Dry-braised Fish with Sichuan Bean Paste Sauce豆瓣全鱼dòu bàn quán yú

coverDry-braising, literally translated from the term gan shao (干烧) in Mandarin, refers to a method in Chinese cooking that uses relatively less braising liquid at the start, and reduces most of the liquid towards the end of cooking.  The result? A perfectly braised fish imbued and draped with rich and concentrated sauce. This is a great way to cook any type of fish that has firm and mild-tasting flesh, such as fresh-water-fish tilapia used in this recipe. There are many sauce variations for the fish. But none of them beats this simple yet very satisfying sauce seasoned with Sichuan bean paste, doubanjiang, 豆瓣酱. By quickly stir-frying it in, doubanjiang’s beautiful red brown color and rich complex umami flavours are created and imparted to the golden and crispy Tilapia.

Serves 3-4,  

  • Whole tilapia (or seabass and red snapper), about 850g, scale and gut (roughly 1kg before scale and gut)罗非鱼,红鲷鱼或者海鲈鱼任一种,去鱼鳞及内脏. If you use smaller fish, please reduce the seasoning sauce below  proportionally
  • 1 tablespoon   Chinese cooking wine
  • ½ teaspoon    salt
  • 1 cup       canola oil or any vegetable oil
  • 4 slices      ginger, thinly sliced生姜

For the seasoning sauce

  • 2 tablespoons      Sichuan fermented bean paste豆瓣酱
  • 2 spring onions, white parts only, cut into small pieces青葱
  • 3 to 4 small dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated. This is optional. But the mushroom certainly helps enrich the umami flavor for the dish. 香菇
  • 2 teaspoons                 caster sugar白砂糖
  • ½ tablespoon    light soy sauce生抽
  • ½ tablespoon    dark soy sauce老抽
  • 2 cups          water
  • 2 tablespoons    corn starch淀粉
  • 1/4 cup   water
  • Salt to taste

 

  • 1 Red chili or 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced, for garnishing
  • 1 sprig       fresh cilantro, 香菜, for garnishingIMG_6083

Method

  1. Scale the fish, discard the guts and clean well (I found a chain Korean grocery store called H-mart in my area which sells live Tilapia from fish tank in the store with free service of scale and gut). Pat dry the fish with kitchen paper towel. Slice the ginger. Slash the fish on both sides of the back to allow your seasoning to penetrate  evenly later.IMG_6084
  2. Place the fish in a big bowl. Sprinkle evenly the half teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of cooking wine on both sides of the back of the fish. Use your hand rub the cooking wine and salt into fish.IMG_6089
  3. In the meantime, heat up the 1 cup of cooking oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat. Remember your frying pan should be big enough to allow the entire fish touch the surface of the pan. This takes about 2-3 minutes. Place the ginger slices in the oil. You will see ginger sizzling when oil is hot enough. When the ginger becomes wrinkled, very carefully place the entire fish in the drying pan. Turn the heat to medium high. Cook one side for 6 to 7 minutes till skin golden and crispy. During this 6-minute cooking time, do not try to use spatula to move it too much. Otherwise you may break the fish skin. You may gently shake the pan handle to keep the fish from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Then use your spatula to gentle flip the fish. Fry over medium-high heat for another 6 to 7 minutes till golden and crispy.
  4. Remove the fish from the pan and place in a big plate or just your serving plate. Line the plate with kitchen towel to help absorb the oil.
  5. Now let’s make the sauce. Keep only about 2 tablespoons of the residual oil in the frying pan and get rid of the rest. Turn up the heat and place 2 tablespoons of Sichuan fermented bean paste. Fry over medium heat or about 2-3 minutes till fragrant. Add into sliced spring onions and cook for another 2 minutes. Add minced shiitake mushroom and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and ½ tablespoon of light soy sauce and ½ tablespoon of dark soy sauce, add into 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Return the fish into the frying pan and let the fish simmer over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes. Flip the fish half way through. In the meantime, mix corn starch and water to make water corn starch.
  7. Remove the fish out of the pan again and place it in a serving plate – be very careful. The fish is now very soft and needs careful attention to avoid breaking.
  8. Add the water starch into the frying pan to thicken the sauce. Taste the sauce. Add salt if needed. Pour the sauce on top of the fish. Garnish the fish with cilantro and red chili slices.
  9. Serve hot with a bowl of rice!

