Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cong You Bing (Scallion Cake)

Cong You Bing (Scallion Pancakes)

Cong You Bing means literally scallion oil pancake and is a very practical description.  It is flavored with scallions, sesame oil and salt, and is an unleavened cake cooked on a flat griddle or pan.  These snacks are popular over many parts of central and northern China and Taiwan.  As flatbread, cong you bing shares similarities with an almost infinite variety of breads in nearly every country on earth.  Because they are delicious, cheap and easy to prepare, flatbreads are often a street food favorite, sold by vendors using flat steel or iron pans fired by coal or propane.  The same is true in China, although variations in size, thickness and ingredients exist, including the use of meat, peppercorns, and eggs (see our video from Shanghai, at the bottom of this post)  This recipe is the simplest and most widely known.  The key is to utilize a very wet dough, so long as it can be managed by using enough oil on the work surface and hands.  The recipe below uses 65% water.  Also, one will find that storing the dough for some time is helpful as well, 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator, or 1 or two days at room temperature.  If time is an issue, however, this long storage is not absolutely necessary to achieve an adequate texture.  Although the several photos below might mislead one into thinking this flatbread is difficult, in fact, the recipe is extremely easy to prepare

10 oz all purpose flour
4 – 6 Scallions, white and green portion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tab peanut oil
4 oz (by weight) of boiling water
2.5 oz (by weight) of cold water
Make the dough by adding the boiling water and stirring with a wooden spoon; when it is well incorporated, add the cold water and continue mixing until it is smooth.  Allow to cool, pat the mound into a ball with an oiled spatula or hands, and set aside, covered, for a day or two in the refrigerator.
Turn out the dough on an oiled surface and flatten into a rectangle, approximately 1/4” thick and cut into 4 rectangles (this can vary according to the finished size you prefer).  With an oiled roller, roll out each rectangle to 1/8” or so, and brush with sesame oil.  Sprinkle with course salt, according to taste.  Sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of chopped scallion evenly over the flats and roll up, beginning from the long edge, and when rolled, pinch together to seal.   From either end of the “rope,” roll up the dough into a coil and seal the end.  Place the coil flat, and roll into a disk of approximately 1/8” thick and 5 or 6” in diameter.

Heat a flat, preferably cast iron pan to medium high heat.  Add peanut oil to a depth of 1/8” or more.  When oil is just smoking,  place pancake into oil and fry on each side until golden brown.

Jiao Yan Xia (Salt and Pepper Shrimp)

Salt and Pepper Shrimp (Jiao Yan Xia)

Salt and pepper preparations are ubiquitous in stateside restaurants, both Chinese and Vietnamese, offering chicken, squid, shrimp and pork, especially ribs.  Simply put, before frying, the meat is dredged in a mixture of salt and ground white or black pepper, giving it a dry, intense, sparkly sort of taste.  However, it is not as common in China, unless one considers the very common Sichuanese penchant for using a salt and Sichuan peppercorn mixture as a dip, especially with steamed chicken.

Here, in traditionally oriented restaurants, Salt and Pepper shrimp is usually prepared shell on, sometimes with head included; however, I prefer the textural subtleties of a more “western-friendly” version of the dish, and peel the shrimps.

Two quarts frying oil (peanut oil is excellent)
8 oz. Deveined, peeled shrimp. (30-40 count per pound works well)
1/2 med. Yellow onion, sectioned into crescents
4 small green onion, sectioned 2” long.  Reserved greenest portion for garnish.
1 egg white.
4 Tab cornstarch (1/3 cup)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tab peanut oil for stir frying

Salt and pepper for onions.

Fresh chili or Jalepeno, sliced diagonally (optional)
In a bowl, combine cornstarch pepper and salt well.  Combine green and yellow onion in a bowl and season with a few dashes of salt and pepper to taste.
In a deep fryer or large pot Heat frying oil to 375°.  Dry shrimp with paper towels. Whip egg white lightly and add shrimp, mixing well.  When oil is to temperature, pick shrimp out of the egg white, shake off excess egg, and place in cornstarch mixture.  Toss and roll the shrimp to coat evenly; shake off excess starch in colander or by hand and carefully place in oil; use bamboo chopsticks to separate and turn shrimp.  Cook just until shrimp curl and firm up; quickly remove and drain.  Heat wok to hot and add 2 tablespoons peanut oil,  put in seasoned onions (and chili if using).  Stirfry until edges of onion begin to brown. Add back shrimp; fry for 30 seconds or so and remove all with basket strainer.  Drain on paper towels, and quickly remove to platter.  Garnish with reserved greens and served immediately.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Suan La Huang Gua (Pickled Cucumber Salad)

Pickled Cucumber Salad  (suan la huang gua)

