Heading East

I’m always expounding on the fact that French is the foundation of modern cuisine. Well, I’m wrong. It’s not the only foundation of modern cuisine. Chinese cuisine has all of the same virtues that make French the basis for everything we know – emphasis on impeccable technique (set down in gold standard over centuries), fresh ingredients and beautiful presentations. Chinese is the grand-mere of the East, just as French is for the West. I know – they all have their own merits – but everything has to start somewhere.

I’ve been exploring Chinese and Thai dishes quite a bit recently. I’ve mastered (to my liking) Mongolian beef, a class beef broccoli and tod man plaa (fish cakes). I’m still working on ba mee noodles with barbecued pork. I feel like barbecued pork might become my roasted rack of lamb persille – I’ve tasted perfection and I have it in mind, and I have a good understanding of what I’m supposed to be doing – but for the life of me I just can’t produce it in my own kitchen to my satisfaction. It tastes good, no doubt. But it isn’t quite what it should be. That’s a frustrating moment for a cook.

At any rate, I’m working on it. The to do list of things I want to try is long – classic lo mien (I want to make the noodles from scratch), drunken shrimp (with live shrimp!)  and tempura. And then there’s the dim sum – jaozi (steamed ginger & pork dumplings), dahn guen (Cantonese egg rolls), char siu bao (roast pork buns),  and the holy grail of them all – xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed soup dumplings). I have been mentally chasing after xiao long bao since April when I first had them in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and that moment is what completely transformed my outlook on Eastern cuisines. As I fell in love with France’s coq au vin (making that the first time, I realized I was a cook) and it opened a world to me, the same thing has happened with the xiao long bao.

The preparation seems just as daunting to me as coq au vin once did – which I find absolutely thrilling. The challenge is the best part of the intrigue. Well, that and I know how much like heaven these things taste. It’s a three part process – making the hot water dough for the wrappers (this will likely take me an hour), the meat filing (30 minutes, easy), and the gelatinized broth (at least 2 hours cooking time, overnight set). The gelatinized broth has to be made the day prior. Making doughs makes me nervous – it’s not something I have a natural talent for (with dough, you either have the gift or you don’t), so I really have to work hard to get it right. The filing and gelatinized broth should be no problem, as I have experience working with both of those. The assembly seems easy enough, and cooking them only involves steaming for a few minutes. But they’re not exactly something you can decide to whip up for a Tuesday dinner. Nevertheless, the next free weekend I’ve got, I’m doing it. I don’t care how hot it is in the kitchen.

But to tide us all over until the xiao long bao, I’ll share with you the recipe I use for Mongolian Beef – it’s modified from one I found on Recipe Zaar.

Mongolian Beef

1 teaspoon candied giner

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

8 green onions, sliced on the bias into 1-inch pieces

1 pound of beef stew meat

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of flour

cooked white rice or fried rice noodles

1.) Brown the meat well and set aside. While the meat is cooking, combine the soy sauce, water, brown sugar and honey and set aside.

2.) Saute the green onions with the ginger and garlic, until they take on just a bit of color. Add the meat and cook through. Remove to a serving dish.

3.) Add the sauce to the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Mix the flour and butter together into a roux. Stir into sauce to thicken.

You can either pour the sauce over the meat and green onions or serve it on the side. I prefer to serve sauces on the side, that way everyone can flavor to their taste. You’ll also notice that I used a roux to thicken the sauce, but you can use a 1/4 cup of cornstarch if you want to be more authentic. I just don’t personally care to use cornstarch in my cooking.

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