Recipe Review: Kung Pao Pastrami

Bon Appetit website has several recipes from Danny Bowien, chef of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York City.  Kung Pao Pastrami is one of my favorite dishes at Mission Chinese Food, so I was excited to see the recipe.  Chef Bowien uses some decidedly non-Chinese ingredients, like potatoes and pastrami, to make an original, fiery, savory take on Kung Pao.  Gratifyingly, the recipe allowed me to make a delicious version of the dish that is very close to the one served at MCF, albeit without the house-made pastrami at MCF.

There are a few specialty ingredients to track down.  I found broad bean paste and Szechuan peppercorns at an Asian supermarket, and Safeway had red jalepeno peppers and serrano chiles.  There is a sub-recipe for salted chili paste, which is made from ten raw red jalepenos, ten dried chiles de arbol, fish sauce, salt, wine, ten raw garlic cloves, and ginger.  It is really pungent.  One complaint is that the recipe makes about a cup of salted chili paste, but the Kung Pao Pastrami recipe only needs one tablespoon.

After the salted chili paste is made, the rest is pretty easy.  The recipe calls for first frying some diced potatoes in half cup of peanut oil, but I decreased the amount of oil to about 1-2 tablespoons.  Then, stir fry the pastrami, celery, salted chili paste, chiles, peanuts, soy sauce, and broad bean paste and add some chives for garnish.

There is a lot of explosive heat from the chiles de arbol, salted chile paste, serrano chiles, and szechuan peppercorns, and there is a lot of textural contrast with the pastrami, starchy potatoes, and crunchy celery and peanuts.  I really liked this dish at MCF and can now make it at home!

Link to recipe here.

Subscribe to Bon Appetit here.

Link to my review of Mission Chinese Food here.

Update: Because the recipe makes so much salted chili paste, I tried to think of ways to use it by modifying the Kung Pao Pastrami recipe.  Then it hit me – I’ll make Kung Pao…Chicken!  Danny Bowien’s recipe makes a great Kung Pao Chicken, with less fat than pastrami.

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or sake)

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

Mix first three ingredients into a slurry and marinate chicken thigh pieces for 20 minutes.

Follow the directions in the Kung Pao Pastrami recipe.  After cooking the potatoes and transferring to a plate, add dried chiles to hot oil and then stir fry chicken until cooked through, then continue following the Kung Pao Pastrami recipe.


Chinese Food, American-Chinese Food, and Mission Chinese Food

Chinese food, American-Chinese food, and Mission Chinese Food are three very, very different entities.  Chinese food as prepared in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan is in my opinion superior to any Chinese food you will find in the U.S.  Each region has its own specialties and traditions developed over thousands of years: fishcake wrapped meatballs from Fuzhou, crispy duck from Beijing, stinky tofu from Taiwan.  At a Chinese banquet there is an endless procession of sophisticated flavors.

American-Chinese food is it’s own separate thing, Chinese food co-opted for an American palate.  But I like this kind of food also, especially from a take-out joint like Hon’s Wok in St. Louis, which serves breaded and deep-fried Sesame Chicken in a sticky, sweet red sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top, the combination of which will induce a carb- and MSG-laced coma.  However, ask for “Sesame Chicken” in a traditional Chinese restaurant and you will be met with blank stares.  These dishes are wholly made up in the U.S., and they are satisfying in their own way.

Mission Chinese Food has received a ton of local and national press, because of chef Danny Bowien’s creative re-interpretation of Chinese food, and because of its pedigree as an offshoot of the successful Mission Street Food project that was documented in the inspiring book by Anthony Myint and Karen Liebowitz.  I wanted to share my experience having had several meals at MCF over the past one and a half years, especially now with the news that Chef Danny Bowien is leaving for New York City.

The dishes at MCF are very forward-thinking and have a ton of bold flavors.  Different takes on a roasted and fried pork belly have been served, including one dish with rice noodles and ginger scallion, and another with pineapple and cucumber, perhaps the SF response to David Chang’s Momofuku Pork Belly Buns. MCF makes use of unusual ingredients for Chinese food, like pastrami and potatoes in their Kung Pao Pastrami dish.   There is a great rendition of a rice porridge with bits of beef, Dungeness crab, and slow-cooked egg.  The tea-smoked eel is a standout, with crunchy eel wrapped in rice noodles.  Another favorite is Thrice Cooked Bacon, with Rice Cakes, sweet chewy Tofu Skin, and Bitter Melon.  So much flavor!  They got a smoker and started veering way over into American BBQ, serving a white bread BBQ platter with Coca-cola BBQ sauce.   Since there are always new additions and subtractions to the menu, there are many other dishes I have unfortunately missed.  Some flavor profiles are not for everyone – for example, the cold savory egg custard with uni and trout roe.  Many of the dishes have heat from chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns, which are really pungent.

There seems to be many hipsters and foodies who come to MCF, and thus MCF has introduced some Chinese ingredients, like Chinese sausage, rice noodles, and rice porridge, to a new audience.  Customers expecting more traditional Chinese food or American-Chinese Food will be challenged.  Still, I would much rather come here and try Chef Bowien’s latest creation than go to almost any other restaurant serving “rustic” Northern California cuisine for another iteration of beef short rib, pork chop, chicken breast, salmon, or vegetarian risotto.  Chinese food continues to evolve in the hands of creative chefs like Danny Bowien who are willing to experiment, and I am glad to be part of the audience.  Highly recommended.

Many Danny Bowien recipes have been published in Bon Appetit like Sizzling Cumin LambKung Pao Pastrami, and Mouthwatering Chicken.

The New York Times also published several recipes like Rice Porridge with Dungeness Crab, Chicken and Soft-Cooked Egg.

Link to coolcookstyle’s visit to Mission Chinese NYC here.

Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon

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