Pickled vegetables are a mainstay of Chinese cuisine, from North to South; this dish would constitute what might be called a “fresh” pickle, and is distinct from the many hundreds of varieties that are cured indefinitely in earthen jars.  It is bright and healthy, and is an excellent compliment to any heavier main dish.  Small pickling cucumbers are best to use for suan la huang gua—unskinned, they will remain crisp as the acidic ingredients work on the vegetable.  Having seen this appetizer countless times when traveling in Sichuan province,  I can’t imagine beginning a Sichuan meal without it. 
1 lb   small pickling cucumbers
2 or 3 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin crosswise
3 small dried red chilis,  or 1 fresh red chili, or both, finely shredded
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, roasted and ground
1 Tab rice vinegar
1 Tab rock sugar (cane sugar will do)
1 Tab peanut Oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tab finely shredded ginger
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and cut off the round ends.  Leaving on the skins, slice each cucumber in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut the cucumbers in quarters lengthwise, then eighths, forming wedges.  Cut the wedges in half, crosswise, and place in a bowl with a few dashes of salt.  Allow to marinate for 1 or 2 hours, tossing occasionally, to extract some of the water.  Drain thoroughly and towel to dry.
When cucumbers are ready stir fry garlic slices in a wok with a tablespoon of peanut oil until slightly browned; transfer the garlic slices and any of the oil in which it was cooked to a mixing bowl.  Add cucumbers, Sichuan peppercorn, vinegar, sugar, peanut and sesame oil and ginger.  Marinate for an hour or a day or two (This fresh pickle will lose some of its crisp texture after a day or two).

Chi You Ji (Soy Sauce Chicken)

Soy Sauce Chicken  (mandarin: chi you ji  Cantonese: Si Yauh Gai)

There might be as many recipes for Soy Sauce Chicken as there are chickens; some cooks call for browning the bird, others do not.  Some would have you braise the poultry in soy sauce only; others add any number of spices, honey, maltose, pork and chicken stock, and so on.  Indeed, Chinese cuisine has a strong tradition of braising foods in stocks and sauces, especially soy sauce.  But since Chinese cuisine has a common method of soy braising called hong shao, (red cooked), which includes in the liquid dried orange peel, star anise, cinnamon,  and Sichuan peppercorns, among other things, I think the name Soy Sauce Chicken should be reserved for those soy braised dishes which are simpler in preparation, and “cleaner” in taste.

Professional chefs have countless tricks up their sleeves, and among the most necessary for this dish is carving cooked poultry for attractive presentation.   At the very least, chopping whole chickens and plating them in an appetizing way requires a sharp cleaver, a Gray’s Anatomy for birds, and a lot of cleanup.  One of my more clumsy jobs of carving is pictured above; but the chicken was far better than it looks.
3.5 lb whole fryer

2 tsp Sichuan Peppercorn, roasted and ground
1 Tab grated ginger

2 pods star anise
3-4  crushed garlic cloves

3 Tab rock sugar (note: sub cane sugar if necessary)

2 Tab sweet soy sauce
1 Tab sweet black vinegar
1 Cup light soy sauce
3 Tab rice wine

Wash the chicken and scrub the skin vigorously with salt to make the skin more receptive to the marinade.   Rub the mixture of grated ginger and peppercorn into the bird inside and out.  In a wok, stir fry the crushed garlic and anise until the garlic begins to brown, then add the sugar, soy sauces, vinegar and wine.  Bring to a boil, then allow to cool.  Place this marinade in a bowl, add the chicken, rolling the bird to coat with marinade.  Marinate for 6 hours or more, turning the chicken several times.

Drain the chicken well and reserve marinade; heat wok to med high with 2 –3 Tab of oil, then brown the bird on all sides.  Combine the chicken and marinade in a heavy pot or clay pot with lid, placing the bird breast side up.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover for about 35 minutes.  Without uncovering the pot, turn off heat and allow to set for another 35 – 40 minutes.  Uncover, check the dark meat for doneness, and if the juices run clear, remove and allow to cool for 20 – 30 minutes.  With a sharp, heavy cleaver,  cut the bird in half lengthwise,  cut off wings, legs and thighs, then chop each breast and back sections into 3 pieces.  Arrange on a platter and garnish with sesame oil and cilantro.

Hao You Jie lan (Oyster Sauce Chinese broccoli)

Hao You Jie lan (Oyster Sauce Chinese broccoli)

Another extremely simple, delicately flavored dish, jie lan, a flowering cabbage, is as common to the Chinese as broccoli is to Westerners, most especially in Southern China, where the vegetable is known as gai lan.   The literal translation denotes mustard orchid, but in English, it goes by the name of “Chinese Broccoli” and “Chinese Kale.” In standard Chinese American restaurants, it is seldom on the (English) menu, yet, as prepared in this recipe, it is a fixture in dim sum restaurants all over the world.  Like most traditional preparations of Chinese vegetables, jie lan is also singularly nutritious, being lightly cooked and seasoned.  It is visually appealing as well.  In fact, the lush green color of jie lanis one of its most striking attributes.  Note that the addition of baking soda to the boiling water, which inhibits the breakdown of chlorophyll, will maintain and even enhance the vegetable’s appearance.
  • 1 Lb Jie lan or Gai lan (Chinese Cabbage)
  • Oyster Sauce for garnish
  • Peanut Oil for garnish
  • 1 tsp baking soda
When buying jie lan, make certain it is firm, fresh,  and dark green with minimal discoloration on the leaves. Trim dried stem ends and any discolored or perforated leaves from Jie lan.  Heat 6-10 quarts of water in a large pot; when the water boils, add the soda, then the jie lan.  When the water returns to a boil, cook the vegetable about one more minute.  Retrieve a piece with tongs, cut an inch off the stem end so that it will cool quickly and taste for doneness.  It should be crisp, but not raw—remember it will continue cooking when it is taken from the water.  If jie lan is nearly done, take it out and drain in a colander.  Using tongs or chop sticks, immediately arrange on a platter with the stems in the same direction; (if the vegetable is longer than 10 or so inches you may prefer to cut the pile through the middle with scissors.)  Drizzle with peanut oil, then oyster sauce, and serve immediately.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gan Bian Si Ji Dou (Dry fried four season bean)

