Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (Red Braised Lion's Head)

Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (Red Braised Lion's Head)

It is not often you'll find this very traditional dish in stateside Chinese restaurants, yet in China north and south, Shi Zi Tou (Lion's Head) is very common.  The poetic name of this dish results from its appearance: large meatballs in a bed of cooked cabbage suggests, with a little imagination, a lion's head surrounded by his mane.  Variaions exist, especially in southern China, where Shi Zi Tou may have a lighter broth or sauce,  and possibly cellophane noodles (fen si), in addition to the cabbage. The present recipe is a Shanghai version, utilizing the famous "red cooked" (hong shao) method of poaching in soy and stock; if you prefer a lighter, "Southern" variation, you can simply omit the two soy sauces and substitute 4 tablespoons more chicken broth.  This recipe also calls for water chestnuts, and it is highly recommended that you buy the fresh ones rather than canned, available at most Chinese groceries, even though it takes a few minutes to peel them.  Once you experience the sweet, tender fresh water chestnuts, you'll never go back.

  • 1 1/2 lbs                 Ground Pork
  • 4                              TABWater
  • 8                              Water Chestnuts, large mince
  • 3                              Scallions, minced
  • 3 tsp                       Ginger, minced
  • 2 tsp                       Sesame oil
  • 1 TAB                     Sherry
  • 1/2 tsp                    Salt
  • 2 - 3 TAB               Cornstarch for dredging pork balls
  • 3 or 4 TAB             Peanut oil
  • 2 TAB                     Dark Soy
  • 2 TAB                     Light Soy
  • 20 oz                      Napa Cabbage, root end trimmed, leaves separated
  • 2 tsp                       Brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup               Chicken stock (homemade is far superior, see Technique)
Make a potato flour slurry (equal parts water and starch, appx 2/3 tsp each; you can also use cornstarch, though it will not result in as gelatinous a sauce) 
Combine pork and water.  Mix meat in one direction, and keep mixing until it is somewhat fluffy and cohered, a few minutes; add  large mince chestnuts, minced scallion, minced ginger, sesame oil, sherry and salt; mix well and form into 5 large meat balls approx 6 oz each, 2 1/2"  to 3" diameter. 

Dust meatballs in cornstarch and remove excess--set aside. 

Heat wok with 3 TAB peanut oil over medium heat;  when wok oil is just barely smoking, add meat balls one at a time and fry, rolling and turning very gently, until slightly firm and browned.  Remove.  

Clean wok, heat to medium, add 6 Tablespoons of water, put in cabbage leaves, cover and steam 5 minutes or so until leaves are flexible.  Remove and allow to cool enough to handle.  

Line sand pot (sha guo) or small casserole with 2/3 of the cabbage; gently add the five meatballs, then pour in chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauces.  Lay remaining cabbage over meat, cover and braise balls for 1 1/2  hours on top of stove.  

When done and cool enough to handle, carefully remove Lion's heads to a plate.  On the service platter, arrange braised cabbage in a circular pattern; arrange meatballs in the center.  Reduce braising liquid to desired flavor intensity and add stream of slurry until liquid is thickened, coats spoon thickly, but still runs.  Pour over Lions head, garnish with slivered green onion or slivered carrot.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Siu Maaih Pork and Shrimp Dim Sum dumpling

Siu Maaih Pork and shrimp dumpling

There is no item that so epitomizes dim sum as this little morsel.  It will be served in every dim sum restaurant, no matter how humble the offerings.  Its name, Siu Maaih, which literally translated from Cantonese means "cook sell," might describe its humble beginnings as a street snack to go with tea, and therefore may have been dim sum's first dumpling.  Luckily for those of us who are willing to slave away in the kitchen making traditional Chinese delicacies, this one is relatively easy to produce.  One can make their own skins for siu maai, if one wants to destroy one's kitchen over the course of a very long day, but few cooks try it; the thin, factory made wrapper, available in every Chinese store, is inexpensive and foolproof.

2 small to medium shitake dried mushrooms
11 oz pork (picnic country rib boneless), minced (previously ground pork is acceptable)
6 oz shrimp, after shelling and deveining; 1/3 of this pureed or pounded, 2/3 should be chopped.
1 sm green onion, minced
1 Tab soy
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
dash white pepper
3 tablespoons water

1 pkg  "thin shao mai" wrapper (i.e., Seattle's Rose brand)

Reconstitute the dried mushroom by submerging in very hot water for 1 hour.  Press out water, cut out stems, mince and set aside.

Prepare all other ingredients and combine, including the minced mushroom.  Mix vigorously in one direction for 3 or 4 minutes to make a uniform, cohered filling. 

With wrapper on flat of your left palm, wet edge of skin.  Using a small spatula or wide knife, slather approx. 2 Tab filling on wrapper.  Begin to close the palm, wrinkling the edges of the wrapper.  Close gently, gathering the edges together for pleating.  Pinch the wide pleats to make them more uniform.  Pressing in a bit more filling flattens the pleats and firms up the dumpling.  Applying some pressure to the bottom flattens the Siu Maaih and rounds the top.  Add a garnish of green onion, carrot slivers or 3 peas and they are ready to steam.

The dumplings can be frozen; I suggest you freeze them, separated, on a parchment lined tray before putting in a freezer bag to prevent sticking.

Steam 7 minutes if dumplings are fresh, 12 minutes if frozen.

makes approx. 24 dumplings