Saturday, October 15, 2011

China - Day 1

This is it, we have arrived.  (In my head this is being narrated by Ira Glass because I just watched this.  It is only funny if you listen to This American Life regularly.)  I was both dreading and hoping for China.  Could I do it justice?  Would I fall into the trap of just doing Americanized Chinese food that doesn't resemble the real thing at all?  In an effort to get this right, I did not just one but three days of Chinese food.  My cookbook had four menus, highlighting separate foods for the North, South, East, and West.  I chose at least one from each and started my culinary journey.

Our blog this time in three acts.  Act one continues after the break.

(Sorry)

China

Area: Over 9.5 million sq km; 4th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than the US
Borders: Borders 14 different countries, including three I have already cooked (Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Burma)
Population: Over 1.3 billion; Largest in the world
Capital: Beijing
Largest City: Shanghai
Time: All of China officially falls within one timezone; although some places observe an unofficial "timezone"
Political Pressure: According to the CIA Factbook, no substantial political opposition groups exist to the ruling Communist party
National Anthem: The March of the Volunteers, originally a theme song to a 1935 Chinese movie
GDP: Over $10 trillion; 3rd largest in the world
Stats: China dominates so many of the stats it is hard to name them all.  Top five in oil production and consumption.  Biggest labor force and most mobile phones.  More internet users than any other countries.
Source: CIA Factbook

The logistics behind getting China to work were a little ridiculous, kinda like the real country.  Kevin and I ran around the international store trying to read labels in other languages and interpret what the descriptions really meant.  After some successes and compromises, we came home:

Absurd amount of stuff.  A lot of the recipes called for similar things, but there was so much I didn't have.  And, of course, a lot of it I only used a tbsp or so.  My cupboards are overflowing and Kevin isn't happy because I am taking up some of his tortilla chip space.

Day one was going to be the most ambitious.  We invited people over to have some Kung Pao Chicken (West), Buddah's Delight (South) and Jiao Zi or Guo-tieh (North), AKA Potstickers.  I realize that none of those sound too exotic, as you can order them all at your local Chinese takeout place, but my research seemed to say that yes, people in China actually do eat these dishes.  And I was still out of my normal comfort realm, so it was a good start.

A few things had to sit for a while ahead of time, and we'll start with the most interesting: the filling for the pot-stickers.  You are supposed to take some Napa cabbage, dice it, mix it with some salt, and let is sit for 30 minutes.  Then you wring out the water.  Why would you do something like this?  Let us turn to the science guy in the house:
Osmosis! The salinity on the outside of the cabbage is higher than on the inside, and nature tries to even these things out.  Thus, water comes out of the cabbage.  (It may be called diffusion - I forget the difference between osmosis and diffusion.  But osmosis is a cooler word.)

When we were done, the cabbage lost a significant amount of its mass. 
While that was sitting, it was also time to marinate the chicken for Kung Pao.  Soy sauce (didn't specify light or dark, because apparently there is a difference), dry sherry, water, ego, oil, cornstarch.  Rice wine was always an alternative for sherry, and tapioca powder for cornstarch.  However, I already had the latter.

For the Buddah's Delight, I had to rehydrate some dried mushrooms.  This is definitely something I had never done before.

Now time to step up the pace because of the people coming over.  There were a lot of sauces and such to be mixed.
Also note: clean house!
Kung Pao sauce: dark and light soy sauce, rice vinegar, chicken stock, sugar, salt, sesame oil, and cornstarch.
I think sesame oil is now my favorite thing.
Pot sticker filling: dried cabbage, salt, ground pork, green onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chicken stock, cornstarch.

There were also dipping sauces and such, but I needed to make the dough for the potstickers.  Looks simple enough.  Flour, salt, boiling water, cold water.  The end ratio of dry to wet ingredients was 2 cups + 1/8 tsp to .5 cup + 2 tbsp.  This caused me many problems.  It was supposed to sit a few times, which I hoped would help.

I don't have any pictures of making dough after this, because things got really hectic.  People started arriving and I wasn't ready and it was bad.  And the dough would NOT stay together.  I had to add more and more water to make it even a little like dough.  Why do I always have this problem?  Then I couldn't get it thin enough, so the pot stickers were misshapen.

I read what I had to do next for Buddah's Delight and saw I had to blanch all of the vegetables.  All 8 of them.  Ummmm, no.  There goes that dish.  Save it for another day because it isn't happening tonight.

We starting enlisting other people to help.  Can you tell I am anxious just remembering all of this?  I filled the pot stickers while Alison closed them up.  Kevin fried them while I cooked the Kung Pao chicken.  It was quite the operation.
Jon drank in the background.  :-p
Alison helping!
This is how much oil the Kung Pao Chicken called for.  It seemed a bit ridiculous, but it worked.
The instructions for the pot stickers were odd.  You first fried them in oil.  Then you added water and vinegar and cover them and cook some more.  Adding water to hot oil?  Not generally a good idea.  There were splatters everywhere.

A few wouldn't fit in the pan...
For the chicken, there was also some dried chile peppers, which were interesting to fry.  They took less than 30 seconds to brown.


The pot stickers ended up a little over-done, but it happened pretty quickly so it was hard to stop.
We made some rice for the chicken and we could finally eat.
Redeeming quality of the whole adventure?  It tasted good!  I really liked both of these dishes.  I think there could be some improvement on cooking the pot stickers, but they were yummy and their dipping sauce was delicious too.  I was also a big fan of the Kung Pao Chicken.  Kevin was the only dissenting vote I was given.  He said he could taste the peanuts too much, even though it was just a handful thrown in after the dish was done cooking.  Can't please them all.

Rachel ate three of the peppers, which she regretted.  I would not recommend doing that.

If I weren't trying to do so much at once, I don't think these dishes would be that hard.  I would really like to make them again.  I would probably remove the peanuts and try the steaming directions for the pot stickers instead.  I still have to figre out the dough part, though.

In conclusion, a delicious but stressful day one from China.  What will day two bring?  A new meat and a second attempt at some veggies.  Stay tuned!

Next time: China Day 2

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