The minute I cracked open Frankie Gaw’s First Generation (Ten Speed Press, 2022), a birthday gift from my son, the stunning photographs made me want to get into the kitchen.
I jumped in following Gaw’s clear instructions for a Big Bing — a puffy coil of yeasted scallion bread. Robert and I ate half of it before getting to the table where it was supposed to go alongside Gaw’s maple ancho pork shoulder and eggplant. Soon after that, his grandma’s steamed eggs, easy and ethereal, became a breakfast staple at our house. Then there are his pearl meatballs — seasoned ground pork rolled in sweet rice and steamed. They offer the bonus of making you look super skilled, though they take little effort.
There is more to this book than Gaw’s enticing photos and recipes. Gaw’s voice is distinctive, and his story is inspiring. He is a first-generation Midwestern Taiwanese American gay man whose food sensibility bridges a love for his grandmother’s pork bao with iconic Olive Garden breadsticks. His repertoire includes mashup recipes like the one for a lion’s head Big Mac, where he places a tender Chinese pork meatball on a bun tricked out like the McDonald’s classic — sort of. The “special sauce” here is spiked with chilis.
On the phone from Seattle, where he now lives with his partner, Gaw said he initially imagined a design-centric book with recipes (he has a past as a product designer). But friends encouraged him to go deeper. It was good advice; his honest reflections drew me in.
As a teen in suburban Ohio, Gaw was self-conscious about his family’s traditional foods. When his dad gave him a stack of homemade scallion pancakes to take on his Boy Scout camping trip, he surreptitiously threw them in the trash. Yet as a first-generation Asian American, he felt pressure to make his parents’ sacrifices “worth it” — to make them proud.
His father died when Gaw was in his 20s, and afterward he began to examine his own path and identity. Where did he belong? He found comfort in memories of rolling and folding dumplings with his father and grandmother. One poignant essay is a coming-out letter addressed to his late father expressing pride in those scallion pancakes they made together and in being a queer Asian American.
Last winter, Gaw got an email that he said, at first, he dismissed as a scam. It was an invitation to the White House to celebrate the Lunar New Year with other leaders from the Asian American community. “It was surreal,” he said, to be part of this first public celebration of Lunar New Year, with the largest gathering of Asian Americans ever at the White House: something his father would have loved.
In his blog, “Little Fat Boy,” Gaw writes that he’s not a chef. But his artistry comes through in the book, especially in his colorful folded dumplings. With helpful how-to photos, Gaw gave me new confidence in making my own: “As long as they are sealed, even if they aren’t perfect, they will still taste delicious.” He was right; my misshapen dumplings were deeply satisfying. A winter project is to improve my dumpling folds.
If there is one recipe Gaw is most proud of, he said, it’s a roast chicken. “When I was growing up, my family never used the oven,” he told me. “The oven mostly served as a glorified ‘pot holder,’ its real function a complete mystery to me and my grandma. It wasn’t until we watched Ina Garten pull a golden-brown roast chicken out of her ‘pot holder’ that we understood an oven’s true purpose.”
He was inspired to mix his family’s Asian flavors with Ina’s technique. He nails it. The chicken is brined overnight. It has a silky texture and depth of flavor from a scallion and ginger brine and a crispy skin that would make Ina proud.
CHILI CRISP AND HONEY ROASTED WHOLE CHICKEN
For the chicken:
2 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
One 4- to 5-lb. chicken
14 scallions, with ends trimmed
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
4 tsp. rice vinegar or lemon juice
2 cups water
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
For the sauce:
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. chili crisp
1½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Garnishes: Chopped scallions and chopped cilantro
- Brine the chicken. Very generously sprinkle kosher salt (about 1 tsp. per pound) on the whole chicken from front to back and inside the cavity. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. While the chicken rests, place 10 of the scallions, the 2 tablespoons salt, ground ginger, sugar, rice vinegar, and water in a blender and whirl until smooth. Place the chicken in a gallon-size zip-top bag and pour the brine over it. Seal and refrigerate for 24 hours, flipping the chicken at about the halfway mark so it brines evenly.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and gently wipe off the excess brine. Tuck the garlic, fresh ginger, and remaining 4 scallions into the cavity.
- Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet, breast side up. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and brush an even layer all over the chicken. Roast at 425° F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400° and roast for another 35 to 40 minutes, until the internal temperature is 165° and the juices run clear.
- While the chicken roasts, in a small pot over medium heat, melt the other 4 tablespoons butter. Add the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, chili crisp, and rosemary and stir until incorporated and smooth. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and set aside.
- When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven, cover it with foil, and let it rest 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover, carve, and arrange on a platter. Pour the sauce over the chicken and top with the chopped scallions and cilantro to serve.