From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chinese Sticky Rice

Mandy emailed me over the weekend asking for some help in making Hot and Sour Soup.  Hopefully she used the recipe that I had provided, as it seems to be a favorite for many.  I derive great pleasure in seeing or hearing about my friends trying (and hopefully succeeding) many of the recipes that I have provided them.  Cooking Chinese food is by no means a simple undertaking, and I have seen many people balk at the idea of cooking it for themselves instead of ordering out. 
Often times, just the simple task of finding the right ingredients for your meal can be a daunting exercise.  We went in search of shiitake mushrooms at our local grocery store yesterday, and sadly, they don’t carry them.  Apparently they stopped stocking them because no one was buying them.  Strange, that…  Even more amusing was the lady who stopped me while I was in the Asian Food section hunting down some hoisin sauce and rice noodles, who asked if I could point her in the direction of won ton wrappers.  Yes, ma’am, I do work here, and I would be happy to tell you where they are.  (Never mind the fact that I was in a t-shirt and shorts…)  So I pointed her in the direction of the produce and I said, “Look in the refrigerated section of the produce.  Won ton wrappers SHOULD be right next to the tofu.”  I had never purchased won ton wrappers there before, so I was really taking a shot in the dark, but guess what? I was right…
Chinese people enjoy good food and take pride in their famous dishes. Over the centuries cooking has developed into a very sophisticated art, with several types of dishes from north to south and east to west. Chinese cuisine has become widespread in many other parts of the world from Canada and America to as far as New Zealand.
The art of Chinese cooking is not at all difficult and anyone can learn how to make traditional Chinese dishes.  However, there are those dishes that do provide the greatest amount of challenge to the novice cook.  With the Chinese system of 3 categories, each one offers a dish that will somehow stump most novice cooks. 
“Yin” is the first category, including cold foods such as fruits, vegetables and seafood, which are recommended to cool off with, or lessen the heat in ones body.
“Yang,” or hot foods like eggs, high protein items and fatty meats are consumed to heat up or invigorate the system. 
The third category is the neutral food like rice or grains, to provide balance. 
The dumplings seemed to be the hardest dish to prepare among the most favorite dishes in each category that were chosen to cook, coming out in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.  Fried rice was the next, because many people forgot a couple of the most basic steps – Cook your rice ahead of time, let it cool, then break it apart before using.
Forget to do those steps, and cooking fried rice from fresh cooked usually results in a variation of Sticky Rice.  Sticky Rice can be considered a fortunate mishap, as it still tastes great when made that way. 
(I am brought back to a time when, as a 16 year old, I was waiting with Steve and Betsy to head up to San Francisco to go to rehearsals with the San Francisco Youth Symphony, and their mom had made some wonderful sticky rice.  As I was already drooling from the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, I could hardly refuse when Steve offered me a bowl… and it was filled with a wonderful goodness.  Lop Cheong, onions, shiitake mushrooms, barbecue pork, and what more, I can hardly remember, but what a great way to prepare for a long rehearsal…)
Actual sticky rice is made by using a short-grained glutinous rice that is sticky when cooked.  The dish in its traditional form is cooked in a fashion with a sticky product as the desired end result.  Unfortunately, it is a dish that requires a decent amount of time, so it is not one that could be done on a time crunch, and multi-tasking while doing it? Fuhgeddaboudit. 
Sticky rice is a favorite comfort food among many different groups and nationalities, but in making Chinese Sticky Rice, one of the biggest mistakes that people seem to make is the inclusion of too many different ingredients.  I have tasted sticky rice with scallops, dried shrimp (which give it a very fishy flavor) water chestnuts, bean sprouts, or even bamboo shoots.  The basics of a bit of meat, lop cheung, char siu, or maybe duck, as an example, mushrooms, oyster sauce and soy create a taste that can go with almost any type of meal.  Many Chinese-American families serve sticky rice in place of stuffing with a Thanksgiving turkey.
Bear in mind, however, that the addition of meats to a basic rice dish are more of a result of evolution and development of the general Chinese population.  Most typical Chinese meals would have only consisted of rice with vegetables, with only the wealthier population adding in meats and fats and sugars.  The culinary evolution has also created a move from traditional Chinese dietary preferences to one which incorporates more rich, US styled foods.  With that thought, feel free to use whatever additional ingredients to your sticky rice you see fit, but just once, try it the real way.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Sticky Rice with Slow-simmered Chinese Beef

Slow braising in soy sauce is one of the best things you can do with stewing meat, making it scented, tender and melting. Here, I've used some whole spices, oyster sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger to turn some cheap cubes of stewing beef into meaty gold.
To accompany it, I've broken out a packet of Chinese sausages (lop cheung). These are a sausage rich in pork fat, sugar and anise, preserved by wind-drying. You can buy two kinds of Chinese sausage; these, which are red in colour and made from pork and pork fat, and the darker ones, made from duck meat and liver. I've put the rest of the packet in the freezer, to use another day in some steamed rice. Today's sausage is going in some sticky rice.

The beef is easy - all its deliciousness comes from long, slow simmering. You'll need:
1 lb cubed stewing beef
1 bulb of garlic, halved
3 slices ginger
2 dried chilis
2 stars of anise
1 stick of cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 wine glass Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Water to cover

Put all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pan and simmer very gently for two to three hours, until the meat is tender. Top up with water if the pan starts to look dry.

The stickyrice is full of simple, assertive flavors. I used:
4 Chinese sausages, sliced thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 inches peeled ginger, julienned (cut into matchsticks)
8 spring onions, sliced into circles
1 pack shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 large handful frozen peas
1 large bowl cold, pre-cooked rice
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespons soy sauce

Stir fry the sausage slices, moving everything round quickly over a high heat until they give up some of their fat, then throw in the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir fry for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and peas and continue to stir fry until the mushrooms are soft and cooked. Crumble the rice with your hands into the wok. Stir fry the rice until it's all piping hot, then make a well in the middle so you can see the bottom of the wok, break the eggs into it and use your spatula to scramble them in the well. Stir the cooked egg into the rest of the rice, add the sesame oil and soy sauce, stir fry for another twenty seconds, and serve.

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