"My inspiration was literally coming from what they had made for me, and I tried to duplicate those flavors of the texture, the crunch; the savory from the fried shallot, the dressing that is spicy, salty, sweet," said Thai Dang, the Chef at Embeya.
Green papaya is thinly-sliced on a mandolin, and tossed with homemade beef jerky, plus fresh Thai basil and coolantro, a typical Vietnamese herb. A vibrant dressing of regular and brown rice vinegar, brown sugar and chili paste is added, and once it's tossed, it's topped with crispy shallots, offering a harmony of flavor and texture. Another dish with Asian influences - in this case Chinese - is Dang's incomparable roast chicken.
"It's a take on Chinese hanging ducks, Peking style, and so here, we don't go dramatically by pumping air between the meat and the skin to take it apart so it can render the fat but the chicken, we de-bone it," he said.
That's not all. After it's de-boned, it's brined in soy, sugar, cilantro, shallot, ginger and garlic overnight. The next day it's patted dry, skewered up, to make the cooking process easy and even, then dunked into boiling water a few times. The chicken is hung to dry, then brushed every 15 minutes or so with a mixture of vinegar, maltose and corn starch.
"And that gives it this shine and also gives it flavor and the starch that is in the lacquer dries out, so when I pick it for frying it gets crispy," said Dang.
After the chickens are dried, they're roasted, and honestly, you could eat them at this point. But since that skin is dried out, Dang then fries them for just a minute or two, to crisp them up. Slicing them is a breeze - the skin crispy, the meat moist - and for a final flourish, a vibrant sauce of ginger and garlic-embedded oil with fresh scallions and sugar.
Now I love papaya no matter how it's prepared, however I never get excited about chicken dishes, yet this version - which has this elaborate procedure involving de-boning and brining and roasting and frying - makes Embeya's version worth seeking out.
564 W. Randolph St.