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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Asian Potato Salad

Don’t be surprised to see mayo-based potato salad as an accompaniment to Japanese food or served as a “panchan” with a Korean meal. In Shanghai, many home cooks make this salad. Asians have had potatoes for hundreds of years, and mayonnaise has become surprisingly popular there, as well, especially in Japan (“the Japanese apparently put it on everything,” notes Ellen).

Board Links: Korean panchan —Origin of potato salad?

Licorice, Anyone?

Licorice comes in black, red, salty, or sugarless varieties. Here are some of the Chowhounds’ favorite online sources:

Economy Candy in NYC’s Lower East Side is a legendary shop that that stocks a large selection of black licorice,including Kookaburra brand, which some folks view with awe! Not many people seem to know these guys sell online.

Licorice International, out of Lincoln, Nebraska, has many types of imported licorice. Their Dutch and German selections are particularly worth a try; each has its own distinctive flavor. They sell salty licorice, too, which is very much an acquired taste. If you like red licorice, they offer a very nice sampler.

For a good selection of sugar free, try Dutch Sweets.

Board Links: best black licorice? by mail-order, pls

The Secret Life of Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk (SCM) has lots of uses beyond key lime pie and Thai iced tea. And while it’s high in sugar, at least it’s natural (ingredients are just milk and sugar, with no additives or preservatives). And even the low-fat and fat-free versions taste pretty rich. Note that SCM is often much cheaper in Latino or Vietnamese markets. Here are some ingriguing uses for this stuff:

SCM is used in Vietnamese-style coffee, but a heaping teaspoonful in your standard American cup is a superior alternative to anything else when you’ve run out of milk (rworange).

A spoonful of SCM takes oatmeal to an amazing level; add raisins and cinnamon and it’s almost like eating rice pudding.

A little SCM is terrific poured over stewed fruits, such as rhubarb.

Crushed ice, lime juice, and SCM served in a tall glass with a spoon makes a great creamy citrus drink (petradish).

Mix SCM with lemon, lime, or orange juice and zest to taste and and freeze in popsicle molds to make creamy frozen citrus bars.

Candy recommends a recipe for chocolate natillas (rich pudding made with SCM); she recommends using a very dark chocolate. See the recipe.

Use SCM to make homemade dulce de leche. (recipe)

Nestle has a SCM brand aimed at the Latino market called La Lechera, and recently introduced a flip-top plastic squeeze bottle version that makes it easy to use just a spoonful and store the rest safely in the fridge. If you store it upside-down, the SCM is ready to flow, with no drips. Dommy is a convert: “Now that I got my bottle, there is NO going back for me!”

Board Links: Elsie the Cow’s condensed milk is udderly swell

Superior Shrimp Cocktail

The two commandments of the superior shrimp cocktail are:

1. Excellent shrimp
2. Do not overcook

The best shrimp cocktails begin, naturally, with the best shrimp. Look for American white or pink, and avoid imported farm-raised tiger shrimp, which just don’t taste good. Buy frozen if you can–the ones you see in your fishmonger’s case were frozen and defrosted, so you’ll get fresher results if you do the defrosting yourself right before you cook.

For the best flavor, cook shrimp in their shells. If you cut a slit down the back (through the shell) before cooking, shelling will be much easier. Bring a large pot of water to boil, adding seasonings if you wish (JudiAU puts in lots of salt plus four times the amount of crab boil seasoning suggested on the seasoning package). Add shrimp, and remove as soon as they’re opaque (just 2-3 minutes for medium-sized ones). Dump them in a bowl of ice water to chill, then shell.

Everyone has different sauce preferences, but hounds agree that homemade beats off-the-shelf cocktail sauce. Homemade includes, however, doctored-up treatments of store-bought ingredients. For example, fix up Heinz Chili Sauce with some added horseradish and fresh lemon juice (ChinoWayne).

Dommy offers her family’s recipe for a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail (a.k.a. coctel de gambas):

To cooled, drained shrimp, add the following, all chopped: cucumber, red onion, cilantro, firm avocado, and serrano chiles. Stir in a mixture of ketchup and lemon juice. Serve with saltines.

Board Links: What makes a “good” shrimp cocktail (or is that a misnomer)?

Simple Dressing Formulas

Here are some simple formulas for combining condiments (along with salt and pepper) to create common dressings, which you can amp up with herbs, spices, and other flavorings of your choice to taste.

