Profile: Ralph Hsiao and Andrew Marco
Ralph Hsiao and Andrew Marco are very good cooks. A few weeks ago, on a chill Sunday afternoon, I found the guys in their open kitchen, making a batch of Filipino-inspired adobo fried chicken sandwiches for a late lunch.
In an effortless flow, Marco (he goes by his last name) dipped brined chicken thighs in a coconut milk/flour batter and passed them to Ralph, who placed them in a deep fryer, giving them a double bath for extra crispness. Marco then dropped the thighs into a bowl, coating them in a sweet-spicy-tangy glaze, and placed them on a toasted pan de sal half. Ralph topped each piece with coleslaw—dressed with kewpie mayo, calamansi juice, chilies and cane vinegar—plus pickled cucumbers and the other bread half.
We sat down to eat, and between bites of this otherworldly, remarkably juicy and flavorful sandwich, homemade taro chips, and sips of San Miguel, we chatted about their respective culinary journeys.
They were both raised in Los Angeles among food-centric families. Ralph is of Chinese heritage and fondly remembers delicious spreads on Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival; his mom’s moon cakes, hard-boiled tea eggs, and lu rou fan (braised ground pork over rice); and his aunt’s sticky rice. Marco is Filipino, and growing up, his favorite things were his dad’s tocilog (sugar-cured pork) and his mom’s chicken adobo or her spaghetti Filipino style (banana ketchup and tons of sugar).
Ralph and Marco met in college; they became friends and later roommates (as well as coworkers). Their bond over food, cooking, and exploring their cultural backgrounds led to hosting an intimate dinner party at their house once a month.
“We call it ‘RCTNGL,’” said Ralph, amusingly. “Because guests take a break from their social circle.”
“We always do it Kamayan style,” added Marco. “It’s a Filipino way of serving food. You lay down banana leaves on a table, arrange the food in the middle all at once, and everyone eats with their hands, which is a fun way to socialize and get to know other guests.”
A recent feast included typical dishes, as well as recipes that the guys put their unique spin on: garlic-lemongrass shrimp; cebuchon (crispy pork belly); chicken BBQ skewers marinated in homemade banana ketchup, soy sauce, sugar and 7Up; adobo fried chicken wings; deep-fried red snapper; atchara (pickled carrots and green papaya); pepino ensalada (cucumber salad with red onion and rice vinegar); and turon (deep-fried plantain rolls) for dessert.
The cost of these dinners is donation-based (about $40 per person) and, per Ralph, “includes as much beer and tequila as it takes to black out.”
For dinner party inquiries, send a direct message to @rectngl on Instagram.
Age Ralph: 28; Marco: 26 — Hometown R: Torrance, California; M: Los Angeles, California — Where do you live? Both: Los Angeles, California — Occupation R: I am a production manager at a digital media company in Venice; M: All things community @ Creators Media — Signature dish R: 红烧肉 hong shao rou (red braised pork belly); M: Tocilog—sugar-cured pork served with garlic fried rice and a sunny-side-up egg. This dish was inspired from the constant breakfasts my dad cooked for me when I was younger. This hands-down is my favorite thing to make and the meal that most reminds me of my childhood. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s typically served with a pickled papaya salad (atchara), and it has an egg—what more to ask? Also, this is a breakfast meal; name one person who hates breakfast. — Who taught you how to cook? R: My mother had the biggest influence in my cooking. Cooking was never the main focus in my mind when I was in the kitchen with my mother. She would just ask for my help. She taught me how to prep ingredients, how to taste and adjust flavors, and she just wanted to spend time with me. I never really gave those moments any thought until I started to dive into the kitchen in recent years. One of the biggest takeaways from those times was how to be hospitable. At the end of the day, food is meant to bring people together, and my mother instilled that in my family. Whether it was when my family sat together at the end of the day to eat dinner, or when my friends would come over after school, my mother would always be prepping something in the kitchen. She is the rock in my life. She is one of the strongest people I know; M: It wouldn’t necessarily be a “who,” but rather a “where.” Los Angeles has been the greatest teacher of how to cook food. I’ve grown up eating different cuisines my entire life, and not the inauthentic kind. Los Angeles is diverse… In eating different cuisines, you