Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jiang Ji Si (Shredded Ginger Chicken)

Shredded Ginger Chicken (Jiang Ji Si)

As a cold appetizer, Jiang Ji Si is not, strictly speaking, a traditional dish; it does, however, utilize a well-known combination, a shredded ginger/salt/oil dipping sauce and steamed chicken, (Zheng Ji), two things traditionally served separately as a warm main course.  It is intensely flavored and ridiculously easy to make.

3 boned, skinned chicken breasts,  (appx. 1 lb)
1-2 Tab Sesame oil for marinade


1-1/2 Tab Sesame oil for sauce
1-1/2 Tab Peanut oil for sauce
1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt to taste.
1” x 1” pc of peeled fresh ginger


2 green onions, minced

After boning and skinning, wash and dry the chicken breast then rub well with sesame oil; place in an oiled steamer tray or one that is lined with parchment paper.  Make sure pieces are not touching.  Steam chicken about 8 minutes, or until the chicken meat is just firm to the touch (larger pieces will require more steaming, smaller ones, less).  Allow to cool, then refrigerate, loosely covered.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce:  Mince the ginger as finely as possible.  (This can be accomplished by finely mincing with a knife; shredding with grater using the smallest holes, or, combined with the oil, in a food processor—the important thing is to retain as much of the ginger juices as possible)  Mix the minced ginger and any juices with the oil and salt.  Be sure to taste the sauce as you are adding salt—it should be somewhat salty, since the sauce with be mixed with the chicken and lose some of it’s pungency.

When ready to assemble the dish, shred the chicken by pulling the meat apart with the grain—you are separating the muscle fibers, and it will tear in small elongated threads in this way.  Discard any cartilage or bone fragments.  Mound chicken shreds on a small platter, drizzle ginger/oil sauce over it, then garnish with minced green onion.  This can be prepared ahead of time, but add the sauce and garnish at the last moment.

Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Soup Dumplings)

My passion for this morsel began in Shanghai, in the year 2001, when my wife and I went in search of xiao long bao, an adventure that culminated in a uproarious cab ride out to Nanxiang, the suburban enclave that gave birth to it.  We made an 18 minute video detailing this quest:

Of the hundreds of Chinese dumplings and snack foods, some consider xiao long bao to be the best.  In my opinion, it ranks as one of the great achievements of any cuisine: understated in appearance, this sensuous dumpling hides within it a savory, ginger-laced combination of crab or shrimp and pork, surrounded by a velvety broth which literally bursts in your mouth when eaten whole…

As far as the "technology" of these xiao long bao, combining meat and soup within a wheat wrapper dumpling might seem impossible, but it depends on a simple, ingenious device: the soup is gelatinized and cooled before being mixed with the meat filling.  When the xiao long bao is steamed, the soup “melts” and remains contained within the dumpling until it is breached, as it were, by a hungry enthusiast, of which there are millions in China and the rest of the world.

All of this is the good news.  The bad news is, these little devils are tricky to make.  They will taste divine, but don’t expect them to look like the dumplings you’ll find in Shanghai.  My test of the recipe was a two day adventure, not counting the hours of cleaning flour off my clothes, the counters, floor and ceiling.

Xiaolongbao, literally translated means, “little steamer buns,” and I’m slightly puzzled as to why, when so many of China's national dishes have lyrical or descriptive names, this most wonderful of dumplings was given such a mundane moniker.  "Dumpling of Heaven" might be more appropriate, or even "Nanxiang soup dumpling" (i.e., Nanxiang tang bao), after the suburb of Shanghai where it was probably invented.  From the student chef’s point of view, however, xiaolongbao’s ethereal taste and texture is in direct proportion to how difficult it is to pleat these dumplings; it is all the more discouraging when you see the lightning fast ease with which specialists fold them, for example, at Shanghai’s famous Nanxiang Mantou Dian, where they make a pork and crab version .   Youtube has several videos showing the workers at this Nanxiangsnack restaurant pleating xiaolongbao, for example:

While the xiao long bao is made in countless dumpling and noodle restaurants in Shanghai, its suburbs, and elsewhere in China, it also has an international following, though it isn’t as well known outside of China as potstickers (guo tie), or even ha gau.the shrimp dumpling featured at dim sum.  A very respectable xiao long bao is being served at Din Tai Fung, a chain with stores in 9 countries, including the United States.
See   Overall, I think the student chef will find this delectable dumpling a lot of work to make at first; but, like any worthwhile dish in the 
repertoire, well worth it.

