I have some complicated, maybe irrational feelings about fusion cooking.
My first response is not to trust it. The worst restaurants in Evanston are these doglike, pandering places that label themselves Pan-Asian or Pan-World, that will give their customers practically anything they want however they want it. One place, opened recently, serves chicken drenched in sauces from all over the globe, kind of: Thai peanut, Italian Alfredo, Japanese teriyaki. Customers can choose one, or choose all. The philosophy is have it your way. The result is that nobody leaves happy.
With these trendy new places the word fusion is code for “We’re willing to make it if you’re willing to buy it.” And more often than not, “Please think we’re cool.” Naturally this is bad for the form. And despite the worldly, progressive sheen of the word, I think it masks a certain kind of fear. It’s the fear of serving food that’s simple, food that rejects gimmick, fear of saying to the precious customer, “our food is good enough the way it is.”
But… I know. I know it doesn’t always work this way. Some of the world’s greatest food comes from what are essentially fusion cultures, cooking that’s emerged out of centuries of invasions from foreign enemies with foreign tastes. Vietnamese food comes to mind with its French and Chinese. Mexican food comes to mind.
So when I say fusion sucks, I’m not saying culinary purity is the ideal. I’m saying that “fusion” doesn’t mean “good,” no matter what the bold restauranteurs in Evanston seem to think.
All of this to say I’m a little ashamed, but not really, to have put blue cheese and soy sauce together in the same recipe. I mean, it kind of makes sense if you think about it. They tingle the same taste buds, the ones that sing and dance at salty and ripe. But mostly I did it because I saw it on a menu and the part of me that’s not a food prig thought, huh. Interesting.
And it was! It is! Try it, if it follows your bliss.
Spicy Asian Green Beans with Blue Cheese
– 1 lb French green beans (haricots verts if you’re fancy)
– 4-5 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
– 1/4 cup really good soy sauce*
– 3-4 teaspoons hot chili oil
– 2 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
– 1-2 teaspoons Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce [sic], or similar
– Red pepper flakes, to taste
* A note on soy sauce: brand matters. I used Lee Kum Kee. It’s a Chinese brand that makes good products all around, but the premium sauce tastes better than the not-premium. You can use low sodium or whatever you like, just make sure you use a sauce that tastes solidly good, one you’d feel comfortable using as a condiment to, say, really fresh sushi.
Combine soy sauce, chili oil, vinegar, sweet chili sauce and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Blanch green beans in salted boiling water for no more than 2 minutes–2 minutes in boiling water for only the thickest French beans. Drain and dump immediately into an ice bath.
Don’t overcook the beans. Seriously. For this recipe a properly blanched bean should be vibrant green, should remain turgid when held upright and should snap when broken in half. Toss beans in soy mixture. Arrange beans on plate and sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese. This can be made in advance, but not too far in advance, please.