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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

[Guest Post] On Food and Cooking at MIT, Semester 1 by CJ Q. '23

fantastic dishes and how to cook them

cj: it turns out that people in my hall like making guest posts so here’s another guest post from my friend, jacky. he cooks. he’s really good at cooking. consider this an a d v a n c e d cooking post. (because apparently, not everyone cooks only eggs and toast like me.) warning: pictures of food.

As the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier once said, “la bonne cuisine est la base du véritable bonheur,” good food is the foundation of genuine happiness. Small wonder that the U.S. has such high prevalence of depression.01 Kessler, Ronald C, and Evelyn J Bromet. “The epidemiology of depression across cultures.” <em>Annual review of public health</em> vol. 34 (2013): 119-38. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114409 02 cj: citing a paper in a blog post is in character for jacky don’t worry I admit that my opinion is biased against American cuisine as a whole, considering that my exposure to American food has mostly been limited to what I can acquire around MIT, but nevertheless I stand by my claim.03 cj: it seems that jacky is claiming that MIT food is bad therefore people in MIT are sad and this is absolutely not true—the food here <em>is</em> bad but not everyone who eats it is sad Try convincing me otherwise, I pray that you do.

A few key facts about me that may or may not provide additional context:

  1. I am Yu-Chi (Jacky) C. ’23; pre-dental student, and I live in EC.04 Hence the connection with my friend CJ. I am his hallmate.
  2. International student from Taiwan.
  3. Background in competitive Biology.
  4. Preferred cuisines: Japanese, Russian, French, Taiwanese.05 preferred cuisines like four different cuisines jeez

When I arrived at MIT in August for international student orientation, I (along with all the other internationals) ate in the only dining hall06 I won’t specify which, and I hope that you will never need to find out. 07 cj: maseeh open for the summer. The food there was, in my opinion, unsatisfactory. At best. I tried to believe that it was a personal problem, but other internationals echoed my sentiment; I tried to believe that it was part of this “cultural shock” that the ISO people08 Short for International Student Office were trying to teach us about, but then I realized that even Americans found the food there unappealing.

I then expanded my scope in search of good food. Kendall Square? Big NO.09 cj: but kendall square has chipotle best chipotle Central, Harvard? Ekh. Porter, Davis? Hmm. Boston? Meh. I seemed to me that American food can be summed up in two words: sugar and fat.10 For the sake of this discussion, the expensive “healthy/vegan/paleo” foods are not considered. Mouth-dehydrating diabetes-inducing levels of sugar (most likely high-fructose corn syrup), and a similarly high level of fat. I have nothing against fat: as long as it is properly prepared, it gives great flavor and texture. Forget the issue of health, some types of lipids aren’t as harmful as you think, anyways. But sugar? Seriously? In everything?11 cj: okay, jacky’s palate is very sophisticated and sugar-apprehensive, and this was not my experience at all In such great amounts?

And thus begins my crusade for culinary delight. Here at MIT we are makers. Mens et manus they say, mind and hand. Alright, if I can’t buy it,12 At reasonable prices and without expending an unreasonable amount of time. I’ll make it. Ever since the start of the semester, I’ve cooked more than 90% of my meals (the other 10% comes from eating out with friends), and I daresay that my food, when properly made, tastes better than anything else I can find around MIT.

And this is why I am here writing this blog post. We all know the quality of MIT dining. With the help of my friend CJ’s fame(?)13 cj: fame? jacky what is this?? as a blogger, I will try to present an alternative. To show what is possible. Everyone, every dish you see in this article has been made with my two hands, in the floorpi kitchen, using raw ingredients that are readily available. And now, a selection of various dishes I have made this semester at MIT, and some stories that come with them [drumroll]:

a cylinder of… i dont know, some food stuff made out of rabbit maybe

Fig. 1. Lièvre à la Royale. The embodiment of too much freshman time on P/NR.14 cj: this entire post screams this tbh Made the week before finals after the last of my midterms, passing guaranteed. Ninety minutes of deboning rabbits, bones simmered overnight, meat stuffed with goose liver pate and cooked for four hours. Rabbit is extremely tender and tastes like chicken, sourced from EC courtyard (jk).

an image split in half. the left half has,, oysters?? and the right half has an omelette

Fig. 2. Left: Oyster with blueberry mignonette; Right: Oyster omelet (Taiwanese street food). Oyster, one of my favorite things about Boston. Risk of bacterial infection but who cares. Very real risk of stabbing yourself while shucking15 cj: removing the meat without losing the juice inside. i learned this word today but who cares.

a picture divided into four parts, all soups. they all look soupy. idk

Fig 3. Clockwise from top left: Seolleongtang (Korean beef bone soup), Pumpkin soup, Oxtail soup, Borscht. Soups: highly convenient, highly versatile; easy to store and reheat, suffers little in terms of flavor. Friendly to hosed16 cj: stressed out, busy, lots of things to do, idk MIT students (although I haven’t started being hosed yet?).

picture divided into halves. they are both sushi served on a plate.

