Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shanghainese wontons 菜肉蝦仁餛飩

These are yet another kind of dumplings - basically another variation of meat/seafood/vegetable fillings wrapped in pasta sheets. Compared to JiaoZi, the other kind of Chinese dumplings made with round wrappers, wontons are made with square wrappers. Honestly these are slightly less work to wrap, I think. The steps are very similar to making Italian ravioli and tortellini. Different Chinese regions also make different wontons, and they vary in the filling and wrapper and wrapping style choices. The FuJian/Taiwan style wontons have very thin skins and wrapping is just a matter of free-style gathering and pinching the wrapper into a little purse. I learned how to wrap these Shanghainese wontons from my aunt back in 1995. But it was later that I learned how to put the soup together. You see, the Shanghainese wontons are typically served as a soup. The soup base should be a flavorful stock spiked with a little soy sauce. The accompaniment in the soup should include panfried egg "skin" (basically just scrambled egg but thinly pan-fried into a thin sheet and then cut into strips), seaweed, chopped pickled mustard green ZhaCai (榨菜), chopped scallions, and baby shrimp skins (蝦皮). I skimped on the baby shrimp skins and added chopped celery. The contrast in texture - silky pasta, crunchy mustard greens, soft meat filling, toothsome vegetable fillings - and the combination of many flavors - savory meat and shrimp, briny seaweed, spicy celery and scallions, salty mustard greens - make this such a wonderful dish, and not to mention a complete meal!

The vegetables must be rid of their high water content before they are added to the meat filling. The high water content would have made the filling too watery, and some of the bitterness can be removed by squeezing out the water. The napa cabbage was chopped and salted and the Shanghai bok choi was blanched in water and then chopped. I found the potato ricer to be such a handy tool to remove the water from the vegetable fillings. I used to always use my hand to squeeze the vegetables, but it always left too many bits and pieces on my hands, and there would have been too much wasted. You can see the difference in the volume of the vegetables (Lower left and upper right are the bok choi and napa cabbage before water was removed. Lower right is all the vegetables combined with water removed.)

Another handy tool is my KitchenAid mixer! The meat and shrimp should be stirred long enough to develop protein strands, which help to retain additional liquid. I normally would have added water that's got ginger and scallions mashed up and strained. But I happened to have ginger and scallion oil sauce in the fridge, so I just added a big spoonful of that. I also added salt, white pepper, and some mirin. 

Aren't they cute? They look like little cute packages!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scallion Pancake 蔥油餅

When I was little, my family lived far from the central Taipei city. Near our apartment was an outdoor evening market that sold everything from fruits and produce to meats and fish. Interspersed among these sellers would be cooked food vendors. There were a ton of different ones but I recall vividly one selling scallion pancakes and one selling roasted ducks. Customers always line up around the scallion pancake cart, waiting for the freshly fried pancake  to be lifted, cut, and bagged. The cart had 2 huge circular griddles. The vendor would roll out a pre-made rested scallion pancake dough, pour some oil into the griddle, and place the dough onto the hot sizzling surface. The griddle is then covered to fry and steam the pancake. The vendor always has one fresh pancake cooking while finishing the other one to minimize the customers' waiting time. My father really liked these pancakes. He would often order a half sheet - half of one pancake, each at probably 2 feet in diameter - and bring them home to share with me and my mom. The vendor would lift out a freshly cooked pancake and use a sharply curved cleaver to cut it into 8 wedges. I can still remember the crackling sound of the knife breaking into the crispy fried dough surface. Inside the pancake the dough is translucent and tender, separating into many layers with pieces of scallions here and there. Using hands we would pull strands out of each wedge and feed directly into our mouths - none of this chopsticks business. We later moved into the city and somehow just stopped buying scallion pancakes over time. I think we did recognize how oily it was and were growing more cautious with what we ate later. Nevertheless, this is still a guilty pleasure that, in moderation, can be had every now and then, especially if we make it at home.

The dough for this pancake is made mostly with boiling water. This really cooks the flour and increases the flour's water-absorbing strength, so that even when cooled after cooking the pancake would remain quite tender and hydrated (hence the translucent nature). I used a recipe from Mrs. Zhou's blog here: http://homeeconomics.pixnet.net/blog/post/75620874


Friday, January 27, 2012

Tres Leche Cake 周老師的三奶蛋糕

This blog here by a home economics teacher (Mrs. Zhou) is one of my favorite blogs. She is extremely knowledgeable about all things related to cooking and baking, and she often goes through repeated experiments to figure out key steps that really make the difference. And she is so generous in sharing her findings and recipes. Here is her take on the Tres Leche Cake. It really is genius of her to pair coconut milk with (a variation of) dulce de leche. Her other ingenious idea is to bake the crispy buttery layer separately and sprinkle them on top of the cake right before eating, so they stay super crispy. This is an easy and delicious recipe!
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Friday, July 29, 2011

One of my favorite Cantonese desserts - mango, pomelo, and tapioca "soup" (楊枝甘露)

Most of my friends would agree that NYC is severely behind the West Coast in terms of its share of good authentic Chinese restaurants. There's nothing wrong with it -- there are simply more Asian immigrants on the West Coast. But one very obvious missing piece in NYC (well, let's mainly focus on Manhattan) is Hong Kong-nese dessert shops (糖水!). There used to be a Sweet and Tart on Mott St., but it closed a long time ago. There are several tea houses that serve Taiwanese bubble teas. But there aren't any places that serve the good old fashioned walnut soup, sesame soup, snow wood-ear soup with lotus seeds, etc. (Anyone please correct me if I am wrong. I would love to be corrected in this case!) And one of the newer desserts coming out of Hong Kong in the last decade (according to my friend Erica) is a soup made with mango, pomelo, tapioca, and milk/cream/coconut milk. This dessert is a perfect blend of sweet, tart, tanginess, and a mixture of tropical flavors. Since I couldn't buy it in NYC, I figured that I would just make it myself. Mangoes are in season now so this is a great time to make this dessert. Half of the mangoes should be pureed, which makes the soup nice and thick. Normally pomelo is used. It is very similar to grapefruit, but its pulp is a lot sturdier and breaks apart more cleanly. I didn't want to venture beyond my local bodega to get all the ingredients so I just substituted it with a red grapefruit. The rest is quite easy -- just mix the mango puree, mango chunks, grapefruit pulp pieces, coconut milk, and milk together. I save the tapioca in a separate container, otherwise it would suck up too much liquid if left mixed with the rest. When you're ready to eat, just spoon some tapioca and simple syrup into the soup mixture. It's a healthy and yummy Asian dessert that doesn't involve beans!

Approximate ratio:

2 ripe mangoes. Flesh removed. Half pureed, half cut into chunks
1 red grapefruit. All fibrous membrane removed. Pulp broken into thin clusters
1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk
2 cups milk
simple syrup (1 cup water with 1 cup sugar. heat until sugar dissolves. let cool)
50g tapioca. simmered in boiling water for 10 min. Then covered with no flame for another 20 min. Drain and mix with some syrup.
(adapted from an original recipe here)