kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2012-02-26 06:11 pm

Apologies for lack of posting...

Description follows.

[Image: A small glass bowl containing fish balls, chunks of daikon radish, and large pieces of translucent pig skin, all bathed in a reddish-brown broth with small "eyes" of fat floating on the surface.]

Hello! I'm so sorry I haven't posted here for a while. I've been very busy with paid work recently, and that (along with other things) is leaving me a bit wiped out. Right now, I can't say when I will be able to get back to regular posting again. But I do have some good things in the pipeline, including a couple of guest posts that I'm pretty excited about!

For now, though, here's a photo of a super-old-school dim sum dish I ate a few months back with [blogspot.com profile] eatlovenoodles and [personal profile] ewan. This is 魚蛋豬皮蘿蔔 (yú dàn zhū pí luó bo), or fishballs with pig skin and daikon, served in a thin, rich, savoury, slightly spicy broth. We had this at Tai Tung at the Wing Yip Centre in Croydon (you can read more about the restaurant on Sung's blog).

魚蛋 (yú dàn) are fish balls, literally "fish eggs"; according to Sung, they're called this in Cantonese because of their shape, roughly like an egg. 豬 (zhū) is pig, and 皮 (pí) is skin. Note that as I mentioned in my very first "character" post, 豬/zhū doesn't appear on menus as much as one might expect given the ubiquity of pork in most Chinese cuisines, since when 肉 (ròu/meat) is used without further specification, it's taken to mean pork. However, in this case we do get the 豬: 豬皮. Finally, 蘿蔔 (luó bo) is daikon (aka mooli, white radish, Chinese radish, etc).

Speaking of dim sum, I'm in Oxford (the UK one) for a week from 2nd-9th March and am planning a dim sum lunch there on Sunday 4th as well as a Sichuan dinner on Tuesday 6th. If you're in the area and interested in coming along to either or both, do let me know.

Characters mentioned in this post:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-11-29 05:00 pm

Recipe translation: 紅油黄瓜拌豬耳朵絲 (hóng yóu huáng guā bàn zhū ěr duǒ) — pig ear & cucumber in chilli oil

Last week I posted about pig's ears with chilli oil, and mentioned that although I hadn't been able to find any recipes for this in English, I hoped to be able to link to a Chinese one in translation soon. [personal profile] pulchritude has kindly translated a recipe from MeiShiDao for me, and here it is! (Follow that link for the Chinese version, and photos.)

Text in [square brackets] is an aside from either me or [personal profile] pulchritude. I have done some light copyediting (and hopefully have not introduced any mistakes).

Shredded pig's ear and cucumber in chilli oil

Main ingredients
  • one pig's ear, simmered in a flavourful liquid until cooked [you could use master sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce and water; as noted last week, about 20 minutes is enough time to cook a pig's ear to a good level of crunchiness]
  • one cucumber
  • garlic
  • salt
  • Sichuan pepper
  • dried red chillies
  • "numbing-spicy" oil [made during the course of this recipe]
  • light soy sauce [light-coloured soy sauce, not low-sodium]
  • Shanxi aged vinegar [one of China's four famous vinegars; you can subsitute Chinese black vinegar, available at most Chinese supermarkets]
  • chilli oil [made during the course of this recipe]
Preparing the pig's ear
  1. Let the pig's ear cool [after simmering it in the master sauce].
  2. Place your knife at a 45 degree angle.
  3. Slice the pig's ear diagonally into julienne strips.
Finishing the dish
  1. Put the julienned pig ear into a large bowl.
  2. Wash the cucumber, cut into julienne strips, and add to the pig ear.
  3. Peel the garlic and put it into a [small, separate] bowl with a bit of salt, then use the end of a rolling pin to crush it. [Or just use a pestle and mortar.]
  4. [Making the "numbing-spicy" oil.] Put some oil in a pan, then add the Sichuan pepper and the dried chillies (cut into a few pieces each). Fry until the colour changes and the aroma is fragrant, then strain to remove the solids.
  5. [Turning this into chilli oil.] Add the flavoured oil to the small bowl with the crushed garlic in.
  6. Add light soy sauce, vinegar, and salt to the small bowl, and mix well to create a dressing.
  7. Pour this dressing into the large bowl.
  8. Use chopsticks to mix everything evenly.

Please note that I haven't personally tried this recipe! But it looks potentially tastier than the one I made up myself — I'm particularly thinking that the simmering in master sauce would add a lot more flavour than my simple simmering in water.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-11-24 03:21 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 紅油豬耳 — hóng yóu zhū ěr — pig's ears with chilli oil

Description follows.

[Image: Cooked pig's ears, sliced around 5mm wide, intermingled with finely-julienned cucumber and a few leaves of fresh coriander, all coated in a light dressing.]

Some of you may have been able to guess from my post on texture in Chinese food a couple of weeks ago that pig's ears were coming up. Here they are!

Pig's ears are used in many cuisines beside Chinese. Jerry Hopkins' Extreme Cuisine (a title I have some issues with, but I won't go into that here) states that pig's ears can be "boiled, fried, sautéed, braised, grilled, stuffed, made into a gratin, or added to a stew or soup". Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book suggests cooking them for 2-3 hours and then crisping them up on a hot griddle or on the barbecue[see footnote 0].

In Chinese cuisine, however, pig's ears are often treated in a way that I haven't come across in other cuisines. In fact, although Alan Davidson's weighty and comprehensive Oxford Companion to Food insists that "the cartilaginous meat has to be softened by lengthy cooking", the author is missing a trick by failing to mention that a shorter cooking time is also possible. Simmering for as little as 20 minutes renders the ears not only edible, but enjoyably crunchy. The pork flavour is subtle; there's not much meat here, nor much fat, just plenty of crunchy cartilage.

Once cooked, the ears are usually cooled, sliced into thin strips, mixed with a flavourful dressing, and served as a cold dish. I like them served as pictured above, mixed with julienned cucumber and a dressing based on chilli oil.

When I made this dish myself in preparation for this post, I didn't have a recipe to follow, since the ones I found online were all in Chinese. I've described below how I made it, but I have since posted a recipe translation by [personal profile] pulchritude, which I would urge you to also take a look at.

My made-up method: clean a pig's ear (shaving it if necessary), then simmer it in boiling water for around 20 minutes. Leave to cool, then slice into long strips around 5mm (1/5") wide. Optionally, add some cucumber cut into similar-sized strips. Then mix with a dressing made from 3 Tbsp light soy sauce, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 3–6 Tbsp home-made chilli oil, including some of the sediment from the chilli oil if you like[see footnote 1]. Leave a little while for the flavours to soak in, and serve cold or at room temperature as part of a Chinese meal.

