Category Archives: Chinese

Shanghainese stir fried rice ovals (上海红烧炒年糕)

The Chinese sure seem to know how to make dozens of starch variations using rice. Aside from white rice, there are rice noodles, rice noodle sheets, edible rice paper, rice milk, rice flour, glutinous rice and its various incarnations. One particular product, made from glutinous rice flour, you may have heard of – the nian gao. It's a sticky, chewy, popular dessert for celebrating Chinese New Year. A variation of the nian gao is a long log made out of glutinous rice flour and water, which is sliced on the diagonal to achieve thin oval slices, commonly known as "rice ovals" in English, but still called "nian gao" in Chinese. These rice ovals have no flavoring, but are an opaque white color and have a distinctive chew to them. They are usually sold pre-cut and either partially or completely dried, to be reconstituted in water before using.

Rice ovals are used in a variety of dishes and soups in Chinese cuisine. One of its most popular uses is in Shanghainese cuisine, where they are stir fried with sliced meats and vegetables in a clear sauce. My mom makes a lot of great authentic Shanghainese food at home, and she likes to make stir fried rice ovals with a brown sauce (which is called "red braised" in Chinese, even though they're not red nor braised in this dish haha). When cooked properly, rice ovals are uniquely chewy but also soft, which is an interesting way to vary the starch in the dish. The brown sauce is made thickly so that it coats the rice ovals generously, and gives them a lot of wonderful color and flavor. It's one of my favorite Shanghainese dishes, and it always reminds me of home when I think of it. Since today also happens to be Mother's Day, this recipe is my tribute to my mom's home cooking. She inspires me as a cook, and I am always amazed at how there is nothing that tastes quite like a mother's cooking, made with love and care. A woman who has made countless delicious dishes, who cannot write down a recipe for a single dish… that is a woman who knows how to cook with her heart, to harmonize ingredients rather than to follow a list of instructions.

This recipe is made with a package of partially dried rice ovals that I got from a Korean market, also available at most Asian markets. I made red braised rice ovals with beef and Shanghai bok choy (you don't get much more Shanghainese than that!). There is really no difference between using partially dried and fully dried rice ovals other than in preparation, so if you happen to get fully dried rice ovals (they'll be dry and hard, like little oval plastic chips), soak them in a container full of cold water overnight before using them. Otherwise, if using partially dried ovals, they just need to be boiled prior to stir frying.

Shanghainese Stir Fried Rice Ovals (上海红烧炒年糕)          (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 package of partially dried vacuum packed rice ovals (2 lbs) – see here for picture of what they look like
4 heads of Shanghai bok choy, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
8 oz. lean beef, sliced thinly
vegetable oil for stir frying
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
dash of white pepper
soy sauce and oyster sauce to taste

Directions:
1. Marinate sliced beef in soy sauce, white pepper, rice wine, and cornstarch, for about 15 minutes.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Place rice ovals in water for 6-10 minutes, until soft and chewy. In my case, I dumped the whole 2 lbs into a small pot of water and it didn't really come back to a boil, but after about 10 minutes they were done. Rinse with cold water, drain, and toss with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

3. In a hot skillet with vegetable oil, stir fry bok choy with a few pinches of salt until soft but still a little bit crunchy, about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet.

4. Now sear the beef on each side until almost cooked through. Turn the heat down to medium.

5. Add the boiled rice ovals to the skillet, add soy sauce and oyster sauce (I can't tell you how much I ultimately used, but maybe start with 1/2 tbsp soy and 2 tbsp oyster sauce first, and add as needed), and stir around to coat rice ovals evenly. Try to separate the ovals that are stuck together.

6. Add the cooked bok choy back to the skillet and mix everything together. Heat through and adjust for taste by adding more oyster sauce as needed. The final sauce should be thick enough to stick to the rice ovals. Serve immediately, and store the rest in an airtight container, reheating in a microwave until it is hot all the way through before serving again to avoid hard rice ovals.

Enjoy and happy Mother's Day!

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Yang Chow Fried Rice, Improvised

On a night when I was particularly busy trying to meet a submission deadline by midnight, I asked my boyfriend to make dinner for us (which I planned to shovel into my mouth at light speed before returning to work). He wanted to do something simple that could incorporate a bunch of ingredients and be a one-pot kind of dinner. Fried rice seemed to fit the bill! Neither of us particularly enjoys eating the soy sauce doused stuff that people pass for fried rice at greasy Chinese takeout spots. Instead we prefer Yang Chow style fried rice, which if you aren't familiar with, is a lighter and more savory fried rice that isn't flavored with dark soy sauce so the color is usually lighter, and contains certain usual ingredients including roast pork pieces, egg, shrimp, and scallions. Many times when I order Yang Chow fried rice in restaurants, they come looking pristine and white, which leads me to believe that they must be flavored with no soy sauce at all, though I'm not quite sure how to achieve that aside from using salt or fish sauce. In any case, my boyfriend decided to wing it based on skimming Wandering Chopstick's recipe (whose Asian blog I love), and thus was born his improvised version of Yang Chow fried rice:

He substituted Chinese sausage for the traditional roast pork, because it's what we have on hand and its sweet flavor is a very appropriate substitute for the roast bbq flavor of the pork. Shrimp and eggs were added, as well as diced carrots and onions for more body and flavor. For the greenery, he generously added chopped scallions and cilantro at the end of the stir frying, to keep them crisp and green. From what he tells me, he mainly flavored the rice with fish sauce and a little bit of soy sauce, as well as garlic and onion powders, salt, and sugar. He did manage to keep the rice relatively light colored though :)

I loved the cilantro here – it was so refreshingly good and crisp. To be honest, I used to hate cilantro when I was younger. In fact, I hated it up until maybe a year or two ago. But then one day something happened and I started to realize how much flavor it lent to certain dishes like Vietnamese summer rolls and Banh mi. And then it was just a matter of time before I started forcing myself to eat the cilantro that came with dishes, instead of picking them out like I normally would have. Just like that, I built up my tolerance and now I love cilantro in the right places. It perks this fried rice right up!


Happy belated birthday to me :)

Yesterday (which was just an hour ago) was my 23rd birthday – the beginning of the age when we are expected to suddenly go from college students to being grownups. How intimidating! Things have been going quite smoothly in my work life, and in the next few weeks I will make my final decision about which medical school I will be going to this fall. Maybe the continued schooling will give me an excuse to be a "student" for another few years :)

I had a chance to celebrate my birthday early with my family this week. We had a cake freshly decorated for us from the only Chinatown bakery that was still open at 8pm on a Sunday night, so I'm quite grateful that I got a cake at all haha. The decorator made me a bull out of whipped cream on top of the cake, since I was born in the year of the Ox. It was done quite well if I do say so myself – I really liked the cute chocolate accents :) I was originally tempted to make my own cake, but you never make your own birthday cake heh. The cake had a mixed fruit filling, and the sponge cake layers were soft. I wasn't terribly fond of the whipped topping, as it was more fluffy and marshmallow-y than I would have liked, but the flavors came together pretty well. My family and I enjoyed the cake with some freshly brewed aromatic white tea that my dad brought back from China this past week, mmm.

On the actual day of my birthday, I went out with my boyfriend for some nice sushi at one of our favorite sushi joints in Boston: Shino Express. Unfortunately, we realized that in the time we had not gone, they had not only changed their name from Shino Express to Shino Newbury, but that they also dramatically raised prices. More startlingly, they changed all of their sushi from using regular white sushi rice to using some special kind of brown rice. That's right, they don't even carry white rice sushi anymore, and for this they are charging us extra. What happened to the Shino that used to be heaven for students because they had delicious sushi of high quality for a dirt cheap price in a casual setting? It seems like with this new brown rice sushi comes on the tail of Shino trying to remodel itself into a trendy spot on Newbury St. They've changed all their plates and dishes to look modern, but all I really want is the good ol' Shino sushi that was good to my tastebuds AND my wallet (or in this case, my boyfriend's wallet :). I honestly may not go back anymore, since the sushi is no longer priced competitively.

