The Peached Tortilla’s Cookbook Can Make You a Dinner Party Star
Explore Asian comfort food from Tokyo to Texas
As a longtime habitué of the Peached Tortilla, I was excited to get a glimpse of Eric Silverstein's new cookbook, The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food From Tokyo to Texas. More than anything else, the book reads like a behind-the-scenes guide for fans of the restaurant, and if you've ever wondered what makes their Southern Fun noodles so damn compelling (I wasn't prepared to smoke a full 4 pounds of brisket and then only use half a pound of it) or why their fried rice always has a perfect silky sheen (oyster sauce, baby, and a knob of butter), the project of excavating this culinary cabinet of curiosities is an exciting one.
The book, which is divided somewhat randomly – at first by autobiographical markers delineating different periods in Eric Silverstein's life (his young childhood in Tokyo, his mother's homestyle Chinese recipes, his father's work for KFC, and his traumatic early adolescent move to Atlanta), and then by a series of chapters devoted to various types of food – suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, never quite committing to one organizational or narrative style. Is Silverstein presenting us with a culinarily inflected personal journey, à la Roy Choi, whose 2013 cookbook-cum-memoir L.A. Son is a clear point of reference? An inspiring tale of struggle and entrepreneurial chutzpah, as evidenced by his multiple references to the six-figure lawyering job he walked away from to open the Peached Tortilla? A classical restaurant cookbook, stylishly presenting us with gorgeously unattainable, multi-step creations designed to get the overwhelmed reader back through Peached's door? Some kind of branded content, as evidenced by his weirdly assiduous use of trademark and copyright symbols throughout the text? Compounding the tonal confusion is Silverstein's language, which is pretty uneven, with incredibly personal revelations casually tossed off before he moves on to the next point of discussion. If you're someone who, like me, enjoys reading cookbooks from cover to cover, the essayistic portions of this book will likely leave you with more questions than answers.
But here's the thing: The recipes are outrageously good. I'm talking post-it-on-your-Instagram-stories good. I'm talking not-even-mad-that-the-noodles-took-two-hours good. I'll admit a few biases in this regard: I already have a hugely well-stocked pantry of Asian ingredients (gallon tin of Kadoya sesame oil, anyone?) and a bizarre fondness for wandering the aisles of MT Supermarket, without which sourcing many of the ingredients in this book would have been impossible. Still, it cost me $60 and two separate trips to two separate supermarkets to prepare to cook four recipes. The pad thai tacos, dan dan noodles, char kway teow, and #60 fried rice were all – and I cannot stress this enough – both fabulous and an enormous pain in the ass. Despite the hassle of creating them, the experience of eating them was more than worth it.
The main problem with The Peached Tortilla cookbook is that it's not really designed for home cooks. It's fascinating to get a glimpse inside Silverstein's restaurateur mind, gaining an understanding of how ingredients flow throughout his professional kitchen, but that's cold comfort to a home cook paging through so many recipes that make far too much of one perishable component. The entire salads section is a minefield of recipes that make enormous quantities of dressing that goes bad after two days, with no notes about best practices for preserving or freezing. I ran into this problem with the sauce for the pad thai tacos, which I cut in half but which still left a huge, gelatinous mountain of peanuts and shrimp paste hanging around the back of my fridge.
Throughout the book, Silverstein makes use of restaurant sourcing designed to use up excess ingredients, which works really well in that context (his commitment to reducing food waste seems commendable) but is wobblier for home cooks. A perfect example of this is Silverstein's recipe for laksa, which calls for five cups of shrimp shells, something the Peached Tortilla kitchen must have an excess of. Silverstein suggests you source these by asking your local seafood shop or supermarket fish counter if they have shrimp shells or shrimp heads on hand. I tried this – they do not. (And they will look at you like you're crazy for asking.) The book almost seems designed to expose the reader's worst culinary sins. Are you sloppy in your measurements? Tough luck, everything's in ounces. Are you a precision-minded rule follower? Many of the recipes I tried left out one or more steps, leaving me to guess at, say, how I should chop the fish cakes and sweet sausage in the char kway teow.
The upside to all this inconvenience is that when you actually do manage to complete the many-step process of preparing one of Silverstein's recipes, you feel like an absolute legend. All the fiddly little touches he insists on (creating both rice puffs and pickled onions to top that fried rice, say, or the multitude of thinly sliced meats in the char kway teow) combine to create technique-focused, precise recipes that will make you a dinner party star. Unless you are, like me, a certifiably crazy person, these are not recipes designed for a casual weeknight – Silverstein's culinary focus is firmly set to stun. Cooking from The Peached Tortilla reminded me of dating the guy all your friends tell you is wrong for you: It's time-consuming, exhausting, and surprisingly expensive. But damn, it feels so good.
Eric Silverstein’s The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food From Tokyo to Texas (Sterling Epicure, 256 pp., $27.95) hits stands May 7.
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