Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sweet and Sour Spareribs

The "Shanghai style" sweet and sour spareribs are fairly straightforward.  Marinate in wine and soy sauce, deep fry 2 minutes over medium heat, remove, raise heat and fry again "until the ribs turn brown."  Then mix marinade, sugar, chinkiang vinegar, cornstarch, and sesame oil into a sauce and coat and serve.

The only unclear instruction was after removing the ribs from the first fry, the English said "reheat oil" which should have been over medium heat the whole time, so shouldn't need reheating.  The Chinese says "raise heat" which makes more sense.

 The finished product looked nice, but much darker than the picture in the book:

Perhaps they're overcooked?

Flavor-wise, I liked the sauce, far less sweet than Americanized sweet and sour glop, with more umami.  Overall, they weren't successful however, because the texture was all wrong: too chewy.  I think the problem here is the cut of the meat.  The ribs I used were cut in the standard American way, along the bone.  Versions of Chinese spareribs I've had at decent restaurants cut the meat thin, cutting through the bone.  That's not what I see in the photo above, but even there, the meat is cut smaller.  Other things to look at are the timing of the frying.  I might have gone too long on the second fry.  Should try this one again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Paper Wrapped Chicken

This one looked super complicated, so I skipped it initially, but it turns out to be not bad at all.  The tricky part was the translation.

The basic idea is to deep fry marinated chicken, ham and mushroom, wrapped in "cellophane" paper, sort of like a Vietnamese spring roll, fried. 

Problems started early, when we discovered that the AllGreen International Supermarket had closed.  This meant we had to settle for western-style ham instead of Chinese (and that I need a new Asian market).  Fortunately, the cellophane paper can be obtained in most regular markets, and I already had everything else.

The first hiccup in the ingredients is where it calls for "1 piece ham."  The Chinese was no more helpful, specifying a "small square."  I eventually guessed the amount based on the pictures and the relative size of the ham pieces. I also ended up using more mushroom based on the same technique.

The list calls for parsley, which struck me as odd, not very Chinese.  On a hunch, I got cilantro instead.  Later, my translator confirmed that the Chinese version does call for cilantro, and a quick skim through the book revealed that everywhere the english calls for parsley, it means cilantro.

Finally, the ingredients list asks for "300g of chicken breast (or 1 chicken leg)."  This has to be a mistake, since 1 leg never generates 300g of meat.  I ended up using 3 thighs to make 300g.

The instructions had me cut the chicken into 3 x 5 cm chunks, but then I ended up with way too many pieces for the number of rolls.  I ended up using 2 pieces per roll- next time I'll just cut into 12 pieces.  After cutting the chicken, I marinated it in soy, salt, sugar and wine.

From there on out, everything went smoothly- wet the paper (instructions say nothing about that, but the paper package was clear), brush with sesame oil, place cilantro leaf in center, put piece of mushroom and ham on top of leaf.  Place (in my case 2 pieces of) chicken on top, fold like a small burrito.

Deep fry 2 minutes.  Instructions said 160C, but given my past experience, I bumped it up to 375F.  Later decided to compromise at 350F.

Notice how the air in the rolls expands to balloon out the roll.

This can tear the wrapper, so it works better if you put them in cilantro side down (Doesn't hurt flavor, just looks nicer).  Also a good idea to only do 2 at a time or they tend to stick together, at lest in my wok.

The results come out with the wrappers both crispy and chewy, so the experience is as if you wrapped them in chicken skin.  Both testers agreed that this was really tasty.  Both the textures and flavors were great blends, even if all my rolls weren't the prettiest. I'm sure they would have been even better with proper Chinese ham.

Even though deep frying always makes something of a mess, these were 25 minutes from refrigerator to table, and definitely deserve a spot in the rotation.

One final tip.  I noticed that if I bit the wrong end first, I would miss the flavor of the mushroom, So I took to putting in 2 smaller pieces, so the first bite always had some of that mushroomy goodness.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Minced Pigeon

Well, it's been a long time since I updated this blog, mostly because I just plain got busy in 2011, but also because I had misplaced some of the photos I took of dishes I had made.  This dish was made over a year ago, but I'm pretty sure I remember enough to do the write-up.

