Because I don’t live in New York city and because I have no connections in the New York restaurant scene, I have not had the pleasure of eating at any of chef David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants. If I could figure out how to wake up and get online in time to snag a (online only) reservation, I’d be on the next Fung Wah bus out of Boston, drooling in my seat in anticipation of eating the ramen or pork buns.
Until that day arrives, I’ll have to satisfy my cravings by reading through the recently-released Momofuku, the cookbook for Chang’s three (and counting) outposts: Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, and Ko. Based solely on the opening paragraph of the recipe, I decided to start with “Chicken and Egg:”
Momofuku’s “Chicken and Egg” was inspired by a rendition of oyako-don (oyako means “mother and child,” referring to the hen and its egg) that I ate at a yakitori house in the Kappabashi district of Tokyo. A pile of rice filled the bowl. It was brushed with a tare that was smoky, salty, and very sweet and on top of it sat a pile of scallions, an egg, and a single boneless chicken leg grilled over bincho-tan charcoal, with crisp, dark skin and just-cooked flesh that was delicate but had an amazing char-grilled flavor. Italian sea salt crowned the chicken, and a plate of oshinko — the Japanese name for a plate of mixed pickles — rode shotgun.
I’ve eaten oyako-don before, but not as good as what Chang described. What better way to test out the book than to make this relatively simple dish?
I started by boning out three very large chicken legs. The bones and trimmings went into the freezer for stock.
I prepared a brine of a cup each of sugar and kosher salt in 8 cups of lukewarm water, stirred to dissolve, then poured the brine into a bag with the chicken.
While the chicken soaked for two hours, I located some rendered pork and chicken fat in the Belm Research Kitchen Deep Storage Facility. I heated the fat to liquefy it, then kept it warm on the stove.
I removed the chicken from the brine and patted it dry. At this point the recipe calls for cold-smoking the chicken, but I wasn’t prepared to set up an Alton Brown cardboard-box-and-fan cold smoking rig, so I went with the second option: bacon. I packed the legs into a dutch oven, laid two slices of thick fruitwood-smoked bacon on top, and then poured in the liquid fat.
While the chicken confited in a 180° oven for fifty minutes, I prepared a “ghetto sous-vide” rig to cook some Slow-Poached Eggs (a separate recipe in the book). I filed a 12-quart heavy bottomed stock pot with hot tap water (my tap runs 130° at its hottest). I droped an inverted steamer basket into the pot, then set a wire mesh colander on top of that. The contraption was set on top of my stove’s low simmer burner, set at its lowest heat. I ran the probe from my digital instant-read thermometer under the colander.
The steamer basket elevated the eggs above the base of the pot, which would be hotter than the water at the center. After fifteen minutes of tweaking the burner, I had a constant 140°, which is when I added the eggs, which cooked for 45 minutes.
When the eggs were done, I removed them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Did I re-enact the Daryl Hanhah hard-boiled egg scene from Blade Runner? You know I did. (140° is hot tub temperature, no harm done.)
While the eggs cooked, I made four cups of cooked sushi rice in my trusty Sanyo “fuzzy logic” (but still smarter than me) rice cooker. That’s a chunk of dashi konbu, an essential ingredient to flavorful sushi rice (as is a splash of sake).
And, while the rice, eggs, and chicken all cooked, I made a quick pickle by slicing a seedless cucumber into 1/8 inch thick discs and tossing them with a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of kosher salt.
Eggs ready, rice ready, pickles ready, it was now time to extract the chicken, reserving the pot of fat for later. I added the chicken to a pre-heated skillet over medium heat. Since the recipe doesn’t specify what to do with the bacon, I added it to the pan as well, because it was bacon.
I weighed down the chicken with a heavy dutch oven (not the same one full of fat, I didn’t want a grease fire) to press the skin into the pan. Once the skin was deeply browned, I removed it to a cutting board and sliced it into 1/2-inch-thick slices. I chopped the bacon onto small bits.
For the final plating, I portioned the rice into bowls, making a shallow depression in the center. I fanned out the chicken along one side, the pickles along the other, and sprinkled on the chopped bacon.
I quickly reheated the eggs under hot running tap water for a minute, then cracked each egg into a smal saucer, pouring off the uncooked whites.
I tipped each egg out of the saucer and into the center of the bowl, garnished with sliced scallions, and served.
This dish was amazing. Even though the chicken had been nowhere near a grill, nor had it been patiently glazed in yakitori sauce, it tasted exactly like grilled yakitori chicken: juicy, sweet, smoky, and salty. The bite of the scallions and sweet pickles cut through the fatty unctuosness of the egg.
She Who Must Be Obeyed and He Who Will Not Be Ignored both agreed that I need to make this dish frequently. There are a lot of simple steps involved, but the most time-consuming bits — the chicken confit and the poached eggs — can be done days ahead of time.
And I wound up with an extra gift when the meal was over:
That’s two cups of smoky pork and chicken fat blend. That stuff will improve anything to which it is added. Even bacon.
Chicken, eggs: Stillman’s
Bacon: North Country Smokehouse
Rice, konbu, scallions: Reliable Market
Pork and chicken fat: Belm Research Kitchen Deep Storage Facility