Gong xi fa cai (Mandarin)…Kung hei fat choi (Cantonese)….a happy and prosperous lunar new year from my kitchen to yours!
The recipe that follows is probably more a figment of my imagination or a recreation of a dish I vaguely recall from the distant past. I am of course not Chinese and make no claims for the authenticity of this recipe other than than to say it is one of my favorite Chinese inspired cold weather quick meals using lap cheong (Cantonese)/ la chang (Mandarin)/ Gun chiang (Thai), a dry Chinese sausage with a sweet and spiced flavor as the main ingredient. The aroma and warming flavors of this dish are sure to sooth away any of winter’s biting chill.
Braised Chinese Sausage with Glass Noodles serves 4
Have on hand a lidded ceramic baking casserole.
Preheat to oven to 350f/180c
- 3-4 dry Chinese sausages
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced batons of young ginger
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 cups thinly sliced bok choy (or green cabbage)
- 2 ½ cups chicken broth (heated)
- 6 oz/180g dry glass rice noodles (rice vermicelli)
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder (wu xiang fen) (see note)
- fresh ground toasted Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) to taste
Prick the sausages all over with a wooden skewer and place them in a large skillet along with about a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove the sausages and set aside to cool. Discard the cooking water.
When the sausage is cool enough to handle thinly slice it on the diagonal and set aside.
Return the skillet to the stove set over medium heat. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the onions, garlic, and ginger and saute while continuously stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the Shaoxing rice wine and saute until it is nearly evaporated. Add the bok choy (or cabbage) and the sliced sausage and cook until the bok choy is wilted. Promptly add the hot broth and stir in the rice noodles. Then stir in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, 5 spice powder, and Sichuan pepper to taste. Cook until the noodles are wilted, about 1 minute.
Transfer the mixture to the baking casserole and cover with the lid. Place in the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until most of the broth has been absorbed and the noodles are lightly browned around the edges.
Remove from the oven and serve in individual bowls!
Note: Five Spice Powder (wu xiang fen) is a seasoning mix of ground star anise, ground cassia bark (cinnamon), ground Sichuan pepper corns, ground fennel seeds, and ground ginger. There is no set recipe but equal parts of each ingredient works well. You can adjust the mix to suit your own tastes as well.
Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.
As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.
Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.
Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.
Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.
Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!
This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.
To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!
The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.
Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts
- 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
- 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
- 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes
Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.
You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.
Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.
Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.
The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.
Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.
Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.
Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4
- 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
- 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
- ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
- Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.
Heat the dashi to a near boil.
Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.
If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.
Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.
Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.
Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve. Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table.
Bang Bang chicken is a Szechuan street food favorite that has found world wide popularity and for good reason. The dish is little more than boiled chicken napped with an addictive spicy Szechuan pepper sauce that is salty, sweet, sour, nutty, hot, and numbing. It is the numbing sensation of Szechuan pepper in the sauce that makes this dish so universally appealing. Unlike hot chile’s instant heat, Szechuan pepper’s heat blooms and lingers as an after note with an almost soothing effect on the palate. It’s so addictive you may even find yourself slathering it onto crusty toast for a quick snack!
Traditionally bang bang chicken is served cold, a salad if you will. But tradition aside, I’ve found it is equally appealing served warm in the cooler months. The recipe that follows is very easy to prepare and assemble at a moment’s notice as street vendors have been doing since the 1920’s in the alleyways of Chengdu. The bang bang refers to the sound of vendors whacking the cooked chicken meat just before pulling it apart for serving.
Bang Bang ji si Serves 6
First you want to boil the chicken in a fragrant broth.
- 1 free range chicken
- several leeks, chopped including the green parts
- 4 slices of fresh ginger root, smashed
- 2 inch piece cinnamon bark
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
Rinse the chicken thoroughly. Trim off excess fat and discard.
Fill a stockpot half full with water. Add the leeks, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, and Szechuan peppercorns. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Plunge the chicken into the boiling pot and turn up the heat. Once the broth is boiling again lower the heat to a good simmer and cook the chicken for 30 minutes, or slightly longer if the chicken is quite large. Do not overcook! You want the meat to be moist and very tender. Run the handle of a wooden spoon through the cavity of the chicken and remove it from the pot and set aside to cool.
When cool enough to handle remove the skin and pull the meat away from the bones in the largest chunks possible and set aside. Throw the skin and bones back into the pot and continue to simmer for 1 hour.
Turn off the heat and cool for 30 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the stock into containers and set aside to cool. Discard the skin, bones, and stock ingredients. Once cool the stock should be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for later use.
Just before serving give the chicken meat a light whack with a rolling pin to loosen the fibers of the meat and pull the meat apart into plump shreds.
