updated recipe

HOW TO ACTUALLY COOK PERFECT RICE WITHOUT A RICE-COOKER

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LET’S SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, ONCE AND FOR ALL…  DON’T YOU EVER, EVER, AND I MEAN NEVER EVER, BOIL YOUR SUSHI RICE

There are a lot of rumours out there about cooking rice without a rice-cooker.  And when I say “rice” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to the Asian short-grain white rice, or mostly known as, the Japanese sushi rice (but not exclusively for making sushi).  Whether or not you grew up cooking/eating this type of rice, that for every different reasons, the idea of cooking it on the stove can be a very confusing matter.  Because if you did, like every other sensible Asians out there, you’ve been deferring this task to a trusty rice-cooker and the idea of doing it without one, for as long as you’ve been eating rice, has never even occur to you as a potential reality.  But if you didn’t, like every other typical non-Asians out there without a rice-cooker, the assortment of instructions for cooking this type of rice on the stove with bare flames and pots, is a maze laid out with conflicting informations, false promises, and more often than not, guaranteed failures.

And when I say “failure” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to anything but the state of its optimal textures.  Look, it’s fairly easy to cook rice, or anything for that matter, until it’s no longer raw and passably edible, but it’s something else entirely to do it properly.  Asian short-grain rice/sushi rice, when cooked properly, should glisten with a gentle shimmer on the surface, where every grains are consistent with a soft but bouncy mouthfeel, moistly sticky but ease gracefully into individual selves when being chewed.  Now this, this is not something easily obtainable, not even for some less competent rice-cookers out there, let alone if you did it on the stove following many of the wrong directions online, which is to say, almost all of them.

So today, let’s set the record straight, once and for all.  Here’s how to actually cook sushi rice on the stove.

THE CORRECT RATIO AND TOOLS

The ratio between rice : water is perhaps the single, most confusing information on cooking sushi rice.  Most recipes out there ranges from 1 : 1.1 (too much water) to 1 : 1.5 (waaaaay too much water!).  But the correct ratio should always, and I mean always, be 1 part rice : 1 part water BY VOLUME.  Always!  It doesn’t matter if you are cooking rice for sushi, or just for plain eating.  Always. And when it comes to the right pot, I would highly suggest using a small, heavy-bottomed non-stick pot with clear glass lid.  There is a reason why all rice-cookers uses a non-stick inner-bowl, because when rice sticks (and it will stick), it breaks.  Broken rice = bad rice.  Then, instead of flying blind, the clear glass lid allows you to get a good idea of what’s going on inside.  Also, we don’t want a steam-hole for the lid, so if yours comes with one, simply block it with a damp paper-towel.  So:

Makes about 4 cups cooked rice:

  • 2 cups (400 grams) Asian short-grain white rice, or Japanese sushi rice
  • 2 cups (429 grams) water

UPDATE 2015/08/04:  You may be able to tell that the type of rice used in this particular example, was a typical Asian short-grain rice, which took 15 min in STEP 2.  But if you were using an even stubbier short-grain variety, specifically for making sushi, with a wider and rounder body, then please increase the duration of STEP 2 to 20 min.

* The instruction is for 2 cups of rice only.  Anything more or less by 1/2 cup will require adjustments on the cooking time.

UPDATE 2015/12/1:  Months after I tested this recipe on the gas-stove, I finally had a chance to test it on induction stove, and the heat-setting turned out to be a bit different.  It seems that induction stove requires a slightly higher setting to reach the description of each steps.  In STEP 2, instead of 1~2 for heat-setting (on a scale of 10), induction stove needs around 3~4.  Then for STEP 3, instead of 2~3, induction stove needs around 5~6.  So whatever stove you’re using, adjust the heat-setting to get you to the description for each steps, instead of relying on absolute heat-settings.

