First off, if you don’t know who chef David Chang is, please go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chang
Now that you are well acquainted with the famous Korean chef you know that after he ditched trying to be a golf pro he began his journey to being one of the most renowned cooks in the world. His New York restaurant Momofuku (http://momofuku.com/) came to power with its simple and complex takes on Korean street food. Then Chang got a spot on the awesome TV show “The Mind of a Chef” (http://www.pbs.org/food/shows/the-mind-of-a-chef/), opened up more restaurants, got more publicity, some awards and now he’s like an Asian Anthony Bourdain of sorts.
Don’t know who Anthony Bourdain is? Then why are you reading a food blog? Piss off.
Anyway, as a big fan of David’s I was really excited when his popular Ssam chili sauce, a staple in most if not all of his kitchens, became available to the general public for purchase. Seeing as I live in Tucson, working in a library and writing about food on this nutty blog, I probably won’t have much of a chance getting to New York, getting into one of his restaurant concepts and getting to eat his food anytime in the near future. So having a bit of Momofuku sitting in my pantry sounded like a grand idea so I ordered up a bottle here: http://products.momofuku.com/ssamsauce/
Here’s another product that Chang always chats up…actually, you know what? It’s not just David Chang that sings the praise of this particular item, tons and tons of hip chefs and hipper food snots keep going on about it as well. Such a simple thing, a common utilitarian grocery staple that somehow has garnered a food lovers following, one that you never really think about actually but, here it is! A veritable “must have” as far as Michelin starred eateries and chefs are concerned.
What is it? It’s mayonnaise.
But not just any sort of mayonnaise mind you, oh no. This, this! my friend is Japanese mayonnaise.
“So what?” you might be asking me right now. “They got egg and oil in Japan just like we do here in Tucson. What’s the big deal? You think you’re better than me talking about eating mayo from Japan? I don’t get it. You’re losing me Metal Mark. I thought we were bros.”
We are still bros, bro, but, here’s the thing: Why are all of these refined palates, including David Chang’s, in love with this particular brand of Japanese mayonnaise? I had to find out for myself.
It’s called Kewpie. It features a, well, kewpie doll on the front and has been an Asian condiment staple since the 1920s. Only fairly recently, with the advent of “foodie” culture and TV networks dedicating 24/7 the likes of cooking and eating, did this item come to the attention of kids like us in the states. If chefs could get their greedy hands on any type of item or ingredient that no one else has or even can, then they are one step ahead of the culinary wagon trail and Kewpie mayo was one of those factors.
Because of the hipster enclave stuttering down on the food lovers den of gluttony, things like Kewpie mayonnaise are now readily available online or even in specialty stores across the US. Again, seeing as I live in Tucson, AZ and doing my research finding nothing resembling Kewpie mayo anywhere, I had to get a bottle of the stuff through Amazon. That’s right…Amazon. Just bottles of Japanese mayonnaise sitting in a hot warehouse waiting for chumps like me to purchase it. What could possibly go wrong?
Regardless, this is what I got: http://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Kewpie-Mayonnaise-17-64-oz/dp/B0000WKU8K
|Come to Metal Mark...|
Ok, for the Ssam chili sauce, here is my take: It’s great. Really. It truly is. I can see why now that it is a primary accent in so many of his dishes. It’s not the most remarkable thing I have ever tasted, but I think that’s the point. Ssam is supposed to be a utilitarian sauce that can accompany most anything; as a main or a side or anything really. The flavor could meld well with most rice dishes, on burgers or even as a pizza sauce for a tangy Asian kick to an American household favorite. Heck it might even go well over cereal.
|For real. It's that good...|
Personally I think the Ssam sauce would be an amazing accompaniment to your summer time BBQing. The sweet and (not too) spice just screams glazing over sizzling chicken on the grill; just a gentle brushing of the stuff a few minutes before taking them off, resting a bit and then devouring adding a pinch of succulent twang to every bite. It would also be a fantastic marinade for pork and thin cuts of steak as well. It has that perfect balance of Asian influence and Western moxie that can cut its culinary jib on most things growing and roaming this planet.
|There will always be a bottle of this stuff in our house...|
Made with a traditional Korean “gochujang”, which is a umami rich and spicy seasoning, David Chang’s Ssam chili sauce in my opinion is well worth the almost $20 (including shipping and handling and all that). Why? Because it’s a special item to have in your fridge or pantry; something that won’t be used all the time, but when you do you know you’re in for a glorious treat. Plus a little goes a long way. We’ve already used it on three dishes and it’s barely gotten down past the neck of the bottle. Now that my friends is Metal.
So, yeah, Metal Mark and the Homeskillet give Ssam chili sauce the big horns up!
Oh, and if you’re feeling saucy once you obtain the, um…sauce, here’s a David Chang recipe for you to try out. Not too complicated but it will take some patience:
Now on to the Kewpie mayonnaise.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge fan or user of regular American store bought mayo in the first place. I know, I know it sounds weird, what with me being a big eater, cook and also being very Caucasian, you’d think I go hottubbing in the stuff. But no. I find mayonnaise to be sort of gloppy and squishy (in a bad way) adding unnecessary viscus to food. Which is why I only use it sparingly when I make my picnic salads, use it in some dressings and on the occasional BLT sandwich when I am mad hungover. That’s about it. Otherwise…meh.
