08 September 2011

Chicken Katsu

Woah, how did I forget about this place for the entire summer? Anyway, here is a post on chicken katsu, which I made the other day. Pictures forthcoming.

Katsu is a perfect example of loan cuisine. The Japanese picked up the cutlet technique (along with many others) from European traders. In fact there is an entire genre of Europe/Western via Japan cuisine. Blahblahblah...

Ok, I forgot to get eggs, otherwise I'd have done the standard breading procedure. I got good results with this erstaz method.
1) Butterfly chicken breast and pound them out. Cut them in half. Season.
2) Make a thick batter of wheat flour (bread), water, salt, fresh ground black pepper. Toss with the chicken.
3) Dredge the cutlets in panko. Press the crumbs down to get a good coat.
4) Let rest to get good adhesion. (optional)
5) Pan fry. Takes surprisingly little oil.

Basically, I could have just said, make a chicken cutlet.

So, what do you do with your crispy, brown, and delicious cutlets?

Traditionally, it's served with thinly shredded cabbage, rice, and a Japanese version of A1 steak sauce, and maybe a wedge of lemon. Also popular are katsu sandwiches. As for me, I like katsu curry. Steamed rice, Japanese style curry (to be subject of an upcoming blog post if I do it sans curry brick), and sliced chicken katsu.

There is also another exceptional Japanese fried chicken dish. Karaage. Nuggets of chicken are marinated and tossed in starch (varies from potato, corn, rice flour, and/or wheat flour), then fried.

13 May 2011

Chicken and Blackmushroom Baozi

Sorry, not much introduction for this entry. Instead of a short history and etymology of baozi I'll just leave it at: Hey, I made some baos tonight!

Here's the formula for baozi dough I've been using. It's more of a northern style dough then Catonese style. That means it's not cake like in texture, nor as sweet. Northern style bao and mantou are chewier.

100 Bread Flour
2 Yeast
2 Oil/Fat
2 Sugar
1 Salt
1 Baking Powder
60 Water

Mixing method: Straight Dough

Whiteness of the finished product wasn't the highest priority for me. It is in China, and a lot depends on type of flour and dough ph. Higher protein levels and higher ph can both make the dough less white.

The filling for this batch I made with:
Dried black/shitake mushrooms
Hand minced chicken breast
Small diced carrot
Minced ginger and garlic
Oyster sauce
Hoisin sauce
Flour/water slurry for thickening

I stir fried the stuff together, added the sauces, and used the slurry to thicken it up. You want a very thick filling, paste like even. With these seasonings, it was a bit close in flavor to classic bbq pork puns.

Make up method for bao is pretty simple. Let dough proof once, section and round off balls, flatten and roll balls (thinner around the edge, thicker in the middle), fill, pleat, short second proof, cook.

The classic cooking method is to put them on a little piece of wax paper and steam them, but I took a technique from Shanghai and cooked them as sheng jian bao. It's esientally the same method as a pot sticker.

Look at the filling to bread ratio, you won't get that from a restaurant!

26 April 2011


I <3 pierogi. Believe it or not, I've never had them before now. Yes it's true. They sound like something I'd like. They feature a lot of my favorite ingredients: potato, mushrooms, saurkraut, dry fruit. Somehow I'd just never gotten around to eating them.

Flash forward to today. I was getting a hankering for potato and cheese, and my healthy diet resolve was starting to yield to the pressure of animal fries from In~n~Out and those wonderfully soggy chili cheese fries from Tommy's. Then bam, it hit me. Pierogi! I had all the stuff I needed to make at home, and I could satisfy my cravings while continuing my explorations of the dumpling continuum (Pretentious!).

Boiled and panfried pierogi finished with black pepper.

I didn't work from a recipe, just from a classic flavor combination. Here's what I added:
2 ea onions, small diced and caramelized
8 oz sharp cheddar, small diced
2 c instant mashed potato (Don't judge me! It's what I had in the pantry.)
TT salt
TT black pepper
AN water
cold water jiaozi dough

 This will yield you a bunch of pierogi. I've only made 15 for lunch, and it barely made a dent in the filling. Sadly, I forgot to add garlic, which would be tasty.

Forming is the same for jiaozi, pleats optional and not traditional. Boil them in salted water until the dough is cooked. Serve them, or crisp them up in a oiled pan on the stove.

I'm going to try and make some prune pierogi with some of those prunes haunting my cabinet.

Pimple Dumplings aka Knot Dumplings aka Mian Geda

Pimples? Knots? Chinese homophones, what a pain. In this case it's only a curiosity and not a source of family discord (like if you just called your MIL a horse because you forgot the right inflection). Geda aka 疙瘩, can mean either a pimply warty skin bump, or a knot. A similar issue presents itself with mian aka 面, which can mean noodle or face, among other things. So in naming the noodle you could end up with 面疙瘩, the noodle, or 疙瘩面, the pizza face. (at least according to google translate).

Which is the 'authentic' translation? I'm going to have to go with pimple dumplings. It's descriptive, as they do look like warty pimply bumps. It's also poetic, fitting in with Chinese food naming tradition. Further, there is a long world wide tradition of giving sophomoric names to foods (cf Italian nun farts, nun breasts, priest stranglers, etc). That said, I doubt I'd menu this item as pimple dumpling. Given current perceptions of Chinese dining predilections, your average western diner might assume they are being served literal pimples.

These noodles are featured in a genre of soups called pimple soup aka gedatang,疙瘩, as well as stews. The soup is euphemistically called 'dough drop soup.' I have a hunch they are also stir fried like Nian Gao, but I haven't confirmed this.

Back to the cooking!

There are three ways to make this dumpling that I know of. The first is you make a thick batter and drop little bits off into boiling or simmering liquid. The second, novel approach, is to drizzle water into a pile of flour while stirring to make clumps, which are then cooked like pasta. The third is to make a dough, and break off little nuggets to form the dumplings, then boil them. I chose to test this second approach because I already used the first and third in Western applications.

For 100g of flour, I used 56g of water. I used AP wheat flour. You could also try rice flour, in all or part. You may need more or less water, so don't rely too much on the recipe. The amount you need is heavily dependent on humidity and the qualities of the flour. Your mileage WILL vary. Drizzle in a little water, and stir. Once you get lumps, shake the bowl so the big lumps settle to the top. Push them aside, so you can drizzle water onto and stir the unincorporated flour and smaller dough bits. Continue until there is no more loose flour. Break up any lumps that are too big with your fingers. If you are going to let the raw dough sit for any length of time, toss with a little flour to keep them from sticking together. When you're done, it should look something like this (sadly these were not as uniform as I would have liked):

The dough ready to cook,

Cooking the dumplings is pretty easy, Just dump them into simmering or boiling liquid for ~1-2 minutes (but always rely on your senses, not the clock). The cooked dumpling should have a firm chew, with the dough being completley cooked. There should be no raw flour taste or texture. I cooked this batch in boiling salted water since I was making pasta for dinner, and not soup. (I also tossed the cooked dumplings in the pasta sauce to make a real dog's dinner. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of cooking and cooked dumplings by themselves). Cooking directly in the soup seems to be the preferred method since it contributes extra body. The dough seems like it would handle par cooking well, but it cooks so quick, I wouldn't bother for most applications.

The bottom line? It's a quick, simple technique that is suitible for both Western and Asian applications. In fact, it closely replicates the taste and texture of one of my favorite restaurant's spaetzle. I'm adding it to my repertoire.

The cooked dumplings (the white lumps).

I want to give a special shout out to liuzhou and heidih, two commentators on the eGullet Society of Arts and Letters forums, www.egullet.org, who helped me track down this dish after I forgot the pinyin for the name. Also, two handy blog posts:


23 April 2011

Cocktail Notebook

Three things I want to try:

Dark And Stormy- Dark rum (supposed to be Gosling's), ginger beer (hard to find a good ginger beer here, maybe DIY it?), lime juice. On rocks.

French 75- Champagne, gin, simple syrup, lemon juice

Guinness Punch- Guinness, sweetened condesed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocao powder on top.

21 April 2011

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

At least he can say his hearts in the right place... Season 2 of Jamie's Food Revolution in America is interesting, but does he have to be such a moppet?

My main issues with him:

-He's lost all his business sense. He got into a big argument with a diner owner over replacing 1.75/lb ground beef with 3.90/lb ground beef, and mislabeling yogurt smoothies as milkshakes. While his style of food may taste good (the diner owner and customers agreed), Jamie needs to realize there is a time and place for it. I also don't like his fast and loose ethics and general manner of forcing the changes.

-He leads schools to failure. In his first experiment with school lunches in England, he provoked a general revolt. The kids refused to eat the food, the lunch ladies were verging on striking because of 'overwork', and he was way way over budget. When he revisited the school, his lunch program was still poorly received and was in dire financial straights because of his extravagances and decision to close the schools profit center snack shop.

-Cheap scaremongering. The teaser on his first show shows him telling kids that they make ice cream out of beavers, and put ammonia into beef. Regarding beavers, an extract of beaver musk is used as a small component of some vanilla and raspberry flavorings. So what, we use animal derived ingredients in our food all the time, from animal fats, and animal broths, to extracts like cochineal and cà cuống. If you're telling people to tuck into a free range hamburger, you shouldn't be upset if your dessert has a little teeny tiny free range beaver in it. I just don't get it
Regarding the ammonia issue, the gaseous ammonia treatment for beef trim is essentially no different from the carcass rinses used to sanitize them after gutting and splitting. Further he ignores the all the naturally occurring ammonia in every day foods, ammonia production in the body, and its widespread use in food. Even oreo style cookies depend on ammonia gas for their unique texture.

-I don't like condescension. I don't think anyone does.

Will you still watch it?

Yup. I think improving school lunches is a good thing. And the show is pretty entertaining in its own right. I think he's going it about it in a bad way. I'd start by kick out these bad purchasing decisions where they are using microwave meals to feed kids, and start seeing what I can make in house with regular ingredients.

20 April 2011

Indian Style Vegetable Fritters

 Test Fritters

I took advantage of my unexpected bounty of zuchini to make some vegetable fritters for dinner. I first had these at this Sri Lankan joint near my house on my first day of public school. The stand was in one of those converted keysmith/photodevelopers huts you sometimes see in shopping center parking lots. They eventually razed the place to make room for more cars. I lost track of them after that. Man, did they have some good food... I got the combo of chicken curry (with curry leaves in it!), rice, the fritters, and a large serving of spicy as hellfire red coconut chutney. I've come close to duplicating that chutney, but that is a subject for another post.

Anyway, these deep fried morsels of goodness, aka bhajji or pakora depending what kind of Indian you are, are easy to make. They come in two major styles. One is the tempura style, where large pieces of vegetable are dipped in batter and fried. The other style is what I call the 'hushpuppy' style. Small bits of vegetable are mixed into the batter, and spoonfuls are dropped into the frying oil. I made mine according to this style.

 Please don't notice my unprofessional lack of a fry thermometer.

There are also different schools of thought on batter composition. The base is usually chickpea flour, but may include additions of wheat or rice flour. It may also include other lentil flours (usually urad daal) in addition too or in place off the chickpea flour. I used a pure chickpea flour this time around.

Master Formula For Pakora Batter
100 chickpea/garbanzo bean flour aka besan
100 Water
200 Vegetables*
7.5 Baking Powder
Seasonings To Taste

*Vegetables should be in small pieces or shredded. Some veggies have tons of excess moisture, like zucchini, that will need to be dealt with.

Tonight I used 200g of flour, 200 gram of water, ~400g of shredded zucchini and sliced green onion (~5 zuch's and 1 bunch of scallion), ~15ml of dried fenugreek leaves aka methi, and 15g of baking powder. The zucchini was salted and pressed before I weighed it. There is a lot of water to get rid of, using a fine strainer will help you when it comes time to squeeze the water out. The more you tighten your grip, the more zucchini shreds will slip through your fingers. (Star Wars, it's a classic.) I seasoned it with tumeric, cumin, corriander seed, asfaetoida, red chili powder, and garam masala, for a mildly spiced bhajji.
 The batter before mixing with water

The texture is like that of thick applesauce.

 Das Batter

This mixture resulted in a really puffy fritter, with a soft, almost cakey/custard like interior. Sadly, the large pieces didn't hold their crispness for long. I attribute this to excess moisture still in the veggies.

GBD on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.

We had a light dinner for 2 with this amount and some salad, and almost a pint left of batter. Accompany this meal with a simple daal and some rice for more substantial fare.

Classic main ingredient variations in this style are spinach or other green, potatoes, or onions.

Serve this with some green chutney, and tamerand chutney. I didn't have the stuff to make the green chutney, so I just made some tamarand chutney. I missed the green chutney.

1 cup raisons chopped (I used pitted prunes because that is what I had on hand, and they were tasty in the chutney)
1/3 cup tamerand concentrate (Amount needed will very depending on the type and brand of your concentrate, Use your taste and judgement)
1/4 cup brown sugar
~1/2 cup lemon juice (Optional, I had some left over that was kicking around in the fridge. I tossed it in to clear space. It was tasty)
1 tablespoon minced/grated ginger
Season to taste with cumin, red chili, garam masala, and salt (use black salt if you're hard corp)

Toss it all in a pot, add some water, and simmer for a while until the tastes and textures blend (Maybe half an hour to 45 min? I just left it on the stove to cook on low, while I got everything else ready and cleaned up). You can toss it in a blender if you like, but I just mashed it with a potato masher while it cooks so mine is a little chunky. Yields about 3 cups. It's a lot like ketchup, but less tangy and without that glutamate punch from the tomatoes.

IT'S HERE!!!!!!