Fig. 4. Left: Seared beef top blade sushi; Right: Salmon nigiri sushi four ways. Crude imitation of real sushi. What am I missing? Fresh fish, a sharp knife, or MSG?17 Monosodium glutamate: the ultimate spice. Makes everything taste better. Made with the help of my “big lighter”.18 Actually, a butane blowtorch, see Fig. 9 right.

a bowl of ramen! visible are noodles eggs and pork belly

Fig. 5: Ramen. Ramen is to Japanese cuisine as McDonalds is to American cuisine: fast food. Can be served in under fifteen minutes. All ingredients (soup, garnishes, chashu,19 Japanese sliced pork belly, as shown in the picture. noodles) made by hand from raw materials. Made with the help of my “big lighter” and unlimited gas20 cj: not actually unlimited in the East Campus kitchens (for boiling the soup for 14+ hours).

some sort of breaded thing with chicken and vegetables inside on top of rice

Fig. 6. Chicken Kiev. One of my more health-conscious hallmates once remarked that I never make healthy food. The next day, the following conversation took place in the kitchen.

“Jacky, what are you cooking today?”
“Chicken breast…”
“Ooh! Finally, some healthy stuff!”
“…stuffed with parsley and butter, rolled in panko and deep fried.”
“Alright.”

But, seriously. Who cares about healthfulness when you can enjoy the tenderest chicken breast you’ve ever had? You don’t even know what’s actually healthy for you anyway. (You think you do? Remember that dietary guidelines change drastically every few years. Chances are, what you think is wrong.)

a plate of sliced beef, on top of potatoes, with a bowl of mushroom sauce in the middle

Fig. 7. Beef Stroganoff à la déconstruction. Steak cooked perfectly21 cj: so jacky made this for our thanksgiving potluck, and i can verify that it was indeed perfect medium rare, lightly smoked with hickory, paired with a savory sauce made from sour cream and mushrooms. My personal take on the classic Russian dish. A note on smoking meat: please open the windows, close the kitchen door, and get a fan to ventilate the whole place unless you want to trigger the fire alarm (long story)22 cj: this post really isnt complete without a discussion of the fire alarm. so, jacky was making broth and left it alone. and then the water ran out, because jacky was working on his 18.06 pset and forgot to replace the water, and it began filling the kitchen with smoke. so the smoke detectors went off and the fire alarm for the <em>entire west parallel</em> of east campus went off and everyone had to evacuate, and that was the first fire alarm in east campus that semester. the fire department came and opened the windows. after thirty minutes or so, we were let back in, but our floor smelled like smoke for two or three days. .

a plate with duck slices and oranges and some sort of vegetable garnish in the middle

Fig. 8. Sous Vide Duck à l’orange. Made with one of my favorite kitchen tools: the sous vide machine (along with the “big lighter” and the sushi knife). Looks pro but to be honest, sous vide is quite a no-brainer: essentially a constant temperature water bath, you only have to set the temperature. Easier than most MIT classes. You don’t even have to physically be there (during the cooking process, also works for MIT classes) — even if you forget your meat in the pot for hours23 cj: there are LOTS of safety issues with this don’t do this unless you know what you’re doing please please please while you get distracted by psets, you’ll still end up with a decently tender cut.24 Declaration of conflicting interests: The author is not affiliated with any seller of sous vide machines.

picture divided into two parts. left is ribeye slices, carrots, and sauce on a plate; right is a steak being blowtorched

Fig. 9. Left: “The Perfect” Ribeye; Right: Demonstration of the “big lighter”. For my CI-H class final essay,25 21W.747 Rhetoric: excellent class, super fun, I recommend it with all my heart. 26 cj: a ci-h is a communication intensive class; mit students need to take two ci-hs to graduate. I wrote an evolutionary biological analysis on why my method of preparing steak is the “best”.27 Defined by being able to elicit the strongest preference under sensory bias (a.k.a. the steak I prefer the most). In brief: sear first, sous vide, and then sear again. My essay (hopefully) describes the resulting product well:

