Siu Mai

Siu Mai

My Brother in law Mike, who is a very knowledgeable home cook, loves traditional Chinese food. So much so that my niece and nephew, although having fewer than a dozen years between them, can order all the tastiest dim sum by name. We tend to eat out quite a bit and he always recommends the finest food and restaurants whether we are craving American, Japanese, or Chinese food. Getting take-out or a seat at most places is not usually a problem, but whenever we try to get in at Kirin Seafood Restaurant, we are always too late. Known by many as having the best dim sum in Vancouver it’s the reason why getting a reservation without planning weeks ahead is so difficult. When my wife and I planned our wedding though, it finally afforded us the perfect opportunity to make a reservation for a day when we knew we’d be in town. We had been served dim sum before, but it was at Kirin that we were introduced to it in a formal way.

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Siu Mai, otherwise known as shumai, shaomai or by various other spellings, is a traditional Chinese dumpling originating from Mongolia. The most popular Cantonese version of this dish is prepared with pork, shrimp, and mushroom. We will be using pork and shrimp for this recipe in addition to some Shaoxing cooking wine, sesame oil, ginger, and white pepper. We are omitting the mushrooms this time because we are also making Korean mandus at the same time with pork and shrimp and wanted to use mushrooms in that recipe instead so the two dishes would taste quite different.

We start with the pork. The best cut of pork for this recipe is probably shoulder. It has a sufficient amount of fat to balance out the leanness of the shrimp (and mushrooms when used) but even still, some recipes call for the addition of pork back fat in order to make the dumplings extra succulent. We cut the pork into cubes and then used a food processor to mince into our desired consistency. It’s nice to have pork that’s a little chunky compared to regular ground pork for this recipe as it provides a bit of bite. We blitz the peeled shrimps to the same consistency.

Next after combining the meats we are adding rice wine, sesame oil, ginger, white pepper, and tapioca starch. You can use corn starch if you’d like but we prefer tapioca starch as it has the same binding effect but a silkier texture.

After the siu mai filling is thoroughly mixed up, it’s time to form the dumplings! it’s best to use round dumpling wrappers for these as they come out prettier. To form a dumpling, make a ring with your thumb and middle finger and push a round wrapper down into it, as shown below. Then use a fork or spoon to fill the depressed wrapper. As you press the filling into the wrapper, apply pressure with your thumb and middle finger to make a ‘curve’ so there is more filling at the bottom and top compared to the middle. It should take on the shape of a beautiful woman from the side while the top will appear a bit like a flower. Garnish each with a pea or a carrot flower if you want them to be extra fancy. The photos shown here are unfortunately only from our test recipe somehow we seem to have misplaced our main post photos 🙁 but you can make carrot flowers by peeling your carrots and carefully cutting ‘V’s all around the sides before slicing them the normal way very thinly.

After you’ve formed all your dumplings it’s time to steam them. We could only find one bamboo steamer basket so we are trying to be a bit resourceful here by using our stainless steel pressure cooker basket as well which we first sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. It takes about ten minutes to steam each batch of approximately six-seven dumplings… far too long to wait between batches when you’re hungry as far as we’re concerned so you will want to use at least two bamboo steamers if you have them.

Although not a traditional step, we took the recipe one step further and browned the bottom of each steamed dumpling on a hot cast iron pan so they came out the texture of crispy potstickers and served them with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, garlic, scallions, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. This was heaven on a plate and well worth the time spent. We hope you enjoy your own dumpling making adventures!

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

There is no comfort food quite like fried chicken and there are so many tips and tricks that make this recipe truly great. Through our years of first hand experimentation in addition to countless hours of research we are proud to bring you this recipe which guarantees the most crispy and flavorful chicken you will find anywhere… rivaling that of any of the most well known brands out there and customized to your individual taste, to boot!

Before we talk spices and seasonings though, the first and most important thing about this recipe is temperature. Deep fried foods will only come out crispy if you maintain your temperature around 350 degrees F. If you let the temperature drop, you will allow time for the oil to infiltrate the batter and keep it oily, and that makes for a soggy crust. If there is one rule you need to follow it is this. You can dredge your chicken in flour, egg, and then (salted) flour only and if you keep the temperature between 350 and 375 you’ll still get good results. So have a method to maintain accurate temperature control first. We use an infrared thermometer and fry in small batches to keep the initial temperature drop of the oil to a minimum.

Secondly, gluten is the enemy of crispy fried chicken. When you make a tempura batter, many recipes involve using a flour mixture and either ice cold water or ice cold soda water, and using the mixed up batter quickly. It’s because cold water inhibits gluten formation more than warm water and it’s the gluten protein matrix that holds on to oil. Keeping in mind the advice about keeping temperature high and consistent above, good tempura chefs use a batch of batter for each order/dish because the longer it sits after liquid is added, the more gluten is formed, and the less crispy the finished tempura becomes. Ice cold water is usually the first choice for mixing up wet batters for frying, but if you want even better results you can use ice cold vodka. Vodka is 40% alcohol, and gluten can’t form in alcohol at all. Using vodka will afford you even more time to fry up batches of good tempura, but if you live in a place where vodka is expensive like here in Canada, ice cold water may be a better alternative but let’s get back on track here… If you want to keep a wet batter from holding on to excessive oil then make sure to use ice cold water.

 

The third most important thing is the batter/dredge composition. Now that you know that gluten is the enemy of good crispy crust formation it comes in handy to know that it is only standard flour that can develop gluten at all. Korean and Chinese chefs use corn starch almost exclusively for frying… not that it would matter so much though as wok temperatures can easily go far beyond 350 degrees F but i digress… Corn flour and corn starch are culinary weapons in the quest for crispy fried chicken but we get some great results for this recipe with a 50% mix of corn flour and corn starch and 50% flour.. and now for a secret ingredient that you won’t see us using in the videos below 😉  if you want extra crispy and I mean almost hurt your gums kind of crispy, add 1 T of dried mashed potato flakes for each cup of seasoned flour mix/dredge. Seriously. You won’t taste the potato and everyone will wonder where you developed your mad frying skills.

Now that you’re up to speed on some frying techniques that can be applied to just about any foods (like calamari for instance) here comes the fun part. It’s time for the seasonings and this is where your preferences come into play! You can use any spices you want at all for fried chicken, whether it be the colonel’s 12 herbs and spices like KFC original recipe (White pepper, black pepper, sage, coriander, ginger, ancho chile, vanilla, bay leaf, savory, cloves, and cardamom) our mix (savory, powdered dried chives, black pepper, oregano, paprika, kashmiri chile pepper, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, ginger powder, thyme, ajinomoto) or your own mix of favorites, when you follow the tips above and cook your seasoned flour mixture to a golden brown color it’s almost guaranteed to be delicious! In any case though you will want to make sure you heavily season your dredge/flour mixture as very little of it will actually end up sticking your chicken…. And don’t forget the salt! Salt is the most important part of the recipe even if it’s not listed as an ingredient… after all that’s what ‘seasoning’ really means, right? Salt makes food taste more like itself and without it, food is bland.

 

And the last ingredient? Baking powder. Use 1/2 tsp of baking powder for each seasoned cup of flour. Using too little will result in a batter that’s lays too flat on the chicken and too much will cause it to ‘explode’ outwards leaving pieces behind in your oil.

We served this chicken with our homemade potato salad…. Enjoy the photos and videos below!

Gumbo Stew

Gumbo Stew

We needed a dish to help keep us warm this winter. Being in the Cariboo now about 350km North of Vancouver it stays a little on the cool side here compared to on the Coast and with this years polar vortex bringing in cool air between -20 and -30C we’ve really had to work at staying warm! Fortunately for us we have a roaring fireplace and some great food to help out with that.

Tomato beef stew gets a bit boring after awhile so this time we thought we’d elevate the dish a little bit by starting with a Gumbo rioux and throwing in some seafood in addition to the typical stewing ingredients like tomatoes and potatoes.

It all starts with a two pound piece of bone-in blade steak with plenty of marbling cut into chunks. It’s easy to just dump this in to the stew as many do, but searing off the pieces to add some browning really ups the flavour of the finished dish so you don’t want to skip this step. When searing the meat chunks it’s important not to crowd them in the pan otherwise they begin to boil/steam instead of brown and if that’s the case you may as well just skip this step instead.

 

 

Now time to dice up the holy trinity and some carrots to make it more like a stew. Sometimes we like to leave the pieces a little chunky by using a rough chop, but in this case I went with a fine dice that way the veggies sweat faster and you get more flavour in every bite. We wanted to make this stew extra chunky though so we kept the potato, carrot, and tilapia pieces on the larger side.

 

 

Next we are preparing the spice mixture which is basically a home made Cajun spice. For this mix we used ancho and cascabel chilies, smoked and regular paprika peppers, oregano, toasted and ground cumin seeds, and the secret ingredient…cinnamon, which gives the mix just a bit of intrigue.

