On this episode of ‘Prime Time,’ The Meat Hook Butchers Ben Turley and Brent Young combine two things they love: beer and duck.
The two express their love for the more traditional beer can chicken, but wish it could have crispier skin. That’s where the duck comes in: this bird has a thicker skin, and is therefore able to crisp up better. First, the two separate the duck skin from the meat with an air compressor, a technique the duo learned from chef Joe Ng at Decoy in NYC. The ducks then get dipped in water, and then receive a vinegar and sugar bath to tighten the skin, and hung to dry for 24 hours.
The butchers salt the birds, and decide to try a dark beer and a light beer to see which will provide the most flavor. The beer can is put inside the birds, and then they’re both added to a grill, standing up, to cook for two hours. After tasting the two ducks, they come to a conclusion about which beer works best, and how they might modify their experiment next time.
Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes
Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.
A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.
Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director
Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager
Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit
Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent
Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer
Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor
Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com
Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit
Montreal Restaurateurs Shuttered for Another Month At Least
As many across the city had predicted, Montreal restaurants will remain closed for four more weeks than initially planned. Quebec premier Francois Legault announced that red zone restrictions that originally went into effect on October 1 would be extended until November 23 during a press conference yesterday evening.
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Legault said that though the number of new COVID-19 cases across the province had plateaued, they remain at 800 to 1,000 per day, with roughly 10 deaths per day. “I don’t know if some people are getting used to that, but I’m not,” Legault said. “We have to lower that number, how many new cases we have, and that’s why we’re going to have to make efforts for another four weeks.”
The premier assured that the emergency financial assistance that was provided for the first four weeks of red zone restrictions would be extended into the following four weeks. However, several restaurateurs commenting on the Association Restauration Québec Facebook page say they have yet to receive any aid for the month of October.
Meanwhile, some restaurateurs like Michele Forgione (Impasto, Gema, Chez Tousignant, Vesta), David McMillan (Joe Beef), and Kevin Demers (Cold Room, Parliament El Pequeño) have taken to social media to air their discontent at the provincial government failing to provide scientific data as to why restaurants and bars in particular should remain closed (unlike shopping mall and other retail outlets). In an interview with CTV News, Jon Cercone, a co-owner of Tavern on the Square, said, “Show me evidence that I’m a superspreader, show me evidence that I’m harmful, instead of arbitrarily closing me.”
After Monday’s announcement, two restaurant owners started a public Facebook group, now boasting 480 members, called “Ouvrir Tous Les Restaurants, Bars et Services Alimentaires au Quebec” (French for “Open All Restaurants, Bars and Food Services in Quebec”). In a message posted to the group’s page, co-founder Stuart Abrams (executive chef and owner of Saint-Henri restaurant L’Ambroisie et L’Espace Canal) says, “They say there are 50,000 hospitality employees in the greater Montreal region, that’s a lot of people affected by these closures!! We need to get all of them on this group, then we will have a strong enough voice to be heard!”
Some in that group and elsewhere on social media are suggesting that restaurants and bars take a cue from gyms, which have gone on record saying they will reopen their doors on October 29 unless the Quebec government can provide evidence of a correlation between their establishments and COVID-19 outbreaks. Legault said during the press conference that institutions that follow through with this plan will be fined.
Beloved Old Montreal Polish restaurant Stash Café posted to its Facebook page that as a result of the extended restrictions, it will be closing its doors entirely and no longer offering takeout as it had been doing since October 1. The restaurant will revive operations once the government reopens dining rooms.
“We will take this time to prepare menu options for the upcoming holiday season,” the post reads. “It is our hope that the Legault government will also take this time to reflect and reevaluate their unjust treatment of the restaurant industry, an industry they accuse of being conducive to large uncontrolled gatherings, whereas we are of the view that we can provide a safe and healthy environment for families and couples to unwind.”
While Legault emphasized that reopening before November 23 was unlikely, he did say that the government would re-assess the situation in two weeks and ease restrictions if the number of cases and deaths significantly drops.
In ‘Memorial,’ Houston Author Bryan Washington Uses Food to Connect Queer Love, Culture, and Place
Author Bryan Washington is a native Houstonian, something immediately evident while reading Memorial, his much-lauded debut novel. Named for the sprawling neighborhood that’s home to tens of thousands of Houstonians, Memorial is a stunning debut, one that digs deep into relationships both familial and romantic, what it means to love and be loved, and the healing power of food.