When the Kewpie mayo arrived I immediately took off the odd crinkly bag that covers the plastic naked bottle, popped open the top, squeezed a bit of it on my finger and gave it a whirl.
|Lil Poundcake wasn't as big of a fan of Kewpie mayo like I was...|
Most of my Asian friends are already experienced with the stuff. When I uploaded photos of the bottle of Kewpie mayo that I received on social media and mentioned I was going to write about it for The Homeskillet, a lot of them warned me about the big differences between it and Western mayonnaise.
“It’s a lot thicker than you might be used to,” said Ken, a Japanese friend since high school. “Not too sure if that’s good or bad.”
“The flavor is way different,” mentioned Grant, an old band mate buddy of mine back in San Francisco. “The egg taste is pretty prominent. You might not like that, I don’t know.”
You know what? I freakin’ loved it. This is what mayo should taste like. This is the consistency of what mayo should be. It was so surprisingly yummy, I actually started eating it like yogurt, which didn’t go over with some of my co-workers. Still, I was shocked at how perfectly creamy, smooth and firm it was. Compared to the mayonnaise that I always have on hand, the Kraft Olive Oil variety as prescribed by one of the only “healthy eating” writers I trust and follow, David Zinczenko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Zinczenko), author of our favorite series of “healthy eating” books Eat This, Not That!, Kewpie slayed like early years Metallica opening for some long forgotten hair band: once you’ve seen the best the rest is just empty fluff.
|Never going back to the American mayo crap...|
Western mayo tends to flop together in blorpy balls of garish hate, this is due in part to the garbage oils, fake “egg” products and weak ass Maltodextrin that is normally used in most mass produced recipes. Apparently we have become accustomed to eating such processed and nearly unnatural “foods” that our tongues, stomachs and senses have become accustomed to the near travesties that we ingest on a regular basis. This sucks. It sucks wet old man after running in a hot and humid marathon that hasn’t showered in a week or so nards. We need to know what we are eating and we need to get back to eating real foods.
That said, Kewpie mayonnaise is not going to save the world from the consumption of said crap, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s made with a few simple and basic ingredients and its products like this that need to be purchased, need to be savored and need to wipe out the faceless conglomerate food corporations. And, yes, fine David Chang! You win. So it appears now I have to spend like $10 for stupid mayo now. First you get me on that damn Ssam sauce, now this. Ugh. I hate you.
No. Not really. I need to meet you first.
When I got home I had to try Kewpie mayo on one of my all-time favorite foods: a burger. Simple. Some good beef purchased at the only deli you will need in Tucson, The Sausage Shop (1015 W Prince Rd, https://www.facebook.com/sausageshopmeatmarketanddeli), a fresh pretzel bun, some crisp market tomatoes and lettuce and my own handmade dill pickles seemed like the perfect vehicle to see what this stuff can do. Got the meat to medium rare, toasted the bun, squeezed the Kewpie on, put it all together and went for it.
|So good. Until...|
Gawdam. So tasty and so juicy with that distinct crunch from the lettuce and glide from thin cut heirloom tomatoes. Through it all, I could still make out the Kewpie mayonnaise, mainly because I kind of slathered it on. Really, really good. Like that gastro pub that was featured on some Food Network burger show good. True, I make a mean burger, but the Kewpie mayo really tied it all together, like the Dude’s rug in that movie.
A few minutes after finishing the burger, I noticed something peculiar: I was really thirsty. I mean, after eating a small yet savory burger you sometimes get a little parched but this was a strange and uncommon thirst. After downing a glass of water or two, it was still there, like when your friend’s Mom uses too much Lawry’s seasoning salt on crappy meat because “It makes it taste good just like when grandmamma used to use it….god rest her soul.” Then it dawned on me. I remember seeing it on the ingredient label, something that does seriously affect my American taste buds and belly; something that is used in a lot of Asian foods and condiments and was cautioned to me by the aforementioned friends that thought I might have an aversion to this brand of mayonnaise.
Monosodium glutamate. A totally non-essential amino acid that makes me shrivel up like I had just finished off a salt lick geared for a horse is the fifth ingredient mentioned. Every time I have had MSG in a (usually) Asian dish I immediately have a sour reaction, and this one was no exception. But it couldn’t be that bad right? I mean, yeah, it’s not the greatest thing in the world for you but Zagat rated restaurants and chefs use it all the time. So what’s the big whoop? I just need to suck it up and get used to it because Kewpie mayonnaise is the Bomb Johnson and I need to get my stomach and system acquainted with it.
|The mayo literally came out of the bottle in squiggles. So cool...|
Then I tried it again on another sandwich. Yep. Was mad thirsty after. It was tasty going in and going down but the aftereffects of eating it…I don’t know. Is it worth it? Sure the texture and flavor and even the novelty of eating mayo that hails from the far east is enough to drive me nuts with chubby kid fooder awesome, but the notion that I am always ingesting MSG has me on the fence. A fence that is buckling from me downing a bunch of Kewpie mayonnaise and wondering if I can get through another bout of near dehydration because it’s sucking all the moisture out of my very American body. Not too sure right now. So I’m going to give it a while and try again. Fingers crossed…
Who knows? Maybe you love the stuff just like I do and don’t have the adverse reactions that I do. That’s good news. Write me and let me know what you think about Kewpie mayo: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, here’s a piece about Kewpie mayonnaise with a killer recipe at the end. Check it:
So there you have it fellow eaters, readers and thrashers, The Tucson Homeskillet’s first product review. There’s a lot more to come, don’t worry; in fact I already have a line of hot sauces that were sent to me that I’m going to write about. A new Tucson hot sauce company no less! So more nose, tongue and belly destruction awaits. The things I do for this blog and the love of food.
And apparently for David Chang.
Typing and camera:
Korean Metal band CRASH: