Chinese Soul Food
Chinese Soul Food

 

Hsiao-Ching Chou writes about simple Chinese cooking and life as a working mom.

Monday
Mar162015

On the Fly Stir Fry: Chicken with Fresh Chickpeas and Orange

The beauty of cooking is that if you learn the method, you can take any set of ingredients and transform them into a great dish without a specific recipe. Many nights, dinner is the result of choosing a method – in this case, stir fry – and the available ingredients that make the most sense together. Or, sometimes, I experiment.

I had some chicken breast meat and some fresh chickpeas. I knew those two ingredients would work together well. My usual m.o. is to add green onions, garlic and soy sauce. Easy, quick and a sure thing. But I wanted a twist tonight.

I had two blood oranges and wondered what would happen if I sliced them thinly and flash fried them. So I tested one slice and the pulp disintegrated and the rind charred – which is a waste of a blood orange. I decided to try charring the slices in a dry, hot wok to see what would happen.

Then I added the chickpeas, some green onions, a couple of cloves of smashed garlic.

I added some water and soy sauce to cook the chickpeas and create a sauce. I squeezed the juice from the second orange into the sauce and added some freshly cracked black pepper. I added the chicken and continued to stir fry. (I had sliced the chicken into slivers and then marinated with a dash of soy sauce, blood orange juice, crushed garlic, and a touch of corn starch. Then I oil blanched the chicken and set it aside while I cooked the chickpea mixture.)

I tasted the dish and decided that there wasn't enough orange flavor. So I added the juice another whole orange (I had one navel orange left, so I used that).

Tasting notes: I liked this dish. But if I were to make it again in order to write an actual recipe, I'd eliminate the sliced oranges and go straight to adding the juice to the sauce. Or, my initial instinct was to segment the oranges and add the flesh to the stir fry. That may have been the better call, especially since that would have  featured the dramatic quality of the blood orange color. I also would have punched up the garlic. This would work with regular peas, snow peas, sugar snaps, pea vines, etc.

It was fun to play.

Wednesday
Mar112015

Braised Beef Noodle Soup

Growing up in my family's Chinese restaurant, I remember frequently seeing the giant commercial wok bubbling with a rich braise of beef shanks. Once chilled overnight, the shanks could be sliced thinly, drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil to be served as an appetizer. What I enjoyed most was the beef noodle soup that mom would make with the braising broth. But it wasn't just the homemade version that I liked. When we'd travel and find ourselves at the local Chinese restaurant in far-flung places, if braised beef noodle soup – especially with hand-shaved noodles – was an option, it would end up on our table. The anticipation of a steaming-hot bowl of broth, the flavors coaxed from the beef and spices, was almost as thrilling as the first bite. There wasn't always a satisfying payoff, but, to this day, I am ever the optimist that I'll find the ideal bowl of braised beef noodle soup at a restaurant that serves Taiwanese food.

I have not written this recipe before. Cooking has always been about the method and not specific recipes. Each time I make a dish, it may vary slightly according to the types or amounts of ingredients, and what my taste buds tell me might be an interesting addition or twist. Sometimes, steps happen out of proper order. So to write this recipe, I had to make the soup while measuring and recording, tasting, adjusting. The next time I make it, I may want to tweak the recipe – which is to say that you will probably see this again in a future post. I definitely want to make this again soon and serve it with handmade noodles, which have great body and texture to match this broth.

A note about the ingredients: Many recipes call for the addition of a spicy bean sauce in the broth. You may do that. Because my family has varying degrees of tolerance for spice, I leave the chili sauce to each individual to add to his/her bowl.

Making this soup isn't difficult, but the aromas will test your patience.