On Chinese menus, this may be listed as 紅油豬耳 (hóng yóu zhū ěr), 紅油耳片 (hóng yóu ěr piàn), or 紅油耳絲 (hóng yóu ěr sī). As I mentioned in my post on 紅/hóng/red, the 紅油 here is chilli oil, literally "red oil". 豬 (zhū) is "pig", 耳 (ěr) is "ear", 片 (piàn) is "sliced", and 絲 (sī) is "shredded". In this context, "sliced" and "shredded" pretty much mean the same thing — a pig's ear is quite flat, so slicing it results in long shreds. You'll note that 豬/pig is omitted in a couple of these names; as with many other Chinese dishes, pig is assumed to be the default animal unless otherwise specified (see also 肉/ròu/meat).

Footnote: [0] Note that Hugh, like me, is British, and hence barbecuing to him means cooking quickly on a grill above the heat.

Footnote: [1] I found this dressing in Fuchsia Dunlop's excellent Sichuan Cookery (published as Land of Plenty in some countries), where she explains that it is "typically used for cold chicken and rabbit meat, as well as various types of offal". The quantities given are stated as being enough for 300g–400g of cold chicken meat; a pig's ear weighs around 200g, so with the addition of cucumber this is about right for a single pig's ear.

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-11-02 06:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 東坡肉 — Dōngpō ròu — Dongpo pork

Image description follows.
Photo © Ewan-M, taken at Chilli Cool, Bloomsbury, London, used under cc-by-sa.

[Image: A square of skin-on pork belly, covered in a dark glossy sauce, and served in a shallow white dish garnished with steamed Chinese greens.]

At first glance, 東坡肉 (Dōngpō ròu) may seem quite similar to a dish I've posted about before, red-cooked pork (紅燒肉/hóng shāo ròu). Like red-cooked pork, Dōngpō ròu consists of pork belly, braised for a long time in a sauce including soy sauce, Chinese wine, caramelised sugar, star anise, and other aromatics.

One difference between the two dishes is that the lengthy process of making Dongpo pork includes a number of other stages in addition to red-cooking. Some recipes begin by frying the pork, others by blanching it in hot water. The red-cooking, or braising, stage comes next, followed by an optional steaming for an hour or more, to make it even more tender.

The versions of red-cooked pork I've had tend to include less wine than I see in most Dongpo pork recipes, and also the pork is cut into smaller pieces. For Dōngpō ròu, the sauce should be highly fragrant with wine, and the pork should be in fairly large squares, each tied up like a parcel with thick strands of dried grass or butcher's string, as illustrated in the photo above.

I intended to make 東坡肉 this week, to serve to some friends I have coming round for dinner tonight — but I forgot to buy the wine! I was planning to follow Carolyn J Phillips' Dongpo pork recipe, which requires a bottle and a half of Shaoxing wine for half a kilo of pork belly, and I only had about a quarter of a bottle at home. So my friends will get red-cooked pork instead, and you will get my reassurance that Carolyn's recipes do tend to turn out well (though I've included links to several others at the bottom of this post too).

I've always had Dōngpō ròu with rice, but I would like to try having it with 饅頭 (mántōu, a type of steamed bread) some time, as [identity profile] sung describes in his post about the Dōngpō ròu he ate at Phoenix Palace in London.

I'm also keen to try Carolyn's vegetarian version, which is made using winter melon. Carolyn's name for this adaptation is Sù Dōngpō (素東坡), which is a pun on the name of the poet/politician Sū Dōngpō (蘇東坡) who as I mentioned last week gives his name to the dish Dōngpō ròu. Note the only difference in pronunciation here is in the tones — 素 (sù) is fourth tone, and means "vegetarian", while the poet's family name, 蘇 (Sū), is first tone.

Here are some recipes for 東坡肉:

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-09-30 02:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 香辣土豆絲 — xiāng là tǔ dòu sī — fragrant-spicy deepfried shredded potato

Image description follows.

[Image: A tall pile of thin, browned, crispy deep-fried slivers of potato. A few pieces of dried red chilli can be seen among them.]

So, I said I'd be back in September, and here I am, just under the wire.

I realise I've been a bit flaky recently in terms of this blog. I took July off to move house. I missed a post at the start of August, then halted the dim sum month entirely. It's true that in my personal life I've had A Bit Of A Year, for various reasons, but I do really want to keep up this project, because I enjoy doing the research, testing the recipes, writing the posts, and reading all the useful, critical, amusing, and generally lovely comments that people are kind enough to leave.

So my plan is as follows, for now. I'm going to keep the structure of concept post followed by character post followed by dish post, but I'm going to post once a week instead of three times a week. I'll see how this goes, and possibly adjust it a bit so each month has a theme instead of each-three-weeks having a theme, but this is what I'm going to do for now. Hopefully this will let me maintain quality while still posting regularly.

I'm also going to make things easy on myself today, by posting a dish that I have no intention of attempting to make at home. It's also on-theme since it's a variation of a dish that I posted about at the end of a previous hiatus, 土豆絲 (tǔ dòu sī) — shredded potatoes. While that version is a fresh, snappy stirfry of julienned potatoes, this version is basically a large, fragrant pile of crispy deep-fried ultra-thin shoestring fries. It is delicious.

The version pictured above, which I ate at Royal Palace in Surrey Quays, was listed on the menu as 香辣土豆絲 (xiāng là tǔ dòu sī), literally "fragrant-spicy shredded potato". Judging by Google Image search, 香辣土豆絲 is usually, but not always, the deep-fried version. I've seen this particular name twice on menus; once it was deep-fried, the other time it was the lightly stirfried version.

I said above that I'm not going to try to make this at home, but if you'd like to then the Beijing Haochi recipe looks pretty good.

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-17 05:30 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 紙包蝦 — zhǐ bāo xiā — paper-wrapped prawns

Description follows.

[Image: Three long, deep-fried, rice-paper-wrapped cylinders sitting on a white paper doily on a white plate. The pink-orange colour of the prawn filling is visible through the wrapper.]

I have no recipe to offer you for today's dim sum dish. I tried to find one in my cookery books and on the internet, and failed on both counts. So instead, have a photo of it (above), and an encouragement to order it in restaurants!

Paper-wrapped prawns (紙包蝦/zhǐ bāo xiā) can be found in the "fried" section of the dim sum menu. The English name and Chinese name match up quite simply: 紙 (zhǐ) is paper, 包 (bāo) means "package" or "to wrap", and 蝦 (xiā) are prawns. The paper here is rice paper — not the very thin, shiny stuff that Brits of a certain age may remember purchasing from sweetshops, but the sort of thing used to wrap Vietnamese spring rolls.

You may also see these listed as 威化紙包蝦 (wēi huà zhǐ bāo xiā). Don't try to extract meaning from the characters 威 and 化, since this is another phonetic Cantonese transliteration ("wai faa") of an English word, "wafer" in this case, referring to the texture of the deep-fried rice paper wrappers.

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-12 06:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 蜂巢炸芋角 — fēng cháo zhà yù jiǎo — crispy deep-fried taro croquettes

Description follows.

