How to Make the Perfect Pisco Sour

Pisco sours are an essential experience in Peru. No culinary trip would be complete without imbibing at least a gallon of the stuff (so I hear) in the land that learned how to distill the grape. Chile also produces pisco. Unlike cognac that is aged at least two years in oak barrels, Peruvian pisco must be aged in neutral containers, such as stainless steel, so as not to pick up flavors or colors and therefore makes it a terrific cocktail ingredient. The brandy drunk neat tastes of the tropics and warm spices and may or may not be aromatic, depending on the source grape.

I did my part in sampling sours, including a stunning one made with maracuya, a fruit from the passionfruit family, instead of lime. There were also outstanding pisco cocktails served at the Pisco Museum in Arequipa (also one in Cusco). Our bartender spent quite a bit of time explaining to my wife and me the differences between pisco styles. Even our lodge host in Majes Colca Canyon, who makes his own pisco in a distillery that he fashioned from scratch, made my wife and me a sour that he served with dinner. In short, pisco sour might be considered the national cocktail.


Piconaso (Museo de Pisco, Arequipa)

Capitan, Chilcana pisco cocktails

Capitan, Chilcana pisco cocktails (Museo de Pisco, Arequipa)

But, it wasn’t until I got to Lima that I, as well as others who took the Lima Gourmet Company food tour (and one that I highly recommend), was shown how to make the perfect pisco sour at the Embarcadero 41 Fusion Restaurant, where I also learned how to make ceviché. Making the ‘perfect’ anything is obviously a matter of taste and so I took instruction with that in mind. The twist that the bartender demonstrated was to only pour a portion of the sour into a glass, then to swirl the shaker to bloom the foam before pouring the rest. She also suggested using a non-aromatic pisco, such as Quebranta.

Pisco Sour

3 oz. Quebranta pisco
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. lime juice
1 egg white
1 cup ice cubes
Angostura bitters

Place all ingredients except bitters in a shaker and shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds. Using a strainer, pour contents into two white wine glasses until about two-thirds full. Swirl the shaker for a few seconds, then pour the remaining mixture carefully from a about a foot (3o cm) above each glass waterfall-style. Shake a few drops of bitters on top. Serve.

Other popular pisco drinks are Chilcana and Capitan. Like I said, you could drink a gallon of the stuff. I almost made it.

Recipe: Sautéed Chanterelles with Bacon and Cream

Now is not the chanterelle season here in the Pacific Northwest, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the wild mushrooms at Costco last week. One pound for $8.99 was too hard to pass up. Even if eating light and local is what’s called for in the warm days of summer, chanterelles and smoked bacon together are hard to beat any time of year.

Sautéed Chanterelles with Bacon and Cream

1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms
4 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into ¼” pieces
3 tbsp. half-and-half or heavy cream
1 tbsp. sour cream
2 tbsp. minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine creams and set aside.

Rinse mushrooms under cool water to rid them of debris and pat them dry with kitchen towel. Shred larger mushrooms into smaller pieces, starting at the cap end and tearing along the stem with no piece wider than ½ inch. Leave small mushrooms intact.

Fry bacon in 12″ skillet over medium heat until crisp. With slotted spoon, remove bacon to a dish. In the rendered bacon fat, sauté mushrooms sprinkled with salt and pepper to taste, stirring occasionally, until most of their released liquid evaporates and the mushrooms begin to sizzle, about 10-15 minutes (depending on the their moisture content).

Add cream mixture, stir, and cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened slightly. Off heat, stir in reserved bacon and lemon juice. Remove mushrooms to serving dish and sprinkle with parsley.

Steamed Miso-Ume Chicken

My mother used to make this dish using only chicken. The sauce is an intriguing combination of miso and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum). Because it’s a steamed dish, it uses no vegetable oil for cooking, only a splash of toasted sesame oil at the end. I’ve changed the recipe years ago to include tofu and vegetables. The main character of the dish remains unchanged, a complex savoriness with a touch of tartness that goes great with steamed white rice.

misoumechicken - 1

Uncooked miso-ume chicken in bamboo steamer

Steamed Miso-Ume Chicken

  • Servings: 4
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I use two bamboo steamers, each about 10″ in diameter, that can be stacked one on top of the other. The mixture fills two large shallow bowls, which must fit inside each steamer basket with at least ½” clearance all the way around. If you can’t find whole umeboshi, use umeboshi paste instead (such as the Eden brand), about 2 teaspoons. The paste will be thick but dilutes after steaming.

3 tbsp. red miso
4 seeded umeboshi, mashed into a paste, or 2 tsp. prepared umeboshi paste
1 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces
1 carton firm tofu, cut into 1″ x 1″ x ¼” pieces
2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, sliced into ¼” x ¼” x 2″ pieces
1 c. green beans, sliced into 2″ pieces
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
¼ cup each of sliced green onions and chopped cilantro

1. Stir miso, umeboshi, sugar, soy sauce and garlic in a large mixing bowl until well combined.

2. Add chicken, tofu and vegetables to bowl and toss gently with spatula.

3. Divide mixture between two large shallow bowls and set each into a bamboo steamer basket.

4. Bring 1″ of water in a 12″ skillet to a boil, reduce heat to medium, set steamer with lid on top and steam for 15 minutes.

