Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where bad decisions are…well, they’re definitely forgotten, but they can be brought back up at a moment’s notice through the power of the Internet! I am the man with the shame as eternal as our servers, Jon O’Guin. Today’s dish is…complicated. In really dumb ways. To fully understand why, and where we went wrong, we have to start at the beginning.
As I already said in last Monday’s post, my family had been on a quest to reproduce Fried Chicken Skin Thai Steamed Buns like the ones we had in Seattle for some time. And due to finally saying “fuck it, I can make a casserole that serves 8 to justify buying skin-on chicken breast", we finally had all the components. And, from looking at the initial list of steps, it seems pretty impossible that things could go too wrong.
To make the steam buns, we’d need:
-Fried Chicken Skin
Four ingredients. The first one is store bought. The second is so stupidly easy to make, the cookbook I took it from APOLOGIZED for including it. Speaking of, you may remember the cookbook that made today happen. It’s been weirdly involved for the last few weeks!
It took me just over a week to actually get my cookbook and take a picture of it.
Yup, that’s David Chang’s cookbook, the same guy who did Ugly Delicious. It’s titled Momofuku after David’s first restaurant, the one that’s spread around the world. I’d tell you more, but at this juncture, I honestly have to do a review of it, just so I can have the hat-trick of reviewing his recipes, his shows, AND his book. (Which, to be fair, it’s not like David’s gonna give a fuck. Dude’s worth $60 million at age 40. You think he gives a shit what reviews say? (Spoilers: He does. It’s a big part of the cookbook.) )
Anywho, the book is where we took our recipe for the Quick-Pickled Veggies from, as well as the recipe for the Steamed Buns. So let’s ignore both of those, and talk about the chicken skin first.
What Are Ya, Chicken?
I’m certain I’ve made that chapter heading joke before. But if you can’t tell me when, then we’re all good. So, we’ve already talked about how we procured the chicken skin, (buy skin-on chicken, remove skin, duh.) so now it’s time to use it. Luckily, this is a remarkably simple process that, spoilers, I somehow fuck up.
The basics are, as advertised, stupidly simple: to fry chicken skin, you make a 5-layer “sandwich”: baking sheet, parchment paper, chicken skin, parchment paper, baking sheet. Then you put that in a hot oven for a little under an hour. Boom. Done.
Of course, I write "done", and then post a picture of very clearly NOT DONE food, because I'm a confusing dick.
The chicken fat renders out, crisping the skin, and the pressure/confinement of the top baking sheet keeps the skin from curling up or folding weirdly. For flavor, you just dust it with some salt and pepper pre-entombment, and you’re good to go. So, of course, SOMEONE had to be fancy.
I don’t remember exactly what my motive was, but I decided that some shichimi togarashi was what this sucker needed, having never cooked it before and therefore having absolutely no idea what kind of flavor profile it was going to produce. If you’ve forgotten our Okonomiyaki post of last November…well, I’d make a joke about you shaming your ancestors, but that joke would be kind of racist and also meaningless since you just said you forgot the post, so how would you remember it’s Japanese? Anyway, that post touches on shichimi togarashi, which is basically Japan’s preferred spice for sprinkling. It’s a mixture of powdered chiles, seaweed, citrus peel, garlic, and some other things.
The thing is…salt and pepper have the structural integrity to withstand an hour of cooking at almost 400 degrees. And, as it turns out, I don’t think seaweed and citrus peel have the same ability. When we got the chicken skins out, they LOOKED fantastic.
But they all had a vaguely burned taste to them. So if this is your first attempt on them, just stick to the salt and pepper, yeah? With our meat fixed up, let’s tackle another filling of the bun, before finishing with the buns themselves, so I can build this dish from the inside out!
My, aren’t we in a…pickle
Jesus, I hope every chapter title in this post isn’t a lame-ass goddamn pun, Title Jon.
Anyway, this is a recipe for a “quick pickle”, and, as I said before, David Chang’s cookbook presents it with a half-apology. See, the recipe is just “toss sliced vegetables in a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt, let sit for 15 minutes, and serve”. Boom. Use it on cucumbers, radishes, jalapeños, you could probably swing it on carrots, but they might be a little tough.
We did it on a bowl of cucumbers, and a bowl of jalapeños, because I know that Thai cuisine culturally strives for a balance of flavors between sweet, bitter, spicy…and at least one more. Anywho, I knew that, as we were making it, the dish wouldn’t have any real spicy elements, and thus would be considered imbalanced from a traditional Thai perspective.
Editor's Note: I made a gap here to include a picture of the pickles, but apparently the process went so smoothly that I didn't take any. I mean, what would be the point?
"Here's a bowl with slightly damp looking jalapeños."
These guys worked a dream. Meaning of the three things we needed to knock out for this dish, we’ve kinda screwed up one, and nailed the second. How’d the third go?
I Was Planning to Use a Pun Here, but it sounds like Jon will be…Steamed…if I do.
I will find you, you talentless hack, and I will make you eat your damn puns.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the steamed buns…
Saying the steamed buns went “wrong” is incorrect. They went almost exactly how they were supposed to. It’s just that David Chang had a beautiful piece of understatement in the recipe. We’ll get to it in a bit, first let’s tackle everything that went into it, and all the perfectly lined-up pieces.
Now, I can’t tell you exactly when I picked up the Momofuku cookbook. It was somewhere around last May, I believe. And when I rifled through the pages of it, I found this steamed bun recipe, and knew that one day, I was going to cook these things. Since then, step by step, and half on accident, I’d gathered my tools. I bought Bread Flour because I wanted to make Crumpets. (Note to self, we still need to make Crumpets) While shuffling through Fred Meyer’s Black Friday in a zombie-like-state, I found a set of bamboo steamers in the clearance section, and I snatched them up. Finally, we needed our last component: dry milk powder.
The keen-eyed among you will note Dry Milk is apparently made by demon cows, as this cow's eyes are a troubling shade of red.
And the instant I picked this container up, I became unhappy. If you’ve never worked with the stuff, dry milk powder has a texture like slightly clumpier cornstarch, and as I’ve said a couple times on the site, I HATE the feeling of cornstarch. The ‘catch-and-slide’ jerkiness of its cohesion just unnerves me. It’s like powdered Styrofoam, and it feels like rubbing Styrofoam sounds, a grating unnatural presence that causes the back of my mouth to dry up like I clenched my molars on cotton balls.
What I’m saying is, it doesn’t feel great. Nate agreed with me, and my mother looked at us both like we were crazy, so maybe it’ll be fine for you.
Anyway, with all the components assembled, it was time to make the buns. The blurb before the recipe says to set aside “a couple hours” to knock out the buns, so I started the project at like, 5 PM on a Saturday where I had nothing better to do. It starts easily enough: dump all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix! And that’s where we hit our first snag: the instructions said “mix on the lowest setting possible, just above a stir.”
So, this lead to a discussion between Nate and I: which clause do we think takes precedence? “Just above a stir” or “lowest setting possible”? I think the numbering system is really what bothered us about it: if it went “Stir – 1 – 2”, then we’d of course get that 1 is the lowest setting, above a stir. As it was, we had to decide which way we wanted to err: lower than intended, or higher? We went with low, figuring it was better to under-stir than over. And (spoilers) our steamed buns turned out pretty good. Not quite right, but close. Maybe the higher speed would have incorporated a little more air. When/if we make the recipe again, we’ll try the higher speed.
Not that we have to make the recipe any time soon: see, this is basically an industrial scale recipe. It makes FIFTY steamed buns. (well, we ended up with like, 48, but that’s basically the same.) David Chang states it’s because if you reduce the quantities any lower, you have trouble mixing it. And I buy that. I mean, two of the ingredients are already measured in ½ teaspoons, so I get that lowering production could be tricky.
Once the dough’s mixed, it proofs in a warm place (Dave suggests an Oven with the pilot light on) for about 75-80 minutes. And I hope you enjoyed that break, because almost all the rest of the recipe is ALL ABOUT YOUR HANDS. Seriously, once it’s proofed, you gotta cut it into 50 pieces, a process I complained about, and was roundly ridiculed for. See, you’re supposed to cut the dough in half, roll the halves into logs, cut each log into 5 parts, and then roll and cut each of THOSE sections into 5 parts. And as I did this, I realized that it’s a lot harder to estimate perfect fifths of a not-perfectly-even cylinder than I thought it would be. By comparison, if you need to cut something into fourths, you cut it in half and then cut the halves in half. Your eyes are good at making that kind of call. But it’s much harder to pick out a fifth. The phrase I used to express this, at something like the 30th ball, was “God, five is such a stupid number.” Which you may note leaves out the crucial clause of “for making clean estimates.”. As such, my family took this as an unprovoked attack on the concept of a number following 4, and the next 20 minutes were an ongoing series of examples of useful fives that I had insulted through my negligence.
The Jackson Five, Fingers, the Five Dollar Footlong, all cruelly savaged through grammatical absence.
Once you’ve completed your chopping and mocking, the balls rest for half an hour. You don’t, though. See, you’re going to need parchment paper bases for all of the balls you just made, so you get to spend the next 25 minutes cutting out 50 4-inch squares out of parchment paper. And as a reminder, a 4-inch square is a square that is 4-inches long per side. Not “4 square inches”. That would be 2 inches per side. MATHEMATICAL.
Next, it’s even MORE handiwork! See, the buns are, in essence, basically super soft taco shells. And right now, you’ve just got little dough balls. So you need to roll out each ball to a roughly 4-inch long oval, then you fold the oval onto its self, and plop the newly formed bun onto a piece of parchment paper under a dry kitchen towel. After another half-hour of waiting, you’re finally to the last step! HUZZAH
My ability to fold objects in half, shown here to silence those who doubted my power.
And here’s where shit goes ‘bad’. Remember I said David Chang said to set aside a “couple” hours for this recipe? You may have noticed that this recipe has included a minimum of 2.5 hours of resting time, along with cutting time, rolling time, and so on. So by this point in the process, we’ve already used around 3 hours. Well, here’s where his little trick of understatement goes bad: the last step is, “working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns for 10 minutes”. So, in a restaurant, I assume David has those multi-tiered steamer baskets that sit up to 4 high on a single burner. Me, I have 1 basket. It can fit 5 buns without crowding. Which mathematically means I have 10 batches of buns to steam. For 10 minutes apiece. That’s 100 minutes of steaming time, plus the couple minutes each batch of removing the buns from the steamer without burning myself, and putting the new buns in.
They say a watched pot never boils.
I have two hours of my life I spent proving that was a lie.
What I’m saying is that despite starting at 5, I didn’t finish this recipe until after 10. Which is not a COUPLE HOURS, MR CHANG! You really fucked me on this one, Dave. Luckily, as I mentioned before, this is a semi-industrial process: See, to feed my family, we only used something like 6-7 buns. And you can freeze buns you don’t use for months, just popping them out and steaming them for 2-3 minutes a batch as needed. So that’s up to 9 meals worth of buns made in those 5 hours, which makes the investment a lot better in retrospect.
So the next evening, we popped out a bag of buns, steamed them, cracked up our crispy chicken skins, and made the meal we’d waited so long to eat.
It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing.
How was it? Pretty good. I won’t lie, it wasn’t perfect. As we already noted, the chicken skins tasted a little weird, and the buns weren’t quite as soft as the ones you get at a restaurant, but the dish held together. I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but we almost universally preferred a different filling than the chicken skin. See, my mother was concerned my father wouldn’t like the flavor or texture of the chicken skin, so we made an alternative filling for him, which luckily ties to ANOTHER post we’ve done: Carnitas! Yeah, we just followed the recipe for carnitas I used back…damn, two Octobers ago? Time flies. But we made carnitas, and then doused them in a glaze I literally threw together at the last minute of hoisin, soy sauce, honey and sriracha. So the chicken skin may not have won the day, but I still did, damn it. And that’s what counts.
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THURSDAY: JON REVIEWS THE COOKBOOK HE USED FOR THIS POST, JUST SO HE CAN HOPEFULLY STOP TALKING ABOUT DAVID CHANG FOR A WHILE.
MONDAY: THE BARON OF BREAKFAST RETURNS, AS NATE MAKES HIS FIRST OMELETTES.
Steamed Buns with ‘Fried’ Chicken Skin
Serves…man, I don’t know. The buns serve like, 30. The chicken skin serves like, 6-8
1 tbsp +1 tsp active dry yeast
1 ½ cups room temp water
4 ¼ cups bread flour
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
A rounded ½ tsp baking powder (That means use a ½ tsp spoon, but leave a little extra on top.)
½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup pork fat or shortening, more for folding.
3-4 skins from chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
Quick Pickled Veggies
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cucumber, thinly sliced/ 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced.
1. In the bowl of a stand-mixer, combine the yeast and the water. Add the remaining ingredients for the steamed buns, and mix on the setting ABOVE “Stir” for 8-10 minutes, using the dough hook attachment. By the end, the dough should have formed into a ball on the hook. Oil a medium sized bowl, drop the dough ball inside, cover and let sit in a warm place for 75 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
2. Punch down the dough, and roll out to wherever you intend to cut it. Divide it in half, then cut each half into 5 equal portions. Roll out each portions, and cut into 5 equal balls. Each ball should be roughly the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Cover the balls with a dry towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
3. While the balls are sitting, cut 50 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Or have somebody else do that as you cut the balls. Get a chopstick, and coat in some of the excess fat.
4. Take a ball, and flatten it with your palm. Use a rolling pin to roll into a 4-inch long oval. Fold over the lubed-up chopstick, and drop onto a piece of parchment paper. Repeat this process 49 more times. Let sit under the towel for another 30-45 minutes.
5. Steam in batches, for 10 minutes per batch. You can serve them immediately, re-fluffing the buns by steaming for 1 minute, or allow to cool and freeze. They will keep for several months, and can be thawed with 2-3 minutes of steaming.
6. Whenever you want to finish the recipe, prepare the chicken skin. Lay parchment paper over a baking sheet, and spread the chicken skins out on the paper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and another baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40-50 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven, and remove the top baking sheet and paper. Let cool 10 minutes. Break into bite-sized pieces.
8. While chicken is cooking, place vegetable of choice into a small bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt, and toss to combine. Let sit 15 minutes, then taste. If unbalanced, rinse and re-season with lacking component, letting sit for another 5-10.
9. TO assemble complete product: Take freshly steamed bun, and open. Spread Hoisin sauce on one side of the bun. Lay 1-2 pieces of chicken skin on top of hoisin. Add pickled veg of your choice. Consume.