For a blogger with an intended twice a week posting schedule, I’ve not done well lately. However, we’re all friends and any blogger who reads this will know the feeling – so, with your kind permission, I’ll not apologize, I’ll just try to do better.
If I were to apologize, I guess I could use good wife Sandee as one element, but in truth, her breast cancer surgery went well, and the healing process is proceeding splendidly – her six week daily radiation starts Monday. And I guess I could hide behind the fact that gardening season is here and is demanding a goodly amount of daylight hours, but in truth, my gimpy back keeps me from putting more than a few hours a day into that effort. And we have just successfully completed the task of replacing an old refrigerator with a new one – only those of you who have done this will know that this is a much bigger project than one thinks it will be!
Allow me to interrupt myself to comment on the refrigerator replacement – our old unit, a ten year old, 23 cubic foot Maytag was slowly self destructing, from the inside out – what I mean is that the plastic used extensively in the interior box was simply not meant to last. However, the unit has never given us a minute’s mechanical problem in the ten years we’ve used it, nope, just shelf brackets and drawer guides that eventually all cracked and broke – perhaps it’s the ‘planned obsolescence’ of the refrigerator industry.
(I wanted to slip in a pic of the new refrigerator here, but I discovered that it’s apparently impossible to take a pic of a stainless appliance with a simple point and shoot camera – or maybe my camera is just not good enough – or maybe it’s me that’s just not good enough.)
But I was simply amazed to discover that the old 23 cf Maytag, a classic freezer top, fridge bottom design, could actually hold lots more than could our new 25 cf, side by side KitchenAid. How could this be? After much serious thought, I’ve determined that this mystery is the result of two factors: one being that if you want an ice-maker in your unit, that can easily steal away 3-4 cubic feet in your freezer – but even that doesn’t make much sense, because our old freezer was only 7.7 cf, while the new one was over 10! We literally had to pitch 1/3 rd of the contents of the old freezer (not really a bad thing – it deserved to be pitched), and the new freezer is immediately jam packed.
The 2nd factor is that the design of a side by side refrigerator is inherently poor – it results in an ineffective use of space, as opposed to the wider design of a full width door model. And our two units provide a great example of that fact – the available fridge space in both units was exactly the same, 15 cf, but again, we had to pitch about 1/3rd of what we tried to transfer from the old fridge to the new – and again, that was not really bad, as it simply forced us to get rid of some stuff we’d never use anyway.
This, I’m sure, is why the currently favored refrigerator design is the French door unit, with a full width bottom freezer – the French doors open to a full width interior, giving a much more efficient use of space (except for the significant space dedicated to an ‘in the door’ ice maker). We really knew all this going in, but were turned off by the significantly higher cost of the French door units (upwards of 40% more for the same amount of space). And since we’ve owned a side by side previously, we knew well what to expect. Truth is, I’m a ‘food collector’, and I do not admit that proudly – our hope is that the new fridge will teach us some new habits … fingers crossed.
OK, ‘nuf of that. In the early days of this blog, I did an occasional post on America’s food heritage, of which I contended -and still do- could best be found in those little soft covered spiral bound community fund raiser cookbooks (of which I own easily more than a thousand). True, one must tread through a mass of garbage to get at a few gems (this is not always true!), but still, this resource is the heart of America’s food heritage, handed down, recipe by recipe – and all of this was brought back to me as I perused a new cookbook in my collection, Molly O’Neill’s, ‘New York Cookbook’.
O’Neill’s New York Cookbook is not a new book – seldom do I buy a new cookbook. And the reason I don’t is that eventually all the great cookbooks ever done will appear among the stock of what the book industry calls, ‘remainders’ – and remainders classically sell at ridiculously low costs. But it might take some digging. My favorite sources are the used books on Alibris, and Amazon. For The New York Cookbook, I paid $1 on Alibris, plus shipping cost of $3.85, or so. I don’t think that book sellers ever list remainders as ‘New’, but mostly list the condition as “Like New” or ‘Very Good’ – I think this is an industry standard that when a book is no longer selling as new, a seller will not list it as new. But I can tell you that every used remainder that I’ve ever received has actually been in new condition.
