Making Zong Zi 包粽子

Zong Zi is a Chinese traditional food for the Duan Wu Festival, or commonly known as the Dragon Boat festival. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The story behind these bamboo leave wrapped pastries goes as follows. In the Zhou dynasty, a well-respected prime minister, Qu Yuan, wrote a sincere and constructive criticism on the government, and presented it to the emperor. As with many incompetent predecesors before him (and many more to follow) in Chinese history, the empror fired him. In his dispair, he jumped into the river and killed himself. The people of Zhou made these zong zi with rice and various food fillings, and threw them into the river in the hopes that the river creatures would eat these zong zi instead of his body. I suppose the bamboo leaves act as a delivery system so the food is not instantly washed away. It is somewhat of a romantic story. But what's really important is that this is one of the time-honored traditions for family members to gather and make this once a year. Usuaully hundreds of zong zi are made, and they are given to neighbors and friends to share. Today, this tradition is quickly being forgotten by the new generations. In fact, my parents never made these, and never learned how. Some of my friends in Taiwan still were fortunate to have a mother or a grandma to make these every year. But I know of no one of my age who actually makes these at home. It is indeed much easier to buy these at the market. But it is really difficult find a tasty one with all the desirable fillings (with the right combinations) . So I thought this would be a perfect way to have a party!

Zong zi has many styles. The wrapping leaves are most often bamboo leaves, but any plant leaves, as long as they are non-toxic and can impart a pleasant fragrancem can be used. Different regions produce different shapes and inner contents of zong zi. The Hu Zhou (湖州) style is more elongated. The Cantonese version is more rectangular, and some can be made with lotus leaves to produce one as big as a serving plate! I set out to make Taiwanese zong zi. The northern Taiwanese zong zi uses no peanuts and fully cooked rice and fillings. The wrapped zong zi is therefore fully cooked and only need to be steamed to meld together the ingredients. Southern Taiwanese zong zi uses only raw or barely cooked rice. They need to be boiled to be fully cooked. This is trickier because uncooked rice is loose, and harder to wrap. Also if they are not wrapped tightly, rice will leak out during the cooking; if they are bound too tight, the center takes too long to cook.

I invited a few friends over to make these. After 1 or 2 we all got quite proficient at making zong zi. But we made quite small ones. It will take some practice to make bigger ones! I decided to make the southern style zong zi -- the rice has been stir fried with fried shallots, dried shrimp, five spice, and soy sauce; the filling includes chestnuts, peanuts, pork, and dried shiitake mushrooms that have been cooked and marinated with star anise, sugar, and soy sauce. Finally each zong zi has a quarter of a salty duck egg yolk. Yum!

Recipe: Southern Taiwanese Zong Zi

40 bamboo leaves
thin kitchen twine
600 g long grain glutinous rice
4 Tbsp of oil
2 Tbsp dried shrimp, rehydrated with rice wine
1/4 cup fried shallots
200 g pork boston butt or other fatty cuts
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated with cold water for 30 minutes
20 toasted and peeled small chestnuts
1 cup raw peanuts
5 salty duck egg yolks
salt, white pepper, star anise, five spice, soy sauce, sugar to taste

1. Soak the peanuts overnight. Drain the water and add soy sauce, water, sugar, salt, star anise, and simmer for at least 30 minutes until slightly cooked. Chop mushrooms into halves and add them to the peanuts. Also add chestnuts. Cook everything for another 30 minutes. Set aside and let them marinate overnight.
2. Soak the rice for 3 hours. Drain completely.
3. Chop the pork into bite size. Brown all side quickly and add soy sauce, sugar, salt, star anise, and rice wine to taste. Cook for 5 minutes and set aside.
4. Wash all bamboo leaves. Boil them and the kitchen twine for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
5. Drain the shrimp and mince. Heat oil in a wok and stir fry the shrimp and fried shallots until fragrant. Add the drained rice and stir until well coated. Add the liquid from the peanuts and pork mixture but no more than 2/3 cup. Stir fry until liquid has been well distributed and absorbed. Take out the rice and let cool.
6. Making zong zi (watch instructions here or here). Start with some rice, some peanuts. In the center cavity, add one chestnut, 1/4 of salty duck egg, 1/2 of mushroom, 1 or 2 pieces of pork, then cover with more rice and peanuts.
7. After all have been wrapped, boil them for 40 minutes. Check for doneness. Either eat right away or let them cool over a cooling rack completely before storing in the fridge or freezer.


Erica said…
Albert, have you ever made Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese recipe? Any pointers? I am looking for a good crab mac and cheese recipe and I am thinking of adding crab meat to the Martha Stewart one, what do you think?
Albertitto said…
Hmm no I haven't made her Mac and cheese because I don't think I have ever made any mac and cheese -- I actually don't really like mac and cheese. But I would think something chunkier would better, like shrimp or lobster?? I just think the crabs might get lost in there and the cheese is so strong you might lose the crab flavor.

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