Just picked up the scale from the post office. It seems like a pretty good scale. Lightweight, fast read, and runs on AAA batteries rather then some exotic type. Here's the one I got and a link so you can get one too, if you want:

I will test its accuracy later. It weighed my full water bottle (a recycled Powerade bottle) in at 1018 g. The bottle has a rated capacity of 946ml (or 946g of water), but I didn't tare out the bottle weight, and I overfilled it. All in all, my rough guess is that it's accurate. It amazes me you can really accurate scientific type scales at Amazon for about the same price or less, as well as calibration weights. Not sure when I'd need to measure out 0.001g of Salt though. Maybe if it was for molecular gastronomy...

Hopefully I'll get to see how it performs in the kitchen, tonight. Right now I'm weighing stuff in my office. It will also take a while to see how it fares, endurance wise. If  it craps out in less then a year, expect a post full of profanity and broken dreams.

The precious...(and my pasty palm)

The Scale Has Arrived!

I just have to go to the post office and pick it up. I'm thinking of also taking the opportunity to switch to metric. It would sure make culinary math easier.

Out with: A pint's a pound, the world around (except for Australia)

In with: A liter's a kilogram, the... the...

Ok, so maybe metric isn't that snappy.

What's Up Next?

Of course, if I make something else interesting, or eat at a interesting place, I'll blog about that too. I'm also thinking about doing a semi-weekly feature focusing on a basic technique for people unskilled in the kitchen, and an even less regular feature interviewing people in the food service world.

Pictorials/How to make:
Cong You Bing- Chinese scallion flatbread
Shao Bing- Chinese sesame flatbread
Niu Rou Xian Bing- Chinese beef/flatbread roll.
Jian Bing- Chinese crepe with egg cooked on one side
Injera- Ethiopian sourdough crepe
Char Sui- Chinese BBQ pork
Xiao Long Bao- Soup dumplings
Sheng Jien Bao- Panfried steamed bao
Daal with Pumpkin
Vietnamese 'Sate-style' Hot Sauce

Equipment Reviews:
Unicorn Mills Magnum Peppermill
My new scale

19 April 2011

Review: Kogi BBQ Food Truck

Around about 5pm today, I was surfing the web and hit on Kogi's website, http://kogibbq.com . According to their schedule, their truck would be my dad's neighborhood tonight. My dad's a sucker for Korean BBQ. It was one of his signature dishes (He swears by Ebara brand sauce/marinade). I knew he'd be down for it. One phone call and a couple hours later, my dad and I were standing in line. Kogi is one of the most hailed concepts of the Southern California food truck revolution. They feature a fusion of Korean BBQ meats and flavors, on a Mexican platform.

 The truck.
There was a decent sized crowd. Always at least 5-10 people in line, and about the same waiting for food. The wait wasn't too bad. I wasn't timing or anything, but I think we spent around 10-20 at the truck, and that included time to figure out the menu and waiting to order.

Here's what we had:

 Short Rib Taco $2.10 a la carte

The short rib taco was probably the best of what we had. The bbq was some of the best I've ever had, with some nice char. It was totally boneless very little sinew/cartilage bits, a nice bonus. The website menu calls the cut 'short rib trimmings.'

Blue Moon Mulitas $3 for one/$5 for two

 This was my least favorite. Basically it's a quesadilla filled with Korean bbq chicken and chedder cheese. It's topped with their orange flavored salsa, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. The flavors didn't really do it for me, and the mulitas were undercooked. They gotta be crispy folks!

Spicy Pork Burrito $5 
 Inside the burrito 
The burrito wasn't too bad. It featured some nice Korean style spicy pork. I think it was even char grilled a little, which worked well with the gochuchang marinade.

The Good:
- Really, really, really good korean BBQ. I'd be happy with a bowl of rice and some bbq.
- Accessible fusion food.
- Decent value. We each got a combo #2; 1 burrito, 1 taco, and a drink (canned soda) for 8 bucks.

The Bad:
- Everything was sweet. Oh so sweet. Just about too sweet too eat for me. This I think was unbalanced when combined with the Mexican elements. That lime wedge with the taco made a HUGE difference for the better.
- Meh salsas. I didn't like the salsa naranja much, but that might have just been in combination with the mulitas. I'll be sure to ask for some on the side next time so I can investigate them further.
- Undergriddled tortillas for tacos, so they didn't lose they stale texture and taste that tortillas get if they aren't super fresh. Already mentioned the under cooked mulitas.
- Where's my kimchi, bro?!?! That kimchi looking stuff is just a slaw of lettuce and cabbage with some sort of soy-sesame-chili sauce. I found out later, if you want real kimchi, the tangy fermented stuff, it's an extra charge.

