Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fresh water chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts

Fresh water chestnuts are a pain in the ass.

The skin is just thin enough to be peeled like a potato, but just thick enough and slick enough to take more work, and they're small and you have to grip them pretty well to keep them from flinging out of your hands.

But they're really good.

I'm indifferent to canned water chestnuts. Don't mind them if they're in something I'm eating, but never bother buying them. They add crunch but don't seem to add flavor, and I'd as soon use carrot or celery root or something.

But the fresh ones - keeping in mind that the flavors in question are smaller and subtler, it reminds me of the difference between canned and fresh pineapple: canned is acceptable, but fresh is vibrant, and really something special. Like I said - definitely a subtle flavor, you're not going to bite into a fresh water chestnut and say "I had no idea they tasted like this!" - but you might say "I had no idea they tasted at all." Fresh, they're sweeter, slightly nutty, and the crunch seems more ... interesting, which I don't know how to explain further.

I used them in tacos: add the peeled, chopped water chestnuts to a pan with dduk (Korean
"ricecakes" - more like a thick rice noodle), gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), ginger, and kimchi-stuffed pork belly, add a little water, and cook down for a few minutes until the water is absorbed by the dduk and everything is coated in a sauce formed by the dduk starch, gochujang, and ginger. Toss into a tortilla with fresh chopped green onion and cilantro and roll up.

Kimchi-stuffed pork belly:

One pound of pork belly is enough for two tacos (you lose some of the weight of the pork belly in cooking, as the fat cooks out). Butterfly the pork belly by cutting it in nearly in half parallel to the skin, but don't cut all the way through, so that you can open up the "flap" and have a longer, thinner piece of pork belly. Rub on all sides with kimchi seasoning - either from the jar of kimchi, or in my case, seasoning you have left over after making kimchi: a puree of garlic, Asian pear, ginger, and Korean red pepper flakes, with fish sauce or brine shrimp.

Flip pork belly skin side down. Cover with chopped kimchi, ginger, and chopped cilantro. Roll up as tight as you can and tie it tightly with twine. Refrigerate overnight.

Roast in covered pan at 325 for 2 hours and let cool. Slice thinly before reheating with ricecakes and water chestnuts for the tacos.

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