Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The wrap on Roy Choi

camera-shy teenagers with ramen -- arguably worse than no image at all
In the final chapters of his memoir/cookbook, L.A. Son, Roy Choi attends culinary school, works at some high-end restaurants, gets fired, hits professional bottom, and rises from the ashes with his now-famous Korean bbq taco trucks. He ends the book at this pivotal moment when everything comes together in his cooking, career, and life. It’s a great finish. I wanted to know more about Kogi, but to go beyond its founding would have ruined the arc of Choi's story. 

I don’t think Choi seriously intended for people to make his perfect instant ramen. I think he threw the recipe into the book as a statement about who he is: a guy's guy who can make a mean beurre blanc, but also appreciates the crassest junk food. 

I had to try this ramen. Too easy, too cheap, too intriguing. And sometimes you just have to call a cookbook writer's bluff.

Here’s how you make Choi’s ramen: prepare instant ramen, complete with the flavor packet, and when it’s almost done drop an egg into the broth to poach. A minute or so later, pour everything into a bowl -- gently, so the egg yolk doesn't break. Top with roasted sesame seeds, a tiny piece of butter, and two slices of American cheese.

Yum? The cheese and egg provided a rich foil to the noodles, an improvement on plain, starchy ramen. Once those noodles were gone, though, it was another story. Gazing into that disturbingly creamy bowl of broth I realized that the very thought of hot water mixed with flavor powder, melted American cheese, butter, and egg yolk has a place at the top of my personal gross-out list. Just typing that last sentence turned my stomach. The broth didn’t taste bad at all, but after one bite I had to stop.

The other humans who were fed this ramen -- Mark, Owen, and Owen’s friend Max -- were also unsettled by it. No one actively disliked it, but no one could finish. I think this must be one of those dishes Choi favored during his heavy drinking days. A unique dining experience and good fun. Not to be repeated.

I didn't get around to Choi's Pillsbury biscuit donuts, so the ramen marks the end of my run with L.A. Son. I ended up making nine dishes from the book, not five, and the stars were the broccoli rabe and kimchi brussels sprouts. I had a good time with Roy Choi and loved his story. The recipes? Mixed bag. My overall feeling about L.A. Son: Yes. 

I hoped to cook next from Momofuku by David Chang, another rule-breaking, trendsetting Korean-American chef.  But there are only a handful of dishes I can make from that book without special ordering ingredients and visiting a Korean grocery. That's not going to happen in the next few days, so until it does I'll be cooking from The AOC Cookbook by Suzanne Goin. Like Roy Choi, she's an esteemed Los Angeles chef -- but one with a very different voice and cooking style.

24 comments:

  1. Since you mention packaged ramen. My family always cooked it according to directions, with seasoning packet, and in the last seconds stirred in a scrambled egg. Then we poured the entire concoction into a bowl of crunchy lettuce. This gives it a really satisfying texture. And I never felt bad about drinking the broth. Because...ramen.

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    1. Did your family come up with this doctored version of ramen? That lettuce probably stretches the ramen so it feels like more of a meal. I wonder if there are a lot of personalized ramen recipes out there.

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    2. It was my dad's recipe from college in the 60's. I like to think the egg gives it protein and lettuce counts as veg. Therefore making the ¢25 package a "complete" meal. However delusional I must be. Ramen is a deal though, you could add a hard boiled egg, avocado, green onions and diced ham to be really crazy. Time to start a food truck!

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  2. Recently I read Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang and just now finished Roy Choi's memoir. They were both rough boys and I'm afraid I'm going to combine the 2 books in my mind. Roy Choi had so many high times, so many low. What his parents went through...

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    1. Funny, I found myself thinking about his parents throughout. I can feel my perspective as a reader changing as my children get closer to adulthood -- I identify with the parents. I thought it was amazing that after everything he put them through, they apparently paid for him to to go to cooking school. They kept throwing him lifelines long after some parents would have quit -- and it turned out to be absolutely the right thing to do.