That said, the meal I had tonight was still as amazing as Shino's has always been. I didn't really notice the flavor of the brown rice. It might have been slightly more chewy, but it definitely was a subtle difference (grr, not one I'd want to pay for), which is good because I was so worried that brown rice would ruin the sushi experience. I had a regular salmon roll, a crispy eel roll (eel, avocado, cucumbers, flying fish roe, and topped with mayo and crispy tempura bits drizzled in unagi bbq sauce), and one of their specials, the Boston lobster roll (avocado cucumber roll topped with warm baked lobster mixed with chopped raw red onions in a wasabi butter sauce). The rolls were all amazing, with fresh and fatty fish that melted in my mouth. The lobster roll is one of my favorites because it has such a unique flavor – the wasabi butter sauce really brings together everything in that roll, and it really is a monster to behold with all that lobster! My boyfriend also got a shrimp tempura roll which he said was really good too. Mmm I really wish I could go back to the days when Shino's was cheaper…

After dinner we went to Cheesecake Factory for some dessert – the Godiva chocolate brownie sundae :) Deliciously rich and a perfect end to a wonderful birthday dinner. I never knew this, but apparently Edy's makes a special vanilla ice cream specifically for Cheesecake Factory to use in their desserts. I wonder what exactly is different about it…

Thanks for a nice birthday dinner Greg! Gosh, I still can't believe I'm 23 already… time just passes so fast. There are so many things I'm looking forward to this year, and I'm also sad to be leaving Boston in just a few months. It really is a wonderful city filled with an endless array of amazing places for every taste. I am certain that the years I have spent here will be fond memories I carry with me forever.

p.s. My camera is on the fritz these days… it has a lot of trouble focusing and in dim lighting, and the sensor produces these lines in my pictures a lot when it has to work hard under non-ideal lighting conditions. Sorry for the quality for some of my pictures lately, it's kind of a crapshoot :/ I can't wait to get my new camera!


Pan-seared silken tofu with pork & onion gravy

I know, I know… nobody uses silken tofu to make pan fried tofu chunks because it falls apart too easily. But I had a dinner to whip up and what I had at hand was silken tofu. My boyfriend told me that his family sometimes makes a dish where they pan-sear slices of tofu and then top it with beef in a brown sauce. That sounded really good to me, but I was a bit skeptical about getting the silken tofu to sear without breaking it up into tiny chunks. I went ahead and tried it anyway though! I used pork instead of beef, and added a bunch of onions to the brown sauce. It was amazing! Seared silken tofu has this delightfully crunchy skin and a warm soft tofu center that just melts in your mouth… and topped with the pork and onion gravy, the flavor is just right! I had to experiment with a few pieces of tofu before I got going with the easiest searing method – but that means you won't have to! :) It takes a little bit of care to make sure you're not tearing the tofu up to shreds, but the result is so worth it.

Pan-seared Silken Tofu with Pork and Onion Gravy  (serves 3-4)

Ingredients:
3 blocks of fresh silken tofu (3 inch cubes)
1/2 lb. pork tenderloin
1 1/2 medium onion, cut into thin strips
handful of cilantro, chopped up
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
dashes of garlic powder, onion powder, and white pepper powder
2 tsp cornstarch for the meat, plus more for the sauce as needed
1 1/2 tbsp teriyaki sauce (I used roasted garlic flavored)
3 tbsp oyster sauce
vegetable oil for searing

Directions:
1. Wash tofu blocks and cut into slices that are 1/2 x 1 x 2 inches in dimensions (about the length and thickness of your index finger), cutting it so that the "skin" side of the blocks are always along the thin edges of the slice – this helps hold the tofu together. To make this easy to figure out, just always place the skin side of the tofu down on the cutting board, and proceed to cut 1/2 inch slices from the top down.

2. Cut pork into thin strips, and marinate in the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, and white pepper powder for 10 minutes.

3. In a hot nonstick skillet, sautee the onions until starting to turn translucent. Remove from pan and set aside. Sear pork slices until mostly cooked through on both sides, and add back onions. Pour in about 3 cups of water (adjust as desired to get amount of sauce).

4. To make the sauce, stir in teriyaki and oyster sauces to achieve desired saltiness. It should be a rounded flavor with some sweetness. Stir in a slurry of 2 tbsp cornstarch in 1/4 cup of cold water, and allow the sauce to come to a boil to thicken. Add more cornstarch slurry if needed – you want to get a sauce consistency that is somewhat thickened, so that it will sit nicely on top of the tofu later.

5. In a clean non-stick skillet coated with vegetable oil, heat to medium/medium-high (about 6 on a dial from 1-9). Carefully lay down 8 to 10 pieces of your tofu with the flat side down. Don't let the tofu touch each other or else they'll stick later. Close the lid of the pan, and allow to sear approx 5 minutes, removing lid occasionally to release steam and remove water collecting on the top of the lid (you don't want too much of that to drip back into your pan).

