Clearly, although my medications seem to be working and I’m a functional human being, things are not 100% normal, or else I would not be feeling the irrational hatred of Comcast, NetGear, BlueHost, Firefox, Apple, WordPress 2.5.1 and every other technological entity that has erected a barrier between me and this post: flames, flames on the side of my face. It’s an unholy hatred, one that makes me want to throw a cast-iron skillet at the iMac. Which I will refrain from doing only for the skillet’s sake, because it’s seasoned really nicely and I’d hate to have to get a new one and start all over with that. BUT I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE, OH YES.
Okay, deep breath. Serenity Now.
A visual representation of the intensity of my anger.
Last Thursday I KICKED ASS with some French Laundry Cookbook black sea bass, so I thought I’d take a little break this Thursday with something a little more down-to-earth: Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking. Because if Yan can cook? So can you! Or rather, so can Brian, because I came home cranky and tired and overworked and was ready to turn this into a Friday Night Smackdown, but Brian heroically stepped in and volunteered to do all the cooking while I took pictures (of course, once actual cooking started I was physically unable to stop myself from getting involved, which I’m pretty sure Brian knew would happen).
By the way, do you know that there is no internet collection of the many puns that graced Martin Yan’s aprons over the years?* Shameful.
Anyway, our neighbors had recently given us these home-grown, home-smoked kung pao chiles, so kung pao chicken was a no-brainer.
*ie, “50 Ways to Wok Your Dog”
Wok this way!
While Brian made an emergency trip to PathMark for more vegetable oil for deep-frying the tofu – yes, a dish called “kung pao chicken” somehow managed to sneak in tofu – I cubed up some chicken breasts and tossed them with a simple marinade of soy sauce, corn starch and kung pao flakes.
Along with the recipes in this book, there are stories and restaurant recommendations for 11 Chinatowns all over the world; apparently, it’s the companion book to a PBS show I never saw. I was reading through the NYC listings and noticed that almost half the restaurants listed are on Mott Street. Which, if I am not mis-took (and I never am) used to be part of the domain of my people, home to mafia-riddled cafés, a thousand different places to get a mediocre plate of pasta and old men sitting on the sidewalk in folding chairs playing Briscola and yelling at each other. Not that I begrudge anyone their dim sum; it’s just a little sad that Little Italy has been reduced to one-fifth of one block.
Wok like a man!
When Brian returned, he dealt with the tofu while I did other prep work. Firm tofu, cut into a 1/2 inch dice, was dusted with corn starch and given an extended bath in some hot vegetable oil.
The little corn starch-covered chunks looked like homemade marshmallows and I had to stop myself from popping them in my mouth. I’m pretty sure that would not have helped my impression of tofu, which was not positive to begin with.
How many roads must a man wok down before you can call him a man?
The first batch stuck together in one unfortunate tofu chunk, but successive batches fried up successfully (although it’s a chore to get 300 degree oil to fry anything past “ivory,” forget about “golden brown”). I definitely started to warm up to the tofu at this point because fried things? Are usually good. Plus, these fried things would be covered in a (I hoped) tasty sauce.
Once the last tofu nugget was fried, it was time to put the dish together; I’d chopped the peppers and whisked the sauce together in the meantime – a simple affair of soy, sugar, hoisin, chile-garlic paste and a couple other things I can’t remember right now and the book is upstairs so tough shit* – and it was time to stir-fry.
I have to make a sad confession here: I don’t actually have a wok. I don’t have a problem when Thomas Keller tells me I need a tamis or a chinois and I don’t have those, but I do feel like kind of a doofus for not having a wok. In my (pathetic) defense, it’s not like my range has a burner with enough BTUs to really stir-fry properly, but still. Anyway, I just thought I would be up front about it so you don’t get a case of the vapors when you see the following pictures of skillet stir-fry.
*Ooh, I just remembered another one! Balsamic vinegar, which Martin told me I could use in place of the black vinegar that we couldn’t find at A&P.
I would wok 500 miles, and I would wok 500 more.
We put a pan on the “power plus” burner with a tablespoon of the tofu fry oil and got it as screaming hot as possible before dumping in the chicken.
I had my (non-dSLR camera) on the “sports” setting to try to get some stir-fry action shots. You can see how well that worked. That is, not at all. Sorry.
Golf: A good wok ruined.
Once the chicken was opaque, we threw in the peppers and cooked them just long enough to tenderize them without killing their crispness. Some fond had developed on the bottom on the pan, which I’m pretty sure is not standard stir-fry procedure.
You know what I say about things like that? Fuck it. Fond usually makes things taste better, so I figured it would just enrich the sauce we were about to dump in.
She woks in beauty, like the night.*
Yes, okay, using the “sports” setting was not a good idea, I realize that now. I’ll refrain in the future.
The fried tofu went in along with the sauce and some unsalted peanuts, just to get re-heated and coated in sauce.
*Okay, I might have made some of these up.
Yea, though I wok through the valley of the shadow, I have no fear.
A slurry of still more corn starch and water gave the sauce a nice gloss and thickened it up enough to coat everything. We drained the lo mein noodles that had been bubbling unobtrusively on a back burner, gave the kung pao a last toss, and dinner was served.
I wok the line.
I know people make fun of Martin Yan – the goofiness, the aprons (although I think if he were to use some of the captions included here, he might get taken more seriously). Hell, I make fun of Martin Yan. But I will do so no more, because his kung pao chicken is fucking awesome. Sweet, salty, spicy enough to make my nose run but not bad enough to have me running for the milk – yum.
FURTHERMORE, Martin Yan has single-handedly changed my attitude toward tofu. My relationship with tofu has been documented here on TNS, and it has not been a happy one. I thought the tofu would be a weird and unnecessary addition to this dish, one that I would eat begrudgingly, but it wasn’t. It had its place, adding a new texture and cutting some of the heat, and a delicious place it was. In fact, Brian announced that he thought the dish would be just as good WITHOUT THE CHICKEN. And I AGREED.
I know. I’m still mulling over the implications of what this means for my life.
We both agreed that this dish would enter regular weeknight rotation, since it ended up being quick and easy – fry up the tofu, prep everything else while it fries, stir fry, spoon down gullet.
Final score: Us 1, Food 0, Tofu 2.
I have to go process this new development now.