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Q&A -- Chinese Cooking: Southern home-style dishes

28 posts in this topic

All those dishes look fantastic, especially the clam dish.

The steamer dish looks great -- but what if you don't have a bamboo steamer? Can you use western style steaming methods as well? What's a good source for bamboo steamers if you don't have access to a Chinatown near you?


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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All those dishes look fantastic, especially the clam dish.

The steamer dish looks great -- but what if you don't have a bamboo steamer? Can you use western style steaming methods as well? What's a good source for bamboo steamers if you don't have access to a Chinatown near you?

Yes, the clam dish is the most photogenic. In general the homestyle stuff doesn't look very pretty on the plate, but it does taste good!

It's fine to use the steamer insert in a pasta pot set, or pressure cooker, like I mentioned. I hope lack of a bamboo steamer doesn't prevent anyone from trying a steamed recipe or two. I've seen bamboo steamers in high end kitchen shops under the Joyce Chen line, or you could buy one online at places like Sur La Table or Ethnic Grocer. Just make sure to buy one that fits your biggest pot, larger sizes make it easier to steam things on plates. Even smaller places without large Chinatowns should have an Asian grocery, and bamboo steamers are a pretty common item.

regards,

trillium

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Trillium, thanks for the great class. This is a cuisine that I was entirely unfamiliar with. I'm eager to try a couple of your dishes.

I'm trying to convince my wife that I need new toys -- what's your advice on a rice cooker? Is it necessary? Does a cooker to a better or more consistent job? What brands/models do you recommend?

Thanks!

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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I noticed that the recipe for Claypot casserole of chicken and salted fish includes MSG as an optional ingredient. What's the point of adding MSG?

I'm not trying to elicit a heated debate on MSG -- I'm just curious what it's supposed to add to the dish.

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When steaming with a bamboo steamer and a wok, is it necessary to have the water come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer? I have a 14 inch wok and 12 inch bamboo steamer, so that is a lot of water...

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Trillium, thanks for the great class. This is a cuisine that I was entirely unfamiliar with. I'm eager to try a couple of your dishes.

I'm trying to convince my wife that I need new toys -- what's your advice on a rice cooker? Is it necessary? Does a cooker to a better or more consistent job? What brands/models do you recommend?

Thanks!

Chad

Hi Chad,

I'm glad you enjoyed the class.

The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply. In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient.

I'll try to list why we like them.

It frees up a burner on the stove, which we frequently need, when both of us are trying to get our dishes done at the same time.

It takes the guess work out of cooking rice, you dump in your rice, you fill the water to the line inside the rice cooker (or higher or lesser depending on the rice and your preference), you push the button and come back a half hour later to perfect rice. Since we get home rather late, but still like to cook dinner, the "no brainer" part is appealing. During grad school days, we throw in stuff to cook along with the rice and have a really easy, tasty meal.

The cooker will not do a better job than the stove. Some people find the texture of rice cooked on the stove is slightly better.

Will it be more consistent? It depends on how well you can cook your rice! I was given the rice cooker we have now as a parting gift in college from one of my best friends, who would come over to eat when I made Thai red curry (college style...all from cans, except the chicken, and frozen green beans). She's ethnic Chinese and told me when she gave it to me "this is for all those dinners you cooked for us, the curry was great but you cook rice like a white person". Sometimes it would be soggy and waterlogged; sometimes it would be too crunchy. So back then, it did do a more consistent job than I could. This was about 10 years ago, now I'm much better at doing it on the stove, but I still prefer the ease of the rice cooker. For the other cook in the house, who grew up eating rice 2 or 3 times a day, the rice cooker didn't really do a more consistent job but he likes using it for convenience as well.

On brands, the two best makers are probably National and Zojirushi. That being said, the one we've been using at least 4 times a week for the last 10 years is the Aroma brand. Models are a trickier question; it depends on how much of a gadget freak you are. A basic model would be one that has a "cook" and "warm" function. The warm function keeps your rice warm until you turn it off. In some houses, the rice cooker is on all the time. You can go all the way up to the super fancy Zojirushi fuzzy neuro logic models that are supposed to have the ability to figure out what sort of rice you're cooking and change the cooking and steaming times. I think you can program those as well. The gadget freak in the house has been eyeing them for years, but I'm sentimentally attached to my old, beat-up little rice cooker, so we haven't replaced it. We advised my mum to buy the Zoji basic 10-cup model with the stay warm feature and she's been very happy with it for years. Don't buy the smallest one, if you buy one, buy at least the 6 or 10 cup model, they can handle smaller amounts, but you'll probably end up using the larger amounts more often. You can find online deals nearly anywhere (30 - 35% below list), but most Asian grocery stores will have matching prices.

regards,

trillium

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I noticed that the recipe for Claypot casserole of chicken and salted fish includes MSG as an optional ingredient. What's the point of adding MSG?

