Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chen Pi Niu Rou (Tangerine Flavored Beef)

You’ll find this dish on many stateside restaurant menus, especially those purporting to be Sichuan, Hunan, and even “northern” inspired.  This version tries to be rigorously traditional, with hardly any ingredients besides tangerine peel and beef, such brevity of ingredients being typical of mainland Chinese cuisine.

While you will see this recipe translated into English as both “Tangerine Flavored beef” and “Orange Flavored Beef,” the Chinese tradition sees less of a  distinction between the two.   Tangerine, a type of small orange, is an English word deriving from Tangiers, the port from which these fruits were first shipped to Europe.  On the other hand, orange citrus was known to China from earliest times and their remnants found in Han tombs.  Today, anyone visiting Western China will notice small curls of orange peel drying on strings and in window sills in nearly every household.  Even though small oranges have been savored in the Mainland for centuries, only a handful of cooked dishes feature them, Chen Pi Niu Rou being the best known.  It is delicious on several levels, especially the balance of sweet opposed to the bitterness of the peel, the eating of which may be an acquired taste for Westerners.

If you have not air-dried orange or tangerine peel yourself in preparation for this dish, you can purchase the ingredient at a Chinese grocery, although it is not recommended.  (To dry your own, just as most Chinese do, peel fresh tangerines or small, thin-skinned organges and dry the skins for several days in a drafty area or in an oven for about 1-1/2 hours at 110 degrees).

12 oz beef tri tip, sliced 1/8” x 2 “ by 1” or so
Dried tangerine peel from 2  small tangerines (appx. 20 pcs, 1/2” x 1” or so)

Marinade for beef slices:
2 thick slices of ginger, crushed with the flat side of cleaver
1 Tab light soy sauce
1 Tab Shaoxing wine or sherry
2 tsp cornstarch

Stir fry ingredients:
6 scallions, cut diagonally into sections, approx 1” long
        separate white and green portions
6 lg dried chilis, sliced diagonal into 3/4 – 1” sections
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 - 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, roasted and ground
1 Tab rice wine

2 Tab soy
4 Tab stock
2 Tab tangerine soaking water
1-1/2 Tab sugar

Soak dried orange peel in enough hot water to cover and allow to soften for an hour or more.
Add crushed ginger to the other marinade ingredients and allow to infuse while the beef is sliced as described.  Mix beef slices with marinade, discarding ginger.
Heat wok until smoking, add 3 or 4 Tab of oil,  and add beef slices.  Brown the meat for 3 minutes or so, then remove.  Add a little more oil, if necessary, and when oil begins to smoke, add white portion of the scallion,  stir fry a little, then add chilis, tangerine peel, garlic and Sichuan peppercorn.  When chilis are browned, deglaze with wine.  On high heat add back the beef slices and green onion; add the sauce mixture after mixing it thoroughly, and toss everything until liquid is reduced enough to glaze the meat.  Toss, plate and garnish with cilantro or slivered scallion.

Tang Cu Qiezi (Sweet and Sour Eggplant)

This is a variation on Sichuan Classic. In Chengdu, at a restaurant we dubbed "Pretty in Pink" because of its gaudy vinyl wall panels, we repaired to a small, open-front restaurant with 6 or 7 tables, one server and one cook.  I ordered Yu Xiang Qiezi,  but when it arrived it was obvious from its color that the cook had deep fried the eggplant, and omitted the chili paste and Chingkiang vinegar.  In spite of the fact that it was a bit different than the traditional,  we liked it very much--in fact, we rarely went back to traditional version.   Begging the chef's pardon, I’ll call this Tang Cu Qiezi, sweet and sour eggplant, in honor of its divergence from the more traditional methods of Sichuan.
2 - 3 Asian eggplants
2 small egg whites, beaten
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp salt

2 – 3 Tab peanut oil
Heap Tab garlic
1 Tab minced ginger
1 round tab minced scallion
1or 2  dried chilies, chopped in 4 - 5 pieces
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 rounded tsp sugar
1/2 cup stock
1 Tab soy sauce
1 – 2 Tab wine
Cornstarch slurry

Sesame oil and cilantro for garnish

Prepare all other ingredients, and begin pre-heating the deep frying oil to 350 degrees.

Cut eggplants crosswise into 2 1/2 " to 3" segments, then each segment cut into eighths, lengthwise.  In a large bowl or plastic bag, combine cornstarch with salt.  When deep frying oil has nearly attained 350 degrees you can begin the sauce before frying the eggplant: turn up the wok and on moderate heat, stir fry the ginger for a few seconds, then add the chilis, garlic and scallion;  Toss for 30 seconds or so, until the edges of the garlic and scallion just begin to brown, and splash in the wine.  Add the sugar, stock, vinegar and soy sauce.  When the liquid begins to boil, drizzle in the cornstarch slurry until the sauce begins to thicken, and take off the heat.  The sauce should thick enough to coat a spoon, but not so thick that it will not flow easily when you tilt the wok.

Quickly toss the eggplant pieces in a bowl with the beaten egg whites.  Now toss them vigorously in bowl or plastic bag, then, with a colander or sieve, shake off excess starch.  Lower the eggplant into the fryer and fry for three minutes, stirring occasionally, until the outside is nicely browned and the center is soft but still moist.  Drain the eggplant for 15 seconds or so, then plate, arranging the pieces neatly.

If the sauce seems too thick when you are ready to pour it over the eggplant, thin with a teaspoon or two of stock.  Pour the sauce over the eggplant, then garnish with sesame oil and cilantro.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hong You Chao Shou (Dumplings in Hot Oil)

This xiao chi (little dish, or snack) hails from Chengdu, Sichuan, where years ago I also fell in love with the street food.  As Fuschia Dunlop will tell you in her excellent book Land of Plenty, there is a famous restaurant in the city, Long Chao Shou, purveying chao shou in several variations, (and hundreds of other Chengdu specialties), including these dumplings in a clear broth, and in a hot and sour soup.  Hong you chao shou  translates literally as something like “red oil folded hands,” and with some imagination, one might see these hun tun (won ton) dumplings swathed in fragrant chili oil as such.  The variations in folding these dumplings, and different sauces and broths in which it is served, make this snack almost generic, but universally appreciated around the province.  The current recipe is not so different than another Sichuanese dumpling, hong you shui jiao (literally, “red oil water dumpling”): except that, the chao shou, as is traditional with a hun tun,  has a far more delicate skin and filling.

10 oz pork (at least 20% fat)
1/4 cup water (for “ginger water”)
1” x 3” pc ginger (for “ginger water”)
1 small egg, beaten
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice wine or dry sherry
white pepper
1/3 or so salt
1/4 cup of pork or chicken stock
8 oz bread flour (plus 1/2 cup or more to knead in)
1 small egg, beaten
1/2 cup cold water
 Sauce (per bowl):

1 Tab chili oil (See recipe for 
hong you)
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 round tsp sugar
2 tsp chicken or pork stock
Garnish (per bowl):
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp chili oil
1 tsp sesame oil
Sprig of cilantro
Dash of roasted, ground Sichuan Peppercorn (
hua jiao) if desired
To make the dough:
Combine the beaten egg and water and add to the flour, combining it a little at a time, until a rough ball of dough forms.  Knead the dough thoroughly, adding the extra flour as you go to keep it from sticking to your hands.  When the dough is very smooth and stretchable, cover with a damp towel or plastic, set aside to rest for an hour or overnight.
To make the filling:
Crush the piece of ginger and combine it with the water, squeezing the pulp to extract the juice, and set aside.
Wash and dry the pork.  Mince very fine, then, using the blunt edge a large cleaver,  pound the meat on a cutting board, turning it as you do so, until it is an even paste.  Pick out and discard any obvious strands of gristle or tendon.
Combine the meat in a bowl with ginger water, the egg, sesame oil, rice wine, white pepper, and salt.  Stir  mixture thoroughly in one direction until all the liquids are absorbed.  While continuing to stir vigorously, add the stock a little at a time, allowing the meat to absorb the liquid before continuing.  If the mixture seems too wet to hold its shape on a spoon, allow the filling to rest in the refrigerator and try again, until the mixture is shiny, smooth and fragrant.  Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the wrappers:
Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces, keeping the unused portions under a damp cloth or plastic.  Stretch the dough piece into a rope about 5/8” diameter, then, using a generous amount of flour, roll it into a flat sheet until it is very thin.  It is necessary to dust the sheet with flour and turn it over, to prevent it sticking to your tools.  The thin sheet should be slightly translucent, about the thickness of two playing cards, and at least 3” wide.   The length is not important. Trim the strip so that it is an even 3” wide, and cut it into as many 3” squares as the sheet allows, reserving the scraps with the other dough.  If the squares are well dusted, you can continue to make 3” squares until all the dough is used. 

To make the dumplings:

Holding it flat on your left hand, put a tablespoon of filling in the center of the square; wet two edges and fold the wet edges to form a triangle.  Press the edges securely together and place on a floured surface of parchment paper.  If you want to create the classic hun tun shape, wet one of the tips of the long side of the  triangle and join them together, forming a “hat” shape.  Any chao shou that will not be used right away can be frozen separately on a non-stick surface, then bagged later.

To make the sauce and garnish, cook the dumplings, and serve:
A common serving of chao shou would be 4 or 5 dumplings. Just before cooking and serving the chao shou, in a bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients for as many servings as you need, and set aside.  For the garnish, finely mince the garlic and mix together with oils and set aside.
Boil the dumplings in a large stock pot of boiling water for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes.  Retrieve with bamboo strainer and place 4 or 5 dumplings in each serving bowl.  After stirring thoroughly, apportion the sauce over the top of the dumplings; likewise the garlic and oil garnish, sprig of cilantro and peppercorn, if desired.

Hong You (Chili Oil)

When you purchase chili flake, try to buy flake which is a bright red color.  Some Asian markets will sell chili that looks downright archeological.  In theory, grinding whole dried chilis is possible as well, but these are not usually crisp enough to break down well in a kitchen blade grinder.  This recipe provides precise temperatures, so using a fry thermometer for this recipe will be helpful.  The oil will improve with age, up to a few months.  If, once your finished oil has mellowed for a few days, you find this batch too hot for your taste, you can add a quarter cup of oil to dilute it.

Not only is hong you a staple in Sichuan kitchens, used  as a condiment, a sauce and a flavoring, it is ubiquitous around Asia, even finding its way into the dim sum restaurants of Southern China and Hong Kong, where spicy foods are far less common.  Even in the United States, every Asian grocery will carry several kinds of red chili oil--not to be confused with the chili pastes of Sichuan or the red purees and sambals of southeast Asia.  However, you will find that home made chili oil, known as  hong you, (red oil) is far superior in both color and taste, and extremely easy to make. 

     1/3 cup dry red chili flake
     1 cup peanut oil
     1” x 1” pc of ginger, crushed to release flavor
     1 star anise

Heat oil in a saucepan or wok until it is about 275 to 300 degrees.
Remove from heat and drop in crushed ginger; when the heat has cooled to 250 degrees add the chili flakes and star anise and stir.  It may fizz for a bit, which is a sign the oil was hot enough.  If the oil smokes and the flakes turn a dark brown, the temperature was too high.

When your oil has cooled to warm, discard the ginger pieces and pour everything into a glass container making sure all the flakes are included.  In two or three days, the brilliant red oil will clarify, develop its full flavor and be ready to use.

Chao Shanghai Cai (Stir fried Shanghai Bok Choi with garlic)

There is some confusion about what to call various greens in the Chinese repertoire. Bok choi, means white vegetable in Cantonese, and generally refers to the larger white cabbages (pekinensis cultivar group) which in the West are recognized as napa cabbage; in Beijing, the mandarin equivalent is bai cai, and when in season, you’ll see enormous piles of these big cabbages on neighborhood streets, awaiting distribution to homes and restaurants for preserving, boiling and stir frying (The Beijing authorities nearly eliminated this "unsightly" practice during the 2008 Olympics).  However, the popular name for the vegetable in this dish is Shanghai Bok Choi which is not even remotely large or entirely white.   In fact, Chinese cooks enjoy the very small leaves of this cabbage, the smaller the better.  Again, the preparation is extremely simple, featuring the superb texture and flavor of this delicious, healthy vegetable.
1 lb Shanghai bok choi, or Shanghai Choi, trimmed
3 med garlic cloves, minced
1/3 tsp kosher salt (or, if you prefer, 1 Tab light soy sauce)
2 – 3 Tab peanut oil
Sesame oil
Wash and thoroughly dry the cabbage.  Trim the base from each cabbage head so that all of the leaves separate.

Prepare other ingredients.

Heat wok to medium, add peanut oil and when it is hot, toss in garlic.  Stir fry quickly for 5 or 10 seconds, add Shanghai bok choi, stir fry for one minute or so and add salt (or soy if you prefer).  Cover, turn heat down to low medium, and allow cabbage to steam in its own juices for 2 minutes or so, or until the leaves are limp and the stalks begin to shrink and soften.  Adjust saltiness if necessary.  Plate the Shanghai choi on a platter and garnish with sesame oil.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gan Shao Ji Chi (Braised Chicken Wings)

This is recipe is not a Chinese version of those famous fried wings originating in Buffalo, New York.  But like many cultural and scientific phenomena, the Chinese were way ahead of us.  They have been eating chickens for 32 centuries, and since it has never been the Chinese habit to waste anything, we can assume the wings were eaten for a similar number of years.  When it became a separate “delicacy” however, is not known.

Chicken wings are a beloved snack in most places in China.  And you will find braised wings, both sweet and spicy versions, sometimes on a skewer, sometimes awaiting a dip in the huo guo pot.  This recipe utilizes the gan shao or dry braised, cooking method, with soy and sugar, served as a snack or appetizer, and is relatively easy to make in a wok; I’ve moderated the sweetness with a bit of vinegar.  Bring plenty of napkins to the table!
24 sections of chicken wings (about 2  3/4 lbs.)
2 Tab rock sugar or brown sugar
1 Tab sweet soy
1 Tab light soy
1 Tab rice wine (or sherry)
1 Tab rice wine vinegar

1 round Tab finely minced ginger
1 green onion, finely minced

2 tsp ground bean sauce
1 Tab hoisin sauce

3/4 cup chicken stock
Peanut oil for frying
Clean and dry the chicken wing sections.  You may include the wing tips if desired.  Marinate chicken in the sugar, sweet soy, soy sauce, rice wine and wine vinegar for at least an hour or overnight.
For convenience, combine the bean sauce and hoisin sauce in a small dish.  Mince green onion and ginger and set aside.
Drain the chicken thoroughly, reserving all the marinade,  then pat the chicken pieces dry with a towel or paper towel.   Heat a deep fryer or wok with 2 – 3 cups of oil to 325 degrees; carefully lower 6 or so chicken pieces into the oil and arrange the pieces evenly with a bamboo strainer.  As you turn and move the wings, keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.  The sugars in the marinade will caramelize very quickly.  Fry wings briefly until the skin is a mahogany-brown color, then remove and set aside.  Repeat until all the chicken is browned.  Turn off heat and remove all the frying oil; if using a wok, rinse out when cool enough, and dry on med heat.  Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of peanut oil; when it just begins to smoke, toss in ginger and green onion and stir fry until it just begins to brown, then add bean sauce and hoisin.  Stir fry for a minute or so and add the reserved marinade and stock.  When the liquid boils, gently lower chicken pieces into the liquid and turn the heat to low so that the wings will simmer gently.  Cover and braise chicken pieces for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the wings are cooked through, remove the lid and increase the heat.  Reduce the liquid until it coats the chicken and no longer puddles in the bottom of the pan.  Remove and arrange on a platter.
Men ji chi can be served hot or cold, but in either case be sure to provide lots of napkins!

Hao You Niu Rou (Oyster Sauce Beef)

Beef has been a part of Chinese cooking since the 12th Century BC, but the popular sauce made from oysters is relatively new, arriving in the late 19th century.  Many Westerners unaccustomed to the cuisine approach this concoction skeptically, but are won over by its velvety texture, its mild, sweet and savory flavor.  It is found in almost every restaurant in the United States, used variously as a flavoring in Chinese-American dishes, and is an important garnish to simple vegetable dishes such as gai lan (Chinese brocoli--see recipe for jie lan elsewhere on this site).  As always, many variations of this popular Cantonese dish exist, even in China, but they mostly entail differences of vegetable ingredients such as mushrooms, green peppers, carrot, bamboo shoots, snow peas, snap peas, asparagus, gai lan, bocoli, etc.  I prefer the snow peas for their sweetness and delightfully crunchy texture; otherwise, this is a beef dish, with only the textural and visual accent of a few peas, onions, and mushrooms accompanying the meat.

11 –12 oz beef (tri-tip, strip steak, sirloin)
3 green onions, white portion and green cut into 1-1/2” sections
4 - 5 thin slices of ginger
4 chinese dried mushrooms
3 oz snow peas, stem trimmed, and wiped dry
1 Tab soy sauce
1 Tab rice wine 
(Editor’s note: or dry sherry)1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tab rice wine
1 Tab soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tab chicken or beef stock
1-1/2 to 2 Tab Oyster Sauce 
(Editor’s note: Lee Kum Kee premium is best)
Sesame oil and Slivered carrot or red pepper for garnish
Slice the meat across the grain, 1/8” thick, into small strips, approximately 3/4” by 2” or so.  Combine the meat with the marinade ingredients and set aside for at least a half hour.
Submerge the mushrooms in hot tap water for at least 30 minutes to hydrate them, then squeeze the water out with a towel.  Cut the stem out and slice the mushroom into two or three pieces; mix the pieces with a splash of soy and rice wine to enhance the flavor.   Finely shred a small piece of carrot or red pepper for garnish.
Heat 4 Tab of oil in wok until smoking; stir fry beef for one or two minutes, allowing it to rest occasionally on the sides of the wok, until it begins to brown, remove with bamboo strainer or slotted spoon and set aside.  Reheat wok to high, and as soon as it begins to smoke, add green onion and ginger slices and quickly stir fry until onion just begins to brown on the edges, then toss in mushrooms and snow peas, frying for 30 seconds or so.  Splash in wine, then soy sauce, vinegar, stock and oyster sauce.  Toss the mixture until it is boiling vigorously, then, as it begins to reduce, add back the sliced meat.  Toss, and when sauce has reduced enough to coat the ingredients without too much puddling in the bottom of the wok, pour onto a small platter and garnish with sesame oil and slivered vegetable.