Friday, August 26, 2016

Game-changing products: Sun Noodle's ramen kits!

Hey all, it's been a while, again! I've been busy finishing up my last few publications and writing up my PhD thesis, but now finally have the time to post some of the exciting cooking projects I've done recently.

Tan tan ramen with pork belly, soft boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms and fishcake made with Sun Noodle ramen kits
Over the past few months, I've noticed more and more interesting food products in stores and such that I think either demonstrate a lot of creativity on the company's part or have the potential to really change how we cook at home.  I think I will post about these such products from time to time in posts under the umbrella of "game-changing products".

One such product is Sun Noodle's ramen kits.  I first read about these on Serious Eats, and was (semi-)shocked to learn that many of the great ramen places I've been to around NYC use noodles from this company.  I also wasn't too surprised because from my own experience attempting to make hand-pulled noodles, I was skeptical that so many restaurants would be capable of consistently making noodles of such great texture and thinness.  I did also notice that many ramen joints' noodles were suspiciously similar in appearance and texture.  

Sun Noodle ramen kits
What are they?
Ramen kits each contain two servings: two bundles of fresh (not dry) noodles and two small pouches of soup base.  So far, I have found 6 products, ranked from my personal favorite to least favorite in preference:
  1. Tan Tan Ramen - a mildly spicy and sesame-tasting soup base, with thicker ramen noodles
  2. Tonkotsu Ramen - a very close second, the soup base is rich, white, cloudy, and rich with pork flavor although not very gelatinous, and comes with the thinnest ramen noodles.
  3. Shoyu Ramen (not pictured) - a lighter more standard broth, with thicker ramen nodles
  4. Kaedama - not actually a kit, just packets of noodles with no soup base
  5. Miso Ramen - the first time I had this the broth tasted strongly of carrots and somewhat artificial, although subsequent kits I've had have tasted fine and on-par with the shoyu broth.  Comes with thicker ramen noodles Based on the ingredients, this is the only vegan-friendly kit.
  6. Hiyashi Chuka - meant to be served as a cold ramen dish, this was by far the worst.  I believe the soup base contains high fructose corn syrup, and it tastes like it.  The noodles are the thicker variety
How do they work?
To prepare these kits, you first open the soup base packet into a bowl, and add about 1 cup of warm or hot water.  Then, boil about 2-4 cups water and add in the noodles for the recommended time, typically no more than 2 minutes (for firmer texture I typically subtract 30 seconds or so).  Immediately drain the noodles and add them to the soup base.  Top your ramen with any desired extras.

Why are these game-changing?
A problem with conveniently available ramen is that it comes at two extremes: either as packaged instant ramen, or in restaurants.  Naturally, the price and quality are what you would expect at each extreme, with ramen like Maruchan running at around 50 cents or less a package, and restaurants charging $15-30 for a bowl.  In terms of quality, instant ramen don't quite have restaurant quality ramen noodle texture, and we all know what the broth tastes like.  Sun noodle ramen kits, however, are disruptive to both of these fields.  Each kit costs about $4, with the same noodles as those used in restaurants.  I can easily say that the ramen kits' broths are on-par or better than the average ramen restaurant I've been to.  The finished product is waaaay more satisfying than instant ramen, has no preservatives added, and is prepared with the same amount of effort and time.  They store in the freezer easily, making them just as convenient to have on-hand as instant ramen.  Lastly, they are versatile, and can be jazzed up with whatever you have around the kitchen.  For instance..
I was on a ribs-kick for a while.  Left: hoisin-glazed pork ribs, Right: bbq beef short ribs
With some spare short ribs or even the scraps from butchering a rack of pork ribs, you can make a pretty solid bowl of ramen

Sun Noodle tan tan ramen with beef short ribs

Sun Noodle Kaedama with leftover rib scraps, sesame tare and pork rib bone broth

I hope that's inspired you all to go out and try making some quality ramen at home! I've found the kits at some Whole Foods and at most H-marts in multiple states, with a list of stores here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How do you like them apples? / apple donut, chicken & apple chili with basmati rice, apple chutney stuffed porkchop and bruschetta

I've been a bit delayed uploading this post, since I've been overwhelmed recently with apples. 
Multiple times this fall I was invited out with friends to go apple picking, and as a result have been taxed with coming up with new ways to use up my dozens of apples without getting sick of them. Also, it's all for a worthwhile cause since emphasizing seasonal and local foods is great for the environment.  If you're struggling as I'm struggling, here's some help! Below are the ways that I used my apples:
Left: apple chutney stuffed pork chop with roasted brussels sprouts and basmati rice, Center: apple chutney bruschetta with whipped ricotta and salami, Right: white bean and chicken apple chili
Some relevant recipes for apple chutney and for the white bean and chicken apple chili (I used ground chicken, chipotle chile powder, and smoked gouda that I had on hand)

This was also a great chance to practice some apple carving.  One idea I had after seeing and trying an unsatisfactory apple fritter recipe was that an apple could be carved to give it more surface area, to emulate the layers of a cronut and the size of ideally thin apple slices that make up an apple pie filling. WARNING to people with trypophobia, impending jeebies

For your attempt, I'd recommend a smaller knife, like a Swiss army knife for apple carving
When battered, fried and tossed in cinnamon and sugar, these apple donuts had a crisp exterior and a tender, flavorful cooked apple interior reminiscent of an apple pie. 
Left: apple donut with carvings, Center: Battered in the same manner as Korean chicken wings and fried for the same duration as a cronut, about 2 minutes a side at 350-370, mostly just until golden brown, Right: So good
By comparison, an uncarved apple circle, battered and fried in the same manner, was uncooked in the center and had a soggy exterior - literally tasting like a raw piece of apple with a sad, uncrunchy shell.  An important lesson on the importance of surface area in fast cooking!
Left: uncarved apple ring, Center: Battered and fried apple ring, Right: Sadness
I also intended to make a gingersnap apple icebox cake (with cardamom whipped cream) for a potluck, but learned the hostess was allergic to apples. Imagine the following gif but with layers of my apple pie filling in between layers.  If you're not familiar with icebox cakes, they're a no-bake cake of just layers of typically very thin cookies and (possibly flavored) whipped cream.  The principle is the same as tiramisu, by letting the cake chill for hours, the cookies absorb moisture from the cream, softening the cookies and thickening the cream - since tiramisu doesn't rely on thin cookies, there's no reason thicker cookies don't work for icebox cakes.  
assembly of alternating layers of gingersnaps and whipped cream (with sugar and cardamom added to taste)
Left: Assembled and iced icebox cake, served apple pie filling on the side. Right: poor lighting picture of cross section
Finally, I just had some fun carving apples, jack-o-lantern (or apple-o-lantern?) style.  Again, carving here is easier with smaller knives like a Swiss army knife.

Left: apple o lantern. Right: Snow white style poisoned apple

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peking duck tart & pancetta, goat cheese, arugula tart / More relatively cheap foodstuffs of the UK

Pancetta, goat cheese, & arugula tart, and peking duck tart
Continuing from my last post, this past summer I again wanted to take advantage of some of the delicious ingredients that are both more readily available and cheaper in the UK than in the US.  For a dinner party with my wonderful roommates, I combined a number of these sort of ingredients:
  1. Puff pastry - available in all convenience stores, ~$2 for a sheet that I've seen at $10+ at Whole Foods
  2. Duck legs - available in most regular grocery stores, 2 for $6 (~$6.50/pound)
  3. Pancetta - available in convenience stores in small packets for $1.50
  4. Goat cheese, creme fraiche, both available in convenience stores for $1.50, which I've seen at $10+ for comparable quantities in the US.

The assembly of each went something like this: 
  1. Two duck legs were prepared as described previously (Note: I have read that duck skin can be dried out much faster using hairdryers,than with fans or circulating air within a fridge, a technique pioneered by Marcella Hazan), and could be done either earlier in the day or a day in advance. 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Cut puff pastry sheet into two rectangles of about 12" x 4". 
  4. Use a knife to score a 1" border, and a fork to prick the interior of the border
  5. Apply an eggwash to the border 
  6. Bake puff pastries for 10 minutes
  7. Meanwhile, fry 100g/3.5 oz pancetta in a pan until crispy
  8. Mix the base sauces (2 tbsp + 2 tbsp hoisin and creme fraiche for the duck tart, 4 oz goat cheese + 2 eggs for the pancetta/arugula tart).
  9. Prepare a ginger scallion sauce (1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, 1/8 cup finely chopped ginger, and 1/8 cup oil lightly heated in a pan until softened, then seasoned)   
  10. After 10 minutes or after pastries have browned, lightly punch down any pastry within the border that has risen
  11. Spread each sauce on a separate pastry
  12. Top one with roast duck and ginger/scallion sauce, top the other with fried pancetta 
  13. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, then top the pancetta tart with fresh arugula and goat cheese dollops

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Eggs Woodhouse from Archer / excessively luxurious eggs sardou, in memory of George Coe

This summer I've been working in the UK and have been thinking of cooking projects to take advantage of great, readily available and relatively cheaper food items around here.  One thing I noticed is that Iberian ham/pata negra ham/Jamón Ibérico is super common here, available for purchase even in ASDA stores (basically the UK Walmart equivalent, actually owned by Walmart), for around $10 for a tray. The first dish that came to mind using pata negra ham was Eggs Woodhouse, which is referenced on the hilarious TV show Archer (see the recipe here, and an informative video starring Alton Brown here). Sadly, while completing the project, I read that George Coe, the voice actor for the dish's namesake, Woodhouse, had passed away. A real shame, a great actor and one of my favorite characters on the show.

Many of the other luxury ingredients of Eggs Woodhouse (black truffle, saffron, caviar), are also known to be expensive as well, however strangely enough some of these are also readily available and cheaper in the UK.  For instance, both saffron and caviar (admittedly not beluga caviar) are available at Waitrose stores for only around $3-4 each.

Sorry, have been messing with using filters. Left: artichokes and lemon water ready, Right: halved artichoke rubbed with lemon
Preparing fresh artichoke bottoms is definitely the most annoying part of this recipe, since the prickly artichokes need to be pared down quickly and constantly rubbed with lemons, before steaming for 10-20 minutes, otherwise they turn an unappetizing brown.  There are some helpful videos out there on how to do this.  I was also surprised to see whole artichokes, which I don't see often, also sold at Waitrose.

Left: A few last whisks on the hollandaise sauce before seasoning and adding paprika. Center: Creamed spinach topped with steamed artichoke bottoms and pata negra ham draped poached eggs. Right: Covered in shaved black truffle and hollandaise
There are many shortcuts out there for hollandaise sauce.  I went with Alton Brown's techniques for egg poaching (seriously, that's like eggs 101, Woodhouse!), although mine came out a big uglier this time, and for creamed spinach I more or less followed the original recipe above.  Tasted pretty good, although as expected, the saffron and caviar are a bit unnecessary.  To save more money, I'd say just go with prosciutto, coppa, or tasso and cut the truffle, saffron, and caviar. If you're willing to splurge, I would however recommend getting a nice quality truffle and possibly supplementing your hollandaise with truffle oil and saffron (crush ~1/4 tsp saffron, soak in a very small volume of hot water, ~1 tbsp, and incorporate this in place of the water in the above hollandaise recipe - haven't tried, but I think it'd work).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fried chicken wings 7 ways! / Sichuan chongqing fried chicken wings, Thai peanut fried chicken wings

Hey there, it's been a while since the last post, I've been busy with transitioning to a summer research position in the UK! More posts related to that coming soon.  Just before I left, I had a craving for Korean fried chicken wings. Unfortunately, since the nearby BonChon had closed, the closest ones were a train ride away. In the course of my recipe research, it became apparent that there is a variety of methods for making fried chicken wings, with not necessarily a clear consensus on the purpose of each step (from just the Seriouseats Food Lab, there are a number of articles on fried chicken wings that use different preparations each time.  For this article, I decided to break down a number of the ways one can fry chicken wings, and what each does for the final texture.

