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Braised “Lion Head” Meatballs (紅燒獅子頭)

23 Mar

Meatballs!

***I apologize for the quality of my photos.  Please know that I understand the importance of visuals in food blogging and am working on it. ***

First of all, what a funny name.  Disclaimer: Lion heads are NOT made of lion meat.  They start with a combination of 3:7 ratio fat to lean ground pork.  To make 10-12 fist size meatballs, you need about 1.5 lbs of ground pork.

Mix the pork with white pepper; one table spoon of rice wine; one table spoon of soy sauce; 20 shitake mushrooms, chopped; and— one box of soft tofu, broken down to tiny pieces. When I first learned of the tofu ingredient, I was surprised.  But apparently by adding tofu, the meatballs will have a silkier texture. You may also add other crunchy ingredients such as water chestnut, dried shrimp, etc.  Different chefs get liberal with what they like in their meatballs.  For me, I chopped some ginger for the crunchy purpose.

After thorough mixing and kneading, form the pork mixture into fist size meatballs, and throw each one down against the bowl repeatedly to loosen the meat.  This technique is used across cultures: Italian meatballs need this step too, to make the texture of the meat more gelatinous, of which Chinese people call “flicking at your teeth (彈牙).”

Work that right arm...

Now roll them meatballs in corn starch and pan fry all sides until golden.  At the same time, start a pot of water to blanch some Napa cabbage.  I used about 10 leaves.  They shrink after being blanched, so if you want your veggies, don’t be shy.  The water used for blanching can also serve as the soup base for the meatballs.  To make the soup: Add a few pieces of ginger, one scallion, and a dash of soy sauce and a table spoon of rice wine to the water.  Depending on what you like, you can add more shitake mushrooms (as I did), or bamboo shoots.  Once the soup came to a boil, add them meatballs in there.  Now give the meatballs a nice long bath by simmering at low heat for at least 45 minutes.  To complete the dish, add rehydrated maun bean threads to the pot when ready to serve.

Voila, now you are a lion head eater.


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Shanghai Bok-Choy Rice (上海菜飯)

21 Jun

The origin of Shanghai bok-choy rice is similar to the one of cippino, as it was first served as a fast and easy-to-make meal  for the port laborers.  For me, it is a fast and yummy way to dress up the otherwise ordinary steamed rice.

You will need: Bok choy, chopped; dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and chopped; 2 gloves of garlic, chopped; 3 cups of rice.  Cook rice in the rice cooker (I prefer jasmine rice because of the fragrance, but any long grain rice will do).  Heat up oil in a pan, stir-fry garlic and dried shrimp to bring out the aroma.  Once the garlic starts to brown add bok choy and saute for 5 minutes.  Season with salt.

Bok choy

Dried shrimp

Before the rice is about done (it usually takes 15 minutes to cook 3 cups of rice in the rice cooker)— so about 3 minutes before the switch jumps from “cook” to “keep warm”— add the stir-fried vegetable to the rice and mix  thoroughly.  Continue to cook the rice until it is done.  Open the lid and let the steam air out for 5 minutes.  Then close the lid and switch the cooker back to “cook” again.  This extra step will make the rice absorb the liquid from the vegetable.

Once the switch jumps to “keep warm” again, it’s ready.  This rice can be a nice substitute for the regular steamed rice, eaten with other dishes, or served alone.  

Stir-fried Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd (腐乳通菜)

1 Jun

Water spinach

It always makes me happy to see water spinach in season.  Sometimes known as the “hollow stem” spinach or Ong Choy, this popular vegetable among the working class, especially peasants, in Southeast Asia back in the old days is now widely enjoyed by mostly everyone.  It is common in Cantonese cuisine to fry this leafy vegetable with fermented bean curd. 

So what is fermented bean curd?  The same question was asked in Jackie Chan’s movie Armour of God (1987), to which Chan answered: “It’s Chinese cheese.”  (Please don’t ask me why I remember random sh** like that).   Similar to the process of making cheese, bean curd is exposed to aerial bacteria and fungal spores to achieve the status of fermentation, for preservation purpose and its damn good taste.  

Chinese fermented tofu. Can be found in most Chinese supermarkets and grocers

So to make this dish: 

Wash the vegetable thoroughly and cut it into roughly 2-inch segments, leaves and stems.  Heat up oil in a wok/frying pan.  When the oil is hot enough, drop in 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 2 cubes of bean curd.  Stir-fry the garlic and bean curd for 2 minutes.  Drop in the spinach.  Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes and pour in a tablespoon of the brine from the bean curd.  Taste to see if it’s salty enough— if not, add salt.  Depending on the brand of bean curd you get, you may get varying degrees of the fermented taste/saltiness.  

Cut and washed

Stir-fried Squid with Chinese Celery (芹菜炒鮮魷)

25 May

Top Chef Masters featured giant squid as an ingredient a short while ago, and even the most seasoned chefs were baffled by its gross appearance.  

Top Chef Masters contestant, Tony Mantuano, knifing through the sea monster

Yet all I could think about while watching the episode: It’s delicious!  I’ve been eating squid since I was a kid.  What is there to be scared of? 

Ok, I guess it can look kind of creepy...

There is something in texture and taste with squid that its other leggy friends (octopus, cuttlefish, etc.) cannot compare.  It does tend to be a bit fishier, I must say.  To tame it, I let my julienned squid sit in 1/2 cup of Chinese rice wine. 

To accompany its oceanic savoriness, Chinese celery is used. 

Chinese celery has a stronger celeriac taste than the American celery, and is much more “petite” in size.  It works well with the squid as it adds a crunchiness to each bite.  The key is to cut the vegetable in similar size as the squid.  

Squid cleaned and julienned, Chinese celery julienned, and chilli pepper

Before stir-frying, make sure the following aromatic ingredients are chopped: 

5 gloves of garlic 

1 tablespoon of ginger 

1 small chilli pepper (Serrano will do) 

Throw garlic, ginger, and pepper into the hot oil for the aroma to come out.  Once the garlic is starting to brown, dump in the squid.  It will take some time to cook it, depending on your stove.  After about 8 minutes of constant stirring (or when most liquid is dried up in the pan), drop in the celery.  Stir-fry until the squid curls up.  Season with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.   

Sunday dinner: Squid with celery, Luffa, and rice

 

 

Stir-fried Luffa with Garlic (清炒絲瓜)

24 May

Most people associate luffa with that rough, fibrous thing you use to scrub down dead skin.  Yes, it is great for that, once it has aged to the stage where the center of the vegetable is hardened and hallow.  But before it gets there, luffa is a great seasonal vegetable that has a sweet taste that is great when stir-fried with some garlic. 

The most annoying part of prepping this dish is peeling the luffa.  How annoying?  Its irregular skin that almost has a resemblance to a cactus is very challenging even with the best peeler in hand.  And I have fallen victim to it, as illustrated here: 

So to be safe, pay close attention to your fingers while peeling these babies.  To cook them, simply heat up oil in a wok/frying pan and drop in coarsely chopped garlic.  When you smell that good old fried garlic smell, throw in the vegetable.  Stir-fry until the vegetable is soft.  Luffa is packed with water so your dish will have quite a bit of liquid from the vegetable.  Season with salt.  And eat with a bowl of steamed rice.

Luffa

Peeled and sliced

Grand Opening: Sichuan Style Wontons (紅油抄手)

18 May Sichuan Wontons

Wontons are definitely one of the most common foods in Chinese cuisine, and they vary from region to region, mostly popular in the south, as the north is better known for dumplings and buns.  The name for wonton also differs from one province to another. They are usually considered “snack food” in the afternoon or late night.  As I recall from childhood, they were often served in between ma jong games at my grandparents’.  And since my paternal grandma (nai-nai) was a native of Sichuan, the Sichuan style wontons are the ones I am most familiar with.

What goes into the wontons are 2 lbs of ground pork, 1/2 lb of shrimp, chopped, with rice wine, sesme oil, white pepper, and salt. Wrappers are store bought.

These “hot oil wontons” (as its literal translation denotes) are eaten dry, with a mixture of aromatic toppings (sans soup), which is different from the Canton and Shanghai styles, often served in a broth.

To cook the wontons:

Add wontons to a pot of boiling water.  When it is boiling again, add a cup of cold water to it.  When that comes to a boil, you’re done.  Remember: It is the same to cook fresh versus frozen wontons (as it will just take frozen wontons a bit longer to come to a boil), and there is NO need to defrost fozen wontons.

To serve:
Mix the finely chopped scallion, garlic, dried shrimp, zha cai (preserved vegetable) with soy sauce, hot oil, and sesame oil atop the wontons.

Wontons!

Toppings: Garlic, scallion, zha cai (preserved vegetable), and dried shrimp