an exercise in creativity with momofuku chili crunch.

there are more ways to use a product than simply spooning it over a dish.

a month-ish ago, momofuku launched chili crunch, and i embarked on a personal challenge to use the product in more creative ways than simply spooning it over a dish. the reason was simple — i needed something for my brain to mull over that wasn’t writing, something to keep it occupied and, well, not bored, because, then, my brain would be even more prone to spiral into anxiety and depression. cooking has been one of my primary ways of managing my brain for years, and i like puzzles like this.

before we go on, here’s a necessary disclaimer that (1) i purchased chili crunch on my own and (2) i was not paid to do this. i was honestly a little surprised by how much i liked chili crunch, and i’ve already ordered two replacement jars (because i wasn’t going to pay $7 shipping for one $10 jar) and had them shipped to los angeles.

i guess we’ll see how/if my parents take to it.

i spent a lot of time thinking of an introduction to this but figured to hell with it. let’s dive right in.

but, before that, hi, if anyone from momofuku happens to see this, can you sell your salsa seca next? like, the version you use with your fried butterball potatoes and fried oxtail at majordomo? and the fried squid at bar wayo? and your habanero hot sauce? just throwing it out there.

scallion pancakes
early in quarantine, i set about trying to figure out how to recreate majordomo’s bing, and, at some point, that transitioned into scallion pancakes. my ideal scallion pancake is crispy and flaky with a nice chew, and it should be loaded up with scallions with a hint of spice — which made this perfect for chili crunch. i didn’t want the texture, though, so i used only the oil, mixing it with sesame oil to get the toasted flavor, then sprinkled on scallions and momofuku’s spicy salt for more heat. the actual dough of this needs a little work, but this is basically how i plan to keep making my scallion pancakes going forward — the oil from chili crunch and spicy salt add a really nice smokiness that rounds everything out.

soy sauce butter fried rice
i don’t typically eat a lot of fried rice; i prefer to cook things (like bacon and eggs) and put them on top of a bowl of rice and mix things together as i eat. initially, i’d planned to make pasta with butter, soy sauce, and corn, but i didn’t have any fresh pasta on hand and didn’t feel like cooking dry pasta, so rice it was! if you know, you know — soy sauce and butter are a magical combination, and i really like it with bacon and eggs and cheese, mixed into rice. i added a little chili crunch and some fresh corn and scallions, and this was delicious. i don’t know that i’d make this again as fried rice, though, but will probably default to my normal method of cooking things and topping rice.

if anything, having to cook for myself all the time has made me much more aware of my preferences and habits. like, to be honest, i’m pretty terrible at taking care of myself. i have so little incentive to do so.

egg kimbap
speaking of — one thing that has become crystal clear to me during quarantine is that i do not enjoy eating leftovers — or, i guess, to be more specific, i do not like reheating food. if i can avoid packing food at restaurants, i will, even if i’m uncomfortably full, and, of course, i will eat restaurant leftovers, but, when it comes to cooking for myself, i would much rather go through the labor of cooking something fresh. which is why i will often fall back on cereal or toast or eggos if i’m trying to save money by not ordering delivery or takeout.

i’ve been making a lot of kimbap this year because i’ve spent large chunks of time in los angeles at my parents where i do my fair share of the cooking. kimbap, in ways, is an easy food to produce in volume; yes, it’s labor-intensive because it’s a lot of prep; but it’s great for feeding a group of people. i don’t often make kimbap for myself because the work is not worth it for one person and kimbap does not keep well. yes, you can do the dunk-kimbap-into-whipped-egg-and-fry the day after, but, again, i don’t like reheated food. and kimbap is just one of those things you should eat fresh.

this version is all about eggs — eggs are whipped with a little half-and-half and a little chili crunch, cooked into thin crepe-like omelettes, and cut into ribbons. i seasoned my rice with momofuku’s savory salt, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. i’m sure i’ll be making a lot more kimbap again soon; it’s one of the best things to pack my parents for lunch.

corn cheese pasta
corn cheese meets mac and cheese, but the dumb part of this is … to be honest, i really don’t care much for mac and cheese. mac and cheese is so rarely good, so i’ve never eaten much of it, but sohla made mac and cheese on her new show, stump sohla, so i couldn’t get mac and cheese out of my head. i also wanted to eat my corn cheese with pasta, so i figured why not try a mac and cheese? why not try baking it to get that crust?

i was afraid of ending up with soggy pasta, so i tried soaking dry rigatoni in boiling hot water before adding that to the sauce and putting all of it in the oven. theoretically, the pasta would cook in the sauce. i think this method would have been successful had i soaked the rigatoni for a full 30-45 minutes instead of the 20 i did. instead of a bechamel, i used kewpie mayo. to be honest, this was fine for a first attempt, but i doubt i’ll make it this way again. corn season is over as well, so maybe i’ll try reimagining this next year.

speaking of sohla, i love the way she talks about cooking. she doesn’t seem the type to give you a hard and fast recipe with exact steps to follow; in both of her new shows, she talks more about little cues to look for that require you to engage your senses and trust your instincts. i think that’s much more important that providing recipes because you don’t learn how to cook by following recipes — you learn to cook by cooking and fucking up and cooking some more.

