Sunday, September 25, 2011

茶碗蒸し Steamed Egg Cup

茶碗蒸し chawan mushi (steamed tea cup) is the Japanese version of a savory egg dish, where the egg is steamed in its serving dish. As indicated by the name, the Japanese version is often steamed in tea cups or small bowls. Chawan can refer to both. Meanwhile, what I've often had with Taiwanese family versions (蒸水蛋 zhengshuidan steamed egg) of it is in larger bowls that people share out of. Although I've seen chawan mushi referred to as a "savory egg custard", that doesn't seem right to me as there is no milk product involved.

In any case, when done right, the texture of the egg is silky smooth and an excellent complement with freshly steamed rice. The trick is that it has to be steamed gently, at a simmer, rather than at a rolling boil. If the water is boiling to strongly, your egg will turn out more foamy. There's definitely a lot of variation in terms of what people put into it besides the egg and broth, so throw in what you like.

[The timing on my recipe is approximate; the last time I made this I didn't check that it was simmering and think I turned down the heat too low as it took longer.]

茶碗蒸し Chawan Mushi (Steamed Egg)

4 eggs
1 cup chicken stock†
1/2 tsp rice wine
1/2 tsp soy sauce
pinch of salt

2 shiitake mushrooms, sliced into strips
1 scallion, chopped

  1. Whisk eggs, stock, rice wine, soy sauce, and pinch of salt together in a bowl.
  2. Divide sliced mushrooms and scallions evenly between rice bowls or tea cups (or just pour into one larger bowl that is safe to heat)
  3. Prepare your steamer (I use a wok with steaming rack) and bring water to boil.
  4. Place bowls in steamer, reduce heat so the water is simmering* (medium-low to low) and steam for about 12 minutes or until egg has just set.
  5. Be careful when you remove the bowls as they will be hot, or let them cool a little before serving with steamed rice.

†An approximately equal volume of stock to eggs is a good baseline. The more stock you have versus egg, the thinner and lighter the egg will be after steaming. I would say to avoid adding too much stock, though, as it leads to the egg feeling insubstantial in your mouth.

*It’s important that the water just be simmering as opposed to boiling so that the surface is smooth and the texture of the egg silky. If the water is strongly boiling, your egg will turn out foamy.

Other lesson learned: it's easier to steam an even number of items on a steamer rack in a wok than odd (except for one). Haha, I had a bit of a time trying to keep the rack from tilting around as I arranged and removed three bowls on top of it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stir-Fried Green Beans

Wow! I was actually literally surprised at how tastily this dish turned out. I'd made good renditions before, but the flavors were really strong and popped when I tasted a bean while cooking (and afterward, too). This dish is my adaptation of the Chinese dish, 乾煸四季豆 gan bian si ji dou, the deep-fried then stir-fried Chinese long bean dish. I just used your easily found haricot vert, or green bean, and stir-fried. Though...according to my Chinese dictionary, gan bian [also?] refers to stir-frying and then broiling or stewing, which is sorta what I did. Hmm. Mysteries...well, I'll just stick with calling it 炒四季豆 chao si ji dou (stir-fried green beans).

In any case, I managed to keep the beans pleasantly crisp while also not being firm, with a bright, spicy-savoriness in my preparation this time. Addictively tasty; I was happy to munch away at these as a snack even between meals.

炒四季豆 Chao SiJiDou (Stir Fried Green Beans)

1 lb. green beans

3 large cloves garlic, sliced (about 1.5 TBS)
1.25-inch piece ginger, cut into thin matchsticks (about 1.5-2 TBS)
2 scallions, sliced into rounds, white and greens divided

