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Your efforts will be rewarded

Listen, I know it’s a holiday weekend. Most of you are probably outside, grilling or picnicking or generally engaged in some form of early-summer eating. In fact, as I type this, I can hear my neighbors on their deck, shaking a bag of charcoal briquettes, talking about Neil Diamond. But what I would like to tell them (aside from, HAVE MERCY! NO NEIL DIAMOND TONIGHT!), and you, too, is this: do your future self a favor and go inside and cook a pot of rice.

Also, do whatever you have to do to get some Napa cabbage kimchi. Come midweek, your efforts will be rewarded.

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about kimchi fried rice. I learned how to make it more than a year ago, in early 2010, when my friend Matthew and I taped the first episode of our podcast, Spilled Milk. The topic of the show that day was fried eggs, and Matthew made this rice to serve with them, to sop up the yolks. (We tape at Matthew’s place, almost always over lunch.) In the 17 or so months since, I’ve probably made kimchi fried rice close to 17 times. I know that fried rice is supposed to be about using up leftover rice, but I don’t let that slow me down: I now make rice for the sole purpose of making kimchi fried rice. Did it just the other day. And seeing as this blog is the place where I put my best stuff, I thought it was time to finally record it here, to file it as a Keeper.

I am not any kind of expert on fried rice, and I don’t think Matthew thinks of himself that way, either - though he’s welcome to correct me, if he does. But I’ve eaten kimchi fried rice in a couple of restaurants in the past few months, and the version that Matthew taught me is still my favorite. It begins with bacon, which you cook slowly, so that it gives off a nice amount of fat - that fat is important in fried rice - and then you add some chopped Napa cabbage kimchi (the riper, the better). When the kimchi is hot and beginning to look a little wilty at the edges, you add cooked rice, preferably a day or two old, the rice you’re going to make today. And into that, a few minutes later, you stir a little sesame oil and butter. Kimchi and butter are crazy for each other. It’s really spectacular, what happens to the sharp funk and sting of fermented cabbage when it shakes the smoothing hand of butter. Spectacular. So you’ve got that, plus the fragrant sesame oil, the bacon, and the rice, and a bowl, and it’s hard to imagine needing anything else, ever, in the entire universe - except maybe some sesame seeds and sliced scallions, for garnish.

And a fried egg! Right. Almost forgot that part.

Kimchi Fried Rice
Adapted from Kye Soon Hong, Matthew Amster-Burton, and Spilled Milk

I pick up kimchi whenever I’m near a Korean market or Uwajimaya, but Ballard Market, my neighborhood grocery store, also carries it. They sell a couple of different brands, but I usually buy Island Spring. It’s made about half an hour away, on Vashon Island, and it has good flavor and heat. Matthew, however, makes his own kimchi, and it’s fantastic. Maybe he’ll teach me how someday. David Lebovitz also has a recipe for it.

As for rice, the best type for this recipe is Calrose, a medium-grain, Japanese-style white rice from California. But I’ve also used Thai jasmine rice, which is nice - though when you fry it, it tends to stick aggressively to the pan. Whatever you use, cook it a day or two ahead, cool it, and chill it. If possible, allow it to come to room temperature before frying.

About the pan: if you have a well-seasoned wok, use it. Or, if you’re stuck with just a heavy skillet and an electric range, as I am, that’s okay. I use my largest cast-iron pan. It’s nicely seasoned, but the rice still sticks a bit. It’s annoying, but not annoying enough to keep me from making fried rice. (Just put some hot water in the pan when you’re finished, soak briefly, and the stuck rice will come right out.) One word of warning: I wouldn’t use a nonstick pan. The coating isn’t safe for use over high heat.

Oh, and if I were you, I might fry two eggs per person. But it’s really up to you.

4 strips bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
2 cups Napa cabbage kimchi (see above), diced
4 cups cooked rice (see above)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for frying eggs
2 tsp. sesame oil
Sesame seeds, for garnish
Sliced scallions or sweet spring onions, for garnish
Eggs, for frying

Put the bacon in a large skillet or wok, and place over medium heat. (I find that by starting the bacon in a cold skillet, I can get it to render more fat than it does when I start it in a hot skillet, and that’s helpful for this recipe.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is cooked through but still tender. Add the kimchi, and cook for several minutes, until the kimchi is hot and maybe even beginning to brown in spots.

When the kimchi looks right, raise the heat to high, and add the rice, stirring well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for several minutes, until the rice is hot and beginning to brown. (If the rice is wanting to stick to the pan, it’s going to be hard to brown it properly, but don’t worry. Just make sure it’s nice and hot. It’ll still taste very good.)

Meanwhile, in another skillet, warm some butter and fry as many eggs as you’d like, seasoning with salt to taste.

When the rice is ready, stir in the butter and sesame oil, and season with salt to taste. Divide between two or three bowls, and top each with a fried egg or two. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

Yield: 2 generous or 3 moderate servings


We have some progress

This city has taken its sweet time in getting rid of winter, but I am happy to report that, as of this writing, it is 61 degrees and sunny. Actually, what it really is is 61 degrees and S!U!N!N!Y!

At last, we have some progress. We ate lunch outside yesterday. Last night, we came out of a restaurant at nearly ten, and there was still a royal blue glow, the last dregs of sunset, along the western horizon. The pink dogwood tree in the front yard is (sort of) in bloom! The backyard is a jungle! I have no idea how to garden! Everything feels like it’s opening up and starting over.

