Are you one of those people who will not follow a recipe? Do you add stuff to a dish because you think it might taste better?
When I used to review cookbooks, I would have to follow recipes to the letter, just to give them a fair shot. After all, this is how the author intends the dishes to be made and I should at least follow all the instructions the first time.
Then, all bets are off. If more salt makes it better, I'll add it the next time. If deep frying is just too messy, I will find another way.
And I have tinkered with this week's recipe for scallion-ginger sauce.
It is a Frankenversion of two popular ones you can Google easily on the Internet.
The first is chef and restaurateur David Chang's recipe and the second is food writer Francis Lam's.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: SCALLION-GINGER SAUCE
100g old ginger
1 Tbs fish sauce
3 Tbs sesame oil
150ml peanut or grapeseed oil
1. Scrape the skin off the ginger with a teaspoon, slice into 0.5cm thick slices. Set aside.
2. Slice off and discard the root end of the scallions, discard any wilted leaves. Wash under running water and dry with paper towels. Cut into 4-5cm lengths.
3. Place the ginger in a food processor and pulse (turn the machine on and off rapidly) until it is finely chopped. Do not puree the ginger. Scrape the ginger into a deep pot with a lid.
4. Place the cut up scallions into the food processor and pulse. Stop the machine after about eight pulses. Scrape down the scallions from the side of the bowl, add the fish sauce and sesame oil. Pulse again until the scallions are finely chopped but not pureed. Scrape the mixture into the deep pot. Mix the scallions and ginger well with a spoon.
5. Place the oil in a saucepan set over medium high heat. When you see smoke rising from the oil, turn off the heat. Holding the pot lid in one hand and the saucepan in the other, pour the oil into the pot and clap on the lid immediately.
6. When the hissing and spitting stop, remove the cover, stir the mixture well and have a taste. Add fish sauce or salt if needed.
7. Let cool completely and spoon into a clean glass jar. Store in the fridge and it should last for up to one month. Always use a clean spoon to scoop the sauce out of the jar.
Makes about 450g of sauce
They are both variations on a classic Chinese sauce of scallions and ginger. Usually, this is a condiment served with steamed chicken.
However, it is so flavourful that I make jars of it to use on everything.
I toss the sauce through cooked pasta, Chinese egg noodles or ee-fu noodles. I use it as a dressing for chicken salad. I spoon it over steamed or grilled fish. I stir it into congee to add a jolt of flavour. I serve it on the side with fried rice.
Everything the sauce touches becomes better instantly.
Chang's version calls for the ginger to be minced and the scallions to be sliced finely. They then steep in oil, light-coloured Japanese soya sauce, sherry vinegar and salt for 15 to 20 minutes and the sauce is ready to use.
Lam's recipe does away with the vinegar and soya sauce, and he chops the ginger and scallion in the food processor. The killer touch is that he heats the oil until it smokes and then pours it over everything else.
That drenching in hot oil makes his recipe superior to Chang's. The aroma that wafts out of the deep pot - it has to be deep or your kitchen will be a mess - is out of this world.
Can it be better?
Yes. I use the requisite scallions and ginger, but replace the salt with fish sauce for more umami and add sesame oil for the aroma.
If you do not have fish sauce on hand, use sea salt and start with two teaspoons. You can always add more after the hot oil goes in.
Sesame oil, I'm afraid, is nonnegotiable. It really adds a little something special to the sauce.
After the sauce cools, it has to go into the fridge, where it will last about a month. Since I use it on a lot of things, I go through a batch quickly. If you do not think you will need as much, just halve the recipe.
This is a very handy condiment to have and it is a wonder to me how something so easy to make can taste so good.
Oh, and one more thing. Throw out those sachets of powder and sauce that come with instant noodles.
Use the sauce instead. Unless you have something against scallions and ginger, you will be glad you did.