"Cook" is for all things savory.

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Crab feast and Thai seafood sauce


It took me a good long while before I got over my silly fear and tried dungeness crabs.  No, no I wasn't afraid of eating crabs.  I spent every summer of my childhood in Hua Hin on a diet composed almost entirely of crabs and prawns – in fact I'm rather surprised I haven't developed an exoskeleton by now. 

My fear was of pre-cooked crabs, actually.  In Thailand – ok, perhaps not the entire country but at least my family – we never ate dead crabs.  No, we don't eat crabs while they are alive – I only meant we don't eat crabs that had been dead before they were cooked.  If you go to wet markets in Thailand, you won't find a lot of dead crabs for sale.  You will, on the other hand, find crates of still alive (and sometimes crawling) crabs for shoppers to buy and take home to cook.  This is understandable, I suppose.  Dead crabs deteriorate quickly in the tropical heat, by the time you get them home their flesh have broken down into nothing but fishy, smelly mush – we say it's "gone back to sea" in Thai. 

This proved a bit of a predicament for my buddhist "kitchen mother" (that's how household cooks are referred to in Thai).  I still remember her sitting on the floor over a wooden chopping board with an ill-fated crab on top, her eyes closed, one hand in a half namaste while the other holding a sharp cleaver high over her head, her lips moving, quietly (and rapidly) reciting a pray begging the crab's forgiveness before quickly lowering the heavy cleaver to sever the crab in half.  Saturday Night Live can't make that skit up. 

Anyway, that's a rather long-winded way to explain why it took me a good many years to try one of the Bay Area's local specialties, the Dungeness crabs.  And now, when the season is high and the crabs sweet, they are one of my favorite things to eat, especially when dipped into spicy, garlickyThai seafood sauce.  Every time we have a crab feast, I make this sauce for myself and make sure there's drawn butter and even cocktail sauce for others.  But then everyone ends up stealing my sauce and I have to get back to the mortar and make more.  Luckily it's so easy, you hardly need a recipe.

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Pork Ragu


Sorry to have kept you waiting a while for this recipe.  I’ve just been a bit busy.  But better late than never, yes?  So, the ragu I made to go with my heretic pasta the other night was made with pork, because, as I said before, why offend only one religion when you can do three at once.  Ha.

The recipe came from Paul Bertoli’s amazing book, Cooking by Hand. This is not a book for the faint of heart, I should warn you.  The Ragù alla Bolognese recipe alone is over 1,500 words–but who am I to complain about long winded treatise on a traditional dish, you’ve seen my Pad Thai recipe, right?

The recipe calls for beef, ground chuck, skirt, or hanger steak to be precise, but I made it with ground pork butt instead, because my friend Beccy doesn’t eat beef.  (Yeah, you can choose your friends but you sure can’t choose what they eat!)

So, here’s my slightly bastardized version of Paul Bertoli’s Ragù alla Bolognese.  Hey, if you want the real thing you could always go buy the book.

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Pasta with Pork Ragu; or how to piss off two gods with one bowl, Part I


After the holidays indulgences, I’m sure I’m not the only one craving something homey and comforting.  And after all the religious pomp and circumstances we were exposed to -voluntarily or not- during that time, I guess I’m also not the only one with a hankering for a little rebellion.  That’s when an idea struck me.  I knew just what I wanted to eat, Strozzapreti pasta.

Strozzapreti pasta is a traditional pasta shape from the Romagna region of Italy.  The Italian name is literally priest-chokers in English.  Legend has it that this particular shape, sort of resembling a short, twisted bit of rope, signified a religious rebellion in the region long suffered under Papal rule (from the 13th all the way to 19th century).  Romagna housewives would cook this pasta for the local priests, in hope that they would choke to death as they scoffed it down greedily.  A heretic pasta for my very own post-holidays rebellion, how perfect!  To go with this pasta I made a ragu.  You don’t have to be Italian to find ragu homey, yes?  This time my ragu would be made of pork, because why offend only one religion when you can easily do two (or three, actually)?

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Thai-marinated fried chicken

Thai fried chicken

If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ve seen those fried chicken carts at practically every street corner, with the giant wok smoldering like a witch’s cauldron filled with dark, smelly oil that seems as ancient as the broken down cart itself.  What those carts produce are the bright, bright gold, impossibly crisp, mind-blowingly flavorful pieces of fried chickens, so good you willingly suspend all your hygienic concerns.  Who cares how long those chickens lingered in the tropical heat with only the dodgiest "refrigeration", who gives a damn about how many times the oil has been re-used.  I’m going to take a big bite and let that crisp, garlicky, chicken-y goodness shatter into a million little pieces in my mouth and just die happy.  Wouldn’t you?

Luckily, you won’t need to hop on a plane – or get a special dispensation from your doctor – before you can eat one.  I’ve figured out how they’re made.  And it’s so very simple.  The trick is, let me just come out and tell you, rice flour.  You dredge the chicken pieces in rice flour, that’s what give them the crispiest skin.  I also marinate them in a paste made with garlic, oyster sauce, and fish sauce to give them a bit extra kick in the flavor department.

I just made a batch of this for lunch on the boat yesterday.  They were still a little crisp (and still dee-lish) even after a few hours in a cold box.  I’d show you a picture but we devoured them all before I could get the camera out from the cabin…

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Chicken Soup for the American Soul


Last Tuesday was a very special moment, one which we will recall with perfect clarity, years into the future, precisely where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.  Yes, that news.  That change arrived.  It’s the moment we saw the very embodiment of our ideals.  Whether you believe in the much-maligned notion of the American Exceptionalism, this was truly a uniquely American story. 

Where was I, you asked?  I was home, like millions of you, glued to the television, watching with baited breath as the returns came in.  It’s not the kind of night I wanted to spend a lot of time in front of the stove.  I wanted something simple to make, and something comforting, like the old cashmere sweater, a little frayed at the edges, I was wearing that night.  So I made a chicken soup.  My simple chicken soup, with ingredients that didn’t require a special trip to the store.  Like my simple tomato sauce, it’s something I’ve done for such a long time, and thought it almost too simple to even blog about it.  And, yes, it’s David again who suggested I woite a post about it.

What’s so special about the soup then, you asked?  Well, it’s nothing special at all.  That’s it.  It’s made with just five ingredients: a chicken, an onion, a couple carrots and a couple more stalks of celery.  And the fifth ingredients?  Water.  Yes, just plain water.  And then some salt and pepper to taste.  That’s really it.  I sometimes use a teaspoon of curry powder if I have some on hand.  Just a tiny amount, not to make it taste like a curry, but just enough to register a little complexity in the broth.  I cook everything just until the chicken is done, then remove the meat and cook only the bones for a little while longer, extracting every bit of flavor and body out of the bones, before putting the meat back in and serve.

This simple and intensely flavorful soup was the perfect food for the climate that night – comforting, renewing, just what we needed, a chicken soup for the American soul.


(Images from the Huffington Post)

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