Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jiangsu's drunken soybeans

As that lovely jar of Homemade Fermented Rice keeps beckoning to me from my kitchen counter alongside its sister crock of Fujian's Red Wine Lees, I continue to search for new and wondrous ways to add these delicious flavors to my repertoire.

And now I have something really terrific to report back on: Drunken Soybeans. This Jiangsu recipe creates so many layers of flavor in these little beans that it's hard to equate them with the simple green piles of edamame that are served in sushi shops. And yet in a way they are the same thing, only gussied up with aromatic spices that are then layered with all of that lovely fermented rice.

Unlike the Japanese version, these pods are trimmed at both ends, opening up the casings so that every bit of flavor washes around the beans. It's a brilliant little detail, and it also makes the soybean pods look so elegant and refined.

Trimmed "fuzzy beans"
The brilliant jade beans are nestled inside of their furry little pods, which is where they got their Chinese name: maodou, or fuzzy beans. (I wish more names were as fun as this.) I trim these pods while I'm watching the television or talking on the phone, as it is sort of a mindless activity. I suppose you could do this while thinking deep thoughts or devising a cure for cancer, too, but unfortunately that's not the way I roll...  I just space out.

Then, I simmer the pods in a scented stock for about 15 minutes, which will cook the beans to just halfway between crispy and soft and will insert a delicious savory note into the middle of all that beaniness. After that, I just drain them and toss them with some of my fermented rice and a good dash of salt. No extra fat, nothing to mess up the fingers later on, just some sweet wine to lick off of my fingertips as I suck out the beans. Sensuous eating at its best!

You can make this dish a day or two ahead of time, and they only get better by soaking away in all of that alcohol. You can also ramp up the alcohol content if you like by adding more rice wine, but make it something neutral like mijiu or sake, since Shaoxing rice wine would drown out the subtle perfume of the fermented rice. 

Chilling them for a few hours makes them even more refreshing, especially in these dog days of summer. Serve them with a cold beer or hot tea, and you have a great way to start a relaxing - yet sensuous - August dinner with friends.

Drunken soybeans
Zao maodou  糟毛豆
Soybeans and Sichuan peppercorns
Serves 6 to 8 as part of an array of appetizers, or 4 as a main appetizer

1 pound frozen soybeans in the pod
2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons five spice powder
3 cups filtered water
¾ cup Homemade Fermented Rice or store-bought fermented rice
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
4 tablespoons neutral rice wine (mijiu) or sake, optional

1. Defrost the soybeans by soaking them in lukewarm water, or defrost the bag overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the soybeans and use a pair of scissors to trim off both ends of the pods.

2. Place the soybeans in a 2-quart saucepan with the Sichuan peppercorns, salt, five spice powder, and water, adding more water as necessary to barely cover the soybeans. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the soybeans for about 15 minutes. Test one of the beans; it should have lost its beany taste and be just barely soft. Drain the beans in a colander, shaking them so that the excess water is removed and most of the peppercorns slither to the bottom of the colander. Remove the soybeans to a covered container, discarding most of the peppercorns in the process.

3. Toss the soybeans with the Homemade Fermented Rice and the salt. Taste and add more salt or fermented rice, if needed. (Each batch will vary, and commercial fermented rice is decidedly sweeter than homemade, so adjust the seasoning with more rice wine, sugar, or other seasonings, depending upon what tastes good to you.)

4. Cover the container and refrigerate the beans for a few hours or overnight. Shake the container when you think of it so that each bean gets evenly coated with the sauce. To serve, just remove the beans from the sauce, shake off most of the rice, and serve cold.

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