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Here's what's rotting at David Chang's Momofuku kitchen lab

David Chang

"Microbes equal flavor." Words to live by, especially if your life is David Chang's. The Momofuku/Ssäm Bar/Ko/Má Pêche chef a couple of years ago turned a 200-square-foot room into a culinary lab where he's currently exploring "microbial terroir" by pickling, curing and fermenting whatever he can get his hands on. "We've just been letting stuff rot," says Chang, who, along with collaborator Dan Felder, led a lecture on Thursday at UCLA, part of its Food and Science series. "We're the kings of rotten stuff."  

So here are some things rotting in the Momofuku kitchen lab: 

Pork: Butabushi -- it's the pork version of katsuobushi, the Japanese dried, smoked, fermented bonito ("a genius ingredient right up there with puff pastry," says Chang). Pork loin is steamed, smoked and "left to rot." The first time he made it, it was "a technicolor weird thing" covered with mold. "I wondered, am I dying as I'm breathing this in?'" But when cut into, it was the same amber as katsuobushi, and just as delicious, according to Chang. The hard part has been replicating it. 

Rabbit: Seven- to 21-day dry-aged rabbit. "It's got a really strange funk to it. It smells gnarly."  

Chicken: Chickenbushi. Look for the -bushi trend. Chang says Sean Brock at Husk in Charleston, S.C., is making scallopbushi.

Fish: Fish sauce. "The lab -- it smells really funny in there." Salt is added to chopped fish (including the guts) and, again, left to rot. For five months. "The smell is extraordinary." 

Legumes and grains: Chang and his team are cultivating koji on grains such as barley and basmati rice by steaming, inoculating and incubating it. The ensuing mold is used to make miso, traditionally made with soybeans. Chang et al. are experimenting with chickpea miso and even pistachio and pine nut miso. "Chickpea miso tastes like parmesan." With the help of a high-speed centrifuge belonging to New York University microbiologists, they can get pistachio, pine nut and chickpea tamari, too.

Fruit: Vinegars. "Balsamic vinegar is crazy to me. Anybody who's been to Modena knows what I'm talking about. I want to make the good stuff, the rotten stuff." So Chang has set out to to make his own vinegars with New York apples (again, it's all about microbes and terroir). "Rotting fruits. I really wish we could capture the smell of this place for you." 

Lardo: A side project is sprinkling barley koji powder and salt on lardo to cure it and give it "a funky dry-aged flavor."

Microbes1

Microbes2

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-- Betty Hallock

Photo credit: Betty Hallock

 
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