Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homage to Barbara Tropp

I took myself into San Francisco for some urban walking and a solo lunch.  Do you ever lunch alone?  It's quite wonderful - peaceful and self indulgent at the same time. I highly recommend it.

As I was walking past the Embarcardero Center and looked down at the wonderful sidewalk tiles

I remembered another day, walking on those same tiles, headed out to another solo lunch at China Moon Cafe, owned by the late, wonderful Barbara Tropp.  I remember what I wore, what I ate, and some chat time with Barbara, who happened to be there that day.  I miss her and her food.

Barbara did for Chinese cooking what Julia did for French cuisine: made it accessible, and almost easy. Her magnum opus should be in everyone's cookbook collection - it's a great read, even if you don't cook. She was a wonderfully opinionated, nuanced, writer and cook.

So, here is the simplest and one of my favorite of her recipes.  I'll just quote the book directly - why mess with perfection?

Dijon Mustard. Sauce
I loathe most Chinese mustard sauces, with their raw, strong bite. The culprit is dry mustard, which is almost always harsh and bitter. Here instead is a smooth and tingly East-meets-West mustard sauce, flavored by sesame oil and Dijon mustard. It is a superb garnish for an endless variety of foods, from hot Chinese meatballs to Jewish corned-beef-on-Rye. 
Technique Notes:  Sea salt works perfectly in this East-West blend.  Its flavor accentuates the charactar of the mustand in a way that Kosher salt does not.  it is a fine point, but if you have it on hand then try it.

Yields 1 cup

1/2 cup mild, unflavored Dijon mustard - Maille, Dessaux, Amora brands recommended in that order
1/2 cup Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
2 Tbsp. unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Chinese rice wine or quality dry sherry
fine sea salt to taste

Blend the ingredients until thoroughly emulsified, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, in a blender, or by hand.  Taste and adjust with salt.  Let mellow several hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight in a clean, airtight container jar. Use at room temperature for best taste and bouquet. Store airtight in the refrigerator.  The sauce will keep indefinitely. For best consistency, whisk or return briefly to the processor or blender before each use.

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