Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stir-Fried Squid

Squid! 魷魚 you yu, in Chinese, and いか ika in Japanese. Squid is delicious (like I've said otherwise about any food on this blog...but I haven't talked about bitter melon, yet), but you have to be careful not to overcook it, and it overcooks easily, like other seafoods. If you've had rubbery squid, it's because it was overcooked. That was definitely the case with most squid I had growing up, but in spite of the rubbery texture, I still liked it. Hey, I like konnyaku, too, which is rather bouncy. When squid is cooked just right, though, the flesh is very tender, and not rubbery.

I bought a package of two large-ish squid (12 oz. each) on a recent trip to the Super H-Mart in Virginia to try preparing squid for the first time, ever. I ended up doing a stir-fry, pictured above, from a recipe in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (Cantonese cuisine), as well as a shouga yaki (ginger stir-fried, though the word "yaki" has many interpretations in English, including baking and grilling), which is a Japanese preparation. Here's the recipe I followed for the shouga yaki. NOTE: you only need to stir-fry the squid for one minute. Two minutes MAX, as Grace Young has it in her Chinese Kitchen recipe, though I think that was a little too long. I definitely didn't follow that part of the shouga yaki recipe linked.

I must say, the first time round prepping the squid was kind-of freaky, what with its squishy, slippery texture, tentacles, suction cups, beak, and eyes. But the second time round, I had the parts figured out and it was much easier.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce 辣椒醬煮茄子

I love eggplant. And this is a great Chinese preparation of it. There's something creamily satisfying about the eggplant...though that's probably the significant amounts of oil it absorbs as you stir-fry it.

I recently bought Grace Young's book, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, and have started trying some recipes from it. My eggplant recipe is based off of hers, though I made it vegetarian, replacing ground pork with mushrooms, thickened the sauce, and a couple other changes.

The large, round, Western eggplants don't work so well for this dish because of their girth. While it probably doesn't matter too much, the long, thin Chinese eggplants (qie zi) can be cut into strips with each strip still having skin, while with the fatter Western ones, you'll probably have to make some skinless blocks.

I wonder how restaurants get it to stay a vibrant purple even after cooking. Maybe they parboil and cold-shock it first before stir-frying, if that makes a difference. 

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce 辣椒醬煮茄子

3 medium Chinese eggplants (about 1 lb.)

the sauce:
2 TBS chili garlic sauce
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS rice vinegar
2 TBS rice wine
1 TBS brown sugar
2/3 cup cold water

7 TBS vegetable oil (or other neutral flavored oil)

1/4 cup dried black or shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated (reserve soaking water), sliced thinly
2 TBS garlic, finely minced
2 TBS ginger, finely minced

starch slurry: 
1 TBS tapioca starch or cornstarch
2 TBS water

1/2 cup chopped scallions

  1. Trim eggplants and cut into 2.5-inch long by .5-inch thick strips.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  3. In another small bowl, starch slurry ingredients and set aside.
  4. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 3 TBS oil and half the eggplant, and stir-fry 2 minutes, or until eggplant begins to brown and soften. Transfer eggplant to a plate and repeat with the rest of the eggplant, also setting the second batch of eggplant aside with the first.
  5. Add remaining 1 TBS oil, mushrooms, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry about 1 minute, until golden and fragrant.
  6. Add eggplant back into the wok, stir up the sauce mixture and pour in, and add reserved mushroom soaking water if needed to nearly cover the eggplant—but don’t use the last TBS or so of the soaking water as it will have debris at the bottom. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until eggplant is just tender.
  7. Give the starch slurry a stir so the particles aren’t all gathered at the bottom and pour into wok. Stir the ingredients to distribute the slurry and thicken the sauce.
  8. Turn off heat, stir in scallions, and serve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dao Xiao Mian 刀削麵 Knife Shaved Noodles

Sometimes there's something really appealing about asymmetry, roughness, sketchiness, or imperfection. The Japanese recognized this and formalized it in their wabi and sabi aesthetic in traditional arts (I'm not sure which one refers more to imperfection and which one more to simplicity...or if it even divides neatly between the two). In the food world, I suppose we like to call things "rustic" when food's rough conception is part of its appeal.

For me at least, the roughness and irregularity in the cutting of dao xiao mian, knife shaved noodles (or knife cut noodles), is definitely part of the noodles' appeal. The other thing is that they're pretty "hearty" and I like fat, thick, and wide noodles in all their forms and preparations, be they he fen (as in "chow fun"), udon, or lasagna (not that I eat lasagna anymore). But hell, I guess I like noodles in general, too. Who doesn't?