Gan Bian Si Ji Dou  (Dry fried four season bean)

Gan Bian Si Ji Dou is a classic vegetable dish, thought to be from Sichuan, which one will encounter on Chinese menus all over the world.  In the past, the bean most traditionally used in this Sichuan dish is chang dou orchang jiang dou, known in English as yard-long beans.  The reference in the name “si ji dou”, (lit: four season bean) is likely due to the beans’ heartiness, and farmers’ ability to grow it in almost any season. In any event, over time, the common green bean or string bean has occasionally been used in China, and invariably in the West.  The two are very similar, though the long bean requires slightly longer cooking time, and is less likely to be stringy or tough.  Traditional variations on this famous preparation add ground pork, omit the dried shrimp, vary the seasoning ingredients; but all include the double-cooked beans, the preserved vegetable and minced onions while maintaining the crisp texture and sweet fresh flavor of the beans.
  • 20 oz. Yard-long beans or string beans
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1/2” x 1” pc ginger, very finely minced
  • 1 green onion, very finely minced
  • 1 Heaping Tab of dried shrimp
  • 2 Tab pickled mustard cabbage or Tianjin pickled vegetable
  • 1 Tab soy
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • sesame oil to garnish
  • 2-3 Quarts of Frying oil in large pot.
Wash, trim and cut beans to 2-3” lengths; make sure they are thoroughly dry. In a large pot, slowly heat deep fry oil to 350º (editor’s note: see “deep frying” in the Techniques section.) The beans can also be shallow fried or stir fried, though the cooking time may have to be increased.  In the meantime, prepare the other ingredients.  (Note that the garlic, ginger, green onion and shrimp should be finely minced, allowing the flavoring ingredients to cling to the beans when the dish is plated).  In a bowl, pour 1 cup of very hot water over the dried shrimp and cover.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  Wash and drain the preserved vegetable, then press out any remaining moisture, chop roughly and set aside.  Drain shrimp and mince finely.
When oil has reached 350º add the beans in two or three portions to keep foaming to a minimum, and deep fry until skin begins to blister and beans have slightly softened—about a minute or two, depending on the freshness of the beans.  It is crucial that they not be overcooked, as the loss of their texture ruins the dish.  To be certain, after frying for about a minute, retrieve a bean section, quickly submerge in cold water and taste for doneness.  The bean should be crisp; keep in mind the beans will continue to cook after they are taken out of the oil.  When the beans are done, drain thorougly and set aside.  This step can be done ahead, but it is best to continue and complete the dish as soon as possible.
Heat the wok and add 2-3 Tab of peanut oil; on med high, but before wok begins to smoke, add ginger, garlic and onions.  Toss once or twice and add dried shrimp and preserved vegetable.  Immediately add beans, toss, then add vinegar, soy, sugar and salt.  Be sure to check for saltiness: Gan bian si ji dou is a savoury dish, with just a hint of sweetness.  Plate the beans, making sure you scrape the wok of the flavoring ingredients and scatter them on top of the dish.  Garnish with a small amount of sesame oil.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chao Dou Ya  (Stir Fried Bean Sprouts)

Chao Dou Ya is not only an example of how elegantly simple Chinese vegetable dishes can be, but also how healthy.  No less a health guru than Dr. Weil gives us a recipe for Stir fried bean sprouts, which you can reference at: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/RCP00222 It is surprisingly similar to this...

Nowhere is the Chinese penchant for freshness and texture better demonstrated than in Chao Dou Ya.  Many people in the west, seldom experiencing sprouted mung beans as anything other than glutinous filler in Chinese American versions of “Chow Mein,” will hardly recognize the vegetable when prepared in this minimal way.  Bean sprouts have an astonishingly sweet, succulent and distinctive flavor.  In the method below, the addition of yellow onion contributes a highly complimentary flavor to the sprouts.

  • 16 oz Bean sprouts (fresh mung bean sprouts)
  • 2 Tab shredded mild or sweet red pepper
  • 1 Green onion, white and green portions shredded separately
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, slivered into quarter inch wedges
  • Salt to taste (Approximately 2 –3 pinches of kosher salt is excellent)
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil
Stir fried beansprouts should only be prepared using sprouts which are fresh, crisp and white-fleshed.  Wash them if necessary in very cold water, and drain thoroughly.  In the meantime, prepare the ingredients as described and pre-heat the wok on low to medium heat.  An important flavoring for this dish comes from the slight browning of the yellow onion and sprout; therefore, while it is necessary to use a very hot wok, one must fry the ingredients quickly to maintain their essential flavors and textures.  Turn the heat under the wok to high; when it is smoking hot, swirl two or three tablespoons of peanut oil into the pan and when it begins to smoke, throw in yellow onion wedges and white portion of green onion.  Press the onions gently against the surface of the wok and let them cook for a few seconds until you can observe browning around the edges.  Toss once and repeat, but do not exceed a total frying time of more than one minute or so; making sure wok is very hot, add peppers and sprouts and toss, then gently press the sprouts against the sides of the pan to obtain the proper browning and cooking.  Repeat this several times; salt to taste as you go.  When the sprouts are still crisp, have lost their raw taste yet slightly wilted, they are done.  Plate and garnish with shredded green onion tops and a small drizzle of sesame oil.

