“Soy sauce, fish sauce, miso paste.” Dale Talde was making a list: Pantry items you need if you want to cook better during the week. “Sambal oelek,” he continued, referring to the Indonesian chile sauce. “Gochujang,” the thick, fermented Korean red-pepper sauce. “Shrimp paste,” a mash of fermented ground shrimp blended with salt.Talde has a restaurant in Brooklyn — Talde — that uses many of those condiments in its dishes and a new cookbook, “Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes From the Philippines to Brooklyn,” that does the same.“You melt some butter into any one of those jams, and you’ll have a fantastic pan sauce,” he said. “Put it on fish. Put it on a piece of chicken. Drizzle it on rice, and you’re eating an amazing meal.”Cooking during the week can be a hassle. A little planning and a vaguely Asian-American larder can make it easier.Hooni Kim, the chef and owner of Danji and Hanjan restaurants in Manhattan, was in full agreement.“It’s so easy to buy a few containers of stuff and play with them and really come up with something good and easy in the middle of the week,” he said.And it is. Even if you are new to these flavors, at least in your own kitchen, there is no reason to be intimidated by them. (Or to be worried that they will spoil if you don’t use them all the time. Miso — fermented soy bean paste, a staple of the Japanese larder — will last in your refrigerator for roughly the life of the appliance. Gochujang, likewise.) Using them is no different from improvising a marinade with ingredients you use every day, or brushing a piece of fish with mustard and brown sugar before sliding it into the oven. You are simply adding new flavors, often to familiar recipes.
Take some ground pork, Kim suggested, and sauté it with ginger and garlic, as an Italian cook might do with garlic and onions. Chinese cooks do this in preparation for making a fiery mapo tofu.“But then instead of a spicy base,” he said, “stir some miso paste into the meat, and you’ll have what amounts to an Asian ragù you could put on rice or noodles.”Blend that miso paste with butter, as Talde suggested, and you have a glaze for chicken, fish, pork or beef, enhanced by a splash of rice vinegar. Swap it out for gochujang, and you have the same dish reconfigured, a little more Korean in aspect.Fry some good steak in cornstarch batter and toss it in a sauce made with orange zest and sugar, rice vinegar, soy and fish sauce: Chinese-American takeout food in 30 minutes, 300 times better than anything brought to you on a bicycle.“It’s like a graph,” Talde said. “Those five condiments and butter and an acid. Those five things and mayonnaise and an acid. That’s two weeks’ worth of sauces right there. Then repeat. Or combine.”It is not an expensive proposition, Talde added, to cook this way.“Buying Asian condiments,” he said, “is cheap. These aren’t $40 bottles of olive oil from Eataly,” the Italian superstore. “They’re like $2. Does it look like chili paste on the label? It probably is chili paste! You’re not ever going to go horribly wrong.” Take a spin through an Asian market or online grocery and see.Make sure to purchase some oyster sauce, Kim said. A viscous blend of sugar, salt and oyster extract, it adds deep flavor to all that it touches.“Steam some greens and drizzle a little oyster sauce over them,” he suggested. “Salty, slightly sweet — perfect with rice.”Talde agreed. “Thin it out a little with water, then mount butter into it? That’s a sick combination,” he said.Whatever the sauce, Talde and Kim said, serve it over a cooked piece of meat, fish or vegetable, with rice on the side.Danny Bowien, the chef and owner of Mission Chinese Food in New York and San Francisco, said such combinations were central to the home cooking he does for his wife and son.At Bowien’s restaurant in New York, the oyster sauce is made by Angela Dimayuga, the executive chef, out of smoked oysters and a blend of soy sauces. If it were available for retail sale, some would drink it like Champagne.But it is not, and so Bowien turned by way of example to commercially available fish sauce instead.“You can have a piece of cooked meat that’s, like, just OK,” he said. “Melt down some light brown sugar in the pan juices and hit it with the fish sauce and a lot of black pepper. That, over some supermarket salmon, is crazy delicious — with warm rice. And if you add a handful of fresh mint? Or basil? That goes a really long way.”The rice is as important as the herbs, Bowien added. Make a lot of it so there is always some around for later meals. Cooking rice on a Monday, after all, makes a Wednesday night stir-fry approximately seven times easier to pull off.Kim offered guidance. “If you put rice in a Ziploc bag, warm, then put it in the fridge,” he said, “you can microwave it for a minute a few days later and it’s like you made it an hour ago.” For stir-fries, he added, let the rice come to room temperature before bagging it. “Then put it in the freezer where it’ll dry out a little,” he said. To cook, “zap the frozen rice in the microwave for 15 seconds so it’s easier to break up, wipe your hands with a neutral oil and flake the rice into a bowl so it’s not clumpy.”The resulting dish may not be in any way “authentic” to the cuisines of Asia’s plains, mountains and coastlines. “In fact, it’ll be totally American,” Talde said. “Salty, spicy, sweet, acidic, with a ton of flavor.”And that is all we’re looking for generally, in the middle of the week, when cooking can seem like a chore instead of a joy. Don’t order takeout. Dump and stir. Make it yourself.———Sidebar:Asian Pantry EssentialsThe basics of the pan-Asian pantry are condiments and starches: sauces and pastes that amplify flavors and rice and noodles to absorb them.Chili sauce: There are seemingly infinite varieties of these fiery sauces and pastes. They add a piquant note to sauces and marinades, or you can use them as a condiment for whatever you cook.Fish sauce: An intensely pungent brew of anchovies, salt and water. Fish sauce is used in moderation to deliver big flavor to sauces and marinades.Miso: A traditional Japanese seasoning made of ground fermented soybeans, salt, rice and other ingredients. It can be used as a soup base or as part of a sauce, glaze or marinade.Noodles: Asian noodles may be made from rice or wheat, buckwheat, yam or mung bean. You might start with wheat-based lo mein or udon noodles, then branch out into rice vermicelli, chow fun or the Korean jap che, made from sweet-potato starch.Oyster sauce: A viscous, dark, sweet and salty sauce made by combining cooked oysters (or often “oyster essence”) with a slurry of sweetened cornstarch and soy sauce. There is a vegetarian version flavored with mushrooms.Rice: A staple starch across Asia, it is a must for any pantry. Start with plain long-grain white rice, but experiment with short-grain as well, and brown and jasmine.Rice vinegar: A mild vinegar made from fermented rice wine, you can use it to flavor sauces, marinades and rice.Rice wine: Use as you might a white wine or vermouth when cooking from the European larder, to add an aromatic note to sauces or marinades.Soy sauce: Use it in place of salt when you’re seasoning glazes, sauces, stir-fries and soup. For the gluten-free, tamari sauce is a good alternative.Toasted sesame oil: A flavor enhancer that can be used to finish dishes or provide a round, deep flavor to sauces and marinades.———Recipe:Orange BeefTime: 30 minutesYield: 4 servingsFor the sauce:1 tablespoon neutral oil1 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced2 tablespoons orange zest, plus the juice of one orange3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced1/4 cup light brown sugar1/4 cup rice vinegar (do not use seasoned rice vinegar)1/4 cup soy sauce1 tablespoon fish sauceFor the beef:1 large egg white1 tablespoon cornstarch1 pinch kosher salt1 boneless rib-eye steak, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, cut into 1-inch pieces1/4 cup neutral oil6 scallions, white and green parts cut into inchlong pieces and separated2 to 4 dried red chilies, or to taste1. Make the sauce: Heat oil in a small sauce pan set over medium-high heat. When it begins to shimmer, add ginger, jalapeño and orange zest and stir to combine. Sauté mixture until ingredients soften, approximately 2 to 3 minutes, then add garlic and continue cooking until it softens, approximately 1 to 2 minutes longer.2. Add orange juice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce and fish sauce to pan and stir to combine. Allow mixture to come to a boil, then lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and reduces by half, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.3. Meanwhile, prepare the meat: Combine egg white, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Add steak, tossing to coat the meat with the batter.4. In a large skillet or wok set over high heat, heat oil until it shimmers and is about to smoke. Add beef to the pan or wok in a single layer and cook without stirring until the bottoms of the pieces are crisp and golden, approximately 60 to 90 seconds. Add white pieces of scallion and chilies to the pan, then turn the beef pieces over and cook the other sides, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes more for medium-rare. Transfer to a platter.5. Pour orange sauce into the hot pan or wok, let it boil and stir it as it thickens. Add meat and white scallions and stir to coat with the sauce. Return meat and sauce to the platter and scatter green scallions over the top. Serve with steamed broccoli and white rice.———Recipe:Baby Bok Choy With Oyster SauceTime: 10 minutesYield: 4 servings1 tablespoon soy sauce3 1/2 tablespoons oyster saucePinch of sugar2 tablespoons rice vinegar (do not use seasoned rice vinegar)1 tablespoon neutral oil1 tablespoon finely minced garlic4 to 6 bunches of baby bok choy, approximately 1 1/2 pounds, cleaned, with ends trimmed1. Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and rice vinegar in a bowl and set aside.2. Heat oil in a skillet or wok set over high heat. When it shimmers, add garlic, then bok choy, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons water to the skillet or wok, then cover it and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, until bok choy has softened nicely at its base.3. Remove bok choy from the skillet or wok and place it on a warmed platter. Drizzle the reserved sauce over the greens and serve.———Recipe:Miso ChickenTime: 45 minutesYield: 4 servings4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened1/2 cup white miso2 tablespoons honey1 tablespoon rice vinegar (do not use seasoned rice vinegar)Black pepper, to taste8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 pounds1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine butter, miso, honey, rice vinegar and black pepper in a large bowl and mix with a spatula or spoon until it is well combined.2. Add chicken to the bowl and massage the miso-butter mixture all over it. Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan and slide it into the oven. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over once or twice, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and the internal temperature of the meat is 160 to 165 degrees.© 2015 The New York Times News Service
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