Why Hello There! Welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, one man’s epic saga on his quest to just get a properly cooked meal. I’m your protagonist du jour, Jon O’Guin, and today, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite vegetables, the humble Brussels Sprout, and how I hate you for hating them.
Let me be clear, that last bit was a joke. I don’t hate for disliking Brussels Sprouts. I hate you because you can walk about in the sunlight and not turn to stone, but that’s a conversation for a different day. No, I’ll totally understand if you have real reasons you don’t like the humble sprout. Some people have genetic triggers that make them disgusting, some people have digestive problems, and some simply have psychosomatic gag reflexes. (What I call the “White Girl Tequila Effect”, because the only people I know that don’t drink tequila are White Girls who had too much one night and ended up covered in more vomit than the priest in the Exorcist. )
"This seems like a good point to throw in a picture, right, Caption Jon?"
That psycho-somatic disgust, however, likely comes from a simple place: Brussels Sprouts have, for DECADES, been labeled a “gross” food. Which has always been weird to me, because I’ve always liked them. Where does this hatred come from? Well, that’s actually quite easy to explain: Brussels Sprouts are quite easy to overcook, and overcooked Brussels Sprouts go from “fine” to “foul” faster than those White Girls when the chunks start flying. This is a gross metaphor that’s getting out of hand. I swear, I won’t bring them up again.
But, yeah. If you don’t know how to cook something, the general rule is “better overcooked than under!” And Brussels Sprouts happen to be one of the few exception. (Sushi is another one, for rather obvious reasons.)
So for me, I never got the hate. This is at least partly because my family never cooks Brussels Sprouts the “standard” way. While most people boil or steam them, in my house, they’re always roasted or sautéed. Typically with Bacon, which is the great equalizer in making kids love veggies. It wasn’t until I was around 23 that I bought a bag of frozen Brussels Sprouts and over-steamed them in the microwave that I met the menace that has hurt so many.
So, when I recently checked my backlog of recipes and realized “Holy shit, have I only taken pictures of the meats I’ve been cooking for the last month?” I realized it was a perfect opportunity to bring Brussels back to the spotlight, in a recipe I’d never used before, but had seen plugged in magazines and books for ages. (Spoilers: I overcook them.)
First, let’s address that word in the Title that you’ve probably already Googled. “Momofuku” at its most literal, translates as “Lucky Peach”. However, fortuitous fruit are not what made the name famous. No no, Momofuku is most importantly remembered as the name of the Patron Saint of College Students, Gamers, and Artists around the world, Momofuku Ando, the inventor of Instant Ramen Noodles.
Depicted here looking cool as shit.
Yes, this man revolutionized the world’s dining habits decades ago. His effect on cooking is a long, and complex history that we’re definitely not covering today because it doesn’t matter at all for this conversation. No, we’re talking about the PLACE Momofuku, not the man.
So, about 13 years ago, a young New York chef named David Chang opened a restaurant in the East Village, in New York City. (Man, it feels a little weird trying to give locality to neighborhoods. Like, towns are easy. “Town, State/Province/Country” depending on how specific you want to be. But neighborhoods feel simultaneously like if you know of the place, you should know what city, and that there’s too many options to leave it unspecified in something like this. This is the shit that interests me, people. I don’t know why you’re here.) The restaurant was, and is a huge success, letting him open up, at last count…17 more.
I make it a point to never be reliably predictable whether I'm exaggerating or not.
As a man who keeps one ear to the ground, so to speak, in the culinary world, therefore, it was inevitable that the names David Chang and Momofuku would keep popping up. This is a man whose cooking was so popular, reservations for his third restaurant (which only has 12 seats that can only be reserved online, at 10 AM, for that evening. For years, they were sold out within seconds every day) started an entire micro-economy, they sold out so quickly. They were Hamilton tickets 8 years before Hamilton.
Now, of course, they’ve made a cookbook. And I’m certain it’s filled with awesome things. I haven’t read it, because it came out while I was a broke college student. Also, I didn’t feel a need to read it, because when I think of Momofuku, I think of a recipe I’ve heard and seen bouncing around the internet for the last 7 years. Time Magazine covered it, as did GQ, Food52, and quite a few food blogs. So I decided to show up late to the party, and see what all the fuss was about.
Something Rotten in The State of Washington
This recipe is both quite simple, and a little esoteric and complicated to the average American. In form, it’s quite simple: make vinaigrette, roast or fry sprouts, toss sprouts in vinaigrette, eat. Boom. Only 3 steps, and all pretty straightforward. The “problems” come from the fact that a lot of what’s going on in the vinaigrette is going to be weird to a lot of people. Let’s start with the first one: this is a fish sauce vinaigrette, and if you’re not familiar with Thai, Vietnamese, or other Southeast Asian cooking styles, you may not know what that is.
I assume this picture of it answers all your questions.
It also appears in Korean and Japanese cooking, which is why it’s here (while Momofuku has a heavy focus on Ramen, Chang himself is Korean.) If you’re unfamiliar with it, let me give you the basics: It’s soy sauce, but with fish. Seriously, that’s basically it. Soy sauce is made by fermenting a sauce from brine and soybean paste, while fish sauce comes from fermenting fish in salt. Tasting it isn’t recommended, as it’s notably potent stuff.
Now, long time readers will see that this is popular in Thai cuisine and say “Oh, then Jon already owns it”, as I have made no bones about my love of Thai food throughout this blog. I’ve recently learned a Seattle Thai restaurant receiving rave reviews has Chicken Khao Soi, my favorite dish, as a specialty, and have therefore spent a non-zero amount of time staring at Google maps, considering “Two and a Half hours isn’t THAT long of a trip. And I could eat the soup on the ferry back! I’d be eating within 3 hours!” But anyway, yes. I did already own fish sauce. So, when I needed it for this recipe, I popped over to the pantry…and then the cupboard…then the fridge…the other fridge…back to the pantry… At this point, I became concerned. I KNEW I had some. I had used it just a year ago. And the shelf life of fish sauce is 2-3 years unrefrigerated, so it’s not like it went bad. My mother joined in on the search, and I had to make the point several times: I know we have some, because I bought it, and I’m literally the only person who would use it, so it’s not like it had been consumed. Eventually, it was this very line of thought that provided our answer.
To the crate of Comestibles!
As you may recall from our posts back in August-December, I spent the last half of 2016 bouncing back and forth to Leavenworth, to help my friend Joe at his Comic Book Shop, The Krampus Kave. While doing so, my family thought it wise if we made life easier for the 3 mid-to-late 20’s men who were living together, and throw together a box of basics to keep us eating at least something close to healthy while we were together. Costco pasta, Rice-a-roni, fruit leather, and so on all went into the travel box. And, since I was the warden of the Travel box, it ended up filled with things I liked. One of those things ended up being the fish sauce. Our wide-ranging wanderer of a sauce found, the recipe could begin!
You Catch more Flies with Honey than Vinegar
That is, as I’m sure you already know, completely false. Vinegar catches far more flies. But anywho.
So this vinaigrette takes ½ cup of fish sauce, ¼ cup water, and ¼ cup sugar, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, garlic, and sliced Thai Bird’s Eye Chiles. We went to several stores looking for that last ingredient, fairly sure we wouldn’t find them, until we stumbled upon them in a Wal-mart.
Sometimes you find shit in the last place you expect.
They’re small and potent chiles, so use what number you feel comfortable with. I used 2. You mix all of those ingredients, and the vinaigrette is mostly ready. It’s also a kick in the goddamn teeth. I tasted it, and my reaction was nearly vaudevillian, head snapping backward, shaking sharply to the left, snorting like a startled horse. It’s not BAD, it’s just STRONG. Lime, salt, fish, it all just smacks you in the face, “HEY, you up?” Then you slice some cilantro stems (same flavor, but with a more satisfying pop of texture) and some mint leaves, and toss those in the sauce, while you handle the sprouts.
The sprouts are pretty direct: peel the outer leaves, cut them in half, and quickly fry them, cut side down, until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Then, toss them into the oven to roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. In that time, you can make the Potstickers, and the Chicken-Stirfry! Or at least, we did. And that’s where things went awry. Potstickers take about 10-12 minutes, the chicken needs to cook, then we take it out and add the veggies, then they cook, then the chicken goes back, and then you add noodles, and then…how long have the sprouts been in the oven?
Now, yes, we over-cooked them, but luckily, we only slightly did it. While the color and texture had suffered, the flavors were still fine. So we got them out into a bowl, where we tossed them in the vinaigrette. The results were, to me, quite pleasant. Somehow, the flavors of the sprout diminish the fishiness of the sauce, creating a general meatiness in its place. Flavorwise, I liked them. Sure, the sprouts were a touch too mushy, but hey, them’s the breaks. One interesting thing about them was that they still felt very intense. Like, while the flavors didn’t have the same punch as the raw dressing, I still felt full very quickly eating them, as my senses kind of went into overload. So, at the end of today, while it certainly had its mistakes, I’d call the operation as a whole a success. Who knew that you could turn several things many find disgusting, mis them with lime juice and sugar, and render them into a soft, sticky, delicious mess? Which, I feel obligated to point out, is the exact opposite process of the White Girls throwing up their margaritas from earlier.
(I was gonna close with a picture of the finished sprouts, but I'm a dummie, and didn't take one. Mea culpa.)
Momofuku-Style Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
½ cup Fish Sauce
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1-3 Thai Bird’s Eye Chiles, thinly sliced
2 tbsp cilantro stems, thinly sliced
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
½ c chopped cilantro leaves
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved.
2 tbsps vegetable oil.
1. Mix the vinaigrette ingredients, and taste. If too salty, add water or lime juice as needed. Vinaigrette will store for up to a week. When ready to cook, add mint and cilantro stems to vinaigrette. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat in skillet(s). Add Brussels Sprouts, and cook until beginning to brown. If using an oven-safe skillet, you can move it directly to the oven. We chose to move the Sprouts to a preheated baking sheet in the oven. Roast 15 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven, and move to a bowl. Toss Sprouts in dressing to taste, sprinkling with Cilantro leaves. Eat warm or at room temperature.