[Image: Three small, round, crispy deep-fried croquettes sitting in red paper cups on a white plate. The exterior of the croquettes is honeycombed with small holes.]

As promised earlier this week, here's more on taro croquettes! These are small, round croquettes formed primarily of mashed taro, filled with minced pork and prawns. The exterior is wispy and crispy; this gives way to the smooth mashed taro and then the filling in the centre.

The most common Chinese name I've seen these under on Chinese menus is 蜂巢炸芋角 (fēng cháo zhà yù jiǎo). I won't attempt to transliterate the Cantonese pronunciation of the whole thing, but the essential part is 芋角, which in Cantonese is wu gok. 芋 is taro, and 角 means horn-shaped; the latter is a common descriptor for deep-fried dumplings and croquettes, though do note that it also appears on menus in another significant context, as 豆角 (dòu jiǎo), or green beans.

The rest of the name varies between restaurants. The 蜂巢 (fēng cháo) in 蜂巢炸芋角 means "honeycomb", and is a reference to the texture of the crispy exterior of the croquette. 炸 (zhà) simply means "deep-fried". I've also seen a variation of this name, 蜂巢荔芋角, in which 炸 is replaced by 荔 (lì). I have no idea what this is about, since as far as I know 荔 means "lychee", but I've seen it on at least three different menus. Top Of The Town in London Chinatown uses an even more perplexing name: 荔甫炸芋角 (lì fǔ zhà yù jiǎo).

In English, they're usually just called "taro croquettes", or, confusingly, "yam croquettes" — they're definitely made from taro rather than yam (see my post on 芋 for more on this). Some restaurants expand on this, for example "crispy taro croquettes with pork" or "deep-fried yam croquettes", but since they're always deep-fried and they always contain pork (unless marked as vegetarian: 齋芋角/zhāi yù jiǎo), this doesn't indicate a difference from those described simply as "taro croquettes".

There seem to be two schools of thought for making these at home. One, exemplified by a recipe posted on the about.com forums, mixes everything together — taro, filling, and all — before deep-frying. The other, which is more like the versions I've seen in restaurants, mixes the filling and the taro dough separately, and then stuffs the one inside the other; see for example taro dumplings from Edibly Asian. I decided to try the all-in-one method, which unfortunately didn't work out too well — details below. Next time I'll try it the other way.

It started well. I bought my taro frozen from Wing Yip — conveniently, it was already peeled, and in chunks of roughly 300g (the amount I needed for the recipe). I defrosted a chunk, sliced it around 1/2 cm thick, and steamed it for 20 minutes. It was easy to mash then.

The rest of the carbohydrate component comes from a dough made by mixing boiling water into wheat starch. I wasn't really sure what texture I was aiming for here, and I also found it a bit tricky to combine this dough with the mashed taro.

After mixing in the fillings, the dough really was very sticky — I found that unless I kept my hands wet while shaping the croquettes, it would stick to them and make a mess. I'd read different opinions on whether to just fry them straight away or not, so I tried a few experiments.

A few I tried coating with cornflour before frying; these sucked up loads of cornflour and after frying the texture was completely wrong on the outside. I also tried frying some with no coating, immediately after shaping them. The texture was much better and I even got something approaching the characteristic laciness on the outside. They had a tendency to stick to my fryer basket though, and bits still came off to the point where I stopped halfway through to strain the bits out of the oil.

Finally, I tried chilling some in the fridge for an hour before frying — this was a bit of a disaster, as putting them in cold cooled the oil down to the point where they simply disintegrated. (The about.com thread linked above warns that this will happen if your oil's not hot enough.)

So I think I must conclude that these aren't particularly easy to make! (Though I'm not that experienced with deep-frying — maybe others will find it easier.) All the more reason to order them in restaurants...

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-05 01:30 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 越式炸春卷 — yuè shì zhà chūn juǎn — Vietnamese-style spring rolls

Description follows.

[Image: Three deep-fried spring rolls sitting on a white doily on a white plate, garnished with a sprig of parsley. The skins of the rolls are blistered from the frying process.]

Although as I mentioned earlier this week dim sum is a Cantonese tradition, it has a fair number of influences from other cuisines, both Chinese and non-Chinese. Grilled pork dumplings/potstickers (鍋貼/guō tiē), for example, are actually from north China (whereas Cantonese cuisine originates from Guangdong province in the south), which is why they're often referred to in English as "Peking dumplings". Similarly, soup dumplings/xiao long bao (小籠包/xiǎo lóng bāo) originate from the Shanghai area.

Today I'm posting about one of those influences that comes from outside China — Vietnamese-style spring rolls, or 越式炸春卷 (yuè shì zhà chūn juǎn). "Vietnam" is 越南 (yuè nán) in Chinese, and 式 (shì) means "style", so 越式 is "Vietnamese-style". 炸 (zhà) is "deep-fried", 春 (chūn) is "spring", and 卷 (juǎn) is "roll".

One difference from Cantonese spring rolls is the wrapper — Vietnamese spring rolls are wrapped in rice paper skins, which is what makes the outsides blistered rather than smooth. The filling is also different, being a mixture of minced pork and prawns, shredded vegetables, and bean thread noodles (粉絲/fěn sī). Finally, the recipes I've seen tend to use black pepper rather than the white pepper that's more common in Chinese cuisine, though I don't know whether this is original to Vietnam or an adaptation to Western kitchens.

The owner of Vinh Phat once told me that within Vietnamese cuisine, the skins used for deep-fried spring rolls are not the same as the ones used for fresh summer rolls, but I'm not sure exactly what the difference is — I was a bit short of time so didn't press him further. In any case, Viet World Kitchen has some tips on choosing rice paper.

When I made these, I mostly followed the Rasa Malaysia recipe, but taking hints from the method of another recipe I found on vietnam.com — I made sure to mix the filling well, smooshing it down with the spoon I was using (the noodles didn't seem to mind the smooshing, but I put them in towards the end anyway), and I also set it aside in the fridge for half an hour before rolling.

Other changes I made: I wanted to add some wood ears as suggested in the vietnam.com recipe but I couldn't find them in the mass of stuff that got shoved in my pantry after my recent house move, so I used dried shiitakes instead. Also, I used finely-chopped water chestnuts instead of carrots, since I had some to use up. I didn't have crabmeat, so I used an extra ounce of minced prawns instead.

While my filling turned out great, the end result was not really a success. My wrappers almost all came apart during frying, even though I followed the advice of vietnam.com to make sure that the fold of the roll touches the oil first to stop it unravelling. I also followed the advice of both sources to use a fairly low heat to fry the rolls — vietnam.com says the frying time should be about 15 minutes, and I tried to stick to this, but it still didn't help. The best results came from the rolls that I didn't have time to fry on the day of making and hence let sit in the fridge for a couple of days, but even then only two of the three made it through without coming apart.

I will definitely be trying this again, though, perhaps with a different brand of wrapper, and will report back if I ever get them to work!