Set in Houston and Osaka, Japan, Memorial follows preschool teacher Benson and his partner Mike, who works as a cook at a restaurant in Montrose. The city’s culinary scene and diverse demographic identity lend both inspiration and conflict to the novel as it explores Mike and Benson’s relationship when the couple is pulled apart by thousands of miles, with Mike traveling to Japan to care for his ailing father and Benson staying behind in Houston alongside Mike’s mother Mitsuko, whom he’s never met.
Memorial offers a visceral, sometimes uncomfortable look into how the bonds we form with other people are impacted by our upbringing. Simultaneously, it’s also an exploration of how food can connect people from disparate backgrounds in profound ways. Its casual prose eschews pretentiousness and overwrought turns of phrase in favor of the kind of real-ass, familar language that made Washington’s first work, a collection of essays called Lot, a literary smash-hit.
And of course, media executives seized on the book’s undeniable relatability. Last week, Deadline reported that the book had been optioned by production company A24, and will be adapted by Washington into a television series over the coming months.
In their respective cities, Mike and Benson cook and eat — a lot. In Osaka, Mike helps his father run the izakaya he’s owned for years, steaming rice and cooking okonomiyaki while repairing a relationship strained by absence and time. Back in Houston, novice cook Benson gets a crash course in culinary basics from Mitsuko, who teaches him how to make seafood curry, udon, and how to break an egg in one hand.
These situations make for moments that reveal the tensions inherent to the evolving relationship between queer people and their families, both their own and those of the people they love. It’s in these moments where Washington explores how homemade dishes can function as a language; how stirring eggs together can plug the silences in awkward conversations or serve as a quiet expression of love.
Eater sat down to talk with Washington about Houston, food, and how his experiences in the city shaped one of the year’s most exciting new novels.
Eater Houston: Are you riding out the pandemic in Houston?
Bryan Washington: I am. I was in Toronto in February for about a week, then I went to New York. The week after that, New York closed and a few weeks later Houston shut down. Since then, I’ve been in Houston.
What are you eating right now to comfort yourself and, you know, stay alive?
It varies really wildly. Like everybody else, I’m cooking as much as I’ve ever cooked. I’m not comfortable sitting in restaurants just yet. I’ve been eating a lot of tomato and egg dishes, a lot of curry. There’s a restaurant called Korean Noodle House and I pick up kimchi there every two weeks. I am staying inside, I am avoiding people, but I am going to get my kimchi. Also a lot of banh mi, that hasn’t really changed — I go every couple days and pick up croissants and baguettes. Trying to balance between staying inside and supporting restaurants that are dear to me.
At the beginning of Memorial, Benson says that Mike works at a Montrose restaurant “where they butcher rice bowls and egg rolls,” which seems like a nod to the neighborhood’s gentrification. Is this a specific spot, or just an amalgam of trendy Montrose restaurants?
It’s not based on any one specific place, and there are a few different Montrose restaurants that could probably be described in that way. This description, though, is from a person who is pretty jaded about his partner’s place of work, so I don’t know that I would necessarily describe the restaurant that Mike works at in that way.
A really interesting thing about Montrose specifically, and Houston generally, is that you have all these coffee shops and restaurants that are blending various cuisines and flavor profiles very fluently, and they’re very cognizant of the cultures that those cuisines come from. It’s done in a way that is respectful.
Scenes in Memorial are often set at restaurants in Houston. Benson and Mike go to an Irish pub in the Heights and have drinks at a bar in River Oaks. Does name-checking these neighborhoods help tell the story of Houston through the lens of its bars and restaurants?
These places were really grounding and helpful in establishing a certain tone. If I write that a restaurant is in the Heights, that implies something wildly different than a restaurant that’s in Chinatown on Bellaire. The tricky part on my end was making it clear enough to the reader that didn’t have the shorthand for what that meant, while also appealing to someone who would know exactly what that meant. It also seems like it helps get at exploring the way that a person’s economic class impacts what they’re exposed to, even in a place like Houston. Mike and Benson have very different upbringings in that respect.
The differences in their experience are refracted every time something as simple as the cost of a meal comes up or being in a neighborhood that Mike would have never stepped foot in otherwise, even though he’s deeply fluent in the city. I don’t think it’s a secret at all to say that there can be a staggering dissonance between the food that folks are eating and how they think it gets to them on the table.
What do you mean by that?
The image that a person might have of the back-of-house or a restaurant as a whole can stray wildly from the reality of it. When you have a litany of Chinese restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants and Korean restaurants whose diners are coming from all over, and the entire back-of-house staff is mostly Latinx. Those communities aren’t being given equitable compensation or credit for what they’re bringing to the table.