6. Using 2 spoons, carefully flip each piece of tofu onto its back. The seared side should be golden. Continue to sear the backsides of the tofu pieces for another 4-5 minutes before removing from heat. Repeat with remaining tofu slices, and clean the pan in-between each batch if there are lots of little bits in the pan (don't want them to burn).

7. To plate: lay tofu slices out flat and spoon pork and onion gravy on top (I had more than enough pork gravy for the tofu I used – I had about 1 piece of pork for each piece of tofu). Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve immediately. Enjoy!


Dry fried beef chow fun (干炒牛河)

I think dry fried beef chow fun is one of those Chinese restaurant dishes that you either try and love or you get unlucky with a badly done dish and hate it. For the most part, I think it’s hard to mess up – the usual culprit in a bad beef chow fun dish would be hard noodles. Normally, there are soft sheets of noodles that have soaked up the flavors from the oyster-based sauce, slippery with the vegetable oil that helps prevent the noodles from sticking and intermingled with flavorful pieces of beef and onions… it’s always so satisfying, even though you know it’s pretty greasy.

After seeing my mom buy the premade steamed rice noodle sheets from the Asian market recently, I discovered that you could also use the same noodles to make dry fried beef chow fun! (Just get the plain noodles without dried shrimp and scallions). So when I got back to school, I bought a bag of refrigerated freshly made rice noodle sheets from Super88 in Boston – they come in bags of 1-2 lbs of noodles, all folded into neat squares or rectangles and bagged in clear plastic baggies with vegetable oil to prevent sticking (cost me about $2.75 or so for a 2 lb. bag). I found an easy recipe from About.com, and with a few improvised ingredients, everything came together pretty easily. Dry frying is really just a term for stir frying something without the use of a liquid sauce or oil to fry in. You use dry frying to get things cooked without making it soggy and saucy, or crunchy, and with a hot enough wok, you can make your foods with a nice and smoky flavor this way too. And since I was cooking the chow fun myself, I could add veggies and use a lot less oil to get a healthier version of the same dish, double yum!

Dry Fried Beef Chow Fun (serves 4-6) original recipe at About.com

Ingredients:
2 lbs. folded steamed rice noodle sheets
1 lb. beef flank steak
2 medium onions, sliced
1 bag of washed fresh spinach
2 stalks of scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tsp sugar
few drops of sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
2-4 tbsp oyster sauce (use as needed)
vegetable oil as needed for stir frying

Directions:
1. Cut flank steak into thin strips about 1/4 inch in thickness. Marinate with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch for 15 minutes at room temperature.

2. Rinse refrigerated rice noodles under warm water to loosen sheets, applying mild pressure to loosen the folds. Cut noodle blocks into 1 inch strips and peel apart the sheets. Set aside.

3. Heat a skillet with vegetable oil on medium high. Sear beef by laying each piece flat against the skillet, and flipping after a minute. Cook another minute on other side. Remove from pan and clean the pan.

4. Cook the onions until they are starting to turn translucent. In another pan, heat some vegetable oil and gently cook the spinach just until wilted. Drain and set aside.

5. Add some vegetable oil to the onion pan, and add in the rice noodles, stirring vigorously to prevent burning and sticking. Try to coat all the noodles with oil to prevent them from sticking (some will probably occur, that’s okay). Mix in minced garlic, cooked spinach, and cooked beef.

6. Add oyster sauce to the noodles, and mix to allow the noodles to soak up the sauce (they will turn a light brown color). The noodles should soften as they are warmed up. When they are soft and they taste flavorful enough (add more oyster sauce if needed), stir in scallions briefly, then remove from heat and serve.

Beef chow fun is best eaten fresh – if you have leftovers, sprinkle some water on top before microwaving. Rice noodles are hardened when they are cold, so make sure you microwave long enough to get them nice and hot. I really enjoyed this dish, even though I had some difficultly stirring the noodles around in the pan without too many casualties flinging outside the skillet (a big wok would have solved my problems). My boyfriend liked eating it with a bit of Sriracha sauce squirted on top, but I thought the flavor was great just the way it was. Best of all, it didn’t taste or feel greasy, and the noodles didn’t stick, so it was really nice. I would add some bean sprouts next time too, but the onions and scallions gave a nice crunch to contrast the soft chewy noodles also. Hah, not so tough after all!


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