Characters mentioned in this post:
Other related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-08-03 12:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 蝦餃 — xiā jiǎo — har gao — prawn dumplings

Description follows.

[Image: Four dumplings arranged in a bamboo steamer basket. The skins of the dumplings are translucent, showing the orange-pink colour of the prawns inside. Each dumpling is sealed with several pleats.]

Har gao (蝦餃) are perhaps one of the most iconic dim sum items, so they seem a fitting thing to start off my month of dim sum. The Chinese characters simply mean "prawn dumpling" — 蝦 is "prawn", while 餃 is "dumpling". However, it's understood that this is a particular type of prawn dumpling, with a translucent wrapper made from wheat starch, sealed with several neat pleats and thin enough to show off the colour of the prawns inside.

The pronunciations of 蝦 and 餃 in Mandarin are "xiā" and "jiǎo" respectively, but as I've mentioned before, dim sum is a Cantonese tradition and so in English-speaking countries the dishes are usually referred to by their Cantonese names. Hence: har gao (or har gow, har gau, har kau, ha gao, ha gow, etc, depending on your preferred transliteration). I will be giving the pinyin for all the characters I mention this month, though, for consistency with the rest of my posts.

I've seen har gao listed on menus both simply as 蝦餃 and with more elaborate names. 鮮蝦餃 (xiān xiā jiǎo) is one; 鮮 (xiān) means "fresh", a characteristic you definitely want to find in connection with the prawns inside these dumplings.

晶 (jīng), which means "crystal" or "clear", is another salient characteristic, in this case associated with the translucency of the dumpling skins. It often appears in combination with 瑩 (yìng), meaning "bright" or "lustrous", giving names such as 晶瑩鮮蝦餃 (jīng yìng xiān xiā jiǎo) or 晶瑩蝦餃 (jīng yìng xiā jiǎo).

Finally, you may see reference to the bamboo shoots (筍尖/sǔn jiān) which often form part of the filling: 筍尖鮮蝦餃 (sǔn jiān xiān xiā jiǎo) or 筍尖蝦餃 (sǔn jiān xiā jiǎo).

There are basically two types of har gao that I've come across — the proper type, pictured above, which are wrapped and pleated by hand, and the other type, which are made in some kind of dumpling press with wobbly lines to suggest the folds (see the bottom left hand corner of this photo). This latter type tend to turn up in restaurants that have a small dim sum section on the menu but don't actually specialise in dim sum, and are best avoided — see my dim sum overview for more on this.

Although har gao are perhaps the epitome of dim sum — according to the Discover China documentary Dim Sum Odyssey, there's a saying in the trade that translates as "See how good a chef is, watch how he makes har gao" — I was very pleased to find that it's actually possible to make a decent rendition at home. The ones I made the other week were at least as good as the frozen ones I've bought before, even though it was my first time of making them.

I followed Sunflower's recipe and it was pretty straightforward — much easier than I'd been expecting! The dough for the wrappers held together very well while I was making them; it was easy to knead, and very easy to flatten out into circles (possibly too easy — it got thinner than I was comfortable with at some points). It's worth noting that I found it easier to use the heel of my hand for the flattening out than to use a rolling pin, though it might have been better with a small Chinese rolling pin than with my gigantic British one.

The only thing I was unsure of was the steaming time. Sunflower said to steam them for 4 minutes, while other sources give times of up to 15 minutes. I experimented a bit, and 7-8 minutes seemed to be the sweet spot for me. I suspect the thickness of the wrappers has an effect here; I'll try for thinner wrappers next time as my filling got a little overcooked in the time it took to cook the wrappers through. The filling was also a bit fally-aparty — I'll try marinading the prawns with a little egg white next time.

One thing I learned during this is that it's not a good idea to try to lift the har gao directly after the steaming is finished — the skins will be fragile. They firm up after a minute or so. Serve them in the basket like the restaurants do :)

I also froze some uncooked ones and steamed them a couple of days later for 14 minutes from frozen — this worked fine.

Here are a couple of alternative recipes, using slightly different flavourings and proportions: one from iLearn Culture and one from Rasa Malaysia. Both worth a look.

(Edit, January 2012: See also [blogspot.com profile] eatlovenoodles' informative post on har gau.)

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-07-01 10:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 酸辣豆花 — suān là dòu huā — hot-and-sour "flower" beancurd

Description follows.

[Image: Wobbly-soft white beancurd in a deep white bowl covered with a generous quantity of a thin, dark red/brown dressing finished with a layer of dark red oil. Sliced spring onions are scattered on top along with crisp-fried soya beans and other crispy bits.]

As I noted on Monday, I won't be posting during July (except for today), since I'm busy moving house. I'll be back in August with a month-long celebration of dim sum.

I'm leaving you with a (incidentally vegan) Sichuan dish: 酸辣豆花 (suān là dòu huā). I covered 酸 (suān) earlier this week; it means "sour". 辣 (là) is "hot/spicy", and is often seen in combination with 酸: 酸辣 (suān là), usually translated as "hot and sour".

豆花 is the interesting part of the name. I've covered both characters before; 豆 (dòu) means "bean" and 花 (huā) means "flower". Together, they describe a very soft form of beancurd, "flower" beancurd. In English, I've seen it described as "beancurd jelly" on dessert menus (you can eat 豆花 savoury or sweet).

Fuchsia Dunlop notes in her book Sichuan Cookery that 豆花 is a Chengdu dialect term; according to her, elsewhere in China it's known as 豆腐腦 (dòu fu nǎo), literally "beancurd brains". However, in London I've always seen it as 豆花 or 豆腐花.

Although as mentioned above it also comes sweet, I prefer the savoury version, which may also be listed as 香辣豆花 (xiāng là dòu huā), literally "fragrant spicy 'flower' beancurd". I ate the dish pictured above at Baozi Inn in London, where it's described on the menu as "tender 'flower' beancurd topped with soy sauce, chilli oil, ground roasted Sichuan pepper, roasted peanuts, preserved mustard tuber and deep-fried dough strands". The "mustard tuber" is 榨菜 (zhà cài), which I've mentioned before.

To put 酸辣豆花 together at home, you can either buy your 豆花 from a Chinese supermarket (it may be labeled as 豆花, 豆腐花, doufu hua, or tofu fa), or you can try making your own from scratch (i.e. from soya beans).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've tried making 豆花 four times to slightly different recipes, with varying levels of success (and much patience from [personal profile] bob, as he was presented with bowl after bowl of tofu). It does require a blender, though I found that the little herb chopper that came with my hand-held blender worked fine if I was patient and blenderised the beans in suitably small batches.

I used two sources of instructions: Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe in her book Sichuan Cooking, and Sunflower's recipe. Sunflower's version was most successful for me; I tried it both as written and with the cornflour omitted, and the version with the cornflour had the best texture.