 

 

Simply Roasted Chicken with Jalapeno-Shallots-Garlic Sauce

coverI tried to give this unadorned but deeply flavorful roasted chicken with an Asian touch by using a vibrant sauce of shallots, garlic, jalapeno and soy sauce.  The chef Jonathan Waxman created the Italian version at Barbuto, then-Italian restaurant in the West Village, New York City.  One important thing I also learned that the magic to this legendary crispy-skinned roast chicken is to baste.

 Serve 4

  • I whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds or about 1.5 kg – 2kg
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce

  • 5 to 6 jalapenos or any long green pepper, minced
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small shallots minced
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • ½ teaspoon or to taste cooking salt
  • 2 tablespoons                    light soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon   caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup     water
  • ½ tablespoon    freshly squeezed lime juice

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425F°/210C°. Wash the chicken in hot water and dry with paper towels. Coat the chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the chicken with generous amount of sea salt and fresh black pepper. Dab an earthenware or metal baking dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place the chicken inside it. Roast for 30 minutes.
  2. Then basting it every 7 to 8 minutes. Do the basting for 3 to 4 times. Basting is a culinary technique for moistening the surface of roasting meat, poultry, or other foods with pan drippings, stock, butter, or some other liquid. In addition to contributing moisture, basting adds flavor (as long as the basting liquid is flavorful) to the surface of the meat. What you need to do is gradually pouring the liquid at the bottom of the pan, in which the meat is being cooked, over the chicken, spoon by spoon. You will hear the beautiful ‘cracking’ sound after the hot liquid on the chicken skin. Just to be extremely careful, the oven is very hot. You will want to wear heavy baking gloves.
  3. Rotate the pan during basting to allow for even cooking. Bake the chicken till golden. How long does it take to cook a chicken? Generally, it takes between 10 minutes to 12 minutes per pound. The chicken is done when the juices from the thigh run clear (about 165 F°). A 3 to 4 pounds chicken would need to cook about 60 minutes in the oven of 425 F°. Move the chicken out of the oven. Let the chicken to sit for about 15 minutes.IMG_6025.jpg
  4. In the meantime, you can start make the sauce. Place a sauce pan over low medium fire, add cooking oil and minced shallots and garlic, fry for about 3 minutes till soft, then add into minced jalapeno, add into soy sauce, sugar and salt, cook for another 2 minutes, add water. Place the sauce in a small sauce bowl. Drip into the freshly squeezed lime juice.IMG_6011.jpg
  5. Use a knife roughly cut the chicken into big pieces, pour onto 80% of the sauce. Save the rest of 20% to bring it to the dining table for sharing. Ready to serve.

 

Chinese Long Squash (‘Opo Squash’) 瓠子hù zǐ

cover.jpgOpo Squash, or “Chinese Long Squash’ or 瓠子hù zǐ,  is a native Chinese and Southeast Asian squash similar to a zucchini. Belonging to the gourd family, it has pale green skin, white flesh and very mild flavor. The humble vegetable is a great source of fiber and provides rich vitamins and minerals. It  can be seasoned with a variety of items, and generally absorbs the flavors of other ingredients when it is used in a stir-fry, soup or stew.
Serves 2-4

500g to 600g     one big long squash瓠子

6 – 8            small dry shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and minced

2               spring onions, white and green parts separated, chopped

1.5 tablespoons   cooking oil

2 tablespoons       light soy sauce 生抽

¼ cup            chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon       sesame oil (optional)IMG_5915

 Method

  1. Place dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl filled with warm water. Let it rehydrate for about 20-30 minutes till soft. Mince the rehydrated mushrooms and chop the spring onions. IMG_5923
  2. Peel the squash, trim the end pieces, then cut the squash into half-inch small pieces. Use the tip of your knife to cut the criss-cross shape on the top for both sides for all the squash pieces. This will help the squash quickly absorb the seasoning sauce later. Place all the squash pieces in a bowl and microwave over high heat for 3-4 minutes till softened.
  3. Add 1.5 tablespoon of cooking oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, place the squash pieces, pan fry for 3-4 minutes till golden, flip the pieces to fry the other side, place minced mushrooms and white parts of the spring onion pieces and cook for another 3-4 minutes. In the meantime, mix the soy sauce and chicken stock. Pour the mixture evenly onto the squash. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped spring onion greens. Drizzle with sesame oil but this is optional.
  4. Ready to serve.

 

 

Chinese Rice Cake Soup年糕汤nián gāo tāng

cover.JPGThis rice cake soup is delicious, comforting and very easy to make. It is perfect for a quick and hearty mid-week meal. Nian Gao (rice cakes), which means “higher every year”, is a squishy, sticky foodstuff made by pounding cooked rice with a wooden cudgel until smooth and elastic, then forming it into cakes that are sliced before cooking. They are chewy in texture, almost like a kind of noodle. Niao Gao comes with different shapes. The type of rice cakes for this recipe are white and shaped into flat ovals which you can find in most of the Asian supermarkets. I choose to use fresh, vacuum packed Korean rice cakes which can be used directly from the package.

Serve 3-4

Ingredients

For the meat & marinade:

  • 250g                    pork loin or chicken, cut into small, thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons       Chinese cooking wine (click here for homemade cooking wine)
  • 1 tablespoon       light soy sauce生抽
  • 1/2 teaspoon       sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon       white ground peppercorn白胡椒粉
  • 1 teaspoon          corn starch

To assemble the soup:

  • 3 tablespoons                vegetable oil
  • 2 spring onions            thinly sliced on an angle, white and green parts separated
  • 1 small carrot, 80g,      thinly sliced
  • 400g                                napa cabbage, stems cut into ½-inch pieces and leaves cut into 1-inch pieces) 大白菜
  • 4 cups                              low sodium chicken stock (click chicken stock for homemade chicken stock)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon                 white ground peppercorn
  • 1 teaspoon                    sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon                light soy sauce
  • 450g                                rice cakes 年糕IMG_3816.jpg

Instructions

  1. Combine the pork (or chicken) with Chinese cooking wine, light soy sauce, sesame oil, white ground peppercorn, corn starch, and water. Marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat your wok until it starts to smoke lightly. Over high heat, add 3 tablespoons oil, add white part of the spring onions, fry till fragrant, then add into pork until the meat strips turn pale and half-cooked.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, add into the carrots. Cook for another minute and add the napa cabbage. Stir fry everything together for a few minutes until the napa cabbage leaves are wilted.
  4. Add 4 cups low sodium chicken stock and 4 cups water. Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until the thick stems of the napa cabbage are tender. Add salt to taste, ½ teaspoon white ground peppercorn, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon light soy sauce.Sprinkle the rice cakes over the surface of the soup, along with green parts of the scallions. The rice cakes should be resting on top of the soup so they don’t sink into it and stick to the bottom of the wok/pot. Cover and cook for another minute, or as long as it takes to cook the rice cakes through (please see the Recipe Notes if you are using dried rice cakes). Salt to taste again and serve!

Notes

Since this recipe requires 8 cups of liquid, keep in mind you’ll need a large wok. If your wok isn’t big enough to accommodate the recipe, you can make it in a large, thick-bottomed pot.

The cooking time for rice cakes can vary based on brand, whether the rice cakes were fresh, frozen, or dried to begin with, and how thick or thin they were cut. Cooking time can be anywhere from 1-10 minutes. Fresh rice cakes cook in a minute or two. Frozen rice cakes can be thawed beforehand or thrown into the wok/pot frozen, though they may take an additional couple minutes. Dried rice cakes should be soaked overnight first and may also take a little longer to cook.

 

 

Chinese Pork Ribs with a Crust香酥肋排xiāng sū lèi pái

cover.jpgGive this healthy, hassel-free and oven-baked recipe a try, and crack open your favorite cold beer to go with it. They can be served as an appetizer, finger food, or as one of several main dishes. The marinade is simple and extremely flavorful. Panko are designed to soak up the marinade and provide a luxuriously crispy coating.

Serve 3-4

  • 1000g                      baby back ribs (cut into individual pieces; about 10-12 ribs, washed and pat dry with kitchen towel.)
  • 2 tablespoons          Chinese cooking wine (click for  homemade cooking wine)
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon       White peppercorn powder 白胡椒粉
  • 1 teaspoon                garlic powder or use 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons              caster sugar白糖
  • 2 tablespoons            light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon    corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 and ½ cups            panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons  coarse sea salt
  • Cilantro or chopped spring inions for garnish (optional)IMG_5900.jpg

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix the ribs, Chinese cooking wine, white peppercorn powder, garlic powder, caster sugar, light soy sauce, corn starch and egg until combined. Toss in the ribs until they’re well coated and refrigerate overnight (if you’re scrambling for time, 2 hours will also suffice).
  2. When you’re ready to cook the ribs, preheat oven to 400F° or 200C°, and line a sheet pan with heavy duty foil for easy clean-up. Give the ribs another toss in the marinade.
  3. Mix the panko and salt in a separate bowl. Heavily dredge each rib in the panko mixture and place on the sheet pan. Sprinkle any of the remaining panko mixture on top of the ribs.
  4. Place the ribs in the middle of the oven, close the oven door, and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 F°. Bake for 30 minutes. Flip each rib and lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Bake for another 30 minutes – this helps lock the moisture of the ribs. Remove the sheet of foil on the top and flip each rib again and turn up the oven to 400F° or 200C°, bake for another 10 minutes until the ribs become golden.
  5. Serve, garnished with cilantro or spring onions if desire

 

Cantonese Herb Pork Bone Soup广东猪骨例汤guǎng dōng zhū gǔ lì tāng

cover1

This hearty and nutritious soup will surely help keep you warm during the cold winter months. The meaty pork bones are so fragrant and delicious after hours of simmering. I always put extra in the soup and eat them with soy sauce on the side. Like any slow-cooked food, the soup tastes better on the second or third day. So feel free to make a large quantity if you wish.

As you’ll see from the ingredients list, the rehydrated dried ingredients embody the essence of this soup. It’s worth mentioning that we prefer to only enjoy the soup stock while discard those rehrydrated dried ingredients after hours of cooking. The dried ingredients may sound daunting. If so, then look for the pre-packaged Cantonese Soup herb mix at your local Chinese grocery store. It’s definitely easier having everything in one package for your soup. That said, any pre-packaged soup mix varies in its ingredients so don’t be surprised if pre-packaged soups like the one pictured below are missing or have extra ingredients. You still will be able to achieve the same results.

The defining characteristic of Cantonese soup is its clarity. The soup might look clear, but it’s packed with flavours. To achieve this, the soup must be simmered low and slow throughout the cooking process. Too much boiling produces a cloudy soup.

Salt must be added right before serving. The key is to use less salt than normal, especially during the cooking process, in order to taste the sweetness of the soup itself.

Cantonese people like to add dried seafood, because it adds a lot of umami flavor to the soup, but it’s of course optional.

Serve 3-4

  • 750g           pork bones (try to find bones with more meat on them)
  • 4 slices       fresh ginger, cut ⅛-inch thick, 生姜
  • 30grams     dried Chinese yam (huái shān, 淮山or shān yào, 山药)
  • 25 grams    dried lotus seeds(lián zǐ, 莲子)
  • 10 grams    dried goji berries(gōu qǐ, 枸杞)
  • 15 grams     polygonatum odoratum(not sure if there’s a better English translation for this!) (yù zhú, 玉竹)
  • 10 grams    dried longan (guì yuán ròu, 桂圆肉)
  • 1 big dried honey dates (mì zǎo, 蜜枣)
  • 1 large piece of dried seafood, such as dried squid, dried abalone,and/or dried scallop (optional)
  • 2500 ml        cold water
  • Salt, to tasteIMG_5877

 Method

  1. Soak the pork bones in cold water for an hour. Rinse thoroughly and drain. The soaking process helps to get rid of any impurities or blood, to keep the soup clear.
  2. In a large stock pot, add the pork bones, and fill with enough cold water to fully submerge the pork bones. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Next, turn off the heat, dump everything into a colander, and rinse the pork bones clean. Wash the soup pot as well. This process will help to get rid of any remaining impurities in the pork bones to ensure a clear soup.
  3. Now put the pork bones back in the pot, and add the ginger, all of the dried ingredients, and 2500ml of cold water. Bring everything to a boil, and then immediately turn the heat down to simmer. Let the soup simmer for 3 to 4 hours.IMG_5878.jpg
  4. Before serving, skim off any fat from the surface of the soup.
  5. Salt to taste. Use a colander to remove all the rehydrated ingredients. Serve hot, along with some soy sauce on the table for dipping your pork into.

 

Chinese Air-dried Sausages 家常香肠jiā cháng xiāng cháng

coverStore-bought sausage can be good, and some are very good. But rarely are they as satisfying as those you can make at home, because you can adapt homemade sausage to your own tastes. You can use the nice cuts of meat as opposed to the butcher’s scraps. I have included two most popular types of flavors – non-spicy one and spicy (‘Sichuan Mala’) one.

I’d like to use the cut from the shoulder of the pig, above the front leg (which is called the picnic ham); also called pork shoulder, shoulder butt, or Boston butt. Pork shoulder is heavily marbled and inexpensive, and thus the perfect cut for sausage making. Be sure your sausage including at least 25-30 percent fat. If your pork shoulder meat is too lean, see if you can buy back fat from your local butcher or Chinese/Asian supermarkets. This is the layer of fat from the pig’s back, usually the purest white and thickest fat on the pig’s body. Don’t be afraid of fat. As matter of fact, fat is fundamental to the quality of a sausage, its succulence and flavour.

