Rachel Yang describes herself as a Korean chef who doesn’t cook Korean food. The four restaurants — three in Seattle plus Revelry in Portland — she co-owns with husband Seif Chirchi are not Korean restaurants.
So, unsurprisingly, the recently published “My Rice Bowl, Korean Cooking Outside the Lines” by Rachel Yang and Jess Thomson is not from a particular region, tradition or culture. Don’t expect to find staples like bibimbap or bulgogi.
The James Beard best chef nominee is unfazed by today’s simmering “authenticity” issue.
“This is an authentic cookbook from Rachel Yang, meaning I was born in Korea, raised there until I was 15,” Yang says. That heritage accounts for the “rice” foundation of the title’s layered bowl.
Working in top New York restaurants, Yang learned classical French and American fine-dining cuisines. Then a brief, intense tutorial from a new employer’s Korean mother nudged her toward developing her own fusion culinary palate: Korean plus any global cuisine.
“If I’m interested in ingredients, a technique or flavor profile — Indian, European, Southeast Asian, North African, Middle Eastern — I’m going to make it my own,” she says.
Don’t expect the arbitrary or whimsical flavor combinations of earlier fusion culinary trends. Dishes in her cookbook “are usually quite homey and comforting,” Yang says. While the recipes may be novel, the flavors are balanced: sweet, salty, bitter, sour.
“Embrace your own adaptations,” urges Yang, whether it’s Korean-influenced pancakes, dumplings, barbecue, noodles, rice dishes, hot pots/stews, pickles, kimchi or desserts. “We’re not making boundaries,” says Yang. “It’s not one kind of food.”
Yang describes her Upside-Down Fig Mochi Cake with Bleu Cheese Whip as a balanced dessert. “The figs have a dark, caramelly, raisin-like sweetness, but the cake has a vanilla-y, semisweet flavor. And the bleu cheese makes it tangy, savory,” she says.
Upside-Down Fig Mochi Cake With Bleu Cheese Whip
“We never wanted to do a cheese and fruit platter at our restaurants, but this cake, made with mochiko (sweet rice flour), is the dessertish incarnation of one, with soft figs and bleu cheese. It’s the best of all worlds because you get the chewiness of Korean rice flour treats but the rich egginess of a traditional European cake. Like any upside-down cake, the process is straightforward: the fruit goes into the bottom of the pan, and you top it with a simple cake batter, but finishing the cake with light bleu cheese whipped cream makes it totally unique.
“Serve the cake warm, with cracked pepper. Because the texture of the cake can be starchy once cooled, reheat leftovers for about 10 minutes in a 300-degree-F oven.” — Rachel Yang
Tip: Be sure to use sweet rice flour (mochiko), really finely ground from short-grain “sticky” rice. Regular rice flour will make the cake chalky, lacking “bite.”
8 or 9 servings
Prep: Under an hour, start to finish | Average: “Foolproof”
- 12 ounces (about 2 cups) dried Mission figs,* stems trimmed, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
- Baking spray
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* While we like the texture of Mission figs best, you can also make it with dried apricots.
- 1 cup sweet rice flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
Bleu cheese whip
- 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese (such as bleu d’Auvergne)
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- Soak the figs: Put the figs in a small bowl and cover with very hot tap water. Let soak for 10 minutes, then drain, squeezing out any excess water.
- Prepare the pan: Coat an 8-by-8-inch pan with a thin layer of baking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, so the paper comes up and over the sides of the pan, and spray the parchment. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Make the fig mixture: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter, brown sugar, and salt together for 1 minute on medium speed, until evenly sandy. Add the drained figs to the mixture and stir by hand until the figs are all coated in sugar, then spread the figs into a single layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator to chill while you make the batter.
- Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt to blend. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla, then whisk in the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until well blended. Pour the batter over the chilled figs and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and set in the center. Set aside to cool for about 20 minutes. (You can make the cake a day ahead; just let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it overnight before serving.)
- Make the bleu cheese whip: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the bleu cheese, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed just to blend. Switch to the whisk attachment, add the cream, and whip on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until smooth and thick, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Set aside.
- Serve the cake: To serve, invert the cake onto a cutting board, remove the paper, then cut the cake into 8 rectangles or 9 squares. Place each piece on a plate, and serve topped with a dollop of bleu cheese whip.
Excerpted from “My Rice Bowl, Korean Cooking Outside the Lines,” copyright 2017 by Rachel Yang. Republished with permission of Sasquatch Books.