Ms Dunlop's version uses twice as much gypsum as Sunflower's, and says to press the curds gently after they begin to set. I tried this twice, once with less pressing than the other time, but both ended up with a coarser texture than I wanted. I do wonder if this had something to do with the amount of gypsum — we have fairly hard water in London, so perhaps we don't need as much gypsum. (Note added in Oct 2012: Andrea Nguyen's post on tofu coagulants is worth reading.)

Speaking of gypsum, I bought mine from a homebrewing supplier on eBay; £2.75 (including postage) for 100g. As [identity profile] sunflower points out in comments, you can get it more cheaply in Chinese supermarkets, where you should look out for the name 熟石膏粉 (I think the pinyin is shú shí gāo fěn). I also paid £1.25 for a 500g pack of soya beans, and you only need around 1 tsp gypsum and 150g of beans to make enough 豆腐花 for 2–4 people. So it's not too expensive a thing to experiment with until you get it right.

Anyway, once you have your plain 豆花, the topping is quite simple. Ms Dunlop lists two variations. For 豆花 made with 150g beans, the first one is 4 tsp soy sauce, 2-4 tsp chilli oil (including sediment), 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/2-1 tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper, 2 Tbsp finely-chopped preserved vegetable (榨菜/zhà cài), 2 Tbsp crunchy deep-fried soya beans or Bombay mix or other similar crunchy thing, and the green parts of 4 spring onions, thinly sliced into rings. Her other variation is explicitly labelled as "suan la dou hua", and is roughly the same except that the sesame oil is replaced with 4 tsp Chinese black vinegar.

Most sources say to serve 酸辣豆花 hot, but during London's recent brief heatwave I found that it's also good chilled on a hot day. If you can't be bothered to make the full dressing, just drizzle over some soy sauce, black vinegar, and sesame oil (go easy on the sesame oil). The simplest (though perhaps not quite traditional) sweet topping is a good dollop of honey.

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-24 02:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 涼拌三絲 — liáng bàn sān sī — three-sliver salad

Description follows.

[Image: Thin, translucent, shiny noodles in a light brown sauce, threaded through with slivers of kelp and carrot; all piled in a cone shape on a white plate.]

A fairly simple cold dish today — 涼拌三絲 (liáng bàn sān sī). Literally "cold [涼] mixed [拌] three [] shreds []", this is a tasty noodle salad made with 粉絲 (fěn sī/bean thread noodles) along with two types of vegetable cut into long slivers to mimic the shape of the noodles. Kelp, carrot, wood ear fungus, and lightly blanched spinach are among the vegetable ingredients commonly used for this.

I've also seen this dish listed on menus under other names. 麻辣三絲 (má là sān sī) is literally "numbing-spicy three shreds", with Sichuan peppercorns providing the numbing component. 三絲木耳 (sān sī mù ěr) makes it explicit that wood ear fungus (木耳/mù ěr) is one of the ingredients. 紅油三絲 (hóng yóu sān sī) makes a different ingredient explicit; the chilli oil (紅油/hóng yóu/"red oil") in the dressing. Or you may see it simply as 拌三絲 (bàn sān sī).

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-17 10:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 孜然牛肉 — zī rán niú ròu — cumin beef

Description follows.

[Image: Thinly-sliced beef, stirfried with onions and fresh red chillies, piled in a heap on a white plate. Cumin and chilli seeds are visible, and a sprig of fresh coriander sits on top.]

My first ever encounter with 孜然牛肉 (zī rán niú ròu/cumin beef) was unintentional. I was out for dinner with [personal profile] bob at No. 10 Restaurant near Earl's Court, and partway through our meal I noticed the scent of cumin in the air. To my surprise, this was not a dish heading past on its way to another table, but a freebie for us. I'd never encountered cumin in Chinese food before, and was amazed by how perfectly it worked. (Though I never did find out why they were giving us free stuff.)

Anyway, aside from the mystery of free food, I'd say the lesson to learn from this is that when you order 孜然牛肉 at a restaurant, if it's done well, you should be able to smell it before you see it.

I've had cumin beef in both Sichuan restaurants and Hunan restaurants, and am not 100% certain of which cuisine it truly belongs to. However, going by Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan and Hunan cookbooks, it appears to be a Hunan dish; I can find no mention of cumin in Ms Dunlop's Sichuan book, while her Hunan book includes a recipe for cumin beef. Also, [personal profile] pulchritude confirms that cumin is a spice used in her home province of Hunan.

When I made 孜然牛肉 a couple of weeks ago, I followed Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe from the Good Food Channel with one amendment: I replaced the fillet steak with top round (topside in the UK), as suggested by Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries. Barbara notes that this suggestion originally comes from Fuchsia Dunlop herself; I suspect the recipe I link to above has been sub-edited by someone from the TV channel. The top round worked very well to give an interesting texture and plenty of beef flavour. Asian Food Adventures also followed Ms Dunlop's recipe, and has some photos of the process.

Note that if you don't like the "velveting" step in Ms Dunlop's recipe, where the marinated beef is briefly deep-fried before being drained and returned to the pan for stir-frying, see the Tigers & Strawberries link above for an alternative. I stuck to velveting, since I had some deep-frying oil to use up anyway.

There are a few ways to vary this dish. The version at No. 10 (photo) had large pieces of lightly-cooked spring onion, a nice contrast with the tender beef. The version at Sanxia Renjia, pictured above, used round onions instead, and included fresh red chillies. Finally, the version at Golden Day (photo) just had small pieces of spring onion greens, and the chillies were minced or ground to a paste rather than being in obvious chunks.

Recipes for 孜然牛肉:

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-10 04:15 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 粽子 — zòngzi — glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves

Description follows.

[Image: Wrapped 粽子; three tetrahedral and two cuboid packages wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with red and white twine.]

As I hinted on Monday, the most obvious Chinese dish for me to cover at this time of year is 粽子 (zòngzi); glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, strongly associated with 端午 (Duānwǔ), the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Today's post is a fairly brief one, I'm afraid; I had intended to say quite a bit more, and also to provide my own photo, but I've been both overwhelmed and under the weather for the past couple of weeks, so I'll just give you a couple of photos from my newest Flickr acquaintance, avlxyz, along with a few links to recipes and blog posts:

And finally several posts from the ever-informative Sunflower:

(Note that some of these sources use a different word, 糉子; this is pronounced the same as 粽子, i.e. zòngzi.)

Description follows.

[Image: Unwrapped 粽子; glutinous rice formed into shapes and stuffed with cooked pork, peanuts, and other delicious items. They rest on top of the bamboo leaves that were used to wrap them before cooking.]

Related posts:
If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-06-03 02:30 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 火爆腰花 — huǒ bào yāo huā — fire-exploded kidney flowers

Description follows.

[Image: A plate piled with pieces of kidney, doused in a reddish-brown sauce. The kidney pieces have been cross-hatched diagonally to form flower-like textures.]

I described the Chinese culinary concept of "kidney flowers" (腰花/yāo huā) earlier this week; essentially, the idea is to score the kidneys in a cross-hatched pattern before cooking, so when heat is applied they open up like flowers. As [personal profile] nanila mentioned in a comment on my post on 花/huā/flower, the idea of describing meat in terms of flowers isn't one that comes up in English. However, the Chinese menu has not only its kidney flowers, but also "five-flower meat" (五花肉/wǔ huā ròu), i.e. pork belly.

One common way of cooking 腰花 is known in Chinese as 火爆 (huǒ bào), literally "fire-exploded". This describes a method of cooking in which ingredients are stir-fried very briefly at a very high temperature. Indeed, when making 火爆腰花, you can expect to spend significantly more time on cleaning the kidneys than on cooking them!

If you're not familiar with how to clean kidneys before you cook them, check out Titli Nihaan's video on YouTube; transcript here. Note also that once your kidneys are clean and you're ready to score them in the 腰花 crosshatch pattern, you need to make sure you score them on the inside, not the outside. Scoring them on the inside lets you cut deeper, since the "skin" on the outside will help hold them together.

When I made 火爆腰花, I used the recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery, which flavours the kidneys with spring onions, pickled chillies, garlic, ginger, salt, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine. Ms Dunlop warns that you should be careful not to overcook the kidneys; I obeyed this instruction dutifully and ended up with probably the best-textured kidneys I've ever eaten — tender yet with that little bit of resistance to the bite that you get with e.g. perfectly-cooked squid.

The flavour of the sauce was a little underwhelming, though, with saltiness being the primary taste. A comment on Cooking The Books (bottom of the page) says that some versions include chilli bean paste and Sichuan pepper too, so I may try this next time. Having said that, Ms Dunlop's version is certainly a nice rebuttal of the idea that all Sichuan food must be spicy hot and slicked with bright red chilli oil!

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-05-27 12:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 飄香辣子雞 — piāo xiāng là zi jī — drifting-fragrance chicken w/ chillies

Description follows.

[Image: Crisply-fried bite-size pieces of chicken piled on a fluted white plate, intermingled with a large quantity of fried dried red chillies.]

I am not, in general, a big fan of chicken dishes — too often, they're just bland and boring. However, 辣子雞 (là zi jī), or chicken with chillies, is a notable exception. This dish consists of bite-size pieces of chicken — often left on the bone for extra flavour — which are first deep-fried and then briefly stirfried with a terrifying quantity of dried chillies.

The chillies are not intended to be eaten, but are used simply to impart their flavour to the chicken; the dish is quite fragrant, and not necessarily as overwhelmingly spicy as it may at first appear. (Having said that, I have eaten some fairly hot versions which I suspect may have included chilli oil among their ingredients.)

As well as plain old 辣子雞 (là zi jī), the Chinese names I've seen this listed as include:

重慶辣子雞Chóngqìng là zi jīChóngqìng is a direct-controlled municipality adjacent to Sichuan province and previously part of it. According to Fuchsia Dunlop, this is where 辣子雞 originated.
歌樂山辣子雞Gēlèshān là zi jīThis name is even more specific than the above, in terms of location; Geleshan is an area within Chongqing.
四川辣子雞Sìchuān là zi jīThis name also associates the dish with Sichuan.
川香辣子雞Chuān xiāng là zi jīThe 川 here is an abbreviation for 四川, i.e. Sichuan.
飄香辣子雞piāo xiāng là zi jīThis one literally translates as "drifting-fragrance chicken with chillies" — see below.

I've chosen the last of these names to describe today's dish, linking up to Wednesday's post about 香/xiāng/fragrant. According to the member of staff I interrogated about this at Red & Hot restaurant, the "drifting fragrance" part of the name is a reference to the way the fragrance of the chillies drifts out during cooking. "Floating fragrance chicken" might be another plausible translation, and I've also seen "drifting-fragrant chicken", which confused me for ages until I realised that it's the fragrance that's drifting, and not the chicken.

I suspect from the English translations I've seen in my menu collection that when 飄香 is used in the name of the dish, cumin is used in the cooking. I'm not entirely certain about this, though; it may just be a coincidence. In any case, some versions of 辣子雞 include cumin, while others don't.

When I made this earlier this week, I adapted Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe. The first change I made was that I used chicken thighs instead of breasts — they're more hassle to prepare, but I prefer the flavour. Since I'm not an expert butcher, I took the bones out before dicing them (four chicken thighs gave me 325g of meat once bones and skin were removed).

The other change I made was that I added half a tablespoon of cornflour (cornstarch) to the marinade. When I've had this dish in restaurants, the chicken pieces have had a crispy coating, while the photos I've seen of versions made to Ms Dunlop's recipe have lacked this. Cornflour helps to create a crispy coating, which is what I wanted. It didn't work out, though; I think I should have added quite a bit more cornflour, and possibly also had my oil hotter. But it was still tasty! The flavour was there, and although the texture wasn't what I was aiming for, it was just fine in itself and I'm already looking forward to making this again.

For more photos and discussion of different ways of making 辣子雞, see CNNGo's search for the best la zi ji in Shanghai — note that of course Shanghai is not in Chongqing, but I figure it's as least as valid as me learning about the dish by eating it in London!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-05-20 11:30 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 蠔煎 — háo jiān — oyster omelette

Description follows.

[Image: A pile of heavily browned pieces of fritter-like omelette, almost blackened in places. The high proportion of starch to egg gives it a very stiff texture. Sliced spring onions are visible in the batter.]

Oyster omelette (蠔煎/háo jiān) is a Fujian dish consisting of a starch-fortified omelette studded with fresh baby oysters. Like many other Fujian dishes, it's also popular in nearby Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, among other places; and partly due to this geographical spread, it has many variations and also many different names.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, 蠔 (háo) is only one of several names for the oyster; the others include 海蠣 (hǎi lì), 牡蠣 (mǔ lì), and 蚵 (hé). Similarly, the omelette part of the dish may be referred to as 餅 (bǐng/cake), 煎 (jiān/pan-fried), 烙 (láo/seared), or a combination of these. In addition, the oysters used to make this should really be small rather than large, and so you might also see the character 仔 (zǎi/child) used after the 蠔/海蠣/蚵 to indicate this.

New Aroma, the (Fujian) restaurant where I ate the dish pictured above, uses 海蠣煎 (hǎi lì jiān) for oyster omelette, while Leong's Legend, the (Taiwanese) restaurant where I ate the version pictured below, uses 蚵仔煎 (hé zǎi jiān). Wikipedia has a non-exhaustive list of some other possible names.

When I had a go at replicating this at home, I followed the recipe from Jacqueline M Newman's Cooking From China's Fujian Province. This uses sweet potato starch as the thickener and milk as the additional liquid. It also includes pork mince, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts as well as the oysters, and flavours the mixture with spring onions, oyster sauce, and a little salt. (Dr Newman has very kindly agreed to let me reproduce this recipe here — it follows at the end of the post.)

Other versions differ; for example, CNNGo describes a version eaten in Chaoshan, Guangdong province which uses cornstarch rather than sweet potato starch. Lily Ng has a version which includes garlic, soy sauce, and Chinese wine. Finally, Chez Pei describes a Taiwanese variant which includes a green vegetable, attempts to keep the starch and eggs somewhat separate, and is served with a sweetish reddish-brown ketchup-based sauce on top; this is the type pictured below.

Description follows.

[Image: A well-browned omelette laid out flat on a white plate. A light reddish-brown sauce covers the top of it. A metal spoon is being used to turn over one edge of the omelette, showing the underside in which some leafy greens are visible. Lumps here and there betray the presence of the oysters within the omelette.]

Jacqueline M Newman's oyster omelet recipe under the cut )

When I made this, I replaced half of the milk with liquid saved from the oysters, reducing the added salt to compensate. My execution was not entirely successful — it stuck to the bottom of the pan and ended up more like loosely scrambled eggs — but then I've never been any good at omelettes, and my greatest fear when cooking eggs is overcooking, so it's likely that it would have been fine if I'd just left it alone a bit longer before starting to scrape at it. Problems of execution aside, it was pretty tasty even if I did end up eating it from a bowl with a spoon!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-05-13 11:45 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 叉燒包 — chā shāo bāo — char siu bao

Description follows.

[Image: Three cha siu bao in a steamer basket — soft, white, fluffy, slightly sweet steamed buns filled with barbecued pork. The tops of the buns are "smiling" to show the filling.]

Cha siu bao (叉燒包/chā shāo bāo) are probably familiar to most people who've ever been out for dim sum. I'd been intending to cover them during this year's dim sum month (which will again be in August), but since this week's character post was on 包/bāo/bun, they were the obvious choice for today's post.

I didn't want to get too complicated for my first attempt at these, so I decided to buy the 叉燒 instead of making it myself[see footnote]. Many Cantonese restaurants will sell you a chunk of cha siu to take away, at a reasonable price; it's best to go around lunchtime, as it's fresher then. Look for somewhere that has roast meats hanging up in the window, and ask to have your cha siu whole rather than cut up, so it doesn't dry out on the way home. If you do want to make your own, check out [identity profile] sung's cha siu recipe.

To turn my purchased chunk of 叉燒 into 包 filling, I followed Sue-On's instructions to dice it and then stirfry it with hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, before adding chicken stock and thickening it with cornflour slurry (the Tigers & Strawberries post linked below has a more complex recipe). I have to confess that, not being the greatest fan of 叉燒包, I hadn't eaten one in recent memory, so I wasn't entirely sure what flavour I was going for here. Instead, I aimed to get a decent amount of sauce that was thick enough to be folded up in a dough wrapper without leaking everywhere, but that wasn't too stodgy. I did make one mistake, in that I didn't dice the meat quite finely enough. I left this filling to cool completely before filling my buns.

The other important component is the bread dough. There are two main schools of thought on this: yeast-raised, or non-yeast-raised, though many yeast-raised doughs, such as the one from Tigers & Strawberries, also incorporate some baking powder for extra lift. There's another yeast-raised dough posted by Tepee on eGullet; note though that I haven't tried either of these yet, since I decided to go for a non-yeast option.

Non-yeast-raised doughs might use baking powder or ammonium bicarbonate as the raising agent. Some are kneaded and then left for 20-30 minutes to relax the gluten, while others are used straight away. Some people use water for the liquid, others use milk.

In the end, I tried two ways of making the dough; the boxed mix described below, and the dough recipe from Sue-On's bao page linked above. Sadly the latter simply didn't work for me — I thought all along that the proportions looked off, so I measured carefully and followed the instructions to the letter, but even using the most generous conversion I could find (1 cup flour = 5 oz weight), I still ended up with a batter rather than a dough, so I chucked it in the bin and had toast instead.

The boxed mix was a serendipitous discovery. I read online that Vietnamese "banh bao flour" was a good flour to use, so I went to our local Vietnamese supermarket and asked for some. The owner pointed me at a box of Thai "salapao mix" (photo of salapao mix box), which contained flour, sugar, and raising agents. I thought this was worth a go, so I bought some. The dough turned out quite soft, which surprised me, since according to the Tigers & Strawberries recipe linked above, the dough should be stiff, but I figured this was probably just a difference between the yeast-raised and non-yeast-raised versions, and indeed it was fine in the end.

Most recipes ask you to form the dough into a roll and then cut it into however many pieces it's meant to make — I prefer to weigh it, work out how much each one should weigh, and then pull off pieces and check the weight, but then I like doing long division, so just use whatever method suits you :) Sue-On's post, linked above, mentions using a tortilla press to make the flat circles, but I just rolled them out with a rolling pin.

For steaming, it's best to use a steamer with a bamboo lid, since it absorbs the condensation better than a metal lid does, and you don't really want condensation dropping back onto your 包. Note that they do get quite a lot bigger when you steam them, so make sure to leave plenty of room between them when you put them in the steamer.

To stop the 包 sticking to the base of the steamer, I used these circles of parchment paper stuff that I bought from the Chinese supermarket; they're cut to a standard size, and they have holes in them to let the steam through. They worked very well, no sticking at all. I've read that you can also use lettuce leaves, though these can make the bases of the 包 a bit soggy; I've also read that if you don't mind having to peel the paper off the buns afterwards, waxed paper works OK.

A number of sources on the internet suggest that adding some white vinegar to the steaming water will eliminate any "off" colours or smells, but I have no idea if this is true, nor what the mechanism might be. Similarly, many sources state that the 包 should be steamed over as high as heat as possible to get them really fluffy and to get the characteristic "cracked" or "smiling" top — I certainly noticed that the ones in the lower tier of my steamer (i.e. closer to the fresh steam) were smiling more than the ones in the upper tier. Finally, according to Tepee on eGullet, you should avoid overcooking (12-15 minutes is a good time), and uncover your 包 as quickly as possible once they've finished steaming, making sure not to let any condensation fall on them.

If you have leftover 包, let them cool down, then freeze them. Reheat by steaming from frozen for 10-15 minutes.

Footnote: [0] Since I was planning to be in central London anyway, I googled for where to buy cha siu in london chinatown and was amused to see a post by [identity profile] sung come up as the top hit. In his post, he recommended Hung's on Wardour Street, so I decided to go there, but was thwarted by an earlier appointment over-running; however, we met up for dinner the next evening so I got to wander along Gerrard Street with him afterwards peering in all the windows to select the best-looking cha siu for me!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-05-06 09:45 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 海米冬瓜 — hǎi mǐ dōng guā — winter melon with dried prawns

Description follows.

[Image: Thick batons of peeled winter melon (a white/pale green vegetable) piled on a plate, coated with a light brown sauce in which a few tiny dried prawns are visible.]

