April is hereby designated Asian Experimentation month.
I’m not sure if it’s the in-between-ness of the seasons (time to put braising to bed, too wet for bbq, haven’t yet hit the farmer’s markets to be inspired by spring veggies…), or the fact that we’re on a budget, but I’ve been cranking out my peasant Italian-French-Korean version of Asian food lately.
Mom’s chicken long rice is my perfect comfort food; if I’d grown up white and in a trailer, this would be my mac and cheese. If I’d grown up in Korea, it’d be called Jap Chae. In Hawaii (where b1 grew up), it’s chicken long rice. With a million variations, ours/mine uses dark, on-the-bone, skin intact chicken (to give it some stickiness), shitake mushrooms (so in love with pre-sliced dried shitakes I could marry them), “long rice” (Korean yam noodles), which aside from being a gloomy gray manage to be delightfully slippery, bouncy and toothsome, and the ‘essential 5’ of Korean cooking: garlic, soy, ginger, onion, sesame. Brown up salted chicken, toss in a sliced onion, add loads of chopped ginger and garlic, add softened noodles and shitakes (and some of the soaking liquid) , throw in a slightly scary amount of soy and sesame oil, slap it on a plate, top with kimchee or peperoncini and turn on the Hee Haw reruns.
From old standard to bastardized newcomer, my version of mapo tofu was a complete shot in the dark, but tasty enough to warrant a rerun.
I don’t even know what real mapo tofu is, other than a sense that it’s spicy, porky, silky and in bad Chinese restaurants, frequently served with peas. Armed with that scholarly wisdom honed to a fine edge by meticulous imaginings, and thinking k deserved something he liked after putting up with chicken long rice (despite Irish / Polish genes he adores tofu and anything pepper-hot), I set out to pair my new favorite cheater food…ground lap cheong…with tofu. Lap cheong (Chinese sausage) is the secret ingredient behind company-appropriate fried rice (as in, “Hon, set aside the possum, we gots company at the door”), how to get hubby to eat slightly bitter gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce, and, in a bizarre collision with some Frenchie thing b2 used to make, sauteed with thinly sliced and fried potatoes and snow peas. And now these slim packets of fat / sweet / salt come chopped up. Hooray, life just keeps getting better for the lazy and undeserving. Using lap cheong in place of ground pork, a tablespoon of crab paste and a hefty dose of pepper paste and red pepper, and dinner pretty much made itself. Toss in frozen peas or chopped up gai lan stems (a little lap goes a long way, so it got made twice) and voila! Gotta say, it was pretty tasty, though I shudder to think about how unhealthy it must be, even pushing the tofu-to-pork ratio. (A run to the fridge shows no MSG in the crab paste, phew, but “crab fat” is called out separately from the crab meat. Crab fat? Crab FAT? Woot.)
*Hapa Haoli a Hawaiian term used these days to commonly mean a half (hapa) white (haoli)/ half Asian person.