I was thinking today about the evocative pleasures of color names in makeup, when it occurred to me that Shishito would make a fabulous name–and color–for a nail polish. Particularly as the peppers (which you might know better by their Spanish name, pimientos de Padrón) are famous for their 1-in-10 spiciness frequency–that is, out of every ten peppers, nine will be perfectly mild, and just one will pack heat. I thought at once of a “Blistered Shishito” manicure, a nod to that most classic of tapas, with a silver glitter top coat standing in for flecks of coarse salt. Soon, with the help of a virtual manicure app called Nail Salon, I’d mocked up my idea:
You’d wear it like this, you see, with just the one neon nail to represent the rogue spicy pepper:
Afterwards, I got to thinking that the Spanish tapas palette would make quite the capsule nail art collection. (Are you reading this, O.P.I.?) Jamón ibérico, for example, would make a superb French manicure variation:
Likewise, patatas bravas:
Then there could be boquerones, those tender little anchovy fillets in vinegar:
To represent pa amb tomàquet, a Catalan dish of fresh tomato rubbed over bread, I’d do a creamy base coat overlaid with chunky red glitter:
And finally, I’d do an ensaladilla rusa, that unaccountably popular Spanish take on Russia’s Olivier salad–a mayonnaise-mortared macédoine of peas, carrots, and potatoes, with or without canned tuna, hard-boiled egg, or roasted red peppers. It isn’t my favorite thing to eat, but I rather like it expressed this way:
1. Pork, poblano, and pinto bean chili
Two weeks ago, I brought home my first-ever pressure cooker, and this was the recipe I christened it with. It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, and it worked just great. Dry beans don’t just cook dramatically faster in pressure cookers, they straight-up cook better, with a consistent texture throughout. I served my chili with chopped cilantro and grated cotija, and it was excellent.
2. Short ribs
I didn’t use a recipe for this, unless you count a single line on the Modernist Cuisine blog that told me that short ribs take 50 minutes at 15psi (the higher of the two settings found on most pressure cookers). Sadly, it’s been a challenge finding recipes with a sensibility that appeals to me. So this is what I did: I browned the hell out of six pounds of short ribs (without dredging them in flour–never dredge anything in flour, no matter what the cookbook tells you, as it’ll do nothing but burn), did the same with aromatic vegetables in large chunks (smaller pieces will just disintegrate under pressure), and submerged it all in a mixture of red wine and beef stock. After just fifty minutes at pressure (well, the actual cooking time is longer, as the pot takes ten minutes to come up to pressure and another ten to come back down so you can open it), the ribs were so tender they slipped right off the bone. I strained off my braising liquid, quickly cooled it in an ice bath, and then stuck it in the fridge to let the fat congeal. With short ribs, there’s really no point trying to skim. Once the liquid had cooled, I spooned off enough beef tallow to fill an eight-ounce tumbler:
What I’ve just described is a skeleton recipe for short ribs; you can modify the braising liquid however you like. I opted to reduce it by half, flavor it with beautifully tart pomegranate molasses (I just love it with rich proteins like duck and fatty beef), and then thicken it with a beurre manié. When my guests arrived, I rewarmed and glazed the short ribs in the pomegranate gravy, and served them with sharp chimichurri over a puddle of coarse-ground grits into which I’d folded fresh corn kernels that I’d sautéed in butter and–secret ingredient alert!–half a brick of cream cheese.
If you have leftover cooked rice and a pressure cooker, you can have perfect congee in 15 minutes. In a regular pot, this would take me at least an hour, and I’d be constantly topping up the water as it evaporated, and stirring up the clumps to avoid scorching. I cooked this batch with dried shrimp, a chunk of Yunnan ham (like a Chinese prosciutto), and plenty of white pepper powder. Just before serving, I added some sliced, cooked fishcake and chopped scallion tops.
4. Steel-cut oats
Oatmeal takes 6 minutes at pressure. I put some dried blueberries and sour cherries in with the oats, and they came out wonderfully soft and plump. I happened to have some heavy cream in the fridge, so I poured some over with my maple syrup.
5. Multiple batches of 40-minute chicken stock, which didn’t make for interesting photos, but were remarkable for their intensity and clarity.
As you can see, I am very excited about my new gadget. I went to a book party last night and must have terrorized half the guests–the author included–with my pro-pressure cooker propaganda. Hopefully this post will go some way towards getting it out of my system, and I will be able to behave myself in public once more.
I think of soy sauce as a seasoning, and my non-Chinese friends think of it as a condiment.
That probably doesn’t seem like a major revelation to you, but, trust me, it’s huge. I’ve spent years feeling hurt, slighted, and just plain mystified when people I love, respect, and know for a fact are broad and thoughtful in their tastes will, upon being served a portion of Chinese food, proceed to drown it in soy sauce before even taking a bite.
As we say in Cantonese, Aiyah!
This always drove me crazy, because I knew that none of the people who were doing this would ever go to a French restaurant, an Italian restaurant, or even a trashy diner and think of salting a dish before tasting it. So why were they so confident that the Chinese food was underseasoned?
The other night, it finally hit me. I was out for dinner in Chinatown with a dear friend from my culinary school days, an excellent cook I’ve never known to make a seasoning misstep in her own kitchen, and when I saw that even she was automatically pre-soying her food, I realized that this wasn’t about adjusting the seasoning at all.
You see, even though soy sauce has a lot going on flavor-wise beyond its core saltiness, I was raised to think of it as an analog to salt. (I think of fish sauce in the same sort of way, even though I reach for it much less instinctively.) Once a dish is plated, I’ll add soy sauce only if I think it’s undersalted. But for my Western friend, who uses it much less frequently, it’s soy sauce’s other flavors that take precedence over its sodium content. And since she enjoys those flavors and associates them with Chinese food, she adds soy sauce as a matter of course–the same way that someone who really enjoys hot mustard or a particular brand of chili sauce might squirt some on a dish regardless of whether it truly “needs” it.
At heart, this is a cultural taxonomy clash. On my end, soy sauce and table salt reside in the same category; on hers, they’re living separate lives. We don’t use soy sauce the same way because we don’t agree on what it is!
Having said all this, I’d be lying if I said that I’d completely made my peace with the practice. Even when I recognize that soy sauce is being treated as a condiment, it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue, the thing that emboldens diners to be so free with the condiments in the first place: the low status of Chinese cuisine in America. In Western culture, people typically slather things with ketchup and hot sauce in their own homes, or in the most casual of eating venues–which is to say, when they feel free and easy, when they don’t have to impress anyone. It’s when people go to fancy restaurants, where the chef is an auteur, that they feel obligated to take every dish as it comes, never daring to tinker with the maestro’s calibrations. And it hurts my feelings a little that a French chef’s seasoning word is final, while a Chinese chef’s can be overridden.
Which is an awful lot of build-up for a very simple proposition: Taste before you soy. Maybe you’ll like what you taste–or maybe you’ll find that it was even blander than you’d feared, and decide to use twice the soy sauce you had planned. Either way, just give it a tiny taste. That’s really all I ask.