When T is still remarking how good Sunday’s dinner was on Monday afternoon, I know that I did well. A close friend of ours was in town and she came over for some simple, home-style Chinese food.
Chinese food is rewarding and relatively easy to make. The main issue is all of the prep work and chopping that must be accomplished PRIOR to the actual, standing in front of the stove cooking. As much of Chinese food is stir-fried in a wok over searing high heat, everything must be ready and at hand prior to active cooking. The prep work often takes much longer than the actual stir-frying, which is over before you know it.
As you can see, a sharp knife and the right ingredients are essential in Chinese food.
Menu: Zhenzhu rou wan (“pearl meat balls”), Hong shao rou (“red braised meat”), Yuxiang qiezi (“fish flavored eggplants”), Gan bian siji dou (“dry fried green beans”), rice.
First, T’s favorite. I seem to make these steamed, rice coated meatballs with more and more frequency. They are not hard, just a little tedious. But then of course the end result is so spectacular and so appreciated that it is well worth the effort.
The meatball mixture is straightforward, but first you must soak a cup (or more) of long grain white glutinous rice (available in Thai grocery stores) in a bowl of water for several hours. Drain the rice and spread it into a cookie sheet. Absorb excess water with a paper towel and let air dry for a few more hours.
Then make the meatballs. Mix: 1 lb ground pork, 1 egg, 1 T soy sauce, 1/2 T salt, 4 dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water and minced fine, 6 water chestnuts minced fine, 1 scallion minced fine, 1 1/2 T minced ginger, 1/2 tsp sugar, a glug of Shaoxing cooking wine.
I used my standing mixer, but you can just as easily roll up your sleeves and use your hands.
Shape them and roll them into the soaked and dried rice. Place them into a steamer basket lined with cabbage leaves.
Steam them for about 10-15 minutes, or until you sense that all is well.
Beautiful, just beautiful.
Hong shao rou, or “red braised meat” was apparently Mao Zedong’s favorite dish. It isn’t red, nor do I think that his fondness for the dish is the reason for the “red,” or as he would have said it, “Red” in the name. I think it is called “red braised” because one of the first things you do is melt sugar in oil and flash fry the parboiled meat in it, turning both the meat and sauce a caramelized red-brown.
I started this in the morning, using a Polyface ham steak (for leaner meat), as well as a pack of Polyface pork ribs for flavor and fatty meat. You parboil the meat in salted water first, then drain it.
I think you do this so that when you flash fry the pieces of meat in the hot, caramelized sugar oil, it will turn an even brown. I have seen recipes where you omit this step and just boil the meat, drain it and then add broth, sugar and everything else. I guess that works too.
After you drain the boiled meat, heat 1 – 2 T of peanut oil in the wok, add 2 T or so of sugar, and stir until the sugar melts and turns brown. Dump the meat back in and coat it in the oil and sugar until the meat pieces are browned. Add minced onions - I used two leeks, ginger and a few liberal glugs of Shaoxing cooking wine. Add some light soy sauce. Add some stock. For this, I just strained the water I boiled the pork in and poured it back into the wok.
This is what it looked like.
Move it to the slow cooker and let it go until the meat is tender and the sauce develops. Skim as much fat off the surface as possible. Before serving, balance the flavors with more sugar, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. It should be fairly delicate, but there should be subtle, but not overpowering sweetness mixed with the distinctive Shaoxing wine flavor. The broth with this dish is wonderful with rice.
The other two dishes that night were the veggie dishes. Yuxiang qiezi, or “fish flavored eggplant” contains no fish or seafood. It is a dish from Sichuan province. When I was a student at Beijing University, it appeared literally every night at the cafeteria and it took me a few years before I could look at the dish without it turning my stomach. Now, half the reason I eat it is for nostalgia's sake. It is the same reason why I crave won bok (Napa) cabbage fried with garlic, salt and vinegar. It reminds me of my very first winter EVER, when the only vegetable you could get was cabbage and every restaurant in Beijing served it, day in and day out.
Gan bian siji dou, or "dried fried green beans" can be made a million different ways. Sometimes with a bit of meat, sometimes without it. Always lots of garlic, usually some chili. I used garlic, ginger, lots of roasted chili paste and fermented black beans. And some Chinese style bacon for the smokiness, although interestingly all three of us picked out the beans off our plate and left the bacon, so I would say that the bacon is unnecessary.
I have two woks, so I had both vegetable dishes going at the same time, with the meatballs steaming on the back burner. If there is something I hate, it is lukewarm stir-fried food.
Like I said, this was a fabulous meal and I am glad our friend was there to share it with us.