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danjou   

Hi muichoi and Apicio

Unlike borax, which is a health hazard, the occasional use of baking soda is fine, as it is not toxic.

Many great Chinese chefs are not adverse to adding it to tenderize beef, and like you, I too use it occasionally for those typically Cantonese beef dishes which just do not taste right without its addition, namely classic stir fries involving sliced beef with oyster sauce, with or without vegetables, jung sik Ngow lao etc.

With the gradual awareness of and ban on borax, I do notice that many chefs even in Chinese restaurants in several well known 5 star hotel chains in Asia have been resorting to treating their prawns with soda, which results in a chewy yet less crispy texture than borax treated prawns; however the natural taste of prawns are sadly missing in soda treated prawns.

One chef and manager of the chinese restaurant of a major hotel chain here in Manila lamented to me that customers complain that the prawns they serve do not seem to be as crisp as those served outside; so he has to take great pains in explaining that the crispier the prawns the riskier the prawns, as they probably have been treated with borax. It is good to know that this Hotel chain is being extra careful about safe culinary practices.

The use of borax and soda results in removing the natural flavor of prawns, this

usually results in the heavier use of MSG, etc to restore flavor which I feel is also an unfortunate consequence.

The safest way to marinate prawns which preserves natural flavor while still adding a more natural crispiness is with plain salt.

My mother does marinate beef slices for stir frying, and they are simple marinades

consisting of good quality light soy, yellow rice wine, the type for drinking, and not the soulless " cooking" wines; sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, egg white cornstarch....the beef marinates for about an hour, then it is passed through medium temp oil "Gwoh yiao", strained in a collander, then added to whatever stir fried vegetables and all of it then "bao" or blast flamed in the wok with wine and tossed with sauce at the last step. This is where one has to have excellent skill in handling the wok....but that is another long tale.

you be careful now :wink:

cheers,

:smile:


Edited by danjou (log)

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muichoi   

Thanks Danjou- I've never much liked the technique of passing through medium hot oil when applied to beef, though for fish and chicken it's obviously essential-I like to put a very moderate depth of oil in the wok, heat it up then add the beef, not starting to stir or toss for five seconds or so-I like the very fast cooking and seared effect that results, though this only works on a huge flame-your mother's marinade is the same as mine except for the egg white-do you stir in oil to separate just before frying?

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Tepee   

Not one to like soda taste on the tongue, I prefer to tenderize beef using papaya or kiwi fruit. Not very chinese, but... :wink:

A bit of patience is needed for searing beef slices, have to do it a few pieces at a time. Can't dump them all at one go, or it'll 'water' rather than sear. <--- muichoi, this is not directed at you...just a mental note...


Edited by Tepee (log)

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muichoi   

I certainly wouldn't do more than 250g at once,even on my 55,000 BTU burner.

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sheetz   

Here's one more bit of food trivia: Egg whites, like lye water, borax, and baking soda, is also alkaline, which probably explains why adding it to marinades has a tenderizing effect on meats.

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Apicio   

Thanks again to Danjou and also to Sheetz and Tepee. And Muichoi you let us know how your giant squid adventure turned out. I find this to be so informative because this subject hardly ever gets discussed anywhere.


Edited by Apicio (log)

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Dejah   

" Waht" can be achieved thru' velveting without baking soda.

"Chueh" in beef balls is from soda and waterchestnut flour. With the recipe I use from Wei-Chuan series, I use only 1 tsp. of soda in 2 2/3 lbs of meat.

We used tenderizer powder (made from papaya extract) on sirloin beef before slicing for stir-fries.

Wouldn't soda render tenderloin "mushy" and fall apart as you stir-fry? What is your reasoning behind that?

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Dim Sim   

hi all, interesting forum here, now I know why I never be able to get my prawn taste like the one in my local chinese take away, in Australia we are able to buy prawn already shelled ( which we refered to as prawn cutlet) I remember I bought some once and it has a weired firm and slightly slippery feel to it, and when I cooked them ( in a clay pan , with lots ofolive oil , garlic and parsley ) it has an amazing firm and springy texture that I never encountered with any of the prawns that I ever cooked :hmmm: , taste a little different to the prawn that I shelled myself, I wondered if the prawns that I bought might already been treated with either borax or baking soda. If so, is there any chance that if it is at all possible to give soda or borax treatment to prawns still in their shell ?

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Ben Hong   

Wouldn't soda render tenderloin "mushy" and fall apart as you stir-fry?

Sue-On, in a word, no. It has almost the opposite effect in that besides making tough meat chewable and it also affects it by giving it a "springy" texture.

Easy does it though as too much will give the meat a bitter taste. My usual dose is 1/3 tsp. to a half pound of sliced raw meat. Mix it in with the regular marinade and the longer you let it sit, the more tender the meat becomes.

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muichoi   

Wouldn't soda render tenderloin "mushy" and fall apart as you stir-fry?

Sue-On, in a word, no. It has almost the opposite effect in that besides making tough meat chewable and it also affects it by giving it a "springy" texture.

Easy does it though as too much will give the meat a bitter taste. My usual dose is 1/3 tsp. to a half pound of sliced raw meat. Mix it in with the regular marinade and the longer you let it sit, the more tender the meat becomes.

I find if you cut the meat finely enough then less than half this amount works, and then you can't taste it. I used to scorn the idea of freezing the meat before cutting-but actually it gives wonderful results.

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Bounce - From a modernist cuisine they use sodium bicarbonate to make certain dishes alkaline to increase the Maliard reaction, lye water also does this can they've substituted. You can't kill or cause major damage (via cooking anything that someone would eat) with bicarb but you could with lye water. Can they be exchanged?

Reason I''m asking, have baking powder but no sodium bicarb, but have lye water I bought by mistake as in a rush and was next to rice vinegar (just that is a worry) and not reading Chinese how was I to know. Good job I read the ingredients of everything I buy and cook with.

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So much of the problem with these English recipes is the translation. Gad, "lye water" for jianshui is one of the deadliest renderings I've ever seen! No, NEVER USE LYE IN FOOD except under very rare and controlled circumstances, as this can cause severe burns! (FWIW, caustic soda or lye in Chinese has names like shaojian 燒鹼 or yejian 液鹼.)

Even Wikipedia has it wrong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lye): recipes for moon cakes, amber Chinese tamales (zongzi), etc., use baking soda in their preparation, not lye. Period.

Jian means "alkaline," and, as some have already pointed out here, this means baking soda. So, jianshui would (as Chinese dictionaries explain) just be baking soda dissolved in water, allowing better distribution in the batter. It's used as a leavening in moon cake wrappers, but from what I can find, this only applies to Cantonese style moon cakes.

And so the initial question is quite interesting; why add it to the wrappers? An old Chinese cookbook called "Zhongguo dianxin xiaochi pu" mentions no leavening for the Beijing and Suzhou style moon cakes, as these rely on using two types of dough (one of flour with more water than fan and the other with more fat than water) to form flaky layers. Only Cantonese moon cakes call for leavening, at least according to this cookbook.

The recipe says to mix the dough out of good quality flour with sugar syrup, lard, and the alkaline water, so I would imagine that the density caused by the syrup would make this leavening quite necessary.

Hope this helps.

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Will   

So much of the problem with these English recipes is the translation. Gad, "lye water" for jianshui is one of the deadliest renderings I've ever seen! No, NEVER USE LYE IN FOOD except under very rare and controlled circumstances, as this can cause severe burns! (FWIW, caustic soda or lye in Chinese has names like shaojian 燒鹼 or yejian 液鹼.)

Even Wikipedia has it wrong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lye): recipes for moon cakes, amber Chinese tamales (zongzi), etc., use baking soda in their preparation, not lye. Period.

Jian means "alkaline," and, as some have already pointed out here, this means baking soda. So, jianshui would (as Chinese dictionaries explain) just be baking soda dissolved in water, allowing better distribution in the batter.

It's not baking soda. Most commercially available jianshui I've seen is a solution of sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide (which are both "lye") or potassium carbonate, and I think these are what are most commonly used for making zongzi, moon cakes, noodles, etc. Sodium bicarbonate is sometimes also present, but it's there as a buffer, not as the primary alkaline agent. For example, the "Koon Chun" brand, which is one of the more commonly available ones in the US, is potassium carbonate, buffered with sodium bicarbonate. Historically, mugwort potash (penghui) was also used as an alkaline substance for noodle making.

The reason recipes specify "lye water" is because that's the most common English language label on bottled jianshui, and a simple sodium bicarbonate solution made at home won't be strong enough.


Edited by Will (log)

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Mjx   

So much of the problem with these English recipes is the translation. Gad, "lye water" for jianshui is one of the deadliest renderings I've ever seen! No, NEVER USE LYE IN FOOD except under very rare and controlled circumstances, as this can cause severe burns! (FWIW, caustic soda or lye in Chinese has names like shaojian 燒鹼 or yejian 液鹼.). . . .

The reason recipes specify "lye water" is because that's the most common English language label on bottled jianshui, and a simple sodium bicarbonate solution made at home won't be strong enough.

Could jianshui be a solution of sodium carbonate, that is, heat-treated sodium bicarbonate (AKA baking soda)?

According to Cook's Illustrated (January & February 2012, p. 31), spreading sodium bicarbonate in a layer on a baking tray, and baking it for two hours at 250 F° (121.1 C°) will increase its pH 'from about 8 to about 11' (lye has a pH between 13 and 14).

A solution of sodium carbonate gave a result very similar to that of lye, when preparing soft pretzels, without the risks associated with the use of a lye solution.

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sheetz   

Reason I''m asking, have baking powder but no sodium bicarb, but have lye water I bought by mistake as in a rush and was next to rice vinegar (just that is a worry) and not reading Chinese how was I to know. Good job I read the ingredients of everything I buy and cook with.

I guess it would depend on the recipe but you can go ahead and try. The stuff you bought is food grade so it is safe to consume (in small quantities).

Re: Sodium carbonate, apparently it can be used in place of lye water for some applications. As for lye water's use in Cantonese moon cakes, I think the higher pH may cause the gluten in flour to become more elastic and make it easier to stretch the dough into a thin layer around the filling. For this reason lye water is also used in making hand pulled noodles.


Edited by sheetz (log)

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sheetz   

Having read a little more about lye water's uses in Chinese cooking, I found out that lye water will initially cause gluten strands to become stretchier, but then after about 30 min they completely stiffen up.

In recipes for hand pulled noodles using lye water you have to work very quickly so you can be finished pulling the noodles before the dough stiffens up. In contrast, recipes for mooncakes using lye water say to let the dough rest for an hour before shaping them. Based on what I've read and my own experience, I believe this helps the skin become more plastic so that the patterns molded onto the dough will hold their shape during baking.


Edited by sheetz (log)

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Terribly interesting reading, explains so much of what I tasted/chewed over 18 years in Hong Kong and Japan. Picked up a bottle of Koon Chun lye water at the local Asian grocery witht he intent of making Tsukemen (ramen variation) noodles. Seems it contains Potassium Carbonate and baking soda. Love to know the concentration. Also gives instructions for rehydrating squid....

Lye.jpg

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danjou   

Hello, Danjou, alias Ed Chung here,

greetings to all :-)

I can't believe it has been years since I have posted here....but life has been hectic indeed.

I just want to add some brief thoughts to what I have already written in this post way back in 2005 here, that traditional Northern Chinese "hand pulled " noodles, or "lah mien " is made with high protein ( high gluten ) flour and water only. The artisanal way is to use good high protein ( gluten) flour, and water....no chemicals......The trick here is the kneading time, as well as the intensity of the kneading as well as the kneading technique. This is very similar to making wrappers for Northern Chinese dumplings ( think of Kuo tieh, Sueh jiao, jin jiao etc.....which have no lye water....wrappers for these Northern style dumplings are instead simply made from dough formed with cold or hot water combined with good quality high protein flour..... ).

The longer you knead the dough made from this high gluten flour in Northern style lah mien, the more you "develop" the gluten, and the resulting noodles are firmer, more elastic and chewier......no need for chemicals.

Ramen, tsukemen, Cantonese wonton mien....are all sub classes of Lye water, or kansui (Japanese , or gansueh ( Cantonese ) noodles. These noodles tend to be far firmer and chewier than Northern style noodles, and these qualities are achieved with using BOTH, chemical and mechanical means.....chemical means, being an alkaline solution to chemically change the protein, and mechanical.....being long kneading.....

Dumpling skins used in Southern, or Cantonese sueh gao ( sueh jiao in the North ), and wonton are usually lye water treated to give elasticity and to give a bit of an "al dente " quality.....

cheers :-D

Ed


Edited by danjou (log)

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takadi   

Terribly interesting reading, explains so much of what I tasted/chewed over 18 years in Hong Kong and Japan. Picked up a bottle of Koon Chun lye water at the local Asian grocery witht he intent of making Tsukemen (ramen variation) noodles. Seems it contains Potassium Carbonate and baking soda. Love to know the concentration. Also gives instructions for rehydrating squid....

I don't personally have this information but I did try doing some google searches and came up with this blog that did some experimentation on using koon chun lye water and adjusting measurements to make ramen noodles.

http://norecipes.com/blog/homemade-ramen-noodle-recipe/

If you go to the preview pictures for modernist cuisine on amazon and look at the picture for pasta, you can see for ramen that 0.1% potassium carbonate and 0.9% sodium carbonate are "suggested" measurements (percentage of total weight of flour used). You could make a leap of faith and extrapolate from this that whatever the "correct" amount of lye water for ramen contains .9 % and .1% of total weight of flour of sodium and potassium carbonate respectively

I was unable to find the concentrations of potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate on Koon Chun's site, which is a little disconcerting.

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