The techniques I've observed in chicken wing preparation and frying include: marination, steaming, drying, dry coating with corn starch and/or flour, batter coating with corn starch and/or flour, and finally frying once, frying twice, or even baking.  Ultimately, the purpose of any combination of these techniques is to accomplish 2 main goals, 1) tenderizing connective tissue, 2) to create a crispy/crunchy crust. For a side-by-side comparison, I prepared chicken wings 7 ways.  All 7 were pre-marinated in buttermilk and coated with the cornstarch/baking powder/salt mixture (from here on I'll refer to it as just 'dry cornstarch coat') advocated by Kenji in the first SE article above.

From left to right, the conditions I tested were

1) Twice fried with dry cornstarch coat
2) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat
3) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat and last minute toss in flour
4) Baked, with dry cornstarch coat
5) Baked, with dry cornstarch coat and a last minute toss in flour
6) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat and cornstarch/flour based batter
7) Twice fried with dry cornstarch coat and cornstarch/flour based batter

After trying each wing, my observations were:
  • Not too much difference observed between one and twice fried wings
  • 1 & 2 both taste as if coated in crunchy panko, grainy-like crunch
  • 3 - more KFC-like (Kentucky, not Korea) in crust flavor and texture, with crunchy broken bubbles of crust along the surface
  • 4 - the worst, skin was tough and almost leathery
  • 5 - baked coated and flour - surprisingly crunchy compared to the other baked wing
  • 6 & 7 again, not much difference between these two, but a clear texture difference compared non-battered wings, more Bonchon like, smoother but still textured. 
My personal preference for skin/fried chicken would be #6, since I enjoy Korean fried chicken, and #7 has an unnecessary second frying step. The conclusions that can be drawn from this experiment are that a second fry is likely unnecessary if you have a marination step, as both of these are meant to soften up connective tissue. I was incorrect in thinking that a dry cornstarch coat followed by a quick toss in flour (to minimize gluten formation) would yield a similar texture as cornstarch/flour batter. The alcohol or water used in the batter likely has an important role in homogenizing the starch and liquid components and also in building up pockets of steam - resulting in a smoother, thinner crust that is more lifted from the meat.

Left: cilantro, green onions and lime for garnishing wings, Right: Sichuan chongqing blend ingredients
With this information, I went ahead and made a few batches in style #6 of Sichuan chongqing style chicken wings and Thai peanut fried chicken wings, by tossing finished wings with a few tablespoons of sesame oil and spice blend (I omitted cumin and fennel and added 1-2 tsp ginger powder and sesame seeds to finish), or with a thai peanut sauce (I used leftover Korean gochujang paste instead of red curry paste, an easier alternative sauce here).

Left: Thai peanut fried chicken wings with lime and cilantro, Right: Sichuan chongqing fried chicken wings

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! / Scallion Pancake Croissants

Scallion pancake croissant, picture taken with the help of my gf
In one of my past posts on scallion pancake waffles, I toyed around with the traditional scallion pancake recipe to create a new version that was a hybrid scallion pancake puff pastry, with improved layer separation, more versatility, and improved texture.  With all these improvements, I thought a natural step was to combine this dough to make another classic laminated dough pastry, by creating a scallion pancake croissant.

Left: finely chopped scallions, center left: laminated dough sprinkled with sesame oil and scallions on the final fold, center right: folded laminated dough, right: rolled flat and cut scallion pancake croissant dough
 The procedure for making these is largely derived from procedures developed in previous articles, namely using the scallion pancake puff pastry dough and the techniques for making croissants (a great resource for techniques for croissant making is here).  

Left: rolled croissans, later brushed with egg wash, center left: baked scallion pancake croissat, center right: side view of scallion pancake croissant with many layers visible, right: halved scallion pancake croissant with soft interior visible

One very interesting feature of these pastries is that if the dough component of the croissant is made in the style of scallion pancakes (with boiling water), and the fat element is made as described in my previous article, then the interior is very different from a traditional croissant.  The inside of these pastries is instead very soft and tender, much closer to a traditional scallion pancake.  With a crescent shape, crispy golden exterior, and soft scallion pancake-like interior, I believe this was a highly successful fusion pastry, definitely worth a try!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Improved scallion pancakes & scallion pancake waffles / Broader waffle maker applications part 2!

