Tag Archives: chinese

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.


Must Have Soup: Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms

20 Jun

Another simple soup:  All you need are 4 chicken thighs, about 20 dry shiitake mushrooms, a small piece of ginger, and 1/4 cup of Chinese rice wine.

First, heat up a pot of water high enough to cover the chicken thighs.  When it comes to a boil, drop the chicken thighs in and let them cook for 5 minutes.  This will force out all the bloody, marrowy mess.

The foamy mess you don't want in your soup

After most of the mess is out, dump the muddy soup and fill it up with another round of water.

A clear pot of broth. That's what you want

So when the clear pot of water comes to a boil, add the rice wine and ginger, and turn down the heat.  Let simmer for 2 hours.  During the time the soup is stewing, reconstitute shiitake mushrooms by soaking them in hot water.  When the soup is all nice and milky by the end of the second hour, turn the heat up and drop in the mushrooms.  When the soup comes to a boil, you have yourself chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms, my favorite comfort food.

Must Have Soup: Clams

5 Jun

The Chinese clam soup is one of the easiest soups to make.  Ingredients: 1/2 lb of manila clams, 1 small piece of ginger, finely sliced, 1/2 cup of Chinese rice wine.

Clams soaked in water, ready to make soup

ginger

First, soak the clams in cold water for half an hour with a few drops of sesame oil.  The fragrance of sesame oil will help the clams spit out dirt.  In a pot, heat up 3 cups of water.  When the water comes to a boil, drop the clams in.  When the clams start to open up, pour in the rice wine.  When the soup comes to another boil, drop in the giner and season with salt.  That’s it.  Very simple, and very delicious. Bon appetite!

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

A Family Tree of Palates

28 May

If you are familiar with the political history of Taiwan, my home until the age of 14, then you will understand the culinary diversity found in this wonderfully small island.  In 1949, the Chiang Kai-shek government fled mainland China, bringing close to 2 million of soldiers and civilians to Taiwan, all with various provincial backgrounds.  And among them were my grandparents.  

My grandma (nai-nai) from my dad’s side was a native of Sichuan, and thanks to her, I was exposed to the tingly-numbing Sichuan peppercorn early on.  My dad’s dad (yen-yen) came from Zhejiang, a province known for delicate preparation and vibrant, seasonal ingredients.

My mom’s mom (po-po) was a nurse during WWII in the city of Tianjin, a metropolis in Northeastern China.  As a kid I loved her pickled carrots and cucumbers, and the delicious noodles with pork and bean paste, known as zajiang mien.  Granddad (gong-gong) from my mom’s side hailed from a small village in the province of Hebei, where everyone knows how to roll out dumpling and bun doughs blindfolded.      

Raised by his Sichuan mother, Dad was trained to take on spicy food from a young age.  His twice-cooked pork is a must-learn on my list to master.  And although Mom never entered the kitchen before marrying Dad (and quite a few years after, too, as Dad would just cook for them both), she quickly discovered that she is blessed with a sharp palate and high aptitude after a few attempts at cooking.  Mommy is the best chef I know, also the chef I aspire to be one day.

So for me, it is rather difficult to sum up Chinese food in a few words given how differnt the style can be from one region to the next.  The most accurate way to describe “my” Chinese cooking is perhaps the word “homemade.”  No they may not be the dishes you find in your local Hunan Garden or the likes, but they are what I eat at home.  That’s why I want to share, so maybe you can enjoy such delectables and call them your homemade, too. 🙂

Ingredient: Preserved Vegetable, Zha Cai (榨菜)

26 May

Zha cai, out of the jar, not cut

So what is zha cai?  As its vaguely translated name suggests, it is a type of preserved vegetable.  The vegetable is a variant of mustard, sometimes referred to as Chinese mustard (no way!), and its leafy part is considered a rather fancy dish usually stir-fried with dried scallops and served at banquets.  

The root of this mustard is the part where zha cai comes from.  It is harvested and compressed down to yield all liquid, as “zha” in Chinese literally means compress.  It is preserved by salt and stored in clay jars.  The taste?  Crunchy and salty, which makes a great condiment for many things, such as the Sichuan style wontons

 Another famous dish zha cai is well known for is the pork zha cai noodles, as fried pork and zha cai is served over soup noodles.

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