Tribulations of a Timid Taiwanese Trainee-Chef – Episode 12
Woohoo! We did it! Let’s pop some champagne and celebrate because twelve months of attempting new Chinese dishes is over and the results went way above my expectations in all the best and delicious ways. The main lesson I’ve learned throughout this year is one that I learned early on – that a lot of cooking, not just Chinese cooking, is getting over the paralysis of fear in cooking and to just do things more and more to get more comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t think I can say I’ve gained a deeper respect for my culture through food or learned to appreciate my family history or anything profound or deep like that, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed cooking this year and spending time in the kitchen (mostly with my mom) and telling people about this yearlong challenge of mine. Thanks for sticking with me through another year of blogging, friends! I’ve been reading Molly Yeh’s cookbook lately (not really for the recipes, more for her stories) and it’s odd that blogging can turn into someone’s career. I don’t think it’ll ever be a career for me, because I don’t really have a fun life story or innovative things or recipes that I write about, but I can see there is fun in blogging, especially food blogging. (Lifestyle blogging and vlogging seems very tiring.) I’m also just not very consistent (as in, I never wrote about the star jam cookies I made. Oops!)
Anyways, I would love to continue blogging more in 2019 (since Cindy doesn’t want to start a cooking podcast with me where probably 85% of it would be about single-purpose kitchen tools), so I’m open to any suggestions about topics I can write about! Photo Weeks most likely will also continue, because I need to post my photos somewhere. Photo Week #51 and #52 will be posted next Monday! Hopefully in my upcoming month break I can also revamp my blog and website a little bit to take advantage of these “blocks” that WordPress is now using. STAY TUNED FOR A (hopefully) EXCITING BLOGGING 2019!
And now on to the recipe! I was again faced with the end of December coming without cooking anything (I blame final projects), and was ready to just give myself a little two week extra time to cook something at the beginning of January, but two things happened: 1) my mom suggested that I just take photos of my cousin making 雞酒, a chicken and rice wine soup concoction that is extremely warming and comforting and suitable for the holidays, but then 2) I found a can of “black bean garlic sauce” in the refrigerator we had extra time the next day after running multiple errands and decided to make a run to Ranch 99 to buy clams. And then we ended up running around the store three more times trying to find other things that my mom decided she needed after we had already stood in line at the cashier.
I know my aunt makes a version of this at home in Taiwan, but here in California most often we just order it at a restaurant. I guess I just don’t think to buy clams that often at the supermarket, although I’ve been meaning to try making cioppino or any other sort of seafood stew adaptation of the recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking so I should probably get more in the habit of going to the seafood section of the supermarket and seeing what’s on sale. I also don’t really know what the name of this dish is in Chinese, but generally I look for “black bean clams” on a Chinese menu (or more accurately, look for the photo of clams covered in a brown, garlickly, black bean-y sauce and point to that) to get what I want.
As with a lot of Chinese cooking, the main part that really makes this dish is the sauce! Like mentioned before, I happened to find this jar of black bean garlic sauce in the refrigerator, and that gave most of the flavor. We realized afterwards that since we didn’t boil the clams beforehand, a lot of the saltiness also probably came from the clams because they were from the sea. (Or so we believe.) To start, I heated a few slices of ginger, red peppers, and the white parts of the green onions in a olive oil, then tossed in about a tablespoon of the sauce to get it cooking a little. Then we dumped in the clams.
We covered the clams for a little bit, which I guess helped to steam them? I mainly did it because everything was sort of splattering out so I just wanted to cover it. My dad wandered over and made a lot of suggestions about how we needed to add onions (not quite cooked through onions, to give it a little crunch, although we just threw in some already cooked onions from a different dish) and red and green bell peppers, but I think the dish would have been fine without as well. A good note for future iterations.
I wasn’t expected to see the clams open up that quickly, and luckily none of them stayed closed because I think that means they were dead to begin with, right? It’s weird that killing them while cooking means they’ll open but when they’re already dead they won’t open anymore. We tried to look for clams that were still closed while at the market, but I don’t know if it makes a difference. If someone knows and would like to tell me that’d be great.
At the very end we tossed in the green parts of the green onions and some cilantro, but if you had basil that would be also great to put in! Judging by all the empty shells leftover, this dish was a success. There was a lot of extra sauce leftover that I’m sure would be good over rice or to cook vegetables in, or to put over noodles.
And with that, hats off to a successful year of cooking in 2018 and here’s to looking forward to more fun cooking in 2019!