Category Archives: seafood

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!

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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!


The usual welcome home dinner

I'm home for spring break right now. Every time I come home during breaks or long weekends, my family likes to celebrate by having something special for dinner. The thing is, we always celebrate by having the same thing – fresh crab or seafood hotpot. Chinese folks tend to see seafood as the ultimate celebration food, so it's always a special treat for when I come home. In fact, every time I go home, my boyfriend can predict that I'll be eating crab or hotpot at some point during my stay haha, and he's always right!

In my hometown, there aren't any large Asian markets like there are in Boston, but there are lots of small Vietnamese grocery stores. My parents happen to know one of these stores gets new seafood stock every Thursday, so this Thursday we dropped by and had our pickings of the best and freshest blue crab in the store. They were live and kickin, always a good sign of freshness. Blue crab is probably my favorite crab variety, as they have the tenderest and finest meat of any crab I have ever eaten. While the crab itself is usually quite small (about the size of my hand) and does not have a lot of meat, the meat it does have is sweet and silky. In comparison, other larger crabs like the dungeoness, rock crab, and Alaskan king crab all have very thick fibrous meat, where the fibers are large and sometimes quite chewy. For the most delicate of crab meats, I always go to blue crab. They're nasty little suckers to try and dig into, but you are well-rewarded for your hard work! Right now also happens to be the breeding season for blue crab, as all the crab we bought this week were filled with bright orange crab roe (eggs) that are considered a delicacy.

My family prepares these crab by first giving them an hour or two to soak in a sink filled with tap water. This soaking allows the crab to sort of "wash" their gills with clean water, which helps get rid of any sand or grit that are in their gills. Blue crab are usually not farm raised, so when they are caught they tend to have sandy gills depending on where they were living. Then you simply place the crab in a pot to steam on top of some boiling water, until their shells turn a bright orange (about 15-25 minutes). We also prepare a soy and vinegar-based sauce to dip the crab meat in when we eat it. Delicious! We usually eat about two to three crab per person, and it can get messy just like eating lobster, but it's so much fun :)

We also usually prepare a starch on the side to eat, as the crab alone may not fill you up, or leave you hungry later in the evening. Dumplings are a popular choice, or something like a stir fried noodle dish. This time, my mom had picked up a few packages of freshly steamed flat rice noodle sheets rolled up with dried shrimp and scallions from the Vietnamese market. After just a nuke in the microwave, they were ready to be served with a dallop of hoisin sauce. These rice noodle sheets are delicious and soft, and are used to make the popular chow foon dishes (also called he fun in Mandarin).

Finally, my mom prepared a tasty soup of spinach, mushrooms, snow peas, and pork blood. That's right, I did say pork blood. Now don't freak out on me… pork blood isn't actually liquid blood. It's blood that's been solidified (by congealing I think) into a block whose texture resembles tofu. It's a pretty popular ingredient in Asia. You buy it in rectangular blocks, and then you dice it or cube it into small chunks to be cooked in soups or dishes. Pork blood has a very distinctive texture – something of a mix between firm tofu and liver. The flavor itself is pretty mild, I would say it's similar to a very mild liver. It sure makes for an interesting form of protein in soup. In China, one of the most popular variations is to use chicken or duck blood in soups. For some reason, chicken/duck blood has a very soft and delicate texture, very similar to silken tofu, and is therefore preferred by most people over pig's blood. I know this is probably grossing you out, but it tastes pretty good. Just don't think about liquid blood and you'll be okay… it's sorta like a pate!

 

Anyway, that was my dinner this Thursday, and it was a mighty delicious way to be welcomed home :)


Balsamic Glazed Salmon Fillets

When I was at Trader Joe's last week, I picked up a bottle of balsamic vinegar (my first!) to try cooking with. Of course, in the moment of choosing, I made the mistake of being cheap (I'm a student after all…), and ended up with a 16 oz. bottle of balsamic vinegar for $1.99. It certainly looked better to my wallet than the half as big bottle that cost 3 times as much. When I got home of course, I did a little research and realized that the longer balsamic vinegar is aged, the better it is, and the more expensive it is. The one I bought was aged about just 1 year or so, and was very thin, just like regular vinegar. But I think on the bright side, cooking with a less quality balsamic vinegar means that I can be more careless with it, experimenting and learning without worrying about my money going down the drain. One of these days, when I become a better cook, I promise I will invest in a higher quality bottle of aged balsamic vinegar :)

Tonight's dinner was up in the air when I remembered I had a couple of frozen vacuum-sealed salmon fillets in the freezer that I had been meaning to make. I usually go with a trusty teriyaki salmon, but today was the day to take my balsamic for a test drive! I saw a recipe on Allrecipes.com that looked great and that I had most of the ingredients for. I made a few substitutions and additions, and it came out great! I overcooked my salmon a little bit, but that's my fault. The glaze for the fish was tart with a hint of sweetness (very different from teriyaki), and very healthy too – no fat and almost no salt! I served my salmon with white rice topped with Japanese rice seasoning (as you can probably tell, I don't go very far from my rice haha).

Balsamic Glazed Salmon Fillets   (for 1 fillet)                   adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
1 salmon fillet, thawed (5 oz.)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp honey
1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp mustard (yellow or Dijon)
onion powder
garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to  375 degrees F. Line a small pan with foil. Place salmon fillet in center of pan.

2. Stir together ingredients above, adding in a few generous dashes of onion and garlic powder, and just a little bit of salt and pepper. Spoon over salmon fillet.

3. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until just starting to flake when forked. The sauce will have bubbled and reduced to a thicker glaze.

4. Remove salmon to serving plate, and spoon remaining glaze from the pan onto the salmon.

I love being able to have dinner ready without any hassle and without having to dirty up dishes and pans for the prep and cooking. I think this salmon would be a great with a refreshing salad (the balsamic glaze makes for a great salad dressing flavor!). Enjoy!


Basic risotto with crab cake

I mentioned that the seafood risotto I had at McCormick and Schmick's was my first taste of risotto. Well it was on the salty side, but I thought the texture was quite nice and I loved the creaminess. So I looked up how to make risotto, because I was always under the impression that it was hard to make, but it's actually not bad at all – it just requires a bit of your full attention for half an hour or so. That's encouraging! So tonight when I came home from work and needed a good idea for dinner, I decided it was finally time to pull up my sleeves and give risotto my best shot. I had those crab cakes in the freezer from my Christmas present food basket, so that seemed to be the perfect pairing with a nice risotto.

There are so many possibilities with risotto, but I actually didn't have any ingredients for making it exotic or even for making one of the more popular risottos involving mushrooms or lemon. Well, like any good student, I accepted the fact that my empty kitchen cupboards were a sign that I should probably start from the most basic risotto recipe and work my way up. For your most basic risotto, all you need is rice (Arborio is the preferred rice, but any short grained rice will also do), onions, broth, and optionally a bit of cheese and butter. Luckily I had gotten some chicken broth from Trader Joe's last week (they have these really cool condensed chicken broth packets that you can dilute in water to achieve regular chicken broth – 12 cups worth of chicken broth takes up about the size of a salt shaker in my cupboard!). Perfect timing! I'll try and describe the cooking process in the recipe

Basic Risotto (serves 2-3)

Ingredients:
1 cup short grain white rice, raw
2 cups chicken broth, plus water as needed
1 medium onion
garlic powder
olive oil

optional:
powdered Romano cheese
salted butter

Directions:

Okay, so I did quite a bit of improvising making this risotto, because I didn't copy down a recipe (I just read the page I linked to above). So I'll just walk you through what I did and you can feel free to adjust as necessary.

I first brought a few cups of water to a simmer on the stove (my condensed chicken broth paste requires hot water to dissolve – if you are using canned or homemade broth, just heat it up to almost boiling and keep it hot).

Next I diced up half of my onion and threw it into a skillet with olive oil on medium-high. I sauteed the onions until they turned soft and brown… I actually thought I had burned them! I decided to set the browned onions aside and start over. I diced the second half of the onion, into finer pieces this time, and cooked them again on medium high except I took them out of the pan when they were still yellow and beginning to turn translucent but were not browned at all.

Once the onions were out of the pan, I added about 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pan, heated it up on medium-high, and then put in my cup of raw rice. I stirred it so that all the kernels were covered with oil. All the recipes I've seen tell you cook the rice in the oil until the kernels turn translucent, but I noticed that mine were translucent right after I coated them in oil (probably due to using regular short grain rice). So I pushed the kernels around until some of them started to turn an opaque white color, which I assume is the point where the rice is starting to toast.

Now, it was time to add the chicken broth. I ended up diluting 2 cup's equivalent of condensed chicken broth into 4 cups of water. I added 1/4 cup of broth to the rice in the pan, and stirred it in as it sizzled and sputtered. The rice absorbed the water very quickly, so I added another 1/4 cup of broth and stirred it some more. You simply repeat this step, each time stirring the rice until the broth has been mostly absorbed but not completely dried, before you add more broth. After 10 minutes, I added the cooked onions back into the rice, sprinkled on some salt and garlic powder to my discretion, and continued to cook it with broth, tasting a few kernels as I went along to check for doneness. You can make the risotto as soft or as chewy or crunchy as you'd like, but I prefer mine to be al-dente, soft on the outside with a bit of chew on the inside. When you've just about reached this stage (it took me about 20 minutes), stir in a final little bit of broth, then add your grated cheese and a pat of butter, stirring it all together so the cheese and butter melt. Let the broth cook down until the risotto is nice and creamy but not watery or dry, and serve immediately.

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After plating my risotto with my baked crab cake and some Shanghai bok choy (I needed some greens and it was all I had in the fridge – sorry it doesn't match the dish well), I tasted some of my browned/burnt onion bits from earlier and discovered that it was actually like caramelized onions, with a nice bit of sweet smokiness to it. So I sprinkled those onion bits on top of the risotto for a garnish, and my boyfriend actually thought it was really really good that way.

So how did it turn out? Well, having not had other risottos to really compare to, I thought this simple and basic risotto tasted wonderful! It was creamy and soft with a bit of chew, and the chicken flavor really came through. I'm glad I used Trader Joe's broth, it's a good quality chicken broth with a lot of flavor minus the sodium. I also liked the creaminess that the Romano cheese and a little bit of butter provided, and the second batch of onions that I put into the rice came out nice and soft, melting into the risotto. Honestly, I was very very pleased with how it turned out, and I just couldn't get enough of it! (Don't save any for leftovers – it just dries up) I'm excited to try it again in the near future with other fun ingredients too. Risotto is really jazzed up rice, and I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with just plain rice ever again haha. The risotto went really well with the crab cakes too, which were very savory and a bit on the salty side, thus complementing the mild nature of the risotto. Yum, as I'm typing this I'm craving more!

 


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