The Ugly:
- Not real convenient. You can't just pop down if you're in the mood for a bulgogi taco. You need to plan ahead, otherwise the truck could on the other side of town or out of service for the day. You'll need to keep an eye on their website and twitter. This is a fault of the new wave food truck business model, not this truck in particular.
- If you want your food to go (and you will because it's a freaking food truck), you have to wrap the food up and bag it yourself. I counted 5-6 guys inside the truck. At least one of them could put a frigging lid on my tacos.

Would You Go Again?:

My dad liked it, and he'd go again. I would go at least once more. I want to try their version of a burger, and their desserts; a chocolate tres leches cake, and some sort of siracha flavored chocolate rice crispy turtle bar. I'd also bring some tea or beer to drink. The food is just too sweet to drink with the soda or juice they offer.

Review In One Sentence:
Good Korean style BBQ, the rest needs work.

18 April 2011

Niu Rou Juan Bing

aka 牛肉(beef) 捲(rolled) 饼(pancake)

Since it's on my list, I figured I'd do a quick survey post on the dish.

This has become a pretty popular cult dish in Southern California and elsewhere. In the US it's usually seen sliced up as an appetizer. I've got an inkling that it is served intact as a street food sandwich in China, like its cousins the mighty popiah (aka run bing or bao bing, this is a Fujian 'crepe' that is also popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It features a wide variety of fillings and flavorings. It's sauced with a smear of a sweet bean based sauce, and optionally chili sauce.) and the tasty jian bing (A Bejing crepe with egg cooked on one side. Minimally served with scallions and a smear of chili sauce. Can also have a piece of fried dough and/or veggies as a filling).


-Flatbread. Varies, but the best are crispy, sorta flaky, and chewy. Should ideally be made fresh. Seems like most places use either a plain or sesame shaobing type of bread.

-Meat. I haven't dug up any 'official' recipes yet, but it seems to be some sort of braised beef with soy and 5 spice flavor. When I attempt this later, I will probably use some char sui or thit nuong (Chinese and Vietnamese bbq pork respectivly), because I've been meaning to do that this week. Longs like I will technically end up with Zho Rou Juan Bing.

-Sauce. Use a little of either sweet bean sauce aka sweet flour sauce (tian mian jaing), or hosin sauce. Siracha optional.

-Vegetables. Always have scallion. Other good additions are cilantro, bean sprouts, lettuce, shredded carrots, slice jalapeno. Go wild.

17 April 2011

What's up next?

I've got a few things on my list to try. I also got lucky and scored a whole mess of green and yellow squash, and orange bell peppers.

Some blog topics I want to do:
ShengJianBao- The love child of a steamed bun and a potsticker.
Chinese style flatbreads- Thinking maybe scallion pancake(con yun bing?), beef roll (Niu Rou Xian Bing), stuffed flatbreads, and sesame pocket breads (shaobing). Still working on the texture. There is also a lot of crossover with Indian style breads.
Xiao Long Bao

Stuff I got in the fridge that I have to cook with:
Got a mess of blanched greens I was thinking of turning into a saag (Indian style greens curry). Maybe with some of this kabocha pumpkin.
Lots of summer squash... I know I want to shred some and try it with jaiozi filling, lol. Gratin Bayaldi/Ratatoulie, maybe a sabzi of some sort?
Char Sui: Got a gift of some pork roast taking up space in the freezer.

16 April 2011


Just went to start my rice cooker for the day. I was planning on steaming veggies in the steamer tray while cooking some rice for lunch. It got a little hot, and then it just stopped working, leaving me with a singed plastic odor. The indicator lights went out. No sign of life when I plugged it in again. I just bought this thing about 4 months ago. It was a sweet corvette red, and only 15 bucks... *sigh*

This is not the first time Aroma brand rice cookers and I have had problems. My prior cooker started having this problem where it would switch to 'warm' in the middle of the cycle, leaving you with nasty crunchy rice. All it took to obviate that problem was a little stir and a little human intervention. At least that one worked... kinda...

I guess I should consider upgrading since I cook rice a lot. Still, I can't see myself dropping a couple Benjamins for a fancy Zojirushi, or however you spell it. Maybe move up to a 10 'cup' from my 6 'cup', and switch to a better manufacturer.

Cook it on the stove, you say? We are not barbarians here, sir! Truthfully, I have let my technique for stove rice get rusty. I've been spoiled by 'fire and forget' rice cookers. Even with pilaus I just toast the rice, etc, in a pan and dump it all in the rice cooker to finish cooking, skipping the oven or stove. I hope I haven't forgotten how to do it the old fashioned way...

15 April 2011

Jiaozi In Pictures!

I had myself a little dumpling session tonight, and I thought I'd take some pictures now that I have my camera kit all together. The dough is a cold water wheat/rice flour dough that I made the day before and kept in the fridge. I scaled the dumplings on the larger size, approximately a 2-3 biter (your mouth may vary). A United States quarter is included for scale (0.955 inches/24.26 mm in diameter). A key technique is letting the dough rest a little between forming steps. This keeps the gluten from getting all bucky and your dough will be able to easier to work with.

