Monday, August 19, 2013

Taiwanese sticky rice two insanely delicious ways


Rice in Taiwan is the centerpiece of almost any meal. Normally it appears as basic steamed grains served in a large covered bowl with a bamboo paddle, and this acts as a mild counterpoint to all of the salty, spicy, rich, and flavorful dishes that surround it. 
           
But if you happen to be at a feast of some sort, there is a good chance that a big bowl of Savory Sticky Rice (youfan) will appear, and that to me is one of the best parts of the celebration. Bits of pork, black mushrooms, and crispy shallots mingle with the seasoned rice in sort of a deconstructed Chinese tamale. (You can, in fact, wrap either one of these recipes in bamboo leaves and then steam them for the perfect zongzi; tuck in yolks from Brined Eggs for a special treat.)
           
Steamed long-grain sticky rice
Molded sticky rice (migao) is almost the same thing, but because it comes in individual portions, it is invariably street food. 

Both of these dishes are really little more than riffs on fried rice, with long-grain sticky rice used instead of the usual jasmine rice. The reason for this is that long-grain sticky rice is chewy and keeps its shape well, unlike round glutinous rice, which can mush up when liquid is added to the mixture as here.
           
My favorite place to indulge my love for migao was at a little hole-in-the-wall in the Taipei suburb of Shipai that was operated by a Taiwanese lady down the street from the apartment where we lived for a while. I would often stumble into her place comatose from the long bus ride home from an even longer day at work, famished and cranky, and she would give me a welcoming smile as she plunked down a bowl of her delicious rice and sliced braised goose.
           
She seemed to make the best migao anywhere, and it is one that I have attempted to re-create here. Her migao was steamed in bamboo cups that had been used for so many years that they were deeply tanned with layer after layer of soy sauce and oil. 

I bought cups just like hers from a Mr. Lin on Zhongshan North Road who did nothing but carve these simple cups and weave bamboo strips into traditional steamers, but the cups cracked in the dry air of California, and so I've devised a great substitute: regular old glass jelly jars, the kind that are used for canning. They’re cheap, they can be steamed and cleaned a zillion times over, and you can use them for other things in-between your sticky rice celebrations. (Any other kind of heatproof bowl or cup can be used, though.)
           
Tasting like the most delightful stuffing you've ever enjoyed outside of your grandma’s Thanksgiving table, this is the essence of Taiwan as far as I’m concerned: rice, pork, black mushrooms, soy sauce, and fried shallots.


Savory sticky rice
Yóufàn 油飯
Tender mushroom
Southern Fujian, Taiwan
Serves 8 to 10

4 dried black mushrooms
2 tablespoons dried shrimp
Filtered water as needed
2 cups long-grain glutinous rice
3 ounces chilled pork belly, skin removed
1½ tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine (mijiu)
Fresh ground black pepper
6 tablespoons Shallot Mingyou, or toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar

Garnish:
Chopped cilantro

* * *

Molded sticky rice
Mĭgāo 米糕
Serves 8 to 10

The above recipe for Savory Sticky Rice, except use only 2 tablespoons oil and no braised peanuts
Eight (8-ounce) jelly jars
Spray oil
Cut out any dark veins
¼ cup crushed fried peanuts
Chopped cilantro
Soy paste (jiangyougao)

1. For both recipes, use the following directions: The night before you plan to make this dish, place the mushrooms and shrimp in separate bowls, rinse them with tap water, and then cover each ingredient with cool filtered water (at least ½ cup water for the mushrooms). Let them plump up overnight. (You may also prepare them the same day as the rice by covering them with boiling water; the flavor and texture will not be as good, but still tasty.) Cut off the mushroom stems and save them for stock, and reserve the soaking liquid; cut the caps into thin slices. Pick out and discard any shrimp that are discolored, drain off and discard the soaking liquid, and cut off any sandy veins that you see; keep the shrimp whole.

2. The next day, rinse the rice in a strainer, then place it in a medium work bowl. Cover the rice with cool tap water and soak for around 2 hours, or until it passes the fingernail test. Drain the rice and steam (traditional method) for about 40 minutes, or until cooked but still chewy. Remove the rice from the steamer.

Molded in custard cups
3. Take the chilled pork belly out of the fridge and slice it against the grain into thin pieces, and then cut these into thin vertical strips so that you have alternating layers of fat and meat. Place the meat in a small work bowl and toss them with the soy sauce, rice sine, and black pepper; let the meat marinate in a cool place while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

4. If you are making molded sticky rice, reserve 16 mushroom slices and 8 shrimp as garnish; chop the rest of the shrimp and add it to the rest of the mushroom slices. If you are making the savory sticky rice, chop all of the shrimp and add them to the mushrooms. Drain off and reserve the meat marinade.

5. Heat a wok over medium-high heat and then add the mingyou or sesame oil. Toss in the chopped shrimp and mushroom slices and stir-fry them for a couple of minutes to release their fragrance. Add the drained meat and fried shallots to the wok and continue to stir-fry these until the pork is almost done, then add half of the mushroom soaking liquid, reserved pork marinade, and steamed rice. Toss these together, allowing the liquid to loosen the clumps; add the rest of the mushroom liquid when the rice becomes dry. If making the savory sticky rice, add the braised peanuts and toss. Sprinkle on the sugar, toss some more, and taste before adjusting the seasoning. (The molded rice will be served with soy paste, so be sure not to oversalt it.)

6. If you are preparing savory sticky rice, you’re done; just pile it into a serving bowl and sprinkle on some cilantro. Serve it hot.

Dried mushrooms plumped up
7. For molded sticky rice, spray 8 jelly jars or custard cups with oil. Place 2 mushroom slices and 1 shrimp in the bottom of each jar. Then, divide the rice among the jars and pat it down gently so that there are no air pockets. Steam the molded sticky rice for about 10 minutes to heat it through, turn the jars over into individual rice bowls, sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and cilantro, and drizzle on soy paste to taste (about 1 tablespoon per serving), and then deliver it to your waiting guests while it is still very hot.

8. Both recipes freeze well and can be steamed until piping hot before serving.

4 comments:

  1. I am so glad to have found your blog. One thing about this recipe is that the directions are confusing. What exactly is the marinade for the pork (soy sauce, rice wine, pepper and sesame oil?) and how long do you marinade it for? How should the pork belly be cut, slices or cubes? Then you use the same reserved meat marinade when you stir-fry the topping mix? Thanks!

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  2. You're right, something got lost along the way. Hope this clears this up... Thanks!

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