RIP Anthony Bourdain: A personal tribute

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this news and the significance Bourdain has had on me — a guy I never knew.

First, if you are in what feels like hopeless pain, deep despair — you’re not alone. I personally know what it’s like to have lived there. A couple Sundays ago, a member of our church shared about how God saved him from suicide through faith and his community. I beg of you to reach out.

About Anthony Bourdain: I remember coming upon him as I was becoming fascinated with restaurant cooking. I was becoming a “foodie” (I term I now regret). I cooked daily for my family, regularly for friends. And during my darker moments, I dreamed of quitting it all to become a chef. Sometimes I still do. Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” was my first tour book into the underbelly of the restaurant world: a world that wasn’t glamorous, where chefs were more like pirates than captains, where the best chefs were actually Latin American & N. African. And where we cooks knew how to switch between serving BS to the elites or demanding customer — while enjoying the truly good (often comfort) food himself and with his fellow shipmates. A favorite story is how he blew his culinary school teachers away with his “model consomme” — when in fact he just slipped in bunch of beef powder.

Along came his seminal show, “A Cook’s Tour”, the first cooking/travel show I know of that began with a parental warning about explicit content. He showed us not only the best food in the world, but food that I WOULD EAT. But he also resisted reducing people down merely to their food, something TV personalities often do, as if these foreign peoples were exotic animals, and their food alone was some tiny token of their true essence. Later when he moved on to “No Reservations”, I remember vividly his episode in Beirut that was interrupted by, well, armed conflict. He did not spare us the beauty of Lebanon nor the frightful reality of living underneath hellfire. Bourdain cared about food, but he was a lover of the world and the people who inhabited it. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy his more recent stuff. Sometimes it felt like even he knew he was playing into a caricature of himself, satisfying the very foodies he’s always despised. Except when he would mess with Eric Ripert. He delighted in taking his 3 Michelin star friend into the ghettos of the world forcing him eat weird stuff. I ate that stuff up.

Bourdain was no saint. He had a biting words for celebrity chefs. Sometimes I think he veered toward the unkind, esp for the Rachel Rays, Tyler Florences & Guy Fieris of the world. He also had personal life stuff that simply raised eyebrows. But he’s a distant celebrity, not some close friend. I only knew 1% of the story.

But perhaps the greatest impact he had, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but he was the first universally respected white chef/foodie to unapologetically say that the best food in the world is in Asia. I know that as a Chinese guy, I should not need the white validation. But growing up in a food culture where even most of my Asian American friends were climbing over themselves for the next culinary peak — which were almost always French, Continental, or “fusion” — here was a respected white guy, hovering over a bowl of noodles in China or Vietnam and simply saying THIS is the best food that can be found on the planet. Not trying to make that bowl of noodles into some commentary on Asian culture, not comparing it to some European equivalent, but saying: Damn, it just doesn’t get better than this. Asian food doesn’t have to become “fusion” to be good. It’s already good. You just have to eat the real stuff. I’ve always believed that. My family & friends have always believed that. But it felt so good to hear him say it, not only with his words, but with his joy.

🍜 RIP.

Image result for anthony bourdain noodles

My turkey recipe

This is from 2005, reposted for anyone who’s in charge of turkey this year, but needs a recipe.  The only things I would add to this post:  (1) If it all possible, use a Foster Farm turkey.  It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it.  And this recipe won’t work for kosher turkeys, which have been salted already (or you can use a kosher turkey if you want to skip the brining, but what fun is that?).  I’ve never tried Butterball, which of course, claims to be the juiciest of the bunch.  Whatever you get, at a minimum, make sure its Grade A certified (most supermarket ones are).  (2)  I just saw that Safeway sells the “Poultry Bouquet” which is mentioned here.  Use 2 or 3 packs.  Grab an extra to use as an aromatic for the carcass while roasting; just soak it first.  These herbs are mild, so its okay to go a little overboard.  The most important herb in this recipe is sage.  (3)  Thermometer alarms are easily obtainable at Bed Bath & Beyond.  (4)  I learned from ATK that various brands of kosher salts vary in salinity (1/4 cup table salt = 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt = 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Morton kosher salt).  I use Morton.

Here it is, from Nov 21, 2005:

I used to complain about two things about Thanksgiving turkey:  (1) it was too dry and (2) there was never enough gravy–Cantonese=lots of gravy.  Because my parents own a small business, every Thanksgiving we’d make several turkeys for a company lunch.  Like the “teacher who got tired of getting sick” who then formulated Airborne, I got tired of the dry turkey.  So after some FoodNetwork, internet research, and some trial and error, I’ve finally settled on doing turkey in a way that makes me happy.  I’m certain there are better methods out there (e.g., stuffing herbed butter in between the skin and breast!), but in my experience, this is the juiciest and most flavorful turkey I’ve had…and no basting!

