Sunday, September 25, 2022

Catfish Curry with Lemongrass and Chiles

It has been a very long time since I have made a "Chef Bolek Original." There are a few reasons. I have not had a lot of time to cook recently, so that limited the opportunities to get creative. When I have been cooking, I have been trying to learn how to make certain types of dishes, whether it is exploring the curries of the subcontinent or southeast Asia or experimenting with different whole fish recipes. 

Nevertheless, the cooking that I have done has left me with a lot of leftover ingredients, such as long lemongrass stems and more habaneros than I know what to do with. Rather than let those ingredients sit around until they are ready to be composted (which, unfortunately, happens from time to time because of my busy schedule), I decided that I would take the ingredients that I had and make a dish just off the top of my head. It is a slightly different method than how I used to make Chef Bolek original recipes. (The old way was for me to wander the aisles of grocery stores and try to get "inspired" to make something - a process that often resulted in a lot of leftover ingredients destined for the compost pile.)

I did have some inspiration this time around, which I drew from a catfish curry that I had previously made. The difference is in the principal ingredients for this curry, which were lemongrass stalks and those habanero peppers. I also had some extra shallots and scallions lying around, so I incorporated those into the recipe as well.  As for the main ingredient - the centerpiece if you will - I went with catfish nuggets. The pieces left over after the filleting of catfish. It only seemed appropriate that those scraps be used in a recipe where I was basically throwing the "kitchen sink" into the bowl. 

In the end, this curry was something completely different and delicious than what I have previously made. The lemongrass, accentuated by the garlic and the fish sauce, was front and center, distracting one from the kick of the habanero chiles. Perhaps the lesson from this dish is to change how I make Chef Bolek originals. Only time will tell. Until next time ...


A Chef Bolek Original

Serves 2


  • 3/4 pound of catfish nuggets or catfish fillet
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemongrass, peeled to soft core and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 2 habanero chiles, deseeded and sliced
  • 4 scallions, white parts only
  • 2 tablespoons of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola oil, plus one tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 lime, juiced


1. Prepare the marinade.  Add the lemongrass, garlic, shallot, habanero chiles, scallions, ginger, fish sauce, rice vinegar, turmeric powder and oil to a food process and process until you have a relatively smooth sauce. 

2. Marinate the catfish. Place the catfish in a bowl, add the marinade and mix thoroughly. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours. When you are ready to cook make sure to bring out the catfish at least 15 minutes before you start so that it can come to room temperature.

3. Prepare the curry. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the catfish and saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. As you stir, break larger pieces of catfish into smaller ones and continue to stir so that all pieces are coated by the sauce. 

4. Finish the dish. Remove the catfish from the heat. Sprinkle the lime juice over the catfish. Plate some rice and put the catfish on top. Serve immediately.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Whole Roast Fish with Lemongrass and Ginger

There is something about a whole fish that is either roasted or grilled. The entire fish - head to tail (minus the innards), laying on the plate, inviting the diner to peek below the skin to see the flaky, flavored meat. Working one's way down the filet and then lifting the backbone to reach the other fillet resting on the plate. It is perhaps the best way to enjoy fish because the cooking process ensures the maximum amount of flavor, given the fish is cooked with the bones and the skin. 

As much as I love whole fish, it is a preparation that I have rarely done. There are quite a few reasons; however, the main one is that I had some difficulty in finding whole fish that I would want to cook in this manner. Most standard grocery stores don't carry a large selection of whole fish. Some higher end stores have the selection, but it comes with a rather hefty price. All of this changed when I started shopping at the local Asian markets. Those stores had a large selection of whole fish.

I recently decided to take advantage of that selection. I purchased four whole sea bass because I wanted to make a New York Times recipe for whole roast fish with lemongrass and ginger. This particular recipe reminded me of my recent forays through southeast Asian cuisine. The lemongrass and ginger reminded me of Burmese (or Myanmar) cuisine, which utilizes these ingredients provide freshness to their curry dishes. The use of habanero chiles evokes Laotian cuisine, which boasts of dishes that have a spicy kick. The coconut milk draws parallels to Thai curries. All of these ingredients come together for a completely unique dish, which is why the recipe caught my attention. 

This recipe worked very well with sea bass. It could also work well with any other mild white fish. Truth be told, that would most likely come in the form of whole Tilapia, but it might work well with speckled trout or rainbow trout. Other mild white fish, such as cod, grouper or halibut are rarely sold whole and, if so, are well beyond the budgets of most people (including me). 