pick up techniques, you pick up flavors, you pick up ingredients—all these things you would never think of—all because you decided to walk into that Iranian restaurant down the street. — Favorite kitchen tool R: The trusty chef’s knife. Once you slice with a nice knife, you can never go back; M: Chef’s knife, hands-down. I wouldn’t say I have the best knife skills, but I love prepping and breaking things down. — Always in your pantry R: Kosher salt. Every cook is only worth their weight in salt. Salt is an amazing mineral. It’s seasoned on everything. It can be used to preserve food. It can be used to pickle food. It can be used to cure food. I can’t think of having a kitchen without salt. I’m this excited about salt because I only just learned how to do all these amazing things. When you salt-cure a red snapper and place it on a taro chip dressed with apple-mango salsa, you’d get excited, too; M: Soy sauce, vinegars (yes, that’s plural—Filipinos have tons of different types of vinegar), and garlic. — Go-to snack R: Depending on my mood, Cheddar Cheese & Sour Cream Ruffles or Sour Cream & Onion Ruffles; M: Chips of any kind. We’ve dabbled in making our own potato (or other root vegetable) chips, but you can’t ever sleep on the great chip brands/flavors. Shout-out to Ruffles Sour Cream & Onion, Hawaiian Sweet Maui Onion Chips, and the overall best, Fritos Honey BBQ Twists. Talking about these chips is making me salivate, haha. — Favorite cuisine R: Can I just say “Asian”? Haha. Chinese food, Japanese food, Korean food, Thai food, Filipino food, Vietnamese food—tell me you don’t like any of these foods. Not to toot our own horns, but I think the flavors are deep, incredible, and full of history (I am pretty biased). One thing that Asian food does very well is vegetables. The variety of flavors and techniques that all these culture bring to vegetables is mind-boggling; M: The extremely biased answer would be Filipino food. At a certain point and time in my life, I absolutely hated it, because I ate it every day. All I wanted was McDonald’s as a kid. Once I got to college and I didn’t eat it for sometimes months at a time, I realized I craved it. Now, exploring my cuisine, I’m finding out regional dishes that I’ve never had before. It feels like I’m exploring my identity through my taste buds. — Do you diet? R: Do you die?; M: From time to time, but they typically last about a day or so. I try my hardest to avoid sugary items, but these are the hardest to resist. I end up cheating most of the time, so I guess the long answer is no, I do not diet. — Food addictions R: Toast. I could eat buttered toast for days. Kerrygold Pure Irish Buttered toast. The type of bread? I don’t discriminate. I welcome them all into my belly; M: Rice. I don’t know too many other people, besides my dad, who live on rice like I do. While I was traveling throughout Europe for almost a month, you indulge on the cuisine of the country you are in. But every few days, I’d have to find some sort of Asian food, just to binge-eat on rice. I hate to be that individual who falls into stereotypes, but this Asian legitimately can’t live without rice. — Food allergies R: None, thankfully. My younger brother has nut allergies. I have witnessed what food allergies can do to you; it’s no joke; M: No allergies—at least that I know of. But I basically avoid yellow mustard like I am allergic. I’m slowly accustoming myself to certain types of mustard, but yellow mustard in a bottle is my worst enemy. — Food fad pet peeve R: Taking the perfect photo of your meal at the restaurant. Just eat the damn thing, and enjoy the company around you; M: I’m not quite into the [phrase] “snout to tail”; it bothers me a bit. There are tons of cultures that eat every single part of the animal but don’t necessarily call their restaurants “snout to tail”; it’s just part of their cuisine. I could be wrong, but it just feels like they’re trying to create this artificial value on something that tons of cultures (typically in poverty) have been doing for years out of necessity. — Who’s your sous chef? R: I’m not a chef. Thus, I’m not fit to have a sous chef. But I do love setting our kitchen ablaze with Marco; M: I wouldn’t consider him my sous chef, but my co-chef and “brother”—it’s the same individual you see in the photos above: Ralph Hsiao. We’ve been cooking together for a while but are now really starting to take it a bit more seriously. It’s awesome having a friend you can feed off of, in terms of energy and ideas. — Drinking while cooking? R: Smoking while cooking; M: Depends. Beers, always. Shots, sometimes. I think I’ve learned my lesson—twice, as I’ve