Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rice "doufu" of Guizhou

We've been spending a bit of time down in south-central China now -- aside from that short detour into moon cakes, of course -- and after all this time you might be wondering, do they eat rice with these foods?

The answer is yes, but more specifically it tends to be sticky (glutinous) rice, and even more specifically, it is most likely going to be something made out of rice paste.

Rice paste doesn't sound incredibly delectable in English. But once you taste it, though, you'll agree that it is intensely inventive and hands-down delicious. All throughout this area, and even up into southern Fujian and Taiwan, rice paste is king. These are the places where you can dive into freshly-made thick rice noodles, dried thin rice noodles, crepes, and filled balls of cooked rice paste (ziba). 

Calm, cool & delicious
Only in certain areas like Guizhou, though, will you find today's dish: Rice Doufu.

If you are familiar with and love mochi, this is going to be right up your alley. But unlike Japanese mochi, which is invariably sweet, Chinese ziba and other rice paste dishes are almost always savory. Not only that, but they can be served cold or hot, with sauces or plain, and either spicy or not.

Even better, I have a new way to make these that is so simple, you can put them together  in mere minutes.

It took me about a week to figure this out, because every mention of Rice Doufu invariably had the same directions: 1 part rice flour to 3 parts water, mix part of the water into the rice flour to form a slurry, boil the rest of the water, then mix the slurry into the boiling water, cook until thick, and pour into a mold.

Well, that doesn't work. Or at least, it never worked for me. I ended up with burned gunk on the bottom of pans, gloppy concoctions that looked more like library paste than anything else, and a whole lot of frustration.
Cooling rice paste

And so I tried something different.

Over 20 years ago, a Taiwanese friend gave me a recipe for microwave mochi, and as I hadn't made it in years, I'd forgotten all about it. But suddenly this memory poked its way out from some hidden recess in my brain. And it works. In fact, it's amazing.

This takes all of the guesswork out of the process, and you have only one dish to clean up. Just read the recipe through and count on success the first time around.

The paste is poured into a pan that has been rinsed out in cool water, which helps keep it from sticking. I use either a regular loaf pan or an 8-inch cake pan; both work equally well. Cover the cooled paste with plastic wrap and chill overnight. Flop the cold rice paste out on a cutting board, slice it into squares or dominoes, and arrange these on a plate. Drizzle a sauce over the top. Dig in.

Right now it's Indian summer around here. It's the dog days of fall when the weather is scorching, what the Chinese refer to as the "autumn tiger" (qiu laohu). Something cool and topped with something spicy and tart for dinner wakes up my appetite like nothing else. See if you don't agree.
Mix water & rice flour

Guizhou's rice doufu 
Mi doufu  米豆腐  
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer or side dish

3 cups sticky (a/k/a glutinous) rice flour (= 1 box of Mochiko sweet rice flour)
3 cups cool filtered water

1. Start this recipe the day before you want to serve it so that it has time to chill. Pour the rice flour into a large heatproof bowl, preferably a large measuring cup with a handle that will protect your hands. Stir in the cool water, smashing any lumps you come across.

2. Place the bowl in your microwave and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stir the mixture thoroughly. Microwave again on high for 4 minutes. Stir. The paste should be thick and malleable at this point. Take a taste; if you detect any raw flavor, microwave it again for another minute or two. (If you do not have a turntable in your microwave, cook the paste for a minute at a time, stirring after each blast.)

Mochiko flour: my favorite
3. Remove the bowl from the microwave. Rinse out an 8-inch square cake pan or a regular loaf pan with cold water. Use a silicone spatula to scrape the hot paste into the pan. Rinse the spatula with cold water and use it to smooth down the surface. 

4. Let the paste come to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Empty the pan onto a cutting board. Slice the rice paste into squares or dominoes. 

5. Arrange the rice dough on a serving platter. Top with whatever sauce you like. (Something like what is poured on the Mung Bean Jelly of a few posts ago is perfect, or you can fry up some shredded pork with sweet peppers seasoned with soy sauce... just about anything would be good.)


Soak the cooking bowl and spatula in cool water for a while. This will loosen the paste and make cleanup a whole lot less painful. 

If your knife is sticking to the paste while you're slicing it, wash the knife clean and rub sesame or peanut oil over the dry blade, repeating this step as necessary.

Store any leftover rice doufu in the refrigerator covered. It will stay perfect for at least a couple of days. If it starts to change color or leak lots of water, toss it.

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