by Rob Seideman | Staff Writer | AspenDailyNews.com
Food trucks are all the rage right now, but mobile eateries aren’t the new phenomenon the Food Network would have you believe.
Take the chuckwagon, for example, which, according to the American Chuckwagon Association (yes, there really is such a thing), arrived on the scene in the 1860s.
With limited rail capabilities, getting cattle to market meant months-long, cross-country cattle drives, and the chuckwagon was a critical part of the operation. Chuck was the slang term for food, and the chuckwagon served as a form of mobile basecamp for the cowhands.
Back when construction was booming, I remember Aspen’s own version of the food truck, run by one of the local caterers. It traveled to all the construction sites, providing convenience and a lyrical honk of the horn to announce its arrival. And I think it’s a fair guess to say that it’s only a matter of time before someone (hopefully me!) applies in Aspen to operate an updated, more trendy version.
Would it be a good thing for the town? What are the drawbacks? How would Council respond? Where would it park?
More importantly, what would it serve? How great would it be if we had a Chef Shack like the one in Minneapolis that serves Watermelon Gazpacho, Tempura-fried Soft-shell Crab Sandwiches, and $5 Indian-spiced Donuts?
Or the Buttermilk Truck, like the one in L.A., that serves breakfast innovations like $4 Pancake Bites and a breakfast sandwich with garlic-rosemary hash browns that sounds worth being hungover for?
That’s the difference between these most modern manifestations of the mobile eatery and everything that preceded them: the high level of preparation. That, and the money. These days, in fact, some food trucks are more popular than the hottest restaurants.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the hottest food truck right now, a Korean-style taco truck started by a rebellious chef of questionable talent by the name of Roy Choi, “grossed about $2 million from check averages of roughly $13 a person” in its first year of operation.
Choi parked his first Kogi Korean BBQ amongst Sunset Boulevard’s nightclub scene, sold Mexican tacos stuffed with Korean-style meat, and used Twitter to keep eager customers abreast of its location. Less than three months later, he had to start adding trucks, and today he’s got four of them and 52,000 Twitter followers.
He’s credited with starting this year’s hottest food trend — embraced by competing food trucks, restaurants and even frozen food manufacturers — and makes his $2 tacos with beef short rib meat marinated in soy sauce, sugar, mashed pears and kiwi, grilled and wrapped in corn tortillas topped with onions, cilantro, cabbage and sauce.
The thing is, though, another chef, Alan Wong, was serving these at least as far back as 1999, when he published the cookbook “New Wave Luau.” While I’ve never heard Wong credited for anything, my favorite recipe in that cookbook was the Kalby-style Short Rib Tacos.
Kalbi Short Rib Tacos with Papaya-Red Onion Salsa
Adapted from Alan Wong’s New Wave Luau
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups sugar
Juice of 4 lemons
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 head garlic, halved
2 red Hawaiian chiles, or 1 red Serrano chile with seeds, smashed
1/2 cup sesame oil
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons ginger rice vinegar
1/2 tablespoon garlic Tabasco
3 stalks lemongrass, chopped
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 cup chopped scallions, white parts only
8 ounces beef short ribs, 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil for deep frying
8 round wonton wrappers
8 leaves butter lettuce
Papaya-Red Onion Salsa
2 serrano chiles with seeds, thinly sliced, for garnish
16 cilantro sprigs, for garnish
In a large bowl, combine the first 13 ingredients (soy sauce to scallions). Remove and refrigerate 3/4 cup of the marinade. Place ribs in a bowl of marinade in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
Prepare the grill.
Remove the ribs from the marinade and bring to room temperature. Discard marinade.
In a saucepan over medium high heat, heat the reserved marinade. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the marinade with the cornstarch. Return the cornstarch mixture to the pan, stirring vigorously, and bring the sauce to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Grill the ribs. Cut the meat from the ribs, dice, and add to the sauce.
In a large saucepan over high heat, heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Using a pair of tongs and the bottom of the pan, fry the wonton into a crisp, golden brown U shape. Remove and drain on paper towels.
To assemble, place a butter lettuce leaf on the bottom of each wrapper, sticking outwards. Add the rib meat, sauce, and salsa. Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds, chiles, and cilantro.