If you have left over chicken, place it in a container and add cooled broth to cover the chicken. Seal and refrigerate.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare Szechuan pepper sauce and the cucumber and scallion garnish.
Szechuan Pepper Sauce makes 1 cup
- 1 large shallot, peeled and very finely minced (about 6 tablespoons)
- 4 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons dried red chile flakes with seeds
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or tahini)
- 1 tablespoon roasted Szechuan peppercorns, ground
- toasted sesame seeds (see here)
- fresh coriander leaves
Select a medium size skillet and place over medium low flame. When the skillet is hot add the peanut oil and swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and cook 5 to 7 minutes. Lower the flame as needed until the shallots are very soft and translucent without browning.
Add the red chile flakes and the sugar and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Then stir in the soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame paste, and ground Szechuan pepper and stir until well combined with a silky texture.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set aside for serving or refrigerate for later use.
Reserve the toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves to garnish the sauced chicken when serving.
Cucumbers and Scallions
- 2 cucumbers
- 6 to 8 scallions
- sea salt
- rice vinegar
Peel the cucumbers and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and discard. Slice the cucumber halves in half and slice into thin batons. Place in a colander, salt lightly, and set aside for half an hour to draw out some of the water from the cucumbers.
Clean and trim the scallions and slice into very thin strips approximately the same size as the cucumber batons.
Once water is drawn out of the cucumbers place them on a kitchen towel and blot dry. Place in a non reactive bowl along with the scallions, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Splash with the rice vinegar just before assembling the final dish.
To serve cold: Scatter the cucumber scallion mixture in the bottom of individual shallow bowls. Top with the pulled chicken, nap the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves.
To serve warm: Rewarm the pulled chicken in some fragrant broth. Place the warm chicken in individual shallow bowls. Stir a little bit of the sauce into the remaining broth and pour it around the chicken. Nap the chicken with the sauce and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves. Nestle the cucumbers and scallions to the side. Serve with individual bowls of steamed rice.
A perfectly ripened fig plucked from the tree at just the right moment is the ultimate luxury of summer’s soft sweet and succulent bounty.
The fig’s western Asian origins have been documented as far back as 4000 years. Fig cultivation eventually spread throughout the Mediterranean and later to central and north America. Turkey is the largest producer of figs in the world and California the largest in the Americas. The most common varieties available are the Black Mission, Brown Turkey, and Green Kadota. Figs are one of the healthiest foods you will ever eat. High in potassium, manganese, vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and dietary fiber.
The first season of figs is ready for picking in late spring/early summer and the second season late summer/early fall. Fresh figs are very fragile and do not ship well, so unless you have your own tree in the garden or have access to a local farmers offerings you are going to have to settle for figs that are picked before they ripen for shipping. The problem is once figs are picked the ripening process stops.
Thankfully there is a solution! A short bake in a hot oven essentially finishes the ripening process, bringing out all the sweet fleshiness as if the figs were ripened on the tree.
Serve them before a meal with smoked meats or cheeses, with a meal of roasted or grilled meats or poultry, or following a meal with a small dollop of Greek yoghurt or whipped cream. To me, this is one of the simplest and most elegant desserts you will ever serve!
Baked Figs serves 4
- 8 fresh figs
- light olive oil for brushing
- orange zest in syrup (optional)
- Greek yoghurt or whipped cream for finishing
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400F/205C Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Rinse the figs and gently pat dry. Slice the figs in half lengthwise, including the stem if attached, exposing the gorgeous rose colored flesh and amber hued edible seeds.
Place the halved figs in the baking tray cut side facing up. Lightly brush with the oil and place in the oven for 20 minutes. The figs will puff up slightly and you will see rose color juices bubbling over onto the parchment liner in the tray.
Serve either warm from the oven or chill to serve later.
Place 4 baked fig halves on 4 individual dessert plates. Pour the fig juices in the baking tray over the figs. Top lightly with orange zest in syrup (optional) and a small dollop of Greek yoghurt or whipped cream in the center of the plate and serve.
Orange zest in syrup:
- zest of 1 orange, very finely minced
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
Rinse the orange under hot water to remove any wax that may be coating the skin. Pat dry.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel away long strips of zest from stem to stern. Be sure there isn’t any white pith on the underside of the zest. Slice the zest strips lengthwise as thin as you possibly can. Bundle the strips together and slice across the strips as thin as you possibly can, turning out a very fine minced zest.
Transfer the zest to a small sauce pan and add the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly until the mixture is bubbling evenly. Reduce the liquid, swirling the pan from time to time, until the mixture has the consistency of syrup. Remove from heat promptly and set aside to cool.
Spoon the zest in syrup lightly over each fig and serve.