Momofuku - Jacket

The most exciting cookbook of the season, to me, is without question, Momofuku, by David Chang and Peter Meehan.   Momofuku combines great cooking and restaurant kitchen photography in the journalistic style I love, recipes and techniques I was eager to learn about (steamed buns, spicy fried chicken), and an intense, passionate narrative by Meehan that captures the distinctive nature of this unusual chef.  My partner in Charcuterie, Brian Polcyn and I were lucky enough to find a seat at Chang’s noodle bar this fall and had a fantastic meal.  As soon as I read Momofuku, I bought a copy to send to Brian.

I think it’s a sad state of affairs that Chang has been getting so much media attention that people have begun to grouse about it.  What I don’t like about it is this.  Chang has been getting attention for his outspoken, take-no-prisoners approach both to cooking and to talking about cooking.  There’s no bullshit, there’s no compromise, no “here’s how to make this dish with boneless chicken breast instead of pork belly.”  I wish that was the norm rather than an anomaly deserving of fame and notoriety.

I get sent tons of cookbooks, but another book I shelled out personal cash for is Judith Jones’s The Pleasures of Cooking For One.  I plan to give it as a gift and buy it sight unseen for the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the author, who introduced us to both Anne Frank and Julia Child.

Maybe the most over-the-top amazing cookbook ever is Heston Blumenthal’s Big Fat Duck Cookbook.  I wrote about this massive multi-pound, $250 book last year here; this year it’s out in a scaled-down version that costs just $31.50.  I doubt I’ll be cooking from it, but as a work of art, story, passion, this book blew me away, absolutely and completely blew me away.DMPL Asian Dumplings cover

A few other books I’d like to mention.  As cooking and cookbooks become more popular, increasingly specialized books are being published.  One of these is David Leite’s The New Portugese Table.  I really admire David‘s thoughtful writing on food and cooking.  Another thoughtful smart writer and cook is Andrea Nguyen, whose  Asian Dumplings is a book that inspired not only me but also my 10-year-old son, who filled it with Post-Its marking recipes he was eager to try.  If you’re on a budget, Zora O’Neill’s and Tamara Reynolds’s Forking Fantastic is delightful paperback volume filled with lots of homey meals for entertaining, an exuberant description of how professional restaurant people eat and entertain at home.

I hope it’s obvious that the above are not chosen from an exhaustive scrutiny of the new books out this season, and intentionally exclude books I had a hand in (Ad Hoc at Home, Michael Symon’s Live To Cook, and Ratio).  They’re simply  a few that caught my eye that I wanted to mention and to recommend, especially Momofuku.  The recipe below is from this book and exemplifies Chang’s sensible but delicious approach to cooking.  Use this sauce on ramen, fresh lo mein, or even rice noodles.  I haven’t made it, but it’s on the menu for an easy midweek meal this week, along with some of Andrea’s dumplings.

David Chang’s Ginger-Scallion Sauce

21⁄2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)

1⁄2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger

1⁄4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

11⁄2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)

3⁄4 teaspoon sherry vinegar

3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed.

Makes about 3 cups

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30 Wonderful responses to “Most Exciting Cookbook of 2009”

  • Erik @ Food Night

    Thanks for the tip re: the scaled down BFD Cookbook. Maybe I’ll ask for that one since they can’t print Ad Hoc’s fast enough! Your book Elements is a must have as well… the section on stock alone is worth the cover price. Completely changed my cooking.

  • Matt Sloan

    Dang, when I bought Ad Hoc the other night, I ALMOST bought this one too. I flipped through it longingly for quite awhile. I may have to head back to B&N today.

  • Scotty Harris

    I just got Asian Dumplings and love it. Momofuku is great – Andrew Galarneau (who reviewed Ratio for the BuffNews) just had it as his cookbook of the month. But too me the most important cookbook is a textbook – Thomas Schneller’s “Meat” – a book of a kind I have been looking for over many years. YMMV.

  • Matt Sloan

    I picked up Ad Hoc last week, and tried out what are probably the two simplest recipes in the book. Technically, they shouldn’t even BE recipes, they’re so simple. The grilled gruyere cheese sandwich and the deep fried sweet potato chips. They’re so good that I’ve made them twice already this past weekend, enjoying a tasty porter style beer, and my wife just requested that I make up another batch and deliver it to her work so she can have it for lunch again today. I’m really looking forward to working up the split-pea soup tonight.

  • Hema

    All of those books sounds wonderful! Funny, it looks like a lot of your choices match up with the NYTimes Dining section’s choices for best cookbooks. Great minds think alike!

  • Tags

    It seems that a lot of the controversy focused on David is for his frequent use of the F-bomb.

    Of course, I’m talking about fresh, as in fresh ginger mentioned in the ginger-scallion sauce. You won’t get any Food Network shows talking like that, unless you mean fresh as written on the package it came in.

  • Hande

    Ok, you convinced me, will buy Chang’s book. But I am curious: is there a reason (an insider joke?) you keep on calling it momofuko, with an o at the end?

  • Connie

    Amen to your thoughts on Momofuku and David Chang. Its the first cookbook in a few years that has made me re-examine the way I think about cooking. And those ginger scallion noodles are just to die for.

  • Steve

    Ask for this cookbook and get your butt kicked…

    “Yo… Hand me that Momofuku…”

    heh.

  • Penney

    Some great suggestions, esp Momofuku. But man, re: Judith Jones’ book, I’m not sure about the wisdom of giving a “cooking for one” book as a holiday gift, even if it’s the best book of its kind. Not that everybody is sensitive about being single, but there’s no way I’d risk it.