After peeling the shells off the shrimps it’s time to move on to the rioux, which is the critical process/ingredient that will either make or break your gumbo. For this recipe we are using equal parts flour and canola oil… about a cup and a half in this case. The process involves cooking the flour over medium-high heat in a heavy bottom pan while stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides and burn. You definitely don’t want to walk away from it during this process! If the temperature gets too high or the flour is allowed to settle anywhere it will turn color rapidly and take on a acrid taste. If you suspect that the flour is burnt or temperature has reached too high for too long then it would be better to dump it out and start all over again rather than to risk having a dish that is inedible… We’ve gone past the point of no return on this one before and the gumbo turned out so bad that our dogs wouldn’t even eat it! It’s not a pleasant feeling to know that you’ve completely wasted twenty dollars or more worth of perfectly good ingredients so you’ll want to make sure you are careful. The goal of creating the rioux is to develop intense flavour within the cooked flour and as the flavour develops the color will change from whitish to golden, to milk chocolate brown, and if you’re patient enough, almost black. This process will probably take a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of constant stirring and monitoring of temperatures so the rioux doesn’t go above 375F. We use an infrared thermometer during this process to ensure it doesn’t get too hot and for this recipe we were aiming for a nice chocolate brown. Once you’ve reached this stage it’s time to add the vegetables.

After sweating off the veggies it’s time to bring most of the dish together by adding stock and the remaining ingredients except for the shrimp and fish which get added near the end. For this recipe we added smoked turkey stock, a can of whole tomatoes, and the seared beef chunks along with our seasoning mixture, ground sassafras leaves otherwise known as file powder or gumbo file, and a couple bay leaves. To make the beef fall apart tender, chunks like these need to simmer for about two hours so we set our timer for about an hour and a half at which point we moved on to making the saffron rice. And after the rice was done we added the fish and shrimp… just long enough for them to cook through.

And…. the finished gumbo stew! Garnished with fresh ground pepper, file powder, and sriracha!

Chinese Style Crispy Skin Pork Belly

Chinese Style Crispy Skin Pork Belly

If you were to ask a number of chefs “What is the best way to make delicious pork belly?” you’d probably get a different answer from each one. Just a quick Google or Youtube search reveals a myriad of them with varying cooking times and procedures. What is certain though is whether you’re going to turn it into bacon or make it fall apart tender with crispy skin, you will need some patience.

For this particular recipe we are using side pork with the skin on. Our goal is to make it melt in your mouth but also give the skin a crunchy texture. The first step is to simmer the meat in an aromatic and flavorful broth which we did on day one. The broth was made with water, soy sauce, Shaohsing cooking wine, ginger, garlic, dried chives, and a bit of homemade Chinese 5-spice powder. You can use a pressure cooker to speed up the simmering process to shave off a couple hours of prep time, but in this case our pressure cooker wasn’t larger enough to accommodate the whole piece and we didn’t want to cut it up.The next steps were done the following day which involved cooking it low and slow in an oven at 250F for a few hours to render some of the fat, followed by a few minutes under a hot broiler to crisp up the skin. Recently we’ve been partial to dry brining our meat whereas we would typically mix up a 3% salt and sugar solution and submerge the meat for a day or two, but after trying both methods these days Kim and I tend to agree with Kenji Lopez-Alt from the Food Lab that dry brining allows the meat to get seasoned without diluting its flavour. To facilitate the dry brining process, in between the first cook and the second we covered the skin with a mixture of one part baking powder to three parts salt and left it in the fridge uncovered overnight… not only to season the skin, but the baking powder also creates tiny bubbles and increases the pH so the browning and crisping process takes place more readily.

We are serving the pork belly with a side of rice noodles cooked in the same broth, and baby bok choy. Enjoy the photos below!

Crispy Fried Tofu

Crispy Fried Tofu

 

Tofu is such a versatile ingredient. It’s available in so many different textures and consistencies and can absorb flavor like a sponge. We like our tofu fried with a crisp crunch… accompanied by a side of soy sauce mixed with rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chives. The biggest barrier to making crispy tofu is the moisture content, which is the enemy of good browning. Technically known as the maillard reaction, browning is a process whereby new umami flavor compounds are created under high heat. When you try to fry tofu without drying and removing much of the moisture it can take a frustratingly long time to achieve a good crust as the heat from the pan has to drive out the moisture before the browning can even begin. To avoid the delay and increase your chances of getting a good crust, you’ll want to make sure the outsides of your tofu are at least very dry. We used medium firm tofu for this recipe which I drained and cut into thin slices, then sat the pieces on a rack covered in two layers of paper towel with some additional paper towel on top and let sit for a hour or so. Then i removed the wet paper towel and allowed the pieces to sit in free air for an additional fifteen minutes. The crispy coating is a simple mixture of corn starch and water which we dredged the pieces in before frying… Like so many other great recipes made with few ingredients it takes proper technique and bit of advance prep, but your patience will be well rewarded.   Enjoy the photos!