Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Man, I thought it was spelt "homey," that's how uncool I am

In case you don’t know already,  Roy Choi -- author of L.A. Son, the book I’m cooking from for the next few posts -- is the founder of the Kogi Korean BBQ taco trucks in Los Angeles. He’s all about profanity, pork belly and big, loud flavors, be they Korean, American, Mexican, Salvadoran (e.g. kimchi and pork belly pupusas), whatever. I’m about 50 pages into his cookbook/memoir and the narrative has all the pungent vitality that Cowgirl Creamery Cooks lacks. The Cowgirls sanitized their personal stories. When Choi’s narrative slumps for even one second he throws in a “mothafucka” or some Korean ladies sitting around stuffing dumplings and uttering lines like: "That ho been tricking for a long time and now she finally got a sugar daddy and thinks she's all that." 

But things don’t often slow down. Here’s what’s happened so far: Choi was born in 1970 in Seoul with a cleft palate (successfully repaired) and two years later his parents moved with him to Los Angeles where they opened a liquor store, closed a liquor store, sold jewelry, worked in a wig shop, drank, smoked, smacked him around, opened a restaurant, watched the restaurant fail, and restarted their jewelry business. Choi’s hero is Fonzie and where I let off he’s maybe ten. 

Rip-roaring story. Fifty-fifty on the recipes so far.

On Sunday, I made Choi’s chili spaghetti. According to his headnote, the dish was inspired by the meals he used to eat at Bob’s Big Boy with his parents on nights when they all went to to the movies. Choi: “My parents took me to some raw-ass movies: The Deer Hunter, The Exorcist, Dog Day Afternoon. Man, I was only five years old, homie!” 

You get the flavor of Choi’s prose. 

The flavor of the chili -- ground beef spiked with cumin, crushed pineapple, two cans of tomato paste, and four iterations of hot pepper -- was superspicy. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, I wouldn’t make it again. 

But Choi’s broccoli rabe was so simple and amazing that I’ve made it twice in two days. Don’t stop reading if you think broccoli rabe is bitter! So do I, and this broccoli rabe wasn’t bitter. Maybe it was the particular bunch of broccoli rabe or maybe it was something magical about the recipe. Hopefully the latter. I didn’t serve it to my family (duh), but made it for myself for breakfast one morning and today again for lunch and it’s my ideal solitary meal: healthy, delicious, easy. Listed in order of how important those qualities are in my head, in reverse order of how important they are in my life.

I haven’t just adapted the recipe, but memorized it. Choi squeezes lemon all over his broccoli rabe but I forgot both times and it’s still fabulous. Try this.

1 pound broccoli rabe
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) olive oil
red pepper flakes 
1 cup ricotta

  1. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. While you're waiting for it to boil, fill a bowl with ice water and place in the sink. Cut off any particularly gnarly stems from the broccoli rabe. When the salted water is boiling, drop in your broccoli rabe and set a timer for 3 minutes.
  2. After 3 minutes, remove the broccoli rabe from the boiling water and put it into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain. Pat dry. You can now proceed with the dish, or put the boiled greens in the fridge and save them for later. Or, like me, you can cook some of them now and some of them later.
  3. Pour the oil in a skillet and heat. When it’s really hot, add the broccoli rabe and pepper flakes. Cook the greens until they start to get dark in spots. With the back of a spatula, press them into the pan. You want them as hot and oily as you can manage. Salt to taste.
  4. Put on a plate and scoop some ricotta on top or on the side.


  1. This broccoli rabe sounds similar to the reason why I like brussel sprouts. For starters, I didn't try a brussel sprout until I was 31. Then, making them involved boiling them, cooking them in butter (and garlic), and adding salt! So, now I need to try broccoli rabe. (I have the opposite of your homey problem. I know how to spell broccoli rabe, but I have no idea how to say it.)

    1. I think people say it different ways and spell it different ways. I pronounce it "broccoli rob" but if someone told me that was "wrong," I'd believe them.

  2. I love the admission that how things are listed in your head are often in reverse order in real life. Priceless and true. I must admit that I have never eaten broccoli rabe. I love broccoli, but broccoli rabe just looks like uppity broccoli to me. I will have to try it. Please continue to share all discoveries that are easy, delicious, and healthy and vice versa.

