Even if you’ve never been to one of his restaurants, Dale Talde may still look familiar to you. That’s because the young Filipino-American chef was a crowd favorite on two seasons of the cooking show Top Chef, finishing in sixth-place both times. He is currently chef-owner of Talde restaurants in Brooklyn and Miami Beach, and the author of the cookbook, Asian-American. Host Francis Lam wanted to know what three dishes Talde considers essential for home cooks. Francis visited with the chef in his kitchen at Talde Brooklyn for this installment of The Key 3. Beyond offering advice, Dale Talde also shared his recipe for King Crab Fried Rice.
Francis Lam: If there are three things you can tell everyone in the world they need to know how to make, what are they?
Dale Talde: My three things are how to cook a perfect steak, how to make fried chicken, and how to make fried rice. Those are my three essentials.
FL: Let's start with the steak. Why steak?
DL: I'm a newlywed. Besides being a chef – of course, my job is understanding how to cook – I feel like at the bare minimum a husband should be able to cook a steak for his wife. It should be special and taste restaurant quality – like they're going to a steakhouse at home.
Chef Dale Talde (Photo: All Good)
FL: What are your guidelines and tips?
DL: Steak is one of the most simple things; you don't do much to it. You have to invest in a great steak. If you're at the supermarket rummaging around the $5.99-7.99 part of a butcher shop, you're lost already. That's wrong. Your wife is worth double digits per pound for a steak. You have to be in the $19-20 range; that's what good beef costs these days. If you're getting into the single digits with beef, it's not great beef.
FL: What cuts do you like?
DT: I'm a firm believer in this – especially for a novice or someone who doesn't cook all the time – find a cut, fall in love with it, and make it yours. If you love ribeye, cook a ribeye every time. If you – or your wife – love a porterhouse, cook a porterhouse every time. If she's a filet mignon person, cook filet mignon every time. Stick to it and master it. I'm a ribeye guy – côte de bœuf – and so is my wife, luckily. But if my wife was a strip steak person, we'd be eating strip steaks at my house. I understand that a happy wife is a happy life.
FL: Number two, fried chicken. I'm a fried chicken guy, so I feel you on that. I want to hear your rationale. What is your philosophy of why we all need to know how to fry chicken?
DT: We all need to have an understanding of how to fry good fried chicken, because it solves so many problems. It helps you in life. If you and your mother-in-law or your father-in-law or some of your own relatives are getting into it, just start to fry some chicken. It will resolve problems. At the least, it will resolve the problem enough through dinner. Enjoy dinner together quietly – not fighting – and then continue the argument after we've all dug into a big mound of fried chicken.
FL: It's also one of these foods that transcends cultures and has so many different variations. Do you have a way that you think fried chicken should be fried?
DT: I have a few restaurants. In these restaurants, we do them a few different ways. We do a rice flour batter for our Korean style, and it's double-fried. We also do a good old Southern fried chicken. There's techniques with a lot of, “my grandmother did it this way, my grandfather did it this way.” I embrace all those. I do believe in a cast iron pan if you don't have a fryer. And I do believe in 310 degrees as the magic number if you are doing a dredge of all-purpose flour and other seasonings. 310 is that magic number. It is like John 3:16; but Fried Chicken 310. 310 for 25 minutes. Seriously, that is some Bible stuff going on with the fried chicken.
King Crab Fried Rice recipe from Dale Talde (Photo: Talde Brooklyn)
FL: Your third dish is fried rice. You’re going to do some of that with us right now?
FL: Let's go to the wok. I want to say that fried rice is the food of my people, and it's the food of your people. But it's really the food of all people. Because, literally, no one doesn't love fried rice.
DT: Every culture where rice exists, there's a version of this.
FL: It’s reusing old rice, but it's also using whatever else you have in the fridge. If you have some bits of pork left over from dinner, leftover chicken, some eggs, seasonings, vegetables of any kind.
DT: I feel like the best fried rice includes two things that I mentioned previous. If you have any leftover steak – which is rarely at my house. But even the leftover drippings, fat ends of the steak; and any fried chicken you have left oven. You have two proteins and the eggs; now it’s the deluxe combo edition!
FL: When you start, how do you like to set yourself up? It’s usually such a quick process that you want to have things laid out in front of you, right?
DT: Fried rice is all about preparing yourself in advance. All you're doing is throwing everything in a pan or a wok, stirring it together, seasoning it, and it's out. The advanced part is where you've got to chop the onions, the celery, the garlic, whatever bits of protein you're trying to burn up in the fridge, and aromatics you might have laying around. Have your soy sauce out if you're using it and your chilis. All that stuff has to be laid out. That's the hard part of fried rice – preparing everything so once the wok or the cast iron pan is turned on, you're not doing anything but adding to the wok and continuing to stir fry.
FL: Alright, let's do this.
DT: Growing up, I always had eggs in my fried rice. It's the number one thing. And then when I started professionally cooking in restaurants, almost all the fried rice that we started with had egg in it. If you don't add egg first, rice will stick to the pan immediately. When I was at Buddakan, all the guys there were Cantonese. They said to start with the egg, but “keep it young.” I had no idea what they meant. I was like, “young chicken eggs?” They meant “don't overcook it.” That's a key part of the fried rice. And getting the wok hot. This process starts with oil, and not being shy about it.
FL: Get the pan nice and hot.
DT: Ripping hot! I probably have 4 tablespoons of oil in there.
FL: Stirred around the pan to coat.
DT: Every part of this wok. [oil sizzles]
FL: I love that sound.
DT: And that smell. It’s the carbon of the wok that you're smelling – that “breath of the wok.”
FL: Add the eggs, and it bubbles instantly.
DT: Instantly. Now the process starts. We add shallots, celery, pickled jalapeños. This is going to be our crab fried rice. I give it a flip, and basically we have an omelet. What’s happening right now is, the aromatics are cooking – the shallots and the celery. We let this cook; we're just giving it a stir.
FL: Salt and some white pepper?
DT: White pepper. I can see that this might need a little bit more oil. Then in goes the day-old rice. The whole point of this wok is to not get char. You're not looking for color on anything; it’s just cooking.
FL: I think that's a misconception of the wok. People say, “The wok is great because it's hot and it sears.” It's not about searing; it's about cooking really fast. You're not trying to get any browning.
DT: Not at all. Now we add blue crab.
FL: The crab is already cooked in this case, and you're just adding to the rice. It's going to bring it together and warm it up.
DT: Yeah, it's steamed, cooked, picked blue crab.
Chef Dale Talde and The Splendid Table host Francis Lam with Talde's crab fried rice.
(Photo: Sally Swift)
FL: It smells so good. You're starting to smell that shallot, you're starting to smell a little bit of celery.
DT: If we had timed that, it might have been three minutes. I think one of the important parts of what we did in this wok – and if you don't have a wok at home, a large cast iron – is keeping it on the heat. For the wok, the motion was keeping the bottom of this wok on the lip of the ring of the burner, then moving it back and forth. What we're doing with the wok spoon is pushing the product up, and then bringing it back.
FL: It starts to flip on its own. You're tossing it through the air and letting all the sides of the rice hit the wok a little bit.
FL: I think most people – if they don't have a real wok with all the BTUs at home – get a cast iron pan super-hot. Don't move the pan in that case, just stir things around in the pan.
DT: Correct. You need a utensil that has the surface area to move everything around. I would use a pancake spatula. When it's a cast iron, just add the oil, eggs, and everyone in the pool. It's going to be so hot, especially if you minced. My celery and onions were minced very fine. You can't have big large pieces, because they take too long to cook. It's a very quick cook.
We finish this crab fried rice with jalapeño aioli, fish sauce, mayonnaise, a little rice wine vinegar, and puréed jalapeños. It’s almost this pale green. Then finish it off with black and red tobiko, and a little cilantro. That’s the dish.
When I came to New York, there were tons of great Spanish restaurants here. Every time I had arroz negro, paella, or the fideos, they always finished it off with a garlic aioli. And I thought, “That's such a good move.” You can eat around it, especially in this dish. We don't mix it in. You can have regular fried rice, but then you get a pop of this creaminess with the spice, a little umami from the fish sauce, and – boom! – it elevates the entire thing.
FL: I've had this dish in the restaurant, and I love it. For me at home, it's a big bowl of ginger egg fried rice with some scallions on top. And I’m good.
Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.