A Brooklyn chef reminds us why the hype began

Brooklyn, the spiritual home of "makers" and hordes of bearded mixologists, is now not only a borough but also a brand. "Very Brooklyn," diners say (with reverence or disdain) when they enter a coffeehouse or restaurant plastered with subway tile and reclaimed wood.

Nowhere are people more convinced of Brooklyn’s brilliance than in the borough itself. Cross the bridge from Manhattan and you pass a municipal greeting: "Welcome to Brooklyn. Believe the Hype!" I say this not entirely out of bitterness -- though I am part of another stereotypical Brooklyn horde, families pushed out by soaring rents -- but with a heavy heart.

Brooklyn is a kind of food wonderland, full of bread "labs" and whole-animal butchers. But as the years have passed, some additions to the scene feel more calculated than organic (the north star of Brooklynness), while others are attempts to do something new for its own sake. The authenticity that created the Brooklyn ethos seems increasingly absent.


So it was refreshing, almost a relief, to come across The Good Fork Cookbook (Abrams, 2016) by chef Sohui Kim. You probably missed this one; it had the unfortunate fate of being released at the beginning of November, a time when no matter whom you voted for, you were almost certainly not focused on new cookbooks.

And that’s a shame. The Good Fork, named for the restaurant Kim opened in the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook a decade ago, is a collection of invitingly original recipes that manage to be both cutting-edge and homey. It’s a powerful combination that also helps explain how Brooklyn became Brooklyn in the first place.


The Good Fork is not structured in the usual way, with appetizers, main courses, and desserts, but chronologically. The opening chapter tells the story of Kim and husband Ben Schneider’s move to Red Hook and how they built a close-knit community by throwing fantastic backyard parties -- the real version of the kind you see in food magazine spreads, with wildflowers tucked into Mason jars, mismatched china, and impossibly hip, artsy types in attendance.

You will want to hate them, but don’t: The look was dictated by (small) budgets, and the food was an eclectic blend inspired by Kim’s culinary experiences, which included an early childhood in Korea, followed by a move to the Bronx and a series of cooking jobs at desirable New York restaurants. There were fried pork dumplings, homemade pasta with lamb ragout, and a feast I plan to make for my next summer bash: Vietnamese-style ribs with pickled vegetable salad and sweet Chinese sausage and scallion corn bread.

The food was, Kim says, "everything I knew, everything I had tasted, and everything I liked."

Apparently, the guests liked it, too, and that led the couple to mimic the vibe when they opened the Good Fork. The next chapter provides recipes for the restaurant’s opening menu, and these are among my favorites. Kim’s roast chicken, served with a rich pan sauce fragrant with roasted garlic and funky Chinese fermented black beans, is now my weeknight roast chicken because it’s delicious, and, more important, the simple sauce can be made ahead in big batches and frozen, so cooking dinner amounts to thawing the sauce and throwing a few chicken breasts into a hot pan.


I am also a fan of the Brussels sprouts Caesar salad -- though it’s a little heavy for a weeknight, so I’ll save it for entertaining -- and the Dr. Seuss-inspired Green Eggs and Ham Risotto, which mixes the rice with an emerald puree of peas, spinach, and parsley, and tops it with crispy Serrano and a quail egg. (Without the egg, the dish doesn’t deliver on the promise but impresses nonetheless.)

The idea of simply cooking food you like without branding the concept was, and remains, risky. Chefs fly high when they can call themselves the Cronut guy or the Korean chicken expert. As Kim’s brother told her when the restaurant opened: "You can’t put wild boar ragout and pork dumplings on the same menu. It’s stupid." But good things to eat, carefully sourced and cooked with the same technique and attention to detail found in fine-dining restaurants, soon became its own style: Brooklyn style. Within a few months after the Good Fork opened, Manhattanites were crossing the bridge to see what all the fuss was about.

The succeeding chapters provide an assortment of recipes based on a theme. One, "Lessons," comprises dishes inspired by Kim’s cooks that include an easy arctic char served with a sassy take on a Niçoise salad, with fingerling potatoes, green beans, radishes and jalapeños; and a miso caramel ice cream that beats out most any salted caramel version I’ve tried.

"After the Storm" focuses on comfort foods that were go-tos after Hurricane Sandy flooded Red Hook, such as pork chops with creamy leeks and spaetzle, and biscuits served with sweet-and-spicy butter spiked with gochujang (Korean chili paste) and honey. I can open to almost any page and find something I want to eat.

What thrills me is that I can -- eat it, that is. Nothing in the book, not even the traditional Korean dishes in the final chapter that are served at Kim’s new restaurant, Insa, is intimidating or requires endless sub-recipes. (Full disclosure: I did have to make that ice cream twice, because my fear of curdling the base meant I pulled it off the stove the second I could swipe a clean line down the back of a wooden spoon, which, apparently, was a tad soon. But the not-quite-frozen version was plenty tasty, too.)

My only true gripes are that the ingredient lists don’t always consider what home cooks have access to: The green risotto calls for four ounces of Serrano ham, which generally comes in three-ounce packs, unless your local butcher slices it to order, because you live in Brooklyn. And Kim, who, after all, is a restaurant chef, sometimes can’t help gilding the lily. For example, that same risotto instructs you to deep-fry the ham, when crisping it in a frying pan is far easier and the taste is arguably as good.