 

BRAISED BEEF NOODLE SOUP
Serves 4 with plenty of leftovers

Ingredients:

About 4 pounds of boneless beef shank

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

5 stalks green onions, cut in thirds

6 large cloves garlic, or to taste, lightly smashed

3 large slices of fresh ginger, cut on the bias, about 1/4-inch thick and 3 inches long

1/2 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

1 cinnamon stick

4 star anise

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup dry white or red wine (whatever you have on hand)

1 chunk of rock sugar about the size of a golf ball

2 1/2 quarts water

Sesame oil

 

Directions:

Cut the beef shank into 3- or 4-inch chunks. In a large, heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Brown each piece of beef on all sides and set aside. Do this in batches as needed and set aside. Once you're finished browning the beef, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot to heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger, and stir fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add spices, soy sauce, wine and rock sugar. Stir ingredients to combine. Let the soy sauce mixture simmer for about 1 minute. Add the water. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 2 hours or until beef is just fork tender.

There will be a layer of rendered fat at the surface of the soup, and spices and other bits that are ideally strained out. I like to take a few extra steps to make the soup more pleasant. First, I remove the beef chunks and set aside in a bowl. In batches, I use my OXO fat separator to remove the layer of rendered beef fat. Once the broth has settled and the oil has risen to the top of the fat separator, I pour the broth through a small fine-mesh strainer to catch any "debris." Once all the broth has been defatted and strained, combine it and the beef back in the pot. Add a drizzle of sesame oil, about 1 teaspoon. Keep warm while you prepare the noodles to serve. Or, if you are working in advance, the soup can be chilled and then reheated the next day.

While these steps aren't imperative, I think it makes for a better eating experience – especially, in my case, for my children, who haven't quite mastered how to pick out such things from their food.

To serve:

1 pound your favorite Asian-style noodles (can be Chinese noodles or Japanese udon, for example), cooked according to the instructions on the package

Baby bok choy, blanched

Pickled Chinese mustard greens, chopped

Cilantro, optional

Chopped green onions, optional

Your favorite chili sauce

 

Portion noodles into large bowls. Add broth and chunks of beef. Serve with your choice of condiments.

Monday
Mar092015

Dofu Gan & Chinese Sausage

 

I always keep a package of Chinese sausage in the refrigerator. It has a long shelf life and just a little bit can add dimension to a stir fry. I also stock packages of dofu gan in the freezer and keep one pack in the refrigerator at all times. Dofu gan is dofu (tofu) that's been marinated, pressed and baked. It can be homemade, but most people buy it from the store. On days when I need to make a quick meal, I can rely on these staples to stir fry something the whole family loves.

On this day, when the refrigerator was an "empty" reminder that I needed to go grocery shopping, I julienned the two remaining skinny carrots, a few stalks of celery heart, two mini sweet peppers to stir fry with the dofu gan and sausage.

 

DOFU GAN & CHINESE SAUSAGE

3-4 Chinese sausages, sliced thinly on the bias

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3-4 squares of dofu gan, sliced (about 2 cups sliced)

1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, julienned (or 1 small)

1 medium carrot, julienned

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly on the bias

1 jalapeno chile, sliced (optional)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup water

Sesame oil

In a wok over medium-low heat, render the sausage. Be sure to stir and turn the sausage frequently to prevent it from burning. You will get some char around the edges, but that's ok. Once the sausage has turned to a darker shade of maroon, remove from heat. Scoop out the sausage pieces and drain on a paper towel.

In the same wok – no need to rinse – heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced dofu gan and spread out in a single layer. Let the dofu sear for about 10 seconds seconds. Stir the tofu to let sear on other sides for a few seconds. Remove the dofu and set set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and let heat. Add the jalapeno slices, if using. Stir fry for a few seconds. Add the bell pepper, celery and carrots. Stir fry for about 1 minute or until vegetables start to soften. Add the dofu and sausage. Stir to combine. Add the soy sauce and water, and continue to stir fry for 1-2 minutes, adjust the heat as needed. Add a light drizzle of sesame oil and stir fry to combine. Taste for seasoning. If needed, you can add a splash of soy sauce or a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve right away.

