Archive for the ‘Christopher Kimball’ Category

Oh my, America’s Test Kitchen does Shu Mai!

February 15, 2012

I am beginning to think ATK really does not think highly of Chinese food. Sure many of today’s Chinese cooks do a lot of short cuts and use the ingredients he listed but I would hope there was some more investigation and explanation before they claim why their approach was better.

Shu Mai, is not a dim sum I normally order, since like Mr. Kimball eludes to, that it was once considered an after thought. I have heard that it was once made from the kitchen’s cutting board scrapings, but I do not believe this is the case in the USA. The chicken bullion powder and MSG are shortcuts to increase the flavor of meats sold in the US. Unlike pork in Asia, most chiefs feels that the meats in the USA lacks the natural flavor, which I have also seen echoed in some food documentaries. Hence we see a call for the slow food movement and eat local. The ad I believe that illustrates this message the best was the Chipotle ad featured during the 2012 Grammys (featuring Willy Nelson singing “The Scientist” by ColdPlay).

Like making hamburgers, we also try to utilize all the parts of the pig as possible. And not all parts are equal. Some are really fat and some are really lean. Hence we grind the lean parts with the fat parts but I never heard of mixing lard directly sine it is harder to keep this in the meat after cooking.

Although I have seen some of the ingredients such as soy sauce and ginger added to ground meats, I do not believe it is done in a restaurant setting. Depending on the restaurant’s burn rate those ingredients can affect the meats texture and flavor. If you had a Chinese (Canton) styles poached chicken with the ginger onion dip, you will know that storing the dip with chicken will change its texture overnight . In a sense, it is continuing to breakdown the cooked meat. Soy sauce will cause the meat to taste a little sour, if it is mixed and cooked improperly. So I do not really agree with their assessment.

Although they mention a lot of ingredients that add flavor and texture, they also missed a lot of characteristics of a good Shu Mai. Like good Asian fish or meat balls, there is a texture and mouth feel that the meat should have which, is developed similar to kneading bread. Another questionable decision or recommendation they gave was to use spring roll wrappers for the skin. The reason is that the spring roll wrappers are usually thicker and cooked. Normally we use wonton wrappers. And why not steam with strips of lettuce instead of paper? Although there are many alternatives to the bamboo steamer, it is really preferred. Bamboo being natural, is composed of many fibers which prevents the condensation from falling back on the product.

I am sure their Shu Mai might be tasty and is a good alternative to many home cooks but please have some humility and say so like the basil chicken segment and call it like it is, an alternative.

Oodles of noodles, or pasta, or 麺 (mian), What is the correct way to prepare them then?

August 16, 2011

What is al dente or “to the bite? How can you say rinsing is not right?

I can not explain how a culture that has a pasta or noodle like dish (since 2000 BC) do not have a recognized name like pasta, noodle, or ramen, besides fun (粉) or mein (麺 mian), but I do know that not all cooks are right. Like pasta there are different types of 麺 and 粉. There are different ways to prepare them too, like rinsing them before putting in soup.

Depending on what I am cooking or what I have, I sometimes rinse my noodles. Like “fun” for example, if I bought them from the supermarket and have them in the fridge, I sort of dunk them several times in boiling water to soften them up and get rid of some oil. They are very soft so there is no bite to be had. There are many ways to grade the quality of these noodles as much as the variety of them. Chow fun, to me, is good if it has the following qualities:
1. Has the taste of the Wok
2. Aroma of dark soy (caused by an adequately heated Wok)
3. Not too oily
4. Not clumped together
5. Evenly colored
6. Not too thick
7. Does not stick to the teeth upon being bit
8. Has a sort of snap when you bite into them

Chinese also has and uses many types of noodles, mein, and/or fun. Mein are noodles that are usually made from wheat flower, which Westerner’s refer to as pasta. However there are also many kinds not just shapes of them. One of the more famous ones are the hand pulled noodles as seen in one of the Amazing Race episodes. The measure of the quality of these noodles is how thin and long they can be. And I believe it is a plain water dough. Though other forms of these noodles are graded on different criteria. Most ramen restaurant ran by Chinese translate ramen to mean hand pulled and the noodles reflect that quality, which the noodle has a slight toughness due to the development of gluten and a snap, but not a doughy stickiness.

Besides just water and flour noodles, we also have egg noodles which the pasta resembles. However there is a version of this with potassium sulfate. It might sound inedible but it enhances the crisp and springy texture. Too bad it does not taste really good stir fried. The closest to stir fry I have seen this noodle in is with onion and ginger, and a few dishes which it has a stir fry on it and mixed in but very good accompaniment with soup dumplings such as wontons/raviolis.

When I taste top ramen, I think of the noodles I have at weddings and birthdays. Some call it long life noodles because they are meant to be served in really long strands. They are fried in a round pan, giving it a cake like form. Yet they do not taste greasy. The texture is also very soft so it also does not have what is called an al dente texture. And even though it is served in long strands it is not tough or chewy. It is very top ramen like.