I'm not trying to elicit a heated debate on MSG -- I'm just curious what it's supposed to add to the dish.

I knew someone would ask! MSG gets put into claypot dishes very often, because it's believed that it heightens the "meaty" and rich taste of the dish. Claypot dishes are supposed to be very mellow and rich tasting, not exciting as much as comforting. It really is an optional ingredient, especially since the dried fish has tons of free glutamate in it anyway. In talking about sapo dishes with friend's mums, one woman insist you can't make claypot dishes without it, but another who thinks MSG is a crutch for lazy cooks. I figured I'd let the reader decide.

regards,

trillium

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When steaming with a bamboo steamer and a wok, is it necessary to have the water come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer?  I have a 14 inch wok and 12 inch bamboo steamer, so that is a lot of water...

No, certainly not! You actually don't want the water to come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer. Usually for quick dishes, 2 - 3 inches is enough. You can always replenish it with more boiling water if it starts to run low. Just remove the steamer with hotpads (don't uncover it), set it aside, and add a little more boiling water if you think you're going to run out.

regards,

trillium

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The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply.  In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient. 

Ah, good old rec.food.equipment! :biggrin:

Great class, Trillium! I have to try some of these now.

As an OT asside, I've "e-known" you for years, and always assumed "Trillium" was your handle. :d'oh!:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply.  In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient. 

Ah, good old rec.food.equipment! :biggrin:

And don't forget rec.food.cooking and alt.food.asian...the length of those threads always astounded me. You'd never see such heated discussion about electric mixers vs. handbeaters like you would about rice cookers.

As an OT asside, I've "e-known" you for years, and always assumed "Trillium" was your handle.  :d'oh!:

Don't worry, you're in the majority, everyone is always surprised. But you get bonus points for 1) knowing it wasn't a chemical, 2) knowing it wasn't a character in a Douglas Adam's novel and 3) that because it was a flower, it was likely I was female.

regards,

trillium

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re: the use of salted fish

Is it traditional to rinse the salted fish before using it, or is it done specifically for claypot-type dishes, or was it a personal preference? We've always used it straight, though we always fry it (nothing better than freshly cooked rice and shredded salted fish, except maybe freshly cooked rice, Chinese sausage, and one egg sunny-side up :biggrin: ).

Great class, and great pictures, too!

(Headbutts to the cat--hope she's doing well :smile: )

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re:  the use of salted fish

Is it traditional to rinse the salted fish before using it, or is it done specifically for claypot-type dishes, or was it a personal preference?  We've always used it straight, though we always fry it (nothing better than freshly cooked rice and shredded salted fish, except maybe freshly cooked rice, Chinese sausage, and one egg sunny-side up  :biggrin: ). 

Great class, and great pictures, too! 

(Headbutts to the cat--hope she's doing well  :smile: )

Hi rona

Hmmm. Traditional. I think it varies from house to house, and even inside of a house. I always rinse anything dried, to get off dust, grit, whatever...you know...processing cooties. In this case I also rinse the fish to remove a little bit of the salt, the same as when I'm using salted choys and turnips and preserved black beans. Sometimes the salt is even crusted onto the outside of the preserved thing, and I don't think it adds anything to the dish. I want to be able to add other salty ingredients that contribute flavors besides salt. I also think a little bit of water on the salted ingredient before you add it to the dish helps spread the flavor and also helps the frying, so the ingredient doesn't stick and burn at such hot temps. The other cook in the house doesn't bother, unless I bug him to do it while we're cooking. I hear you on the rice and fried salted fish bit...good stuff.

regards,

trillium

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Thanks for a great lesson! I just finished cooking and eating the first three dishes and thought I'd offer a bravo for your work.