Yu Xiang Qiezi (Fish Fragrance Eggplant)

Yu Xiang Qiezi  (Fish Fragrance Eggplant)

I've often thought that in Chinese tradition, vegetables are executed with elegant simplicity, allowing the natural flavors and textures of the main ingredients to carry the day.  Here is one exeption,  the classic Yu Xiang Qiezi, translated literally to mean, “fish fragrance eggplant.”  Yu Xiang preparations are common in traditional Chinese cooking, especially Yu Xiang Zhu Rou Si, “Fish frangrance pork shreds,”  which we've posted earlier.  This dense, savory, and highly flavored dish features chili paste, sugar and Chinkiang (zhe jiang) vinegar.  Yu Xiang Qiezi is an important vegetarian dish, as eggplant somewhat mimics the hearty tactile qualities of some meats, particularly dark chicken and shredded pork.  It absorbs sauce prodigiously, thus extra liquid will be employed to ensure a moist, flavorful presentation.   The present version of this western province dish is the most traditional, but while in Sichuan in 1998 I had a delicious version of Yu Xiang Qiezi using small, crisp, batter fried wedges of eggplant, lightly tossed in an intense sweet and sour sauce.  (See Tang Cu Qiezi) This unbattered rendition retains more of the natural succulence of the vegetable.
  • 2-3 Quarts of Frying oil in large pot.
  • 2 - 3 medium asian eggplants
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1” x 1” pc of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 rounded tsp chili paste
  • 2 Tab rice wine (or dry sherry)

  • 1 Tab of sugar
  • 1 Tab soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Chinkiang (zhe jiang) vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or lightly salted broth
Thickener and garnish:
  • Cornstarch slurry
  • Sesame oil
  • 1-2 Heaping Tab Red sweet pepper or red chili pepper, shredded
Slowly heat the deep frying oil in large pot.   A deep fry thermometer is very useful.  Also, it is advisable to have a kitchen fire extinguisher nearby, or an open box of bicarbonate of soda in the event the oil boils over and catches fire (editor’s note: by this bit of advice we once again see that Wang is instructing students, not professionals and expects this dish to be made in the home.  Also, see “deep frying” in the Techniques section.)  In the meantime, prepare ingredients in this way: slice eggplants lengthwise into four long wedges, then cut eat wedge lengthwise to create 8 long wedges.  Cut each of these in four equal pieces.  Some recipes may suggest peeling or partially peeling the eggplant.  Though these variants are traditional, I prefer to leave the skin intact, since the texture, color and flavor is excellent.  Mince garlic, ginger and onion and set aside.  Shred sweet red or chili pepper and set aside. Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.  Prepare cornstarch slurry if you do not have any on hand, and set aside.
On medium, increase heat under deep fry oil until it is 350º - 375º F.  If you do not have a thermometer, drop a shred of green onion or sweet pepper into the oil; if it sizzles vigorously, the oil is probably ready.  Lower 1/3 of the eggplant wedges into the oil at a time, to prevent a boil over; you should turn the heat up as soon as the eggplant is in the oil, as their addition has lowered the temperature.
In approximately 3 minutes, the eggplant is done; remove to drain and set aside.
Heat 2 or 3 Tablespoons of peanut oil in your wok until it just begins to smoke, then toss in green onion, garlic, ginger, and chili paste.  Stir fry briefly until these ingredients barely turn color;  splash in wine, toss, then add stirred sauce ingredients.  When this begins to boil, add eggplant and stir gently.  As soon as the sauce boils again, simmer 30 seconds or less, and add cornstarch slurry until sauce thickens.  Plate the dish, garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and a few shreds of red pepper.
You might also want to try this variation: in Sichuan restaurants, some chefs will lightly bread the eggplant slices with egg white and cornstarch, deep fry the pieces, then plate the qiezi, over which is drizzled the finished sauce.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Xia Mi Bai Cai (Cabbage with Dried Shrimp)

Cabbage with Dried Shrimp (Xia Mi  Bai  Cai)

While much of Chinese cuisine is intensely flavored, in the mainland subtlety is often reserved for vegetable dishes, where texture and the inherent flavors of the produce predominates.  Cabbage with dried shrimp, a traditional presentation found all over China, can be found south east and west; the slight, briny accent of the preserved seafood is the unique attraction of this dish, so one should take care to purchase a high quality dried shrimp, which varies radically from brand to brand.  Choose shrimp that are uniform in size and color; generally, a bright orange/red orange.
12 oz (315 gms) Napa Cabbage
1 Heap Tab small dried shrimp
1/2 Tab ginger, finely shredded
Salt to taste
1 Tab finely sliced green onion top, for garnish
Prepare shrimp:

Put shrimp in just enough boiling water to cover.  Allow to stand off heat for 30 to 60 minutes.  Reserve 2 Tab shrimp water.  Drain shrimp on paper towel and set aside.
Core and separate the cabbage.  Cut across the leaves, in 2” slices.  Heat wok to med high, add 2 or 3 Tab peanut oil, and stir fry ginger for a few seconds.  Add shrimp, and stir fry a few seconds, until “bouncing” and fragrant, then toss in Cabbage.  Add a couple of pinches of coarse salt, and Stir-fry the cabbage until it just begins to wilt, then add reserved shrimp water and cover.  Allow to steam for 1 or 2 minutes, until green portion of leaves have softened but the white portion is still crisp.  Taste a piece of leaf for desired saltiness, adjust if necessary, and lift out the ingredients to a plate.  There will be several tablespoons of juice left in the wok, and some of this can be spooned over the plated dish; however, the water in the cabbage is now releasing and will puddle in the serving plate, so do this reservedly, if at all.  Garnish with green onion.

Suan Bo Cai (Garlic Spinach)

Garlic Spinach (Suan Bo Cai)

While this dish is not familiar to most Westerners as a Chinese concoction, the cooking style—often translated as “stir-fried with garlic sauce”—is commonly seen on restaurant menus that cater to a large Chinese clientele, wherein Dou Miao (pea shoots) is the best example. Spinach, readily available in western markets, is an excellent variation. Almost any leafy vegetable—bai cai or napa
cabbage, for example--can be cooked in this style. It is extremely simple, elegant and delicious, allowing the subtle flavor of the vegetable to predominate, enhanced by the aromatic pungency of garlic.
12 oz Dry fresh spinach with stems

4 Tab Peanut oil
4-6 cloves of garlic
Dash salt
Dash of soy
Clean and dry the spinach; cut the tough root end of the stems, leaving random stems up to 2 or 3 inches. Crush the garlic cloves only very slightly in order to peel them. Slice with a very sharp knife as thinly as possible.

Have all ingredients ready. Heat wok to hot, add oil; when it begins to smoke, put in garlic shavings. As soon as the edges of the garlic begin to brown, quickly put in spinach. Reach under the mass of spinach, catching as much of the garlic as possible, and begin to turn and mix. 12 oz of spinach is voluminous until it wilts, so you will no doubt have to retrieve leaves that fall out of the wok. Add salt and soy, tasting as you go, constantly stir-frying the vegetable. The spinach is done when it has just wilted, but is still “springy.” It will wilt further after it is plated. 12 oz of spinach will served no more than two, as the volume decreases by at least 80%

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chao Rou Gu Mian (Pork and Mushroom Fried Noodle)

Chao Rou Gu Mian (Pork and Mushroom Fried Noodle) is a street noodle preparation I encountered my first day in the ancient capital city, Xian, in central China.  The secrets to this Chao rou gu mian is using steamed noodle, which has a distinctive texture, and marinating the shredded mushroom in wine, soy and a dash of sweet vinegar.

4 oz pork
12 oz fresh steamed noodles (see "steamed noodles" in the Technique section
3 fresh red cayenne chilis, slivered on the diagonal (dried chilis can be used)
2 large scallions, sliced on the diagonal
Peanut oil
4 chinese dried mushrooms
1 large cloves Garlic slivered
1" x 3/4" peeled, ginger slivered
dash vinegar


1-Tab bean sauce ground
1 Tab sweet bean (or hoisin) sauce
2 TAB stock
1/2 tsp salt

For garnish:

sesame oil
slivered scallion or carrot
Put the mushrooms in very hot water and allow to soak for about an hour. When they are completely softened, put them in a towel or cheesecloth and wring out as much water from them as possible. Slice into matchstick shreds, making sure to trim out any hard portions. Marinate in soy sauce, wine and sweet black vinegar, about a teaspoon or so each, and set aside.
Cut the pork into matchstick shreds (see Technique section for hints on cutting) Add a marinade of a little soy sauce, wine and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly, add a tablespoon of oil and mix again. Set aside.
Put the steamed noodles into boiling water, when returns to a boil, they are about ready. Check them for desired texture.
Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat the wok and when it just begins to smoke, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of peanut oil and swirl around the wok. Stir fry meat until it barely begins to brown, and move to the side; when oil reheats, add the garlic and ginger, toss a few times, then add chilis; add scallions, turn a few times, keeping meat to the side. Add mushrooms, stir fry until well mixed; splash in wine, and vinegar, then incorporate meat, and add sauce mixture. When sauce is hot, add noodles and stir fry, occasionally allowing the noodles to "rest" in the wok to brown them a little.
When the noodles are hot and slightly browned, plate the dish and garnish with sesame oil and green onion slices.

Huntun Tang (Wonton Soup)

Throughout the world, Wonton Soup is a dish as well known by name as Chow Mein, Chop Suey, and Sweet and Sour Pork.  In China, where it has been known for as many as 2,000 years, it is also popular everywhere, and has variations such as the Sichuanese Long Chao Shou.  The Chinese word huntun has some lyrical interpretations, such as the doubtful story that the dumplings were named after two tribal warriors in Ancient China named Hun and Tun.  In cantonese, the characters, pronounced similarly as wahn tan, 云吞, is translated as "swallowing clouds." Traditional variations include the addition of noodles, (huntun tang mian 馄饨 汤面), and of additional ingredients, such especially cabbage or spinach.

This recipe is quite easy to prepare, especially if you have chicken stock on hand.  It's not recommended to make the wonton skins from scratch, since the traditional recipe calls for such a thin wrapper.  Many good store-bought skins are available, even in Western supermarkets

50 -100 wonton skins
1/2# shrimp (Weigh after deveining and shelling) chopped coarsely
1/2# Pork, minced with cleaver
2 small green onion, minced
1 scant TAB soy
1 TAB rice wine
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
dash black pepper
1/2” x 3/4 “ pc peeled ginger, finely minced
2 tsp cornstarch
1 round tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
--makes 50 to 70 wontons

Chop the shelled deveined shrimp; finely mince into a paste 1/3 or so of the chopped shrimp. Combine all the filling ingredients except sesame oil and stir vigorously and thoroughly in one direction until the mass coheres and is well blended. Add sesame oil and continue to mix until oil is incorporated.
Put a round tsp or so of filling in the center of the square wrapper and wet two adjacent edges.

Fold the wet edges over the filling, align with the opposite edge and press together securely to form a triangle. Now wet one of the pointed ends at the longest side, and pull it and the other point back around to make the two ends of the longest side overlap. Press the ends together, and the dumpling is completed. (You will need about 10 pcs for this recipe, but huntun can be arranged on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, frozen, bagged and frozen).

To make the Soup:

10 won ton
3 cups chicken stock (for 1 lg bowl or two small bowls)
3 very thin slices of ginger
3 small-med bai cai or napa cabbage leaves (or six small spinach leaves)
dash of white pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp of sugar to taste
Salt to taste.
1/2 green onion, thinly sliced on an extreme diagnonal for garnish
Sesame oil for garnish

Blanch cabbage leaves for 1-1/2 minute, drain and cut out thickest portion of spine and slice into 1” diagonal pieces. Set aside. Slice 1/2 green onion on sharp diagonal for garnish.
When you are almost ready to serve, begin heating the soup with ginger slices, salt, sugar and white pepper to a very gentle simmer, tasting and adjusting seasoning; in the meantime place approximately 10 dumplings into boiling water, stir occasionally, and cook for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove and cover for a few moments while the soup is prepared. As soon as the soup barely simmers, put the cabbage or spinach into a serving bowl or two individual bowls, then the wontons, and pour in the soup. Garnish with sliced onion and sesame oil.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Yu Xiang Zhu Rou Si (Fish fragrance Pork Shreds)

Fish Fragrance Pork shreds Yu Xiang Rou Si

Yu Xiang Rou Si is one of the most famous of all Sichuan dishes; however, it requires the use of an ingredient unfamiliar to most Western cooks: Dried Cloud Ear, also known as Wood Ear fungus. There seems to be general disagreement over the difference between these two mushrooms.  Some, for example, Yan-Kit So, (Yan Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook) claim a distinction between the two; others, notably Bruce Cost, (Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients) suggest they are the same.  To make matters more confusing, I've even  seen translations such as mao mu er, (lit. "hairy wood ear"), and hei mu er (lit. "black wood ear") but such questions are only interesting to die-hard food geeks.  Suffice it to say these are all jelly fungi which grow on wood and fallen trees, have almost no taste, and are valued for their texture. You can use any of these in the recipe.

The name of this dish is generally understood to mean pork shreds prepared in the manner of fish; yet, even Mandarin speakers can't really explain why the Chinese name literally translates as "fish fragrant pork shreds."  It definitely does not mean "this dish will smell like a fish!" In "Land of Plenty," Fuchia Dunlop's superb book on Sichuan cooking, she suggests that this preparation is associated with a certain carp well known in Sichuan that is sometimes added to the brine of the pickled chilies used in the Yu Xiang preparations. Whether or not the origins of the name are ever known, it is one of those time-honored, traditional dishes that escaped the mainland, and in some form, spread from Sichuan to greater Asia, then on to the United States in the 70's. The unique quality of Yu Xiang Rou Si can be attributed to the shredded fungus and bamboo shoots, which contribute a flexible yet strikingly crunchy texture, while bathed in a typically pungent Sichuan combination of vinegar, sugar, garlic and pickled red chili paste. In China, pork Shreds and eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi) are the most common Yu Xiang menu listings, but its popularity has spawned dozens of main ingredient variations here and abroad.

Stir fry ingredients:
12 oz pork loin
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces, drained weight) Bamboo Shoots, sliced and slivered 2" long
1/4+ oz dried Cloud Ear fungus (2 oz wet, after trimming)
1-1/2 Tab Red Chili Paste or Sambal Oelek Chili paste
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
3/4" x 1" pc peeled Ginger, slivered
3 med scallions (see below)
1 Tab Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry

2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tab Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 Tab cornstarch
1 Tab oil

Sauce Ingredients:
2-1/2 tsp Sugar
2 tsp vinegar, preferably Chinkiang Vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tab Chicken Stock
Cornstarch slurry

Sesame oil garnish

Sometime before you begin making Yu Xiang Rou Si, it is a good idea to put the pork in the freezer if possible, as this will make it easier to slice thinly later on.

The Cloud Ears expand many times their original size when soaked in boiling water; do not be tempted to use more than a small handful, or just over a quarter oz. of dried product. Pour boiling water over the fungus in a heat proof bowl, and set aside for 30 minutes.

When the pork is partially frozen, slice the loin across the grain 1/8" thick. After you've cut 3 or 4, slice these pieces 1/8" wide to produce shreds, or "matchsticks." Continue slicing and shredding until all the pork is cut, then put it in a bowl for marinating. Add the marinade ingredients, except the oil, and mix thoroughly. Add the oil, mix again, and set aside. (see photo, right)

Drain the Cloud Ears, cool, and trim out any hard, knotty or fibrous sections--you should have approximately 2 oz. of trimmed mushroom to work with. Slice into 1/8" shreds, about 1-1/2 to 2" long.

