Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles

I was looking through the New Books section in my local public library when I came upon a copy of the Momofuku cookbook. I snatched it from the shelf so fast I probably left a trail of smoke. Momofuku is a restaurant group based in New York City. The cookbook, written by chef David Chang with Peter Meehan, interweaves recipes from three of Momofuku's restaurants in the East Village (a fourth restaurant recently opened in midtown) with Chang's story.

Chang's tale of his not-so-smooth rise to award-winning chef is a great read and the book captures Chang's "badass" intense style (being a "badass" chef apparently involves heavy use of the adjective "fucking"). What I particularly admired was Chang's ability to turn things around when his restaurants were on the brink of failure, his passion and creativity, and his unerring commitment to quality.

The recipes in this book, however, are not exactly home cook friendly. There are two issues: first, many recipes are complex. For example, the "goal" of the "brick" chicken recipe "is to completely bone out a whole chicken and end up with two boneless halves," which are then made into a "brick" shape using transglutaminase or meat glue. (This explanation is abridged; the recipe runs three pages.) Another example is the 48-hour short rib recipe, which the authors note is "not a reasonable proposition for the home cook unless you are willing to buy a vacuum-sealing machine and fabricate a water circulator situation." Hey, I consider myself a reasonably adventurous cook, but vacuum-sealing machines and water circular situations are probably not in my future. 

Second, many ingredients used in this cookbook are difficult to find, especially if you, like me, don't live in a city with a large Asian population (and lovely Asian groceries). And I know, as the book rather unhelpfully says in its sourcing section, if you're unfamiliar with an ingredient or can't find it, Google it (well duh). I just think it's generally impractical to order ingredients online to try a recipe.

For these Ginger Scallion Noodles (among the book's most accessible to home cooks), I used regular soy sauce instead of usukuchi, a light soy sauce used often by Chang. After looking for usukuchi in four stores, I just gave up. Surprisingly, I even had a difficult time finding sherry vinegar. For the noodles, I used lo mein instead of ramen (as it turns out Chang also initially used fresh lo mein before he found someone to make ramen to his specifications). Despite these changes, the noodles were delicious and I will make them again, but, honestly, I probably won't be buying this cookbook.

Please don't get me wrong, I actually appreciate the fact that the recipes in this book are not home cook friendly. After all, when I go to a restaurant I generally like to order something I couldn't easily make at home. This book actually makes me want to eat at a Momofuku restaurant.  Until then, I'll just settle for these noodles.

Ginger Scallion Noodles
Adapted, by neccessity, from Momofuku

2-1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts), about 2 bunches
1/2 cup finely minced, peeled ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1-1/2 tsp soy sauce (or usukuchi)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
6 ounces noodles, such as ramen or lo mein (fresh if you can find it)
Sliced scallions (optional garnish)

In a bowl, mix scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 15 minutes before using. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature and stir before using. Makes about 3 cups.

To put together dish, boil 6 ounces of noodles, drain and toss with 6 tablespoons of scallion-ginger sauce (above). Top the bowl with 1/4 cup each of bamboo shoots (below), quick-pickled cucumbers (below) and pan-roasted cauliflower (below). Garnish with chopped scallions.

Bamboo Shoots

One 12-oz can sliced bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed
1 splash each: grapeseed oil, Asian sesame oil, soy sauce
Kosher salt, if needed

For bamboo shoots, in small saucepan, combine bamboo shoots, grapeseed oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Taste; season with salt if needed. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 4 days. Reheat before adding to noodles.
Quick-Pickled Cucumbers

2 Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

For quick-pickled cucumbers, in small mixing bowl, combine cucumbers, sugar and salt. Toss by hand to coat well. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower

1 small head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
salt to taste

Divide cauliflower into florets. Heat oil in a hot wide pan, add florets and cook about 8 minutes over high heat, stirring occasionally,until florets are dotted with brown and cooked all the way through; season with salt.

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