Some questions about the rice recipe. Do you believe one should rinse the rice? Also, I was wondering if you had any visual or auditory clues we should use when the rice cooks, because, for me, cooking the rice on the "lowest your burner can go" did not work at all. I have what I guess is a high-end non-commercial stove and it has a "precise simmer" burner that can maintain really low temperatures. When I cooked the rice like you directed there was barely even a wisp of steam, so it clearly wasn't right. I upped it to what for that burner, on that stove, is around medium and then followed your recipe exactly. This turned out I think the best pot of rice of my life. So I'm very pleased to have finally perfected a technique for my unique circumstances, but I'm wandering, as far as general rules go, what should we be looking for? I always thought the rice should steam rather aggressively, or is that wrong?

The stir fried greens were a relevation even though my garlic blackened instantly and I set off the smoke alarm. That extra heat and lack of stirring really does take it to another dimension. The quick cooked, simply seasoned green was the one thing about Chinese cookery I thought I had down, so thanks for opening my eyes.

I loved the steamed beef dish and can see that, with all the untold variations possible (authentic or not) it will become a standard for me (I can already taste the Thai version.) But one question: must I like dried black mushrooms? I've given them a shot, I really have. And I love mushrooms in general. There's something I just can't stomach about that type though. Would I be able to freely substitute, say, fresh cremini? Would they give up too much moisture?

Lastly, I thought I'd share my small equipment breakthrough of this evening - the lobster pot is perfect for steaming. Surprise, right? Okay, maybe not. But what was new to me was the idea of filling the pot with bamboo steamers. I realize that most people don't have or need a lobster pot (I'm talking about the speckle-ware type with two compartments and a spigot), but if you do you'll be happy to know you now have another use for that pot taking up half the guest room. It's great because it will easily hold a stack of the wide steamers shown in your photos.

I'm on to the claypot and black beans recipes. One question re: black beans. What are your feelings on chopping versus leaving whole?


"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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Hmmm.  Traditional.  I think it varies from house to house, and even inside of a house.  I always rinse anything dried, to get off dust, grit, whatever...you know...processing cooties.

Thanks. My mother said she rinses dried salted fish to get off the cooties, too! But we usually use the salted fish that comes in a jar (oil-packed). Another question--how do you feel about the dried stuff vs the oil packed stuff? Do you think there's a difference in quality?

And another question I thought of...Do any of the Chinese ethnic groups steam their rice as Thais do? (You know, water and rice in bowl, steamed in bamboo or other steamer.) Kasma Loha-Unchit says this results in much better rice than the boiling over stove top or rice cooker method. I've never done it, since I'm lazy (when you grow up with a rice cooker, it's difficult to use anything else :smile: ) but I'd be curious to know if other cultures do it, as well, and if there is really a difference in texture between the boiling and steaming methods (guess I'd have to try it myself for the latter question).

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Thanks for a great lesson!  I just finished cooking and eating the first three dishes and thought I'd offer a bravo for your work.

Thanks... it's great to hear from someone who has tried them.

Some questions about the rice recipe. Do you believe one should rinse the rice? Also, I was wondering if you had any visual or auditory clues we should use when the rice cooks, because, for me, cooking the rice on the "lowest your burner can go" did not work at all. I have what I guess is a high-end non-commercial stove and it has a "precise simmer" burner that can maintain really low temperatures. When I cooked the rice like you directed there was barely even a wisp of steam, so it clearly wasn't right. I upped it to what for that burner, on that stove, is around medium and then followed your recipe exactly. This turned out I think the best pot of rice of my life.  So I'm very pleased to have finally perfected a technique for my unique circumstances, but I'm wandering, as far as general rules go, what should we be looking for? I always thought the rice should steam rather aggressively, or is that wrong?

First the rice rinsing question. For most processed rice these days, they don't require rinsing at all, but whether you do it or not depends on personal preference. To tell you the truth, I've rinsed and not rinsed and I'm hard pressed to discern a difference in the rice we eat (jasmine from Thailand, short grain rice might be a different story). My partner, who is ethnic Chinese, grew up not rinsing rice, his father had strong opinions about not rinsing it, and he thought it made the rice less nutritious. Since I can't tell a difference and not rinsing it removes an extra step, I don't bother, with one exception. When we're doing a more Peranakan/Straits Chinese rice dish where you fry the rice before adding liquid (coconut rice or chicken rice), I always rinse it because you need that extra bit of starch rinsed off so you can fry the rice without it sticking immediately when it hits the pan.

On the heat question. I gave an initial method that works on my stove, which is the cheapest one our landlord could buy, but it's not too surprising that it didn't work so well on a higher quality stove. The initial method was just a starting point, when it comes to rice, you should tweak it to your preference (and stove). I have to cook rice in a Le Creuset on the smallest burner, turned down as low as it can go, and use a diffuser, or the bottom of my rice will burn before the top is cooked. It sounds like your stove has much more precise controls, so go with what works...best pot of rice of your life sounds like a pretty good pot of rice! For the steam, you shouldn't see a ton of steam escaping from the pot, you want the liquid in your pot to be at a very low simmer, some small bubbles on the surface, but not a boil.

The stir fried greens were a relevation even though my garlic blackened instantly and I set off the smoke alarm.  That extra heat and lack of stirring really does take it to another dimension.  The quick cooked, simply seasoned green was the one thing about Chinese cookery I thought I had down, so thanks for opening my eyes.

Since your stove is more powerful, you probably can cut back a little on the preheat time for your pan...sorry about the smoke alarm! The greens taste the nicest to us when the garlic is mostly dark brown with only a few blackened spots, mostly because the garlic has enough time to flavor all of the oil before you add the greens.

I loved the steamed beef dish and can see that, with all the untold variations possible (authentic or not) it will become a standard for me (I can already taste the Thai version.)  But one question: must I like dried black mushrooms? I've given them a shot,  I really have. And I love mushrooms in general. There's something I just can't stomach about that type though. Would I be able to freely substitute, say, fresh cremini? Would they give up too much moisture? 

Of course you don't have to like black mushrooms! Don't eat something you hate. Have you tried the better grade varieties and not just the cheapie ones? If you have, and you still don't like them, leave them out entirely or substitute away. The texture of a steamed fresh mushroom will be very different, but if you don't have a problem with it, go right ahead. They'll give out more moisture, but you can easily accommodate them by adding a little more thickener (potato or cornstarch). You might like the mushrooms better fresh, as shitake, or if you live in an area that has fresh straw mushrooms you could try those too.

I'm on to the claypot and black beans recipes. One question re: black beans. What are your feelings on chopping versus leaving whole?

That's a matter of personal preference and even mood. For clams, I really love how the whole black beans look stuck on the shells, and I enjoy getting a variety of bites that taste more of clams or more of black beans. When we make bitter melon and beef chow fun, I smash the beans along with the garlic because I like them more evenly distributed throughout the dish. I hardly ever chop them, I'm a lazy cook and they make a huge mess on the cutting board. I usually just use a fork to smash them in the container that I've rinsed them in.

I look forward to hearing your feedback on the next dishes...happy cooking...

regards,

trillium

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Thanks.  My mother said she rinses dried salted fish to get off the cooties, too!  But we usually use the salted fish that comes in a jar (oil-packed).  Another question--how do you feel about the dried stuff vs the oil packed stuff?  Do you think there's a difference in quality? 

None that I can tell, but they're two very different beasts. The oil-packed salted fish is usually mackerel, right? I love that stuff too, but it has a different taste. More fishy, less aged, and more salty is the only way I can think to describe it. The dried fish we use is red snapper, which is a milder fish to start with, I think. You could totally use them interchangably, but you'll have a slightly different dish.

And another question I thought of...Do any of the Chinese ethnic groups steam their rice as Thais do?  (You know, water and rice in bowl, steamed in bamboo or other steamer.)  Kasma Loha-Unchit says this results in much better rice than the boiling over stove top or rice cooker method.  I've never done it, since I'm lazy (when you grow up with a rice cooker, it's difficult to use anything else  :smile: ) but I'd be curious to know if other cultures do it, as well, and if there is really a difference in texture between the boiling and steaming methods (guess I'd have to try it myself for the latter question).

I haven't run into any but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen...for not plain rice the Nonyas usually fry and season the rice (like lemak fan or gai fan) and then boil it. Nonya cooking is known to be some of the most time consuming, but I've never seen the rice steamed (except for "sweet" rice). I'm curious to know how different it is steamed too. I've read what Kasma says but I've been to lazy to try it out myself, the lure of the rice cooker is too strong most nights.

regards,

trillium

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None that I can tell, but they're two very different beasts.  The oil-packed salted fish is usually mackerel, right?  I love that stuff too, but it has a different taste.  More fishy, less aged, and more salty is the only way I can think to describe it.  The dried fish we use is red snapper, which is a milder fish to start with, I think.  You could totally use them interchangably, but you'll have a slightly different dish.