Ketchup + mayonnaise = Russian dressing

Ketchup + mayonnaise + relish (+ capers) = Thousand Island dressing

Mayonnaise + lemon juice + relish (+ capers) = tartar sauce

Board Links: Salad Dressings

Summer Cooler with Heat: Gazpacho at Kitchen/Market

Kitchen/Market serves spectacular gazpacho–chunky and spicy, with well-rounded flavors, chile heat, and a wallop of garlic. “So good, so fresh, and really cheap,” marvels Chelsea Pearl, who notes that a 12-ounce takeout container with a warm flour tortilla is less than $5. “One of my favorite summer foods, done perfectly.”

Kitchen/Market [Chelsea]
218 8th Ave., at 21st St., Manhattan

Board Links: Best gazpacho in the city

Dandy Hot Dog for a Dollar in Chinatown

When you think Chinatown, you probably don’t think hot dogs, but HLing suggests you think again: There’s a surprisingly good one for $1 at Canal and Bowery, where the Fung Wah buses load up for Boston. Jumbo Hot Dogs, little more than a window tucked into the corner of a pawn shop, uses quarter-pound all-beef franks from Newark’s Best Provision Co., plump with nice snap. Onions, relish, or sauerkraut are a dime extra (as is a takeout box for safe, clean traveling).

Jumbo Hot Dogs [Chinatown]
149 Canal St., near Bowery, Manhattan

Board Links: “Best” all beef hot dog for $1

Grumpy in Greenpoint: Espresso with Seattle Flair

Cafe Grumpy brews uncommonly fine espresso, Seattle style, reports BGRose. Beans are from Seattle’s Victrola Coffee, shots are precisely pulled, and lattes are delicious.

The owners, who opened their Greenpoint cafe earlier this year, are planning a second one on 20th Street in Chelsea–big news, notes BGRose, for Manhattanites in search of decent coffee north of hound hangout Joe in the Village.

Cafe Grumpy [Greenpoint]
193 Meserole Ave., at Diamond St., Brooklyn

Board Links: Cafe Grumpy—fabulous espresso in Brooklyn

China Chalet: True Sichuan Flavors in Florham Park, NJ

China Chalet, despite a name that might summon scary visions of ma po fondue, actually serves authentically fiery and complex Sichuan chow made by a chef from Chengdu, reports A.West. Favorites include such regional standards as ox tongue and tripe in roasted chile-peanut vinaigrette, pork dumplings in red oil, chilled noodles with spicy sesame vinaigrette, diced chicken sauteed with three types of pepper, and braised beef or tilapia with Chinese cabbage in chile oil–and the good Sichuan stuff is on the regular menu.

Turns out A.West and his Sichuanese wife have been tracking this chef since he cooked at Springfield’s Cathay 22 a few years back. “He now knows us well enough that we’ve been letting him select most of our dishes for us. My suggestion for people who can eat spicy food is to tell the waiter you want to pretend you’re having dinner in Chengdu.”

China Chalet [Morris County]
184 Columbia Tpke., between James and Park Sts.,Florham Park, NJ

Board Links: Any Good Chinese Open Mondays in Westfield?

Sea Salt Is Better Than You’d Expect

Sea Salt Restaurant (mentioned earlier) has a poor reputation among Chowhounds. But several dissent, saying food here is exceptionally good, though expensive.

Robert Lauriston thinks the place is actually a good value, considering the quality of the ingredients and the finenss of execution. He had a bunch of stuff, all good: monkfish liver torchon with sea urchin and caviar ($12), clam chowder with bacon and cream ($9), grilled sardines ($12.50), bacon-wrapped grilled sturgeon ($22), gigantes with tuna confit ($10), broccolini with aleppo pepper ($6). The chowder and tuna-bean salad are about as good as these dishes get.

Veebee says that she’s been surprised by how good Sea Salt is, especially given all the negative feedback. Monkfish liver torchon (without sea urchins) is amazing. Grilled sardines are another favorite–the combination of bright herbs and rich grilled sardines is perfect. She still thinks about it. A lot.

Also excellent: grilled calamari with arugula pesto and gigante beans, a great combination. And a super lobster roll, which is particularly satisfying for brunch.

Sea Salt Restaurant [East Bay]
2512 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley

Board Links: Sea Salt