Danielle Chang, Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts, and Family Tables, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2016.
Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard, Koreatown, A Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2016.
The two featured cookbooks at the National Museum of American History’s “History After Hours” session have a common theme but widely differing manifestations. The totally-un-PC phrase that leaped to my mind was “gender-specific.” Allow me to explain!
Lucky Rice focuses on the family, dishes that can be prepared by a non-Asian cook with easily-available ingredients (although some require access to an Asian supermarket). Chang gives clear instructions and tips for preparation. It’s a nice-looking, well-designed book, well-mannered, and with a somehow feminine sensibility.
She is guilty, though, of violating the Overleaf Rule- spreading the instructions for a recipe over two non-facing pages, forcing the cook to flip the page over while cooking. This could have been avoided with a little consideration.
The recipes are pan-Asian, ranging from Hawaiian Poke to Tofu With Thousand-Year Eggs. The latter is one of my favorite things to make for a quick lunch. Chang’s recipe left off the finishing sprinkle of coarse salt, which I feel adds an essential crunch to its otherwise overly-soft mouth-feel.
I cooked her Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken With Fish Sauce, which I noticed resembled a dish in Koreatown. Aha, I thought, I’ll compare the two similar, but not matching dishes! Both use a cast-iron skillet to roast a whole bird. Marinated overnight, Lucky Rice‘s chicken is placed in a room-temperature pan and a preheated oven, roasting for one hour in a moderate oven (in contrast with the more adventurous method of Koreatown, described below.)
The chicken was delicious, tender and tasting of the lemongrass in the marinade. Like many recipes in Lucky Rice, it’s a worthy addition to my repertoire.
Koreatown smacks of another sensibility altogether. Written by two millennials, a chef and a food writer, it’s the product of a bromance that engenders a miasma of testosterone. In this book, Koreatowns of America are scenes of hazy, late-night drinking parties preceded by meals loaded with spice and smoke.
In addition to many recipes, most based on tradition but more or less tweaked to reflect Chef Deuki’s training and taste (CIA-trained, he has cooked in both Korean kitchens and Jean-Georges), there are articles about and interviews with many food personages discussing their love for Korean food. They are all of the male persuasion. There is a small section of recipes contributed by “guest chefs.” Here you will find one token woman chef.
There are two pages of photographs of “emos,” the women who serve as greeter, cashier and major-domo common to many Korean restaurants. The captions identify only the restaurants, not the actual women in the pictures.
Indeed, the index lists 43 names of males and three names of humans of the other gender – and two of them are mentioned as part of married couples. One would think that Korean food is the near-exclusive domain of the XY chromosome set.
But that’s enough rant. How does it cook? Pretty well, actually. I tried that roast chicken recipe (Tongdak). The skillet is heated in a 450-degree oven for 30 minutes before the seasoned bird hits it, then it’s returned to the oven to roast for 40 to 50 minutes. The finished chicken is tender and juicy, and your frisson when the oil and meat meet the hot pan? Priceless.
The Tongdak recipe recommends serving Quick Soy Sauce Pickles (Jangajji) with the chicken, and I found that these were easy to make and delicious with many other dishes. I made the Daikon and Garlic, and the Egg pickles. The Daikon pickles were crunchy and sufficient, but the Eggs were little packages of umami-packed goodness. When they were gone, I boiled up a few more and pickled them in the same juice (Sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar, boiled and cooled; marinate solids, refrigerated, 4 hours. Nothin’ to it!)
The Beef Short Rib Stew (Kalbijjim) is another excellent flavor-packed recipe, tweaked for an American crock-pot preparation, but I used the old stove-top simmer method (also OK, as mentioned in a note), and it turned out fine. This was, however, a recipe that breached the Overleaf Rule mentioned above – there are a few of them in this book, too!
These two cookbooks would be useful additions to the library of any cook looking to expand their range into Asian cuisine. Get them both, for the gender-balancing effect.