The one we used most often was yellow grouper (or was it yellow croaker?) but it has become very difficult, if not impossible, to find. Most of the jarred ones on the market today are mackerel, as you said, but sometimes we can find others. Today I found red snapper in a jar but did not buy any. The last dried fish we bought was in Thailand, so I don't know which fish it was. We brought some back but can't find it now. Oops!

One of these days I'll try steaming rice, too. I can't see it happening anytime before our rice cooker dies, though. Rice cooker=good :smile: .

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Question 1: Are you in Sac or SF? (referring to a previous post on buying orange bitters, I believe... Conti Bros. vs. Tower Market?)

I happen to live in both places, on a rotating basis.

Q2: Do you know any good sites or references on asian seafood ID, especially including flavors, chinese names, general usage? (i.e. what it is similar to, etc.) Pictures seem easy enough to come by, but not English-Chinese translations and salted fish ID and such. You find both names in your typical asian market, but never on the same fishes, it seems.

Beef, bitter melon, and black beans is really good, but funny, I just kinda made it up (fridge-raiding style) and never had it with noodles (only rice), care to give your recipe for that?

Also, the steamed rice is the *ONLY* way I make it anymore. straight off Kasma's website. Trust me. It rocks. Even though I originally did it just to get away from the same bottom-burning problem you described. Also second the Golden Phoenix recommendation.

Anyway, great lesson.

--Paul

Jus' a po' ign'ant white boy :raz:

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Question 1: Are you in Sac or SF? (referring to a previous post on buying orange bitters, I believe... Conti Bros. vs. Tower Market?)

I happen to live in both places, on a rotating basis.

Neither actually. Right now Portland, OR is home base, but I visit friends and family in SF and Sacto often.

Q2: Do you know any good sites or references on asian seafood ID, especially including flavors, chinese names, general usage? (i.e. what it is similar to, etc.) Pictures seem easy enough to come by, but not English-Chinese translations and salted fish ID and such. You find both names in your typical asian market, but never on the same fishes, it seems.

I don't, sorry. The best guides I've found have been for vegetables, not seafoods.

Beef, bitter melon, and black beans is really good, but funny, I just kinda made it up (fridge-raiding style) and never had it with noodles (only rice), care to give your recipe for that?

Beef, bitter melon and black beans are a classic combination. I think it's more much more common to eat it on rice than with noodles. You can get beef and black bean chow fun all over the place in SF, but you have to ask for fu gwa (bitter melon) to be added. You'll only get it about 50% of the time. I don't have an exact recipe for it like I did for the dishes in the lesson, but I can tell you briefly what we do and if you have specific questions I'd be happy to answer them.

The beef (usually flank or tip sirloin roasts I've cut along the muscle lengths and then thinly cut along the grain) is marinated in dark and light soya, shaoxing wine and a little potato flour. The bitter melon is cut in half, the seeds and pith scooped out and cut crosswise (a little thicker than the beef) and very briefly blanched in boiling water. You could skip this step if you're a diehard bitter melon fan, the blanching removes some of the bitterness. I think we use about 1 large or 2 small melons per lb of beef. We basically want equal weight from each thing, but that's personal preference. Prepare the black beans as mentioned in the lesson for the clams, except I like to smash them up with garlic and a little minced ginger instead of leaving them whole. I think for 1 lb each of melon and beef I would use around 3 - 4 tablespoons of dau see (black beans) because it will end up on 1 lb of rice noodle, but again, it's to taste. I like to have two pans going to cook the noodles and the stuff that goes into them in seperate pans at the same time. My stove sucks and I don't have enough fire power to do it all together and get that nice smoky wok hay going. Frying fresh rice noodles at home can be a little tricky, there are good tips in this thread. The noodles hit a really hot cast iron or steel pan/wok with some hot peanut oil, get stired around a little and some dark and light soya added. The bean/garlic/ginger gets stir-fried in another pan (very hot, again) and then the beef is added, tossed around, and little more shaoxing splashed into the pan, more tossing, and the the bitter melon. This happens really quickly, and before you start the noodles, your aim is to have the noodles slightly fried and softened at the time the beef is done, then you toss 'em together in one of your hot pans to let the noodles finish cooking.

