Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mi Zhi Ji Chi Chuan

Behind every recipe there is a story or an image. That is certainly the case when it comes to Mi Zhi Ji Chi Chuan, which are chicken wing skewers. I struggled to tell that story or frame the image. Someone else has fortunately captured what I was thinking when I came across a recipe for these chicken wings. It is cook and author Lillian Chou, who wrote the following in an article for the food magazine, Saveur:

My favorite chicken wing joint, Kuan Dian, is set atop a shack in Xicheng district, near central Beijing. Here, a grill in a makeshift kitchen overlooks a maze of hutongs, the traditional alleyway dwellings unique to Beijing, and rowdy students clamor over chicken wings that have been smoldering over charcoal embers until the blistered skin resembles a crisp veil the color of mahogany. 

Lillian Chou, Fire in the Belly, Saveur No. 157 (June 6, 2013). Her words conjured up exactly what I was thinking: a small restaurant or food stall in or near a maze of alleys, with a cook standing over a grill, turning skewer after skewer of chicken wings.

The word "chuan" refers to a range of kebabs, from those made with proteins (like lamb, beef, chicken or pork) to those made with seafood or even vegetables. I have previously made Yangrou Chuan, lamb kebabs as part of my Kebab-apalooza challenge. When I prepared for that challenge, I researched a variety of chuan recipes. When I came across a recipe for Mi Zhi Ji Chi Chuan, I was immediately intrigued by the use of chicken wings. These wings were not the diminutive wings that are dumped in a deep fryer, tossed with a sauce and dumped into a basket like buffalo wings in the United States. This chuan requires full-sized wings -- marinated in a sauce that combines elements of sweet, spicy, and salty -- skewered and then grilled to perfection (or, in my case, as close to perfection as an amateur cook can get). 

A chuan vendor in Xinjiang.
(Source: Wikiwand)
And, as much as I love this recipe, it nevertheless conjures up another image, one that is far less enjoyable than a small makeshift kitchen overlooking a maze of alleyways in an old part of Beijing. This image is a much darker one, and, it is one that is currently unfolding. The many forms of chuan originate with the Uyghur people. They are the people of East Turkestan, now known as the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The Uyghur culture is the subject of a systematic attack by the Chinese government. This attack is all encompassing and, to say the least, very inhumane. I have previously discussed this matter at length. I won't repeat it here, except to say that the attack upon the Uyghur culture threatens the very source of beloved recipes or foods such as Mi Zhi Ji Chi Chuan. That is the darker image: a juxtaposition of the Chinese love for chuan and the cruel oppression of those who brought forth the recipes.  

In the end, every recipe has a story or conjures up an image. I stand corrected in that, some recipes may conjure up more than one story or image. Some may be good, while others are bad. The important thing is to ensure that all images can be seen and that all stories can be heard. Nothing should be hidden or repressed. Every person should know what truly lies behind what they eat.


Recipe from

Serves 4


  • 1/3 cup soy sauce, divided
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions finely chopped
  • 1 ginger, peeled finely chopped (2 inches)
  • 2 pounds whole chicken wings, tips removed
  • 6 12-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons hot sesame chile oil

1. Marinate the chicken. Stir together 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon peanut oil, half of the Sichuan peppercorns, black pepper, honey, toasted sesame oil, 2/3 of the minced garlic, scallions, ginger and pinch of salt in a bowl.  Add chicken wings and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. 

2. Prepare for grilling. Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high.  When hot, bank coals or turn off burner on one side.  While grill is heating up, remove chicken from marinade and working in batches, thread 2 wings lengthwise onto a skewer and set aside.

3. Grill the wings. Grill the wings on the hottest part of the grill, turning as needed until charred in spots and cooked through (about 12-15 minutes). If the outside starts to burn before wings are cooked, move to cooler section of grill until done. 

4. Finish the dish. Whisk remaining soy sauce, peppercorns and garlic, plus vinegar and hot sesame chile oil in a bowl and drizzle over wings on serving platter.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Beer Within Steps of History

Recently, it seems that vacations have been hard to take. So many things have conspired to occupy our time that the Savage Boleks have not truly been able to relax. That changed when we took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We wanted to learn more about pre-revolutionary times, hang out around period actors, and enjoy some period eats at one of the taverns. 

