Recipe: Comfortably Numb

~ This is Day 206 ~

In case you were wondering, my day counts above in each post is the number of days since the lockdown happened in NYC, which was on March 16 for me. I think the official date was March 20 though.

After having three of these cocktails at Hutong last year for CNY, I rushed downtown to Astor Wines for the ingredients. Sadly, there wasn’t a vanilla vodka that I could find without it being crazy expensive. It occurred to me that I could just infuse my own so I went to this little spice shop in the East Village (Dual Spice Store, 1st Ave. between 5th-6th St.), since I was in the area, and I bought vanilla beans there. I don’t know where else you can get vanilla beans other than Dual and Kalustyan’s, which is in midtown east on Lexington Ave. between 28th-29th St.

  • 1-2 Thai chilis, cut/slit
  • 3 oz. vanilla infused vodka
  • 1 oz. lychee liqueur
  • ½ oz. honey water
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • Ice

To make honey water, mix equal parts of honey and water in your microwave or over a pot. Melt until combined then refrigerate to store.

If you liked any of my tools and stuff from the video, you can get it yourself with these links:

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Recipe Update: Coconut Curry

~ This is Day 95 ~

After making Fish Cheeks’ coconut crab curry at home several times using the mortar & pestle way, I got tired. It’s hard work!! So here is the modern way using appliances.

This is a double recipe of the mortar & pestle, yields 2 quarts of curry. I pint them up and freeze them.

For the Curry Paste:

  • 1½ oz. dried Thai bird’s eye red chili
  • 1 oz. fresh Thai bird’s eye chili
  • ½ oz. garlic
  • 1 oz. fresh galangal, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 oz. lemongrass, smashed and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 oz. wild ginger, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 oz. fresh turmeric, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 oz. dried shrimp
  • ½ oz. sea salt

In a food processor with a feeding tube, start with the ingredients listed above in that order. Blend into a paste.

For the Curry:

  • Four 14 oz. cans of coconut milk
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 2 oz. fish sauce
  • 2 oz. palm sugar
  • 2 oz. lemongrass, smashed and chopped
  • 2 oz. tamarind concentrate
  • 1 oz. fresh galangal, sliced into rounds
  • 8 fresh makrut lime leaves
  • 8 Chinese broccoli leaves, coarsely chopped

In a large saucepan over low-medium heat, bring the coconut milk, shallot, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, tamarind, galangal, makrut lime leaves, Chinese broccoli leaves, and the curry paste to a simmer. Be sure to break the tamarind concentrate thoroughly with a whisk. Stirring constantly to prevent scorching, cook for 15 minutes, then take off heat and remove the Chinese broccoli leaves.

Wait till cool enough to blend without steam building in the VitaMix. It’s better to blend while the curry is still warm but I don’t like to get burned by spicy curry at home so I blend the next morning, after the curry pot has cooled down completely in my fridge. Blend in batches until smooth. Pass through a chinois and discard solids.

Store and freeze! Just take them out the night before and let it thaw overnight in the fridge.

Recipe: Coconut Crab Curry

My favorite restaurant in NYC is still Fish Cheeks, an authentic Thai restaurant that focuses on seafood in NoHo. For the first year in the restaurant, they had a sign that read “A No Pad Thai Zone”. I’m there basically every week. If I’m eating alone, I always start with the grilled pork cheeks (those taste better than bacon by a million times!) and then finish with their coconut crab curry! Other favorites on their menu: zabb wings, tiger prawn/lobster karee, and po tak! They also have happy hour everyday, twice a day, which is #awesomesauce because people who also work in the industry usually work during “normal” happy hour times.

Anyway, six months ago, I stumbled onto Fish Cheeks‘ coconut crab curry recipe on Vice. I immediately bookmarked it and have been trying to get the energy to do it at home. Fall season has hit NYC and my work life has been overwhelmingly exhaustive. I’ve been working 6-7 days a week since Labor Day. Last Saturday, I finally had the time to make curry paste from scratch. I have a new appreciation for what goes into the work of making the curry paste. I wonder how big their mortal & pestle is…? Or maybe Fish Cheeks has an assembly line of cooks making curry paste at the same time?

There were three ingredients that I couldn’t find though; betel leaves, prik ban chang, and shrimp paste. I was told by the Thai grocer that a close substitute to betel leaves were the leaves of Chinese broccoli (gai lan, 芥蓝). Prik, which is chili in Thai, is a red chili pepper that is not spicy but is used to make curries red/orange in color. The Thai market was out of shrimp paste so I bought dried Japanese shrimp from Chinatown.

So here is my adaptation from Vice’s published Fish Cheeks‘ recipe.

For the Curry Paste:

  • ¼ oz. sea salt
  • ¾ oz. dried Thai bird’s eye red chili
  • ½ oz. fresh Thai bird’s eye chili
  • ¼ oz. garlic
  • ½ oz. fresh galangal
  • 1 oz. lemongrass
  • 1 oz. wild ginger
  • ½ oz. fresh turmeric
  • 1 oz. dried shrimp

Make the curry paste by mashing everything together with a mortar and pestle. I have a 6-inch one and the volume was perfect. Start with the top listed ingredient and then work your way down. Do not move onto the next ingredient until the previous one has become a paste.

For the Curry:

  • Two 14 oz. cans of coconut milk
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1 oz. fish sauce
  • 1 oz. palm sugar
  • 1 oz. lemongrass
  • 1 oz. tamarind concentrate
  • ½ oz. fresh galangal
  • 4 fresh makrut lime leaves, plus 2 finely chopped as garnish
  • 4 Chinese broccoli leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz. crab meat

In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, bring the coconut milk, shallot, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, tamarind, galangal, 4 makrut lime leaves, Chinese broccoli leaves, and the curry paste to a simmer. Be sure to break the tamarind concentrate thoroughly with a whisk. Stirring constantly to prevent scorching, cook for 15 minutes, then take off heat and let it cool for another 15 minutes. Strain and discard solids.