If using canned bamboo shoots, blanch them in boiling water for a minute at full boil, drain, rinse, and cut the same as the Wood Ear fungus. Set aside. Mince the garlic cloves; sliver the ginger into small matchsticks. Mince the white portion of the scallion; cut the green portion into 1-1/2" sections, then sliver similar to the ginger. (see photo, right)
In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside. Prepare cornstarch slurry (1 part starch to 1 part water or stock, in a lidded container which you can shake and pour) Stir the sauce and shake the slurry occasionally as you prepare to cook, to ensure the ingredients are combined and dissolved.

Wipe wok with a small amount of oil and begin to pre-heat. When wok begins to smoke, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of peanut oil and carefully swirl around to coat the sides of the wok. When oil is smoking, slide in the shreds of pork, and after it begins to brown after about half a minute or so, begin to break up shreds, and stir fry, pausing occasionally to allow some browning. After two or three minutes, when the pork is cooked through and partially browned, remove the meat or push it to the side of the wok. There should be 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil remaining in the bottom of the pan, and to this add the red chili paste. Stir this in the bottom for 30 seconds or so, until the oil is reddened and the pungent fragrance is released. Add in the garlic, ginger and minced scallion, still keeping the meat to the side. When the seasonings just begin to brown, move the meat shreds into the mixture and stir fry for 30 seconds or so, then splash in the wine. Add the shredded fungus and bamboo shoots, stir fry a minute or so, then add sauce mixture. When the liquid begins to bubble, add green onion shreds, and the slurry, a little at a time, until the sauce thickens slightly more than desired--the moisture in the other ingredients will thin it slightly. Plate the Yu Xiang Rou Si and garnish with sesame oil and a few scallion shreds.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whole Fish with Chili Sauce (Doubanjiang quan yu)

Whole Fish with Chili Sauce (Doubanjiang quan yu)

One tradition of Chinese cuisine which differs markedly from that of the West is that of serving fish whole (quan) rather than in steak or filet form.  Due to cultural tradition and economy, game birds, domestic fowl and seafood are often served anatomically intact.  For example, many duck, quail, pigeon and chicken dishes are served with the head combs and beaks still attached, which is generally repugnant to most Westerners.  Chinese American versions of traditional dishes have made allowances for this, and by far the most popular dishes in North America are boneless, fileted and trimmed meat protein.  Whole fish, however, is often offered stateside, but usually requires special ordering in advance.  Any meat cooked “bone in” will tend to be juicier and more flavorful, so the following recipe is highly recommended as a seafood presentation, besides being a fundamental tradition in China.
1-1/2 1/3/4 lb Sheephead, Bass, or Snapper

2 TAB rice wine (marinade)
2 TAB Soy (marinade)
  • 6-8 Tab Peanut oil
  • 1 “ x 1” pc Ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green onion, entirely minced
  • 1 level TAB chili bean sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2-3 TAB Xiaoshing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 TAB soy sauce
  • 1 TAB sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup chicken or pork stock
  • Cornstarch Slurry
  • Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Slivered or shredded carrot
  • sesame oil
Gut the fish or have it gutted and remove gills; wash and thoroughly dry.   Slice 3 diagonal gashes in the side of the fish, both sides.  Marinate the fish in soy and wine, rubbing the marinade into the flesh, gashes and the body cavity.  Let stand for 30 minutes or more.

Prepare flavoring ingredients, mincing garlic, ginger and green onion.  Combine the soy sauces and stock, and set aside.
Heat the peanut oil in a wok; drain the fish and pat dry; dust with cornstarch and shake off the excess.  When the oil just begins to smoke, slowly and carefully slide the fish into the wok, head first.  Use two shovels or spatulas to manipulate the fish, sliding it to the center, then carefully tilt the wok at angles so that the hot oil comes in contact with the head, middle and tail.  Fry on med-high to high for approximately 6 or 7 minutes, adjusting the heat so it doesn’t burn, then slowly turn the fish over.  This is difficult, and care must be taken not to break the partially cooked fish, nor tear the skin.  Roll the fish over slowly using two spatulas or two large chopsticks and a spatula and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  When the skin is browned and the flesh separates easily when pulled with a fork, it is done.

Turn off the heat and gently slide two spatulas under the fish and put it on a flat plate to drain.
Meanwhile, reheat the oil to med hot (if there is not at least 3 TAB of oil left over from the frying of the fish add to it; if there is too much oil, scoop some out if desired)  When oil is hot, toss in ginger, garlic and green onion.  Toss until it just begins to turn color, then add chili paste and sugar.  Stir fry for 30 seconds or so, swirl in wine, then the sauce ingredients.  When sauce is boiling, add cornstarch slurry a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the cooking utensils.  Take the wok off the heat and set aside while you carefully pick up the whole fish with two spatulas and place in on the serving platter.  Pour the sauce over the fish, and garnish.

