dinner

Summer’s heat is finally, lazily, starting to wane here in NW Florida; but it’s nowhere near stew season yet. And judging from recent reports, the rest of the US is experiencing some pretty hot weather, so you’re likely not ready to crank on the oven right now, either. So I think it’s the perfect time to share my Gỏi Gà (Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad) recipe.

Gỏi is the common salad dish in Southern Vietnam (called Nộm in Northern Vietnam), with Gỏi Gà, its chicken variety, being the most popular. While many shredded chicken salad recipes call for boiled chicken, I just can’t stomach the idea of boiling chicken – it seems like such an impersonal way to prepare meat, and it runs the risk of creating a dry, mealy texture.

I respect the reason why boiled chicken is used for shredding, as the water-saturated chicken is easy to break apart. But today, we’ll employ a technique I first learned in a restaurant job, nearly 20 years ago, to get the best of both worlds: we’ll grill the chicken to give it a nice crust and flavor, then dunk it in an ice water bath to cool. This has a secondary effect of preventing the grilled chicken from shrinking, making it a breeze to shred.

One of my favorite aspects of this recipe is that nothing goes to waste. For example, we’ll fry up some shallots and garlic as a salad topping, then cool and use the oil to create the salad dressing – infused with toasted shallot and garlic flavor.

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We’re in the thick of tomato season (June to September in the US), which means it’s time to share one of my favorite simple soups.

Tomato soup is a common comfort food here in the US, and has a similar association in many western countries; Poland, I’ve found, is particularly fond of the soup, as it is the first thing young chefs learn to make (a quick Google search of “Zupa Pomidorowa” yields 1.5 million results).

Tomatoes are relatively new to the Western palate; first imported from Mexico to Europe by Spanish explorers, they were initially considered poisonous and used as ornamentals. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States – he was Secretary of State at the time, which leads one to wish all Secretaries of State were judged by the deliciousness of foods imported during their tenure. In the US, tomatoes were not commonly eaten until the 1830s, and the first record of tomato soup was written by famous American author Maria Parloa in 1872. Joseph Campbell’s condensed tomato soup cemented its comfort-food status in 1897.

The English word tomato is on loan from the Spanish tomate, which was lifted from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl. The first tomatoes were probably yellow, which makes sense when considering the other common word for the savory fruit, derived from the Italian pomodoro – a pairing of pomo ‎(“apple”) +‎ d’oro ‎(“golden”).

This soup takes about an hour to make with fresh tomatoes, slightly faster when using canned tomatoes, and significantly quicker with the help of my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (instructions for each method below).

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When first drafting my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table, I was hesitant to add my recipe for Sole Meunière. After all, it contains only a few ingredients – fish, butter, and lemon, mostly – not exactly a huge culinary journey. But as time marched on, I’ve come to realize that this is one of my most treasured recipes from the book, in part because it’s so simple and satisfying. A couple weeks back, as we made it again for dinner, I decided to share my recipe on this blog.

Because flounder is easy to find here in the South, we’ve been using it instead of the traditional sole. Other flatfish, like plaice or turbot, will also work fine. Fun fact: flatfish have four fillets!

From the book:

Sole meunière is a classic French dish and an easy inclusion in this cookbook; Julia Child, best known for introducing gourmet French cuisine to the United States, had what she considered to be a “culinary revelation” when she first tasted this dish. It’s easy to see why, as the combination of mild white fish, browned butter, and lemon is basic but striking and never gets old.

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Pulehu is a Hawaiian cooking method, which translates to “roast over hot embers”. This method was traditionally used for items like breadfruit, but today it’s most associated with steak, typically seasoned simply with ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read my short history on beef in Hawaii, at the start of my recent Pipikaula recipe post. If you’ve already read it, cool, let’s pulehu some steaks.

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Nakji Jeongol (낙지전골) is a Korean octopus stew that deserves a bit of primer, since the world of Korean soups and stews can be pretty intimidating. In Korea, most meals are accompanied with some form of soup, categorized into two main categories: soups like guk or tang, and stews like jjigae or jeongol.