You do know, right, that you can click on these photos and make them enormous? You, too, can throw yourself face-first into the hard-won glory that is spring in Seattle.

Today, in celebration of all that, I want to share some recent favorites, a list of the best things I’ve read, heard, seen, or tasted in the past few weeks. I wanted to record them somehow, and I thought you might like them, too. I hope so.

- Canal House roasted rhubarb with white wine and vanilla bean. Just made a batch this afternoon.

- Radiolab’s remarkable Where Am I?

- Saipua soap. I read Sarah Ryhanen’s blog all the time, and I can’t get over what she does with flowers. Turns out, she also makes the nicest soap around. My current favorite is the Gardener’s Soap, though I also love Cedarwood and Coffee Mint. I order them online or buy them at Marigold & Mint.

- An Americano before dinner.

- Melissa Clark’s recipe for eggs poached in a buttery sorrel sauce. HELLO. We had this for dinner recently, and I can only say: if you come upon some sorrel, make it.

- An inspired asparagus fest, as captured by my friend Brian, in the garden of my friend Charlotte.

- A fascinating story about time, memory, and perception, from The New Yorker.

- Fleet Foxes! The new album! Spectacular.

- Jess pointed me to this wonderful two-part video of Charles and Ray Eames. They’re humble and unaffected and endearingly awkward on camera, and the host is a trip. (“Ray, should we let Chaaahles do it?”)

- I finished reading Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids more than a week ago, but I’m still thinking about it.

- I can’t stop watching this video of Bruce Springsteen performing “Thunder Road” in Passaic, New Jersey on September 19, 1978. My favorite Bruce song, performed five days after I was born. I love the story he tells at the beginning, the way he tells it, the earnest way he starts the song, the way he winds up grinning and hopping around and having what I can only guess is a hell of a good time. It feels electric.

Happy spring.


Pile it on

Let’s get it out of the way right now: this egg salad, the one we’re going to talk about today, is not a beautiful egg salad. There will be no sexy pictures of this egg salad. There will not even be vaguely winsome pictures of this egg salad. There will be no pictures at all of this egg salad. But it has other things going for it, like the way it tastes, and if push comes to shove, you can always eat it in the dark.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a new friend, telling me about this egg salad. She’d found the recipe in the April issue of Saveur, the sandwich issue, where it was featured in a spread about salad sandwiches. (Photograph included! Avert your eyes!) I had already read the magazine and put it away without noticing the recipe, and to be honest, even if I had noticed it, I don’t know that I would have given it a second thought: Russian egg and mushroom salad, it was called, with dill and caramelized onions. Apparently, I am prone to provincialism in my egg saladry, because I had never heard of an egg salad like that. I grew up under the roof of a man who loved egg salad and made it nearly every Saturday, but the farthest he ever ventured from the home territory of egg, mayo, mustard, and salt was an occasional visit to the curry powder jar. I couldn’t grasp the idea of egg salad with mushrooms and caramelized onions. That mental trick that a lot of us cooks do, the one where we read a list of ingredients and then conjure up, in our mind’s mouth, what the resulting flavor might be - well, the trick didn’t work on this salad. But Sarah had called the recipe a keeper, and she even used double exclamation points(!!), and so, without really understanding what I was making, I was excited to make it. I put some eggs on to boil.

This is not a recipe with a long, involved origin story. The story of this recipe is, in short: I made it. I ate it. I made it again. I ate it again. And when I started thinking about making it a third time, I wrote to Sarah to ask if I could tell you about it - if for no other reason than to believe that we might not be the only two people in the world wanting to eat this much egg salad.

The recipe is as simple as you might guess. You cook some roughly chopped mushrooms in a skillet until they smell good enough that you’re forced to make a piece of toast to tide you over while you stand there, stirring. Then you scrape them into a bowl, put the skillet back on the heat, and lightly caramelize some roughly chopped onions in it. (Don’t worry if you lose track of time while you’re eating your toast and the onions brown too quickly; mine did, and still, the salad rose above.) Then you add the onions to the bowl, along with some chopped egg and fresh dill, and you dress it with a bright, quickly whisked-up sauce of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice - a sauce that, should you have extra, makes a bang-up dip for asparagus. Then you pile it on a(nother) piece of toast while the whole mixture is still a little warm, and you put a napkin in your lap, because what’s about to happen deserves some ceremony. And then you have lunch.

Russian Egg and Mushroom Salad
Adapted from Saveur, and from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook

The original recipe called for white button mushrooms, but because I like crimini mushrooms more, that’s what I chose. And for the mayonnaise, I used Best Foods (also sold as Hellmann’s). Homemade would be terrific, but there’s nothing wrong with Best Foods.

Also: the flavor of this salad really deepens with time, so consider making it a day (or even two) before you want to eat it.

5 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped (see note, above)
½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
4 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 10” or 12” skillet over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms. (If they don’t all fit in the pan at once, let the first panful wilt down a bit, and then add the rest. It’ll work out fine.) Cook, stirring often, until lighly browned, 14-16 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften; then reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until lightly caramelized, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the dill and eggs, and stir to mix.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Add a couple of spoonfuls to the mushroom mixture, and toss until evenly combined. Taste, and add more dressing as needed. (All in all, I used only about two-thirds of the dressing.) Season with salt and pepper. Depending on how deeply browned the onions are, you might also want an extra squeeze of lemon.

Pile on lightly toasted bread – preferably sourdough rye, if you’ve got some – and serve open-faced.

Yield: about 2 cups