It may be America’s cuisine; not that most in our culinary scene would want to admit it anymore. But as a nation of immigrants, and one without any shared long-standing culinary heritage, we could do a lot worse than claiming Fusion Cuisine as ours. McDonald’s, for example. Or Mac ‘n Cheese. After all, Thomas Jefferson served Mac ‘n Cheese (albeit likely not out of the blue box) at the White House in 1802.
In the hands of some of its early masters and best proponents — such as Wolfgang Puck, Jean-George Vongrichten, the Chefs of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine scene or Ming Tsai — Fusion Cuisine was an exciting combinations of flavors, ingredients and techniques from different cultures. Many of the best, such as Puck at his breakthrough restaurant, Chinois, used the ingredients of the East but prepared them using French culinary techniques.
While it may have been courtesy of Puck at Chinois that Fusion Cuisine first came to the public’s attention, it was probably Jean-Georges Vongrichten in New York with the opening of his original Vong restaurant in 1991 that brought the cuisine to another level and gave it the credibility to be the decade’s culinary trend. Where Puck had looked to China for his influences, Vongrichten looked to Southeast Asia and used its array of spices, aromas and flavorful broths to seamlessly marry with European fine dining traditions and expectations.
The problem, of course, was that once “liberated” from the strictures of any particular cuisine many chefs who did not have the skill, judgment and creativity of a Puck or Vongrichten took the notion of “fusion cuisine” as a license to commit innumerable, unspeakable – and, worst of all, inedible — culinary crimes. “Fusion Cuisine” – like “Prog Rock” – became something of a pejorative term.
While Puck and Vongrichten are still active and relevant (even influential), and while there are still purveyors of lazy “this with that” so-called “fusion” food that makes no sense whatsoever –and even as the cuisine found a seemingly natural home in the food truck world – the new standard-bearer for the movement might well be David Chang with his Momofuku chain of restaurants based in New York. Chang might not be happy to be described as such – of course, his derision of fusion cuisine may also be a publicity play of sorts (sort of like Muse pretending they’re not influenced by Prog). But his application of Japanese and Korean ingredients to the discipline of high end European-based cuisine (he trained at Craft and Café Boulod) is state of the art. And just try to get a reservation at Momofuko Ko.
And so it was that it was one of Chang’s recipes — Marinated Hanger Steak Ssäm from his Momofuko cookbook – that I used as the jumping off point for my example of fusion cuisine. Instead of the hanger steak, an unbelievably flavorful but oft-difficult to find cut, I used one of my favorites: the Culotte Steak. The Culotte is the top section of the sirloin, my favorite part of the cow, especially cooked sous-vide. While I played around with the form and presentation of the dish and some of the techniques (sous-vide instead of grilling, pickled onions instead of kim chi, and flashing the sauce with hot oil instead of just combining the ingredients) I tried to stay true to Chang’s basic flavor profile.
P.S. Just for the record, Mac ‘n Cheese actually is an example of fusion food. It is pasta (drawn from Italian Cuisine) prepared with a White Sauce in which decidedly un-Italian cheese is melted (whether that cheese is cheddar, Velveeta or some elevated combination of goat cheese, jack and stilton). So Fusion Cuisine isn’t all that foreign after all, is it?
Culotte Steak with Ginger Scallion Sauce and Pink Pickled Onions
For the Pink Pickled Onions
- 2 red onions, sliced thinly into half moons
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 allspice berries
- 20 black (or mixed) peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
For the Culotte Steak
- 4 culotte steaks
- 1 apple, thinly sliced
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- kosher salt
- black pepper
For the Ginger Scallion Sauce
- 1/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 2 cups thinly sliced scallions (about 2 bunches)
- ½ cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1½ teaspoons soy sauce
- ¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1. Make the Pink Pickled Onions. Place the onion slices in a metal bowl and cover with boiling water for one minute before draining. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sliced onions to the saucepan and let stand for one to two hours. Store in a refrigerator.
2. Prepare the Steaks. Meanwhile, season each steak liberally with salt and pepper. Make 4 culotte steak “sandwiches” consisting of 1 slice of onion, topped with 1 slice of apple, topped with a steak, topped with 1 slice of apple, topped with 1 slice of onion. Place each sandwich in a food grade plastic bag. To each bag add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and approximately 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Vacuum seal each bag.
3. Cook the Steaks in the Sous-Vide. Using a sous-vide machine, waterbath or a pot of water and a thermometer, bring the waterbath to 131° Fahrenheit. Cook the steaks for one hour at that temperature.
4. Make the Ginger Scallion Sauce. Heat the oil in a heavy sauce pan over high heat until it just starts to smoke. While the oil is heating, place the scallions and ginger, liberally salted, in a very large pot, far larger than necessary to contain them (about four to five times as large, at a minimum). It needs to be that large because of what comes next. Pour the oil over the scallions and ginger. When the sizzling dies down and the sauce has returned to temperature, add the soy sauce and sherry vinegar. Stir to combine and then allow the oil to rise to the surface. Remove as much of the oil from the surface as makes itself readily removable. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Sear the Steaks. Remove the steaks from the sous-vide and from their bags. Heat a heavy saute pan over high flame and sear the steaks on both sides until they have nicely caramelized, about 2 minutes on each side.
6. Assemble the Dish. Serve each steak, liberally doused with the ginger scallion sauce, garnished with the pink pickled onions.