“Soup” for dumpling filling:
2-1/2 lbs chicken parts (backs, necks, wings, etc)
2-1/2 lbs Pork feet and skin (including reserved skin above)
2” x 3” pc ginger, smashed with cleaver
4 garlic cloves, smashed
3 scallion, smashed with cleaver
1 pkg Gelatin
1 – 2 tsp Salt (to taste)
6 –7 quarts of water

Ginger Scallion water:
2” x 3” pc of ginger (for ginger/scallion water)
3 green onions (for ginger/scallion water)
1 cup water

12 oz lean pork
12 oz pork belly, skin removed and used for soup
7 to 8 oz shelled de-veined shrimp (net weight)
1 Tab light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper
3/4 or so coarse salt
1-1/2 Tab rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 cup Ginger/Scallion water
1 - 1/2 Tab cornstarch
2 tsp sesame oil
2 - 1/2 cups jellied pork and chicken soup, above

Dough for wrapper:
10 oz All purpose flour
12 oz Bread Flour
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water

Dipping Sauce:
Finely shredded peeled ginger and Chinkiang vinegar makes a traditional dip.

To make the soup: Wash the pork and chicken pieces with cold water.  Cut the pork skin into a large dice, and chop part way through the chicken bones and flesh to expose meat and marrow.  To eliminate much of the scum and off-flavors blanch the meat pieces in boiling water for a couple of minutes, strain, rinse and strain again.  Put the rinsed meat in a stock pot with about 6 or 7 quarts of water, along with crushed ginger, scallions and garlic, and bring to a simmer.  Attend to this broth for a half an hour or so after it simmers, skimming any foam and scum from the surface.  Cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Remove bones and flesh with bamboo strainer or slotted spoon, then strain the broth through several layers of cheesecloth.  Return stock to the heat, this time uncovered, and simmer vigorously for 2 or 3 hours to reduce the stock to 3 or 4 cups.  Simmer time is not precise; the point here is to create a delicious, intensely flavored pork and chicken soup which is partly gelatinized.  (You will need 2-1/2 cups of finished, de-fatted broth for the filling).  Refrigerate the soup overnight, and skim off the congealed fat.  Put one packet of gelatin into 1/2 cup cold water to soften; warm 2-1/2 cups clarified, de-fatted soup and salt to taste.  Heat to 180 or 190 degrees (below simmer) and add softened gelatin and stir.  When the gelatin has completely dissolved, refrigerate until cooled and set.

To make the ginger/scallion water:
Crush the ginger with the flat of a heavy cleaver or rolling pin; cut the scallion in 3 or 4 sections and crush in the same way.  In a bowl combine ginger, scallion and one cup of water, and squeeze the ingredients to extract their juices.  Set aside while you continue making the filling.

To make the filling:
Wash and dry the pork, shell and de-vein the shrimp, and chop together into a coarse mince; mince half of the meat very fine.  (If using a meat grinder, put the pork and shrimp through a 1/4” plate, then half of that again through a 1/8” plate).   Add the soy sauce, sugar, white pepper, salt, rice wine and ginger/scallion water, stirring the filling thoroughly in one direction with a wooden spoon handle or spatula.  Sprinkle cornstarch evenly over the mixture and stir thoroughly.  If the 2 1/2 cups of gelatinized pork and chicken soup is cold and set, de-mold it onto a cutting board and dice the gelatin very small, 1/8” or less.  Add it too the meat mixture and stir very thoroughly.  See comment below about testing the filling and dough.