Recipe from New York Times Cooking

Serves 4


  • 2 1/2 pounds of whole fish, scaled and cleaned (about 3 branzino)
  • 6 tablespoons of neutral oil (such as grapeseed or canola oil)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (about 2 1/4 ounces tougher outer part discarded, chopped)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, scrubbed and chopped
  • 4 scallions, green parts sliced and white parts trimmed and left whole
  • 1 scotch bonnet chile, with or without seeds, chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and and chopped
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 10 cilantro sprigs, cut crosswise
1. Prepare the fish. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pat the body and inside of the fish dry, and space the fish evenly apart on an unlined sheet pan.  Using a sharp knife, cut two diagonal slits, 2 inches apart, into the skin of each fish, making sure not to cut through to the bone. Repeat the slits on the other side.  Drizzle both sides and the inside with 3 tablespoons of oil and season with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. 

2. Prepare the marinade. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the lemongrass to the bowl of an asanka or a mortar.  Use the pestle to pound the lemongrass pieces until fragrant.  Move the crushed pieces to one side of the mortar bowl or the asanka.  Add the ginger pieces and repeat the process until they are crushed.  Combine the ginger and the lemongrass.  Add the scallion greens and the scotch bonnet chile.  Use the pestle to crush and combine these with the lemongrass mixture.  Add the shallot and the zest of 1 lemon, crush and combine with the paste.  Stir in the turmeric and coconut milk.  (Makes about 1 1/4 cup marinade.)  As an alternative, you can use a food processor, adding the ingredients in order and pulsing them together.  Stir in the turmeric and coconut milk.

3. Continue to prepare the fish. Slice the zested lemon into 3 or 4 rounds. Spread the marinade generously over both sides of each fish and about 2 tablespoons into each cavity.  Place a lemon slice, the white end of a scallion and some cilantro sprigs in each cavity.  (At this point, the fish can be left to marinate for up to 30 minutes or covered and refrigerated overnight.) Drizzle the tops of the fish with the remaining oil.

4.  Roast the fish. Roast the fish until firm and cooked through, rotating the sheet pan once halfway through the process, about 22 to 25 minutes.  Slice the remaining lemon into wedges.  Serve the fish over steamed rice or alongside a hearty salad with lemon wedges for squeezing.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Ping Gai Wings

"Don't be surprised if you see a Ping Gai buffalo wing post in the near future."

- Me

And here is that post. For the few ardent followers of my Chef Bolek blog, you may remember my post about Ping Gai or Laotian Grilled Chicken.  I loved that recipe, which was one of the best (and still remains one of the best) chicken recipes that I have ever made and tasted. 

As the name reflects, the recipe comes from the southeastern Asian country of Laos. Whole chickens are halved, marinated and then grilled over charcoal. The grilling is often done low and slow, which a typical way one would prepare barbecue. The dish of Ping Gai has its place in Lao cuisine, especially on the street where one could buy the chicken with a spicy dipping sauce or sides (like sticky rice or papaya). This dish can also be found across the Mekong River in the northeastern Isan region of Thailand, where it is called kai yang or gai yang

Fun fact: prior to French colonization of southeast Asia, the Isan region was part of what was then "Laos." Another fun fact: there are more people of Lao identity and heritage in Isan (about 13 million) than in Laos (about 7.5 million).

Turning to the recipe, the key to Ping Gai is the marinade. At its core, the marinade is the umami combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce, highlighted with fresh cilantro, and underscored with the kick from black pepper and cayenne pepper.  As with any recipe, the marinade used in Ping Gai has its regional, familial and individual variations in how to prepare the marinade. Some of these recipes incorporate ingredients such as coriander, garlic, hoisin sauce, lemongrass and vinegar. 

All of the ingredients in the Ping Gai recipe highlight what separates Lao cuisine from its neighbors, such as Thailand. The recipes in Laos feature herbaceous and bitter flavors, along with the use of dried, ground peppers to give its dishes a spicier kick. Lao dishes rely less on coconut milk (in contrast to Thai cuisine), resulting in somewhat lighter dishes that are not weighed down by thicker sauces. 

Another key aspect of Ping Gai is how it is prepared. As I noted above, the standard method of preparation involves grilling the chicken low and slow over a charcoal fire. Whether over a charcoal fire or a gas grill, I have come to find that grilling is a far better method of preparing buffalo wings than deep frying. The grilled wings have crisp edges and tastier meat (due to the marinade), which cannot be found as much in fried wings. 