Although we also have fresh and dried egg noodles like pasta, it taste very different texturally. Unlike Italian pasta, most Chinese noodles have different textures and we use it for many different applications. For example there is a thin angel hair like egg noodle that taste differently depending on how it is cooked. In a soup it has a stingy snap, in a stir fry it has slightly tough snap, but when it is pan fried the outside is crisp while the inside is soft, fluffy, and has and aromatic smell of egg, similar to that of a cake.

So why are the origins of noodles less popular than pasta?

All hail the coffee mutt!

February 26, 2008

I admit, I am a coffee mutt. I do not really know how to be a purebred, but does anyone really? A good cup of coffee to me has a blend of coffee, sugar, and cream (the real stuff), but sometimes it is just a blend of coffee and just condensed milk (sugar and milk in one), otherwise known as Cafe Sua Da.

I have tried pure bean coffees such as Sumatra Mandheling, Columbian, Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain (hard to find so far only found it a Peerless and Peets), and French Roast (I don’t know what is in it), but could not appreciate the single bean experience. Made coffee from drip (American (very boring and sometimes sour) and Vietnamese (depends on the blend, but can be bold and intense)), expresso (give a darker/bitter flavor) (Italian and South American), and vacuum/siphon (definitely smoother and less acidic) methods, but still liked making it with mix of beans more.

According to, I seem to gravitate to Bold, medium acidic coffees. In my experience the famed “Blue Mountain” coffee was so boring by itself, but in a blind tasting jumped out, so I blended it and could not find anything comparable to it.

Again I have to ask America’s Test Kitchen, how could Starbuck’s win the tasting? If so which blend should I go for, since they have many blends, and the blend ratios do change from time to time due to availability. I personally blend my own (40% Sumatra, 40% Columbian, 10% French, and 10% Kona) at the supermarket, I gravitate to Millstone or Java (the market brand). That way I can buy just as much as I need, since I don’t really get snowed in around the Bay Area.

I don’t hate Starbuck’s, since they are the ones that pulled me to the dark side. They however, do not really stack-up in terms of mutt coffee to other mutt coffee bars. Here are my picks:

1. Ikea (cheap bold and smooth coffee with a nice view in Palo Alto)
2. McDonalds (really cheap bold and smooth hot coffee for seniors)
3. Cafe Sua Da (really intense coffee that is cheaper than conventional coffee bars)
4. Seattle’s Best (Bold coffee not so smooth and not so cheap)
5. Peete’s (more flavor and the original print that Starbuck’s model after)
6. Starbuck’s (over roasted over priced and bland)

Currently I am attracted to Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee, how sacrilegious is that?
What do you think? And should ATK also include their own blends and instant coffee?


Sacrilegious “Soy” sauce.

February 26, 2008

It has bothered me for months, but what? Westerners reviewing soy sauce, then using them to cook Chinese stir-fry dishes.

Using one type of soy sauce to cook all Asian dishes is almost like saying all white people are British. Or using white vinegar as balsamic or champagne vinegar is alright. Well it is not.

Chinese and Japanese soy sauce are not the same. Japanese soy sauce is lighter and not as salty and Chinese soy sauce in general, that is why I don’t use Chinese soy sauce to eat sushi with. Chinese soy sauce has a slightly bolder and deep fermented soy flavor in it. I agree that cooking it too long in a stir fry can even bring out a sour flavor. But where is America’s Test Kitchen learning how to do Chinese stir fry from?

If they did their homework, they would know that there are different types as well as grades of Chinese soy sauce, not just Japanese types. My family keeps about two are more types of soy in the house and sometimes we comprise. Being Cantonese, we eat a lot of delicate flavored foods, such as steam fish (must use really fresh fish), steamed chicken, won tons, steamed meat dumplings, or soft tofu, in which we normally would lightly drizzle with a light Chinese soy sauce, but we might substitute it with a salty Japanese soy sauce. The saltier taste of the light Chinese soy sauce brings out the flavor of the meat or the sweetness of the soft tofu. In stir fry we use the dark, but not thick, prime to medium grade Chinese soy sauce, but not always. To appreciate the deep soy flavor from this type of soy sauce, you can taste it in (my opinion) two ways:

1 . drizzled over a super fresh hot bowl of steam rice along with cooked oil, with the optional luxurious raw egg in the middle.

2. cooked into stir fried noodles (i.e. fun or thin egg noodles made for stir frying not soup) (refer to the art of “Wok”), with optional yellow chives and/or bean sprouts.

These two are the most common type of Chinese soy sauce and has been infused with other flavors and used for cooking or dipping food in. The third most common is the super dark and thick soy sauce, which is commonly used in braising, but other ways as well.

In conclusion because something is called a vinegar or red wine, remember that they are not all the same. Just like not all white people are British or not all Asians are Chinese.