Soft Shell Crab Salad with Curry Aioli

With my ITP thesis ready to go, I finally got a chance to do some creative cooking again.  Tonight I made a fried soft shell crab salad with a curry aïoli dressing.  I improvised through this one (like most things I cook), so no exact measurements.  I got the soft shell crabs (which are currently in season) from FreshDirect, and they were already cleaned, which saved me the scary task of cutting off the eyes of live crabs as demonstrated here by Mark Bittman of the NY Times.

Start with the aïoli dressing.  Put in a blender:
1 raw egg (without the shell, silly!)
1 clove of garlic
2 chopped up cornichons
1 generous spoonful of Dijon mustard
1 shake of curry powder
1 dash of soy sauce
1 dash of Tabasco
1 heaping teaspoon of apricot jam (the sweetness offsets the intensity of the other flavors)
2-3 teaspoons of vinegar (I used a combo apple cider and rice wine vinegar that has been infused with jalapeños. I like to live a little on the wild side, so I chucked in a couple slices of the pickled jalapeños too
2-3 generous glugs (I know, this is hardly scientific) of grapeseed or other neutral oil

Blend everything together and season to taste. It should come out more like a thick salad dressing and less like a mayonnaise. If it’s too thick, add some water or more vinegar to taste.  This makes a lot of dressing, so these measurements would be enough for 4-6 servings.

Now for the crab. Clean the crab if it didn’t come cleaned already. Rinse in some cold water and pat dry with some paper towels. Make a tempura-style batter by mixing flour, ice cold water, freshly ground black pepper, Tabasco, and fish sauce (plain old salt would work here too). The batter should be really cold and rather thin. Don’t over mix.  Dip the crab in the batter and deep fry.  It takes 2-3 minutes per side. When done, drain on some paper towels.

Tonight I served the crab on some heirloom tomatoes and Boston lettuce with the dressing drizzled on top.  I had a glass of vinho verde to go with my delicious dinner, but an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer would also probably work well with the curry flavor.

Pok Pok, Portland

I was in Portland, Oregon over the weekend for the JET Alumni Association Regional Technology Conference.  On Sunday, after the Conference ended, I went with LL to check out Portland’s much acclaimed Pok Pok Thai restaurant.   The restaurant is a bit off the beaten path, but definitely worth the trip.  It’s built to resemble  a Southeast Asian pub shack (which is a little cold for Portland, but they had space heaters).  The Suntory whiskey I had with the meal helped warm me up too.  Despite the shiver, I have to say that this was some of the best Thai food I have ever had outside of Thailand.  No generic pad thai or “traffic light” (red, yellow, green) curries here.  Only intensely flavorful dishes meant for sharing, featuring hand pressed coconut milk and the freshest of herbs.

This is what we had:


Yam Samun Phrai ($9.00)

Special Northern Thai herbal salad with ginger, carrot, parsnip, betel leaf, basil, lime leaf, sawtooth, fried shallots, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds, dry shrimp, ground pork and Thai chilies in a coconut milk dressing.

I’ve never had anything like this before, but it kind of reminded me of a Japanese kinpira on acid. A definite party going on in my mouth. A taste revelation.

Coconut Rice ($2.50)
Definitely necessary to counteract the atomic Thai chilies masquerading as scallions in the salad

Sii Khrong Muu Yaang ($11 – not pictured)

Carlton Farms baby back ribs marinated in whisky, soy, honey, ginger and Thai spices. slow grilled over charcoal and served with 2 spicy dipping sauces.

I’m not usually a ribs person, but these were very well executed. They kind of reminded me of jerky or Cantonese char siu, in a good way.

Khao Soi Kai ($11.50)

Northern Thai mild curry noodle soup made with our secret curry paste recipe, natural chicken on the bone and house-pressed fresh coconut milk. Served with pickled mustard greens, shallots, crispy yellow noodles and roasted chili paste. Chiang Mai specialty, with Burmese origins.

My favorite Thai noodle soup! It’s not on many Thai restaurant menus in the US, but it should be. Pok Pok’s khao soi is rustic, with big chunks of chicken on the bone, falling apart tender, and a perfectly balanced coconut broth. I wish there were a little bit more broth though, ’cause I downed every drop.

Sankhaya Fak Thong ($6.50)

Steamed Kabocha pumpkin, filled with coconut-palm sugar custard scented with pandanus leaf.

The kind of expected this to be warm, or at least room temperature, but it came cold. Still really good though. I think maybe just a dash of salt would have offset some of the sweetness and made the flavor of the kabocha really pop, but that would be gilding the lily. BTW, the desert portion was more than enough for 2 people to share.

Pok Pok
3226 se division, pdx : 503 232 1387

Attari Sandwich Shop

While I was in “Teherangeles” visiting the family last week, I went to check out Attari Sandwich Shop in Westwood (1388 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90024). We started with a Shirazi salad, a simple and refreshing chopped salad of tomato, cucumber, and onion.

Next course was Ash-e joe, a thick soup with lentils, black eyed peas and mixed greens, topped with yogurt and fried onions.  Healthy, hearty, and delicious.  The soup could easily be a meal in itself and is perfect for a cold day rainy day like the day we visited.

Then I had some tongue sandwich.  I love tongue for its chewy, meaty texture, and go for it every time I get Japanese or Korean BBQ.  The tongue at Attari was different though.  It was almost falling-apart tender, like the best pot roast or pastrami.  The sandwich itself reminded me a bit of banh mi in the best possible way.

In summary, Attari has generous portions, reasonable prices and an authentic Persian experience in LA.  Definitely check it out.  I heard that they have brain sandwiches there too, try it if you are feeling adventurous.  My dining companions weren’t ready to deal with that when I went. 😉

Attari on Yelp
Review of Attari in the NYTimes

Kogi

I checked out Kogi, the much-hyped Los Angeles Korean BBQ Taco truck when I was in town visiting the family last week.  We followed them on Twitter and drove out to Encino to wait in line for the Korean/Mexican fusion food cart.  They have multiple trucks that park at different locations in LA on different days.  All I have to say about the experience is “Yes!”

Yes, the place has a lot of hype, but the food was great.

Yes, it’s fusion, but it’s fusion that just works.

Yes, the lines are long, so get there early.

Yes, the truck was late, stuck in traffic on the 405, but this is LA…

Yes, it’s cheap. Two bucks for a taco and five for a quesadilla.

I tried the tofu and spicy pork tacos and the kimchi quesadilla.  The tofu was flavorful with Korean marinade and seared to make it taste “meaty” rather than gelatinous.  Worth trying even if you are a total carnivore.  The spicy pork was great too: spicy, sweet, meaty, and fatty.  I have to admit this one was an easy sell for me.  When I go to Korean BBQ, I prefer the pork belly to the usual beef dishes like kalbi and bulkogi.  The quesadilla was amazing too.  The umami that comes out of the ménage à trois of kimchi, sesame, and melted cheese is divine.

Kogi Official Website
Kogi on Twitter
Kogi on Yelp