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.