Friday, January 30, 2009

Chinese New Year - Stewed Mushrooms

It's a very special time of year right now. But Steve, the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savoir, Jesus Christ is over and so is New Years. What are you talking about? Is it Black History Month?

Well, Black History Month is indeed very special, but it isn't quite here yet. No, my friends, it's Chinese New Years!

What is Chinese New Years about? Getting little red packets stuffed with cash while being guilt tripped on how you don't make enough money? Your grandma yelling at you for not being married? Every family member you know above the age of 40 telling you that you go find a Chinese girl lest you wallow in the misery of a life without "properly" prepared Chinese cuisine (which is considerably less awkward for me now considering I no longer have a white girlfriend)?

Yes, these are essentially the most important parts of Chinese New Years and indeed were the reasons why the holiday was originally celebrated in China over 50,000 years ago. However, though these things fill my breast with joy, when I think of Chinese New Years, I think about the food (inb4 twinkie, banana, etc).

Now, my mom is very secretive about her recipes, telling them to only a select group of people. In fact, she is so secretive about them, she cannot even accurately convey how to make the dishes to those such as myself who are trusted with this most valuable information. So, for posterity's sake, I will record, step by step, how to make some of these delicious recipes. This task is all the more important as I will need to be able to replicate these dishes to ward off the painful homesickness I will likely experience during law school. Also, in the event I marry a non-Chinese girl, this will larn her good.

The first thing we will make is...

Stewed Mushrooms
(approximate Cantonese romanization: meng dong gu)

Ingredients: Dried Shitake Mushrooms, Corn starch, Bean Paste, Pork Chop, Smoked Ham Hocks, Chinese Dried Scallops, Soy Sauce, Salt, Ginger, Garlic, Dried Tangerine Peels, Rock Sugar, Oyster Sauce, Cooking Oil

We start with this lovely barrel of dried shitake mushrooms. Look how lovely they are:

Next, we soak the mushrooms in water so that they rehydrate. Then, we rinse them a few times to get all the dirt and such out of there. Make sure you cut off the stems so they look purdy.

Since we're being Chinese, we need to add cornstarch. In our case, we added about 5 tablespoons of the stuff. Mix all the mushrooms so that they all get coated and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, rinse away the cornstarch. I don't know how, but this is supposed to make the mushrooms have a smoother texture.

Whip out your wok, cause these mushrooms are ready to be cooked! But wait! We need to bring some flavor for this party first. Take your wok and add some oil to it. Bring the heat up to high and wait for the oil to get hot. Now, we add some sliced ginger, garlic cloves, and dried tangerine peels (soak before use). Brown them until the aroma starts getting out. Doesn't that smell good?

Once everything's a-browning and the armoa's a-releasing, add some (soya?) bean paste and the mushrooms. Add some water so the stuff doesn't stick to the bottom of the wok and some soy sauce and salt. Don't go overboard since we'll be adding more seasonings and sauces later.

Once you've tossed it around for a bit, transfer everything into a pot. Add water until everything is almost covered. Now, throw in a bunch of meat. In our case, we used a pork chop, 2 smoked ham hocks, and some Chinese dried scallops. Now, these dried scallops are called conpoy and these small ones cost $30/lb! I have tried to find out how to make these suckers myself so I can forgo my career in law and go into the lucritive scallop drying business, but I can't seem to find how they're made anywhere in the 10 minutes I spent looking online.

Anyways, back to cooking. Add some rock sugar for some sweetness and cover the pot, set the heat to high, and let the water boil. When the water starts boiling, lower the heat to medium and cook for an additional 1.5hrs or so depending on how much you have. Add more water in the unlikely event that everything gets dried up.

Once time's up, mix everything up with some oyster sauce and add some more corn starch to thicken the remaining liquid into a gravy. Oh, and don't forget the MSG! Just kidding! ; )

And voila, you have yourself a big mess of stewed mushrooms! They may not look terribly appetizing at first, but believe me, they're terribly damn tasty. The flavor of the mushrooms themselves is relatively subdued, but what really carries it is the flavor of the oyster sauce, meat, and dried scallops. The mushrooms are tender and melt in your mouth.

By now, you may have figured out that I'm living at home, cause I'm cool like that. In any case, I will try to document as many of my mom's recipes as possible. They probably won't be posted or even tested in time for Chinese New Years, but like I said, I'm doing this for posterity. I hope you learned something from this and perhaps you will try this and future recipes in your kitchen. I'll also make some noninstructional posts by and by and hopefully, they won't be too dull or poorly written. Anyways, 恭喜发财! 新年快乐! Now hand me some money, bitch!

Edit - Here is a picture of the finished product:

First Post!

Hi, my name is Steve and I have a lot of time on my hands. I graduated college in May of 2008 with a degree in Economics and have subsequently decided to go to law school. I've already been admitted to a number of schools, but haven't decided for sure on which one to attend as I'm still waiting on a few decisions as well as waiting for scholarship offers. I'll probably talk about law school a lot in future posts.

There ain't much in terms of jobs out there and I live in a small town in New England so I have a lot of free time. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, leaving me with even less to do. It really isn't a bad thing (the free time, that is), since will likely be my last chance to take it easy before the rigors of law school and the endless hours of work in the real world. Law school starts sometime in August of this year and right now, it is the end of January.

A lot of people have asked me what I do with my all my time. I usually say that I'm reading all the books I was supposed to have read and want to read, I exercise, I'm learning how to play guitar, and so on. With this blog, I will have one more thing to add to the list.