The minced pigeon recipe does not actually call for pigeon, but says that it was traditionally pigeon, but now is more commonly chicken.  I did find some sources of squab on-line, just in case.

You can see the rest of the ingredients are pretty straightforward, 2 chicken livers, chopped onion, mushroom, water chestnuts (fresh, not canned), peas, lettuce, and rice noodles.  The dry noodles are cooked until they "pop" and are golden, and are served around the dish.  diners wrap up noodles and meat in lettuce leaves and eat with their hands.  The sauce is a straightforward soy + stock + cornstarch model.

So how'd it work?

Well, the rice noodles never popped.  Some did, but 90% did not.  I can't say for sure what went wrong, but my bet is that the oil wasn't hot enough.  Next time I'll shoot for an oil temp of 400.  The internet says to test with a bit of noodle to see if it puffs instantly.  A great video can be found here.  The upshot was that most of the noodles were too hard, and a bit oily.

The chicken itself was good, but uninspired.  A sort of Chinese chicken a la King.  Don't think I was thrilled enough by the potential of this one to try again with the noodles.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Steamed beef with Spicy Rice Powder

This is a staple of dumpling and tea houses (at least that where I always seem to have it) and one i looked forward to making.  There are only two ingredient questions: what does she mean by rice powder and what does she mean by hot bean paste?  Wikipedia says that rice powder is rice flour, easy enough.  For hot bean paste we found a jar of Guizhou Black Bean Chili Sauce. It has a nice earthy beany smell to it, and I've taken to adding it to lots of other stuff.  I also will take the lid off and take a whiff sometimes  when I'm looking around the fridge.  I really like this stuff, but is it what Pei Mei wanted?

So anyway, the basic recipe is marinate the meat in the sauce with soy sauce and the usual girls in the band, toss with rice powder and steam.  As I put it in the steamer, the thought occurred to be that you don't normally steam flour batters.  Sure enough, the result was goopey and generally unpleasantly textured mess. But the flavor wasn't too off, so maybe it was just the "rice powder". 

Double checking wikipedia with the tester, I was informed that the Chinese actually read, "meat-steaming powder" which sure doesn't sound like rice flour.  There are actually instructions in the recipe for making our own, involving toasting dry rice with peppercorns and star anise, and then grinding.

toasting rice
Grinding proved a little tricky.  I started with the food processor...
No luck here...
...but after several minutes, the toasted rice was still just toasted rice.  I switched over to a coffee grinder I keep for spices, and that work fine.  The spices were reduced to a genuine powder, while the rice had a bit of a granular texture.
In the steamer, the texture seems familiar.  Note that instead of the sweet potatoes called for, the base layer is regular potato.  I recall the taster saying that she never really like the sweet potato in the dish, she recalls saying that the sweet potato is probably too much trouble.  I'm sure we're each right in some parallel universe.
Steam for 15 minutes, and voila.
I know, looks about the same, but it's cooked now, so that's nice.
This version had the granular coating (rather like bread crumbs said the tester) desired.  As for the sauce, I thought it was good, but maybe slightly different from what I remember.  Further research (wikipedia again) turns up dou ban jiang which is plausibly the right thing, but why should we believe wikipedia?  Will have to get my hands on some of it to be sure.  Meanwhile the black bean paste has worked its way into the house recipe for dumpling sauce.

Stuffed Tofu

So, life got in the way for a little while.  This one I actually made a while back, but didn't get around to posting.  I hope I remember enough.

The plan here is to cut tofu wedges, scoop out some, and fill with ground pork.  Problem 1 starts with the ingredients: "2 pieces of bean curd" (tofu).  No mention of size or weight or shape.  From the picture, it appears that what she's expecting is square, not the american standard rectangle, so my first step was to cut it down to squares:
Anyone need some extra tofu rectangles?
The blocks still seemed too deep compared to Pei Mei's pictures, but without any numeric guidance, I was wary of doctoring too much.