In a previous article, I looked at an interesting application of a wafflemaker to cook halloumi cheese.   Again, I was interested in applying the wafflemaker to foods that could benefit from a increased crispy surface area to soft interior ratio.  I decided to go with one of my favorite snack/appetizers, the scallion pancake.
Scallion pancake waffle with Korean fried chicken and gochujang mayo
Scallion pancakes are a savory Chinese flatbread, fried to have a crispy exterior and soft dough layers inside.  It is traditionally made by brushing a circle of dough with sesame oil, rolling into a tube and flattening, creating roughly 5n laminated dough layers for each iteration.  Finely chopped green onions are added prior to the last rolling step.  

Traditional scallion pancake-making procedure. From left: ball of unleavened dough, flattened dough with sesame oil, rolled dough with brushed sesame oil, looping the roll of dough prior to flattening, and finally the finished pancake with chopped scallions added
I had recently read an article on scallion pancakes on Seriouseats, which gave some helpful tips on how to make scallion pancakes.  However, I noticed several problems.  By following the procedure without any changes, the resulting pancakes were very tough in the interior, not soft and chewy as with a good scallion pancake.  Also, Kenji claimed that ~25 layers (two iterations of rolling and flattening) is the most you can get with a scallion pancake.  I wondered how and why this is the case, since with other laminated pastries (croissants, puff pastry, cronuts, etc.), many more layers are possible.  One obvious difference is that other pastries use butter, which is solid, whereas scallion pancakes use sesame oil, more fluid, which may not be able to perfectly separate layers of dough under pressure. 

Revised technique for making scallion pancakes.  From left: unleavened dough with butter/sesame oil blend, butter/oil blend wrapped with dough, laminated dough folded in the style of puff pastry or croissants, and finally the finished pancake with scallions added
In order to make the two necessary improvements (softer interior, more layers), I decided to alter the traditional scallion pancake recipe.  Rather than using just sesame oil to laminate the dough layers, I made the pancakes using a blend of butter and sesame oil (2 tbsp butter:1 tbsp sesame oil).  This accomplishes two things: 1) the water content of the butter, and possibly the steam created, allows for a moister, less tough dough, 2) by using a fat with higher saturated fat content (more solid), the layers of dough have more complete separation. 

Improved scallion pancake 4 ways.  From left: Cooking pancake in waffleiron, fried in pan, and deep fried. On the right: two views of the 4 ways of cooking scallion pancakes (pan-fried, deep-fried, wafflized, and baked)
The resulting scallion pancakes had a superior texture when fried in a pan, deep fryer, or waffleiron (2-3 minutes frying for each, for waffleiron cooking, it was necessary to brush the outside of the pancake with oil first).  Additionally, it was especially apparent when baked that the pancakes had many more thin layers of dough than those made using traditional methods.  Similar to other laminated pastries, the texture is further improved by giving the folded dough at least a day of rest for gluten relaxation.  Ultimately, the scallion pancakes produced with the above proposed changes resulted in superior texture and a more versatile pastry.

A closer look at scallion pancakes cooked 4-ways. Top: pan-fried and deep-fried.  Bottom: wafflized and baked.  Right: a closer look at the baked scallion pancake, with many clearly distinct layers visible. 
I used this scallion pancake waffle in my most recent Masterchef audition, served with Korean fried chicken wings and a gochujang mayo.  Unfortunately the audition didn’t go so well this year, since I made the amateur mistake of forgetting to add salt to the pancake dough, and oversalted the exterior of the waffle to compensate.  Ah well, maybe next time!

Top left: layered dough with a last sprinkling of scallions and sesame oil.  Bottom left: finished scallion pancake waffle with gochujang mayo. Right: Scallion pancake waffle with Korean fried chicken and gochujang mayo
Based on the success of the baked form, a soon to come article will likely be on scallion pancake croissants! Stay tuned