Temperature is important here too. As it dries naturally it the open air, there is only certain time of the year which is ideally for sausage-making. In China, people start the preparations of making sausages or other charcuterie-making around the winter solstice when the highest temperature won’t reach 10C°.

A very important food safety note – this air-dried sausage needs to be cooked before consumption. This is very different from other types of western -style air-dried sausages which you can eat raw. There are a couple of reasons for this – there is no food preservative (such as Nitrites which are commonly used for store-bought sausages.). Also we use commercially raised pork for these preparations instead of farm-raised hogs, animals raised out of doors by sustainable farms. To cook Chinese sausages, you can easily steam them over high heat for 20 – 30 minutes. Once they are cool off, then cut them into thin slices and eat them as appetizers. You can also cook them along with a pot of rice or use them in fried rice.

To store the sausages, place them in the fridge for up to 1 months and freezer for 3 months.

Basic ingredients (this can make around 20 Chinese sausages, each around 20cm long)

  • 2250 gram pork shoulder butt肩胛肉
  • 2 meters        natural hog casings 肠衣

You can choose one of the following two types of the seasonings. The seasoning recipes below are developed on the 2250 gram of the pork. If you decide to make both types of the sausages, just prepare a total of 4450g of the pork shoulder and 4 meters of the natural hog casings.

Seasonings for the non-spicy sausages

  • 67g         kosher salt, 3% of the quantity of the 2250 gram pork
  • 67g          rock sugar, well smashed, 3% of the quantity of the pork冰糖 (see the picture)
  • 45g         Chinese white spirit (“Bai Jiu’), 2% of the quantity of the pork中国白酒
  • 3g           ground white peppercorn白胡椒粉
  • 30g         light soy sauce

Seasonings for the spicy (Sichuan Mala) sausages

  • 67g              kosher salt, 3% of the quantity of the pork
  • 67g             chili pepper powder红辣椒粉
  • 5g                freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn现磨花椒粉
  • 67g               rock sugar, well smashed, 3% of the quantity of the pork冰糖
  • 67g               Chinese white spirit (“Bai Jiu’), 3% of the quantity of the pork中国白酒
  • 50g              dark soy sauce老抽

Equipment needed

  • a special sausage stuffing tool or funnel and chopsticks for stuffing the sausages; toothpick or needle for pricking the sausages to release trapped air
  • Scissors and cotton lines for tying the sausages. And ropes for hanging the sausages.IMG_6596.jpg

Method

  1. No matter what flavor you prefer, wash the pork and pat dry with kitchen towel.
  2. Cut the pork into thin and large pieces (around 6 cm long and 4 cm wide with a thickness of 0.4cm to 0.5cm) or Simply cut them into small cubes (a little bigger than dice) if the nozzle of your funnel tube is small. Then add white spirit (Chinese Baijiu) and mix well. If you cannot find Chinese baijiu, use other alcohol (such as Vodka) to replace. Mix all the other seasonings. Mix salt, sugar and white pepper. Massage with hands and make sure all the ingredients are well combined. Then set aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Soak the casings in water for 20 minutes or until supple, or up to two days. Then hold them open beneath cold running water to rinse out the insides.
  4. Then set up the equipment and wrap the skin over the funnel tube. Or you can use a funnel and a chopstick as plunger. Tie one end and then cut off the remaining skin.
  5. The equipment I use is somewhat like a semi-automatic plunger. The pork meat is pushed ahead when pushing down the plunger. If you do not have this equipment, use chopstick or wood stick to push the pork into the skin.
  6. Once finished, use a cotton line (around 10cm to 12 cm long) to tie and divide the sausage into small sections around 20cm long, so we can continue hanging and drying process.IMG_6611
  7. Pat dry with kitchen towel, then hang and dry. Use a small needle to prick the sausages to release trapped air. Left them dry in the open air for about 14 days or they’ve lost about 30% of the total weight. Dry under the sun is good. But try to avoid direct sun at all times because your sausages will become very dry. Touch is fairly reliable means of judging the doneness of sausages. Squeeze the sausages: it should feel stiff, almost hard, all the way through to the center.
  8. To cook Chinese sausages, you can easily steam them over high heat for 25 – 30 minutes. Once they are cool off, then cut them into thin slices and eat them as appetizers. You can also cook them along with a pot of rice or use them in fried rice.