    1. It's not like broccoli at all! It can have a strong, bitter flavor that some people hate. (It's also much harder to cook to mush than broccoli is.)

  3. You probably know this, but it's the boiling in lots of water that helps cut down the bitterness. Works with lots of "bitter" vegetables.

    1. yes, I thought that was it, but it seems like I've boiled broccoli rabe before and it didn't become quite this sweet. It's a really good dish.

  4. There's something special about what I call "single food", the foods we get to enjoy on our own, without having to share (not that our families would eat them anyways).

    1. There's also something special about eating alone. I might actually prefer eating alone! What's that about?

  5. my mom cooks chinese veggies a similar way - first blanch/boil in (sometimes salted) water, then drain and pan fry with some oil, garlic, ginger. spinach is great this way too, minus ginger!

    1. Exactly the same idea, without the ricotta. I guess the Asian substitute would be rice. So tasty.

  6. Laurie Colwin has a lovely riff on broccoli rabe (as she does on so many things) in Home Cooking or More Home Cooking.

    1. oh yes, bitter greens. I remember that! She ate it with polenta, right?

  7. I loved LA son and while the recipes were interesting, I bought the book for Choi's story. He is a motha***stud!

  8. Did you see Roy Choi on Top Chef last night? I think he came across as rude and arrogant. Which is a shame, because I was thinking about buying his book based on your recommendation and the broccoli rabe recipe! Now I'm not sure I like him enough as a person to send him money, even if he is a fabulous chef.

    1. I didn't see it, but this doesn't totally surprise me. It becomes clear if you read between the lines in the book that he was (and probably is) a volatile, moody, difficult guy. He's a great, funny storyteller, but if you have a negative feeling about him from the show it might be hard to shake.

    2. Has anyone made his Perfect Instant Ramen? Tasting Table posted a vimeo of him making it back when his memoir first came out. "American cheese takes it to another level." Does it really? My son and I split a Steak in the Heart sandwich at Chego about a month ago and weren't impressed. The meat was stringy and the flavors were muddy. It was no Kogi, to be sure. After immersing myself in Smoke and Pickles, Choi's book might seem too juvenile? Even though I'm two years younger than "Papi Chulo", I just don't "got bounce." I guess.

    3. I ate at Chego last month, too. I had some kind of pork belly bowl and it was good, but not as good as I'd expected or hoped. (I also had this strange Korean yogurt soda that I remember far more vividly. I loved that.) Choi's fixation on pork belly is starting to get on my nerves. I know it's the lusty, macho cut -- cheap and fatty and not for prissy people. Not for girls, I guess. But after a while you need to stop with the studly posturing. Pork belly has its limits and occasionally using pork shoulder or even (shudder) loin does not make you a wimp. I'm making the ramen tonight. It just looks funny and easy and cheap and I'm curious. Does American cheese even have another level?

  9. I have been doing something similar with collard greens. I steam them for 5 minutes or so and then saute them in oil and garlic. I don't bother with the ice water bath and the collards don't seem to mind at all. Same thing with kale.

  10. Right. And alone.

    1. This comment was supposed to be a reply to the Laurie Colwin comment - will I ever get the hang of technology?

    2. I remember her describing eating alone in her tiny apartment -- eggplants with honey? Could that be right?

  11. I have this book on hold at the library! Also, this is probably unbearably demanding of me, but I would so love it if there was a way for me to subscribe to your site and get an email when you update. The current system (suddenly remember, check the site, find 6 posts, binge on your writing) has its advantages (lots of posts all at once, like a big bag of candy!) but also disadvantages (I don't comment on posts I perceive as "old" even though I have some things to say about, say, persimmons; when I binge on your writing I don't read as carefully to savor your prose). Any chance of that? Or do I need to cave and get a twitter account?

    1. Hi Lee, Way down at the bottom on the right there's a gadget where you can subscribe by email. (I never do Twitter anymore.)

    2. Oh fabulous, thank you! And sorry to have wasted your time by posting a question for which the answer, had I investigated just a bit more, was obvious. Thanks for your patience and I'm looking forward to the updates.

    3. It wasn't obvious -- my sister put it on there for me. Or for you!

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