The color on the inside should be red-pink, reminiscent of blooming roses, and the surface should glisten with moisture of the meaty juices. Aromatics diffuse from the steak, strong enough to make you drool, carrying the sunshine on fresh pastures and golden grains, an ambrosial delight. Each bite brings the crunch of browned crust paired with the luscious tenderness of the interior, the soft flesh parting, washing the taste buds with wave after wave of sweet, rich, savory notes. Bite after bite after bite, the meat releases its flavor and its juices. This is the flavor from the bonfire of the first men, the flavor of vitality for the ancient hunter, the flavor that nourished our ancestors.

Sometimes I really wonder, do I write better than I cook, or do I cook better than I write?28 cj: jacky cooks better than he writes

me, with a roblox shirt, in background. in foreground is a plate, with a dish on it, made of several layers of vegetables and fish.

Fig. 10. Herring Under a Fur Coat with CJ. It would be a shame if I keep all this food to myself. I like to cook for my friends29 In the beginning of the semester, I even opened a meal plan briefly, before I got outcompeted by the Pika meal plan. 30 cj: pika is one of mit’s independent living groups and they have a meal plan where you get food in exchange for cooking or cleaning iirc every once in a while, either taking specific orders or serving whatever I like. This Russian salad was what I decided to make when CJ asked me for a meal after finals. I think he enjoyed it?31 cj: it was good, i enjoyed it :D


Many people have asked me how long I’ve been cooking for. The answer is usually shorter than what they expect: I started practicing after I got admitted by MIT early, so this amounts to less than a year. I guess prior experience in competitive biology does help a bit, as in the case of removing small bones from a whole rabbit without breaking the meat. I used to specialize in the practical branch of competitions, so I guess I had a little head start, but I believe that with a little work, anyone can learn to cook well.

Those ten pictures are just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, I cannot post all the delicious dishes that I have made this semester, as that would take up too much space (and too much of your precious time). Moreover, my cooking is but a small step into the realm of culinary delight, and I expect to keep improving (if my coursework allows, of course).

All this being said, I hope I haven’t made you too hungry with all this talk about food. Still, bon appétit, and see you all next semester!32 If CJ allows me to make a second food post, of course.

Appendix 1. Some recipes

Lièvre à la Royale (See Fig. 1)

Day 1

  1. Preparation:
    1. Debone rabbit.
    2. Season meat with salt and pepper, reserve.
    3. Chop bones into ~1cm bits.
  2. Bone stock:
    1. Sear bones in duck fat with shallot.
    2. Cook the duck innards and bones in red wine, veal stock, and mirepoix.
    3. Bring to a boil and simmer overnight.
  3. Stuffing:
    1. Cut bacon fat into small squares, mix with minced pork tenderloin.
    2. Add finely minced mushroom and egg, season with salt and pepper.
  4. Making the roll:
    1. Spread rabbit meat on a piece of plastic wrap.
    2. Spread stuffing on top of the meat, then place pieces of pate on the stuffing.
    3. Tightly roll in plastic wrap, refrigerate overnight.

Day 2

  1. Cooking the roll:
    1. Sous vide the roll in rabbit bone stock at 139 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours.
    2. Chill roll, then slice into desired thickness.
    3. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
  2. Making the sauce:
    1. Bring some the stock to a gentle simmer.
    2. Add red wine vinegar, simmer until most of the acid has boiled off.
    3. Add flour to thicken slightly.
    4. Combine with dark chocolate, stir. Do not boil.
  3. Serving:
    1. Place roll on top of mashed potatoes.
    2. Add sauce.
    3. Garnish with whatever you like (not shown).

Oyster Omelet (See Fig. 2)

  1. Mix 2tbsp (35g) potato starch, 1 tbsp (10g) cornstarch, ½ tbsp (5g) flour, and 130 ml water to form batter. Rest for 20~30 minutes.
  2. Shuck 10~12 oysters, rest on ice.
  3. Cut leafy vegetables into bite sized pieces.
  4. Beat 1 egg (or 2, if you plan on adding lots of vegetables).
  5. Heat up a nonstick skillet with a little oil, add batter.
  6. Fry for 5 seconds, then add oysters.
  7. Continue to fry until crisp.
  8. Add eggs.
  9. Add vegetables before eggs solidify.
  10. Steam until vegetables are cooked.
  11. (Optional) fold in half.
  12. Serve with ketchup, fish sauce, or your preferred toppings.

