Saturday, October 18, 2008

taste of China

I've been in my Cuisines of Asia class now for two weeks with one remaining and have learned quite a lot in such a short period of time. I'm going to write this post only on China, despite the study of Korea, Japan and Vietnam we just finished, as I think it will be better if the countries were broken up a little bit.
China is typically thought of of the culinary base of the other surrounding Asian countries. We began our class studying that cuisine and it's interesting how their influence is prevalent in all the others. China has four areas that have drastically different cuisines. These being the north (Peking or Mandarin cuisine), the south (Canton cuisine), the west (Szechwan cuisine) and lastly the East (Shanghai cuisine). Each region has a unique something making it special and separate. Here's a quick overview:
North- wheat flour is a staple, has Mongolian influence of hot pot and BBQ, Peking duck
South- dim sum (see picture) , least greasy of all regional foods, known to eat anything that flies and swims
*** dim sum means "pointing to the heart"
East- red lacquer cooking (see picture), lots of fish, famous for "sizzling rice"
***this region is the coolest in my opinion.
West- grow tons of rice, tea and peppers (Szechwan peppercorns), tea smoking
***Szechwan peppercorns are also called fagara and are known to be numbing to the tongue

While cooking Chinese cuisine there were a few things that surprised me. One was how the meat is prepared for many of their dishes. They use something called velveting which means using both cornstarch and egg whites to coat a raw protein before deep frying it in order to give it a more shiny exterior. Along with this, many of their meats are deep fried before being stir-fried. I thought it was bad enough how much oil is used in stir-frying and then I saw that most of the recipes called for us to first deep fry shrimp, pork, beef and so on to cook it before adding it to the stir-fry.
The most alarming recipe was an American-Chinese one everyone loves. It's the famous Honey Walnut Prawns. You'll never guess the secret ingredient. Here is the recipe...
1 lb. prawns, shelled and de-veined
1 T. rock salt
1 beaten egg
1 t. cornstarch
1/8 t. white pepper
12 whole walnut halves (boiled to loosen skin)
simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated until sugar is dissolved)
2 T. sesame seeds
for the SAUCE-
2 T sweetened condensed milk*
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 t. honey
1/2 t. lime juice
*this, to me, is the secret ingredient. Who'd have thought this recipe had sweetened condensed milk?!? crazy!
1. rub salt into prawns, let rest 5 min. Rinse, dry. Add cornstarch and egg white, let marinate 1/2 hour.
2. Mix walnuts with simple syrup to coat, toss with sesame seeds and lay out on oiled pan. Deep fry walnuts till crispy.
3. Mix sauce ingredients on low heat, adding ingredient in order as written above. Don't boil.
4. Dredge shrimp lightly in cornstarch and deep fry until shrimp just done. Mix immediately with warm sauce and garnish with walnuts.
Okay, seriously, this could be the most fattening recipe ever...but oh so delicious and worth it. Well, once in awhile.

On the second day of China my group made dim sum called Taro Balls (great name huh?). It consisted of a ground pork mixture filling surrounded by taro root mashed with Crisco, water and cornstarch. The balls were hard to make and Georgina and I had a little bit of a hard time making them look like footballs, as Chef Brenda desired. At one point in the beginning of making the balls Chef came over to our tray of them and yelled, "Who made that!?!," pointing at the last ball I had formed. I looked down, saw that it was my ball and said, "uh, me Chef," trying not to laugh. She was all, "that's HUGE!." I was able to make them small and more desirable looking but overall they looked really gross. I mean, a football shaped purplish dough with ground brown filling...they all looked like little turds to my classmates and I.

My favorite dish made during China has to be Wonton Soup. Chef Brenda made it special and it was amazing. I need to make it at home soon.

No comments: