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Monday, September 1

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The Pacific has always been the true home of fusion cuisine. The waters that wash up on countries as diverse as Canada, Samoa, Malaysia and Russia have always been criss-crossed by travelers bringing new ideas about cooking. And at no time was this more true than the nineteenth century, when the advent of the steam engine and screw propeller allowed people to sail the Pacific by relying on coal rather than the winds and tides. True, most people see the rise of steam power as irrevocably tied to the rise of imperial ambitions in the Pacific, but we here at Gapers' Block try to focus on the more positive, tasty aspects of colonialism. The results are what you see before you -- a dinner of classic American comfort food for eight with a nineteenth-century Pacific colonial theme. Enjoy!

Aperitifs and Appetizers
We begin the meal at the end of the eighteenth century and the dawning of the nineteenth. The Peace of Paris is old hat, while the Crimean War is still a glimmer in Czar's eye. Greet your friends warmly at the door and offer them...

Russian Intrusion into Central Asia Vodka Watermelon
Before the Russians could become a credible force in the North Pacific they had to reach it. Throughout the eighteenth century the Czars swept across the steppe until they reached the ocean on the other side. This recipe memorializes the coming of Russian power to central Asia.

1 Large Watermelon
1 bottle of orange flavored vodka (Van Gogh, for instance)

Purchase your watermelon from the local store (remember: hollow and heavy. Hollow and heavy). When your guests arrive tell them you got it in Tashkent. Purchase also your vodka. When at the store you will be tempted to buy shit vodka, because you already know this recipe and know that I'm about to tell you to pour the vodka into the watermelon, and you consider this a much less honorable fate for quality vodka than, say, a decent martini. Nonetheless, you must purchase quality vodka, as the taste will be quite exposed due to the delicacy of the watermelon's flavor. Grand Marnier is typically used to compliment watermelon, but since you're already blowing real dough on the vodka, just get one with orange flavoring. Cut the watermelon in half. Open the vodka and pour them shits all up inside the watermelon. Every three or four hours you will add more vodka to increase the deliciousness of the watermelon. It's gotta soak, see? Shortly before your guests arrive, use a melon ball scooper to scoop out a bunch of watermelon balls (duh.) Then put them all back in the now-dimpled hollow watermelon. Serve to your guests with toothpicks so that their hands don't get sticky. This can be served in lieu of cocktails, or you may choose to reserve some watermelon juice and make martinis out of the remaining vodka, substituting the juice for vermouth. If you do this, you must take your martini with a twist. Watermelon and olives is gross.

Crumbling Portuguese Empire Saudade Macanese Minchi con Batatas Fritas
The Portuguese may have got to the spice islands before anyone else, but by the start of this dinner all they have left are lousy old-style treaty ports like Macao (from whence this dish comes) while the British have all shiny new treaty ports like Hong Kong. The Treaty of Utrecht, of course, would mean the end of Lusophone influence in the Pacific and the Dutch and British essentially took over Portuguese and Spanish claims. All that remained of the Portuguese influence is this delicious appetizer!

1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup potatoes, cut into quarter inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, all minced up
2 cloves garlic, similarly minced
1 lb. ground beef
2 tbsp. thick soy sauce
1 tbsp. sugar

Heat the oil at a high temperature and fry the taters until they are mmm-mmm golden crispy. Then get them out of the oil (hint: slotted spoon) and get them onto paper towels to drain. They'll be quite oily, so go nuts with the paper towels. Oops - did I say all the oil? I lied. Take a tablespoon or so of oil and heat it up in your wok as if you were just about to stir-fry the onions and garlic. Then do it. Add the meat and keep stirring and frying for a minute or two until it's no longer pink. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and however much salt and pepper you care to add and let it simmer away for four minutes more. Then you are done. Just don't put the potatoes into the meat mix until you are just about to serve the dish, or else they will become all soggy and sad.

The Meal

Pacific Northwest Miso Soup with Spinach and Smoked Salmon
This common Japanese soup is cross-fertilized with smoked salmon typical of the Pacific Northwest Rain Coast. Sort of a Tsimshian-Yamato Sun Race hybrid.

.5 cp Katsuoboshi
4.5 cup Water
3 tbsp. Shiro Miso
a handful of baby spinach
1 tsp. soy sauce
One dried, cured steak of smoked salmon, roughly .25 lb.

First begin by making the stock soup -- add the katsuoboshi to the water and boil. Congratulations, the water is now officially dashi, a light fish stock. Pour the dashi into a fresh bowl, straining off the katsuobushi. Bring the dashi back up to a steady simmer and mix in the soy sauce. Put the miso in a small bowl and pour enough of the dashi into it that the miso dissolves. Then pour the miso mix back into the main bowl, where it will now happily mix with the dashi. Throw in the baby spinach leaves enough to let them wilt, and then flake off as much salmon from the steak as you like, depending on how chunky-style you want your miso to be. Be warned - it is easy to make this dish too salty.

Defense of the Legations Peking Turkey
Typically this Chinese classic is made with duck, but the fatty skin of a turkey will do just as well. While besieged Americans holed up in the British legation during the height of the Taiping Rebellion probably weren't able to enjoy this dish, we hope you will be more lucky.

1 cup Chinese black vinegar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
2 star anise
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tbsp. 5-spice powder
A 9 pound turkey

Mix the molasses, soy sauce, and vinegar in a saucepan and set it a'boilin. It's indestructible, so keep stirring it until you're bored and it's all good and thick. Bathe and bind the turkey until you are convinced it has reached a state of purity suitable for your fiendish plans, taking special care to remove small paper-wrapped innards from it's intimate cavities. Mix the salt and the five spice powder together, and rub it all over the bird, even the inner cavity. Especially the inner cavity. Oh yeah. Now you must cook the bird. You doubtless have your own preferences in these matters -- how often to baste, tenting it or flipping it over, whether to use a meat thermometer to test for done-ness, or merely to wiggle the drumstick. I suggest basting early and often in order to make sure the skin of the turkey becomes sufficiently Peking'd. And oh yes, Turkey ought be cooked at 325 degrees centigrade. When it is done, you may slice and carve as you would the noble bird of our country, or you can serve it a la Chinois. If the later, get some flour tortillas, hoisin sauce, and some green onions. Julienne the onions, and wrap them in the tortillas with some hoisin sauce and little bits of the turkey. Also, be sure to refer to the tortillas as "mandarin pancakes." Tortillas and Mandarin Pancakes are in fact the same food item, but your guests may be confused about which form of colonialism you are observing if you use the Spanish appellation for this little delights.

Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 Wasabi Mashed Potatoes with Salmon Roe
This recipe is almost as sloppy and imprecise as the Russo-Japanese war itself. However, unlike massed Japanese infantry charges at fortified Russian positions, these potatoes will never be used by military theorists as a justification for the deadly trench warfare that typified World War One.

About 12 of those little red waxy kind of potatoes
a little tube of wasabi sauce
a lot of butter or buttermilk (you'll use the rest in the cake, so don't worry)
salmon roe soaked in decent quality vodka overnight.

Quarter the potatoes and boil them -- I can never be bothered to peel them, so why should you? Get a potato masher and mash them up with the same force and violence that Togo used to sink Makarov's flagship the Petropavlosk on 13 April 1904. Now begin adding the buttermilk/butter and wasabi in doses -- preferably small spurts of wasabi and huge gouts of butter or buttermilk. The key to mashed potatoes, of course, is lots and lots of butter. Don't be afraid. Even if you hesitate since you know the dessert will feature three whole sticks of butter, don't fret -- after all, one doesn't have a Pacific Colonial Dining Experience every day. The second key is the wasabi. Don't go overboard. We're not looking for hardcore horseradish action. Just a slight undertow of burn to give the taters character. Finally, when serving, spoon the little gemlike orange sparklies of salmon roe onto the apex of the heap of mashed potatoes. They'll burst in the mouth with the wonderful salty taste of roe combined with the clean pure burn of good vodka. A perfect explosion of extreme flavors to complement the burn-and-richness of the mashed potatoes.

Commodore Perry's Roasted Asparagus
You may need to make this asparagus twice, since your first attempt to have it recognized and eaten by the officials in Edo will not be successful. Make it again a year later, this time while leveling you guns on the city, and they may even have seconds!

1.5 lb. asparagus
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt soy sauce
sesame oil

First, snap off the tough ends of the asparagus by holding the top and bending the bottom. The asparagus will know when it has reached its breaking point. Lay out the asparagi on a baking sheet and drizzle them lovingly with oil and toss them about to get them well coated. Roast them at 450 degrees for about fifteen minutes. Serve in a dish and dress them with soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.

Dessert

German New Guinea Chocolate Cake
German Chocolate cake is, of course, named after its inventor rather than the country unified by Bismark in 1871. This recipe, however, mixes the stern Teutonic discipline necessary to produce a fluffy cake with delicious tropical coconut flavors. Just like the German presence in New Guinea from 1884 to 1914!

