Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chinese Poached Chicken With Ginger-Scallion Oil


From time to time, my mom would make a no-frills poached chicken that we’d eat simply with some fish sauce or salt and pepper.  She used what I now know as the “Chinese” way to poach a chicken: bring a pot of water to just under a boil, stick a whole chicken in the pot, take the pot off the heat, and let it sit for about an hour.  Plain poached chicken may not sound very appealing, but the gentle Chinese method of poaching results in a super moist and tender chicken.

Later in life when my family moved to Chicago, we discovered the joy of Chinese poached chicken served with ginger-scallion oil (very much like what you would eat with Chinese whole steamed fish) at a random hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant.  Chinese poached chicken is good on it’s own, but with ginger-scallion oil it’s elevated to a level worthy of addiction.


It’s no surprise that ginger-scallion oil is a perfect condiment to almost anything since it’s made up of two out of the three ingredients for the Chinese holy trinity: ginger, scallion, and garlic.  Knowing I was one ingredient away from completing the trifecta, I saw some fresh garlic at Marketplace on Oakton and decided to incorporate the green stalks into my ginger-scallion oil.


I chose to use the less pungent stalks of the fresh garlic rather than the bulbs that most people are familiar with because I didn’t want a strong garlic flavor to overwhelm the delicateness of the chicken.  Plus, I’d never used fresh garlic stalks before so I thought it would be an interesting experiment.  Under the knife, the stalks felt like a sturdy scallion as they were a bit denser than their Allium cousin.  Clearly I took a more rustic approach as the pieces of garlic stalk were cut unevenly in some places.


I ended up using the garlic bulbs (and some homemade berbere) for some yemisir watt that I made later in the week.


From a distance, the fresh garlic stalks are somewhat indistinguishable from the scallion.


The intensely aromatic mixture, sauce, oil, or what have you can be paired with pretty much anything and instantly make it taste amazing.  In fact, I’d be perfectly content with eating plain white rice topped with ginger-scallion oil for a meal.  However, I thankfully had chicken on hand.  Instead of poaching the chicken in water, I used some homemade chicken stock for some extra flavor and cooked rice with the resulting liquid.

The ratios listed below are by no means strict.  Just go what with what fits your tastes and use common sense when it comes to how much oil to use.

Chinese poached chicken

  1. Pot of water or stock => just under a boil
  2. Whole chicken => into pot, take pot off heat, ~1 hour

Ginger-scallion oil

  1. Equal parts ginger and scallion => mince
  2. Hot pan => neutral oil, just under smoke point
  3. Step #1 => into pan, ~1 minute, stir constantly

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fresh Dates


One of the things I love about Marketplace On Oakton, my main source for groceries, is the variety of produce they have.  Every time I go shopping, I’m bound to discover something I’ve never heard of or eaten before.  A couple months ago, I came across some fresh dates and thought I’d give them a try.  I’m not sure what kind of dates these were, but I generally find dried Medjool dates pleasant enough.  However, I don’t buy dried dates very often because they can easily be overwhelmingly sweet.

Something with dried dates in them that I would buy often, though, are the stuffed dates at Avec.  It consists of “chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper tomato sauce.”  The balance between sweet, savory, acidic, smoky, and spicy makes it one of the best things to eat in Chicago.


Not knowing what to do with a fresh date, I sliced a small piece off and popped it into my mouth.  Almost immediately, I had to spit it out.  The skin of the date was incredibly astringent and bitter and left my tongue feeling like I had just licked a pool of acid.   After being punished for my ignorance, I peeled the date and took a bite.

The texture was slightly crunch and the taste was that of a date without the intense sweetness that is so characteristic of a dried one.  It was sweet, but definitely more mellow than a dried date and didn’t leave me thirsting for a glass of milk to quench the sweetness.  As such, I felt like it actually let the natural date flavor shine on its own.  I would definitely buy these fresh dates again when they’re in season and would say that I prefer fresh dates over dried ones.


As a fun experiment, I set a couple dates aside and let them age a bit.  Unsurprisingly, their sweetness became more concentrated as time went on.  The flesh darkened to a more familiar brownish hue and the texture became softer, losing most of its crunchiness.


Not only did Marketplace on Oakton have fresh dates, but they had 2 kinds of fresh dates.  These dates did not come attached to a branch and were labeled as “Chinese dates.”  According to Wikipedia, these are also known as jujubes and are not to be confused with the candy of the same name.