Those problems, though, are fairly easy to spot and adapt to without undermining Kim’s intentions. The Good Fork Cookbook, like the best of Brooklyn, mashes global flavors with a distinctive spirit. The results are delicious. Believe the hype!

-- Black is a Washington writer who covers food, politics, and culture.
 


Arctic Char With Potato-Radish Salad and Soy Vinaigrette

4 serving(s)

INGREDIENTS

For the vinaigrette:

2½  tablespoons plain rice wine vinegar

2½  tablespoons white soy sauce (may substitute dark soy sauce )

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1½  teaspoons minced garlic

1½  teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger root (from a 1-inch piece)

1 small fresh red Thai/bird’s-eye chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

¼ cup grapeseed oil

1½  teaspoons sesame oil (toasted or not)

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:

Four 6-ounce skin-on arctic char fillets, patted dry (may substitute salmon)

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

For the salad:  1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch rounds, roasted or blanched 

8 ounces green beans, cut in half and blanched

5 small red radishes, thinly sliced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise

2 scallions (white and light-green parts), coarsely chopped

½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves 

DIRECTIONS

1. For the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper in a medium bowl.

2. Gradually add the grapeseed and sesame oils, whisking to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper.

3. For the fish: Season the fillets lightly with salt and pepper.

4. Heat the grapeseed oil in a skillet large enough to hold the fillets without crowding them, over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the fillets to the pan, skin sides down. Cook for about 3 minutes, until a nice crust forms on the skin, then flip the fillets over; cook for 1 minute more. Turn off the heat.

5. For the salad: Toss together the potatoes, beans, radishes, jalapeño, scallions, and cilantro. Add just enough of the vinaigrette to coat the vegetables liberally.

6. Serve each fillet with an ample portion of salad. Pass the remaining vinaigrette at the table.

Note: To blanch the green beans and/or potatoes, drop them into a pot of salted, boiling water; cook for a minute or two (longer for the potatoes, so they become just tender), then drain and immediately shock in an ice-water bath. Also, white soy sauce, also called shoyu, is available at Asian markets and is typically used in dishes where regular soy sauce would add unwanted color. Although offering dark soy sauce as a substitute seems an odd choice, it makes sense in terms of flavor.

Adapted from "The Good Fork Cookbook."

Per serving (using half the vinaigrette): 510 calories, 41 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 630 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar


Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad

4 serving(s)

INGREDIENTS

For the dressing :

1/4 cup (3/8 ounce) lightly packed, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 large egg yolk

1 anchovy fillet, rinsed

1 clove garlic

1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Finely grated zest and juice of

1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Pinch kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil

Water (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

1 pound Brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 4 ounces total)

1 tablespoon maple syrup

8 chive stems, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 large eggs, hard-cooked

 

DIRECTIONS

1. For the dressing: Combine the cheese, egg yolk, anchovy, garlic, vinegar, the lemon zest and juice, and Worcestershire sauce in a blender; puree until smooth, and then add the salt. On high speed, gradually add the canola oil until it is completely emulsified. The dressing should be thicker than a vinaigrette but looser than mayonnaise. (If necessary, add a little water to achieve the right consistency.) Season with pepper and refrigerate until you prepare the salad. The yield is about 1/2 cup.

 2. For the salad: Place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle oven rack; preheat to 475 degrees.

 3. Trim the bottoms of half of the Brussels sprouts and quarter them lengthwise, placing them in a mixing bowl as you work. Add the olive oil and toss to coat, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer them to the hot baking sheet and roast until they’re golden brown, about 15 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through cooking to flip the Brussels sprouts. Let cool.

 4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Fill a mixing bowl with salted ice water.

 5. Cut the stems off the other half of the Brussels sprouts and separate the leaves. Blanch the leaves in the boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes, until they are bright green and barely tender. Quickly transfer them to the ice-water bath. Drain them and transfer to a clean dish towel to dry.

 6. Line a plate with paper towels. Arrange the bacon in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until crisped (about 8 minutes), then use tongs to transfer the bacon to the plate to drain. Pour off the rendered bacon fat, then add the maple syrup to the pan. Once it has warmed through, return the bacon to the pan and stir to coat, then remove from the heat. When it is cool, break it into pieces.

 7. When ready to assemble, toss the roasted and blanched Brussels sprouts with ¼ cup of the dressing in a large bowl. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to a serving plate and sprinkle with bacon and chives. Slice the eggs in half and arrange on the salad.

NOTE: To hard-cook eggs, fill a bowl with ice cubes and water. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water; bring to just under a boil over medium heat. Place a steamer basket with the eggs in it on top and cover; steam for 12 minutes, then remove from the heat. Transfer the eggs to the ice-water bath; let them sit for 5 minutes, or until cooled, before peeling.

MAKE AHEAD: You’ll have leftover dressing, which can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

 If you are concerned about a possible contamination risk from the eggs, use a pasteurized egg product.

Adapted from "The Good Fork Cookbook," by Sohui Kim with Rachel Wharton (Abrams, 2016).

Per serving (using half the dressing): 310 calories, 12 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat