Myers + Chang At Home | Cookbook Review
In a new series of posts I'm determined to call 'Cooking the Books' [I like that slightly mafioso vibe], I'm going to be reviewing a book out of my ridiculously large collection - because I haven't actually cooked anything from about 50% of them. I just like having them okay? I add them to my wishlist and then every payday I go and choose one and then never look at it again. On the plus side, they do look super pretty when I arrange them by colour on my bookshelves.
First up is Myers + Chang at Home by Joanne Chang, which is a collection of recipes from the Myers + Chang Asian restaurant in Boston. I'm saying 'Asian' not because I'm being culturally blind and lumping a whole host of cuisines together, but because that's what they describe themselves as - Asian. It's mostly Chinese and Taiwanese food, with things thrown in from all over the world. I'm not sure how authentic grilled corn with sriracha butter is, but it sounds delicious.
And now, the stats:
Number of recipes: 93 if you count recipes for chicken stock and plain rice [which I don't, really] and 77 without all the recipes for condiments etc.
Number of vegetarian recipes: 27 [and I've been strict here about not including anything with fish sauce]
Vegan or easily veganised: 19 [and 2 vegan dessert recipes]
Fish/seafood recipes for the pescatarians among us : 12
Will I need a whole new pantry? Well, yes kind of. BUT if you have the basic bottles of soy, black rice vinegar, sesame oil and some kind of chilli sauce, then you'll be able to make a good start. I'm probably not the most unbiased person to talk about this, because my fridge was filled with kimchi and gochujang long before I started this book, but all of this stuff is pretty cheap from a big Chinese supermarket and it lasts for ages. Some of the more advanced recipes do call for like 'pickled mustard greens' and 'fermented soybean paste' but you can ease up to those.
Realistically, will I cook all these recipes? Most of them, yeah! There are some that, with the best will in the world, I'm never going to attempt [littleneck clams in black bean sauce, kale and fennel salad with fuyu persimmons] but there are lots of relatively simple recipes that don't use loads of ingredients, lots of recipes that use tofu if you're trying to cut down on meat, and some recipes that require a bit more effort.
What did you cook?
So I started off with 'Spicy Silky Tofu' which is a recipe to convert anyone who isn't sure about tofu, and that's because it also has a load of pork. Like trying to trick yourself into liking coffee by drinking a lot of mochas [just me?] it makes tofu taste great and meaty so you end up enjoying the texture. Phoebe [my extremely critical flatmate/sister] highly rates this as a kind of Chinese/Korean bolognese sauce.
I also cooked the 'Lemony Garlicky Chicken Soup' because every single part of that sounds delicious, and it might even be one of the first recipes I cooked in my new Instant Pot - that's the other thing about this cookbook, a good amount of the recipes are Instant-Pot able, and even more are the kind of thing that reheats well for leftovers or to make ahead for dinner parties. The meats and vegetables and tofu just sit in the sauce and it all melds and gets even funkier.
I made the 'Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles' for my friend after she worked a long on call shift, and she said it was 'the best meal I've ever eaten'. Now a good amount of that is probably the red wine I served with it, and the hand pulled noodles, but damn that is a good pork ragu. The spicing is excellent, there's a punch from the mustard greens, and adding the salted butter when you mix it with the noodles is just the perfect emulsifier for all the juices. This is one of the recipes I would 100% recommend you make because it's very low-input, a lot of just adding things and frying and stirring, but when you get out is infinitely more.
The 'Congee with Nirvana Chicken and Scallion Salsa' had me eating congee for breakfast at work for a week, taking in little bottles of extra sesame oil and black vinegar and chopped spring onion. You've gotta treat yo'self at work otherwise you might actually die of boredom in your psychiatry rotation. It's a real worry. The Nirvana chicken is beautiful and so well seasoned [another one for the InstantPot] and I might make up a huge batch this week to add to congee and salads and rice and vegetables and anything really. It's just basic soy sauce and rice wine and ginger etc, but punched up with some sambal oelek/malaysian chilli sauce and star anise to something a bit more special.
