Monday, December 16, 2013

Breakfast the Chaozhou way

I must admit, I harbor a deep suspicion of anyone who does not love breakfast. Granted, if I am faced with a bowl of sugary cereal splashed with milk, I get more than a bit grumpy. That is not a civilized way to greet the day in my book. No, I want something hot, something savory, something guaranteed to keep me sailing all the way into lunchtime.

In other words, I want a tasty Chinese breakfast.

Now, you may be asking, how does one manage to get something like that while dealing with the usual morning crises, like simply waking up? Do it my way: stash good things in the freezer.

One of those good things is this ingenious rice roll from Chaozhou, that tasty sliver of Guangdong province nestling up against Fujian’s underbelly, the source of so much of the great food that spread over to Taiwan and south all the way into Indochina. Here we have not only the sticky rice that joins together all of the predominant schools of the Coastal Southeast—including Southern Fujian, Taiwan, and the Hakka—but also the dried ingredients packed with xianwei (a/k/a umami) that tell your mouth to celebrate.
Culinary fireworks

Black mushrooms, dried shrimp, salted turnips, and fried peanuts dance around in the steamed rice and offer not only those powerful tastes, but also a good bit of crunch to keep things interesting. Then, this savory rice is rolled in soy sheets, fried lightly in oil, and sliced into what looks quite a bit like servings of sausage.

Fried rice rolls are such an integral part of Chaozhou’s cuisine that they are found everywhere from banquets to the tiniest alleys, from market stands to the baskets hanging from the shoulders of street hawkers. Just about anything can make their way into the rice mix, too, so do not feel constrained by the seasonings used here. If you’re a vegan, toss in some diced cooked taro or carrot and maybe some fried shallots, or if you have some leftover meats in the fridge, shred or dice them to add a carnivorous edge to breakfast.

In Chaozhou, these will almost always be accompanied by strong cups of hot oolong tea, but a bowl of steaming soy milk or even a cup of coffee works just fine for me. Freeze a whole bunch of these unfried rolls and then fry a couple without first defrosting for a fast, delicious breakfast that will have you looking forward to the next morning. A chili dip is nice, as is a side of fried eggs or even bacon. Just no Lucky Charms, please.

Fried rice rolls
Filling in the soy skin
Juǎnjiān 卷煎
Makes 4 (3 x 6 inch) rolls

The day before:
1 cup sticky short-grain rice, soaked until it passes the fingernail test
3 tablespoons dried shrimp
6 dried black mushrooms
Filtered cool water as needed

The day of:
¼ cup dried salted turnip (càipú 菜脯)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons fried peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large fresh or frozen soy skin (fŭpí 腐皮)
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with a little water to form a paste
Spray oil
Oil for pan-frying

1. The day before you make these, soak the rice and then steam it until it cooked but not mushy. Cool the rice and then refrigerate it overnight. Rinse the shrimp and mushrooms, then soak them separately in cool water overnight. The next day, trim off any black sandy veins or discolored parts of the shrimp and chop them finely. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and use those and the soaking liquid for something else; chop the caps into fine (¼-inch) dice.

2. Rinse the salted turnip well in a colander place under the tap, shake the turnip dry, and then chop it into fine dice; take a taste of the turnip, and rinse it again if it is overly salty. Place the turnip in a medium work bowl with the cooled rice, shrimp, mushrooms, sesame seeds, peanuts, soy sauce, and sugar, and toss well. Divide the filling evenly into four.
Folding up the roll

3. Unfold a soy sheet and quickly cut it into quarters. Work on one sheet at a time and keep the rest covered to protect them from drying out and cracking. Lay a soy sheet triangle so that the point faces away from you. Place a quarter of the filling near the bottom of the triangle’s base and shape the filling into a more or less 3 x 6 inch rectangle. Fold the left and right sides of the soy skin over the filling so that the outer edges are parallel to each other. Then, roll the filling up in the soy skin. Use the cornstarch mixture as glue to seal the tip onto the roll. Cover the filled roll and repeat with the rest of the filling and soy skins until you have 4 rolls.

4. First steam the rolls: Spray a plate with oil and layer the rolls on top. Steam the rolls for around 5 minutes. These can then be either immediately fried or cooled and frozen. You may freeze the rice rolls at this point in a single layer and then store them in a resealable freezer bag; they do not need to be defrosted before frying.

5. To fry them, heat a flat seasoned frying pan over medium heat and then film it with around 1 tablespoon of oil per roll, frying only as many rolls as you plan to immediately eat. Fry the rolls covered on one side, flip them over, and fry uncovered until they are golden brown on both sides. Slice the cooked rice rolls on an angle into ¾ inch pieces. Serve with a vinegar or chili dip.