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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Some Dim Sum?

I love dim sum. But I hate crowds. If we go for dim sum on Sunday mornings there are lots and lots of people. There are also many extra goodies on the tea carts that are not available other days of the week. If we go on Saturday mornings, there are fewer people but usually only the basics are available - shiu mai, shrimp dumplings, funn roll and other favorites. We go on Saturday. It's a toss up. We miss out on some of the fancier (read expensive) things like lobster roll, but we don't have to battle the crowds for parking and maybe our bill is a little smaller.

I love sticky rice at dim sum, the kind that comes wrapped up in a lotus leaf. I also love the sticky fried rice at dim sum, the kind that comes on a small plate covered with an inverted clear plastic dome. There are always a few slices of Chinese sausage on top of the rice. I love that sausage. Nothing else tastes like it. Not even chicken.

We usually get the fried rice. Why? Because Bill says the sticky rice I make at home is better than the version we get at dim sum. I'm sold. Compliments go far, and we have the added bonus of not having to unwrap that ungainly lotus leaf all over the table and try to neatly portion out the rice and goodies inside.

Sticky rice is not hard to make. I takes a long time because the rice and lotus leaves have to soak in water overnight, and it takes an hour or more to cook in the steamer basket. But the actual preparation is not difficult or time consuming, and the ingredients are readily available. Sort of. If you live in Chicago or another bustling metropollis with a vibrant Chinatown. And getting the special ingredients, while a challenge perhaps, is also a part of the adventure.

If you would like to make sticky rice at home, here are the ingredients and methods I use. Give it a try - or else try dim sum next time you have the urge to eat something "different", fun, and tasty.

Sticky Rice Steamed in Lotus Leaves

3 cups glutinous (sticky) rice
3 large dried lotus leaves
½ cup dried chestnuts
8 dried black mushrooms (or shitake)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper


2 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil
2 Chinese sausages thinly sliced diagonally
¼ pound diced boneless chicken thighs
4 thinly sliced green onions
2 minced cloves garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
¼ pound thinly sliced Chinese Barbecue Pork
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 salted duck eggs (optional) whites discarded and
yolks cut in half (I use regular hard cooked eggs, white and yolk)

Allow time for overnight soaking to prepare this dish. Although the preparation and cooking are lengthy, it is a fairly simple dish to prepare and requires little hands on work. If you do not have a wok and bamboo steamer you can substitute a large stock pot (the one you use for boiling pasta) with a steamer rack. If you have a pizza pan that is full of holes (intended to brown the pizza crust) that would work too. The fragrance of the lotus leaves steaming will make your kitchen smell like a Chinese tea room. Settle down with some Pearl S. Buck and enjoy a good read.

Soak the rice overnight in water to cover; Soak the lotus leaves in a large pan, dishpan or basin with water to cover; Soak the dried chestnuts overnight in a small pan of water to cover. Next day, drain and cover with fresh water and parboil for five minutes, then drain again; Soak the mushrooms in warm water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain, remove and discard the stem, and slice the caps.

Line a bamboo steaming basket with 2 of the lotus leaves, pointed centers downward, overlapping and allowing the edges to drape over the edge. Drain the rice and season with salt and pepper. Spread it evenly over the leaf lined basket.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and heat. Add sausages and chicken and stir fry one minute. Add 1 tablespoon of the green onion, the garlic, ginger and mushrooms, and stir fry one minute. Add the barbecue pork and dried chestnuts and cook another minute. Remove from the wok and add the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and sesame oil.

If using duck eggs (or regular eggs) arrange them over the rice. Spread the remaining filling evenly over and sprinkle with another tablespoon of green onion. Place the 3d lotus leaf over the top with the pointed center facing up. Tuck the edges of the leaves into the steamer and place a heatproof plate upside down over the top to hold them in place.

Cover the steaming basket (if using a stock pot, cover with the pot lid) and place it over a wok of rapidly simmering water. Steam over medium heat about one hour until the rice is tender and translucent. Add more boiling water to the wok or pot as needed.

Remove the lid and the plate (careful, it’s HOT) and unfold the lotus leaves, draping over the edges of the steamer (you can buy a darling, if flimsy, set of tongs just for removing plates from the steamer at a Chinese grocer). Garnish with the remaining green onion if desired. Place the entire steamer basket on a platter and serve with fragrant Oolong tea and fortune cookies.

Notes: Glutinous rice, also called sweet rice or sticky rice is very short grained rice that becomes starchy and sticky when cooked. It is often served as a dessert with sliced mango and is usually soaked before cooking. It can be found in Asian markets.

Lotus leaves can be found in Asian markets. I have found them stacked and wrapped in a plastic or cellophane wrapper, about a dozen or so leaves per package.

Chinese Barbecue Pork, Chinese Sausages, dried chestnuts, black or shitake mushrooms and dark soy sauce can be found in Asian markets, especially if you have a Chinatown area near you. If you cannot find or do not like some of the ingredients they can easily be omitted or substituted. Regular soy sauce for dark for instance, roast pork instead of barbecue, etc. You can also use regular button mushrooms. The sesame oil and oyster sauce are fairly essential but should be readily available. I know of no substitute for the sweet Chinese sausages.

If using salted duck eggs, they must be cooked before using. Scrape off the black coating and wash, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Rinse, cool and remove shells. Use only the yolks in your recipe.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Where Shall We Go For Dinner?

“Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.”
Bryan Miller (NY Times Restaurant Critic)

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