STEP 1:  Put the rice in a large sieve, then rinse under running cold water.  Gently rub the rice between your fingers, removing the excess starch, until the water runs clear.  Drain very very well, until the last drop of water seem to have been shaken off, then transfer the rice to heavy-bottomed non-stick pot.  Add the water and give it a stir, then put on the lid (if there’s a steam-hole, block it with a small piece of damp paper-towel.

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THE PARADOX OF ICE CREAM-SPRING ROLL W GROUND PEANUT BRITTLE

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…BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.  THE REAL MIND-BLOWING PART IS THE LAST DESCENDING SPRIGS OF THE UNIMAGINABLE… FRESH CILANTRO LEAVES

If you were those who like to travel to unfamiliar places, see unfamiliar pictures, eat unfamiliar things, chances are that for many times, you have been caught up in moments where I’d like to call – the encounters of food paradox.  Foods that don’t make sense, shouldn’t make sense, but the moment we put one in our mouth, the argument between logics and instincts all quiets down, and the only sensation left with any capacity for thoughts, is how defiantly delicious it stood against our prejudice.   It changes everything, on top of the very least, our palette henceforth, will never be the same.  This post, I hope, is about exactly that.

I have been longing to find a way, an accessible angle, to tell you about a thing called, ice cream-spring roll.  It’s a common street-food in Taiwan, not particularly flashy or groundbreaking.  In fact, among the immensely competitive and ever evolving Taiwanese street-foodscape, one may even argue, standard stuff.  But if you have no affiliation with the food-culture from this island proud for nothing but, the concept of this ice cream-spring roll, with its deceivingly predictable name, may just very well be your next big revelation.  Up front, what is expected surely is that there’s ice creams, most likely local flavours like taro or mango but could also include strawberry and vanilla, which are rolled inside a chewy crepe made with simply flour, water and salt.  No innovation there.  But to make things more interesting, a tall pile of sweet nutty and salty ” sandy streusels” is being shaved directly from a ginormous brick of peanut and caramel brittle, matching its proportion to the ice creams to almost 1:2.  The shaved/ground peanut caramel brittle alone, already completely push the texture and flavour of the spring roll to another dimension, but, it doesn’t stop there.  The real mind-blowing part, is the last descending sprigs of the unimaginable, the last to belong in the dessert isle, the controversially pungent… fresh cilantro leaves.  What?!  

You know I would describe it to you if I could.  I’d say it’s melty, creamy, sandy and crunchy all encased inside a film of chewiness.  I’d say that it’s sweet with pops of saltiness, the permeation of powdered peanuts and caramel and a whiff of herbs in the back-note.  But for the life of me, I cannot describe to you the immense confusion upon the impact of the first bite, then the gentle surrendering into the next, then a breeze of exhilaration on the last.  So I won’t.  You’ll have to try this one out yourself.  Because, that’s the beauty of a food-paradox isn’t it?  One that does and should be lived outside the limitation of words.  Maybe you’ll hate it.  Maybe you’ll love it.  Whatever it is, we will celebrate the forever-forward exploration that is eating.

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M(Y) SHANGHAI’S COLD WONTONS IN SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

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YOUR ULTIMATE REVENGE TOWARDS THE COMING ASS-BINDING HEATWAVES

A REFRESHINGLY PLEASURABLE PAIN, BEST SERVED COLD

It might say something about me, perhaps not in the most positive light, whenever I fell for a Chinese dish-inspiration from half way around the world while living right inside the epicenter of it all, where the “real things” are or so they say.  What kind of a food-blogger, who eats and breathes right off of the ground-zero of a very old, very diverse and rapidly morphing food-culture often generalized as “Chinese foods”, would cook you a Chinese dish that comes from an Instagram of a New Yorker who took it at a restaurant that are, out of all places, in Brooklyn. Lazy?  Perhaps.  Utter dumb luck?  That’s for sure.  Because you see, without this inconvenient loop around the globe it has traveled, the inspiration for this down-home Shanghainese summer snack, in one form or another, would have otherwise never found its way to melt in my warm embrace.  And this is, I guess especially for those who have experienced living abroad, a perfectly explainable social phenomenon.

