Sunday, June 27, 2010



I have a minor complaint to file against Hannah’s Bretzel.  I can get over their hipster/yuppie-friendly “organic” marketing plastered everywhere because they do make some pretty good sandwiches, albeit at a premium due to the organic hype machine.  What really annoys me is the slogan on their signage: “Twisted and tasty since 1477.”

Now to most people, I would imagine that translates to something like “founded in 1477 and operating ever since.”  Well at least that’s what I thought, but I was skeptical that a German sandwich shop (I assumed it was of German origin) of such longevity would bother opening up an outpost in the Chicago Loop.  I googled and found out from their website that 1477 actually corresponds to the year that their style of bretzel was founded, and not the actual shop.  I’m not really sure how you can “found” a bread, but apparently you can.  Misleading marketing if you ask me.  I liken it to if I opened up a Chinese restaurant that served grilled meats and had the slogan “Peking and primitive since 400,000 BC.”


In any case, I’d never had bretzel before going to Hannah’s, but after my first bretzel sandwich, I became a fan.  The flavor and texture are much like a soft pretzel, but the form typically takes the shape of a roll or baguette.  My coworker’s attempts to replicate bretzel as good as Hannah’s inspired me to give it a shot as well, following the same recipe with the intent to use the bread for banh mi.

As part of my ongoing experimentation with bread, I departed from the recipe a little and decided to allow for delayed fermentation of the dough and added salt directly into the dough.  Obviously from the picture, I could’ve done a better job storing it in the fridge.  I wrapped it way too tightly, and as it slowly expanded overnight, it busted out of the plastic wrap and formed a funny, monster-looking shape (the 2 small balls are the eyes and the big ball is the nose).

Similar to bagels and soft pretzels, the dough is boiled slightly before baking to give it a dense and chewy interior.  The recipe called for boiling the dough in baking soda, and I made the mistake of dumping the baking soda in boiling water all at once, which produced a huge overflow of bubbles.


The bretzel came out with great texture.  Dense, chewy, and soft on the inside with a yielding crust.  The flavor, while still pretty good, was no match for Hannah’s.  For one, I don’t think I added enough salt to the dough and had to add salt to the bretzel on the outside to bring out more flavor: something I wanted to avoid since I was going to use the bretzel as a sandwich vessel.  Also, the delayed fermentation did little to add any flavor.  Hannah’s is simply tastier than what I could produce on my first try.

On the plus side, it made a good vessel for the banh mi that I made.  The natural sweetness of the bretzel did well to compliment the general banh mi flavors, and the yielding crust of the bretzel alleviated my main gripe against banh mi: the hard crust of a baguette tears up the roof of my mouth when biting into it in sandwich form.  I’ll definitely be playing around with baking more bretzel in the future as it’s pretty tasty, even when baked by a novice like myself.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Joong/Zong: Chinese Sticky Rice with Red Snapper


Me being a blogging noob, I didn’t realize that one had to authenticate in order to post comments.  This should now be resolved, so I expect to see a huge influx of comments that’ll bump the average comments per post from 0.45 to a solid 0.5!    Another telltale sign of my blogging noobiness is the recent lack of updates.  My bad.  Anyway…

Sticky rice is one of those magical things that when stuffed with a variety of sweet (Vietnamese sticky rice with banana) or savory fillings, wrapped in some sort of leaf, and steamed will always turn out delightful to eat even if it does look rather sloppy as is the case here.  Joong, or zong, is a typical Chinese rendition of tried and true sticky rice, filling, and leaf combination commonly found at dim sum places, Chinese bakeries, and Chinese markets.  I swear my dad calls it “dung,” which makes me laugh.  It’s almost as good as “tit.”

Nine times out of ten, when going out for dim sum with my family, we’ll grab a couple orders of sticky rice.  One to eat at the restaurant, and one to take home and eat later.  Chinese sticky rice is so comforting (and conveniently packaged) that many times when I was at home during for break during college, I’d make sure to order a couple extra to take back to campus.


Lotus leaves are traditionally used to wrap the rice and give the little package of goodness a subtle tea-like aroma and flavor.  I thought it was pretty cool how the water beaded on one side of the leaf.  It was like the entire side was waterproof.


Chinese sausage gives the package some fatty goodness and is essential to any respectable package of Chinese sticky rice.  I typically prefer the sweet variety of Chinese sausage as I find it has more depth of flavor and the balance between salty and sweet is quite nice.


Another typical ingredient for Chinese sticky rice are tiny dried shrimp.  These add a salty brininess to the rice and help bring out the flavors of the other components of the rice.


The sausage and dried shrimp are stir fried with the Chinese trinity of ginger, scallion, and garlic along with mushrooms, oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, and Chinese wine.  Traditionally, ground pork or chicken is used as the main protein in the rice with an accompanying egg, but I opted for some fresh red snapper just to mix things up.

The filling and fish are then sandwiched between the steamed sticky rice.  You may notice that the sticky rice doesn’t look as glutinous as it should be.  I’ve made many forms of sticky rice many, many times with no issues, but something went wrong this time and I’m not too sure what.  I’m pretty sure I soaked the rice for long enough before steaming.


Parceling up sticky rice is way easier than filling and wrapping tamales.  I think the next time I make tamales, I won’t be so exacting with the spreading of the masa.  The parcels then go for a steam to cook the fish and finish off the rice.  I’ve seen some recipes actually bundle the already-wrapped sticky rice in some foil and boil the package rather than steam it.  I’d like to try this technique some time since it seems like less of a hassle than dealing with my huge Chinese steamer.


I didn’t really follow a recipe for this sticky rice and did things mostly by taste, but this recipe seems decent for a non-steamed/wrapped version.  Using red snapper turned out pretty good, but I must admit that I prefer the traditional ground pork with egg for the main protein.  Even with the sausage, there just wasn’t enough fat in the parcel for my tastes.

Perhaps next time I’ll try using Chilean sea bass instead since is nice and fatty.  Imagining those flavors actually reminds me of a Chilean sea bass dish that my mom makes every time we visit one of my aunts.  It’s steamed Chilean sea bass topped with a Vietnamese ground pork topping of ginger, scallion, glass noodles, fish sauce, and oyster sauce.  There’s probably a little more to the topping, but those are the main flavors that I can recall.