David Chang’s memoir about his journey leading to Momofuku Noodle in New York City in 2004 is a seemingly honest reflection about his struggle with personal demons, which are legion. To name a few, David had a rocky relationship with his parents, but mostly with his father, and that left him feeling worthless as a child and teenager. Add to that a lackluster academic career, and the feeling of being an outsider at his Virginia high school because he didn’t look like his mostly white classmates, despite being born and raised there. And if that’s not enoough to make the road to adulthood difficult, throw in depression, addictive behavior and rage. Although David had been a golf prodigy as a child he lost the magic in his teen years and struggled to find his identity.
THE BEAUTY: David’s relationship history revealed a man so devoted to his profession that almost all of his romantic relationships were short-lived. His belief going in was that the outcome was not going to be positive, so he really never learned the skills of developing a close bond with a woman. Until he met Grace, lending credibility to the old chestnut that when you meet the right one, your whole world changes. David and Grace eloped in 2017 and became parents to baby Hugo in November of 2018. Being a father was transformative in Chang’s life. When Grace found out she was pregnant, the couple FaceTimed their parents to share the news. “…Between the tears and sobbing wails, I realized I was witnessing a form of joy I’d never seen before. I wept, too. This was the pure, uncut version of the feeling I got from cooking for people. And yet it had nothing to do with restaurants. If anything Momofuku had made it harder for me to encounter it.” There are no miracle cures, but fatherhood
THE FOOD: When people began lining up at Momofuku, waiting for a table to open up, David was surprised that so many had warmed to the type of cooking they were doing there. He was shocked when others began copying his recipes. When he wrote the Momofuku cookbook, he put in an ingredient that doesn’t exist, “red dragon sauce,” when in fact what he used in his roasted rice cakes with onions and sesame seeds was basically gochugang, a spicy paste made of red chili peppers, fermented soybeans, rice and salt. He continued to get a laugh when red dragon sauce showed up on restaurant menus.
Roasted Rice Cakes
For the roasted onions:
1 tsp canola oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
For the Korean Red Dragon Sauce:
¼ C water
¼ C sugar
⅓ C ssamjang (fermented bean and chile sauce)
1 T light soy sauce
½ tsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
For the roasted rice cakes:
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup chicken broth
2 T canola oil
1 pound rice cake sticks
1 T sesame seeds
2 scallions, ends trimmed, green parts thinly sliced
Heat oil in 12-inch cast-ion skillet over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until richly caramelized, about 30 minutes longer. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Transfer cooked onions to bowl.
Meanwhile, make the dragon sauce. Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved then remove from heat. Let cool for one minute, then stir in ssamjang until dissolved. Add soy, sherry vinegar, and sesame oil.
For the rice cakes, pour mirin and broth into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-high and cook until lightly thickened, about two minutes. Add red dragon sauce, reduce heat to medium, and cook until glossy and thick, about six minutes. Add roasted onions and stir well.
Meanwhile, clean out iron skillet, and return to stove. Add two tablespoons canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Add rice cakes and reduce heat to medium. Cook until light brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
Toss rice cakes with sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.
The rice cakes weren’t as crunchy as I think they were supposed to be, so I need to find out more about them. The sauce was outstanding, and the presentation was pretty good too!