Soups are typically thin, simple, and simmered for extended periods. In general, guk are meatless, and a little watery; last year I posted a recipe for the popular Gul Guk (Oyster Soup). Tang are, you guess it, made with meat (a favorite of mine, Gamjatang, is made with pork neck and potatoes – it appears in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table).

Stews are more ornate, adorned with fresh vegetables, and served in large, family-style dishes. Jjigae are typically made with a single defining ingredient; Kimchi Jjigae and Sundubu Jjigae, the latter made with curdled tofu, are the most popular. Jeongol contain a variety of ingredients, and are a little more elaborate; historically, jeongol were served for members of the royal court, while jjigae were for commoners.

Today’s Nakji Jeongol has a fair amount of add-ins, but the basic recipe is very simple: marinate the octopus, prepare the soup base, throw it all together. There is no single set of add-ins, so feel free to throw in whatever you have available to you (for example, I used cilantro because the more traditional herb, perilla, is hard to find where I live). Frozen packages of pre-cleaned octopus can be found in most Asian markets, or you can get some fresh (and likely cleaned, but here’s a quick video if needed) from your local fishmonger.

One fairly uncommon ingredient in the soup base is doenjang, which is the Korean version of miso paste; if you’re not able to find it locally, it is sold online, or red miso paste will work in a pinch. If you’re curious as to my thoughts on fermented soy, here is something I wrote earlier this year (spoiler alert: I think fermented soy is fine).

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About four years ago, I posted a recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which quickly became one of the more popular recipes on this site. I liked the recipe so much that I ended up adding it to my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and then improving it for my second cookbook, Paleo Takeout, to incorporate seasonings similar to those you’d find at a certain famous fried chicken chain restaurant (you know, the kind that comes in a bucket).

As I mentioned in that first fried chicken post, this dish is the convergence of three different events. First, the West African practice of frying chicken was brought to the US as a result of the slave trade. Second, the mass production of pork in the South resulted in an excess of lard for cooking. And finally, cast-iron cookware became a staple of every kitchen during the 19th century. It’s only natural that these elements came together as they did, to create one of the tastiest ways to prepare chicken.

Colonel Harland Sanders first started selling fried chicken during the Great Depression, in Kentucky, and opened his first franchise restaurant in 1952; his success challenged the assumption that “fast food” was limited to hamburgers. His original recipe of “11 herbs and spices” was finalized in 1940, and has been a closely guarded secret ever since. In honor of the original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe, I also used 11 herbs and spices (although, to be fair, the pinch of thyme used in my recipe was added mostly to reach 11!).

The original preparation for KFC chicken was through traditional pan-frying, but it would take upwards of 30 minutes to prepare one batch of chicken. Ultimately, Colonel Sanders modified a pressure cooker to make the first pressure fryer, which is the method they use today. For my recipe, we’ll be returning to KFC’s roots and pan-frying the chicken – no modified pressure cooker needed.

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I’m often asked what is my favorite dish to prepare; it basically comes with the territory in this line of work. While it’s hard to choose a favorite, Beef Rendang often comes to mind – there’s truly no taste like it.

Rendang is a dry curry that originated among the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra and later spread throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Its age is unknown, but historians have traced its origin as far back as 500 years. There are three recognized forms of rendang in Minangkabau culture, each depending on the cooking time: a pale, lightly cooked curry known as gulai; a browned but still liquid curry called kalio; and a rich, dry, dark brown dish called rendang, the version prepared in this recipe. In other countries, most notably Malaysia and the Netherlands, the rendang most often served is closer to kalio. While its extended cooking time can be a test of patience, it’s well worth the wait; the aroma and overwhelming richness of rendang are unforgettable.

I first published a rendang recipe nearly four years ago, and it’s made some slight but significant changes since then. Earlier this year I made a batch, and took the photo you see above – it quickly became one of my favorite photos of the year, and so I figured it was a good excuse to share the updated recipe. For the past year or two, this has been the version we’ve been making at home, as it has fewer steps and comes together very quickly.

