Ming and me

Lessons – and unique East-meets-West recipes – from behind the scenes of the TV show Simply Ming.

By Denise Drower Swidey
June 27, 2010

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Cooking behind the scenes for a TV show works different muscles from cooking in a restaurant or at home. The main focus is making sure the food looks great, but because Ming Tsai, host of the public television show Simply Ming, does eat with his guests on camera, it’s got to taste great, too.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned cooking for Ming on his show over the last seven seasons that also affect the way I cook, and think about cooking, at home: Running a household is excellent preparation for running a kitchen – someone needs you every second. If you’ve ever been tempted to use Windex to shine up plates, try a weak vinegar-water solution instead, which works as well and doesn’t taste like ammonia. Won ton wrappers are extraordinarily versatile (see the ravioli recipe below). The dishwasher is the most valuable person in the kitchen – never let him or her forget it. And because Ming is always mixing up familiar techniques and exotic ingredients, I now feel at home throwing cranberries in my fried rice or making spaghetti carbonara with soba noodles. That freedom to bend and blend the traditions of East and West is the best lesson of all.

Soy-Dijon Chicken Wings

SERVES 4 to 6

Ming and I part company in one way here: He mixes a cup of crumbled blue cheese in with the hot wings, while I like to dip mine in cold blue cheese dressing. The recipe makes more sauce than you need (5 cups), but it’s a great marinade for broiled or grilled chicken, pork, steak, salmon, or swordfish. My favorite way to eat it is on lamb. I once was caught devouring a plate of lamb chops near the set at 8:30 a.m. My excuse: I was newly pregnant and just couldn’t wait until after the shoot to eat them.

¼ cup cracked black


1 cup red wine

1½ cups Dijon mustard

½ cup naturally brewed soy sauce

8 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped, or 2 tablespoons dried thyme

16 cloves garlic, minced (½ cup)

2½ cups canola oil

Salt (if needed)

Canola oil, for frying

2 pounds chicken wings,

each separated into drumette and smaller section (discard the tips), rinsed and dried

Celery sticks

Blue cheese dressing

For the sauce, in a small saute pan, heat the peppercorns over medium-high heat, stirring, until fragrant and just beginning to smoke, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and add wine, mustard, soy sauce, thyme, and garlic. Gradually whisk in the 2½ cups of oil. Taste the sauce and season with salt, if needed.

For the wings, fill a large stockpot with about 2 inches of oil and heat over medium-high heat to 375 degrees, checking temperature with a candy thermometer. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, fry the wings in the oil until brown and crispy, 15 to 20 minutes, turning once about halfway through the cooking time. Remove the wings and transfer them to a large heatproof bowl, uncovered, in a 200-degree oven. When all the wings are cooked, add 1 cup of the sauce to the wings and toss. Serve immediately with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Yam Ravioli


One thing we teach our interns every season is that true yams are from the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and are not commonly found here. Most recipes calling for yams are really calling for a sweet potato variety called “yam.” This recipe yields about 24 ravioli.

2 large yams or sweet potatoes, baked in foil

until soft and still hot

2tablespoons butter

1tablespoon maple syrup

½ teaspoon five-spice


Salt and pepper

48won ton wrappers

1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons water for egg wash

Slice the hot yams or sweet potatoes in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Fold in butter, syrup, and five-spice powder, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the ravioli, lay out a won ton wrapper, and place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in the center, taking care to avoid the edges. Brush the edges with egg wash and top with a second wrapper, pressing firmly to seal. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the ravioli until hot, about 3 to 4 minutes. Gently drain and serve.

Sesame Tuile Cookies

MAKES about 4 dozen 2-by-3-inch COOKIES

It’s amazing how the addition of a single ingredient can change up a classic so completely, like the sesame seeds in this traditional French cookie. Not only do these taste great – they have gotten raves at birthday parties and at brunches – they’re flour- and egg-free, and safe for kids and adults with those allergies.

2½ cups raw white sesame seeds

¼ cup milk

9 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/8teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons corn syrup

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 3 12-by-17-inch sheet pans with parchment paper or another nonstick liner. Place sesame seeds in a medium bowl.

In a medium saucepan, bring milk, butter, sugar, salt, and corn syrup to a simmer. Pour the mixture over the sesame seeds and stir to combine. Allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread 1 cup of the mixture as thinly as possible, almost to the edges of one of the lined pans but not so far that you create holes in the batter. Repeat with the remaining 2 cups of batter and the other 2 pans. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes (depending how many sheets are in the oven at once), rotating pans halfway through the cooking time. Cool on pan, then break into cookies. (Extra batter will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Cookies will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.)

Denise Drower Swidey is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments or suggestions to

HOT WINGS Soy sauce and Dijon mustard give fried chicken plenty of flavor. (Photograph by Jim Scherer; Styling by Catrine Kelty) HOT WINGS Soy sauce and Dijon mustard give fried chicken plenty of flavor.


Instantly Asian

I keep Ming’s easy-to-make curry oil on hand to add flair and flavor to all different kinds of sauteed meat and vegetable dishes. In a small bowl, combine cup Madras curry powder and a pinch of salt with cup of water to make a paste (add another teaspoon of water, if necessary). Slowly whisk in 2 cups of canola oil. Transfer to a clear jar with a tight-fitting lid and allow the oil to stand on the counter for 1 hour to settle. When cooking, use the clear oil only. The oil will keep, closed tightly and stored in the refrigerator, for up to a month.