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Cooking for Hugo: Corinne Trang's Korean Barbecued Chicken


Dearest readers, I did not mean to leave you hanging for, uh, almost three weeks. Please accept my apologies and my offering: a recipe for "barbecued" Korean chicken that I discovered in this cookbook that's been on my shelf since 2002 when I found it in the giveaway pile of an old job, but never actually cracked until a few months ago.

I don't know how I landed on this one recipe seeing as there far too many to count in this book (it's sort of overwhelming, actually), but somehow I did and the first time I made it, Hugo ate almost the entire panful of chicken while Max and I desperately tried to pick off pieces for ourselves, fending off the screeching wild animal each time, and every time I've made it since then it's been nothing sort of a roaring success. So. You need to know about this. Consider it my penance.

Continue reading "Cooking for Hugo: Corinne Trang's Korean Barbecued Chicken" »

Saltie's Focaccia

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You spend 10 years in a city like New York and you consider yourself some kind of expert. You know how to get around the West Village without a map; every street corner means something particular to you; you start recognizing strangers miles away from the neighborhood from which you know them. That kind of thing. And then you leave.

The city, of course, goes on (as do you). Restaurants open and close, people move away, new buildings go up. And you start to hear about new places that would have been the kind of place you would have loved, if you still lived there. But you don't anymore. Nuts to you. Cue cravings for things you've never even had the pleasure of tasting.

One of these places for me was Saltie on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. I can't remember where I first heard about them; I think it was through Brian. But their sandwiches sounded totally beguiling. I mean, with names like the Captain's Daughter, the Scuttlebutt and the Spanish Armada, how could they not? Their funny names belied their aggressively straightforward composition, though: focaccia filled a slice of Spanish tortilla with aioli, focaccia swiped with hummus and piled with pickled vegetables; focaccia sandwiching scrambled eggs with ricotta. Every time I heard about Saltie, I got peckish, for sandwiches and for New York.

Luckily for me, Saltie published a cookbook, which I bought on my last visit to Boston in the fall. Saltie's pedigree is illustrious - the joint owners and chefs come from Diner, the now-famous restaurant that put Williamsburg on the map. They care about high-quality ingredients and have cheffy standards, but apply them to humble sandwiches, soups and cookies. Their book is a quiet delight - full of bossy instructions (I love bossy instructions) and musings on a variety of subjects, including herb salads and Moby Dick.

It also makes you want to cook things as disparate as chicken salad, pickled red currants and perfect boiled eggs. But the crown jewel of the cookbook has to be the recipe for focaccia, the basis upon which the whole Saltie operation stands. I made it when Adam and Craig came to lunch and it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of focaccia recipes (I'm talking about focaccia genovese, meaning a flat "loaf" of bread about the size of a baking sheet, baked with so much oil that it's almost fried - for thick and fluffy focaccia pugliese, click here).

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This kind of focaccia is the ultimate no-knead bread - you stir together flour, salt and yeast (the original recipe calls for active dry, which I don't like, so I substituted instant yeast, at a 1:1 ratio), then you add water and mix it all briefly with a wooden spoon until combined. You pour a substantial amount of olive oil in a big (big) bowl, dump in the batter, which looks more like milky oatmeal than bread dough, and put it in the fridge for a good amount of time (a minimum of eight hours; I let it go for 24). That's it.

The next day, or when you're ready to bake, you simply pour the risen dough, which reminded me most of all of a soft and yielding post-pregnancy belly, onto a baking sheet and push it gently out to the corners. You let it come to room temperature, sprinkle it with salt and put it in the oven. There is so much oil pooling around the edges and on the top and bottom of the focaccia that it partially fries in the oven.

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It's pretty spectacular stuff, in the end. The top goes toasty, bubbly and brown and a rich, nutty fragrance fills the air. The focaccia, split open, has the most wonderful bubbly crumb, full of juicy holes to fill with mayonnaise or tomato drippings. I cut off the edges to prepare for our sandwich lunch and then snacked on those edges for a good long time - they are the platonic ideal of the cook's treat. Crisp and crunchy, salty and rich. Cocktail nuts who?

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To make Saltie's Scuttlebutt sandwich for Adam and Craig, I filled the sandwiches with the cookbook's pimenton aioli, their pickled beets and herb salad, plus slices of feta and hard-boiled eggs. And it turned out that the whole concoction was just too rich and crazy for me (Adam and Craig liked it, though). But later that evening, I layered sliced tomatoes and a milky piece of mozzarella in a split piece of focaccia and found that I'd made myself a sandwich for the ages. Salty, simple, chewy, oily and juicy. What a home run.

Put this one in your laminating pile, folks. And with that, I'm back to the rest of the World Cup final WHICH I AM NOT HANDLING WITH EQUANIMITY RIGHT NOW AAAAAH.

Saltie's Focaccia
Makes 1 sheet pan of bread

6 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling
Coarse sea salt

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the warm water to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated and a sticky dough forms. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a 6-quart plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid (or a very large bowl, like the one from a standmixer). Transfer the focaccia dough to the container, scoop a little oil from the sides over the top, and cover tightly. (If you're using a bowl, wrap tightly and thoroughly in plastic wrap, making sure there's plenty of room in the bowl for the dough to rise.) Place in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours or for up to 2 days.

