David Chang has this way of taking classic Asian dishes, good on their own merit for centuries now, and amplifying them. And yet he's also perfectly content to enjoy these classic dishes in their original environments (sans cool/modern vibe). In the most recent Lucky Peach "Seashore" issue, he recommends two relatively "humble" go-to spots in Las Vegas, one of which is Bund Shanghai - a non-descript Chinese restaurant in the heart of Las Vegas's Chinatown.
I'm quite familiar with Spring Mountain Rd and it's various off-shoot streets, all housing unearthed Asian delicacies as well as new hot-spots gaining in popularity (Raku? A must. Monta Ramen? Still my favorite. Kabuto? The best sushi of my life to date), and while Bund Shanghai had not yet made it onto my radar, it is most definitely on my list now that it's been recommended by David Chang (to whom I may or may not have a small shrine built in the corner of my kitchen). Bund Shanghai does well what many Chinese restaurants don't: they provide consistently spot-on traditional dishes. If you go to Bund Shanghai (and you should) Chef Chang recommends among many things, the cold chicken in chili sauce, xiao long bao (soup dumplings), sheng jian bao (pan fried buns), crispy fried pork shank, the spicy fish hot pot, and the stir-fried rice cakes with pork and cabbage. You should order everything, including a second order of the sheng jan bao to go and pack up all the leftovers.
I am looking forward to doing just that and holing myself up inside my room at the Artisan Hotel as soon as humanely possible.
I red flag went up when he suggested the stir-fried rice cakes with pork and sausage. A long-time lover of my fading, spattered and dog-eared Momofuku cookbook, I'd made a note to try that very recipe, sneakily hanging out quite unpretentiously near the back of his book (under the Ssäm Bar section). Tossing my Lucky Peach as reverently as possible to the side, I reached for Momofuku - it's almost always on the sofa table within easy reaching distance - swear to god and three other white guys.
This is a bit of a mash-up and love mash-up dishes because they are often the best of several things - in this case think a cross between mapo tofu and dan dan noodles, but with rice cakes. The highlight here is the numbingly floral Sichuan peppercorns enhancing fatty ground pork swimming in a pool of chile oil, Chinese greens of your choosing, caramelized strings of onion, and puffy little slabs of Korean rice cakes. Instead of the chunks of tofu you'll find in a traditional mapo tufu, Chef Chang whips silken tofu into glossy ribbons which he then stirs into the finished dish. The end result is a bit like an Asian Bolognese which is so Momofuku.
*personal notes: While I love the numbness factor and floral notes of Sichuan peppercorns, I crushed mine in a mortar and pestle. Chef Chang leaves his whole. You can find cylindrical rice sticks and Korean rice cakes at Asian markets, but if you don't have one nearby, you could also substitute with rice noodles, which most grocery stores carry. Then again, if you're making a special trip to pick up some toban djan, you might as well pick up the rice cakes there as well :)
Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes - Chinese Broccoli & Crispy Shallots
Time: 1 hour
From: the Momofuku cookbook
- 1⁄2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 3 large yellow onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
- 2 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 very loosely packed cups (1 1⁄2 ounces) dried red chiles
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons toban djan (jarred Chinese fermented bean and chile sauce) or ssämjang (the Korean analogue to toban djan)
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon kochukaru (Korean chile powder)
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon usukuchi (light soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups sliced or coarsely chopped Chinese vegetables, such as Chinese broccoli or bok choy
- 8 long cylindrical rice sticks, cut into 1-inch lengths - or 12 oz of Korean oval rice cakes
- 8 ounces silken tofu, drained
- 1 cup sliced scallions, greens and whites
- 1/2 cup packaged Chinese fried shallots
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. After a minute or two, when the oil is hot, add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until he onions start to take on color and begin to shrink in the pan, about 10 minutes. turn the heat down to medium and cook, turning the onions over onto themselves every 5 minutes, until golden and soft and sweet, about 20 minutes longer.
- Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of the oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. After a minute or two, when the oil is hot, add the ground pork and cook, jabbing at the meat with the edge of the spoon to break it up, for about 10 minutes, just until it has lost its raw pinkness but not so long that it browns or threatens to dry out. Transfer the pork to a bowl and reserve it. Return the pan to the stove.
- Add the remaining 5 tablespoons of oil to the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and let the oil heat up for a minute. Add the dried chiles and warm them through in the oil for about 1 minute, until they're fragrant. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute to infuse its flavor into the oil - it doesn't need to color, but when the aroma of garlic is rising from the pan, it's ready. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Chinese chile bean sauce, Sichuan peppercorns, and kochukaru. Reserve until the onions are cooked.
- Add the water, cooked onions, and pork to the pan with the chile sauce and stir to combine. Stir in the soy, sugar, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. At this point, you can cool the sauce and refrigerate it (for a few days) or freeze (for a few weeks), if desired.
- Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat and stir in the chopped greens. Cook them for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stems are just tender.
- Drop the rice cakes into the boiling water and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, until warmed through. Drain and add them to the pan with the pork sauce. Whisk the tofu until creamy and fluid and then stir it into the rice cake mixture.
- Divide the rice cakes and ragu among the serving bowls, garnish each with some scallions and packaged fried shallots, and serve hot.