bacon and tomato with egg
this is my favorite lazy breakfast — a protein, tomatoes, and eggs over rice. yes, i know eggs are technically a protein, but eggs are basically their own food group to me. i love eggs. i also like making this egg/tomato with spam.

honey butter waffles
honey butter chips became a wild trend in korea five-ish years ago, and they make me think, first, of this story: in 2014, a group of students got fed up with how much air was in chip bags, so, to prove their point, they constructed a raft of chip bags and paddled, successfully, across the han river. my memory says they used honey butter chips for this, which is incorrect — they were trying to make a point about chip bags in general.

i get cravings for honey butter chips every so often, but this is a craving that is weirdly finicky. to satisfy said craving, i’ll open a bag of chips only for my brain to be like, nope, this isn’t what i wanted, leaving me with an opened bag of chips. which is what happened to me recently. instead of letting the chips go to waste, i crushed them up, mixed them with some chili crunch, melted butter, and honey, and used the mix to make waffles. it worked better than i expected. i’ll be tweaking this over the next few weeks because i actually really liked it; there was less potato chip texture than i thought; but the flavors and overall texture worked quite nicely.

bacon butter cheese pasta (a la the margot affair)
i’ve been really enjoying the fresh pasta options in the farm to people boxes, and, one week, i got pappardelle because i like big noodles. (seriously. i intensely dislike the texture of angel hair but love bucatini. i love the wideness of pappardelle and the size of giant rigatoni.) the butter/cheese pasta in the margot affair is super easy, and i start by frying bacon, adding chili crunch, adding cooked pasta noodles and grated parmesan and a splash of pasta water to loosen things up, then finishing off with a nice tablespoon of butter. i don’t always like to make carbonara, so i’ve been enjoying this egg-less riff that delivers all the comfort of carbonara without the worry about whether or not the eggs will scramble.

did i just say i preferred a version of something without eggs?!

pasta with chili crunch (failed carbonara)
but, see, this is an example of how carbonara is fickle. i’ve made carbonara many, many times in my life, and i still fuck it up at least once every five times. it irritates the crap out of me.

i started making pasta in 2017 when i was dangerously suicidal, like so suicidal my parents noticed and staged an intervention. making pasta was the only thing that got me out of my stupor, and i’ve played with different flours since, but i’ve never made a flavored pasta. i thought i’d add chili crunch to my pasta and make a carbonara with it, but the goddamn eggs scrambled.

i’d make the chili crunch pasta again but with all APF (or maybe i’ll try 00 for the first time) for a silkier noodle. to be honest, i still haven’t quite been able to figure out my dream pasta texture. adding chili crunch to my pasta was a brilliant idea, though — i admit i’m quite proud of this. the chili crunch doesn’t necessarily impart spice (but, then, i don’t think chili crunch is spicy) but a light smokiness and layers of flavor. i’ll be working on this pasta in future weeks, as well as on sauces to pair with it.

spam musubi
i was supposed to start dating in 2020. this cooking experiment is fun and distracting, but it also reminds me how much i’d love to have someone to do life with. all the years of body shaming delivered me to a point where i’d resigned myself to being single forever, and that resignation became habit.

i don’t actually know if anything i cook is good. it suits my palate, and i can adapt it so my parents like it, but is my cooking good? would other people like to eat it? if i ever start dating, would i be comfortable cooking for my person? i know i’d want to because my primary love language is food, but would my cooking actually convey that love, or would it be more of something that someone learns to tolerate?

who knows? maybe we’d get answers to this if i could muster up the courage to talk to my crush — but, anyway, i tend to think that the key to spam musubi is undercutting the intense saltiness of spam without ruining the spam-to-rice ratio. adding more rice doesn’t negate the saltiness of the spam; it just fills you up with too much rice. i don’t know that i fully succeeded here, but chili crunch (to which i added more sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and a bit of sesame oil) brings more depth that helps balance out the spam.

(on an aside: i’m glad there are no sichuan peppercorns in chili crunch. i’m not actually a fan of the tingly mouth-numbing quality of sichuan peppercorns or sichuan-style spice in general. when it comes to spice, i want to feel the heat and taste it.)

(also, i made japanese-style potato salad to eat with this and topped it with caramelized shallots, which is an idea i stole from majordomo because they top their japanese-style potato salad with caramelized onions.)

chicken rice
chicken rice is pure comfort, even my bastardized version. i didn’t poach a whole chicken, just two breasts (skin-on with bone), and i added chili crunch to my poaching liquid, alongside garlic, ginger, and scallions. the chili crunch doesn’t really come through intensely in the broth but brings in a layer of spice that sits underneath everything else. it’s really quite nice. this was the perfect dish to wrap up this project.

this is a free substack, and it will remain so for the near future. these substacks do, however, take a tremendous amount of time to plan, write, and edit (and re-write), so, if you like what you’ve read and would maybe like to contribute a cup of coffee, here are my ko-fi and venmo!