Once upon a time we lived in a bed bug-infested low-income apartment building for the sometimes criminally insane called the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
We had one moderately-sized corner room on the 10th floor with a thankfully private bathroom. There was a kitchenette. The sink and two-burner stove top shared the same roughly 2-foot-wide counter top. It certainly wasn’t the ideal kitchen for two fledgling cooks but thanks to Sarah’s magnificent work table and the full-sized fridge we snuck in, we managed to churn out some good stuff without getting in each others’ way all the time.
The Alexandria Hotel, much like the rest of the old buildings in LA, was probably really charming and glamorous 80 years ago. However as the entertainment industry went about the business of creating a separate Los Angeles for itself, hidden behind the private gates of clubs, studios and mansions across the county, the old charm of Los Angeles decayed. Now it finds itself being over-developed into a tacky blight.
But there was something special about the Alexandria that gave it a leg up on more newly renovated buildings in the area. The Alexandria was home to The Gorbals. The food and atmosphere there were always a comfort to us in times when we really needed comforting. Like the time we left the door unlocked and someone came in while we were sleeping and helped themselves to Dan’s phone and wallet or perhaps we missed moving the car for a street cleaning, or maybe we were just unsatisfied after a meal at that pop-up restaurant that everyone was raving about and we needed to remind ourselves why we love food. It was always the Gorbals.
One of our favorite dishes was the bánh mì poutine. When they first started serving poutine at the Gorbals the fries were big and fluffy and wonderful. The cheese and pork and pickle and gravy were a magical gooey mess of wonderful. But dishes change and Foodsmiths move.
Sarah recently read about fermented french fries and the first application that came to mind simultaneously was a riff on poutine. We discussed what flavors we’d like to see in a poutine and came to our second Gorbals inspiration for this dish: Another of Ilan Hall’s stand outs, the fried broccoli. It’s crispy and swimming in a chile-infused soy sauce which it sops up in a way we didn’t know broccoli could. We’ve been perfecting our own version of it for some time now, and it’s pretty great. With steak, it’s one of our very favorite go-to quick meals.
We start with broccoli that is pretty dry – in other words, it hasn’t just been rinsed. We chop it up into large bite-sized florets and stems and deep fry it in coconut oil and/or lard until the florets start to darken and crisp and the stems are flecked with brown. We season a hunk of steak (flank, rib eye, or whatever we have on hand) generously with salt and pepper, and cook it to medium rare in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet. While the steak is resting, we make our sauce. To the pan juices from the meat we add our favorite chili garlic sauce, a hearty glug of homemade chicken or beef stock, a bit of fresh ginger juice, and maybe a sprinkle of fish sauce for that extra funk. We boil this down for a couple minutes until the sauce is just slightly thicker than we want it to be, then we add a healthy dose of naturally-fermented unpasteurized soy sauce to taste. We slice the meat thinly against the grain, and we’re done. In all honesty, you could stop reading right here. Fried broccoli, steak, sauce, and you’re set for good times. But that’s not all we wanted to share with you today.
When we read KerryAnn’s article about fermenting fries, we were on board with the idea immediately. Usually, prior to frying, you want to soak and possibly parboil your fries enough to break down some of their water-retaining cell structure without cooking them so much that they turn to mush. If you skip this step, they might brown and burn or get soggy. It seems so logical to ferment them that we wished we had thought of it before. We cut the fries fairly thick, and set them to ferment for a few days using a half gallon jar we rigged up with an airlock and the aforementioned method.
They certainly smelled pickle-y when we opened the jar, and were completely limp. We recommend drying them off immediately before frying, as the ones that sat out air-drying for a bit began to brown. The browning may have been discouraged with a post-brine soak in water, but we didn’t want to risk losing any briny flavor. They fried up beautifully golden and stiff. The flavor was spot on – They required no salt, and the pickled flavor was barely noticeable, if not pleasant. We used russet potatoes, but the texture of the fermented fries more resembled that of yukon golds: They were fairly waxy and not starchy in the least.
We read somewhere that The Gorbals uses mozzarella in lieu of cheese curds for their bánh mì poutine, so we figured we’d follow suit. The mild cheese proved to be a good flavor match with the salty and deeply-seasoned sauce, but we failed to achieve the gooeyness and stringiness that we were after. We probably spent too much time fussing over the food before eating. Next time we’ll be more generous with the cheese, and everything is getting a good broil right before being served. We topped our “poutine” with scallions, because if Ilan Hall has taught us anything, it’s that scallions are almost always a good idea.
This post was contributed to Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Healthy 2day Wednesdays, What’s Cooking Wednesday, Whole Food Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Friday Food Flicks, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Food Friday, Freaky Friday, Wellness Weekend and Weekend Gourmet.