And, with any trip that the Savage Boleks take, one can rest assured that, at some point, we will find ourselves in a brewery, taproom or brewpub. There are bonus points if it is a place that we have not been before. Those points were awarded this time because we found ourselves at the Virginia Beer Company, which was only footsteps from the history that motivated this particular vacation. 

We happened to visit the Virginia Beer Company when it was celebrating its sixth anniversary. Co-owners Chris Smith and Robby Willey started this craft brewery in an old C&P Telephone warehouse less than a mile from Colonial Williamsburg. The 10,000 square foot facility now houses a 30 barrel brewing and 5 barrel pilot system. The brewers have worked with over 300 recipes, with the motto of Beer - People - Purpose.

As part of its sixth anniversary, the brewers at Virginia Beer Company featured their "Waypost 2022." There were three beers, each of which was an Imperial Milk Stout. The first is the Cascara, which is stout aged in bourbon barrels with coffee and cherries. The second beer is the Mexican Chocolate, which I will save for a post on its own. The final beer is the Sidecar Waypost, which will become the subject of this post.  

A Sidecar is a cocktail whose origins date back to around the end of World War I. The first recipes, which appeared in 1922, call for the drink to be prepared with Cognac, orange liqueur (think Cointreau) and lemon juice. Once mixed, the drink has been described as a lighter, fruity whisky sour. If one were to watch the movie Star of Midnight, he or she would see William Powell play the role of Dazell, someone who downed several of those drinks, only to leave the tab to a Miss Donna Mantin, played by Ginger Rogers.

However, I am not William Powell and I don't drink mixed drinks. Nevertheless, Virginia Beer Company's Sidecar Waypost presents the flavors of a Sidecar for a beer drinker. The brewers start with Columbus hops, and Chiswick yeast, along with a variety of malts, such as 2-Row, chocolate and roasted malts, to brew an Imperial Milk Stout. The nod to the Sidecar comes first with the use of orange zest and lemon zest. However, it really comes through with the aging of the beer in Cognac barrels. 

It is the use of the Cognac barrels that sets this beer apart. I have had many a barrel-aged beer. Most are aged in bourbon barrels, which add a flavor that is easily recognized and, quite frankly, easily repeated. The flavor added by the Cognac barrels was distinctively different. It was smoother, and, if possible, a little boozier than the beers that I have had in bourbon barrels. That booziness was perhaps a little much, especially with the roasted malts, because it became a little difficult to try to ascertain the orange and lemon flavors in the beer. It took some effort, but I was able to discern them as I enjoyed the beer.

The Waypost Series were excellent beers and, if Virginia Beer Company produces these beers every year, it is definitely worth the trip down to the tap room. I think we'll be back again very soon. 


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Portugal

"Portugal was the beginning, where I began to notice the things that were missing from the average American dining experience. The large groups of people who ate together. The family element."

- Anthony Boudain

I have never been to Portugal, although it is definitely on my culinary travel list. The country's relationship with food is a mixed story. On the one hand, Portugal had a key role in terms of the distribution of spices and other ingredients across the globe. At one point in history, the Portuguese had complete control over the African sea route, a long perilous journey around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa to lands such as Kerala (in India), Malacca (in Malaysia) and, ultimately to the Moluccas (in present day Indonesia). On the other hand, the Portuguese were a colonial power, which propagated the inhuman and immoral practice of slavery in the New World and oppressive violence in its colonies.

Yet, the good and bad are inextricably intertwined to form the one history of Portugal as a people. Just as they used to say that the sun never set on the British empire, the saying also applies to a certain extent to the Portuguese. The country had colonies that stretched from South America (Brazil) to Africa (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe, Angola, and Mozambique to Asia (Goa, Macao).  The Portuguese are well known for their role in bringing peppers from South America to Europe, Africa and Asia. And, I am a very big fan of that particular pepper -- the peri-peri or piri-piri.

