I know, I know. We’re egregiously late in jumping on the David Chang/Momofuku bandwagon, but better late then never, right? This is what I’m chanting to myself as I write this post, feeling horribly out of date for never venturing even once to the East Village to try one of his Momofuku iterations, but in my defense I always assumed that all of his places were expensive and difficult to get into–and we really didn’t eat out that often anyway. (People who have asked me for restaurant recommendations know this all too well, as I end up usually directing them to various food stores rather than a lot of restaurants.) It’s not that we never ate out, but venturing to restaurants that didn’t publish menu prices seemed a little risky, or at least that’s what the pragmatist in me would rationalize. Feel free to correct me in the comments.
It’s not that I didn’t know who David Chang was–the talk where he and Anthony Bourdain call bullshit on Guy Fieri and cupcakes endeared him to me immediately–but to be frank, he intimidated the crap out of me, because he was a Serious Chef. His cookbook intrigued me but I always hesitated in getting it because I figured the recipes would be complex and ambitious and time-consuming. I realized that these were fucking stupid reasons to avoid getting it*, and so it landed on my Amazon wishlist for my birthday. In a way, my suppositions were correct: there are many recipes that are intimidating and time-consuming and require ingredients that aren’t readily available at Fairway and will likely inspire a stock-up trip in Chinatown the next time we’re in the city, but then there are dishes like the one pictured above. Sure, there are several components to the dish, but they are relatively easy to pull together on a quiet weekday night if you have a little time, and very easy to bring together on a weekend if you’re in the mood to experiment.
I think what I love most about this cookbook is that it’s one you read: Chang is more than happy to lift the curtain on what is cooking process is in a conversational style similar to that of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, and it makes you care about getting his recipes right. The header notes are filled with stories about how he developed these various recipes, and each section of the book provides a nice backstory to how each of the momofuku iterations came to exist, warts and all. Needless to say, when you actually hunker down and make the dishes you feel a little more prepared than just reading a list of ingredients and instructions, and that added dose of insight from him is enough to give you the confidence to take on even the most challenging of dishes.
The keys to the ssäm above is getting the meat into the marinade early (preferably overnight) and then cooked to the right temperature and making a hell of a ginger-scallion sauce. This is likely the easiest recipe in the cookbook, as it sits and melds longer than it takes to chop the onions, but it is definitely the crack of sauces. It is literally impossible to resist after your first bite, and you’re going to want to smother it on everything. It’s simply 2-3 bunches of scallions that are finely sliced mixed in with about half a cup of minced ginger (I grated it this time around which worked nicely), some light soy sauce (a higher-sodium soy sauce), sherry vinegar, and grapeseed oil and then seasoned with kosher salt. Stir to combine and then let it sit for at least 15-20 minutes, and you’ll have yourself a bowl of divine goodness. Chang says that it keeps in the fridge for 1-2 days, but I don’t think we’ve let it have the chance to do so in our house. Some brown rice and cabbage made it absolutely perfect–while the next time I’d like to make the red kimchee that he calls for in the actual recipe, using some leftover slaw that was flavored with sriracha and mirin was a fine weekday substitute.
Better late than never, I tell you. Better late than never.
*He curses a lot throughout the book, especially when talking about his love of meat, and that’s absolutely magnificent.