The last couple of things I made were the 'Tea Smoked Pork Spare Ribs' and 'Mama Cheng's Pork and Chive Dumplings with Black Pepper-Scallion Sauce'. Oy, that's a lot of capital letters. I confess I didn't smoke the ribs because I wanted to make this on a weeknight, in about an hour, and they were still amazing. They've got all sorts of spices in that I would have never considered for Chinese cooking, like coriander seeds and fennel seeds, and they're smothered in sichuan pepper and brown sugar afterwards and roasted. Again, I Instant-Potted this [you've really gotta get one] and they were falling apart after 35 mins at high pressure. Amazing. The dumplings were pretty good but not the best dumplings I've made - I have my eye on those short rib ones though, and the duck and ginger. The black pepper and scallion sauce is brilliant, though it has a worrying amount of oil in it and requires a lot of emulsifying or it turns into a big oil slick.
All in all, I would grade Myers + Chang at Home as a solid A-. It has some absolutely deliciously punchy recipes in it, a good amount of vegetarian and vegan options, and you won't regret making room in your cupboard for some of the pantry staples. Some of the recipes don't exactly tempt me, and I would have enjoyed some recipes for homemade noodles and dumpling wrappers, but I'm picky like that.
Buy it here!
Mama Cheng's Pork & Chive Dumplings and Black Pepper- Scallion Sauce, taken from Myers + Chang at Home
BLACK PEPPER-SCALLION SAUCE:
- 2 spring onions, white and green parts finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons black Chinkiang vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as canola
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon chili oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 large napa cabbage leaves, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 pound ground pork (not lean)
- 1 cup minced fresh garlic chives or regular fresh chives
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (about 1-inch knob)
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- One 16-ounce package round wheat dumpling wrappers
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more as needed
Make the Black Pepper-Scallion Sauce Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend quickly until combined but not totally smooth. Stir well before using.
Make the Dumplings Place the cabbage in a large bowl with the salt. Toss well and set aside for at least 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, garlic chives, soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil and use your hands to mix all the ingredients thoroughly together. Set aside.
Take the cabbage in your hands and squeeze as hard as you can. You will be amazed by the amount of water that comes out. Squeeze out as much water as you can and add the cabbage to the pork mixture. Mix well with your hands until the filling is well combined.
Fill a small bowl with warm water. Lay a dumpling wrapper on a clean work surface and scoop about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and paint all around the edge of the wrapper to moisten. Fold the wrapper over in half to look like a half-moon. Pinch just the top of the wrapper together, leaving the sides exposed and open. Start pleating the left side of the dumpling: hold the dumpling on the top, fold a pleat on one side of the wrapper about halfway down the arc toward the center of the dumpling and press it into the facing side of the wrapper. Repeat the pleating almost to the bottom of the arc so that you have two pleats on the left side of the dumpling. Repeat the pleating process on the right side of the dumpling, again pleating toward the center. When the dumpling is completely pleated, you should be able to sit the dumpling on its bottom and it will look like a little love seat. The smooth side of the dumpling will be the seat and the pleated side will be the back of the couch. Continue with the rest of the dumpling wrappers and filling until the filling has been used up.
[I've saved a video of me folding dumplings onto my Instagram highlights, so look there if you want to see it in real time!]
You need a large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet with a lid or a nonstick skillet with a lid. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, carefully add as many dumplings as will comfortably fit in the skillet and turn the heat down to medium. Cook without moving the pan until the dumpling bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Check by lifting them up with your fingers and peeking underneath. Add about 2 tablespoons water to the bottom of the pan and immediately cover with the lid. The pan will sizzle and steam up immediately, so don’t be startled. Shake the pan from time to time to keep the dumplings from sticking. Let the dumplings steam for 2 minutes, at which point most of the water will have evaporated. Add another 2 tablespoons water to the pan, cover again, and steam again. Wait till the water has mostly evaporated again and repeat one last time with a final 2 tablespoons water. Turn off the heat, keep covered, and rest for 1 minute. Uncover and turn the heat back to medium-high to crisp up the bottoms. Remove from the pan. Continue in the same manner to cook the remaining dumplings, adding 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan at a time as needed. Serve immediately with the Black Pepper–Scallion Sauce.
The Black Pepper-Scallion Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. The dumplings will freeze well and keep for about a month as well - cook them straight from frozen.