Lettuce Wraps with Amazing Sauce

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lately I've been making an effort to eat more at home, which has been a challenge. It's tough for home cooking to compete with the cheap and delicious food that can be picked up and eaten anywhere without messing up the kitchen. Having the fixings for these lettuce wraps in the fridge makes me look forward to coming home for lunch. They also pack nicely, if you have a fridge at work. Poach half a chicken breast in water or chicken stock, simmering for about 20 minutes, until just done. Shred chicken with a fork, salt, and moisten with a little cooking water. Chop a teaspoon of chili, and mix in for flavour if desired. The chicken keeps for a few days, well packed and wrapped in the fridge. Wash one medium or two small heads of leaf lettuce and pack leaves in a covered container in the fridge. They should stay crisp for a couple of days.

The 'amazing sauce' of the title is one of the coolest accidents lately in my kitchen. It's inspired by the sauce Koreans use on lettuce wraps, but I didn't have den jang (Korean fermented soybean paste) and didn't want its overwhelming funkiness for this anyway. So I ended up mixing equal parts tahini, Korean hot pepper paste, and rice vinegar. The sauce has heat and sharpness but the tahini keeps it in balance. I tried spreading this sauce on tofu before baking, and it was great. I would eat fries dipped in this, or a hard boiled egg. The sauce keeps well covered in the fridge; just mix in extra vinegar if it is too thick.

This amount of chicken and lettuce is good for 2-3 lunches, with a side of rice.

Never Throw Out Chicken Fat

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After making a batch of chicken stock from a whole bird I skimmed nearly a cup of fat from the top, planning to save it and try to find a way to sub it for expensive butter. A few days later at the market I picked up a pound of shredded potatoes. At home, I melted a tablespoon of chicken fat into the potatoes with half a teaspoon of salt, until I could toss everything together. I spread the potatoes in a pan and roasted them uncovered for twenty minutes at 200 C (about 400 F) . They came out of the oven browned in a pattern that showed my oven's hot spots in scientific detail. No matter, I mixed them up with tongs and the contrast between the soft and crispy ones was a big part of the appeal.

If you are shredding your own potatoes, a benriner is best for getting the long, square shreds. The potatoes brown easily so should be watched during the last few minutes of cooking. This is a side dish for two, or a snack. Excellent sprinkled with vinegar.

White Fungus Soup

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Many servers at local restaurants these days recommend their white fungus soup (银耳汤), which I never had the habit of eating before coming to China. It has a cooling effect on the body which makes it perfect for summer, and many other health benefits. I started ordering it a lot because I found it delicious. The fungus itself has an extremely mild flavour, but the texture is quite interesting and it turns the soup gelatinous. It is served sweet and cold and often is mixed with fruit. I added goji berries to this bowl, but my favourite addition these days is chunks of fresh watermelon. Anyway, if white fungus is new to you, give it a try - it is inexpensive, beautiful, good for you, and has all kinds of mouth interest going on.

Soak a fist sized lump of white fungus in water to cover for a few minutes; drain and rinse. Boil in another three cups of water with 1 tbs rock sugar, then simmer for ten minutes or so until soft. (Can add goji berries or other dried fruit during simmering.) Chill and eat cold. Keeps for a couple of days in the fridge.