Saturday, February 06, 2010
In an alternate universe, my comfort food of choice would be kimchi, made the way my mother learned it from her mother and aged the way it had been for generations in big clay urns on the roof of our house. Or maybe the tastes I crave would be fish sauce-tinged, burning with the heat of the little hot peppers my father grew in his garden outside our front door, the seeds brought from his mother's garden in her village in the mountains.
This particular fantasy assumes that there would be culinary skills passed down to me from my (imaginary) mother or grandmother, recipes peculiar to her village or region. But, alas, my white bread mid-century upbringing brought with it a knowledge of potato-chip crusted tuna casserole and pot roast rather than Bun Tom Thit Nurong. Sigh.
Browning the meat in the spices.
So I, like Blanche DuBois, am left to the kindness of strangers when I need my Asian fix, in this case the estimable skills of Mark Bittman, himself the child of Jewish parents who has moved beyond the borders of that cuisine to adopt those of other cultures. His coconut braised beef, for example, first published in 2005 and then again just a week or so ago, is a brilliant adaptation for braised chuck roast with a Thai twist. Its inclusion of chiles, lime zest, coconut milk, garlic and ginger is as near as I've come to the real thing, made from ingredients I usually have available.
Maybe it's time to sign up for that cooking class in Vietnam. What do you think?
Coconut Braised Beef
Adapted from Mark Bittman, The New York Times' The Minimalist
2 hot dried red chilies
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2" piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tbps. chili powder (I used 1 dried aci sivri pepper)
1/4-1/2 tsp. fish sauce
Juice and zest of 2 limes, or 2 Tbsp. rice or other mild vinegar
2 Tbsp. canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil
2 lbs. beef, preferably chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 c. coconut milk (or 1 can, about 1 1/2 cups, plus 1/2 cup water)
Salt to taste
Put chiles, garlic, ginger, chili powder, fish sauce, lime juice and zest in bowl of a food processor, and process until everything is minced, or mince by hand and combine.
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a skillet that can later be covered. Add spice paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add beef, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and covered with sauce.
Pour in coconut milk, and bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer, stirring only occasionally (but making sure mixture is simmering very slowly, with just a few bubbles at a time breaking the surface) until meat is extremely tender, at least an hour and possibly closer to 2.
Uncover and cook until sauce is very thick and caramel-colored, stirring frequently so it does not brown. Season to taste with salt, and serve with white rice.