5. Remove baskets from skillet. Gently stir contents of each bowl, reverse their positions in the stack, and set steamer on top of skillet for an additional 10 minutes.

6. Remove baskets from skillet. Remove bowls from steamer baskets. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of sesame oil between the two bowls. Sprinkle with scallions and cilantro and serve with hot steamed white Japanese rice.

Chicken Wings in Black Bean Sauce

I love the funky savoriness of Chinese fermented black beans (douchi). I also love chicken wings. No big surprise then that I love them together. Rather than packaged, loose black beans (which need to be swirled in water and drained several times), for convenience I use the Master brand of fermented black beans bottled in oil. I find other prepared black bean sauces sometimes too salty and add other ingredients, including garlic, whose portions I’d rather control myself.

Chicken Wings in Black Bean Sauce

  • Servings: 2-3
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2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. fermented black bean sauce (preferably Master brand), drained of excess oil
23 c. minced green onion, divided
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. minced ginger
2 lb. chicken wings, cut into 2 pieces, tips discarded, fat trimmed
23 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp. sugar 
1 tbsp. soy sauce
4 small seeded and minced chili pepper (optional)
14 c. dry sherry
14 c. minced cilantro

Heat wok over high heat until very hot and add oil. Add black beans, 13 cup of the green onions, ginger, and garlic and stir-fry mixture for 30 seconds.

Add chicken wings and stir-fry mixture for 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, soy sauce, sugar, sherry, and chili peppers (if using), bring liquid to boil, and simmer mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Reduce liquid in wok, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced (about 14 cup) and starts to sizzle but not scorch, about 10-15 minutes more. Remove pan from heat. Toss wings in reduced sauce until coated.

Transfer wings to cookie sheet, lined with aluminum foil and fitted with wire rack, and bake wings until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Transfer wings to platter and sprinkle them with remaining 13 cup green onions and cilantro.

Recipe: Sautéed Watercress with Fermented Black Beans and XO Sauce

I’ve made this watercress dish over the years using only XO sauce, but recently, when there was only a teaspoon of XO left in the jar, and two bunches of watercress to cook, I had to come up with some substitutions, or rather additions. I had oyster sauce and fermented black bean sauce on hand. The result turned out tastier than the original recipe. An added benefit is that not much XO sauce is needed, important because it’s so expensive. The watercress I use is the kind I can get at Uwajimaya (nasturtium officinale), an Asian supermarket in the Seattle area, instead of what seems more commonly available elsewhere with the broad pond-lily leaves and thin stems.

watercress - 1

Field watercress (nasturtium officinale)

The important step is to cook away almost all the water during the sautéing process, otherwise the sauce will become diluted.

watercress - 2

In the final step, cook down almost all the liquid

Sautéed Watercress with Fermented Black Beans and XO Sauce

  • Servings: 2
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2 bunches watercress
2 tbsp. canola oil or light olive oil
1 tsp. XO sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. fermented black bean sauce (such as Master brand)

Note: Be careful not to use more of any sauce called for above at the risk of making this dish too salty.

Rinse watercress thoroughly and spin-dry. Pinch off smaller stems from thick ones, leaving smaller stems attached to leaves.

Combine sauces and black beans.

Heat oil over medium heat in 10″ nonstick skillet until shimmering, add watercress, stirring occasionally until watercress cooks down and is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add sauce mixture, stirring occasionally to incorporate sauce thoroughly (most easily done with long cooking chopsticks), about 5 minutes longer, until additional liquid evaporates. The volume of watercress will be reduced greatly. Serve.

Recipes: Two Ways with Westover Farm Peppers

Our favorite farmer, Darrell Westover (Westover Farms in Maple Valley), was again at the Issaquah Farmers Market. We’d missed the market for the last two and a half months for reasons beyond our control, so we were sure to get there today before it closes for the season in a few weeks. As I’d posted before, Westover sells unique produce at very fair prices. Two of our favorites are shishitō and corno di toro peppers. The first is technically a chile pepper, the other is in the bell pepper family.

When you find them at the supermarket, shishitō peppers can be both mild and surprisingly spicy in the same batch. They’re typically picked green. But Westover’s are always mild, a quarter of them having turned bright red. My favorite way to enjoy shishitō is pan-fried until blistered, then liberally sprinkled with kosher salt. This is a Japanese preparation, simple and delicious. Eat them as a snack or with steamed Japanese short-grain rice.

Shishito peppers

Shishito peppers

Blistered shishito peppers

Blistered shishito peppers

Blistered Shishitō Peppers

  • Servings: 2
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  • 1 pint shishitō peppers, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
  • canola oil or light olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

With an icepick or round toothpick, poke two holes in each pepper to prevent bursting. In 12″ skillet over moderately high heat, add oil and heat until almost smoking. Spread peppers evenly over pan, making sure that none overlap. Allow peppers to fry for 2 minutes until they begin to blister and turn brown on the bottom. Stir peppers frequently for an additional 2 minutes. Turn off heat and combine with salt. Remove peppers to serving bowl.

