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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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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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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)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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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)

Gato ming gato miao busca la vida para comer

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" 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?

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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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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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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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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  • 6 years later...

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.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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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.

@MadameHuang & madamehuang.com & ZesterDaily.com

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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 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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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.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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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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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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  • 9 months later...

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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  • 1 month later...

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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  • 10 months later...

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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  • 6 years later...

Hi:  Please follow along this silly rabbit hole ;D

@Kim Shook opened her noodle maker a few weeks ago, which inspired me to learn to make ravioli and tortellini - I have a ways to go, but having fun.  I've made plenty of noodles before, especially 100% buckwheat, from fresh ground buckwheat, too!  Tasty and fun.

 

Then @BKEats mentioned he or she was making alkaline noodles the other day.  Kung Fu Panda movie flashed in my mind, and I really wanted noodle soup, but, this association of chicken broth made me want hainanese chicken with rice as well.

 

Researching alkaline noodles, there was a link in that post, which used sodium carbonate (baked baking soda).  I tried that once with the buckwheat.  Don't try it.  It's disgusting 🤮, and I don't say this very often, I value almost all food and even enjoy eating bad food sometimes.  There was a brief discussion about lye water, and I thought this was lye, but was wrong, it's a mix of potassium carbonate and either sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate (which is baking soda).  Further research suggested no one knew the exact composition of lye water, and, it varies bran to brand.  I found this gem, which tells us the composition of one brand! Here's the link, outside of EG: https://www.yumofchina.com/chinese-alkaline-water-noodles/

 

Today I made an experiment, because, well, I was curious.  I made five noodles doughs, based on 100g flour and 40% hydration.  I used Simple Truth Organic all purpose flour (which is a relatively "normal" flour in handling, nothing special) for three doughs: filtered water, 100% sodium carbonate, and my homemade lye water (see below).  Then, after all the research, it's been my understanding the whole purpose of adding the alkaline water to the noodles was to strengthen weak flour.. so I pulled out the King Arthur Cake Flour buried deep inside the pantry, and made a dough each with plain and lye water.  While I have borax in the garage, I did not feel comfortable eating it.  I also have lye for making bagels, however, I did not want to experiment with this either.. baking at 400F is different from boiling at 212F.  Again, note, lye water does not contain lye (aka sodium hydroxide!).

 

Process: 100g + 40g water + alkaline chemical if using; put in mini food processor, pulse until combined, kneed by hand for 10 minutes, wrap, and let relax for 1 hour.  Cut in half (save half for thick noodle experiment later).  Then flatten dough, using the marcato machine roll out a two times from 1-5 (fold in half after the first go), thin to 6, and run through the small cutter.  Dust with semolina, rest, then cook in boiling water for 2.5 minutes, drain, rinse, dry.  I tried to be very methodical in this, and as precise as possible.

 

Here are some stats you might find interesting:

1. pH of my filtered water is 6.53.

2. I dissolved 3.5g sodium carbonate in the 40g water, which yielded a pH of 9.82

3. pH of the lye water directly was 11.8

4. 3.5g lye water added to 38g water turns water pH to 11

5. Plain STO AP flour was super easy to kneed on its own

6. The cake flour was not a low-protein pastry flour, as I discovered later, it was harder to kneed than STO!

7. Adding either sodium carbonate or lye water to the dough made it very, very difficult to kneed

8. The cooked noodles with AP and Sodium Carbonate had a very strong eggy aroma and flavor, I didn't really care for it

9. Lye Water added a medium-level of eggy arroma and flavor, not really my thing!

10. I could not tell much of a difference between textures in the cooked product!  Raw, the alkaline noodles were actually fun to handle, they didn't threaten to fuse and morph into each other like the plain water ones.

11. Alkaline noodles had a slight yellow color when raw.  Sodium carbonate had a green hue cooked.  In the photo of the cooked noodles, I may have accidentally swapped the top right two, should be lye water, then sodium carbonate.  But I'm not really sure, could be camera processing playing tricks.

12. Left over dough scraps from all were mushed together, rolled out into more noods.  These actually tasted pretty good.

13. Eggy flavor is more sulfur-like than actual egg.  Not my thing.

14. The flavor goes away once sauce and other stuff are added to the noodles.

15. I think #6 was a little thin, I might prefer #5?  Don't know.

16. Maybe I can tell difference in texture with thicker noodles.  I may try that with the remaining doughs.

 

If that link above to the noodle making instructions goes bad, the measurements for unknown branded lye water were: 74.5g potassium carbonate and 3.5g sodium carbonate to 100g water (I know they say ml, but I've learned 1ml weighs roughly 1g).  I used distilled water, with a neutral pH.  I made sodium carbonate by roasting baking soda for a couple hours.  When adding the potassium carbonate, be very careful.. it fizzed quite a bit and made the glass rather warm, borderline hot.  I was not expecting a reaction!  The common brand of lye water seems to use sodium bi-carbonate (baking soda) koon chun.  As noted in many places kansui is the japanese version.

