Monday, November 28, 2011

Shanghainese fried icicle radish pastries


Shanghai's pastries and street foods are downright incredible. Rarely seen this side of the Pacific, they are marvels of balance: sweet with savory, crispy with juicy, hot with cold, spice with blandness.

One of the most delectable of these is a thin wrapper filled with shredded icicle radish (luobo, which has a similar, more commonly seen cousin sometimes known by its Japanese name, daikon). This vegetable is crisp, delicious, and only subtly spicy if fresh, the heat amplified by mostly age and the number of days it has been out of the ground.

So, selecting a good icicle radish is the first priority here. And now is the perfect time to buy them, as they are at their peak during the beginning of winter when cold weather makes its first appearance. Icicle radishes should be firm all over with no discoloration or wrinkling. Hold one in your hand and run your fingers all over it; the tiny rootlets should be wiry and springy, telling you that this radish is very much alive. Look at the leaves; although some of the outer leaves may be yellow or even removed, the center leaves ought to have a good green color and sprightliness.
A fresh icicle radish

Use a potato peeler to remove the skin of a radish, and trim off both the top and bottom of the root. If it is an older radish, it will have a fibrous layer under the skin. Be sure and peel off all of this white netting. The radish is now ready for cooking. 

This pastry uses a technique called "hot dough," where boiling water is mixed into the flour, thus cooking it. Hot dough (tangmian) is what you make for steamed dumplings (zhengjiao), braised filled breads (jianbao), and fried pastries such as this; if only cold water is used, the wrappers will be pasty and powdery. 

There is a secret to frying pastries, one that no one ever mentions for some strange reason: you must cover the pan as the pastries fry in order to create steam. It is the steam that cooks both the sides of the pastries and the filling, and it will allow you to end up with perfectly fried icicle radish pastries. Keep this tip in mind whenever you fry any type of Chinese pastry, as it is something that I discovered through trial and error and a virulent dislike for uncooked dough.

One thing that I've done here that is slightly unusual is adding butter to the filling. You can, of course, omit this if you wish. But the butter makes the icicle radish filling so much richer and delicious that I urge you to try it. As the great Julia Child once said, "Fat gives things flavor"!

A batch of these pastries can be made ahead of time and frozen, but they are never as good as fresh, since the radish filling will get slightly soggy. So, if you can, make this when friends are coming over. It will make your reputation as a great cook with Shanghai smarts!


Shanghainese fried icicle radish pastries 
Lúobosī jiānbǐng  蘿蔔絲煎餅 
Shanghai

Makes eight 3½-inch pastries

Wrappers:

2 cups Korean or Chinese flour (or 1½ cups all-purpose plus ½ cup pastry flour)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
⅔ cup boiling water
¼ cup cool water
    Make flakes of dough

Filling:

1 icicle radish (about 1½ pounds)
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped Chinese ham, prociutto, fresh black mushrooms, or dried shrimp
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 or more teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
Extra flour for shaping the pastries
Peanut or vegetable oil for frying
Grate the radish into long strips
1. Place the flour and salt in a large work bowl. Use chopsticks or a wooden spoon to mix the boiling water into the flour until it forms large flakes. Stir in the cook water to form a soft dough and turn it out onto a flat surface. Use a pastry knife at the beginning to work the dough and keep it from sticking to the board, as you do not want to add any more flour at this point. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it is silky and no longer sticky. When you roll it up into a ball, it should feel like a soft baby’s bottom. Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let the dough rest for about 30 to 40 minutes. It is ready when you can pinch a piece and it keeps its shape. 

2. While the dough is resting, make the filling. Peel the radish, removing any hard white fibers under the skin, and trim off both the top and bottom, as well as any imperfect places. Grate the radish into long strips (not too finely, as it will turn to mush) and place it in a colander set in the sink; you should have just under 4 cups. Use your hands to squeeze out the juice from the radish shreds.

Pleat the wrapper
3. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it starts to shimmer, and then add both the green onions and ham. Quickly stir-fry them to release their fragrance and then add the radish shreds. Stir-fry these together over high heat, season them with the salt and as much black pepper as you like. If you see liquid gathering at the bottom of the wok, scoot the radish shreds up the sides of the wok so that the liquid can be rapidly reduce. Toss and cook the radish shreds until they are barely done; that is, still crispy but with no raw radish taste. Remove the filling to a large plate so that it can cool down to room temperature. Divide the filling into 8 pieces.

4. To form the wrappers, lightly flour a flat surface, turn out the dough onto the flour, roll it gently into an 8-inch long log, and use your pastry scraper to cut it into even 1-inch pieces. Roll the pieces lightly in flour to form balls and while you form each piece, cover the rest with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.

5. Flatten a ball with your palm and then lightly roll it out into a circle about 6½ inches in diameter, dusting the dough and rolling pin as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. When you roll out the dough, use light, gentle movements, as this will allow you to control the shape of the dough and keep the gluten from becoming too active.

Fry-steam the pastries
6. If you are using the butter (optional but very delicious), put about 1½ teaspoons in the center of the circle, and then place an eighth of the filling on top. Bring up an edge of the dough over the filling, and then enclose the filling by pleating the dough around the center as shown in the photo above. Close the dough well so that it does not leak while you fry it later on. Turn the pastry over, shape the edges with your palms so that it forms a perfect circle, and place the finished pastry on a clean tea towel; cover it with another clean towel to keep it soft and supple. Repeat with the rest of the pastries.

7. Heat a film of oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a frying pan over medium heat until the edges of the pan are hot and a sprinkle of flour in the hot oil immediately froths; if it burns or browns, lower the heat. Add 2 of the pastries (or as many of the pastries as will fit comfortably without touching) to the pan; the pastries will puff up as they cook, so leave plenty of room between them. Immediately cover the pan closely; this will allow the pastries to steam while they fry and ensure that the dough cooks evenly. Shake the pan gently now and then to keep them from sticking to the pan. After about 3 to 5 minutes (depending upon the size of your pan and the heat of the stove), check the pastries. Turn them over if the bottoms are a nut brown. Cover the pan again and cook them until the other side is brown, as well. Serve while very hot.

4 comments:

  1. Icicle radish! What an interesting name — I've never heard it before. Is it of American origin, or is it a literal translation of a name from another language?

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  2. I love Luobosi bing! I love the steam/pan-frying idea. I hope to attempt this one over the holidays.

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  3. Let me know how they turn out, Jen... I'm sure you'll love them.

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