Iron Chef Jeju Edition: Isoyaki Duck Kidney

In food on 08/14/2009 at 10:05 pm

A couple of months ago, my Rock friend sent me a care package; inside were contained an ultra-limited micro edition T-shirt and two Aji Ichiban vacuum-sealed packages of soy sauce duck kidney with three gems in each. The latter were direct from Mother Rock’s recent trip to Taiwan, not available, that I’ve seen, in the American chains of the biggest Asian purveyor of preservatives.

From a quick websearch, I found that there are also chicken feet, duck tongue and chicken wing varieties available in this series of braised meats:

i kidney you not

This special morsel could not be just merely popped out of the package and eaten. This baby has traveled thousands of miles just to land in my mouth. I would have to wait for the right moment when inspiration would surely strike.

Tonight around 9:30pm my stomach signaled that the time was ripe. Lately the other half has been cooking the meals while I arrived home later than is decent for dinner. The working man’s life is not for me for I enjoy loafing far too much. Consequently, I haven’t been at the stove whipping up my spontaneous masterpieces. I didn’t realized how much I missed bare-knuckled cooking until I started chopping random stuff up.

I was craving something soul-satisfying, something that had deep umami flavors and could seep itself into the intestines and nestle in the crook of my belly. Ah ha! Asam laksa, that’s exactly what I wanted. But alas, we had no shrimp paste in our vast pantry. Oh what to do, what to do…

This little hiccup was no match for my determination to feed myself. I knew the flavor profile I wanted was a rich broth, meaty but briny, spicy and acidic. I started off sauteing strips of old ginger (the older the more concentrated the spicy heat) in roasted sesame oil. Then I added julienned red onion. After that was caramelized to burnt, I opened up a tube of breakfast sausage and sliced off a chunk which I broke into two meatballs with my ever-trusty tongs.

When the meatballs were just browned, I rushed the pot to the sink to fill it up with water, just enough to soak my noodles. We also ran out of thick spaghetti-shaped rice sticks, so I dug around and found mung bean threads. That would do just fine. The water came to a boil while I rummaged around a little more and spied a blue-paper-wrapped can of sardines. I dumped the filets into the soup. They melted almost instantly.

Add a splash of nuoc mam to intensify the fishy backbone of the soup and crank up the savoriness, and I was almost done. The other half, on the verge of collapsing in exhaustion from a long day, helped me out and sliced the duck kidney with our fabulous mandoline. The first comment upon exposing the brown jewels, “It smells like cat food.” Hmm…not promising, but not insurmountable. I would used them as garnish to finish off the ‘asam laksa.’

first blush

The mung bean threads had softened by now so I just set up the bowl for the beauty shot. I needed a splash of color but we had no green onion (darn it to heck: I’m dying for a Chinatown around here!). We’ve been growing these As Seen on TV herbs on the top shelf of our pantry for several months and all we had to show for it are some baby basil. That would have to do.

I finished off the dish with some much needed acidity: squeeze of juice from a long-past-its-prime lime. Ta Da!

jeju 'asam laksa' a la duck kidney

The taste was actually pretty darn close to what I had in mind. There was heat, tang and a nice bulk to the broth. Finally, the verdict on the duck kidney: even in its thinly sliced form, it was weirdly mealy, devoid of the springy texture I like in my kidney. It was as if the braising and packaging beat the life out of this perky offal. But it didn’t detract too much from the soup. In fact, it made it kind of special. BTW, anyone know what isoyaki means? Thanks Rocky!

A real Asam Laksa recipe –

Lai Fun
Adapted from Violet Oon

25 dried red Thai chili peppers
1 1/2 ounces dried shrimp
3 ounces fresh galangal, washed and sliced
1 3-inch length turmeric (fresh, or frozen and defrosted)
5 stalks fresh lemon grass, white part only, sliced
5 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
8 shallots, peeled
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 to 4 tablespoons ground coriander
3 16-ounce cans coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
6 handfuls fresh bean sprouts, blanched and drained
1 pound wide rice noodles or rice vermicelli, cooked
3 ounces cooked and shelled cockles or minced clams
24 peeled, cooked medium shrimp
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into julienne
1/2 cup fresh laksa leaves (also known as daun kesom or Vietnamese mint), chopped
20 fresh chilies, finely minced.

1. Slice chili peppers lengthwise, and shake out as many seeds as possible. Put peppers in a bowl; cover with hot water until softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Put dried shrimp in another bowl; cover with hot water until softened, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the galangal, turmeric, lemon grass, candlenuts, garlic, shrimp paste, shallots and white pepper.

2. Remove chili peppers from water, discarding seeds. Add peppers to food processor, and process to a paste, scraping bowl as needed.

3. Place a large wok over high heat until very hot. Add oil. Drain dried shrimp and pat with paper towels. When oil is hot, add chili pepper mixture and dried shrimp. Stir-fry until fragrant and beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add ground coriander and stir 30 seconds. Add coconut milk and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, and boil for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt.

4. To serve, place a handful of bean sprouts in each of six large soup plates. Top with a portion of noodles and cockles, and a generous serving of soup. Garnish each plate with equal portions of shrimp, cucumber, laksa leaves and minced fresh chilies to taste. Serve immediately.

  1. very impressed at the duck kidney preparation! i am still too afraid to open up a package.

  2. no indigestion this morning either!

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