So, I always thought that when I got to the personal culinary challenge to make a main course from Portugal, that it would feature that pepper. However, as it turns out, the challenge ended taking a completely different turn.

The (few) followers of this blog may remember that I have recently grappled with how to prepare a challenge for a country that has regional cuisines, like Spain and Canada. I have taken to using a random address and then building the challenge from there. I thought about doing the same for Portugal, which definitely has regional cuisines as one travels from Porto to Lisbon to Lagos, and then beyond to the Azores or Madeira. That is when I had what I thought was a great thought - as one goes down the coastline of Portugal, the one thing that all of those regions have in common is that very coastline. Seafood comes with coastline. With this thought, I had the building blocks for my culinary challenge.


I don't know what it is about the Iberian peninsula, but both Spanish and Portuguese cuisines have recipes that combine octopus with potatoes. For an appetizer, I decided to explore the Portuguese version of this dish. While I have always loved the Spanish version, which is available at almost every tapas restaurant that I have eat at, I have to say that I loved the Portuguese version much more. 

I have to admit that I departed slightly from this recipe. First, I did not pour the oil and the garlic from the roasted potatoes over the dish. I think this helped from making the octopus and potatoes seem "drowned" in oil. Second, while I like cilantro, I thought that parsley would work better.  Finally, I left off the olives because of the guests who got to enjoy this dish. They were not olive fans. 


Recipe adapted from Photos and Food

Serves 4


  • 2.65 pounds of octopus, either whole or tentacles
  • 1 pound of fingerling or small white potatoes, with peel and washed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt for boiling the potatoes
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for roasting the potatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 dried bay leave
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (or flat leaf parsley)
  • 1/2 cup black olives (optional)


1. Boil the potatoes. Fill a medium to large pot half-way with water, add the 1 tablespoon of salt, and boil the potatoes for about 15 to 20 minutes or until they become tender.  If using cooked octopus, skip to step 3, if using raw octopus, continue with the next step.

2. Prepare the octopus. Using your hands, wash the octopus under cold water, and boil the whole octopus for about 40 minutes or until tender (you should be able to insert a fork into the thickest part of the tentacle). 

3. Prepare the oven and grill. Preheat both the oven for broiling and the BBQ or grill at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Continue to prepare the potatoes. Once the potatoes are ready, pour out the water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Place the potatoes in a roasting pan. Use the bottom of a glass or a mug to carefully press down on each potato until they slightly crack. Do not completely flatten them. Drizzle olive oil them.  Place the roasting pan with the potatoes in the hot oven on the middle rack and roast for 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Grill the octopus. Place the octopus on the BBQ or grill for about 5 minutes, flip and then let cook for another 5 minutes.

6. Finish the dish. Scoop the potatoes onto a serving dish. Cut the octopus into bite sized pieces. Place the grilled octopus over the potatoes. Drizzle the olive oil and garlic from the roasting pan over the potatoes and octopus. Garnish with olives and cilantro (or parsley).


As I mentioned above, I decided to build the personal culinary challenge around the one thing that may unit all of Portuguese cuisine in one way or another ... seafood. I decided to make a Caldeirada de Peixe, which is the Portuguese version of a fish stew that goes by many other names throughout the Mediterranean. To be sure, there are regional variations of this dish, which vary based upon the available fish and ingredients. The regional variations cannot obscure the fact that this dish represents Portugal, and, provides an ever so slight nod to the country's history from the shores to the seas.


Recipe from Photos and Food

Serves 4


  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 pounds of fresh grouper cut into steaks (substitute conger or cod)
  • 1 large cooking onion, sliced thin
  • 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 medium tomatoes sliced into thin wheels
  • 1 large bell pepper sliced into thin wheels
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley with most stem cut off


1. Build the stew. In a measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the wine, tomato paste, and paprika until well combined. Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a large dutch oven or heavy pot.  Spread half of the sliced onions and garlic evenly over the oil and bottom of the pot. Place half of the fish steaks over the onions and garlic in one layer. Sprinkler 1/3 of the salt, cumin and cinnamon evenly over the fish.