To make the dough:
Combine the two flours in a mixing bowl.  Add hot water and mix thoroughly; when it is combined well, and crumbly in texture, add cold water and continue mixing with a spoon or dough hook if you’re using a mixer.  When dough cool enough to handle, begin kneading; the dough should be soft and a slightly sticky.  If doing this by hand, you should knead the dough for fifteen minutes or so, adding flour if it begins to stick to your hands.  Be aware, however, that a soft, very stretchable dough is required to make xiao long bao, so too much flour will make a stiff, difficult material to work with.  On the other hand, the challenge is to make a dough that is strong enough to contain a hot soup during the time it is being cooked and served.  To balance both concerns, I suggest kneading as much flour into the dough as it will absorb, then letting it rest in the refrigerator overnight, wrapped in plastic.  Bring to room temperature before using.
At any time after you’ve mixed the dough and filling, you can make and steam a small test dumpling to check seasonings, stock to filling ratio, and a sense of whether the dough is right for the dumpling.

To make the dumplings:
Once the dough is at room temperature, place on a well-floured surface,  and divide it into 4 or 5 equal pieces.  Roll the pieces into ropes, approximately 1” in diameter.  Cut the rope into equal sections, about 1” long, and flatten into thick discs.  Roll the discs into 3” rounds, as thin as possible on the edges, and 1/8” or less in the center.  Roll out several rounds and keep them covered as you begin to fill the dumplings (Doing these somewhat ahead once again rests the dough and makes them more manageable).  With a butter knife of flat stick, apply a round tablespoon of filling to the skin, leaving a border of a half inch or so, and begin pleating the edge with your fingers and thumb, overlapping the dough by a quarter inch or so.  The pleat should be squeezed firmly and pulled slightly vertically to prevent the top of the finished dumpling from being too thick.  As you pleat, rotate the dumpling clockwise, making sure the filling remains well below the edges of the dumpling.  When you’ve done approximately 14 pleats, the dumpling should be nearly, but not quite, closed at the top.
(I rolled the sections just under 1/8” or so thick, then cut the disc with a cutter, between 2-3/4” and 3.”   Before you add the filling, flatten the edges of the round to make it easier to pleat.  I rested the dumpling on the floured surface, instead of holding the dumpling as you see them do in Shanghai.
Place the pleated dumplings, separated from one another, on a steamer tray lined with perforated parchment paper or (napa) cabbage leaves.  Steam for 10 or 11 minutes.
Serve the xiao long bao in their steamer trays, since, loaded with hot soup, they are very fragile.  A Chinkiang vinegar/shredded ginger dipping sauce can accompany the dumplings.

Liang Mian (Cold Noodles)

Liang mian, cold noodles, is a traditional snack food in China, little known to westerners. It is sold by street vendors and small cafes in many parts of the country; this version is based on one I enjoyed while visiting Chengdu, Sichuan; thus it is firery and intensely flavored. In terms of traditional liang mian, you will encounter broadly two types: a vinegar/soy slightly sweet version as in the present recipe, and a more common rich, nutty version featuring sesame paste and often chicken, and described as “sesame noodles,” or “sesame noodles with chicken” (Ji Si Liang Mian). The famous Sichuan noodle dish, Dan Dan Mian, should be included in this category, although it is not, strictly speaking, always served cold, but often a combination of cold noodles with a freshly cooked meat and sesame based sauce topping. In this recipe, none of the sauce ingredients require cooking, making this an exceptionally fast and easy dish to prepare.

1 Tab Chili oil
2 tsp chili paste
1 Tab light Soy sauce
1 tsp sweet black vinegar
1 scallion, white portion minced, green portion finely sliced for garnish
2 medium cloves garlic, very finely minced
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tab Zhejiang vinegar
3 tsp sugar
Sichuan peppercorn, lightly toasted and ground, for garnish
Sesame oil for garnish

At least 2 1/2 cups cooked wheat noodles, cooled.