INGREDIENT NOTES:

This is the Chinese sausage I used for this dish.

This is the dofu gan I used for this dish. If you live where there is a local dofu maker, that would be a great place to look for fresh dofu gan.

 

 

Sunday
Mar082015

Chicken Wings with a Sweet-and-Spicy Pomelo Sauce

I heart chicken wings, especially the crispy, caramelized edges of fried or baked wings. I like to marinate the wing mid sections and drummettes in a combination of soy sauce, scallions, garlic, ginger and honey. The cooked wings can be eaten with or without a sauce. In the preparation in the photo above, I made a marmalade-like pomelo sauce. I happened to have one pomelo leftover from Lunar New Year that I needed to use, so I segmented the fruit and cooked it down with some sugar, garlic and hot sauce.

A note about cooking: I was gifted a T-fal ActiFry, which is a so-called low-fat alternative to deep fryers. It's not an appliance that I would have purchased, but since I have one, I use it for "frying" chicken wings. It does a great job of crisping the skin. It takes about 20-25 minutes for about 2 pounds of chicken wings. For the recipe below, I give directions for baking. If you have a deep fryer, feel free to fry the wings.

CRISPY CHICKEN WINGS

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup water

3 stalks scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed wit a garlic press

1 tablespoon honey

2 to 2.5 pounds chicken wing segments

Optional garnish: chopped scallions and/or cilantro

Combine the soy sauce, water, scallions, garlic, ginger and honey in a bowl or dish large enough to accommodate the chicken wings. Stir well to incorporate the honey. Add the chicken wings and coat well with marinade. Alternatively, you can seal the chicken wings in a large zipper storage bag with the marinade. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

To bake chicken wings: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread chicken wings on two parchment- or foil-lined baking sheets. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Check the wings about half way through and turn them. At 20 minutes, check one of the larger wings for doneness. Bake a few minutes longer, if needed. Toss in Sweet-and-Spicy Pomelo Sauce, if using, and serve right away. The sauce also can be served on the side. Garnish with chopped scallions or cilantro, if desired.

 

SWEET-AND-SPICY POMELO SAUCE

1 pomelo, peeled and segmented (how to segment citrus), see Note

1 tablespoon pomelo zest

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1-2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed with a garlic press

Sriracha or your favorite Asian hot sauce to taste

Combine pomelo pulp, zest, sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat. Stir to help dissolve the sugar. Add the garlic and hot sauce to taste. Adjust heat and let sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it's syrupy, about 5-10 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside. When the wings are ready, toss in sauce and serve.

Note: If you pomelo is out of season, you can use grapefruit or orange. A shortcut version would be to mix your favorite store-bought marmalade with hot sauce, and warm on the stove or in a microwave just enough to loosen the consistency and make it easier to dip.

Monday
Mar022015

What To Do With Leftover Shortribs

 

My husband made braised shortribs last night and we had the meat from about three ribs leftover. I cut them into thick bite-sized chunks and heated them up in a skillet with a splash of soy sauce and water. By the time the meat was heated through, the sauce had caramelized a bit. Separately, I stir fried some frozen corn to serve with the leftover beef. Sometimes, frozen vegetables taste like they were frozen. But stir frying added some sear, and seasoning with a touch of soy sauce and sesame oil enhanced the natural sweetness of the corn.

It was a winner with the kids – so much so that my son had seconds and thirds.

 

WOK-SEARED CORN

Serves 4

1 10-ounce bag of frozen corn

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce

Drizzle of sesame oil

Heat wok over high heat. Add the oil and let heat for a few seconds. Add the frozen corn (it will sizzle). Stir fry the corn for about 1 minute. Add the soy sauce and continue to stir. After about 30-60 seconds, the corn should have a light sear and be fully heated through. Add a light drizzle of sesame oil, stir and serve.

Note: If desired, you can add chopped green onions and/or minced garlic before adding the corn to flavor the oil a bit.