2. Continue to build the stew. Place the tomato and pepper sliced wheels evenly over the fish.  Spread the remaining half of the sliced onions and garlic evenly over the tomato and pepper slices.  Place the remaining half of the fish steaks over the onions and garlic in one layer. Sprinkler 1/3 of the salt, cumin and cinnamon evenly over the fish.

3. Continue to build the stew. Place the remaining tomato and pepper sliced wheels evenly over the fish.  Sprinkle the remaining salt, cumin and cinnamon over the tomatoes and peppers.  Add the two bay leaves.  Pour the wine mixture over the ingredients in the pot.  

4. Cook the stew. Place the pot on the stove and turn the heat up to medium high.  Once the liquid starts to bubble, cover the pot with the lid and reduce the heat to low.  Let simmer for about 30 minutes or until the fish starts to flake.  Turn off the heat, uncover the pot, and add the springs of fresh parsley over the cooked ingredients.  Serve with steamed/boiled potatoes, rice or a green salad.

*     *     *

Needless to say, I think I can chalk up another successful personal culinary challenge. The guests who got to enjoy both dishes certainly thought that I did a good job. It was just the morale boost that I needed as I contemplate some much more difficult challenges ahead. Until next time, 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Catfish Curry

It seems that, in recent weeks, I have been making a lot of dishes influenced by Southeastern Asian cuisine. These dishes include Chengdu Chicken with Black Beans, Chiles and Peanuts and African Chicken, which draw from Chinese and Macanese cuisine. Other dishes include Vietnamese Grilled Clams with Oyster Sauce and Peanuts and Aromatic Chicken from the Shan Hills (in Myanmar).

I prepared all of these dishes from recipes, either found in cookbooks on my shelves or on the Internet. The question for me is whether I learned anything from making these recipes. Could I use the techniques, ingredients and inspiration embodied in these ingredients to make my own recipe? A Chef Bolek original?

The last Chef Bolek original recipe dates back to May 30, 2020, when I smoked a turkey breast. The time seemed right for a Chef Bolek original. This recipe for Catfish Curry emerged. 

Catfish had long been on my mind. It is perhaps one of my favorite fishes to eat (and I love to eat pretty much any kind of fish). When I was at the grocery store recently, I saw that there were "catfish nuggets" for sale. Some stores sell these nuggets, which are the pieces left over after the fish have been filleted. Rather than throw them away, the stores sell these catfish pieces, usually at a discount. It is a way to reduce waste and one that I accept in open arms. Catfish is catfish, whether in whole fillets or in nuggets. 

Turning to the recipe, I began by creating a garlic, ginger and chile paste, similar to what I had to create for the Aromatic Chicken from the Shan Hills recipe. I added that paste to the catfish, along with some wet ingredients (namely, fish sauce, rice vinegar and oil, all of which were inspired by the African Chicken recipe), and some dry ingredients (ground coriander and turmeric). I left the fish to marinate for a very short period of time, as is customary for some curries, like the Aromatic Chicken. Once I was ready, I sautéed the fish and added some garnishes, like lime leaves and cilantro. The dish was complete and served with rice. 

In the end, this dish represents an elevation beyond the Chef Bolek original recipes of the past. It represents an effort to apply something I learned while cooking to create something of my own. Perhaps it could be the start of my own Chef Table.  


A Chef Bolek Original

Serves 3-4


  • 1 pound of catfish fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces, or catfish nuggets
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Thai bird's eyes chiles, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 bunch of scallions, whites and greens sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 8-10 lime leaves (optional)

1. Prepare the catfish.  Combine the garlic, ginger, chiles and salt in a mortar and pestle. Grind the ingredients until they become a paste.  Place the catfish in a large bowl, add the garlic/ginger/chile paste.  Then add the wet ingredients (fish sauce, vinegar and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil) and the dry ingredients (coriander and turmeric). Mix well to ensure that the catfish is well coated. 

2. Sauté the catfish. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the scallion whites and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the catfish and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally to ensure that the catfish is thoroughly cooked.  Add the lime leaves and cilantro after about 5 minutes.  Cook the catfish for about 10 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove from the heat.

3. Finish the dish. Serve the catfish with rice, garnish with the scallion greens.