Here's my workspace set up. I'm sure it can be made more efficient. Have some damp towels or plastic to keep your dough and dumplings covered so they don't dry out. I've wrapped the tray in plastic to keep the dumplings from sticking to the metal in the freezer and for easier cleanup. That little tub of flour there is just my 'all purpose dusting mix'. When I have some odds and ends of flour I just dump it in there to keep my cupboards neat. Right now it's a mix of ap flour, rice flour, and, I think, some cornstarch.

Start by rolling and stretching your dough into a long snake and then portion the dough into lumps. The edges are a little squashed because I used a table knife to cut them. You can also tear off lumps by hand.

Next, neaten up your lumps so they will flatten evenly. Use your hand or a tortilla press. Lightly dip the bottom of the round in your flour so you can stack them.
 Time to roll. You will want to roll out the dough from the center out. Use your free hand to rotate the dough while your other hand rolls. The idea is to get a thin edge and a thicker center. Think of a fried egg. Only row a few at a time to keep them from sticking to each other, or drying out.
Put your filling payload on the wrapper, and pleat one side. Join the flat side with the the pleated side, and pinch gently to seal. Neaten up the shape, and you're done!

Xiao Long Bao

What the heck are these anyway? Commonly called 'soup dumplings' in English (because there is soup inside the dumpling, not because they are served in soup), these scalding hot water-balloons of meat and soup are the ne plus ultra of the dumpling maker's art. These steamed Shanghai dumplings are made from a thin unleavened hot water dough wrapper surrounding a tasty meatball and lots of hot soup.

Wait a second, unleavened dough? Bao? Aren't bao supposed to bready and yeasty? That confused me too, so I did a little digging. Bao, in the food sense of the word, means bun. It also means wrap, package, or bundle. This makes sense, as the xiao long bao, lit. 'small basket bun,' looks like a bindle. Furthermore, xiao long bao share their crimping method with many of the stuffed baozi. A related dish ,also from the Shanghai region, sheng jian bao, shares the soupy filling of a xiao long bao, but uses a leavened dough, like the other baozi. Also deserving of mention is the Shanghai tang bao, a gigantic mutant xiao long bao that is served with a straw to suck the soup out. Making matters worse, the dishes are also known by xiao long mantou and shen jiang mantou. Mantou is a word used in the rest of China to refer to unfilled, leavened, steamed bread. I chalk it up to Shanghainese idiosyncrasy.

Now, onto the big mystery, how do they get all that soup in there? Aspic, my friends, aspic. Traditionally, a gelatin rich stock is made from such goodness as split pig's feet and skin. It's cooled until it gels, and is then chopped up and mixed with the filling. Now, most cooks just add agar or gelatin to their liquid, rather then making aspic ab initio.

Standards of quality:
- Thin wrapper. Should be almost translucent, and the dough topknot should be small and perfectly cooked.
- Wrapper integrity. No soup leakage is allowed. The wrapper should be strong enough to survive the steaming process, and the short transfer from the steamer basket to the spoon via chopsticks.
- It should be hot.
- Soup to meat balance. As several people have put it, you should be worried about your clothes while eating xiao long bao. I'm going to go with 50-50 meat filling to aspic by weight after an initial canvas of recipes. Keep in mind the meat portion tends to have a lot of liquid as well.
- Flavorful soup.

I didn't include any standards of taste/flavor profile because I regard xiao long bao as a method, rather then a dish in its own right. The classic pork filling is gently flavored and has a slight sweetness from sugar. Seafood (usually crab or shrimp) and pork versions should feature the seafood flavor prominently.

Dipping Sauces for Dumplings

We got a lot of dumplings now. Time to eat, yah? Wait! We need some dip, my man. Sauce brings balance to the dumpling. The tang and piquancy of the sauce compliment the bland starchiness of the wrapper and the savory richness of the filling.

My sauce ethos splits in two ways, the premixed sauces, and the mix your own.

Mix Your Own:
The easiest for you. You just set out your bottles and tubs of ingredients and condiments, and your guests mix their own little dish of sauce. If you've been to a good local asian restaurant, or even PF Chang's (how spicy do you want your chang sauce? lol), you've got the idea. This works well if dumplings are the star of the meal and especially if you have several different flavors of dumplings. Here is a small list of items that I like and usually have around.
Light soy sauce
Vinegar- Either a white, rice, apple, or malt. I've been using cane with nice results too.
Toasted sesame oil
Chili Oil- cook dry red chili flakes (or crush your own chili japonese peppers) in some vegetable oil until nice and toasty. I make mine with lots of chili solids compared to oil, because I really like the 'goop' more then the oil itself.
Garlic Oil- cook lots of minced garlic in some vegetable oil until slightly toasty.
Mustard- Chinese style made from dry powder, wasabi, or even some nice euro style mustard.
Chile/garlic paste
Siracha- Wildly popular Vietnamese style hotsauce.
Gochujang, chogochujang, ssamjang- Korean fermented chili paste and its variations.
Fish Sauce
Sesame Paste- East Asian paste is usually made from toasted seeds. I suppose tahini could work. Or even peanut butter.