In the end, the best chicken recipe (in my humble opinion) produces one of the best buffalo wing recipes that I have made or had in a long time. I think the one change I would make is to take the additional step to prepare the dipping sauce that accompanies Ping Gai. The recipe for the dipping sauce can be found here


Recipe adapted from Allrecipes

Serves several

Ingredients for the wings:

  • 1 tablespoon, freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • Dipping Sauce, optional (recipe can be found here)

Ingredients (for the dipping sauce):

  • 2/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons honey or more to taste


1. Prepare the marinade. Combine the black pepper, cayenne pepper, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and vegetable oil in a bowl. Mix very well to combine ingredients. Add the wings and toss the wings. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for four hours or overnight.

2. Prepare the dipping sauce. Combine rice vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sambal, fish sauce, cilantro, and honey to make the dipping sauce. Refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Grill the wings. Heat a gas grill over medium high heat or prepare a charcoal fire. Place the wings on an oiled grill grate and grill the wings for about seven minutes on each side or a total of 15 minutes. Once the wings reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from the heat.  Serve immediately by themselves or with a side of the dipping sauce.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

Wings Around the World

I am a huge fan of buffalo wings. For the longest time, all I needed were deep fried wings bathed in a bowl of Frank's Red Hot Sauce, spices and melted butter. The traditional buffalo wing recipe, such as the one from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, is very good. However, I eventually got bored with those wings. 

I needed change. I needed something different. At first, I thought that all I needed I needed were hotter or spicier wings. Frank's Red Hot gave way to Tabasco sauce. A lot of Tabasco. It was not enough. 

I needed true change. Different types of sauces. I searched the menus of different restaurants and chose wings with sauces like Caribbean Jerk or Thai Curry (Buffalo Wild Wings) or Korean Spicy (World of Beer). I came to realize that what I really wanted to do was find wings that incorporate the best flavors from cuisines around the world.

My desire went further than just the flavors. I also wanted to try different techniques. The need to try different cooking methods became apparent when I realized that I loved grilled wings far more than I love traditional, fried wings.

The combination of experimenting with flavors and cooking techniques has led to this new blog post series, Wings Around the World. I will explore aa variety of marinades, rubs, glazes and sauces from, as well as cooking techniques used by, cuisines around the world. My hope is that, with each post, I will have the opportunity to explore aspects of those cuisines as they are reflected in the final dish. I am working on the first couple of blog posts as we speak. Please check back often. Until next time ...


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Mexican Chocolate Waypost

N onouian

"Here, there and everywhere." - Nahuatl saying

For me, the saying - N onouian - represents the influence that the Aztec and other Mesoamerican indigenous peoples have had across the world. This influence is particularly apparent in the food that is consumed, whether in Mexico, Mozambique, Malaysia or Micronesia. While chiles may have originated in Bolivia, they were first cultivated in what is now Mexico. The Aztecs and the Mayans also developed cocoa as a crop. The Totonacs of the eastern coast of Mexico were among the first to cultivate vanilla. 

Then came the conquistadors and the colonizers. While they brought death and subjugation to the indigenous people, they took chiles, cocoa and vanilla back to Europe and across the world. The complex history of food should never be forgotten. The origins of foods should always be acknowledged and remembered. These principles guide me not only in my quest to learn about more cuisines, but they often emerge in ancillary ways, such as in the beer that I drink.

The few ardent followers of this blog may recall that I have a love of a particular beer style - the mole stout. It is a beer that is inspired by the molli (or mole) sauces of Mexico, whether from Oaxaca or Puebla regions. Those sauces incorporate ingredients that can be traced back to the Aztecs, Mayans, Totonacs and other indigenous cultures that flourished prior to the arrival of Europeans.

While vacationing in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, the Savage Boleks had the opportunity to try a new brewery - Virginia Beer Company. We just happened to visit when the brewery was celebrating its sixth anniversary. One of the anniversary beers was the Mexican Chocolate Waypost, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial milk stout brewed with cocoa nibs, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, ancho chiles and habanero chiles. It is a mole style beer that was right in my wheelhouse. 

The Mexican Chocolate Waypost pours a dark brown, almost fertile soil brown in appearance. The aroma has a sweetness that I don't recall from other mole stouts. That sweetness may come from the milk stout style, or perhaps the combination of coca, cinnamon and vanilla. There was only a faint whisper of the pepper, which I generally associate more with the aroma of a mole stout. The pepper comes through much more in the taste of the beer. As for whether it was ancho or habanero, I have to lean more on the latter than the former. There was more of a kick than a smoky element. That kick kept its presence, even when surrounded by the sweeter elements of the cinnamon and vanilla. All of those additional ingredients make one forget that this beer is also made with Columbus hops and a variety of malts, including but not limited to 2 Row, Munich malt and roasted malt.

This beer makes me want to return to Williamsburg, but it is not one that is offered year around. It should be though. The next time I am in the area, this beer is enough to draw me back to check out the tap room. Until next time ...