|Her hard work deserves our respect, Roy.|
I’ve now read about how Roy Choi became a low-rider, scrounged pizza crusts from trash cans on Hollywood Boulevard, and spent a week smoking crack in New York City. I’ve read about his gambling addiction, how he stole from his parents, endured crappy service at Campanile, drank, got in fights, almost died in fights, and was reborn one day while watching Emeril on TV. Where I left off he's about to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. He’s crazy as hell and L.A. Son is a crazy engrossing book. I recommend it.
I have qualms about the recipes, however. To start with, the selection is bizarre. I don’t want recipes for French onion soup, creme brulee, cobb salad, or pancakes from Roy Choi. Why would I? Why would anyone? He appears to have slotted innocuous mainstream recipes in there as a backdrop to stories from his past and most of them have no interesting twist or Choi touch to recommend them.
Then he goes and issues ridiculous instructions like calling for 1 1/2 eggs in those pancakes. He wants you halve an egg! In pancakes! The world is full of excellent pancake recipes that don’t require mixing an egg in a little bowl and throwing half of it away. I made the pancakes just to see what was up with that halved egg. Nothing was up. The pancakes were not special in any way. Do you know what fits of profanity this idiocy would elicit if I had the mouth of Roy Choi?
My father did wash my mouth out with soap when I was a kid. I said, "God damn you!" to my sister and was scraping flakes of soap out of my back teeth for the rest of the day.
Choi's pork and bean recipe -- an homage to the canned beans of his youth -- calls for pork belly and three tamarind pods. First of all, pork belly. You can’t just walk into any supermarket and buy it, you have to call around or find an Asian grocery. When you do get your hands on the pork belly, Choi's recipe doesn't do it any favors, rendering the cut gray and fatty. I would have preferred pork shoulder or no pork at all. To get the tamarind pods I had to make a special trip to a Latin market and that would have been fine with me if the tamarind pods had made the beans sing. They didn’t. The beans, like the pancakes, were totally undistinguished.
I made Choi’s chicken piccata because commenter Melvil Dewey, whose opinion I respect, mentioned that it was delicious, the sauce in particular. It was delicious, that sauce. But better than other chicken piccatas?
What I want from Choi’s book are recipes for the kind of dishes he sells off his Kogi trucks, food that is alive and spicy and exciting, drawing from different traditions and recombining flavors to create something new and delicious.
Alongside the chicken piccata I served brussels sprouts with kimchi and they were terrific. You cook the sprouts quickly in oil then add minced kimchi and finish with butter, French-style. Sprouts + kimchi + butter = unexpected and really good.
I also made Choi’s kimchi and pork belly stuffed pupusas and they were a hit. That pork belly in its brick-red sauce of chili paste, pear, lime juice, and sesame oil had incredible flavor. I kept snacking on it as I was making the pupusas and realized I was far less interested in the food itself, than the flavor, if that makes sense. Such rich, strong, complex, amazing flavor.
Ok, so I had a little trouble with the pupusa stuffing. Not easy and Choi's directions are vague. I think this is what you’re aiming for, but the only way I could get my pupusas to work was to pat out two thick tortillas, place some filling in the middle of one, top with the other, and try to seal. I would have much preferred Choi include pupusa-making diagrams in his book than the boilerplate recipe for a club sandwich. Or a caesar salad. Or pecan pie.
I'll finish L.A. Son today and cook one last Roy Choi meal tonight. Owen is having a friend over and I'm "tackling" Choi's ramen with American cheese, followed by his donuts made from Pillsbury biscuit dough. I think I have the perfect audience for this finale.