People sometimes ask me what’s my “secret”.  I don’t really think there is a secret.  But I would highly recommend a roasting rack and a thermometer alarm.  The roasting rack allows for the heat to circulate over the entire turkey which helps it cook more evenly and gives a crispier skin.  Plus, it keeps the bottom from getting all soggy and soaking up all the drippings.  The thermometer alarm is a godsend.  It’ll notify you the moment you hit the target temperature.  Just make sure you follow the directions because it can give you an incorrect reading if used incorrectly.

Also, I used to think that it didn’t matter what brand of turkey you bought.  I usually just buy the cheapest I can get and it’s turned out great.  But I just made a turkey from Foster Farms that I bought from Costco.  It was amazing.  Very plump, fresh skin, just an overall very healthy turkey–no pizza in this turkey’s diet.  I’m sure if you bought organic it would be a completely different turkey in much the same way free range chicken has a totally different taste than even a Foster Farms chicken would have.  Anyways, here’s my recipe.

1   turkey (14-16 lbs)
canola oil
For the brine:
1.5 cups kosher salt (iodized salt ok, just use a little less)
0.75 cup brown sugar, light preferred
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 gallon vegetable stock (or water)
1 gallon iced water
handful of thyme
handful of rosemary
handful of sage
handful of marjoram
(Or “Poultry Bouquet” has all of these herbs, available at some Albertson’s produce section)
For gravy:
4 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
2 cans chicken stock
1 cup red wine (optional)
2 bay leaves

baking pan with roasting rack
aluminum foil
a few pairs of disposable plastic gloves (reduces handwashing)
thermometer (electronic thermometer alarm even better!)
5 gallon bucket

Defrost the turkey.  A fully frozen turkey usually takes two days to defrost outside of fridge.  Another day or two to defrost in the fridge.  Don’t let the turkey defrost to room temperature, though.  You always want it cold–just not frozen.

The day before Thanksgiving, bring all the brine ingredients except for the iced water and herbs.  After boiling, take it off the stove, throw in the herbs and let them steep.  After the brine cools, place it in the refrigerator.  You want your brine ice cold.

Early on Thanksgiving (or late the night before), combine the brine and the iced water into the bucket.  Place the rinsed turkey in the brine for about 6 hours.  It’s okay to keep the neck and guts in there.  Cover the bucket and place it in a cool place–refrigerator if you have room.  Turn the turkey once through, halfway.

At roast off, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Take out the turkey, discard the brine, and rinse the the bird.  Pat dry and coat the turkey liberally with oil–this will give it a nice color and crispy skin.  Place the turkey in the roasting rack and pan and put it on the lowest rack of the oven.  Roast for 30 minutes.  This step kick starts the cooking, seals in the juices, and make the turkey look delicious.

In the meanwhile, heat the butter over medium-high heat.  After it’s heated, add in the flour and whisk until it becomes like clay.  This is the roux which will be used for the gravy.  Keep whisking until the roux until it has a slight roasted nutty smell, but don’t burn it!  After it’s done, cool to room temperature or below.

After roasting at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, take the turkey out and cover up the entire breast with a double layer of foil (coat the underside of the ‘foil bra’ with butter if you want!).  This is a modest turkey.  Wrap the tips of the wings too, if you want.  Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast (but don’t touch any bone or other non-meaty thing).  Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and put the turkey back in.  Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees (just right) or 165 degrees (less red, but a little overcooked).

Unfortunately, I’ve had turkeys cook anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours total.  It really depends on the quality of the bird, its temperature upon roasting, and how well calibrated your oven is.  On the average, it’s taken me about 1.5 hours.  After roasting, lightly cover the turkey with foil.  It’ll continue cooking and its internal temperature will rise for the next 15 minutes.  For carving a turkey, Food Network has the best video demo.  Just remember, this is a really juicy turkey, so cut it in something that can catch all the au jus.  Don’t let this Cantonese man catch you wasting all that au jus!

For the gravy, skim off all the oil from the pan drippings.  In a saucepan, heat up the drippings and excess juices, bay leaves, and red wine; reduce drippings by half over medium-high heat.  Whisk in the roux.  Add chicken stock to the desired thickness.  Most people like gravy when it coats the back of a spoon.  Remember that gravy thickens as it cools.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Happy Thanksgiving!