Back in April, I succumbed (quite happily) to Dave Egger’s publishing house McSweeney’s entertaining e-newsletter advertising their brand spanking new food quarterly, “Lucky Peach.” David Chang, chef/owner of NY’s Momofuku Noodle Bar et al, is the brainchild. Momofuku means “lucky peach” in Japanese if you were wondering.
I preordered it, sight unseen. How could I resist? The quarterly boasts contributions by Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations), Harold McGee (author of On Food and Cooking; The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the tome on my shelf I intend to one day read in a comfy arm chair from cover to cover, not all in one bite of course), Wylie Dfresne (mad scientist at famed restaurant wd~50), and many more.
But really, the promised recipes took me over the top. Gnocchi Parisienne-a riff on gnocchi made from instant ramen noodles. How much weirder and strangely cool can you get??? I have been waiting rather impatiently, until now. My “Lucky Peach” has finally arrived. Issue 1 – Ramen, Summer 2011.
Reading on you will find:
The Fuzz – My rather minor complaints, and “Lucky Peach” Cooking Experiment #1-Homemade Alkaline Noodles
The Juicy Bits – The parts I savored, and “Lucky Peach” Cooking Experiment #2-Arzak eggs
Did I mention I’m allergic to peach fuzz? I get itchy red bumps all over my face. Luckily it’s easily prevented. As long as I wash my peaches before digging in, it’s all good. Moving on now.
My first impression? Hmm…the cover…rubs me the wrong way. I expected to see something edible and enticing–not two raw chickens being lowered by their taloned feet, naked, into a soup pot. I don’t know about you, but Salmonella does not make me hungry. However, it does work to get your attention, and definitely says loud and clear, This is not your ordinary food porn.
(Image courtesy of McSweeney’s)
The first piece – a travelogue by Peter Meehan and Dave Chang didn’t do much to awaken my appetite either. It was rather long and much less literary than I expected. It would probably work in real life, or on tv, but for some reason I found reading this ultra casual tone a bit obnoxious. I guess that’s the problem when you combine genres-so many expectations to make or break.
Not a great start, but don’t worry, it gets much better. A great many details of ramen as a rich, complex cuisine emerged beyond those bright red and orange packets of deep-fried quickie noodles. I had heard of ramen houses, but never thought to go. (I was quite content being a big pho fan.) I blame the scars of childhood for this. I still haven’t effectively blocked the memory of kids in elementary school eating instant ramen noodles dry, crushed up with a sprinkling from the little foil seasoning packet for snack. *shudders*
On a side note, the instant noodles themselves are not a bad product. We buy a $4 box maybe once a year and make stir-fry on occasion, minus the packet of course. This is known at our house affectionately as “Crazy Noodles.” It’s a great kitchen sink sort of meal. Throw in a bunch of veggies and you can use up leftover meat like BBQ ribs when there’s not enough for another meal on its own. The noodles cook faster than the time it takes to chop everything up. Heck, even the editors of Cook’s Illustrated are not above using ramen noodles, sans packet.
I don’t really have much more to complain about, except:
I wish I could’ve flipped to the last pages of this cooking adventure to see how it was going to end. After much hard work, (and contemplation of the irony of years blurring by in contrast to the draaaaag of time passing while kneading dough so elastic it punches back) the noodles looked fantastic. They even had the distinctive yellowish hue that says “ramen.” On first bite they tasted good, but sadly, the aftertaste screamed BAKING SODA. The entire batch had to be tossed=epic failure.
I have a couple of theories on what went wrong. An interesting technique is employed in this recipe. The brilliant Harold McGee shared how you can bake baking soda in a 250° oven for an hour to convert it from sodium bicarbonate to sodium carbonate (hence the alkalinity). The recipe said I could do this in my toaster oven, which made more sense than heating an entire oven for one little tray of baking soda. So there are two possible reasons for failure:
1) I now have doubts as to the steadiness of my toaster oven’s heat. It may have overcooked the baking soda. The problem is, it goes in white and comes out white.
2) The ratio of baking soda to the other ingredients seemed awfully high. The problem with this theory is, I can’t imagine the esteemed editors would not test this recipe before publishing it.
I’m not really sure what to think, other than to warn you-Do Not Try at Home. (Revisionist history as of 09/07/11, the editors have responded and the recipe has been corrected. Use only 4 Teaspoons of baking soda, not 4 Tablespoons.)
Luckily, we had an understudy to fall back on.
The Juicy Bits
The recipe haiku for “Corn with Miso Butter” made my day, my week, my month.
I LOVE that they included fiction. But…I have this theory that all short stories are either a) dark, b) disturbing, c) depressing, or d) all of the above. “The Gourmet Club,” the short story that finishes off the magazine fits my theory with a capital T. I’m no Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of girl, but I still prefer a wedding to a funeral any day.
There was no advertising at all. We’ll see how long they can maintain this integrity without folding though. I guess I wouldn’t hold it against them if they started running ads, much.
I enjoyed the other articles, but to me, the best part of the “Peach” was the unique recipes. I was so intrigued I made one for breakfast-Arzak eggs, and one for dinner-you’ve already heard my homemade ramen noodle disaster.
“Lucky Peach” Cooking Experiment #2-Arzak eggs
When it comes to new recipes, I’m easily drawn in by unusual techniques. I like a little intrigue, a little danger if you will.
Arzak eggs could not be ignored for three reasons:
1) Soft-boiled eggs hold a special place in my heart. My dad would take over the kitchen some weekends and serve soft-boiled eggs on buttered toast (when he wasn’t serving medium rare pancakes.) He had this way of cracking the shells down the middle with a single ~crack~ of a knife, and then cutting the cooked eggs into perfect halves. I haven’t yet been able to replicate that coolness.
2) My kitchen twine is feeling rather neglected.
Arzak eggs are named for Juan Mari Arzak, the brilliant chef who created them. These fancy little poached eggs are not as difficult to make as they look. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have taken me nearly as long if I hadn’t been carried away with the aesthetics.
All in all, combining good literature with good food is always a good idea. Period. I’m very much looking forward to the next issue. If you want a little behind the scenes action, and a sneak peak at the next issue, check this out: http://eater.com/archives/2011/06/29/chris-ying-on-not-settling-semiridiculous-ramen-recipes-and-the-future-of-lucky-peach.php