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  3. My mom used to make Pillsbury biscuit donuts when my cousins spent the night. We popped the centers out with a thimble, and fried up the holes, too, then tossed them all with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. Not high-class cuisine, but pretty tasty to a bunch of kids.

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  4. You really should try the Pillsbury biscuit dough doughnuts. Although, no recipe is really needed. Cut a circle out of the biscuit dough with a round cutter, fry it all up in oil, coat with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar and enjoy. We always made these and ate them with hot chocolate after sledding. As a kid, I thought they were delicious. Haven't had them in a while. Maybe I'll make them this weekend with my kids. It's certainly doughnut weather in Indiana now!

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    1. The dough is still in the refrigerator and I have the Crisco. . . maybe one of these days.

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  5. many of the little mom and pop restaurants in Seoul served "cheesy ramen"--sliced orange cheese on top of spicy ramen...I never tried it, but it was a big thing for post drinking just as you would suspect

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    1. See, described like that it sounds delicious. In Seoul, spicy, and made by someone else so you don't know EXACTLY what you're eating.

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  6. I ate a bowl of ramen once just as I was getting stomach flu. I was about twelve or fourteen at the time, and, sensing I needed some TLC (but not having a very attentive mother), I ran a bath in our grimy bathtub. It was the kind of tub that never felt clean because it had metal tracks along the edge for sliding shower doors--which never slid right--and the tracks inevitably filled with detritus. I don't know why I thought I should combine eating with bathing. Somehow, tea or coffee taken in the bath seems fine, but noodles? Anyway, the last time I ate ramen it was on a queasy stomach, immersed in warm water, in a semi-disgusting bathtub. Just the hint of the idea of the smell of ramen makes me unhappy. Add to that the fact that I have an unshakeable aversion to American cheese, and Roy has absolutely lost me.

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    1. I can see it, that bath tub, Kristin. No, you should stay away from Roy Choi.
      On another subject, do you know what I made two nights ago? Prune ice cream with prunes that had been sitting in brandy for an entire month. Delicious. Thank you for the recipe. As with the frozen nougat, I'm the only one who eats it, but don't care at all. I ate every last bite of the frozen nougat by myself over a few weeks and will do the same with this ice cream.

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    2. Philistines, not eating your ice creams! I knew you would like the frozen nougat because it has that old-world, complex, medieval quality of fruitcake and panforte: honey, nuts, dried fruit, floral essence, candied peel--all those things I was dubious about as a kid, and now find deeply alluring. I served the frozen nougat (I want to start calling it something else because it doesn't seem like nougat in any way to me) at a pizza party on Saturday, and everyone seemed to like it, though perhaps the one Italian guy most of all.

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  7. Maggi Marzolf1/22/14, 8:04 AM

    Ramen is a pantry staple here for the just in case moments. When I do make it for myself or my kids, I use only half of the flavoring packet (absurd amount of sodium) and then drain the noodles. I have seen many recipes that call for different vegetables like cabbage and broccoli to be tossed in with the noodles, which I have yet to try. I have used slices of American cheese and a sprinkling of parsley flakes with ramen for a "poor-man's" mac and cheese. It's not satisfying or incredibly appetizing. But, when my pantry leaves much to be desired, it works! :)

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    1. I don't know why it never occurred to me to doctor ramen. I think getting rid of the flavor packets altogether would be my first move. There's nothing wrong with the noodles, though, and they sure do cook quickly.

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  8. I love ramen noodles! Years ago I bought a cookbook, Top Ramen Recipes, to expand my repertoire. My grocery carries KAME Japanese Curly Noodles which look like ramen but aren't fried, and there is no flavoring packet to through away. Also it feels much ritzier to use curly noodles instead of ramen, but that's just a snob thing. My favorite way to cook it is to stir-fry some thinly sliced pork or beef with some spiral-sliced zucchini and carrot, add the noodles with just enough broth to cover. Once the noodles are ready, top with scallions.

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