I think it was the winter of 2013 that I received the Momofuku cookbook as a Christmas gift. It was by request. I kept one of them hostage while a culinary student at Johnson & Wales. I would check it out of the library, and then, on the due date, check it out again. They don't let such shenanigans go on for too long, though. It's a cool read, even if you are only the aspirational cook, who likes to look at the pretty pictures. I like reading the back story behind all the recipes. Because I cuss like a sailor when amongst friends (get it from my mama), the occasional f-bomb is appreciated.
After a doughnut tour of NYC (yes, I love doughnuts...read about it), I had the opportunity to visit Momofuku's ssäm bar. For it, at the time, to be declared one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, it was a pretty low key place. I think that's about all I can tolerate when dining out. I ordered the spicy pork sausage and rice cakes. It was spot on...spicy, salty, sweet, umami-y. Of course, after a few bites I began to channel my inner cocky chef. "I can make this." The stewed pork component seemed easy enough, but I was intrigued by the rice cakes. I assumed they made them in-house, I mean Momofuku's milk bar makes freaking corn powder. I imagined the process would be akin to potato gnocchi. It occurred to me while I was mapping out the MOP in my head, the recipe is probably in their cookbook!
Of course, it was. Turned out I didn't have to tackle rice gnocchi, although, in my head I was certain that no one ever had such a genius idea. So, along with tracking down premade rice cakes, I also had to get a crap load of other ingredients: Sichuan peppercorns, tofu, bok choy, Chinese fried shallots, something called toban djan. So, long story not so long, I tackled this recipe a couple of times since first attempting it in early 2014, but I still have rice cakes, Sichuan peppercorns, Chinese fried shallots, and spicy bean sauce in my kitchen. With all of my random experiments, it's getting a little tight. Throwing good food away is never an option for me. With that in mind, I grabbed all the perishable items I needed gave this dish another whirl. I could get tofu, scallions, and mostly everything I needed from a conventional grocery store. However, it was a no go on the ground pork. I knew I could score some nice swine from the local Asian market. This is where I got the pork the first time I cooked this dish. It was so fresh and fragrant. When cooking up the meat, my kitchen smelled of Italian sausage and hadn't even reached for any seasoning yet...amazing! However, I showed up at the market at 11am to find that they hadn't opened when the sign clearly said 9:30am. Pissed, I huffed my way to the neighborhood market where I knew they wouldn't have ground pork. I settled for chicken, the other white meat.
It was nice to cook up this meal again. While out of respect, I had the cookbook open to the appropriate page, I was a lot more confident, and only glanced at it a couple of times to make sure I was not overlooking a step or ingredient. The chicken worked pretty well. I did miss the swine. In an attempt to explore, I didn't incorporate the boiled rice cakes into the meat sauce. Thinking about a preparation method I like to do for sweet potato gnocchi, that I like to team with bacon, basil, gouda, and sautéed greens, I boiled the rice cakes and then seared them in a hot pan with oil. I used them as a base with the meat sauce going on top. It got a little sticky but not too bad. I like the crisp texture of the exterior in contrast to the almost creamy middle.
So, mission accomplished. I cleared some space in my kitchen and dined on a meal inspired by an amazing place to eat ssäm bar. That rice gnocchi post is coming up soon...f**k yeah!