I wasn’t sure how to tell the ripeness of Chinese dates, so I picked some that were entirely brown and others that had patches of brown.  The flesh tasted pretty much like an apple.  Nothing too mind blowing, but I’m glad I at least tried them.  After learning my lesson with the other fresh dates, I didn’t risk tasting the skin.  Aside from that debacle, I’d say I had a pretty successful adventure with fresh dates.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roasted Bone Marrow


If there’s one thing that can make or break a bowl of pho, it’s the broth.  One of the keys to making good pho broth is having a good amount of bones, preferably beef marrow bones, in addition to whatever cut of meat is being used.  When I make pho, I typically use marrow bones to fortify an oxtail base.


Sometimes, though, I go a little overboard with the amount of marrow bones that I buy for pho.  It’s easy to do when they’re only $0.29/lb.  The Chinese butcher that I get my marrow bones from takes fresh, whole leg bones and saws them down to 2-3 inch chunks upon ordering.  Unused bones usually go into the freezer for a future batch of stock, but this time I thought I’d roast them off and spread the marrow on some bread.


After about 15 minutes, the marrow started to pull away from the bone.  Based on the “recipe” I followed (I mean, all you have to do is stick bones in the oven), the marrow was ready.


I may have pulled them a little too soon because there were some parts that were pink, but I was afraid if I left them in the oven for too long the marrow would simply melt away into the pan.  Spread over a piece of bread and salted to taste, the bread tasted like it was dipped in rendered beef fat.  Essentially, that’s what it was.


As tasty as rendered beef fat is, I regret not waiting until I had some lime and cilantro on hand.  That would’ve done well to cut the fattiness of the marrow.

Roasted bone marrow

  1. Beef marrow bones => oven ~15 mins @ 450 F, cut side up, until marrow is soft and pulls away from bone
  2. Harvested marrow + bread + something acidic + something bright + salt => eat

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chinese Whole Steamed Fish


Every couple of months, my family would get together with all of our extended family in the Southern California area.  We would go to one of two places: Sam Woo in San Gabriel for dim sum or NBC Seafood in Monterey Park for Chinese seafood.  Nowadays, our we patronize Newport Seafood in Roland Heights.

One thing about reputable Chinese seafood restaurants is that they always have tanks and tanks full of live seafood.  I don’t understand why Western restaurants, especially those that specialize in seafood, don’t do this.  I think it’s safe to assume that most of the time the quality of a fish that’s dispatched only 15 minutes before eating it will be better than one that comes in dead from a fish monger.  When you order live seafood at these restaurants, they’ll bring out whatever you ordered to your table still live and flopping around to make sure it’s up to snuff before they…snuff it out.


As with dim sum, there were always a few guarantees when my family got together for Chinese seafood: crispy chow mein, Chinese lobster (in my opinion, the best way to prepare lobster), and Chinese steamed fish would be ordered and we’d get complimentary oranges or red bean soup for dessert.

With a longing for Chinese seafood and very little knowledge about the Chicago Chinese seafood scene, I set out to make my own Chinese steamed fish.  The first step was to get a live fish scaled and cleaned.  Most Asian grocery stores will usually have at least live tilapia, which is what I opted for.  I could’ve went with a more flavorful fish, but I was feeling cheap that day.


When I got home to cook the fish, it was still stiff from rigor mortis.  It doesn’t get much fresher than that.  Chinese steamed fish is very simple: all you really need to do is steam the fish in a basket full of aromatics and herbs and top the fish with some soy sauce and hot aromatics.  Also, don’t discard the head because the cheeks are the best part of the fish.


The fish turned out pretty respectable compared to what you can get at a restaurant.  Next time, I’ll probably go with a more flavorful fish.  I’m also interested in seeing if the quality of the fish at Marketplace on Oakton matches the quality of their produce.

Chinese steamed fish:

  1. 6 stalks green onion => ~3” rough chop
  2. 5” piece ginger => matchsticks
  3. 1 bunch cilantro => rough chop, set 2 T aside
  4. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 + 1/2 step #3 => line steaming vessel
  5. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 + 1/2 step #3 + salt + pepper + 1.5 lbs whole fish => season and stuff fish
  6. Step #4 + step #5 + 1 T  rice wine => steam, medium heat, ~15 minutes, discard aromatics
  7. 2 T cilantro + 1 t sesame oil + 2 T soy sauce + 1/2 t sugar => heat, pour over fish
  8. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 => really hot pan with oil, ~10 seconds, pour over fish