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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Latkes and Pak Choi

Well, it has been a while, just haven't been at the cooking thing enough lately. But, it is the holiday season, and where I grew up, this was always a mix of kids doing Hanukkah, Christmas and home cooking. One of the funny things that always struck me was the tradition that some Jewish families had, of going out for Chinese dinner on Christmas day. This dish, is an quirky way, is a synthesis of that fascination. Yes, the latke meets the wok.

The Latke...
I like to use an old recipe, that I found in an old issue of Bon Appetit, back when it was all about cooking. This recipe is long since altered beyond attirbution, plus, I have no idea the cook who wtote it down. I use a Microplane box grater now, which gives me wide strips of potato and a weird chunky mush of onion, which works curiously well. Anyways...

4 parts grated ribbons of potato
1 part grated onion chunky mush
1/2 part binder (properly, matzo meal, improperly, panko)
1 medium egg

Create a salty water bath, enough to cover the potatoes you are cooking. It should taste like pasta water. Grate potatoes into the brine and let sit for 15 minutes. Place in salad spinner and work until dry. Alternately, you can place the potatoes into a dish towel and wring it until dry. Immediately wash the towel or the starch will stain it lavender and gray, and not a pretty lavender and gray. Mix the next three ingredients with the now dry potatoes to make the 'batter'. It will be stiff.

Fry in 325F to 345F oil one each side, they should be golden brown and crisped. Since I prefer to shallow fry, I make then the 'batter' into balls then flatten once in the oil. Hold in a 300F oven while you finish the cooking.

The Pak Choi...
I like to use baby pak choi for this dish. By pak choi, I mean the ones with the white stems and dark green leafs. I wash and separate the stems from the leaves. I julienne the stems and set aside. The leaves are torn such that they are mostly the same size. Set these aside.

I use just a few slivers of yellow onion, sliced very thin, these need to be thin to cook fast. I also prepare shiitake mushrooms, for this dish, I wanted to use fresh mushrooms, as what I was looking for was the more delicate flavor and softer texture of small, fresh shiitake. Dried or larger ones are a little tougher and offer a stronger flavor, it is a tradeoff. Anyways...

6 to 8 baby Pak Choi, washed, stems reserved, ends trimmed
4 slices shaved from medium yellow onion
8 to 10 baby or small fresh shiitake, stemmed, washed

In a hot wok, add 2 tablespoons high heat oil (I used grapeseed) and coat wok, toss in julienned stems of pak choi, toss until wilted, add onion and mushroom, toss until onions melt and shiitake are cooked (around 3 to 4 minutes, unless you have a wok burner) toss in green parts of the Pak Choi and toss, adding 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and a little hot sesame oil. Toss for a minute and remove from wok.

Plate latkes, place greens alongside, or on top, but, that ruins the crispy latke. Then top with a fried egg. I added a little Tonkatsu Sauce, cause I love the stuff.

It was an excellent combination. The egg was probably overkill, but, added a richness and moisture and who doesn't love a fried egg? The vegetal and savory nature of the pak choi and soft texture of the mushrooms and egg worked beautifully to contrast the crispy latkes.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I was browsing the produce aisle at one of my favorite markets, and chanced upon two ingredients that really shined, one was baby broccoli and the other were these great looking organic Russet potatoes. A note on that, in general, if I am cooking, I really work at buying roots and tubers that are organic, I feel that in particular, these crops benefit from the practices that small organic farmers provide for these crops. These Russets looked so good, it was clearly time for croquettes.

The Japanese love croquettes, and these are the types that I love to make. Typically aromatics and vegetables support a meat, blended into the mashed potatoes and then panko-coated and deep fried.These have finely chopped onions, finely minced garlic, and some line caught albacore tune. I prefer the taste of albacore, and smaller line caught tuna offer benefits of lower mercury and lower impact on fisheries. I also added an egg for binding.

Potato mixture on Sushi-su

The potato mash was prepared, and I added a little butter, fine sea salt and ground pepper, the potato has to taste good first, then everything else was added. One of the tricks I like to use to shape and make the process of breading easier is to form the potato mixture into a tube, I use my sushi-su for this, it really comes in handy for so many tasks other than rolling sushi. I then refrigerate the potato mixture to firm it up.

Rolled and chilled

Once it has gotten cold, I press it into a form, or simply mash then roll while still in the sushi-su, so that it is oval shaped. Then it is simple to slice, flour, egg wash and panko. I let the panko-coated croquettes rest so the breading will bind to the potato. This helps keep the coating attached to the potato. Once shaped and rested, the croquettes were shallow fried in grapeseed oil and canola oil, the key is to keep the oil at a moderate heat. It has to cook through the potato and heat everything while not over-browning. After frying, the croquettes are drained.

Plated with Tonkatsu sauce

I plated the croquettes with the baby broccoli, which was steamed until just soft, then chilled in a mixture of shoyu, sugar, togarashi infused toasted sesame oil and a little sherry. This is served ice cold to offset the hot, rich and aromatic croquette. A little tonkatsu sauce rounds out the plate.

The interior, buttery, aromatic

The texture of my croquettes are a little rustic, I don't like super smooth ones. The contrast of the cold greens with the hot croquettes covers so many flavors and textures, a perfect riff on a modern Japanese snack classic.

4 medium Russet potatoes
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/2 cup onion (I used a yellow onion) finely chopped (1/8:)
1 large clove garlic, minced to paste

1 can albacore tuna (I used Wild Planet Line Caught Albacore)
Fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 egg

Steam potatoes until softened and easily mashed. Mash by squeezing to create a lumpy texture. Add next four ingredients and combine gently. Add flaked albacore and taste, correct for salt and pepper. It has to taste good at this point. Add 1 beaten egg, I like to add a teaspoon of water to the egg and then beat with a fork. The water helps the egg combine smoothly.

Wrap in plastic wrap, and form into a roll. Refrigerate until potato sets. Once the potato is set, roll in to form a oval tube and slice, or press into oval croquette forms. Dredge slices in flour, then brush with egg whites, and dredge in panko. Allow to sit for 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

Shallow fry in moderately hot oil until golden brown on one side, flip and finish cooking. Drain and serve.