Also, the steamed rice is the *ONLY* way I make it anymore. straight off Kasma's website. Trust me. It rocks. Even though I originally did it just to get away from the same bottom-burning problem you described. Also second the Golden Phoenix recommendation.

Hmmm. I guess I better try this one of these days.

regards,

trillium

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Hi Trillium - That was a nice class. I am thinking of doing the winter melon soup and I have a question about the melon. Is this normally available all year round or - just in winter? Thanks for the wonderful class.

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Hi Trillium - That was a nice class. I am thinking of doing the winter melon soup and I have a question about the melon. Is this normally available all year round or - just in winter? Thanks for the wonderful class.

Sorry for the late reply, I don't check for questions that often anymore.

Winter melons get called winter melons for the same reason winter squash do in a western setting. It's not so much that they're only available in winter, but more that you harvest them in late summer/early fall and can store them all winter long. Whether or not you can find it all year kind of depends on your location, but I think they disappear most places in the height of summer. You can easily use another gwa (melon/squash) in place of dong gwa or winter melon. Loofas, smooth or angled (sui or see gwa), or fuzzy melons (cheet or mao gwa) make fine substitutes. Bitter melon (fu gwa) doesn't, unless you are accustomed to eating really bitter stuff. Avoid a winter melon that is mushy or yellow in the rind, and look for the smallest, furriest fuzzy melons if you go that route. You can peel the skin off, or just scrap off the fuzz. For angled loofa, I just scrape off the sharp ridges but leave on the rest of the skin.

regards,

trillium

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Hi,

Loved the course. I do have two questions regarding the bamboo steamers:

- How do you clean them? I've been wanting the 3-level bamboo monsters from Chinatown for awhile, but have always worried about getting them squeaky clean.

- I have a huge wok (14" I think). Am I right in assuming that I won't have to get a cover for it, if I leave the cover for my bamboo steamer on?

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you can boil the steamers or run boiling water over them, then air dry them.

don't worry about food bits as you're sterilising them with the boiling water.


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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you can boil the steamers or run boiling water over them, then air dry them.

don't worry about food bits as you're sterilising them with the boiling water.

Thanks for the reply. I guess it's just another hangup that I'll have to get over (it took me over a year to get myself to trust the cleanup process :smile:)

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      But what is it anyway? Which five spices?
       
      Today, I bought four samples in four local supermarkets. I would have would have preferred five, but couldn’t find any more. It's not that popular.
       
      First thing to say: none of them had five spices. All had more. That is normal. Numbers in Chinese can often be vague. Every time you hear a number, silently added the word ‘about’ or ‘approximately’. 100 km means “far”, 10,000 means “many”.
       
      Second, while there are some common factors, ingredients can vary quite a bit. Here are my four.

      1.


       
      Ingredients – 7
       
      Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Orange Peel, Cassia Bark, Sand Ginger, Dried Ginger, Sichuan Peppercorns.
       
      2.
       

       
      Ingredients – 6
       
      Cassia Bark, Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Coriander, Sichuan Peppercorn, Licorice Root.

      3.
       

       
      Ingredients – 15
       
      Fennel Seeds, Sichuan Peppercorns, Coriander, Tangerine Peel, Star Anise, Chinese Haw, Cassia Bark, Lesser Galangal, Dahurian Angelica, Nutmeg, Dried Ginger, Black Pepper, Amomum Villosum, Cumin Seeds, Cloves.

      4.
       

       
      Ingredients – 6
       
      Pepper (unspecified – probably black pepper), Sichuan Peppercorns, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds, Nutmeg, Cassia.
       
      So, take your pick. They all taste and smell almost overwhelmingly of the star anise and cassia, although there are subtle differences in taste in the various mixes.
       
      But I don’t expect to find it in many dishes in local restaurants or homes. A quick, unscientific poll of about ten friends today revealed that not one has any at home, nor have they ever used the stuff!
       
       
      I'm not suggesting that FSP shouldn't be used outside of Chinese food. Please just don't call the results Chinese when you sprinkle it on your fish and chips or whatever. They haven't miraculously become Chinese!

      Like my neighbours and friends, I very rarely use it at all.