2. When you're ready to bake, oil an 18 x 13-inch baking sheet. Remove the focaccia dough from the refrigerator and pour onto the prepared pan. Using your hands, spread the dough out on the prepared pan as much as possible. Place the dough in a warm place and let it rise until it about doubles in bulk. The rising time will vary considerably depending on the season. (In the summer, it might take just 20 minutes; in winter, it can take an hour or more.) When the dough is ready, it should be room temperature, spread out on the sheet, and fluffy feeling.

3. Heat the oven to 450° F. Pat down the focaccia to an even thickness of about 1 inch on the baking sheet, and then make a bunch of indentations in the dough with your fingertips -- like you're playing chords on a piano. Dimple the entire dough and then drizzle the whole thing again with olive oil. Sprinkle the entire surface of the focaccia evenly with sea salt.

5. Bake, rotating once front to back, until the top is uniformly golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then slide out of the pan. Use the same day or slice crosswise, cut into squares, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

Cold Summer Borscht

Fresh beets

It all started when the one local vendor at my Tuesday greenmarket had the most beautiful bunches of beets with vibrant, glossy, fresh greens (more on those later) last week. The minute I saw them, I felt a primal urge to make borscht. You know, the kind with beef shin or oxtail: hearty and warm, with little golden discs of fat floating on the surface. Definitely not the kind of meal you'd make on a warm summer's day, which it actually, surprisingly, happened to be. (Context break: With an exception or two, like my day of beets, our Berlin summer has been nothing but rainy and chilly and windy and gray. Here's something I never thought I'd say: I miss those hot and stinky New York City streets in summer something awful right now! My kingdom for a un-airconditioned subway car! For humidity! For sustained SUN! Anyway. Moving on.)

So borscht with beef was out. And then I started thinking about cold summer borschts, the ones you eat with boiled potatoes and buttermilk. I first learned about cold borscht when I was going through my Holocaust phase as a kid. Yes, there was a period in my childhood when all I read were books about the Holocaust. I can't have been alone? I was completely and utterly obsessed. (I even had nightmares about it, really vivid and terrifying ones that I have still not forgotten.) I feel more than slightly weird confessing a food craving that is in any way even peripherally related to the Holocaust, but sometimes the mind works in strange ways. That nourishing soup - a gesture of kindness in one of many bleak moments in that grim parade of stories - made an impression on me in the midst of all that horror, I suppose.

Once the thought of sweet, silky beets combined with cool, sour buttermilk and little waxy cubes of boiled potato occurred to me, it was difficult to think of anything else. A quick Google search led me to this recipe, in which the only cooking involved boiling beets and two eggs. (I had a few small leftover boiled potatoes from the day before, so I added those two - maybe you guys can tell me if that's more a Ukrainian thing? The original recipe, a Lithuanian one, is without potato.). The rest of the soup's work just involved dicing up a cucumber and some scallions. Once the beets were cooled and peeled, I grated them into a bowl, added the sliced scallions and chopped cucumbers, diced eggs and cubed potatoes, and then poured in a quart of buttermilk and a quart of cold water, plus salt to taste. The color was electric, hallucinatory, utterly stunning.

Lithuanian cold borscht

I stirred in a little sour cream at the end for richness, then put the bowl in the fridge to cool for a while. I committed what is probably heresy in the world of borscht by leaving out the dill, but as you may know, it is the final bastion in the almost-conquered world of Things I Do Not Under Any Circumstances Eat. Feel free to put it in, if you like dill. But for those of you for whom dill is an absolute no-go (solidarity fist-bump!), rest assured that the soup was as delicious as can be without it. Sour, crunchy, creamy, silky, cold and refreshing.

(As for the greens, I chopped them up, washed them verrrry carefully and then did a sort of Chinese stir-fry, with minced ginger and soy sauce and chile and garlic. They were delicious, especially with a fried egg on top. Yesterday I had another batch and made an aloo sag with them instead of spinach, which was also nice, but I messed up the potato-greens ratio and it was too potato-ey for my taste. My favorite use for them, actually, was in a frittata with a few sliced potatoes, chopped parsley and chunks of feta on top. I'm headed back to the greenmarket right now for another batch - have any other beloved beet green recipes to share?)

Cold Summer Borscht
Serves 6

1 pound beets (2-3 beets)
1 large potato (or 2-3 small ones)
½ English cucumber (or 2-3 baby cucumbers)
2 large eggs
4 scallions
Small bunch of fresh green dill (optional)
1 quart of kefir or buttermilk
1 quart of cold water
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt to taste

1. Put the washed beets and the potato in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, at a low boil until a knife inserted into the potato goes in without resistance (should take about 20 minutes) The beets will take longer, but should submit to the same knife test. (Time can vary according to size and freshness of the beets.) Drain and cool until easy to handle. In a separate pot, hard-boil the eggs. Drain and cool the eggs. Wash the scallions and peel the cucumber.

2. When the beets have cooled sufficiently, peel them and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Put the grated beets into a large soup bowl or pot. Peel and dice the eggs and the potato. Add both to the beets. Dice the cucumber and slice the scallions and add to the beets. Mince the dill, if using, and add to the vegetables.

3. Mix 3 tablespoons of sour cream into the vegetables and season with salt to taste. Then add the kefir or buttermilk and the water. Mix carefully, cover and put in the fridge to let the flavors meld. Serve cold from the fridge.