I don't know where I get off having the nuts to rewrite a Mario Batali recipe from The Chew. I barely know what I'm doing in the kitchen. And I mean that on an elemental level. But as I wade into the Asian food world, certain basic truths are gradually starting to coagulate. One of those truths, for the flavor I want and crave, is that you don't obscure the pure and clean flavor of rice vinegar with sugar. Another is that amping up the heat is never bad. These two things can be balanced better by countering them with the natural sweetness of the protein(s) instead of adding this much sugar while finding other, more gentle, avenues like the doughy bun-y-ness of steamed buns to soak up, tone down and balance the heat and vinegar and serve with a wine that completes the balance.
We very much liked this food. There was simply a touch more sugar than we prefer, especially when we're going to bring a little bit of sugar with the wine choice to balance this Asian-ness. Doing that makes for a much more broad flavor experience and food joy.
Here's the recipe, using bison flank steak instead of beef flank. It's delicious, even a bit extravagant. Book 90 leisurely minutes instead of the 60 minutes the recipe says for the "spectacular" version. And maybe consider these notes culled from my experience.
Check out the marinade. There's 1/3 cup of brown sugar in there. I used bison flank steak, which has a natural sweetness and really doesn't need this much but even beef flank with this marinade would be too sweet for our tastes. This was good meat, not over-the-top sweet, but the sugar was always...there in our mouth.
If I did this recipe again, I may use the Thai marinade from this preparation that uses a touch of honey to bring a more gentle sweetness and balance to the rest of the marinade ingredients, thereby bringing more of a freshness and grace to the sweet addition. The lime juice especially is going to take it in a more Thai direction instead of Chinese-ish (and the original may more easily link up with the Korean kimchi) but I don't necessarily think that would be a bad thing. This recipe is already sorta pan-Asian so adapt to your tastes. Or just use honey in the original marinade. Marinades are forgiving. Taste and adjust.
Bun and filling spread
1. Butter lettuce. Use two leaves per bun so 20 leaves. More freshy crunch is better.
2. Shred your carrots, toss in the rice vinegar and (at least) halve that one tablespoon of sugar. It's too much, making for a third sweet ingredient.
3. Kimchi from Golden Pacific on Broadway. Solid GP-brand stuff here ($4). UrbanBelly's is still the best at the same price but this is the best substitute so far.
4. Toast sesame seeds. Use this, don't forgo. Of all the ingredients, this oddly seemed most essential in the small-ingredient-to-biggest-flavor ratio realm.
5. Steamed buns. Broadway Supermarket on Broadway, just north of Lawrence in the mini-mall. $2.25 for a package of ten! It's a frozen rock out of the package. Separate with a knife. I made the mistake of not, making for a longer prep after having to separate half-steamed buns. And you can't over-steam them really, so don't worry about trying to time them for the exact end of the preparation. I did and it left me waiting for them to finish while everything else was done.
Bison and Shrimp preparation
1. About a three-hour marinade in the fridge, 45 minutes out to warm up before searing. A little less than a pound of bison (don't need the 1 1/2 pounds the recipe called for - this was the right amount). Get a cast-iron screaming hot over medium-high heat. Three minutes a side, don't touch. Turned out rare to medium-rare. Perfect for bison because it's LEAN! Rest for at least 10 minutes, cut across the grain.
2. While the bison is resting, shrimp it up. Tip: don't use the recently bison-ed cast-iron to shrimp it up (though the bison bits with the onions were spectacular). Use a pan that conducts and holds less heat. This is shrimp and a cast-iron just doesn't let go of its hotness. Especially when the cornstarch sucks up the rice vinegar deglaze so quickly, it made for un-juiced shrimp. Not dry, just un-juiced. Another tip. I get the cornstarch use. This is a quick shrimp prep and its purpose is to suck up all the onion-ginger-garlic-rice vinegar juice more rapidly/deeply and get into the shrimp. The problem I may have with this, and something we experienced at the (coffee) table, was the lack of Asian shrimpy juice that could bleed into the bison and make it more of a complete surf and turf experience. May use this Thai-inspired shrimp prep in the future (Flay's up 2-0 on Batali for this recipe adjusted for our tastes). One fresno chile doesn't bring the heat. I used six Thai bird's and it was at a great level. Oh, and TWO POUNDS of shrimp! No. One pound was MORE than sufficient for ten huge bun sliders.
All these thoughts/adjustments may take it out of the more Chinese-Korean world it currently sits and that may be to its detriment. But this level of sugar also keeps things in a bit of a tight box (ha!). Nice, deep-ish flavors, sure, and I'd worry about the lime juice in the adjustments freshen things up too much but I gotta think using peanut oil, black pepper and the umami fish sauce and soy sauce component would temper that a bit, take it to something approximating darker, deeper depth and march the food into something closer to our wheelhouse. Something with pops and pauses, pops and pauses instead of the more flatlined sugared notes.
This was good. It's just that we could taste the adjustments we'd make right off the bat.
Served with a 2007 Királyudvar Furmint Sec ($26 - Crush). When we first found Királyudvar's wines with the 2005 vintage, Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet in Vouvray was the consulting winemaker for the Hungarian winery. That's no longer the case. Heck, Pinguet isn't even making wine at Domaine Huet anymore. This is a dry white wine but its ripeness and thick texture gives an impression of sugar that makes it nice for an Asian meal that already has a sugar hit in it, like this meal and it was quite nice here. This one's just starting to fade but it's nonetheless still very drinkable and quite good. Grapefruit, orange and wilting white flowers with a tasty dusty component and acid that's still doing a dance. With a bite a steamed bun surf and turf, the wine bowed under the weight of the food for a very brief moment only to re-emerge stronger and better.
Speaking of Domaine Huet, we've had an opened bottle of 2010 Domaine Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray Sec ($30- Binny's) in the fridge with a Wine Preserva disk in it for at least a week. Opened it and it was STILL oh-so pretty, elegant and gosh-darn good. These Wine Preserva disks are a must, people. Not cheap but easily make up for it by the savings of not having to dump wine that's been open too long. We've seen great preservation more than two weeks open on a few wines.
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