The Italian bell pepper known as corno di toro (bull’s horn) is thinner and more pointed than supermarket bell peppers. They are also quite sweet, delicious raw. I usually use up lots of peppers by roasting them Italian-style with sliced Italian sausages. Roasting intensifies their sweet flavor and caramelizes the edges for even greater sweetness. Sausages provide a savory counterpoint.

Corno di toro peppers

Corno di toro peppers

Roasted peppers with Italian sausage

Roasted peppers with Italian sausage

Roasted Peppers with Italian Sausage

  • Servings: 4
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  • 3 lbs corno di toro or red bell peppers, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 whole sweet or hot Italian sausages (I use the local Isernio brand)

Preheat oven to 400oF. Trim peppers, cut each lengthwise (cut larger bell peppers lengthwise into fourths), remove veins and seeds, and slice each half (or quarter) crosswise into 1″ strips. In 12″ skillet (preferably cast iron), toss peppers thoroughly with olive oil. Place pan in center of oven and roast for 15 minutes. Stir peppers and place whole sausages on top, and continue roasting peppers and sausages for 10 minutes. Remove sausages to cool, and stir peppers and continue roasting for an additional 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice slightly cooled sausages into ¼” rounds, stir peppers again, put sausages even over the top and roast for a final 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, stir peppers and sausages together, and remove to serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature with crusty toasted Italian or French bread.

Recipe: Pork and Chicken Adobo

Yesterday when I arrived in Southern California to visit my wife’s relatives, we were all treated to a classic Filipino dish, adobo, prepared by a family friend, Ronnie E. (His recipe for Bacon Bok Choy follows.) This particular dish, rather than being made with either chicken or pork, uses both, a recipe he learned from his mother. I’ve made adobo in the past. As tasty as they were, they were quite vinegary and a tad salty. Ronnie’s is more restrained and balanced, not as garlicky, even if a whole head is called for. The long simmering tames the stinking rose’s harshness, much like roasting garlic. And instead of incorporating vinegar at the start of braising, Ronnie finishes the adobo with a small amount.

Pork and Chicken Adobo

  • Servings: 6
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  • 1 1/2 lbs. bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, cut through the bone in 2″ segments
  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder (pork butt), cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 head minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 to 1 cup soy sauce (depending on saltiness)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

In a large pot, combine chicken, pork, garlic, bay leaves, 1/2 cup of soy sauce and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, adding more soy sauce to taste. Continue to simmer covered for about an hour until chicken and pork are tender.

Remove pot from heat, add vinegar and stir. Serve with steamed white rice.

Recipe: Bacon Bok Choy

Bacon tastes good with almost anything. By itself, bok choy is pretty bland, almost grassy in taste. While my wife loves the stuff, I find its sole redeeming feature is its crunchiness when not overcooked. Could the addition of bacon improve things? This recipe, prepared by Ronnie E., a friend of my wife’s family, convinced me that I could make more room for bok choy.

Bacon Bok Choy

  • 2 strips of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2″ slices
  • 1/4 of a small onion, cut crosswise into 1/2″ slices
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • Ground black pepper
  • 5 heads of baby bok choy, cut crosswise into 1″ slices

Over medium heat, fry bacon until almost crisp. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes until softened. Add pepper to taste and fish sauce, stir to combine, then bok choy. Toss the mixture occasionally until the bok choy is cooked but not overdone, approximately 5 minutes or so. Serve.

Recipe: Oatmeal Congee

Congee is a rice porridge served throughout most of Asia. Owing to its easy digestibility, it’s usually given to people who aren’t feeling well—chicken soup of the East, so to speak. It typically is made by adding a small amount of rice to plenty of water and cooked anywhere from half an hour to several hours, depending on the culture. Nowadays, many dim sum restaurants include congee as part of their repertoire. Mom used to give okayu (the Japanese version) to me and my brother with umeboshi (salted plum) when we were under the weather. As they were growing up our daughters became beneficiaries, though they now have an aversion to it because they claim it reminds them of when they were sick and probably because it’s rather bland.

For many years now, we’ve made congee for breakfast with oatmeal and chicken broth, not because we’re ailing but because it’s a satisfying meal in its own right. We add minced green onions and cilantro, a dollop of fukujinzuke (Japanese pickled vegetables) and, if on hand, minced or shredded leftover chicken.

Oatmeal Congee

4 cups chicken broth
½ cup quick-cooking oatmeal
2 tbsp. minced green onions
2 tbsp. minced cilantro
½ cup shredded leftover chicken (optional)
for garnish, additional minced green onions and cilantro

Bring broth and oatmeal to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan, reduce heat to very low and simmer gently for at least 30 minutes with saucepan lid partially ajar (otherwise the oatmeal might boil over and make for a messy cleanup). Whisk occasionally to help break down the oatmeal. Add green onions, cilantro and (if using) chicken and heat for an additional minute. Serve with fukujinzuke and additional minced onions and cilantro.