For the Cake:
2.25 cups cake flour (sifted, of course)
1 tsp. baking soda
.5 tsp. salt
4 oz. sweet baking chocolate, all chopped up
.5 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 sticks (!!) butter
2 cups sugar
4 egg yolks
their inevitable companions, 4 egg whites
.25 tsp. cream of tartar

Here we go. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Get a small pot and some medium-sized flame. Boil the water and then stir in the chocolate 'til it's all mixed up together. Don't let it get too bubbly. Then reduce it to a very low simmer. You'll come back to this bad boy later. In yet another bowl, mix the buttermilk and vanilla. Now take your big main bowl and put beat the butter in it until it (the butter, not the bowl) is creamy - a half minute or so. Continue beating - for your sake I hope you're using a hand blender on super high speed - and gradually blend in all but a quarter cup of the sugar until it is smoothly blended in with the butter. This is one of these things where you've either got the eye or you don't, so good luck to you. Now beat in the egg yolks one at a time until you have a fatty, sweet, dairyrific mixture. Add the melted chocolate to the dairyrific mixture until it's just all mixed together and incorporated - no overbeating, please. Now get your beater down to a lower, more subtle speed. Start adding in the flour and milk mixture, alternating amounts to make sure the mix doesn't get too dry or too wet. Now take the mixer and (after cleaning it, please), beat up the egg whites and the cream of tartar. We're looking for 'soft peaks' here folks. Once the whites have some body to them, beat in the remaining sugar until you get harder peaks. But don't let it get dry folks. We're not making meringue here. Now fold the egg whites into the cake mix. Gently, please. Gentle gentle. Delicate. Subtle. As gentle and subtle as the cake you eventually hope to produce. Right. Now you're ready to bake the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the cake mixture into a 9 inch springform pan. You can leave it as it is, line it with parchment paper, grease it, or grease it and use parchment paper, depending on how nice the pan is and how paranoid you are. Put that sucker in the oven and let it cook for like an hour or something. To test if it is done, violently thrust a potato masher into it. No just kidding! Don't do that. It will ruin the cake. Just use a toothpick and if it comes out clean etc. etc. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then release it from its springform prison and allow it to celebrate its freedom on a wire rack. Don't even think about frosting it until it's completely cool.

For the Filling/Frosting:
1 cup sugar 1 cup evaporated milk
3 egg yolks
1 stick (!) butter
1.33 cp flaked, sweetened coconut
1.33 cp pecans

Combine the milk, yolks, and butter over a medium heat. Don't let it get to violently bubbly, and keep stirring to make sure it develops an evenly mixed sheen like that of the happy, healthy golden retrievers playing with children in gourmet dog food commercials. Slowly the mixture will begin to thicken. You are going to need it to thicken quite a bit, and you must keep stirring all the time. This is another one of those things where your eye is everything. Remember, it will thicken when it cools, but you can't count on miracles to happen. So when in doubt, remember Ray Liotta's bon mot from "Goodfellas": "Keep stirring." When you can take it no longer, take the mix off the stove and fold in the coconut and pecans. When it's firmly folded, put it in the fridge for an hour so that maximum thickening might take place.

Forming like Voltron! This is for me the most nerve-wracking part of the process, and yet (ironically) the easiest to describe. Cut the cake in half (horizontally, please). Coat the middle of the cake, then put the top back on and coat the rest. There's a whole art to flipping around the layers so the cake looks flat. You know what to do. Garnish with some whole pecans on top, and a layer of coconut flakes around the outside.

Final Thoughts

From Apia to Palau, from Mindanao to San Diego, the flavors and history of the Pacific make a wonderful excuse to entertain. Have fun with these recipes -- we hope you and your enjoy them as much as we did!

Comments

Wizard of Odds / September 23, 2003 10:23 AM

Alex--hilarious and great. I once had an idea to open a place called "Refugee Diner" where all the foods would have displaced-person themes. Now all we need is the start-up capital...

Kate / September 23, 2003 2:03 PM

A quick correction -- If memory serves, we cooked the turkey at 325 degrees *Fahrenheit* and not centigrade. You should baste it with the molasses-vinegar-soy marinade as often as you can stand to: just make sure to do the salt/five spice rub first of all. As for the miso soup, just remember, you can always put in more miso, but it's hard to take it out.

Mac Bunyanunda / September 23, 2003 3:21 PM

I'm laughing out loud, but no recipes on the Franco-Thai conflict? I'll have to try my hand at one of these other recipes.

Cinnamon / September 23, 2003 3:25 PM

When Andrew told me what the theme was, I asked if there was a "Pol Pot Pie".

dce / September 23, 2003 4:24 PM

Thanks for the correction Kate: I was working in Kelvin and it wasn't coming out right at all.

Kate / September 23, 2003 5:08 PM

Mac, to correct our oversight of the Franco-Thai conflict, may I suggest "Tom yum gaiement"? In this case, we will leave the precise configuration of the dish as an exercise for the student, but I suggest chicken, lemongrass and cognac.

 

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