This weekend, a good number of us took pause to partake of a wee dram of whiskey (single malt scotch preferred), haggis, bashed neeps (mashed parsnip), and tatties (mashed potato). Some may have tucked into cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek), cullen skink (smoked fish “chowder”), or a Scotch egg to start. Soda bread may have accompanied.
We celebrated the life of Scottish poet Robert Burns with food, friends, and a recitation of his poetry.
Now, the prospect of eating haggis, a savoury sausage made of a sheep’s “pluck” (heart, liver, and lungs), onion, suet, spices (black pepper, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg), and salt, can be a tad unappealing. What did Mike Myers’ Charlie Mackenzie character say in “So I Married an Axe Murderer”?
“I believe most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare!”
[Our serving of haggis and single Scotch egg came freshly made from The Piggy Market (400 Winston Avenue). We had but to poach the haggis in lamb stock.]
On the outset, Scottish cuisine doesn’t seem particularly daring given Scotland’s rolling hillsides, coastal waters, and fertile land. The country produces for export whiskey, beef, strawberries, raspberries, milk, and cheese.
[Well, the Scots were briefly obsessed with everything deep fried. One may still find deep fried doner kebabs in Glasgow.]
Scotland’s national dish was more than likely an exercise in frugal necessity. When it comes to agriculture, raising livestock is an expensive and risky proposition. Cultures, whose cuisines celebrate offal, learned to cook nose to tail, wasting nothing.
You will find similar dishes in French, German, Spanish, and Chinese cuisines. Though, North American Chinese cuisine reflects the more squeamish new world appetite.
The duality that is Chinese cuisine in North America (and, to some extent, Chinese identity) is the subject of the most recent issue of David Chang’s quarterly magazine, Lucky Peach. It includes a great run down of oriental “choy.” There is a diagram-packed primer on dim sum, complete with phonetic pronunciations of dishes. Legendary Martin Yan himself is the subject of an article.
With Chinese New Year upcoming, we attempted the recipe by Chef Danny Bowein, formerly of Mission Chinese Food. It exemplifies “fish out of water” Chinese fare: authentic cut of meat, not so authentic adapted preparation.
Bowein’s Chinese McDonald’s Happy Meal consists of tempura pig tails and nori fries.
Chinese Happy Meal
[Adapted from Chinese McDonald's by Danny Bowien, Lucky Peach Issue 5: Chinatown]
What You’ll Need:
- 2 lbs pigtails (divided at the joints)
- pork rub to coat (8 tbsp brown sugar, 3 tbsp kosher salt, and 1/2 to 3/4 tsp each freshly ground pepper, cloves, star anise, and whole dried chiles)
- pork or chicken stock to braise the pigtails in
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 carrot, roll chopped
- 1 onion, roughly sliced
- corn starch
- rice starch
- flour (all purpose or pastry)
- salt to season
- soda water (chilled!)
- vegetable or canola oil to fry the tails in
- roasted nori
- frozen fries
- Salt wash your pigtails and dry them with a tea towel or paper towels.
- Generously coat your tails in the rub.
- Place the tails in a container and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat an oven to 275°F.
- Place the pigtails in a roasting pan with the bay leaves, carrot, and onion.
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours.
- Once the pigtails are braised, let them cool to room temperature in the liquid.
- Grind your nori into powder either using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
- Sift together 1/3 cup each, flour, corn starch, and rice starch.
- Pour some corn starch into a pie plate and season with salt.
- Heat a pot half filled with oil to 350°F, monitoring the temperature with a thermometer.
- Pour enough chilled soda water into your starch to form a loose pancake batter. Do not over mix.
- Dredge your pigtails in the seasoned starch and then coat lightly in the batter.
- Fry for 3 minutes until crisp.
- Drain on a cake rack, set over newspaper.
- Meanwhile, cook your fries as described and coat in ground nori.
- Serve together hot.
The pigtails were strangely reminiscent of chicken McNuggets. If you haven’t tried pig tails, you would be surprised by how much meat there is on the bone.
The nori fries were salty and pleasantly iodine-y.
Now, back to Chinese New Year dinner planning…