The New York Cookbook is a truly fun book to read, even if one is not looking for a recipe. It is, essentially, a collection of prized and valued recipes from New York City residents, chefs, or celebs. It’s the result of Molly O’Neill’s five year effort to collect the most significant recipes reflective of the melting pot culture of NYC over the past 200 years. And every recipe contains interesting background and banter which makes delightful reading – and if that’s not enough, O’Neill also includes large chunks of narrative describing in detail the history of New York’s foods and ethnic groups. In this way, it is exactly like those little community cookbooks – only this time, reflective of a community that played host to millions of America’s early immigrants, their way of life, and their food. It’s a delight to peruse.
My own perusal reintroduced me to New York’s Chinatown, a place where I spent an inordinate amount of weekend time while a college student in the early 60’s – and it was there where my lifelong interest in Chinese and Asian foods emerged. As the pages turned, my eyes fell on a recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken – admittedly, this may not be the most exciting sounding of all Chinese dishes, but this simple dish contains a world of food history and heritage, besides being a damned fine way to cook chicken.
The history of soy sauce dates back some 3000 years, and its invention is clearly Chinese – it has emerged as one of the world’s great fermented foods, and in fact, the process of making soy sauce has not changed much in over 1000 years – and neither have the many of the dishes that use soy sauce as a base. It’s easy to see the relationship of this simple recipe to a popular home cooking process called ‘Red Cooking’ , which simply means braising or slow cooking meats, or whatever in what’s called a master sauce .
A Chinese master sauce can be used over and over again – in fact, many Chinese feel the sauce simply gets better and better as it is used again and again. Some master sauces are passed down from generation to generation. I’m a little surprised that O’Neill doesn’t mention this here, but there is really no reason why this sauce can’t be saved and used again. Perhaps it differs only in the somewhat smaller quantities used in this recipe, whereas a true master sauce would be ample enough to immerse a whole chicken or pork shoulder for cooking. The only requirement for the reuse of a master sauce is that the spices are occasionally renewed and the fat removed from the top of a chilled sauce.
But of course, soy sauce and even the process of red cooking did not remain within the borders of China, but spread and influenced the cooking of the entire Southeast Asian area. It is not at all difficult to see the influence of red cooking in the eventual development of teriyaki in Japan – this particular recipe is almost an exact duplicate of the process and ingredients used to make Japanese teriyaki – watch here as Jeff Smith makes Japanese teriyaki chicken, and note how similar are both the ingredients and the process to O’Neill’s, Soy Sauce Chicken. However, I should also note that although this same process is used in Japan to prepare teriyaki chicken, the more common method there is one where the chicken is marinated in these same ingredients, and then grilled while basting. And in the video above, Smith also makes teriyaki using the grilling method. It’s an interesting history for sure.
So here’s Molly O’Neill’s, Soy Sauce Chicken, simple and satisfyingly delicious, but heavy with history and heritage – hope you get a chance to try it.
Soy Sauce Chicken
- 1 Star Anise
- 3/4 cup Soy Sauce
- 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 1 Tbs honey
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 slices fresh ginger, minced
- 1 chicken, well rinsed and patted dry
1. In a nonreactive pot large enough to hold the chicken snugly, gently boil 1 cup water and the star anise, covered, for 20 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry, honey, garlic, and ginger – and add the mixture to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chicken, laying it on its side, and bring the liquid back to a boil. Cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer, basting frequently, for 15 minutes.
3. Turn the chicken to the other side and simmer, basting frequently, for another 15 minutes.
4. Turn once more, this time breast side up. and cook until golden brown, 15 minutes more. Remove the chicken and let cool to room temperature. Reheat the cooking liquid and spoon out about 2 tablespoons onto each plate before serving the carved chicken.
My Notes: I have repeated O’Neill’s splendid recipe verbatim here, but after years of making this and similar preparations, I much prefer to cut up the chicken beforehand – I think doing so makes this a simpler dish, and also shortens the cooking time a little – it also allows the use of one part of the chicken, such as my frequent use of all thighs, which I prefer over any other cuts for this dish. If you do use cut up chicken, be sure to cook on each side for 10 minutes before turning each piece. 40 minutes total should be enough.
Eat well, my friends.
top, Doug DuCap, Flickr.com