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Bubble and Squeak is a traditional English dish, served as a hash of leftover roasted vegetables. It can be made from a variety of vegetables, but potatoes and cabbage are almost always included; it can be served at any meal, and is a common accompaniment to a full English breakfast. This dish was first mentioned in the 1800s, but really fell into its own as a way of elongating meals during World War II, when food rationing was common.

The name “bubble and squeak” refers to the name that the vegetables make as they fry in the pan. There are some similarly fun names for other dishes that share the same technique, like Panackelty (NE England) and Rumbledethumps (Scotland).

Prepared traditionally, Bubble and Squeak is kind of tragic, because that means you could only enjoy it on those rare occasions when you have leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge. As a solution, the recipe below is written using fresh vegetables – you roast the vegetables while you boil the potatoes, then toss them all together for the final, beautiful creation. Of course, if you have leftover vegetables, this recipe will work, too; just skip directly to step #3.

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You know, I really thought I was done with soup for a while. The weather has been nice and warm down here in the Florida panhandle, balmy in just the right way – never so cold that a light jacket won’t do the trick, and never too hot for pants. But then last week I visited my old stomping grounds in Maryland, and the weather was distinctly cooler; in other words, it was soup weather.

Garbure is a peasant’s soup originally from the Aquitaine (southwest) region of France; its defining ingredients include cabbage, meat (typically ham or duck), and seasonal vegetables like beans or peas. The consistency of the soup varies – some are nice and thick thanks to copious beans or chunks of bread (a good Garbure, I’ve read, should allow to spoon to stick up on its own), while others let cabbage provide the soup’s body.

My recipe takes cues from the second idea of Garbure, partly because I don’t typically cook with beans or chunks of delicious French bread (yep, there are definitely drawbacks to a Paleo-minded lifestyle), but also because I really enjoy cabbage soup.

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Gumbo is a stew of Louisiana origin, dating back as far as the 18th century. As with Jambalaya, there are two popular versions of gumbo, Creole and Cajun; generally, the former includes tomatoes, while the latter omits them. It can be made with all sorts of meats, from chicken, to rabbit, to nutria, to oysters; today, we’re going to make one with shrimp and andouille sausage.

There are several ways to prepare gumbo, many of them influenced by how you thicken the stew. Most methods today include a French-inspired flour roux, while others use okra or filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) – or combination – as a thickener. I’ve found that mochiko (sweet rice flour) makes the best gluten-free roux for gumbo, with plain white rice flour coming in second – but on their own, they’re not quite enough to thicken the gumbo to what I’d like (I tried simply adding more flour, but it overtook the dish’s texture and flavor). In the end, a combination of rice flour roux and okra worked best, as the roux dampened okra’s sliminess, and adding a bit of optional gumbo filé powder at the end gave the stew a perfect earthiness, befitting a warm Southern kitchen.

Gumbo is often characterized by its dark roux, made by stirring the roux over an open flame for up to an hour, right until it’s at the threshold of being burnt. I’ve found that a rice flour roux tends to burn too quickly when compared to a traditional wheat flour roux, so my solution is pretty simple: roast the flour in the oven to a golden brown before turning it into a roux. This also gives you some time to multitask, and simmer up a quick shellfish broth using shrimp shells and clam juice, while the flour browns.

The origin of the word “gumbo” is a bit of a mystery. It’s commonly thought that it is either derived from the Choctaw word for filé powder (kombo), since the spice came from similar Native stews from the region, or the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo) – as the vegetable was introduced to the area via the West African slave trade. Regardless of its origin, gumbo is a perfect example of the cultural melting pot that eventually came to exemplify Louisiana cuisine, with its French, Native, and African influences.

Finally, I would like to note that this isn’t a weeknight-friendly meal (unless, of course, you have a weeknight off, or you’re unemployed). But that’s the beauty of gumbo – when you spend a couple hours pouring yourself into a cooking project, a bit of your soul joins the dish.

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