Ming Tsai's essential comfort food recipes

When it comes to restaurant-quality comfort food, Tsai is top tier

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published December 14, 2023 12:01PM (EST)

Chef Ming Tsai hosts 'Noodling Around' during the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival at Auditorium Shores on April 29, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Rick Kern/WireImage/Getty Images)
Chef Ming Tsai hosts 'Noodling Around' during the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival at Auditorium Shores on April 29, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Rick Kern/WireImage/Getty Images)

With his affable, genuine nature, Ming Tsai has been a go-to for many home cooks looking for inspiration for over 20 years.

After attending Yale, Cornell and Le Cordon Bleu throughout the 1980s, Tsai became recognized for his restaurant Blue Ginger, as well as becoming a burgeoning television personalty in the nascent days of Food Network. He's been a staple ever since his first started appearing on the network back in the late 90s, first as a fill-in on Sara Moulton's show and then as a host on his own show, East Meets West. 

In addition, he's competed on and judged many other shows, from "Cooking Under Fire" to "The Next Iron Chef" to "Top Chef". He also hosts "Simply Ming", has released five cookbooks, is an advocate for awareness of food allergens and most recently opened a restaurant in Montana. He's also the founder of MingsBings, which is a new product that is a gluten-free, "wrap" or flatbread consisting of both plant-based and meat-based fillings. 

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When it comes to comfort food, Tsai is a master, with elevated, varied recipes that will satiate and soothe. On the hunt for some recipes for this holiday season? Look no further. 

It doesn't get much more simple (or comforting) than this. Charred scallions — and we mean charred: They cook for 20 minutes! — are mixed with udon noodles and a rich, sticky sauce made of two types of soy, honey and Chinese Chinkiang vinegar (you can also opt for Balsamic with Chinese five-spice powder). It's a perfect late-night dish or an amazing snack to whip up after a night out.
The original recipe is for one to two servings, but you can certainly double that — or if you're feeding an army, why not quadruple it? We doubt any of it will go to waste . . . trust us. 
Fried chicken is always amazing and a surefire comfort food experience, but the Asian spices here (sambal, coriander, five spice), plus the customary buttermilk takes this dish to a new level entirely. The cooking process is like any regular good ol' fried chicken method, but the end product is clearly something special. Make sure to get the chicken super crispy, let drain on a rack of paper towels and drizzle with a final shower of salt. You'll be a very happy camper. 
This dish is a bit more involved with a few more ingredients and a longer cooing time, but it is so worth it. The sauce is elevated and immensely flavorful, with wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions, cinnamon, chilies and star anise, which acts as the braising liquid for bone-in chicken. It gets super tender and rich and the bok choy and sweet potatoes are the perfect complement for the savory, umami-filled chicken. The sauce cooks down and almost becomes a glaze of sorts, which you may just drink straight from the pot or casserole dish. This dish is filling and comforting and is sure to impress. 

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If you're unfamiliar with cooking lamb shanks, this might be an ideal introduction. It's a pretty straight-forward brown-and-braise situation, but the deep, rich flavors (with a bit of mouth-tingling spice from the Thai bird chiles) and uber-tender, fall-apart lamb shank is a thrilling final product. The barley, cooked in risotto style, is the perfect carb-y complement to the slightly fatty lamb and rich sauce. The leftovers are even better.
A classic, timeless dish of beef stew over mashed potatoes that's gussied up with shiitakes, garlic, fermented black beans and shaoshing wine, this dish is a deeply warming, nourishing dish that is perfect for an especially cold night. It could also double as a perfect dish for Christmas dinner. The dish does take some time, so make sure you have set aside a good 3 hours or more for the entire shebang.
You also may make your mashed taters like this forever and for always . . . the caramelized garlic does something magical to the humble tuber. 

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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