Premixes: Usually I just make a dish of suitable sauce when I make a batch of dumplings for an event or potluck. You can also make a big batch from your own combo of 'mix your own' ingredients.

Toyomansi- A mix of soy sauce and juice of the Filipino lime (kalamansi). Think of it as ponzu's louder, brasher cousin.
Sinamak- Filipino spiced vinegar. Can range from just chiles in vinegar, to a more complex range of spices.
Smashed garlic cloves in vinegar- Usually a chinese red, black, or chianking vinegar is used. Malt vinegar would tasty as well.
Julienned ginger in vinegar- Same as garlic in vinegar.
Nouc Mam Cham- Vietnamese dipping sauce based on fish sauce.

And so forth... I'm looking forward to adding a Ma La sauce to my repertoire, but I'm still working out the kinks.

14 April 2011

Pictures Coming Soon

I found my cheapo digital camera in the back of my closet! Just need to get some batteries and another memory card.

Jiaozi Dough Notes 1

Why bother making jiaozi wrappers from scratch, I ask rhetorically?

- They taste better.
- They have better texture.
- Made from scratch wrappers are more supple and moist so you don't have to mess around with 'gluing' the edges of your dumplings if you use store bought. Just crimp and go.
- No worries about preservatives and additives if that sort of stuff bothers you.
- You have more control over your food.
- Encourages pride and discipline in your cooking and life.
- It's meditative and calming.

Here are the approximate dough formulas, in baker's percentages, I've been working with*:
100 AP Flour 55 Water
100 AP Flour 40 Rice Flour 80 Water

This mixture uses the cold water method. Just mix the flours and then mix in the water. Gather together into a ball, knead for about 5 minutes, lest rest for at least 15 min. The dough can easily be made the day before with great results. These are supposed to be stiff doughs, like bagel dough, to enable it to stand up to boiling. Resist the temptation to add extra water, unless absolutely necessary, and even then a little at a time, working in each addition thoroughly. Please remember that once you let the dough rest, it will get wetter and smoother.

I've been portioning approx 1/2 to 2/3 oz of dough depending on the batch I'm making. Aim for a thickness of 1/16" at the rim, and 1/8" at the thickest part of the middle. Thin rims are important because the thickness multiplies when you crimp the wrapper, and if your edges are too thick, you will have to either face unevenly cooked dough, deformed and ugly dumplings because you had to press the crimps too much to thin them out.

I portion the dough balls all at once. Then I roll the wrappers out at about 10 at a time then stuff. Do not roll the wrappers out too far in advance of stuffing, especially if you are going to stack them. They will stick together under their own weight given enough time, unless you flour them well, which compromises the whole point of making them from scratch in the first place.

Keep some damp towels handy to cover your dough and finished dumplings.

Coming up: A switch to bread flour, and experiments with hot water dough as I plan my assault on Xao Long Bao.

* Confession time. I've been working without a scale since I lost it in my last move. I know, I know, I'm a bad cook. Have no fear, I just ordered one, and I will be able to nail down the formulas further.

11 April 2011

Jiaozi Taxonomy

What's a jiaozi?

Jiaozi are northern chinese style dumplings featuring a minced meat/poulty/seafood and/or vegatable enclosed with a chewy wheat flour dough and sealed by crimping. Beyond these simple ground rules, we face endless permutations of shape, cooking method, filling, dough type. In my mind, jiaozi are best classified according to their cooking method. After all, one of the most incredible features of jiaozi are the versatility of the components. Most fillings and doughs can be used for any cooking methods. There are some exceptions though. For example, really juicy fillings don't work as well with the pot sticker method because their water balloon nature is just too delicate. Or you may find that a particular filling or dough works better with a particular cooking method flavor and texture wise.

Shuijiao aka Boiling: Literally meaning 'water dumpling.' The traditional method is the 'three cups' method. Bring the water to a boil, add dumplings. When the water reaches a boil, add a cup of cold water, then bring to a boil again. Repeat two more times, and the dumplings are done. Personally, I've tried this technique and it's not a good one for timing doneness as there are too many variables to account for. It seems that this method was one of the few ways they had to quickly regulate the heat back when biomass or coal stoves were the only game in town. That said, occasionally you may want to turn down the heat to prevent foam overs or damaging turbulence. Better ways to check for doneness are the.feel of the dumpling, internal temp, or cut open a test dumpling.

