Before he won Top Chef, before he won a Beard Award, before he got an eponymous restaurant, Austin chef Paul Qui was one of the founders of a host of food trucks—food trailers, actually—throughout the city.
Abutting courtyards behind various bars, the three East Side King locations (and one brick-and-mortar spot) serve up Asian-inspired street snacks (ramen, steamed buns, yakitori) transcending the gimmickry that often comes with the food truck territory, and have since become Austin institutions.
Though I would have loved to do a true trailer crawl throughout Austin during my time there in June, I had to pick and choose my battles. With a group of fellow food writers, and new, dear friends, we set forth to the original East Side King trailer behind Liberty Bar.
Grabbing a few Shiner Ruby Redbirds and glasses of the finest boxed house wine from the inside bar, we staked our claim on a picnic table in the buzzingly loud, sweaty courtyard and waited for our feast to arrive: peanut butter curry stuffed into deep-fried buns; crispy, charred Brussels sprouts with a garden’s worth of mint, cilantro, and basil; thai fried chicken over spicy rice; and brilliant deep-fried beets with rich mayonnaise.
So simple. So fresh. So memorable. I ate so much in Austin and I’m far from done sharing all my finds, but today—as that night, despite a table loaded with baskets of juicy, flavorful bites—the beets are the star of the show.
Qui does his with red beets at Liberty Bar, but I gave ’em a whirl with golden beets from the farm stand up the street. Not only do goldens have a less earthy, more mellow sweetness than their crimson cousins, but they look deceptively like fried potatoes once they’re out of the boiling oil.
I realize it might be a long shot to convince any avowed beet-haters to eat a whole plate—the taste still gives them away a little bit—but my beet-averse husband ate a single cube without a fight or complaint. It’s a small victory that I’m happy to take.
The sweet, crispy-crusted beets lend themselves to contrasting flavors, making them an ideal palette for the spicy, saline seasonings frequently used in Japanese cooking. The Liberty Bar beets come dusted with salty and citrusy shichimi togarashi and strewn with scallions.
My at-home version adds a little seaweedy furikake seasoning for no other reason than I’m constantly shaking it on everything, and whisks a little sriracha into my favorite mayonnaise to up the spice and garlic quotient.
Keep it simple or add all the seasonings your heart desires: the important thing here is the beets. Fire up your deep fryer and don’t look back.
- 1 pound beets, scrubbed clean
- 1 quart vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- kosher salt
- furikake seasoning
- shichimi togarashi
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 teaspoon sriracha or sambal oelek
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Trim the roots and stem ends off the beets and wrap them in aluminum foil
- Roast the beets for about 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
- Carefully unwrap the beets and remove their skins by rubbing with a paper towel or peeling them off when the beets are cool enough to handle.
- Cut the beets into rough 1-inch cubes.
- Clip an oil thermometer to a large, high-sided Dutch oven or stockpot and fill with about 2 inches of oil (you may not need the full quart if frying on the stovetop) or heat the oil in an electric deep fryer to 350 degrees F.
- Line a baking sheet with paper towels and an upside-down wire cooling rack as noted in my deep-frying primer.
- Add the beet cubes, in batches if necessary, to the hot oil and cook for about 2-3 minutes, just until the beets are starting to brown at the edges.
- Remove the beets from the oil with a metal skimmer or spider and cool on the prepared baking sheet.
- Raise the heat of the oil to 375 degrees F.
- Once the beets have cooled enough to handle, toss them with the rice flour in a large mixing bowl, shaking the beets between your fingers to remove excess flour.
- Return the beets to the hot oil and fry until crispy and golden brown, about 4-5 minutes more.
- Skim the beets out of the oil once more and return them to the prepared baking sheet.
- Sprinkle the beets with kosher salt, furikake, and shichimi togarashi.
- Whisk the mayonnaise with sriracha or samba oelek, and serve alongside the beets as a dipping sauce.