  • Frodnesor

    The Momofuku ginger-scallion sauce recipe is awesomely simple and delicious. Some of the basic pork recipes are also incredibly simple and flavorful too (the shoulder for the bo ssam, the belly for the ramen or buns)

  • Kitchen Monki Dan

    I made the momofuku roasted brussel sprouts recipe this past weekend for a christmas party and it was big hit. People were telling me that they’d only ever had them steamed with butter and salt so they were quite taken aback by the plethora of flavors. can’t wait for my copy of the cookbook to arrive!

  • Vivian

    I’m smiling as I read this. Wholeheartedly agree with you on Both D. Chang and A. Nguyen’s books and have Forking Fantastic to look forward to. Have made the Momofuku Fried Chicken and Samosas and Filipino Siopao from Asian Dumplings. Both are great with much to offer. I still laugh so hard though when I think of David’s Ghetto Sous Vide :)

  • chris

    Try substituting the scallions in the ginger-scallion sauce with cilantro stems. I always add cilantro stems to my grandma’s triple-threat sauce: shoyu, rice wine / cooking sherry and dash of vinegar.

  • M.A.G

    I tried David Chang’s Pork Belly Ssam a few weeks ago and it was delicious! Very happy with the results and the recipe was very kitchen friendly and simple. First time I pickled Mustard Seeds too, next time I’m in NYC I’ll be sure to hit one of his restaurants.

  • SallyBR

    I am glad I bought Ad Hoc when it was in the pre-order stage at amazon.com… I cooked from it the day after it arrived in the mail… :-)

    Asian Dumplings is a fantastic book, I am quite a bit older than your son, but my book is also all bookmarked with “to do soon”. However, I haven’t yet cooked from it, not sure why.

    I’ve been resisting Momofuku…. not sure for how long, Christmas is 10 days away, I might deserve a self-gift :-)

  • Dine O Mite

    Absolutely, positively, without a doubt on target. I’ve now read this thing cover to cover three times. I think what I find so fascinating is that the book doesn’t seem to hold back any secrets. I love books that give histories of the chef, histories of the restaurant, histories behind the recipes; it’s all in the book. The fact that he’s given away these secrets has me anxiously awaiting what he has in the works. LOVE THIS BOOK.

    Ditto on Ad Hoc. This has some fantastic info in it (great wedding shower gift.)

    One book you didn’t mention is The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco ( pastry chef for Andrew Carmellini at Locanda Verde; both from Cleveland). Top to bottom a fantastic book (wife’s Christmas present). Recipes are not over the top difficult, but are impressive when complete.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I was invited to a private book signing of David Chang in Montreal and although I could not attend (in the land of medicare when one has a doctor apt one does not re-schedule for another, usually eight month later). Those that did attend said David was most gracious as was Peter.

    I did however get the book and spectacular is one word to describe it

  • Chad

    I might have to pick up David Chang’s book. Looks like a winner. I will say, though, that “Momofuku” has become my go-to swear word when I’m around my kids. It sounds suggestive enough that you get some satisfaction out of saying it but without the baggage of actually cursing around your kids :-).

  • Kelly

    Cooking for one person can sometimes seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Judith Jones’ book helped my appreciate the fact that it can indeed be a pleasure and is teaching me how to enjoy single dining. On a side note, Ad Hoc is amazing and may very well be my favorite cookbook, but John Besh’s My New Orleans is a close runner up.

  • Amy

    I was curios about David Chang’s book and am pleased to see it reviewed here. I for one find Chang’s self-effacing humor a refreshing change from most of the preening done by celebrity chefs about their superhuman culinary prowess. David just seems really genuine and I am glad I am not the only one who thinks so.

  • Eliot

    Why is it that some chef’s feel a need to pretend that every dish they prepare is original to them? It’s a collaborative business. We learn from one another. On page 267 of Momofuku the shaved Foie Gras dish is presented as some sort of new discovery. Ferran Adria has been making this dish for the last decade. It was served to me as part of a 37 course meal in 2002. It can be found on page 373 of El Bulli 1998 to 2002–recipe number 755 on the accompanying CD. The difference is that Adria serves his frozen foie gras wtih a hot consomme instead of canned lychees and uses a pacojet instead of a microplane.

  • Devon

    Chad’s comment is hilarious. Momofuku is in my queue at the library. I can’t wait to see what the fuss is about.

  • Jenny S

    Sorry, but I think the Judith Jones book is BORING. Roast a big piece of protein with vegetables, then make the leftovers into a stir fry, a pasta sauce or a sandwich. Duh! Tell me something I couldn’t figure out on my own.

  • Rob

    Momofuku is a really special book. I’m a bit of a cookbook junkie (stopped counting at 100) but I’d been avoiding this one because of all the hype about DC. Turns out he’s a great story teller, appropriately self-aware (i.e. self-critical in the autobiographical) and I really admire his approach to food and cooking. This is as much a book of philosophy as it is a cookbook (please don’t be put off by this I say the same thing about Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook).

    There’s a place called Duck in the food court of the building where I work (College Park in Toronto) which serves perhaps the best duck I’ve ever had (crispy skin – and I you ask for pieces of neck they’ll give you extra!). They make a version of the ginger-scallion sauce. Saw the recipe in Momofuku (DC admits in the book that it’s not original) and it was the first thing I made. It just about blew my doors off.

    Momofuku and Ratio would be my books of the years. Both destined to be considered classics.

  • Nancy

    Michael, Can you give us the winning hint? I tried looking for it, but after about 100 of them I gave up!

    Thanks for the book suggestions.