In the fall of 2012, which now feels like a lifetime ago, I uprooted myself and moved to New York City. Newly divorced and raw as a peeled cuticle, I was a ridiculous mismatch for the city from the start. My suburban sensibility and thirtysomething weariness set me apart, I suppose, from every other dewy-faced twentysomething around me who had just arrived for what they assumed would be the "New York chapter" in their young lives. I had waited too long, New York and I were never destined to fall in love.
That turned out not to matter at all, though, because I was already falling in love in a very real sense. In the company of the man who would eventually become my best friend and husband, I explored as many as I could of the thousands of truly fantastic opportunities for eating in the city. One of the places Tim and I identified early on was a trendy but humble little joint right in our Queens neighborhood of Sunnyside, perched right on Queens Boulevard off the 7 train. Underlit and unadorned, Salt & Fat greeted you with casually untucked waitstaff and bacon fat popcorn served from a brown paper bag---it was that kind of place. We loved it. The menu was unapologetically fusion, but without pretense--kimchi and daikon served matter-of-factly alongside American comfort classics like BLTs and marshmallow fluff.
Just like me in my clearance-rack jeans and unfashionable backpack juxtaposed against the glitter and grace of the city, there were a lot of combinations on that menu that seemed downright out of place at first glance. A few bites in, you suddenly realized that the union of ingredients (no matter how unexpected, like duck breast and lychee) was just the perfect thing, all you never knew you wanted...at least for the moment. It was this heady, crazy feeling of "things you never knew belonged together" that I was thinking of when I put together this dish, a rich combo of spicy and sweet, salt and fat. Korean chili paste and chewy udon meet classic American bacon and eggs (I almost always use Bon Appetit's method for perfectly jammy-yolked soft boiled eggs) in a noodle dish slicked with just enough soup to keep things interesting. It's weird, it's comforting, and it reminds me of feeling utterly lost and yet totally found at the same time.
In a crushing but not-at-all-shocking twist (restaurants pop up and wither on the vine in New York, and elsewhere, almost constantly), I recently searched for Salt & Fat's website only to find that they had closed up shop last year. R.I.P. to a place that nurtured the beginning of my relationship and wrapped it in a warm blanket of pork buns, oxtail terrine and yuzu panna cotta (just sounds weird when I put it that way, but hey)...my "bacon & eggs" udon bowl will forever stand as a tribute to your memory!
Makes 4 smallish portions or 2 generous ones
4 oz. bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons gochujang (add more to taste if you'd like to increase the heat)
1 tablespoon honey
4 cups chicken stock
8 oz. dried udon noodles, or about a pound of fresh or frozen noodles
3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Fill a mixing bowl halfway with ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, carefully lower eggs one at time into water using a slotted spoon (cold out of the fridge is fine, just take it slow). Adjust heat to maintain a gentle boil once eggs are in, cook for exactly six and a half minutes. Remove eggs quickly and place in ice bath, chill for a few minutes until just warm to the touch. Gently crack shells and peel eggs, set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high, saute the bacon until fully cooked (best when it's just short of crispy, still a little chewy), drain all but about two tablespoons of fat and place in a bowl. Add gochujang and honey, whisk with a fork until combined. In a medium size pot, bring stock to a simmer over medium heat, add bacon mixture. Add udon noodles and simmer until chewy, remove from heat. Taste broth at this point and add salt if necessary, or more gochujang or honey if preferred. To serve, scoop noodles into bowls, top with soup, then garnish with scallions. Carefully slice eggs in half and nestle into the noodles with perfectly jammy yolks pointing up. Slurp and enjoy!