sliced my finger twice from being under the influence. — What’s for dinner tonight? R: I am currently eating pasta with a mushroom tomato cream sauce as I am answering these questions; M: Just had this really solid Indian joint right next to my house that I tried for the first time. I’ve passed by it a million times on Washington Ave. while driving home from work, but have never thought about going in. It’s located in this small strip mall with a 7-11 (what would a strip mall be without a 7-11?!), and they do an amazing chicken tikka masala. Goes to show that you can hit up anything in L.A. and find something amazing. — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? R: Only when I start pouring milk over my cereal, only to find out there’s not enough milk to fill the bowl; M: Never, but you learn from it. Why did you spill the milk? Can you turn the spilled milk into something else? Why was I drinking milk in the first place? If I leave it there, will it mold? — Best meal you ever had R: Pasta in Italy is out of this world. There were two places I remember distinctly: a small restaurant called Il Gatto e la Volpe in Florence, and the Tuscan villa that my friends had their wedding at in Castelfiorentino. House-made, al dente pasta and sauces made with the freshest ingredients. The pizzas. PREGO!; M: Oh man, this is a super difficult question. I’m going to have to cop out and do a meal that is always good, all of the time. There’s one restaurant in West Covina that I’ve been eating at since I was a kid. It’s this Filipino restaurant called Miki House. I have three go-to orders: kikiam, pork asado siopao, and Filipino fried chicken. Every time I eat those three things, I’m in heaven. Not very many foods can taste absolutely amazing while connecting me to my past like that does.
Deep-Fried Red Snapper
The sight of a fried whole fish with its head and eyes intact on a plate might not be everyone’s go-to way to eat seafood, but trust me: This recipe rocks. It is childishly easy to make—except no children should be anywhere near the extremely hot oil you fry it in—and you won’t need a laundry list of hard-to-get ingredients. (Ralph and Marco use Datu Puti soy sauce and cane vinegar, but if you don’t live near an Asian market, use regular ones.) At the end, you get a combo of moist, silky meat and crispy skin. The dipping sauce, with its acidic notes, perfectly balances the unctuous meat.
“We believe cooking can be a daunting task,” said Ralph. “Being unfamiliar with an ingredient is at the same time exciting and nerve-racking. Seafood was one of those ingredients for us. There are fried fish dishes that come from each of our respective cultures, so we just wanted to try something new (red snapper) and prep it in a familiar way (deep frying).”
- Serves 2
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled, pressed
- 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, finely sliced
- 3 Thai chilies, trimmed, finely sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, grated
- 2 whole red snappers, cleaned and scaled (about 1.5 lbs total)
- Soy sauce (Datu Puti or regular)
- Canola oil
- Dipping Sauce
- ¼ cup vinegar (cane or apple cider)
- ¼ cup soy sauce (Datu Puti or regular)
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon red onion, peeled, finely diced
- Place the garlic, lemongrass, chilies and ginger in a deep glass or metal dish. Score the fish three times on both sides with a sharp knife. Place the fish in the dish, and pour in the soy sauce—enough so it covers half the fish. With a spoon, coat the top and inside of the fish with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours. Flip the fish and marinate for another 3 hours.
- Place about ¾ cup of the cornstarch in a bowl or on a plate. Remove the fish from the marinade, brush off any ingredients that might have stuck to it, and coat it with the cornstarch on all sides. Tap lightly to remove excess cornstarch, and set aside. Discard the marinade and any remaining cornstarch.
- Fill a large skillet, wok, or deep fryer with enough oil so the fish can be fully submerged. Heat the oil over high heat until a thermometer reads 375 degrees, about 8–10 minutes. Carefully slide in the fish—the oil will bubble at first and then slowly recede—and reduce the heat to medium. Fry the fish for 8 minutes without touching it.
- While the fish is frying, prepare the dipping sauce by mixing all ingredients in a small bowl.
- Turn the heat off, and using a spatula and fork, carefully remove the fish to a plate. Let cool for 4–5 minutes, and then serve with the dipping sauce on the side.
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