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Hidden Apron at Home Ep. 7 Recap: Salt Curing

(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This seventh session features my friend Josh Reisner and one of his favorite techniques, salt curing.)

IG Live Recording can be found below. As with our prior episodes, they’re best viewed full-screen and vertically on your mobile phone.


The Lesson

Josh and I have been talking about doing a cooking session for so long that I’m glad we finally managed to do one. Josh is one of the most impressive chefs I’ve met and has been cooking long before he even had to worry about homework as a child. He started off on the Master Chef Junior TV show before racking up experience at some of the world’s top food festivals and restaurants (Momofuku Má Pêche, Aquavit to name a few). He’s the mastermind behind some of Hidden Apron’s hit dishes over the years and is a joy to work with for his eclectic, imaginative, and unique approach to food. This week we covered the simple technique of salt curing which Josh uses extensively in his dishes.

By adding equal parts salt and sugar to ingredients from fruits to herbs to vegetables and letting time do its work, you can create a wide range of components that can then be put together into an even wider range of dishes. The salt enhances the underlying flavor of the food, draws out moisture to create flavorful curing liquids, and is a secret ingredient to up leveling many a classic cocktail. While Josh recommends using basic kosher salt and cane sugar, feel free to experiment with different salts and sugars noting their intensity and flavors to come up with your own tweaks to the technique. Because of how versatile this technique is, we’ve cooked up quite the number of dishes below. Simply pick and choose which ones you want to combine noting that some of the components are used as ingredients in others:

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Hidden Apron at Home Ep. 6 Recap: Filipino Sinigang + Cambodian Somlor Machu Kreung

(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This sixth session covers Southeast Asian Sour Soups, specifically Filipino Sinigang and Cambodian Somlor Machu Kreung.)

IG Live Recording can be found below. As with our prior episodes, they’re best viewed full-screen and vertically on your mobile phone.


The Lesson

After a much needed shipment of hard-to-find ingredients from the Southeast Asia Food Group, I finally had a pack of Tamarind Soup Mix. Those familiar with the Filipino soup Sinigang, will recognize the yellow-green packets used in lieu of fresh tamarind when souring what is arguably the Philippines’ national soup. Pre-dating colonial times, the sour-savory soup’s name simply meant “Stewed [dish]” in the Tagalog dialect and at its core is some type of meat or protein boiled with a souring ingredient. This could range from the commonly used tamarind, to citrus fruits like lemon (the way my mom made it in Saudi Arabia), and even rhubarb (how Romy Dorotan of Purple Yam, Brooklyn sours his).

I was surprised to find out that Cambodians use this very same packet to sour a similar soup, Somlor Machu Kreung, when a friend commented on a post I made about it. This week’s class focused on these two soups, some basic guidelines on how to build broths that are flavorful yet light, and a few tips on plating soups tossed in for good measure.

I can’t emphasize enough that the basics of the soup should serve as guidelines and that using what’s local will help you get the best-tasting soup. I used Kale and Lemons for one of my soups because Tamarind and Taro Leaves aren’t exactly easy to find in Astoria, Queens. My soups weren’t “traditional” in some sense but I believe they get to the essence of what the soups are supposed to taste and feel like. Some things to keep in mind:

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The Daily Rice: How Much Do Your Decisions Cost?

Our complex global problems carry with it an increasing need to harness our collective intelligence while accounting for decision costs such as bias, geographic boundaries, and disparate data points.

Having spent most of my career as an analyst in the fields of Finance and Enterprise Technology, the word “data-driven” has become a security blanket of sorts. It’s the prefix we attached to our decisions to provide some measure of comfort that we weren’t the irrational human beings prone to bias and unrefined heuristics we really were. Most of my days were spent collecting data the same way my mom would collect free samples at grocery stores and malls (“I’m not sure what I’ll use it for but it’s free so take it!”). My fellow graph pushers and I would attempt to pull some interesting facts from the numbers, doing our best to remain objective, statistically significant, and tasteful in our choice of chart colors. Our powerpoints and excel reports would then get shipped out to a cabal of overlords who, mostly behind closed doors, would make “data-driven decisions”. I’m not convinced they did though.

I’m willing to bet that while data may indeed have triggered a discussion and may even have formed the basis of a list of possible actions to take, the decisions themselves are shaped by multiple, almost invisible factors. Such factors are inherent costs to group decision-making that must be paid for upfront as careful consideration or disregarded resulting in sub-optimal outcomes (my friend Mark Curtis lays out a few such costs in his blog post). Consider the following the next time you’re about to make a group decision:

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The Daily Rice: The Things I Will Not Grieve

At the onset of our mass confusion and shock in the early weeks of being quarantined in NYC, I came across an article naming what we’re collectively feeling as grief. We grieve for the things we have already lost (jobs, family members, opportunities to travel) and we dread we have yet to lose (a sense of normalcy, the comfort of crowds, restaurants). In the past few weeks, the word has been helpful in naming what I was experiencing and in giving myself permission not to go running off into the next project like I’m usually wont to do.

I didn’t have the energy to grieve yesterday and I remember thinking over the weekend of the things involving people I had the privilege to enjoy before this new normal. Things whose memory will last forever without a shred of regret and a double dosing of grief:

  • Going to the Made in America music festival with friends years ago despite not being a “music guy”. Being trapped in a sea of strangers during 2Chainz’ unintentionally hilarious performance was a highlight.
  • Sharing a bottle of Canard-Duchêne Champagne with my then not-yet-girlfriend in a tiny bar that served homemade Hot Pockets and blasted 90s hip hop and pop music that we all sang along to.
  • Finally taking my mom to Momofuku Ko with my only worry being whether she’d like the meal or not.
  • Being able to welcome last minute guests and friend-of-a-friends to our pop-up dinners where they ate family-style and sometimes by hand on banana leaves.
  • Riding a crowded New York train to join others visiting iconic destinations from the Met, Coney Island Boardwalk, or Chelsea Market. Even better was taking the train to visit the cramped but famous bars and restaurants that defined this city.
  • Spontaneous trips to the Fat Buddha Bar in East Village with who would become some of my closest friends before we all went our separate ways in life.

There were many potential reasons I could have skipped out on these memories not the least of which is my preference for solitude, routine, and making the least amount of movement possible. I wonder how much more I would grieve today had my isolationist self won out all those other times. There are many things I miss today that may never return. But for some of those things, I’m glad I took the chance to live them.

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The Daily Rice: How Do You Value Life?

I recently chose the necessary evil of reactivating my Facebook account and unlike my Instagram account that’s mostly focused on food, Facebook seems to be the same cesspool of armchair economists, would-be epidemiologists, and rabid meme-sharers that I left it at. Leaving the fact that my Facebook network needs just as bad a trim as my hair aside, a sizable number of posts I see are about whether communities should reopen or not and if the former, how quickly and fully.

The slogans create a sense that there are only two sides to the argument: “Flatten the Curve” and “Stay at Home, Save Lives” on one, “The Cure is Worse than the Disease” and “Liberate [insert region here]” on the other. Of course there are a multitude of variations in between depending on how conservative a reopening can be, how robust a bailout package under continued lockdown should be, and a whole host of other factors. I am no expert in any field that would allow me to opine on any of these levers, so I will refrain from doing so. Instead, I will simply point out the complex value judgements people make when they place their stake in the ground.

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