Thing is, I believe across all cultures, that the restaurants indigenous to where they are located, often times with great effort, focus on serving what they perceive as “restaurant-style/worthy” dishes only.  It is a limiting but reasonable box that excludes the slightly less glamorous, homemade gems that are more commonly celebrated within the contentment of one’s own home.  It really isn’t hard to understand why.  Just imagine, that it would also seem odd, if not lazy, to see PB&J on the menu of a respectable American restaurant sitting in the heart of Manhattan, no?  However, when the citizens of such comfort are residing in a foreign land, say, a Shanghainese in Brooklyn, and decided to open a restaurant to selfishly serve his/her personal home-sickness, then guess what, dishes like these start to pop up.  And my friends, dishes like these, are always my favourite kind to eat.  Take this for example, M Shanghai’s wontons in spicy peanut sauce.   Something that I would have taken gladly from its bare and natural implications – burning hot pork wontons slurped cautiously from an even more inflammable pool of peanut sauce and chili oil – let alone after the discovery of its true, counterintuitive ingenuity over a much needed research.  It turns out (whether or not this is how it’s served in Brooklyn) that this fabulous summer-snack regrettably overlooked in most-if-not-all Shanghai restaurants in Beijing, is actually… eaten cold.

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BEIJING DRUNK-FOOD, JIANBING

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WITHOUT THE BRAVERY FROM WITHIN A BEER CAN… YOU CAN NOW MAKE THIS SIGNATURE BEIJING STREET-FOOD AT HOME

What the hell’s this?  Well… let me refresh it for you.

If you have ever lived or travelled to Beijing.  It was nightfall.  Granted that you should be excused by the overwhelming remorse that soon followed the moment you stepped out of the airport, you thought, it would be in your best redeeming interest to hang out with some old or newly acquainted companions for a night of bad behaviors around the Work’s Stadium in Chaoyang District.  After what probably felt like a mirage of flying alcohols, soul-murdering-ly bad musics, and an unbroken stream of ugly faces, you woke up the day after, half-alive, with a banging headache and wondering how the hell did last night end.  While other histories were less certain or best left forgotten, chances were, whether you remembered it fully or from the swamp of broken memories, that without even knowing what it was called, you ended it with this.

This, this is called jian-bing.

Here, before I say anything more, I want you to listen carefully.  It is not, your fault.  We’ve all done it.  We’ve all, for more than once, either unconsciously or with full consent, stood under the dingy lightbulbs from a hygienically suspicious food-stall in a notoriously poisonous country, and ate this thingy that highly resembled a french crepe on one side, but marbled with beaten egg on the other, made by someone reaching into buckets of some things that both screamed highly dubious at best.  Yes, that was a long sentence, because I just wanted to rip it off fast like a bandage for you.  It’s ok, my friend.  It’s just a Beijing thing.  It probably didn’t hurt you as bad as you thought it would.  It probably, if memories are slowly coming back, tasted much better even in the haze of your drunken skepticism.  Between it’s thin, soft and slightly chewy body, there was the appetizing aroma of a skillet-fried egg, the pungent and salty punch from the smothering of chili sauce, and to your surprise, a shattering and crunchy contrast from an unknown source that you were too drunk to identify.  Most likely, it was actually, really really tasty.  And dare I say, it has probably, been missed.

Now, without the bravery from within a beer can, or the risk of losing a liver, you can make this signature Beijing street-food at home, knowing that none of the ingredients contains traces of stray cats.  Ha ha, just kidding.

No I’m not.

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BLACK SESAME MOCHI ICE CREAM FOR EM’S BB-SHOWER

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THERE IS AN UNUSUAL STURDINESS AND BOUNCINESS TO EACH BITE, AND DEEP NUTTINESS WITH EACH MELTING CHEWS

Hi Emily,

So, congratulations!  Wow, new baby huh?  I mean.. just.. WOW!  Ayee-um… Mandy, by the way.  Here, um, I sort of acted late on that race to the gift-registry and so I swear all I was left to choose with, was this leopard-print breasts-pump and a strange vampire binky…  But seriously, I swear, I am not weird.  Nor am I some random neighbour who’s trying to crash a party because she saw the sign “there will be cakes” on your lawn on her way to taking out the trash.  Really, I was invited.  But the truth is, you probably don’t know much about me.  And I guess the fact that this being a baby-shower and all, probably one of the top three must-be-perv-free environment there is (among dressing-rooms, toilets and etc…) , I should re-introduce myself a little bit.

My last name is Lee, with my birth-Chinese-name, Huei Lin.  When I was 11, in the month before my family immigrated from Taiwan to Canada, I picked out my own English first name, Mandy, from an English Names Guidebook that some idiot gave me.  It was probably one of the most regrettable mistake of my life, one that I now have to live with until I die.  I’m one of those whom you would call a “dog person” much more than a “people person”.  I don’t care who or how many people die in a movie as long as the dog lives, and which-ever movie violates that rule, sucks.  I Am Legend, sucks.  But having said that, if you actually knew me, I’m a good friend.  An overbearingly judgemental friend you might add, but that’s only because I think I care.  My favourite things in life are puppies’ tummies, eating, travelling for eating, eating with friends, last but not least, good conversations over eating.  I think whoever asks the question “what’s your favourite food?”, hates eating.  I don’t have a favourite food, because there’s too many that it can only be defined by categories.  Categories such as, carbohydrates, and proteins.  Vegetables… I don’t wanna talk about it.

But perhaps, the most important food-category of all that defines my entire existence, that trumps all other subordinate pleasures in life except for maybe rubbing a puppy’s tummy, so much so that I may not be able to friend you if you disagree… is anything and everything that could be described with the word – chewy.  Chewy is my Holy Grail on my culinary treasure-hunt, my kitchen baby unicorn, my ambassador of quan.  Chewy, completes me (and no, Jerry Maguire, doesn’t suck).  I want it in my bread, my brownies, my donuts, my cookies, I want it in places that it doesn’t even belong, and yes yes yes, even in my ice creams.  So I guess it’s only appropriate, since we’re on a roll of getting to know each other and all, that I introduce you to this closeted kink of mine – my black sesame mochi ice cream.

It’s not entirely mochi.  It’s not really ice cream, either.  This black sesame-blended mixture is thickened with just enough sticky rice flour, in order to land on that sweet spot where it’s too loose to be called mochi at room-temperature, but hardens just right when it is frozen.  It has an incredible resistance to melting, an unusually sturdiness and bounciness to each bite, and a deep and rich nuttiness that fills the palette with each melting chews.  It is almost unlikely to find a peer for comparison…  Think of the densest, zero-air/ice-molecule ice cream you’ve ever had – this is way beyond that.  Think of Turkish ice cream – well now you’re getting close.  It’s the same kind of stretchy and springy texture that make this recipe impossible for a typical ice cream-churner, and hence, must be done by working your post-baby biceps.  I mean is it too considerate on my part that I even calculated in a terrific solution for that last pound of baby-weight you’re physically but not emotionally attached to?  I told you, I’m a good friend.

So hello Emily.  Congratulations again.  You won’t be able to return that leopard-print breasts-pump because my dog ate the receipt, but this black sesame mochi ice cream, will more than making up for it.

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PEANUT BUTTER STICKY RICE BALLS IN GREEN TEA

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THEY COMPLETE ME

Sorry but I have to run off quickly today, and leave you with this traditional and wildly beloved Chinese dessert.  These little pretty purses called tang-yuan, meaning “soup-circles”, are very popular, if not mandatory, at all major celebratory event and holidays because of their literal implication for roundedness and completeness. The elegance of its name may be lost in translation but I assure you that the reasons for their popularity are not, if you would just invest 1 hour of your life to find out.