Zhengjiao aka Steaming: Literally 'steam dumpling.' Good for delicate dumplings or for when you have inadvertently made your dough too wet or soft, as the dumplings will absorb the least amount of moisture in this method. I use a 30cm two tier stainless steel steamer I picked up on sale. Most rice cookers also come with a steamer basket. Bamboo steamers are pleasing to the eye, but you either need to use a wok (and destroy the patina you've worked so hard for) or need some sort of adapter to your pot. Many cooks I know keep two woks and use Barbara Tropp's system. One is only used for stir frying and thus it's non stick patina is protected. The other is used for steaming, deep frying, and tea smoking (methods that are destructive on and don't require the patina). The keys to good steaming are; make sure there are good gouts of steam coming from the top tier (don't stack them too high), line the steamer with cabbage/lettuce leaves or perforated wax or parchment paper to prevent sticking, rotate the tiers in the stack at least once to ensure even cooking. Check for doneness same was with boiled dumplings.

Guotie aka Potsticker Method: Literally means 'pan stick.' This method was invented by accident when a careless palace cook left his boiling dumplings on the stove for too long and 'burnt' the bottoms after the water evaporated. Luckily for us and the cook, his master loved the new style dumplings. Method is as follows: pan on fire, add a little oil to pan, arrange dumplings in pan, add some water, cover, cook until water is gone, uncover and turn heat down a little, crisp up bottoms, plate and serve. When adding water, remember that the intent is to steam, not boil. Use either a carbon steel pan or wok with a well developed patina, teflon pan or wok, or well seasoned cast iron. Crisping up for a longer period of time over a medium heat gives a better crust then a short time over a raging inferno. Choose a pan that will let you slide a spatula under the dumplings easily. I like to make a big pan of potstickers that are stuck together and can be inverted onto a plate all in one piece in a nice spiral design.

Age-gyoza aka Deep Frying: Literally deep fried dumpling (in Japanese).  A method popular in japan. I have not used this with jiaozi type dumplings.

Jiaozi versus Wontons:
While they may superficially seem the same, they are two different animals. Wontons use a much thinner and delicate egg and wheat flour dough, and are usually boiled and served in soups, or occasionally deep fired. Wontons are associated with southern China, esp Cantonese style food. Jiaozi are more rustic in comparison, with their thicker, chewier skins.

10 April 2011

Jiaozi Flavors Notebook 1

I've been playing around with jiaozi for a while now. Since I'm experimenting with different flavor combinations for nearly every batch, I figure I better keep track of them lest the details get lost. Sorry for the lack of traditionally formatted recipes. I think in the Le Repertoire de Cuisine format, which is pretty much a list of ingredients and culinary short hand as an aid to memory. At some point I will get around to standardizing and writing out a recipe for some of the more used mixes.

Recently Tried

Pork and Garlic Chive
Pork and  Celery: I used pencil thin chinese celery because it was on sale, but I think western celery can be used.
Pork, Black Mushroom, and Chrysthamum Greens: Very successful combo. Used some of the mushroom soaking liquid in the mix. I think other peppery greens can be substituted for the chrysanthemum greens/tung ho. I'm planning on trying it with daikon leaf soon. Used fish sauce and a tiny bit of brown sugar in the seasonings. Spinach is also a classic
Tofu, Preserved Mustard Stem, and Tung Ho: Used blanched instead of salt purged tung ho. I now favor salting. Very loose filling due to lack of binding, considering adding egg next time.

To Try
Beef/Lamb with Cumin and Cilantro
Pork and Dill
Chicken, ginger, and pinenut
Kimchi Mandu: Pork/chicken? Tofu, old cabbage kimchi
Chicken/Pork and Sweet Corn
Red Oil Water Dumpling: Pork, schezuan peppercorn, jicama/water chestnut.
Somthing with Shredding Pumkin: kobocha. Could also use other types of winter squash I guess.
Meat with Greenbeans: Waiting for them to come into season and on sale.

Old Combinations That Need To Be Retried
Pork and Chicken and Cabbage: Originally used slaw mix for the cabbage component, so could add some shredded carrot. Flavor profile included garlic, sesame oil, and pepper (IIRC black).
Beef and Orange Zest: I think I also added some dry red chili as well.

Basic Flavor Profile: Soy sauce, shao xing wine, ginger, scallion, garlic. Been omitting garlic because most of my dipping sauces have lots of crushed garlic in them.

Dough: So far I've only used a cold water dough made from AP flour.