Thursday, June 17, 2010

This episode brought to you by Pete's kitchen

And the forbearance of my sister-in-law, who likes to keep a cleaner house than I do. But my kitchen is inadequate for any real chinese feasting behaviors, so these are gonna get made over there. I'm writing this part ahead of time, obviously, because I have to do everything piecemeal lately. I have also suffered an alarming recrudescence of chineseyness, because I realized that the dragonboat festival falls on the 16th of June this year. So!

Chinese Tamales, aka zongzi, the spelling of which is negotiable depending on how you pronounce it. They're blobs of sushi rice with other stuff steamed in bamboo leaves. I got the recipe here, when I couldn't remember what dad put in his. I think it was usually pork and mushrooms. Mine will have 5-spice chicken, mushrooms, dried shrimp and egg. I really should have started my salty eggs soaking in brine about a week ago, but I'm hoping that a couple days and a boil in the supersaturated brine will do all right.

I got some pictures of the bamboo leaves, since I figured those are the part of the whole process that is likely to be novel to most readers. They come in big bunches. I dunno where Pete got these, probably at fubonn or uwajimaya. You have to soak them overnight before using them.


About a pound of chicken. Use something fatty, thigh is good
season with 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
a dozen szechuan pepper corns
2 lobes of a star anise
a generous teaspoon grated fresh ginger
a tablespoon of dark soy sauce
a tablespoon of sesame oil
a shake of black pepper is what I had, but dad would have said use white pepper.
a shake of onion powder. I ran out of fresh onion.

5 generous cups sushi rice
a dozen or so dried shiitake mushrooms
about 1/4 cup dried shrimp
3 salty eggs-you can buy these if you want. Less fuss. If they aren't cooked when you buy 'em, boil them before using them.

A pack of bamboo leaves. 2 leaves per zongzi, more or less, with allowance for breakage and screwing some up.
a bunch of string

Toast the coriander, anise & szechuan pepper in a small dry pan and then grind them into a fine powder with a half teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle the spice mix and all the other marinade ingredients over the meat and turn to coat evenly. I use frozen, so I do this part 3-5 days in advance and let it thaw and marinate at the same time.

The night before you want to cook, set the bamboo leaves to soak in warm water. I put a bread rack and a big 'ol glass paperweight on mine to keep them submerged. Also, put the rice in a large pan with enough water to cover it by about 2 inches. It'll expand a lot in soaking.

When you're ready to assemble the zongzi, drain the rice completely. The instructions I read online say to season the rice with more 5-spice, soy and minced onions, but I don't remember if dad did that or not. Soak the mushroom and shrimp separately in boiling water until they're mostly tender, then pour off the liquid. You might use the mushroom water to season the rice with, but don't use the stuff off the shrimp. Once you smell it you'll understand why.

Take 2 bamboo leaves and overlap them slightly side by side. Fold them in the middle to form a cone, then drop a heaping tablespoon of rice in. Put in a nugget of chicken, a bit of egg, a couple shrimp and a mushroom, top it off with more rice, and fold up the leaves into a tetrahedron-looking thing. Tie it up with a bit of string, and repeat until you've used up all the ingredients or your sanity, whichever happens first.

Steam them for an hour and a half. Don't eat the leaves. Duh, right? I worked with this kid once who had never eaten a tamale before. He said "the stuff on the inside is pretty good, but the outside is too tough and stringy". I said what'd you do, try to eat the cornhusk? Uh, yeah.

Happy dragonboat festival. More pics and assorted commentary coming soon.

As promised, more commentary:

I think these should actually be boiled. Both Pete & I seem to remember dad fishing these out of a vat of boiling water, then letting them drain a bit before serving. The steaming took forever, and the rice was still a little dry at the end. But mighty tasty; I did throw the mushroom water, a little soy, salt and spices in the rice.

The amounts called for here make nearly 30 zongzi. Don't bother making them in smaller quantities, the effort doesn't make sense for less than that. Be a little generous with the chicken. I ended up with some extra I'm going to have to find something to do with. You could also salt the mushrooms a wee bit. They're a trifle bland.

Don't worry about trying to get the bundles neat. There are videos online of people who know how to do this properly, and it's like watching people do card tricks. You know there's only so many leaves, fingers, and laws of physics, but you end up just as baffled after watching it done as you were before. I just use lots of string.

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