“The Perfect” Steak (See Fig. 9)

  1. The Steak
    1. Melt butter, gently heat with aromatic herbs (e.g. thyme)
    2. Place steak on heatproof surface, blowtorch while basting with butter until surface is browned. Alternatively, lightly sear on a screaming hot cast iron pan.
    3. Place steak in bag with salt, pepper, butter, and marinade (I prefer Worcestershire sauce), remove air from bag by immersing it in water, then seal.
    4. Sous vide at 130 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.
    5. Remove steak from bag, reserve marinade.
    6. Wipe dry and briefly sear until crisp.
  2. The Sauce
    1. Melt butter, stir in flour to make a brown roux.
    2. Add veal stock, simmer (do not boil, as the sauce may break).
    3. [optional] add diced mushrooms to make a mushroom sauce.
    4. Add marinade from the sous vide process.
    5. Reduce to desired consistency.
  3. Serving
    1. This steak does not require resting.
    2. Cut across the grain into thick slices to reduce fluid loss.
    3. Serve with grilled vegetables, mashed potatoes, honey glazed carrots (as shown in Fig. 9), or any side dish of your choice.
  1. Kessler, Ronald C, and Evelyn J Bromet. “The epidemiology of depression across cultures.” Annual review of public health vol. 34 (2013): 119-38. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114409 back to text
  2. cj: citing a paper in a blog post is in character for jacky don’t worry back to text
  3. cj: it seems that jacky is claiming that MIT food is bad therefore people in MIT are sad and this is absolutely not true—the food here is bad but not everyone who eats it is sad back to text
  4. Hence the connection with my friend CJ. I am his hallmate. back to text
  5. preferred cuisines like four different cuisines jeez back to text
  6. I won’t specify which, and I hope that you will never need to find out. back to text
  7. cj: maseeh back to text
  8. Short for International Student Office back to text
  9. cj: but kendall square has chipotle best chipotle back to text
  10. For the sake of this discussion, the expensive “healthy/vegan/paleo” foods are not considered. back to text
  11. cj: okay, jacky’s palate is very sophisticated and sugar-apprehensive, and this was not my experience at all back to text
  12. At reasonable prices and without expending an unreasonable amount of time. back to text
  13. cj: fame? jacky what is this?? back to text
  14. cj: this entire post screams this tbh back to text
  15. cj: removing the meat without losing the juice inside. i learned this word today back to text
  16. cj: stressed out, busy, lots of things to do, idk back to text
  17. Monosodium glutamate: the ultimate spice. Makes everything taste better. back to text
  18. Actually, a butane blowtorch, see Fig. 9 right. back to text
  19. Japanese sliced pork belly, as shown in the picture. back to text
  20. cj: not actually unlimited back to text
  21. cj: so jacky made this for our thanksgiving potluck, and i can verify that it was indeed perfect back to text
  22. cj: this post really isnt complete without a discussion of the fire alarm. so, jacky was making broth and left it alone. and then the water ran out, because jacky was working on his 18.06 pset and forgot to replace the water, and it began filling the kitchen with smoke. so the smoke detectors went off and the fire alarm for the entire west parallel of east campus went off and everyone had to evacuate, and that was the first fire alarm in east campus that semester. the fire department came and opened the windows. after thirty minutes or so, we were let back in, but our floor smelled like smoke for two or three days. back to text
  23. cj: there are LOTS of safety issues with this don’t do this unless you know what you’re doing please please please back to text
  24. Declaration of conflicting interests: The author is not affiliated with any seller of sous vide machines. back to text
  25. 21W.747 Rhetoric: excellent class, super fun, I recommend it with all my heart. back to text
  26. cj: a ci-h is a communication intensive class; mit students need to take two ci-hs to graduate. back to text
  27. Defined by being able to elicit the strongest preference under sensory bias (a.k.a. the steak I prefer the most). back to text
  28. cj: jacky cooks better than he writes back to text
  29. In the beginning of the semester, I even opened a meal plan briefly, before I got outcompeted by the Pika meal plan. back to text
  30. cj: pika is one of mit’s independent living groups and they have a meal plan where you get food in exchange for cooking or cleaning iirc back to text
  31. cj: it was good, i enjoyed it :D back to text
  32. If CJ allows me to make a second food post, of course. back to text