Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chinese New Years III

Chinese New Years
part I
part II

Steamer baskets and a Japanese sushi press overlook Dum Luk's Kitchen.
In 1978 Diana pushed me into Dim Sum cookery with Rhoda Yee's Dim Sum: The Delicieus Secrets of Home Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch. It remains a favorite source. A search on Dim Sum at your favorite suspect will provide a plethora of titles at least one of which will suit.
Some quintessentials:
Spring rolls: A deep fried roll of thin pastry wrapped around a filling of stir fried meat and vegetables. Pork is most common. But also add pork and shrimp, chicken, fish, calamari or shell fish. Just vegetables also works. Bean sprouts and bamboo shoots are not required. But the spring roll will be 'off' without them. The intrepid may make the wraps (similar to making pasta) while the rest can buy the ready mades, which are much easier to find nowadays than thirty years ago. They are delicate to handle. So patience is requisite. Start atone edge of the stack and stroke the top edge until it lifts . Tease it across the full width and then down the length. An assembly line is useful. One chef can separate skins while another fills, seals and places on a parchment lined tray to await cooking. An excellent variation is Thai Spring rolls mad with raw vegetables wrapped in rice paper wraps. The wraps are soaked in hot water, one or two at a time, until they are limber enough to wrap. Add hot sauce to the filling. Dip in peanut sauce. Excellent summer fare.
Gyosa, or pot stickers, or pork dumplings, were my favorite quick snack in Japan. I was delighted to see them arrive in the States ten to twenty years ago where they are now well established. The Classic explanation is that a cook was making steamed pork dumplings. Just as he was about to cover the pot, something distracts him. The unattended pot boils dry, browning the wrap. Rushing back the cook is just in time to save the dumplings by adding water and covering the pan to steam the dumplings. Use round wraps maybe three inches in diameter. The filling is usually ground pork with ginger and garlic. Scallions are good, or celery. Stir fry the filling and thicken the juice with a teaspoon or so of corn starch [n.b.: Mix corn starch with a bit of water or stock or pan juice to dissolve. Pour into boiling liquid in pan. Stir pan and at the same time add a bit of water to the container to get the rest of your cornstarch mixture into the pan. I use a Chinese restaurant tea cup to mix the starch. Cook until the sauce becomes clear. Arrowroot, or rice flour may be substituted] The wraps form a half moon around the filling. Start them in an oiled frying pan with a tight lid. When one side is brown turn them over to brown the second side. Add a cup of water and clap the lid on. That will steam them done in a few minutes. Serve with soy or Mirin. Mirin is half rice vinegar and half sugar with the merest hint of a splash of soy. Well, that's how I learned it. Per Wikipedia it is sweetened rice wine, i.e. sake, heated to reduce the alcohol. You can buy the stuff bottled or make your own as you need it. Make it by the pint or quart if you eat oriental more often than once a year as it is useful at least once in every meal.
Siu Mai, or steamed meat dumplings: These I usually call Lamb mai as ground lamb is my filling of choice. More usually they are pork with shrimp or pork sausage. The round wrap is tucked around the filling so that the top is open. Steaming can be done in bamboo baskets, in metal steamers or by putting a pie pan inside a kettle with a tight lid on top of a tuna can to keep the pie plate from getting too hot. All that is required is away to surround most of the food with steam without boiling it in water, or exposing it to a dry heat.
Bao, or steamed buns: A sweet yeast bread surrounds a tasty filling of sweet or savory. Bread doesn't need sugar in it, though most people like homemade bread with a tablespoon of sugar in it for two loaves. This dough has between a third and three-quarters of a cup of sugar for a similar amount. Steaming offers a unique texture to the bread. It is springier and has very tiny holes from the gas produced by the yeast. It remains the color of the dough rather than browning as baked bread does. You can use the same dough to make dinner rolls, just leave the filling out and steam as usual. this might be good with a pot roast or cassoulet instead of dumplings. The filling can be anything you like. See here and here for more of my bao lore.
Don Tots, or egg custard tarts: A flaky pastry about three inches in diameter holds a smooth egg custard. Well baked the custard is a sun yellow with not the least hint of caramelizing brown. Absolutely simple. Nothing much. Yet this is what sells out first at the bakery no matter how many they bake. When you make them at home be sure to hide one for the chef or there'll be none left for him.
Chinese New Years IV

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