Conversely, when you do have a restaurant that is primarily staffed by folks of the background, or of the culture that they’re cooking from, and you have white diners that come in and expect to pay little to nothing under the guise that ‘It’s under this part of town, so I don’t have to pay over a certain amount.’ I don’t think that those conversations are divorced from the ones that Benson and Mike are constantly having.
A cool thing about Houston, as far as major American cities go, its residents are hyper-conscious of that. Simply because you have to be to live here. You live amongst so many other folks from so many different places, it’s just understood that those systems are interconnected together.
Memorial is set in Houston and Osaka. What do these two cities have in common. How are they different?
I think I wrote the book to try to and figure that out, and I still don’t think I know the answer to that. They are both cities that i’ve had the privilege of experiencing an excess of warmth and generosity, whether from friends or from strangers. Trying to put that warmth on the page was really interesting to me, and also seemed like a challenge that I wanted to undertake, partly because Houston is such a deeply diverse city.
And yet, even though so many of the communities might be parallel from one another or seemingly disparate, they constantly find a way to make things work together. Whereas with Osaka, it’s pretty culturally homogenous within a deeply culturally homogeneous country. But there’s been so much warmth, as a complete outsider, that I have experienced within that city from folks who absolutely did not have to share it with me. It felt like it would be interesting narratively to see what that warmth and generosity and sensitivity to your neighbors could look like on the page, even it wasn’t the primary part of the narrative.
Were there specific restaurants in Houston — or in Osaka — that inspired the setting in Memorial?
I visited a litany of places through the process of writing. In Osaka, I was eating at a lot of food stalls and yoshuku, or Western-style diners. I spent a lot of time at izakayas with friends and by myself, which was really helpful in building ambiance in Mike’s section. In the time I spent editing the book while I was in Japan, it was just so comforting to eat home-cooked meals with friends.
The types of dishes that Mike cooks for Benson — sopa de pescado, yams, macaroni, and rice — feel so distinctly Houston. How did your own upbringing here influence Mike’s culinary identity?
This is the really interesting thing about growing up in this city. It’s something you can’t plan for and have to be grateful for if you’re privy to it. I grew up in a white neighborhood, but our actual cul de sac was deeply diverse. I had Filipino neighbors, Cuban neighbors, Japanese neighbors, Iranian neighbors. It wasn’t a big deal to have pancit on Saturday evening and black beans on Sunday morning and then have yakisoba on Sunday evening and then ackee and codfish on Monday morning.
As a kid you don’t appreciate how you live, but I’m so grateful to have it now. You get older and you see the context behind how and when folks pick up their culinary vocabularies. It’s a very rare thing for most parts of the country, but it’s not very remarkable or special for someone growing up in Houston to have access to this litany of cultures from a very young age.
For Mike, it was really just trying to have a character that was so ingrained into the city, that he would think nothing of cooking enchiladas for his boyfriend. Nothing of cooking black bean stew for his black neighbors and turning around helping out his Honduran neighbors with a meal for themselves. It’s someone who is comfortable in a number of different cuisines.
How did you set out to capture the sheer awkwardness of two people — Benson and Mitsuko — who don’t know each other and are becoming acquainted in this really intimate way, by cooking with each other?
A lot of drafting and editing. I was trying to get a sense of how the dialogue moved on the page, and what a silence between Benson and Mitsuko would mean on the page. What was underneath that silence. I kept thinking of this film Still Walking, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, that largely takes place in one house over the course of a few days. For the overwhelming majority of the film, people are cooking and eating and preparing food. And there’s so much drama in how a dish is placed on a table, or the speed at which someone is shaving daikon. Trying to find a way to put that on the page when you lose the visual element was tricky.
While Mike’s running the izakaya, Benson’s at home cooking with Mitsuko. Did you cook the seafood curry, udon and abura-age, and other dishes that are mentioned in the book?
For almost every dish in the book, I cooked it in some variation. Even if only because I wanted to have a sense of whether Benson or Mike could be cooking while simultaneously doing other things. It was really important to me — and I don’t necessarily expect the reader to pick up on this or even care — to show Benson’s arc. He is someone who went from being shocked that people crack eggs in a pan and then scramble them to someone who is comfortable in the kitchen. I wanted to go through what he was cooking and what he was learning and the mistakes he made.
For Mike’s arc, it was a little bit less difficult because he had a more stable culinary foundation. The question for him became more about what someone would be cooking when they’re using food and cooking as a language, using it to fill gaps in the conversation. Mitsuko was just as challenging because she’s someone who is very confident and comfortable in the kitchen, and trusts herself with the decisions she makes. For her, I wanted to know what someone would cook when they’re just super aware of what the people they’re cooking for need.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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