Wendell’s Myron Becker has 10 ‘magical culinary words’ that make cooking fun, delicious

  • Chef Myron Becker cooks Szchuan fried wolffish in an oil-filled wok in his Wendell home. In the foreground are Chinese turnip cakes cooking. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Chef Myron Becker cooks Szchuan fried wolffish in an oil-filled wok in his Wendell home. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Chef Myron Becker’s finished Szchuan fried wolffish. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Chef Myron Becker’s Szchuan fried wolffish. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Some of Chef Myron Becker’s ingredients for Szchuan fried wolffish. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Chef Myron Becker’s finished Chinese turnip cakes or “€œLo Bak Go.” Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • WEDEGARTNER

For the Recorder
Published: 8/14/2018 10:47:35 AM

Besides being a successful food entrepreneur, Myron Becker is also a hunter and fisherman, the perfect combination for living in the woods of Wendell. He and his wife, Kathy, also a hunter and fisherwoman, have lived there for more than 40 years. They came as part of the “Back to the Land” movement, looking for a communal lifestyle, and stayed, becoming active participants in the town’s life and government.

Becker, a Vietnam veteran of the United States Navy, spent much of his service years working in Japan and other Asian countries on secret missions under the auspices of the National Security Agency. He is an authority on Japanese cooking techniques and has academic degrees in psychology and food service management. For a time, Becker was the Asian food cook at Greenfield’s Home Comfort Restaurant, a 1970s eatery, formerly on Bank Row.

Roxann: How long have you been cooking?

Myron: When I got out of the Navy, I went to Massasoit Community College near my home in Sharon. I was working on the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign and met an older couple who took a liking to me. They’d moved to New England from California and brought with them their love of the cuisines of California. They would invite me to dinner. Knowing her was what “lit the fuse.” Her name was Sara. Seeing food and cooking from Sara’s eyes was a paradigm shift for me. I learned you could make all sorts of wonderful dishes with all sorts of wonderful ingredients.

RW: Who or what is your cooking muse?

MB: Well, besides Sara, I’d say my travels and my years spent in Japan give me inspiration. I’m primarily influenced by things I eat where I eat them. Right now, I’m cooking and discovering Vietnamese because we just came back from a trip to Vietnam. But, as for the Japanese food and the origins of my business, it was those years in Japan eating at yakitori houses. Yakitori is skewered meat that’s grilled and then coated with a special sauce of sweetened, thick soy sauce. I’d hide in the kitchens of the yakitori houses trying to learn how to make the sauce.

RW: What else is in your cooking repertoire?

MB: I cook all sorts of things. I love to cook Italian. I make a killer bolognese with meatballs. Right now I have some delicious venison meatballs in the freezer from a deer that Kathy shot last year. I’ll make a bolognese with those. I also like to cook with the game and fish that we get from hunting and fishing.

RW: What are the special ingredients in your pantry?

MB: My pantry is loaded with everything. More than what’s in my pantry, it’s how I approach cooking that makes it fun and delicious. I have Chef Myron’s 10 magic culinary words that I cook by.

Quality: Your ingredients are important. Fresh meats, seafood and vegetables properly stored are key.

Imagination: More important than the recipe are the ingredients on hand. Look at what you have. Imagine how you want them to taste in the end.

Bravado: Dare to try it. Don’t worry about mistakes. Cooking isn’t rocket science.

Organization: You can cook for a crowd if you’re organized in your kitchen. Have a game plan. Have the ingredients prepared.

Technique: More important than ingredients or measuring is the how-to of cooking. Know how hot, how slow, how to shake the pan while sautéing, how to sear meat. Set up your cooking environment and the tools in advance.

Contrast: Think about the synergy of the flavors in the foods you love and their feel in the mouth when you eat them: sweet, sour, gooey, piquant, chewy, etc. Try to get a good balance in your dish.

Chemistry: Understanding how ingredients and flavors react to temperature is important.

Senses: It’s not just about taste. Visuals, texture, smell are important to cooking.

Soul: Cook with spontaneity, feeling and passion. Have fun!

RW: What recipe do you have for us today?

MB: I’m doing a Szechuan fried fish with a sauce. It’s a sweet and sour fish dish adapted from a Thai recipe. The primary flavors come from a careful vinegar and sugar balance with lots of fresh ginger root, strong firm mushrooms, lots of chopped green onion and Szechuan peppercorn/chili oil. The fish should be fresh and white fleshed, such as haddock, cod, catfish or fresh water bass. I’m using a wolffish that was caught near our house in Newfoundland. Wolffish are big, ugly and eat lobsters among other crustaceans. They’re often caught as a bycatch of lobster fisherman, as this one was.

Chef Myron’s Szechuan Fried Fish

Sauce ingredients:

¼ cup brown sugar, honey or maple syrup

¼ cup rice vinegar, cider vinegar or white vinegar

2 T (at least) minced fresh ginger root

1 T minced garlic

Fresh chilis, finely minced and to taste. Use jalapeño, habanero or Thai

1 to 2 T chopped sweet red pepper

½ cup green onion

1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms (Fresh or dried and soaked shiitake, chanterelle, or, if none is available, white or portabella)

1 T soy sauce

¾ cup stock or just water

1 T cornstarch

3 T water

Bring to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then thicken with 1 tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in 3 tablespoons of warm water. Add gradually and stir until it reaches the viscosity of light gravy.

Beer batter ingredients:

1 cup white flour

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. garlic powder

2 T Sesame oil (or other)

Beer

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add beer in a stream while whisking to get a consistency of a pancake batter.

Fish ingredients:

4 to 6 oz. per portion cut into 1-inch or bite sized cubes

1 to 2 T chopped green onion for garnish

Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Fry the fish two or three pieces at a time in a skillet or wok with at least 1-inch of oil at 375 degrees. If you have a thermometer, use it. (The internal temperature of cooked fish is 140 degrees.) Do not crowd the fish into the oil.

Drain the fish on a paper towel-covered plate as it’s finished to a golden brown and put it in a serving bowl.

Dribble with the sauce, being careful with the proportions. The fish should not be drowning in sauce.

Make Szechuan pepper/salt to sprinkle on top of the fish by roasting Szechuan peppercorns (available in any Asian market) in a dry skillet. Add an equal amount of kosher salt. Grind in a mortar and pestle or spice/coffee grinder.

Sprinkle the fish with Szechuan pepper/salt and chili oil, then garnish with some chopped scallion, cilantro or both.

Serve with perfectly cooked rice and the rest of that beer.

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers or all-around foodies. Roxann can be reached by email at roxanndw6@yahoo.com.


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