Sunday, May 28, 2006

HFF in the Kitchen: Weird Shit from 99 Ranch

I'm fully aware of the inherent Western Orientalist trappings of my referring to frogs' legs, sea cucumber, fish paste, baby octupus, shimusu, mystery greens, quail eggs, and rabbit from 99 Ranch as being "weird shit." I'm also fully aware that many world cultures would find our massive consumption of the udder secretions of various mammals to be equally weird and repulsive. Hell, I do too sometimes. I mean, honestly--milk? What the fuck?

After returning from my trip to Japan I immediately went into withdrawal. I craved miso. I craved MSG. I craved chopsticks. It's not that I ate anything particularly odd in Japan--octopus and cuttlefish (and "hard gizzard," I suppose) were the extremities of my experimentation. I managed to evade raw horse sushi and couldn't track down a whale meat provider on Honshu. An okonomiyaki place in Kyoto on their spectacularly translated English menu offered something called "frazzled beef nerves." I didn't order it.

Anyway, I proposed a cooking party to Chef Scott that would involve impulse buys from 99 Ranch prepared in whatever way we could improvise based on our own knowledge of ancient Asian cooking secrets. We are much more knowledgeable of Ancient Asian Sex Secrets, a landmark film starring Kobe Tai. A true classic of the genre.

Some highlights:

Baby octopus poached in red miso broth: We made a simple broth out of red miso, shiso leaves, cury leaves, and onions and cooked the octopodes for about 90 minutes at a low temperature. The little guys were very tender, not at all chewy, and redolent of the earthy miso. In a future incarnation, perhaps a sweet and spicy accompanying sauce.

Tempura Chinese frogs' legs: Don't know what makes Chinese frogs' legs different from other nations' frogs' legs, but when we dusted these in flour, dredged them in egg, covered them in panko, and then fried them in soybean oil until golden brown they were fantastic. Simple and delicious.

Pan-fried shimisu with garlic: Shimisu are tiny white fish with beady little black eyes. Hard to tell how they were as Scott put way too much salt on them. But we were drunk, so it's cool.

Fish paste wontons: Very fishy. And too garlicky. That was my bad as I put way too much garlic in them. See previous comment regarding drunkenness.

Wasabi deviled quail eggs: Pungent and creamy, could've used more mayo (we didn't have very much). Easy way to do quail eggs though. As a reference, hardboil them the way you would chicken eggs, but only let them sit in the water for three minutes after bringing it to a boil.

Stewed rabbit: Okay, so this wasn't very Asian. Scott's initial plan was to bone the rabbit, stuff it with miso, veggies, and herbs, and then roast it. Unfortunately, PG&E incompetence got in the way and my power was out for the entire evening. We were comfortable lighting the burners but decided that trying to find the pilot in the dark in an oven would most likely result in a spectacular fireball. Instead, Scott eighthed the rabbit, browned it with garlic and then stewed it in red wine with carrots, onions, and the mysterious veggies we picked up (shiso, the aforementioned cury leaves, ginger, and Taiwan spinach). It simmered for a good four hours and was simply amazing. Meaty, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone rabbit meat thick with layers of flavor.

Steamed sea cucumber: A by-product of the power outage was an inability to find instruction of how to cook sea cucumber. So we steamed it. It was gross. In the future, perhaps stewing in soup, deep frying, or braising with lots of other stuff would be better.

What's up next? Apple snails, geoduck, jellyfish, rabbit again, and Scott insists he wants to do some sort of imperial involving the stuffing of numerous fish and meats into increasingly larger fish and meats. Perhaps anchovy all the way up to whale shark? Stay tuned.

As a final note, this entire meal (with enough weird food for at least eight) cost about $70, $22 of that was for a four-pound rabbit. Fed up with the ass-raping prices at Whole Foods and Andronico's for "exotic" ingredients? Check 99 Ranch out first. They're all over the Bay Area. Find stores at their website.

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