Dao xiao mian are shaved from a "log" of firm dough directly into boiling water to cook, like so. Yeah, uh, so it definitely didn't go so smoothly or look so slick when I made it. I mean, besides lacking an overgrown razorblade, economy-sized log of dough, and enough practice, my dough just didn't seem firm enough to handle that kind of cutting. It stuck to my knife somewhat. I followed this recipe on my first attempt. I'm not sure it's quite right, though. The texture also seemed a little different from when I've had it at restaurants, but I'll need to eat more good knife shaved noodles to get a better sense of what it should be like.

Dough resting before shaving/cooking. Looks rough despite kneading I think because of the rice flour component.
 I thought it strange that there was baking powder in the mix rather than baking soda. Baking powder contains both acid and base so that they will react and help baked goods rise in the oven without needing to add an acidic ingredient to react with the purely alkaline baking soda. But these are noodles and don't need to rise, and generally baking soda is added for texture's sake. So in my second batch, I swapped out the baking powder for baking soda, which firmed things up a bit and made the cutting a touch smoother. Interestingly, the noodles also turned yellow once they hit the boiling water--like how ramen noodles, which are also alkaline, are yellow.

batch 2 noodles, with baking soda instead of baking powder
While a little easier to cut, I don't know that the end result was better, though... The noodles had a slight, almost...eggy flavor to them, and were just a little slippery or even "slimy" on the surface. This is maybe because of the alkalinity, as alkalines (e.g. soap) are slippery. I found this a little distracting in my spicy beef noodle soup. However, it was not at all noticeable when I used the remainder of the second batch to make stir fried noodles.

Actually, there's another issue I tried addressing when I made the stir fried noodles: unless you can quickly shave off your portion of noodles, then there will be a cooking time mismatch. Fresh noodles cook pretty quickly and it takes a several minutes for an amateur such as myself to shave off a batch of noodles. I tried pre-shaving the noodles before tossing them into the boiling water--and learned why they're shaved directly into the water. Unless you want to flour the noodles as you're slicing them off the log or keep them all separate, they're going to stick to each other and be annoying to separate before tossing in the water.

Hmm. Well, the dough recipe needs further tweaking, I guess. Or maybe if I just make sure to add a little less water so the dough's on the dry, almost flaking side. I'm going to try omitting the baking powder/soda altogether and be conservative with the water and see how that turns out next time. (Arg, I'm gathering more anecdotal evidence that my system dislikes all-purpose flour, in addition to everything else.)
The Taiwanese spicy beef soup was fantastic, though, as I've made it before. I used Andrea Nguyen's recipe. I mean, the noodles weren't bad either. But there's always room for improvement. Regarding the beef, though, chuck is great, but I think shank is better. At least I'm more used to it. More collagen. Chuck's readily available in the western supermarkets, though, while shank is not.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Meatballs Sans Binder

Wow, it's now been a year since I started this blog. I've definitely learned a lot in the intervening time, and my interest in cookery continues unabated. These past several weeks, I was back in my beautiful hometown of Seattle, catching up with friends and family over delicious Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and even Mongolian food. That's definitely something I miss while I'm here in DC: the abundance and quality of Asian restaurants and supermarkets that you can find in and around Seattle (and other West Coast cities). But I'm back and ready to jump into the last semester of my grad program.

So what's pictured above? Well, I actually made a brief mention of my interest in developing a good (Chinese? Taiwanese?) pork meatball recipe in my post about Japanese style hamburger steak. I finally got back to doing some further experimenting. In my previous attempt, I'd included binding ingredients (panko and egg in that case) because I'd just always seen it included in recipes for meatloaf/ball related dishes that I'd tried. This time I was curious to see what the denseness of the meat is like without a binder (or be reminded, I suppose, since I was aware already of how the ground pork in dumplings can be dense if you don't include egg or some other binder).

I just made a simple soup with chicken broth, dashi, green onions, and seaweed to cook the meatballs in. The meatballs were made with green onions, ginger, garlic, salt, and white pepper. Flavorwise, I liked them, though I could have used a little more salt. But texturally, indeed, they were a little dense. I'll include the egg and no panko next time and see how that goes. In any case, another nice use for the remainder of ground pork I'm left with when I make mapo doufu (they only sell 1 lb. packages at my local grocery store).

[UPDATE: changed my mind; you can get decent results with just a little water and no binding agent.]