Add in the crab and the rest of the finely chopped makrut lime leaves on low heat, until the crab is heated through. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with lots of steamed white rice!

Recipe: Szechuan Chili Paste

I have a feeling this is going to be a long post because I’m about to tell a story.

Growing up, I didn’t eat much spicy food because I didn’t like it. I would loathe if I knew my parents were going to a Szechuan restaurant because then I wouldn’t be able to eat anything except for cold vegetarian dishes and rice. At the time, I also disliked Szechuan food because of the numbing sensation. I would always unluckily bite into a Szechuan peppercorn, which tastes like soap, and still to this day, tastes like soap, and my mouth would go numb, while being on fire too. Needless to say, I was harshly against eating spicy food as a kid.

I didn’t start self-introducing spicy food into my diet until I was in college. I had a seafood soondubu jjigae (Korean seafood tofu stew) late one night and it was so delicious that I moved past the mouth burning sensation and devoured it, along with a lot of rice, since I was a novice.

By the way, chili flakes in Italian food is not considered spicy in my books. Unless, if I ordered the Linguine Misto Mare in Arrabbiata Sauce from Enoteca Vespaio – my favorite restaurant in Austin! I started cooking and experimenting with spicy food at home and moved slowly from there. I was more into Korean spicy flavors than Chinese spicy flavors in college.

It wasn’t until I spent a year and half back in Hong Kong that my addiction for Szechuan food skyrocketed. I was a private preparatory English teacher in Shenzhen and all of my coworkers were from Mainland China and most of them were avid Szechuan foodies. That’s when I started building my super high tolerance to Szechuan chili and peppercorns. We would eat spicy hot pot and Szechuan food almost everyday for lunch. Spicy frog hot pot was a common occurrence as well. I had the best Szechuan food in Shenzhen and it has had an everlasting impression on me. I have been to Szechuan province but that was during my childhood years and I chose to eat McDonald’s there. Hahaha…

So, ever since moving to NYC, just shy of 6.5 years ago, I have been on the quest to find a stellar Szechuan restaurant. I base all restaurants of every cuisine on the authenticity of their signature/classical dishes. And I know, I know, go to Flushing, people say… do you have any idea how far it is to go to Flushing just to eat? Taking the 7 to one of its termini is torture. And the Chinatown bus is just an accident away from happening. No, no, no, I live on Manhattan so there must be somewhere good. If my former colleagues were to ask me if I could find 水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil) in Manhattan, I would laugh in their faces and say that it is served as a variation here. Fish is not served whole nor chopped into chunks in America because “Americans” do not eat fish with bones. The so-called 水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil) in all Manhattan restaurants is always served with fish fillets. Hey, I’m not complaining about the fillets because it makes eating easier but I do miss eating the gelatinous parts of the fins.

水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil) in China is served with whole fish or chopped whole fish and you can choose the type of fish that you want, whether you want a freshwater or saltwater fish. It is also always served in a basin filled with chili broth, chili oil, and scattered with chili peppers. You cannot find that here, although I have had some really great contenders to the real thing at the following restaurants:

Other great Szechuan restaurants/hot pot places are:

A Flushing import, Szechuan Mountain House, recently opened up shop on St. Mark’s Place and I was not impressed/severely disappointed with their 水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil). However, they nailed other really good dishes, such as the Fish with Pickles and Fried Cony with Green Chili Peppers.

Okay, so where does all this tie into my recipe? Since I have been constantly unsuccessful in finding a restaurant that would serve me authentic 水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil), I decided to make it at home. This recipe took me FOREVER to get right. It took years of researching and asking all my Szechuan friends (who asked their parents and previous generations for secrets and tips). This recipe results in a paste. You put the paste in a flavorful and seasoned broth to cook whatever protein you prefer but this braising/poaching technique works best with fish and frog, in my opinion. As of today, I have not perfected 水煮鱼 (Braised Fish in Chili Oil) at home yet. I need to continue with my trials and errors, i.e. what exactly is coated around the fish to make it to smooth and tender?… But I have perfected 水煮牛蛙 (Braised Frog in Chili Oil). I have been eating 水煮牛蛙 (Braised Frog in Chili Oil) for the past three weekends at home!

Feel free to adjust the spiciness level to your preference. Below, my recipe is quite spicy – based on a high tolerance to spice.

Yields 1 quart.

For the wet ingredients:

  • 100 g bird’s eye chili (aka Thai chili, they also come in green but you want all red; approximately 1 loose pint, stems removed)
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 125 g ginger
  • 50 g galangal
  • 50 g Chinese fermented black beans
  • 250g Szechuan spicy bean paste

For the dried ingredients:

  • 12 g star anise
  • 40 g Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 g black cardamom
  • 1 g green cardamom
  • 10 g cinnamon sticks
  • 8 g sliced licorice
  • 25 g fennel seeds

Other ingredients:

  • 500 mL Shaoxing wine
  • 40 g brown sugar
  • Grapeseed or neutral oil

Remove all stems from bird’s eye chili peppers. Peel the garlic. Peel the skins off both gingers and cut into pieces, similar in size to that of the garlic cloves. In a food processor, blend all wet ingredients until homogenous.

In a wok, add cooking oil and have heat on medium. Add wet paste, and toss/turn/stir for 10 minutes. Add in Shaoxing wine and brown sugar and incorporate. Then turn heat to medium-low and add in dried ingredients. Toss/turn/stir frequently and cook for 20 minutes.

When paste is cool, place in air-tight containers and into the fridge.