Today I'm posting about a fairly simple but quite tasty vegetable dish — winter melon with dried prawns (海米冬瓜/hǎi mǐ dōng guā). As I mentioned on Wednesday, dried prawns are referred to in Chinese as both 海米 (hǎi mǐ) and 蝦米 (xiā mǐ), so you might also see this dish listed on menus as 蝦米冬瓜 (xiā mǐ dōng guā).

冬瓜 (dōng guā) is a type of gourd with a green skin and crisp white flesh. They tend to be very large. In the UK at least, you won't normally buy a whole one, but even the pieces on sale in supermarkets are quite big; when I went to buy some the other week, the smallest piece I could get weighed just over 1.2kg! Whole ones are sometimes used, hollowed out and carved on the outside with decorative designs, to hold soups at banquets (here's a photo).

The literal translation of 冬瓜 is "winter melon", and this is also a common name for it in English, though it's also known as white gourd or wax gourd. According to Wikipedia, although it requires very warm weather to grow, it can be stored for a year once it's grown, so the name may refer to its being available throughout the winter. Alternatively, according to a poster on eGullet, winter melons are usually harvested in winter, which may be another reason for the name.

There are a number of types of dried prawn available, with perhaps the most common being the curled-up pink type, around a centimetre or so across. However, I was intrigued by the ones in the dish pictured above (from Royal Palace) — tiny ones, with heads and shells still on — so when I saw a packet in Loon Fung I picked it up to give them a go in this dish. (Here's a side-by-side photo of the two types.)

I roughly followed the 海米冬瓜 recipe on Travel China Guide. The recipe as written is a bit confusing, since first it tells you to drain the soaked dried prawns and then a photo appears to show the soaking water being added into the wok as well. It's also not clear whether they intend you to add stock powder or actual stock at the end.

So here's what I did: heated oil in a wok, added chopped spring onion and ginger, stirfried them for 20 seconds, added the (soaked, drained) dried prawns and winter melon, stirfried for 2 minutes, added a pinch of salt and a fair bit of home-made chicken/pork stock, and then continued to cook it until the liquid had mostly evaporated and the winter melon had softened. It turned out pretty good!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-04-29 10:45 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Concepts: 東北拉皮 — Dōngběi lā pí — mung bean sheet noodles with pork

Description follows.

[Image: Thick, flat, translucent noodles piled on a plate and topped with slivers of stirfried pork, dried red chillies, and fresh coriander. A fluid brown sauce coats the noodles and pools on the plate.][see footnote]

As well as letting myself off having a theme for this week, I'm also letting myself off the requirement to know exactly how today's dish is made. Which is handy, since I've only ever had it in one restaurant, and I can't find any recipes for it. (Edit, June 2011: Out To Lunch has a recipe for 雞絲拉皮/jī sī lā pí, which is similar but uses chicken.)

東北拉皮 (Dōngběi lā pí) is a cold dish of thick, flat, translucent mung bean noodles dressed with various tasty things and served mixed with shredded cucumber and stirfried pork slivers. I think it's delicious, though the heavy, slippery noodles can be somewhat tricky to eat without making a mess!

東北 (Dōngběi) means "northeast" (though it's the other way around from the English — 東 is "east" and 北 is "north"). In this context, it refers to a group of three provinces tucked up alongside Inner Mongolia in the far northeast of China: Liáoníng, Jílín, and Hēilóngjiāng.

拉皮 refers to the type of noodles; literally "pulled [拉] skin []". They seem to sometimes also be called 大拉皮 (dà lā pí); 大 means "big". Another name for these noodles is 粉皮 (fěn pí), which translates as something like "starch [] skin [皮]". Like 粉絲 (fěn sī/bean thread noodles), 粉皮 are made from mung bean starch; however, 粉皮 are much thicker and more robust than 粉絲. (Londoners: I found 粉皮 in Loon Fung in Chinatown.)

There seem to be a few versions of this dish; for example I found one photo on Flickr that includes shredded ham, omelette, carrots, and cucumber, as well as prawns. Beijing Haochi has a post on Xian Lao Man restaurant that features a version closer to the one I'm familiar with; the sauce ingredients listed there are black vinegar and sesame paste (the internet tells me that Chinese sesame paste is similar to tahini but made with toasted rather than raw sesame seeds). Eating Asia also lists vinegar and sesame paste as ingredients, with the addition of "la jiao" (辣椒/chillies) and raw garlic. As Bejing Haochi mentions, the key to success in making 東北拉皮 is the texture of the noodles; they shouldn't be too hard, but neither should they be mushy.

I've also found reference to a dish called 西北拉皮 (xī běi lā pí) — 西北 means "northwest". This appears to be a different dish; it's the same noodles, but topped with a sweet and spicy sauce, served hot. I'm not sure what's in the sauce.

Footnote: [0] Due to a request, I'm now putting alt text for images in the main body of the post rather than within the alt attribute. Please let me know if this causes you any problems!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
2011-04-22 12:05 am

Reading Chinese Menus: Dishes: 蕃茄炒蛋 — fān qié chǎo dàn — stirfried eggs with tomatoes

Creamy folds of stirfried egg sit intermingled with lightly-cooked fresh tomatoes.  Juice from the tomatoes is pooled on the white plate.

Today's dish rather breaks the mould of what British people (at least) might expect from a "stirfry". 蕃茄炒蛋 (fān qié chǎo dàn) translates directly as "stirfried [] eggs [] with tomatoes [蕃茄]", and this is pretty much exactly what it is.

It's a fairly simple dish, really, and though I've seen it on quite a few restaurant menus, it's also easy enough to cook at home — I often have it for a quick lunch on a weekday, served over plain rice. iLearn Culture says that it's probably the most common dish seen on family dinner tables in China.

I've also seen it listed on menus as 蕃茄炒雞蛋 (fān qié chǎo jī dàn), which is the same thing but emphasising the fact that it's a chicken (雞) egg, and as 蕃茄蛋飯 (fān qié dàn fàn), which is the same thing but served with rice. Remember also that 蕃茄 and 番茄 (both pinyinised as fān qié) are used interchangeably on menus, and you may also see a different word used for tomato: 西紅柿 (xī hóng shì).

The recipe I use is Rasa Malaysia's tomato eggs (though I like to cook the tomatoes a bit longer than she does, and I also peel them first unless I'm feeling lazy). Food Mayhem's tomato fried eggs recipe omits the spring onions, while Beijing Made Easy's version also omits the spring onions but adds garlic. Finally, the eGullet thread on tomato eggs has some discussion of the different ways to make the dish.

(The photo at the top of this post is of the version served at Royal Palace; it has a rather higher proportion of tomato than I usually use.)

Edit: and checking my RSS reader now, I see that Sunflower and Appetite For China both posted about tomato eggs at around the same time I did — now there's a coincidence!

Recipes linked in this post:

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.