The recipe for sticky rice ball-dough is an update from an older recipe, which I thought had a couple unnecessary steps and confusions.  Then instead of making a peanut-filling from scratch, which would probably never be as smooth with my incompetent food-processor, I decided to use a mix of store-bought smooth peanut butter with a little coconut oil (to loosen the texture further) and brown sugar.  The sticky rice wrapper is slippery and chewy, like little delicious purses bursting with lava-like peanut butter filling that comes with a hint of coconuts.  It’s a mouthful of complimenting textures and flavours, chewy and runny, sweet and slightly salty, intensely nutty and rich but balanced with the subtle bitterness and fragrance from lightly honey-sweetened green tea.

More than just words, they’ll complete you.

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MY XIAN FAMOUS SPICY CUMIN LAMB HAND-SMASHED NOODLES

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ONCE YOU GET THERE, WHATEVER IT TAKES FOR YOU TO GET THERE,

THE REST IS AS EASY AS BIANG

Does this recipe really need introduction?  If you have been enjoying, following, or even just been seduced from afar by the unstoppable uprise of this basement-stall to now 10 flourishing locations throughout New York, you would not be unfamiliar with the signature dish, from Xian Famous Foods.  The spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped (biang biang) noodles.

I have certainly been a fan.  More precisely, I have been enjoy Xian Famous Foods for the past few years, without actually stepping a foot inside any of their 10 locations.  Because I’ve been here, in Beijing, where “Xian famous foods” are not known as the name of a trending chain-restaurants, but in fact, a genre.  Those 4 Chinese characters almost recognized as their “logo”, are actually common here as a phrase that describes the local street foods of the city Xi-An.  Kind of like having a restaurant called “Texas BBQ”, or “Chicago Hotdogs”.  And on top of the usual suspects of cold skin noodles, cumin lamb burger (called “rou-jia-mo”), lamb offal soup… there is of course, the biang biang.

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MAGIC 15-SECONDS CREAMY SCRAMBLED EGGS

THE PREVIOUSLY-THOUGHT-IMPOSSIBLE SCRAMBLED EGGS-FANTASY

SPEED, AND CREAMINESS.  ALL TOGETHER

We all think we know how to do scrambled eggs.

We all know, I hope, that speedy scrambled eggs cooked over high heat will be grainy, rubbery… and worst of all, will ooze liquid out of themselves and ruin a good morning.  Thus we all know, that it’s almost only legal to cook scrambled eggs over a low-and-slow process, to get creamy or die stirring in the pursuit of that velvety wrapped-around-your-tongue texture.  Right, no news there.

So for the longest time, that’s what I did.  So for the past blissful decade, using my very scarcely inherited patience, I’ve abided by the rules in front of all those carefully guarded wee-flames, stirring and stirring until my mind started to wonder… on that last episode of Game of Thrones, on waitwas-that-mold-I-saw-on-my-broccoli?… on anything but asking if this was the only way to the perfect scrambled eggs.

But last week, in an attempt to feed liquid-food to my temporarily anorexic dog-son, I tried thickening an beaten egg with a bit of potato starch (or cornstarch) to make an egg-goo (which I rubbed on his mouth so he would lick it…).  And who knew, that unappetizing glob… lead me to one of my greatest kitchen-revelations realized.  I thought… wait a second… maybe… a thickening agent is the answer to the previously-thought-impossible scrambled eggs-fantasy.  Speed, and creaminess, all together.

And it is!  Just by adding a little mixture of milk and potato starch (or cornstarch), the water is forced to bind with the protein even if cooked over high heat, which solves the watery eggs disaster.  But better yet, it also creates a creamy and custardy texture with the bits of beaten eggs that aren’t completely cooked through, as if, YES, that they were done slowly over ow heat!  While in fact, 15 seconds!!  Ahem, friends, here’s how:

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