      In fact, I'd be delighted to hear how it is used in other cultures / cuisines.
    • By liuzhou
      For the last several years Cindy's* job has been to look after me. She takes care of my residence papers, my health insurance, my travel, my housing and associated repairs. She makes sure that I am supplied with sufficient cold beer at official banquets. And she does it all with terrific efficiency and great humour.
       
      This weekend she held her wedding banquet.
       
      Unlike in the west, this isn't held immediately after the marriage is formalised. In fact, she was legally married months ago. But the banquet is the symbolic, public declaration and not the soul-less civil servant stamping of papers that the legal part entails.
      So tonight, along with a few hundred other people, I rolled up to a local hotel at the appointed time. In my pocket was my 'hong bao' or red envelope in which I had deposited a suitable cash gift. That is the Chinese wedding gift protocol. You don't get 12 pop-up toasters here.
       
      I handed it over, then settled down, at a table with colleagues, to a 17 or 18 course dinner.
       
      Before we started, I spotted this red bedecked jar. Shaking, poking and sniffing revealed nothing.
       
       
      A few minutes later, a waitress turned up and opened and emptied the jar into a serving dish. Spicy pickled vegetables. Very vinegary, very hot, and very addictive. Allegedly pickled on the premises, this was just to amuse us as we waited for the real stuff to arrive.
       
       
      Then the serious stuff arrived. When I said 17 courses, I really meant 17 dishes. Chinese cuisine doesn't really do courses. Every thing is served at roughly the same time. But we had:
       
      Quail soup which I neglected to photograph.
       
      Roast duck
       
      Braised turtle
       
      Sticky rice with beef (the beef is lurking underneath)
       
      Steamed chicken
       
      Spicy, crispy shell-on prawns.
       
      Steamed pork belly slices with sliced taro
       
      Spicy squid
       
      Noodles
       
      Chinese Charcuterie (including ducks jaws (left) and duck hearts (right))
       
      Mixed vegetables
       
      Fish
       
      Cakes
       
      Fertility soup! This allegedly increases your fertility and ensures the first born (in China, only born) is a son. Why they are serving to me is anyone's guess. It would make more sense for the happy couple to drink the lot.
       
      Greenery
       
      Jiaozi
       
      There was a final serving of quartered oranges, but I guess you have seen pictures of oranges before.
       
      The happy couple. I wish them well.
       
      *Cindy is the English name she has adopted. Her Chinese name is more than usually difficult to pronounce. Many Chinese friends consider it a real tongue-twister.
    • By liuzhou
      A few days ago, I was given a lovely gift. A big jar of preserved lemons.
       
      I know Moroccan preserved lemons, but had never met Chinese ones. In fact, apart from in the south, in many parts of China it isn't that easy to find lemons, at all.
       
      These are apparently a speciality of the southern Zhuang minority of Wuming County near Nanning. The Zhuang people are the largest ethnic minority in China and most live in Guangxi. These preserved lemons feature in their diet and are usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). Lemon Duck is a local speciality and they are also served with fish. They can be served as a relish, too. They are related to the Vietnamese Chanh muối.
       
      I'm told that these particular lemons have been soaking in salt and lemon juice for eleven years!
       

       

       
      So, of course, you want to know what they taste like. Incredibly lemony. Concentrated lemonness. Sour, but not unpleasantly so. Also a sort of smoky flavour.
       
      The following was provided by my dear friend 马芬洲 (Ma Fen Zhou) who is herself Zhuang. It is posted with her permission.
       
      How to Make Zhuang Preserved Lemons
      By 马芬洲
       
      Zhuang preserved lemons is a kind of common food for the southern Zhuang ethnic minority who live around Nanning Prefecture of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. The Zhuang people like to make it as a relish for eating with congee or congee with corn powder. This relish is a mixture of chopped preserved lemons, red chilli and garlic or ginger slice in soy sauce and peanut oil or sesame oil.
       

       
      Sometimes the Zhuang people use preserved lemons as an ingredient in cooking. The most famous Zhuang food in Guangxi is Lemon Duck, which is a common home cooked dish in Wuming County, which belongs to Nanning Prefecture.
       
      The following steps show you how to make Zhuang preserved lemons.
       
      Step 1 Shopping
      Buy some green lemons.
       
      Step 2 Cleaning
      Wash green lemons.
       
      Step 3 Sunning
      Leave green lemons under the sunshine till it gets dry.
       
