cut and filled with braised meats or vegetables, making a “Chinese Hamburger.” This version is the one I remember most fondly though, and is the one Fuchsia Dunlop references in her book (I checked with her on twitter and she was kind enough to confirm). TRY this dish. It’s very simple and quite delicious and I guarantee you’ve never had anything like it before.  And if you like this type of food, don’t miss the opportunity to try more authentic Chinese cuisine from Fuchsia Dunlop’s other books. They’re some of the most used and most referenced books in my collection.

锅盔 Guo Kui  

Ingredients:

Flour – 2 cups, plus more for dusting/rolling

Water – 3/4 cup (may need a little more, depending on your dough)

Lamb, ground – 1 lb.

Sichuan Peppercorn Powder – 2 tsp

Garlic – Minced - 1-2 Tbsp

Ginger, minced – 1 Tbsp

Ground cumin – 2 tsp

Dried Hunan (if you can find them) Chiles, or red chile flakes – 1 Tbsp

Chile Oil – 2 tsp

Scallions – 1 bunch, green and light green parts, thinly sliced into rings--as thinly as you can slice them.

Salt – 1 tsp

Soy Sauce – 2 Tbsp

Peanut oil, for frying and as needed

Lard (optional), as needed

Instructions:

Finely chop ground lamb with a cleaver for 5 minutes (or if grinding your own, use the finest setting and then chop with a cleaver until uniform).Add sichuan peppercorn powder (you can make this by lightly toasting sichuan peppercorns in a hot dry pan for 2-3 minutes until they pop, and blitzing in a strong blender or food processor. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to avoid the hulls) minced garlic, ginger, cumin, chiles and chile oil, scallions, salt, soy sauce and a teaspoon peanut oil to the chopped lamb.

Mix well with chopsticks, and toss meat against the side of the bowl for 2-3 minutes to “fluff” it, and create a lighter texture. (If you’re unsure how to do this, ask your mom. I can guarantee she’s a champion meat-fluffer from WAY back).

Mix flour and water in a stand mixer with a dough attachment (My lazy white man way) or mix by hand. You want the dough to come together and it should be quite soft. We used just over 3/4 cup of water for 2 cups flour. Knead until very soft and pliable. Add another tablespoon oil (or if you want to be authentic, a tablespoon of lard. Trust me--the flavor is great), knead again until the fat is incorporated into the dough, place in a bowl and cover with a warm towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

Knead the dough one more time, roll into a log about 2 ½ inches thick and cut into segments. The segments should be about 2 1/2-inches around and about an inch thick.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Farenheit.

Lightly flour or oil your work surface and roll the dough into a rough rectangular or tongue shape. Brush with oil or lard and about a tablespoon of the lamb mixture. Starting at the short end, roll the dough down the length of the “tongue” until you have a small rolled bundle. Turn the bundle on its end and press it down flat. Roll into a thin pancake. (Don’t sweat it if some of the meat breaks through. You can dust with a little flour and when you cook it there will be no problem).

 

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and once hot, add about 3 Tbsp cooking oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the guo kui one at a time, flipping the pancake after about 2 minutes. It should be lightly golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a rack and place in oven to crisp and drain for 3-5 minutes.

Serve guo kui on its own or if you’re a chile freak like we are, with some chile oil on the side.

Thursday
Sep062012

REC: Chinese Sizzling Cumin Lamb with Chile Pickled Long Beans

I love Chinese food. I don’t care if it’s Americanized Chinese General Tso (Hello—who doesn’t like that), fiery Hunanese cuisine (which we have to drive to Vancouver to get because there’s none to be found in Seattle), hot and numbing Sichuan fare—I love it all. The food I’ve had in China that was the most memorable, and that which I most wanted to imitate is Xinjiang style, specifically the food I’ve been lucky enough to try in Xi’an. We ate the SHIT out of that stuff.

With a strong Muslim influence, the foods in Xi’an are full of chiles, laced with Sichuan peppercorns, and you find a lot of goat and lamb. There is a street outside the mosque with the most amazing  and diverse street food I’ve ever eaten, and I looooves me some street food. I’ve been trying for years to imitate a snack I found there called Guo Kui (“Little Helmets”). A colleague forwarded me a recipe he found last week on a chinese website after listening to me bitch and moan about how there are no English recipes that seemed authentic to my taste memory of that food, and my friend Kairu pulled in her mother to help translate. Stay tuned on that one…we’re giving it a test run this weekend.

While researching Sichuan recipes in my fervor around a trip I’m taking to cook at the Sichuan Culinary Institute next month, I came across this recipe from Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco. Bowien is a rock star, and the food he puts out has a cult following. Reading the ingredients on this recipe, I had to give it a try. Let me tell you: It. Is. Spectacular. This is the flavor I remember from trips to china, and specifically the couple of times I’ve been in Xi’an. The gaminess of the lamb, a rich meaty broth, thick noodles and that gorgeous marriage of chiles, cumin, and Sichuan pepper. We went insane for this soup. You will too.

A couple of quick modifications: I added Sichuan peppercorns to this recipe, because I love their addition to this mixture and they are key to my memory of similar dishes. Second, I substituted in my favorite Udon noodles because they’re just amazingly delicious in soups. Other than that, I stuck with the program.

Oh, one more thing…the photo. I was lucky enough to spend yesterday afternoon with my friends Becky Selengut (and her disgusting “I camped all weekend with the lesberati” dirty feet) and the supremely talented photo goddess Clare Barboza. Becky and I had arranged with Clare to have a private photo lesson to teach us how to use the “big boy cameras” we bought last year. We love the photos we manage to get using these cameras, but neither of us know what the hell we’re doing. (Ok, she has more of a clue than I do, but that’s a REALLY low bar). We brought fruit, nuts and some cheeses to use as practice subject but I thought, “Fuck that…if I’m going to be with the pros, I’m bringing something I actually want to put on my blog”. I brought the soup components and Clare helped style and set up the shot, and stepped me through modifying the elements on the table and with the camera to create the darker, moodier type of photo that typically draws me in. Thank you, Clare!

Danny Bowien use lamb breast or lamb belly, sometimes even lamb ribs, but lamb shoulder works just as well. (Note from Marc: I used shank and then added the bones to the stock during the braising process to pull out every ounce of lamby goodness).

Chinese Sizzling Cumin Lamb with Chile Pickled Long Beans

4–6 SERVINGS

MODIFIED FROM RECIPE BY Danny Bowien Of Mission Chinese Food In San Francisco, Ca

Bon Appetit, MAY 2012

INGREDIENTS

LAMB

•          1 cup cumin seeds, toasted

•          1/2 cup coriander seeds, toasted

•          1/2 cup fennel seed, toasted

•          3 tablespoons kosher salt

•          1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar

•          3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)

•          1 tablespoon sesame oil (not toasted)

•          4 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes

•          1/4 cup vegetable oil

•          1 1/2 cups beer (Budweiser or any other pilsner works well)

•          4 cups beef or low-salt chicken broth

•          1 1/2 cups cola

•          1/4 cup soy sauce

•          1 yellow onion, burnt over an open flame, finely chopped

•          2 jalapeños, burnt over an open flame, finely chopped with seeds

•          2 fresh bay leaves

•          1 garlic clove, smashed

•          ¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted in a hot, dry pan

ASSEMBLY

•          1/2 tablespoon olive oil plus more for brushing

•          Kosher salt

•          1 onion, thinly sliced

•          3 red jalapeños, thinly sliced with seeds

•          1 pound ramen noodles (Note from Marc: I used udon noodles)

•          1 bunch cilantro, tough stems removed

•          3 scallions, thinly sliced

•          2 tablespoons black vinegar

•          1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

•          1 green jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds

•          Chili Pickled Long Beans (recipe below)

PREPARATION

LAMB

Pulse cumin, coriander, and fennel in a food processor until you have a rough grind. Combine half of spice mixture, salt, sugar, fish sauce, and sesame oil in a medium bowl; add lamb and toss to coat (reserve remaining spice mixture). Let lamb marinate at room temperature for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.

Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Working in batches, cook meat until brown, about 4 minutes per batch; transfer meat to a platter. Add beer; stir, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of pan. Simmer until liquid is reduced by a third, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to pot; add broth and next 7 ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 2–3 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a baking sheet; reserve. Skim fat from braising liquid.

ASSEMBLY

Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet until it is very hot. Pat lamb pieces dry. Brush with oil and season with some of reserved spice mix. Working in batches, cook lamb, turning occasionally, until smoky and fragrant but not burnt, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to a large bowl. Toss onion and red jalapeños in a bowl with 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil. Add to griddle and cook until softened and charred in spots, about 3 minutes; add to bowl with lamb.

Bring lamb braising liquid to a simmer. Add noodles, simmer until just tender, about 1 minute. Add reserved meat, onions, and jalapeños.

Combine cilantro, scallions, vinegar, sesame seeds, ane green jalapeño in a large bowl. Season to taste with some of remaining spice mix; toss to coat. Divide lamb mixture among bowls. Top with the cilantro mixture. Serve Chili Pickled Long Beans on the side.

Chili Pickled Long Beans

MAKES 1 QUART

RECIPE BY Danny Bowien Of Mission Chinese Food In San Francisco, Ca

Bon Appetit, MAY 2012

INGREDIENTS

•          1 garlic clove, minced

•          2 cups soy sauce

•          1 cup black vinegar

•          1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)

•          1 fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced with seeds

•          1 red fresno pepper or jalapeño chile, thinly sliced with seeds

•          1 jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds

•          1 12-ounce bunch Chinese long beans, cut into 1/4-inch rounds (4 cups)

PREPARATION

Combine garlic, soy, vinegar, fish sauce, and chiles in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer; add long beans. Remove from heat, cover, and let cool completely.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Transfer to a container, cover, and chill.