If Yan Could Cook. . .

Archive for January 2009

Fish Congee and Tonkatsu

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A few months ago, I went to Toronto and Markham to do nothing but eat Chinese food for a couple days straight. JP led me from congee house to noodles to bakery to Northern Chinese to Dim Sum; we were still eating Milk Jam buns at three in the morning. For a pasty white boy, he sure knew his stuff. Over Christmas, I went home to Vancouver and glutted myself on Chinese and Japanese food. Living here has worn down my standards terribly – I was starting to say that fibrous, bitter, overgrown gai-lan and steak as gummy as taffy was acceptable, even good “Chinese broccoli with beef”.

Yesterday, peering mournfully into my fridge, I thought: must we travel so far?

For the congee, I minced three gloves of garlic and tons of fresh ginger (three inches of stalk), and placed them in a bowl with three bunches of chopped green onions. I cubed seven cod fillets and threw them in the bowl too, along with a splash of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, and a larger dose of sesame oil.

For the congee itself I used one cup extra-glutenous white rice and about two or three cups regular jasmine white rice. Here’s a suggestion: don’t do that. Try 1/2 a cup of each. I’m going to be eating congee for the rest of the month. This is really the food to glue shut the mouths of your fifteen hungry children. I had to scoop out half, plain, and store it in the fridge. Water determines texture, and you can keep adding as long as you want. The short of it is use lots and lots of water, and add more as it disappears. Boil it for about two hours, until the rice disintegrates into paste, kind of like oatmeal.

Near the end of cooking, add the fish mixture and as much salt and white pepper as you deem necessary, and stir in; the fish will cook quickly in the hot congee.


People often eat this for breakfast. My parents use it to accompany leftovers, when someone is sick, or when neither of them has any idea what to cook. While I made it, I kept imagining my mother shrugging, and saying, “Bo jook,” which, translating tone and context, would mean: “I don’t know, why don’t we just make congee?”

Tonkatsu is a Japanese deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, usually served in a sandwich, in a big bowl of rice and egg, or alongside noodles in soup. Okay, I don’t actually know what it’s “usually” served with, those are just the only ways I’ve encountered it. I figured it would go well with congee. It was surprisingly easy to make; it worked just the way I thought it would, which almost never happens.

First, make an assembly line for flour, one beaten egg combined with a few tablespoons of soy sauce (or water), panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and the pan you’re going to fry them in, as below:


Take a trimmed pork cutlet, dip it in the flour, and brush it off, so the entire thing is covered in as thin a layer as possible. Next, dip it in the egg mixture, again letting excess drip off. Finally, coat both sides in panko; here you can go nuts.


The last step is easier on a gas stove than electric, because it helps to have good control on the heat of the oil – or at least it’s less messy, and there’s fewer black bits in the pan when you’re finished. The oil (olive is fine, but a waste; canola is more appropriate) should be very hot and the cutlet should sizzle, but not be popping all over the place. You only need enough oil to cover one side, and then flip, rather than actually deep-frying. This was actually my cleanest, least panicky experience with breaded stuff – all told, it took less than fifteen minutes.


In addition to the congee, I served it with some steamed bok choy and oyster sauce to dip the choy in, because I often use cooking for people as an excuse to lecture them on their vegetable intake. When I brought the food out, JP remarked, “I know you’re going to make some comment about me having yellow fever – but you’re the one who made it.”

“I am yellow, friend,” I responded, “that’s the difference.”


Written by skimfu

January 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Asian, Fish, Pork

More Weekday Lunches: Chicken Curry Wrap, Ranch Chicken Salad Wrap

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Two nights ago I couldn’t sleep, so I didn’t. Some combination of jet lag, school anxiety, and green tea resulted in my joining the crowds of the midnight strange in a 24-hour grocery store, determined not to let this semester – like last – pass in a haze of takeout Chinese and fast-food souvlaki plates.

I suspect I don’t like wraps so much as I like the ease of carrying and eating them, without utensils. The photos were taken around 2:30 in the morning, and somehow I think it shows – the plates and silver mixing bowls look ominous, gleaming preternaturally in the witching hour light. The food looks like it was pulled out of the shadows or dug out of a grave, unwillingly, by the camera flash – zombie food. I’m sure I could fix it in an editor, but I prefer them this way: cooked, as they were, by zombie me.

Originally I was planning to make the salad wrap with Thai sweet chili sauce, not realizing that the bottle in my fridge had gone bad. With that in mind, I cut two chicken breasts into strips, and fried them in a stainless steel pan in a minimal amount of oil and then soy sauce. Other than that, everything is raw. I cut a cucumber into sticks (in half lengthwise, each half into five strips, all strips chopped into pieces about three inches long) and a tomato into cubes, omitting (read: snacking on) the juiciest pieces. I washed a bunch of romaine and chopped up some green onions. Once I smelled the sweet chili sauce (whoa!), the chicken and the cucumber & tomato were tossed separately with store-bought ranch dressing instead, the only other thing that seemed appropriate in my fridge.


The wrap was layered with a large romaine leaf (broken in half and overlapped, if too large for the tortilla) at the bottom to absorb moisture, and then chicken, cucumber, tomatoes, and finally a handful of green onions. This particular one was large enough to be pushing at the edges of structural integrity.

For the chicken curry, I threw into the food processor four cloves of garlic, one large green chili cut into pieces (I removed the seeds from half of it, because I prefer not to burn my face off during lunch), and about a one inch (in both dimensions) hunk of peeled fresh ginger. For a basic curry, this base aromatized the oil with ground cumin, coriander, and tumeric. Another two chicken breasts chopped into strips, a medium yellow onion cut into large cubes (squares? Onion layers are pretty flat), and a few handfuls of cubed carrots completed the curry. I also added one small potato, cut into very fine little pieces that would more or less disintegrate, because I like curry to have an indistinct sense of mushiness. Water and milk in the mixture helped cook the vegetables.

I poured out the curry into a pot of steamed white rice (one cup before cooking) and mixed them together.


I didn’t add anything else to the wraps besides the curry, amazed at how much you could stuff inside because it’s so malleable, with no sharp edges. With a leftover piece of tortilla, though, I did eat a miniature curry wrap with some romaine in it, and it was so much better I regretted not putting romaine in all of them.


All in all this made ten large, overstuffed wraps, five of each. Looking at them proudly lined up in the fridge in aluminum, this seemed like a huge amount of food. So far I’ve given away two to someone who is preparing for an unpleasant point in his PhD (may God save those foolish souls who go to graduate school) and eaten two. Last night, eating at Patati Patata with Jacob, I sensed the angry indignation of the zombie wraps back home in my fridge. “We are real!” they cried, “We have substance and nutrients! You don’t even want poutine!”

Written by skimfu

January 7, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Posted in Chicken