      Step 4 Salting
      If you salt 5kg green lemons, mix 0.25kg salt with green lemons. Keep the salted green lemons in a transparent jar. The jar must be well sealed. Leave the jar under the sunshine till the salted green lemons turn yellow. For example, leave it on the balcony. Maybe it will take months to wait for those salted green lemons to turn yellow. Later, get the jar of salted yellow lemons back. Unseal the jar. Then cover 1kg salt over the salted yellow lemons. Seal well the jar again.
       
      Step 5 Preserving
      Keep the sealed jar of salted yellow lemons at least 3 years. And the colour of salted yellow lemons will turn brown day by day. It can be dark brown later. The longer you keep preserved lemons, the better taste it is. If you eat it earlier than 2 years, it will taste bitter. After 3 years, it can be unsealed. Please use clean chopsticks to pick it. Don’t use oily chopsticks, or the oil will make preserved lemons go bad. Remember to seal the jar well after picking preserved lemons every time.
    • By liuzhou
      Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, where I live, is sugar central for the country. Over two-thirds of China's output of sugar is grown right here, making it one of the largest sugar production areas on the planet. I have a second home in the countryside and it is surrounded by sugar cane fields.

      Much of this is produced by small time farmers, although huge Chinese and international companies have also moved in.
       
      Also, sugar is used extensively in Chinese cooking, not only as a sweetener, but more as a spice. A little added to a savoury dish can bring out otherwise hidden flavours. It also has medicinal attributes according to traditional Chinese medicine.
       
      Supermarkets have what was to me, on first sight, a huge range of sugars, some almost unrecognisable. Here is a brief introduction to some of them. Most sugar is sold loose, although corner shops and mom 'n pop stores may have pre-packed bags. These are often labelled in English as "candy", the Chinese language not differentiating between "sugar" and "candy" - always a source of confusion. Both are 糖 (táng),

      IMPORTANT NOTE: The Chinese names given here and in the images are the names most used locally. They are all Mandarin Chinese, but it is still possible that other names may be used elsewhere in China. Certainly, non-Mandarin speaking areas will be different.

      By the far the simplest way to get your sugar ration is to buy the unprocessed sugar cane. This is not usually available in supermarkets but is a street vendor speciality. In the countryside, you can buy it at the roadside. There are also people in markets etc with portable juice extractors who will sell you a cup of pure sugar cane juice.


       
      I remember being baffled then amused when, soon after I first arrived in China, someone asked me if I wanted some 甘蔗 (gān zhè). It sounded exactly like 'ganja' or cannabis. No such luck! 甘蔗 (gān zhè) is 'sugar cane'.
       
      The most common sugar in the supermarkets seems to be 冰糖 (bīng táng) which literally means 'ice 'sugar' and is what we tend to call 'rock sugar' or 'crystal sugar'. This highly refined sugar comes in various lump sizes although the price remains the same no matter if the pieces are large or small. Around ¥7/500g. That pictured below features the smaller end of the range.


       
      Related to this is what is known as 冰片糖 (bīng piàn táng) which literally means "ice slice sugar". This is usually slightly less processed (although I have seen a white version, but not recently) and is usually a pale brown to yellow colour. This may be from unprocessed cane sugar extract, but is often white sugar coloured and flavoured with added molasses. It is also sometimes called 黄片糖  (huáng piàn táng) or "yellow slice sugar". ¥6.20/500g.
       


      A less refined, much darker version is known as 红片糖 (hóng piàn táng), literally 'red slice sugar'. (Chinese seems to classify colours differently - what we know as 'black tea' is 'red tea' here. ¥7.20/500g.


       
      Of course, what we probably think of as regular sugar, granulated sugar is also available. Known as 白砂糖 (bái shā táng), literally "white sand sugar', it is the cheapest at  ¥3.88/500g.



      A brown powdered sugar is also common, but again, in Chinese, it isn't brown. It's red and simply known as 红糖 (hóng táng). ¥7.70/500g


       
      Enough sweetness and light for now. More to come tomorrow.
    • By Dejah
      [Host's note: This topic forms part of an extended discussion which grew too large for our servers to handle efficiently.  The conversation continues from here.]
       
       
      Supper: Yeem Gok Gai:

      Mock Fried Rice - grated cauliflower

      Baby Shanghai Bok Choy and ginger

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