 

And now, please enjoy my noods.

raw noods.jpg

boiled noods.jpg

Edited by jedovaty (log)
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7 hours ago, mgaretz said:

What about these "alkaline waters" used for drinking water?  They advertise the pH as being 9.5 plus. For example:

Hey that's actually an interesting idea!  I don't know what they use to make it alkaline (baking soda?), but it could be enough to impact the gluten and give a tighter dough (kneeding the alkaline doughs was tough.. very stiff, flaky).  The water from my mains is slightly alkaline, with a pH of ~8.5. 

 

This raises the question, is it the pH that impacts handling, or the salt in the water?  I have read on dough forums that if you add salt to the dough, it tightens the gluten.. I've not really experienced that, went up to 3% NaCl.  But here, oh boy, adding the alkaline components (which are salts) made a huge difference!

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      This is a popular, light but peppery soup available in most restaurants here (even if its not listed on the menu). Also, very easy to make at home.

      Ingredients

      Clams. (around 8 to 10 per person. Some restaurants are stingy with the clams, but I like to be more generous). Fresh live clams are always used in China, but if, not available, I suppose frozen clams could be used. Not canned. The most common clams here are relatively small. Littleneck clams may be a good substitute in terms of size.
       
      Stock. Chicken, fish or clam stock are preferable. Stock made from cubes or bouillon powder is acceptable, although fresh is always best.

      Mustard Greens. (There are various types of mustard green. Those used here are  芥菜 , Mandarin: jiè cài; Cantonese: gai choy). Use a good handful per person. Remove the thick stems, to be used in another dish.)

      Garlic. (to taste)

      Chile. (One or two fresh hot red chiles are optional).

      Salt.

      MSG (optional). If you have used a stock cube or bouillon powder for the stock, omit the MSG. The cubes and power already have enough.

      White pepper (freshly ground. I recommend adding what you consider to be slightly too much pepper, then adding half that again. The soup should be peppery, although of course everything is variable to taste.)

      Method

      Bring your stock to a boil. Add salt to taste along with MSG if using.

      Finely chop the garlic and chile if using. Add to stock and simmer for about five minutes.

      Make sure all the clams are tightly closed, discarding any which are open - they are dead and should not be eaten.

      The clams will begin to pop open fairly quickly. Remove the open ones as quickly as possible and keep to one side while the others catch up. One or two clams may never open. These should also be discarded. When you have all the clams fished out of the boiling stock, roughly the tear the mustard leaves in two and drop them into the stock. Simmer for one minute. Put all the clams back into the stock and when it comes back to the boil, take off the heat and serve.
    • By liuzhou
      Beef with Bitter Melon - 牛肉苦瓜
       

       
      The name may be off-putting to many people, but Chinese people do have an appreciation for bitter tastes and anyway, modern cultivars of this gourd are less bitter than in the past. Also, depending on how it's cooked, the bitterness can be mitigated.
       
      I'll admit that I wasn't sure at first, but have grown to love it.

      Note: "Beef with Bitter Melon (牛肉苦瓜 )" or "Bitter Melon with Beef (苦瓜牛肉)"? One Liuzhou restaurant I know has both on its menu! In Chinese, the ingredient listed first is the one there is most of, so, "beef with bitter melon" is mainly beef, whereas "bitter melon with beef" is much more a vegetable dish with just a little beef. This recipe is for the beefier version. To make the other version, just half the amount of beef and double the amount of melon.

      Ingredients

      Beef. One pound. Flank steak works best. Slice thinly against the grain.

      Bitter Melon. Half a melon. You can use the other half in a soup or other dish. Often available in Indian markets or supermarkets.
       

       
      Salted Black Beans. One tablespoon. Available in packets from Asian markets and supermarkets, these are salted, fermented black soy beans. They are used as the basis for 'black bean sauce', but we are going to be making our own sauce!

      Garlic. 6 cloves

      Cooking oil. Any vegetable oil except olive oil

      Shaoxing wine. See method

      Light soy sauce. One tablespoon

      Dark soy sauce. One teaspoon

      White pepper. See method

      Sesame oil. See method

      Method

      Marinate the beef in a 1/2 tablespoon of light soy sauce with a splash of Shaoxing wine along with a teaspoon or so of cornstarch or similar (I use potato starch). Stir well and leave for 15-30 minutes.

      Cut the melon(s) in half lengthwise and, using a teaspoon, scrape out all the seeds and pith. The more pith you remove, the less bitter the dish will be. Cut the melon into crescents about 1/8th inch wide.

      Rinse the black beans and drain. Crush them with the blade of your knife, then chop finely. Finely chop the garlic.

      Stir fry the meat in a tablespoon of oil over a high heat until done. This should take less than a minute. Remove and set aside.

      Add another tablespoon of oil and reduce heat to medium. fry the garlic and black beans until fragrant then add the bitter melon. Continue frying until the melon softens. then add a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine and soy sauces. Finally sprinkle on white pepper to taste along with a splash of sesame oil. Return the meat to the pan and mix everything well.

      Note: If you prefer the dish more saucy, you can add a tablespoon or so of water with the soy sauces.

      Serve with plained rice and a stir-fried green vegetable of choice.
       
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