Next, I cut the blocks diagonally to make 4 triangles from each block.  The instructions say to remove "some" bean curd from the "beveled" side.  Not exactly sure what she means, since there are three beveled sides.  Maybe just that you shouldn't use the other two sides.

Took some practice to get the hole right.  if you cut in with a paring knife along all sides, because it's a triangle, you cut all the surfaces and don't have to dig.  The sides were tricky because you need to insert the knife to the right depth, then rotate the knife down around the tip.
The rest is a standard stock + soy/oyster sauce + cornstarch sauce.  Coat the pieces in cornstarch and fry.  It came out looking pretty good:

Looks about right, pieces too thick.
How did it taste? Too tofuey.  The sauce was good, though basic, and the meatball was fine, though basic, but many bites were all tofu and the sauce wasn't enough to cut through the dreary blandness of the curd.  Although my pieces are thicker, and that might contribute, i don't think I'm too far off here.  I speculate that this might be something that my western tastes can't understand.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Beef Steak, Chinese Style

Tester's father once told me that texture is more important in Chinese food than in Western food.  In my limited experience I tend to agree.  At the time we were having steak, which when done well in a Chinese restaurant is always tender in a very different way from a fillet at The Palm.  Thus I was looking forward to trying this dish to see what it was all about.

They certainly don't mess around when it comes to tenderness.  Start with 450g of tenderloin, cut into steaks.  Pound flat (tenderizing).  Finally, marinate "for a while" in a baking soda meat tenderizer mix with soy, cornstarch and water.

Yellow?  Why is the marinade yellow?
The sauce is wine, ketchup, Worcestershire, sugar, salt and cornstarch. Always a bit odd when finding out that something that is essentially 'of another culture' is in fact made up of stuff from your own. 

The cooking method is deep frying.  By now I've adapted a system that is non-wok based.  For these things I prefer a sauce pan so the oil is deeper and I can easily attach a thermometer and get the oil to 375.  I find that gives me a lot more precision.

Golden, brown and delicious
It still feels a little weird, but I'm slowly getting used to cooking things for only 30 seconds.

The sauce is boiled and the meat is mixed in.

This shot is better than the one in the cook book, so at least I have that, which is nice.
In the end, the meat was exactly that Chinese restaurant texture that I know, but I really thought the sauce was too sweet.  Too much of the ketchup came through.  The  ketchup I used is the Heinz Organic, which i think is a little sweeter than the normal Heinz, so that might be part of it, but I still think I'll reduce the ketchup next time.

More creamed cabbage

Missed a month in there, but i was still cooking, just didn't have time to post.  If you recall from the last creamed cabbage, the tester lamented that although the dish was good, it was not the dish she remembered from her childhood.  Flipping through Pei Mei, book 2, I stumbled upon a baked version that sounded  just like she described: Baked Chinese Cabbage with Crab Sauce.

The process starts the same, stir fry some cabbage...
I think we're gonna need a bigger wok...
Then mix a roux thickened stock with cream and crab meat (I used cheaper claw meat).  It also calls for crab roe.  The problem is that it's been illegal to commercially harvest crab roe in Maryland since the 80s.  I could import some from South Carolina, but that seemed like a hassle, and anyway, there's a reason why its illegal, so I went with more chopped Chinese ham, just like the earlier version of the dish.  

The recipe also calls for "chicken powder" which my research indicates (Hi Jaden!) that it's just bulion powder.  I don't normally keep that around and although I could use reduced broth, that seemed like a pain.  Instead I went with something that would add the same amount of salt and umami, Maggi sauce...
And then I baked it.  The result?  Even better than the last version, and the taster reported that it was reasonable faithful to her childhood version. 

Creamy, rich, crabby, with little bits of brown crunchy on the top.  Not exactly healthy vegetables, but the tester says it's one of her favorites.