1/4 cup chicken stock
2 TBS soy sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
4 pickled bird peppers, sliced into rounds (don’t throw out seeds)
            [this will need adjusting depending on the chilies you use]

vegetable oil

  1. Mix the chicken stock, soy sauce, and sugar together so the sugar dissolves.
  2. Heat wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil and heat until starting to smoke.
  3. Add ginger, garlic, and scallion whites to the wok and stir fry until ginger has withered and garlic lightly browned.
  4. Add green beans to the wok and toss until beans are coated with oil and starting to turn bright green.
  5. Pour in chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, chili pepper mixture, toss ingredients, and cover wok. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until all beans are bright green.
  6. Remove cover and turn heat back up to high heat.
  7. Add scallion greens and toss ingredients high (with two spatulas or what have you) so that the steam escapes, until the liquid at the bottom has mostly evaporated.
  8. Remove from heat and serve.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Browning is Such Sweet Savoryness

Oyako-don is a great Japanese home-cooking/comfort food dish. Even though my first encounter with it was one of those supermarket prepared-food meals, it was tasty and the concept really appealed to me. Well, the concept of the basic combination of chicken and egg as food for a dish... The name of the dish is interesting: oyako literally means "parent and child" (and don refers to rice, more fully called donburi for rice bowl). A clever name, though, as a friend pointed out, kind of morbid. It starts getting a little weird when you think about tanin-donburi, which means "stranger rice bowl", and is egg with beef instead of chicken. But what's in a name? It's all delicious.

Well, it turns out, someone even added a description of how to make the dish on the wikipedia page for it. The version I followed is from the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, though I vary the proportions, generally with a little more chicken and scallion and less sugar. Japanese cuisine likes sweetness! This time I added too much chicken...ah well.

On the other hand, what turned out great about this particular rendition is that I browned the chicken before adding it in to the simmering dashi. The added umami from the browning was excellent! Well, I suppose browning in general is awesome for the extra savoryness, and I understand that sometimes people want to keep flavors lighter. In this case, though, I think it was a great addition, though it requires the extra step and oil.

Heheh, too much chicken/not enough egg. Didn't properly compensate for the extra chicken with extra dashi. Not necessary, but the soup is a great part of the dish.

Hmm, I foresee more limited blogging, whether by shorter posts or less frequently in the future. School's starting up again.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

炒飯 Chao Fan

I'm gonna go ahead and guess that you don't need a translation of what the title of the blog post means in English, just based on the photo. But in case you do, well, the rest of the post is all about it. It's like immersion language learning! ;)

Anyway, fantastic! I've finally gotten my fried rice to near perfect in my current opinion/taste. My first attempts were several years ago, and very flawed. Of course, I didn't continuously work at and experiment over the years; just on occasion. As a friend of mine put it, fried rice is a simple dish but difficult to do well.

What's my secret?? Well, you know, I don't think there really is anything that's radically different about my approach from anyone else's. I will say, though, that one tip in particular makes a big difference. I first came across the idea in a Japanese cookbook, and then heard the specific tip from another friend, but it's also definitely floating around in comments on recipes on the internet and the like. Not a big secret. Put more broadly:

Your rice needs to be somewhat dry.

If you've got freshly steamed rice, refrigerate it (or you can use leftover refrigerated rice). I would say refrigerate it in a pretty airtight container (tupperware) for two days. After one day, it hasn't dried out enough. If you use a container that air penetrates easily, then it'll dry out faster, but two things: (1) it's possible for your rice to be too dry and hardened, affecting the texture, (2) I imagine your rice may pick up other odors, but haven't tried purposefully leaving rice exposed in the refrigerator. And if you don't have time for that, then try to spread your freshly steamed rice out on a flat surface so it can air out and dry to some extent (this is what the Japanese cookbook suggested). This will help a little at least.

If there's too much moisture still in the rice, you get damp fried rice that sticks together too much and is mushy. Actually, there's something interesting that happens with too-moist fried rice, if you try to do that inverted bowl presentation of the dish:

So I actually made this batch with rice that I let sit in a tupperware container in the refrigerator for one day. Although it was fine (a little too moist and mushy), when I tried to do the bowl inversion, the dome of fried rice slowly pushed itself apart due to the steam being released! Haha, that was interesting to watch and realize. Making sure you use enough oil may also help a little in "dome structural integrity".

Happy cooking!

Tangential Thoughts:
Man, I love the wabi of these pics and my new favored shooting spot in our apartment.