Gong Pao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)
With few exceptions, in American Chinese restaurants, Gong Bao Ji Ding is rife with ingredients not usually found in the mainland versions: water chestnuts, green peppers, broccoli, baby corn and a multitude of “fillers” which lower the restaurants’ food cost and dilute the traditional dish.  In Sichuan, the de-facto home of this dish, the presentation generally contains only chicken breast meat, peanuts, chilies, chili sauce and other seasonings.  As always, the name and origin of the dish is obscured by time and folklore.  Most commentators agree that it is named after a Qing dynasty Sichuan governor,  whose title was Gong Bao.  The Ji Ding translates as “chicken cut into small cubes.” Even with the changes it has gone through coming to the states, the popularity of Kung Pao Chicken is a testament to the simple genius of the dish.  Gong Bao Ji Ding is just as well known in China.  No Sichuan restaurant on the mainland would be complete without it.
You will find that in this version of Gong Bao Ji Ding the main flavoring ingredients are somewhat large, sliced pieces; this not only visually mimics the shape of the cubed chicken, but produces potent bursts of flavor which characterizes this fiery dish.
11-12 oz boned and skinned, cubed approx. 5/8”
4 – 8 dried chilis, cut into 1” sections
1” x 1” pc ginger, peeled and thinly sliced—cut slices in quarters
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 or 4 green onions, white portion cut into 1” lengths; garnish with greens
3 oz. Peanuts
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn (Hua Jiao)
2 – 3 tsp red chili sauce
1 rounded TAB of sugar, palm sugar or honey
1 Tab soy
Tab Shao Xing or rice wine
1 – 2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1/4 cup stock
Cornstarch slurry
Sesame oil
Marinate the chicken cubes in wine, soy, sugar and cornstarch.  Section the chilis, retaining the seeds if you prefer the full effects of the spice.  Peel and slice the ginger and garlic; section the green onion and diagonally slice the greens to use as a garnish.
I prefer to wok roast raw peanuts, as they develop a more robust peanut flavor and crunchy texture.  To do this, put raw peanuts (with or without skins) into a medium hot wok and add a dash of peanut oil.  Toss the peanuts constantly as they will burn in only a few seconds if left unturned.  Increase the heat as needed to brown the nuts, but they must reach a sufficient internal temperature to drive out their moisture, so do not roast them too quickly.  It should take 15 or 20 minutes to do this.  Obviously, you can use pre-roasted peanuts and save the time.  In any case, be sure to add the peanuts to the dish at the last minute, to preserve their texture. Thehua jiao should be tossed for a minute in a med hot wok to refresh it; crush the peppercorns with the flat of the cleaver, and set aside for garnish.
Mix all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  Red chili sauce is available in a dizzying variety of forms and brands at Asian groceries; the popular Thai chili sauce, Sriracha, works well and is available even in standard grocery stores.  The amount can vary, according to your taste; however,  red chili sauce is usually acidic and should be balanced with at least equal parts sugar, making Gong Bao Ji Ding a traditionally sweet and sour dish.
On high heat, using 4 or 5 tablespoons of peanut oil, stir-fry the chicken cubes until they are browned and cooked through.  Remove with bamboo handled strainer or slotted spoon and set aside. Add more oil if necessary and stir-fry the chilies for a few seconds until they darken, then add ginger, garlic and onions.  When these have just begun to brown, stir sauce ingredients and add to the wok, then thicken with slurry as soon as it boils.  Add back the chicken; off the heat, quickly stir in the peanuts, plate the Gong Bao Ji Ding, garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil, green onion shreds and hua jiao.

Gan Bian Zhu Rou Si (Dry Fried Pork Shreds)

Gan Bian Zhu Rou Si (Dry Fried Pork Shreds)
This dish is in the popular tradition of “dry frying” (gan bian), which really means presented with very little liquid sauce. This makes for an intensely flavored and visually rich dish, since the flavorings become reduced through evaporation and cling to the stir-fry
ingredients. But perhaps the main appeal of dry-frying is textural. The meat is sauteed until dry, a thing usually avoided in Western cooking. This method provides a nice contrast with steamed and poached dishes. I have suggested sweet red peppers for this, whereas in Sichuan, where this dish is from, fresh chili peppers are used and the effect is extremely intense--possibly too intense for most Westerners.

11 –12 oz pork shoulder, boneless rib, or loin, sliced into shreds, 1/8” x 2” x 1/8” 
1 or 2 fresh red chilis, seeded and slivered
4 spring onion, white portion 2” segments, and quartered lengthwise, green portion shredded 2” long for garnish.
1 or 2 large sweet red peppers, shred same as pork
3 Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water, squeezed, marinated in soy, sugar, wine.
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1”by 1 “ pc ginger, sliced thin
2 Tab soy
2 tsp Sugar
2 Tab Shao Xing Wine or dry sherry
2 tsp Rice wine vinegar

Marinate pork in a splash of soy sauce, dry sherry, and cornstarch.  On medium high heat, stir-fry the meat in about 4 Tab peanut oil for several minutes--as much as 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the cut size of the meat--until well-browned; remove with slotted spoon or strainer and set aside. Add more oil if necessary, and stir-fry the ginger, light sections of green onion (reserve dark green sections) and slivered chilis until 1 or 2 minutes, then add the sweet red pepper, garlic slices and stir-fry until all ingredients are browned; toss in mushroom and dark green onion segments. Add sauce and stir-fry all ingredients until it no longer puddles in the bottom of the wok.
Platter and garnish with sesame oil and carrot slivers.