Mix all the sauce ingrdients and store in an airtight container. Place 2 1/2 cups or so of cooked, cool noodles in a bowl and top with about 2 Tablespoons of sauce.

Garnish with sesame oil, roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorn (hua jiao) and green onion.

The sauce recipe above will season approximately 8 cups of cooled cooked noodles.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fan Qie Chao Dan (Stir Fried Eggs with Tomatoes)

Stir fried eggs are a staple all over China.  This is hardly surprising, given that chickens and stir frying have been ubiquitous on the mainland for centuries.  Fan qie chao dan (literally, tomato fried egg) is very different from the famous Chinese-American egg dish, “Egg Fu Yung.”  (The name “Egg Fu Yung” is derived from the Chinese fu rong, or Cantonese fu yuhng, meaning cotton rose hibiscus, and refers poetically to the similarity of this flower to fluffy, whipped egg white used in Mainland fu rong dishes.)  The moisture of the tomatoes lend this dish a creamy, rich softness, and the addition of white pepper and sesame oil will further distinguish it from Western scrambled egg preparations.

5 large eggs
2 scallions, slivered diagonally
2 small tomatoes, approx 6 oz., roughly chopped
Ground white pepper to taste
Coarse salt to taste
Sesame oil garnish
Cilantro, slivered carrot or slivered red pepper for garnish

Place the whole eggs in a bowl and set aside until they attain room temperature.
In a medium hot wok, heat two or three tablespoons of peanut oil until it begins to smoke; add green scallions and stir fry briefly until edges just begin to brown.  Raise heat to high, and slide in the eggs; as soon as a skin forms on the bottom, add tomatoes and begin breaking up the yolks and tossing the mixture until the eggs are barely set.  Remove wok from heat and add dashes of salt and white pepper to taste.  Plate the eggs and drizzle sesame oil over the top.  Garnish and serve.

Lu sun Niu Rou Si (Asparagus with Beef Slivers)

While asparagus is a very recently introduced and not yet a common vegetable on the tables of China, the country is the world’s largest producer of the white variety, and I have no doubt that with the increasing affluence of the Chinese, such delicious western produce as asparagus will be sampled and eventually incorporated into the cuisine.  Its taste, color (especially the green) and particular crisp texture is precisely the sort of qualities that will endear it to their national palate.  The preparation, however, is very traditional, and utilizes a reduction sauce.  This method is common in China but is almost never employed in the Chinese American restaurants, whose cooks can’t seem to keep starch thickeners away from their stir fries.  In this dish, one can very simply substitute pork, chicken, or even lamb, with similar results.

8 oz lean beef (tri-tip, or top round works well)10 oz green asparagus,  fibrous ends trimmed
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 scallions, slivered diagonally, green and white portions separated

Meat marinade:
1 Tab black soy
1 Tab light soy
1 Tab rice wine
1 heap Tab cornstarch

2 Tab stock
1 Tab rice wine
1 Tab light soy sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Slice beef across the grain, then sliver into matchsticks approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inches long.  Mix with marinade, and allow to stand for 30 minutes or longer.
Slice asparagus at an extreme diagonal, very thin, approximately1/8” thick or less (If it is sliced too thick, other ingredients will overcook by the time the asparagus is done).
Heat wok to smoking hot and swirl in 3 Tab of peanut oil.  When very hot, add beef slivers and break apart; toss, allowing meat to rest occasionally so that it will brown nicely.  After only 1 or 2 minutes, remove beef to a plate.  Add more oil if necessary, and when wok is hot add garlic, white portion of onion, then asparagus.  Stir fry 1 or 2 minutes, until edges of the vegetable begin to brown.  Stir sauce ingredients and add to wok; toss on high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated and clings to the ingredients.  Plate and garnish with sesame oil and slivered carrot.