It’s really unfortunate timing, because we’ve got a long year to go and I at one point had many great and luminous cooking plans for it, but they’re all cancelled now because on the afternoon of January 4th, before 2019 had really even kicked in, I ate the best thing I had or will all year or maybe ever — because what would the internet be without some unnecessary melodrama — and I threw it together from a mess of leftovers in my fridge.
Don’t you hate it when those lifestyle guru-types tell you about the meals they threw together from their leftovers, which just happen to be in tip-top shape, chromatically balanced, and Instagram-perfect. In real life, or at least mine, leftovers are a lot of Let’s Never Speak About That Again, the best of intentions cut short by poor planning, the now shamed and guilt-ridden humans responsible for the disgrace vowing to do better by that murky bag of herbs and liquefied cucumber next time.
But not last week. Last week, on January 1st, I made David Chang’s Bo Ssam, something I do once a year or so when I want to make a jaw-dropping feast for a crowd with exactly three ingredients (pork shoulder, salt, sugar) even a person living through the aftereffects of an evening of daquiris can handle. Of course, because most three-ingredient recipes are a lie, there are a few other things you make to serve with it: a Ssam sauce (it’s like a vinaigrette), a ginger-scallion sauce (a riff on the classic Cantonese sauce), rice, and I always like to serve it with marinated julienned carrots and thinly sliced cucumbers so needless to say, these leftovers were well above-average. Bo Ssam makes a lot; we ate it on the 1st, the 2nd, and the 3rd before we were finally out of pork, but I still had a smidge left of everything else so for lunch on that 4th day of the year, I put it all in a bowl and topped it with a crispy fried egg.
But first, I crisped the rice. The world of crisped, stuck-pot, scorched, fried, and tahdig-ed rice is vast and nuanced and fascinating and I’m not going to even try to do it justice here, but what they all have in common, what they all know, is that cooked rice that’s been allowed to crisp is a glorious thing. My favorite — short-grain brown or white rice — is particularly good at this, starchy and thick enough to be both crackly edged and tender-centered in a single grain. (What a showoff.) It, apparently, smells like popcorn when you cook it.
I have told every single person I’ve seen or spoken to since about how amazing this lunch was (their eyes mostly glazed over, it’s fine, I understand) and now it’s your turn. I’ve tried to pare it down to just the most essential parts — crispy rice, a crispy egg, and a ginger-scallion-sauce-meets-vinaigrette — plus whatever crunchy or leftover vegetables you have around. I hope it becomes your new favorite 2019 meal, too.
One year ago: Boulevardier
Two years ago: Crusty Baked Cauliflower and Farro
Three years ago: Ugly-But-Good Cookies and Swiss Chard Pancakes
Four years ago: Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake
Five years ago: Coconut Tapioca Pudding and Chicken Pho
Six years ago: Ethereally Smooth Hummus and Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
Seven years ago: Apple Sharlotka
Eight years ago: Vanilla Bean Pudding and Pizza with Bacon, Onions, and Cream
Nine years ago: Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens and Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
Ten years ago: Almond-Vanilla Rice Pudding and Light Wheat Bread
Eleven years ago: Lemon Bars and Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
Twelve years ago: Balthazar’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and World Peace Cookies
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Bourbon Peach Smash
1.5 Years Ago: Confetti Party Cake
2.5 Years Ago: Peaches and Cream Bunny Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Green Beans with Almond Pesto
4.5 Years Ago: Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings