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When a lemon is not a lemon

Lemon (Orange) Chicken

Marinade: salt, white pepper and 1/2 cup of rice wine (or sherry). Cut 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into chunks or strips; prepare marinade to your taste, add chicken and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Batter: 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup cold water, 1 egg, 1 tbsp. (peanut) oil, salt. Whip egg, oil and salt in small bowl, add water and then slowly stir in flour. Set aside.

Lemon (orange) sauce: juice of 2 lemons (or 1 large orange), 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2 tbsp. cornstarch and 1 egg yolk. Heat lemon juice, sugar and water. Thicken with cornstarch. Pour about 1/2 cup into small bowl and slowly add egg yolk while stirring; then return to rest of the sauce. Do not make the sauce too early or you’ll cook the egg, which is only for color. Sauce should not be too runny, nor too thick–about the consistency of syrup.

Cooking: heat peanut oil to 375º, dip chicken in batter and deep fry in batches for about 6-8 minutes, until golden brown; drain on paper towel. Place chicken on serving dish and pour sauce on top; garnish with finely sliced half moons of lemon or orange. Serve immediately.

[Note: to date, I’ve never encountered this dish in China…in neither lemon, nor chicken form. The closest I’ve had, here in Hubei and also in Guangzhou (where Cantonese cuisine is predominant), is deep-fried pork strips slathered with orange sauce…though still hao chi (delicious). However, back home we would call this particular dish sweet and sour pork; indeed, the Chinese name for this dish is tang cu lijitang means sweet, cu means sour and liji means pork tenderloin, though I highly doubt very many restaurants actually use the tenderloin.

Another popular dish is tang cu paigu…pork ribs chopped into roughly 3/4 in. pieces and deep-fried (I suspect also parboiled)…again with orange sauce.

Final aside–despite the vast array of fruits available here, I’ve never seen lemons at the wet markets (shichang), though you can find them in many of the large supermarkets (chaoshi)…leading me to believe the average Chinese cook has little use for them.]


A little taste of Sichuan

Spicy Sichuan Chicken Wings

jiān chuānwèi là jīchì

18 chicken wings
2-4 tbsp. Sichuan pepper paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
1 tbsp. crushed ginger
1 tbsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. soy vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame seed oil
6 dried red (hot) peppers

Note: the dried red peppers (optional) are for extra fire; most Sichuan pepper paste isn’t all that hot…use less of the paste for a lighter flavor.

Wash and dry chicken wings; set aside. In large bowl, combine all ingredients; plop in the chicken wings and fold the sauce over them. Let it all marinade for 2-4 hours, periodically stir everything to spread the love; the longer the better, but 30 minutes will do if pressed for time. Heat large frying pan over medium heat, add enough peanut oil to lightly cover bottom of pan. When oil is hot, place chicken wings in pan skin-side down. Cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes and then turn and brown the other side. Serve immediately, though they’re darn tasty anytime. Garnish with green onion for a splash of color.

Jenny shi Sichuanren, so this is an authentic Sichuan cai (dish), although I dabbled with it a bit.

All the fixin’s for jiaozi

Dumpling Wrappers [jiǎozi pí – 饺子皮]

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs @ room temp.
1/2 cup water (1 cup without eggs)
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)

Combine salt and flour. Lightly beat eggs and water; add to a “well” in dry ingredients and slowly incorporate together. Depending on size of eggs, you may need to add a touch of oil, preferably peanut, or water for more moisture to work in all the flour. If too wet, slowly add more flour. Form into ball, rub sesame (peanut) oil over surface; cover and let rest for about an hour.

Cut dough in half; roll one part at a time as thin as possible—near to 1/16 inch. Much thicker and dumplings come out too doughy for my taste. Use 3 in. cookie cutter to cut dough for the dumplings. Place on paper bag, overlapping by no more than half so they don’t stick together. (You want as little flour dusting as possible.) Makes about 4 dozen wrappers—or “skin,” according to a literal translation.

Cultural note: my recipe is “Westernized,” in that it uses eggs. For most noodles/wrappers here, only water is commonly used, harking back to the days when fresh eggs were commercially scarce and expensive. If time or patience is an issue, in the states you can find frozen wrappers at Asian specialty stores. I somewhat recall Central Market also carries them. They aren’t as good as homemade of course, but they are serviceable.

Here in China, you can find very good, fresh jiaozi pi at most “wet” markets (shichang), which are incredibly cheap (about 3 kuai per yi jin…roughly 50¢ for 500g…or about 50 wrappers). Hence, I’ve settled for convenience and have never made home-made wrappers here.

* For trivia buffs out there, nowadays 10两 equals 1斤 (.5kg) but in ancient China, 16两 was equivalent to 1斤. So the idiom “half a jin, eight liang” (bànjīn, bāliǎng, 半斤八两) refers to two things that are about the same…like “six of one, half a dozen of another.”

* Source: Like a Local

Meat Dumplings [jiǎozi ròu – 饺子]:

1 lb. lean ground pork
1/2 lb. ground veal (optional)
1/2 cup thinly sliced spring onion (green only)
1 egg

To your taste:
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
1 tbsp. crushed ginger
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
(white or black)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
2-4 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil

In small mixing bowl lightly beat egg with all ingredients, except meat. In large mixing bowl, break up the strands of ground meat by hand as much as possible. Pour egg/spice mixture over the meat and combine thoroughly, but the less you “knead” the meat, the more tender your dumplings will be. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Place about 1 tbsp. meat in wrapper, dampen inside edge of one half of the wrapper with water, fold over and lightly press with fingers, working from one end to the other making sure excess air is squeezed out. Place on paper bag (or any non-sticky surface) and press edge with tines of a fork to seal. There are also many variations of folding the edge of the wrapper to seal (and shape).

Makes about 40-60 dumplings, depending on how “stuffed” you make them. If you run out of wrappers, yet still have stuffing, you can either freeze or use in a stir fry dish.

Traditional Oriental Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sesame oil (less or more to taste; caution—very strong flavor)
1 tbsp. thinly sliced rings of spring onion (green only); or chives
Optional: 1 tsp. extremely thin slivers of ginger about 1/4 in. long

Combine soy sauce and sesame oil and lightly whisk. Serve in small dipping bowls. Enough for 4-8 people, depending on how much sauce each person likes. Per person portions only need to be about 2-4 tbsp—enough for around 4-8 dumplings each. Sprinkle green onion (ginger slivers) in individual dipping bowls at the last minute.

Cultural note: This “traditional” dipping sauce is my traditional dipping sauce. Partly depends on what part of China you’re in, but I’ve noticed that the Chinese typically do not use/serve sauce with dumplings.

Steamed Dumplings [zheng jiaozi]:

Layer steamer bed with lettuce/cabbage or lightly oil to prevent sticking. Steam fresh jiaozi for 8-10 minutes; frozen jiaozi for roughly 12-14 minutes—until skin becomes translucent. If steamed on top of—serve on bed of lettuce/cabbage.

Pan-fried Dumplings [jian jiaozi]:

Saute fresh dumplings in pan (with the bottom lightly covered with peanut oil) over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, or until bottom is a light golden brown. Carefully add enough hot water (splatter! splatter!) so that dumplings are about a quarter deep in water. Cover (slightly vented) over medium low heat until all water has evaporated, about 3-4 minutes; top of dumplings should be translucent now. Remove cover; if bottoms of dumplings aren’t golden brown “enough,” continue sauteing until satisfied, perhaps 1-2 minutes. To pan fry frozen jiaozi, follow same procedure, but it will require roughly twice the total cooking time.

I used to turn and brown both sides, but now prefer browning only one side. This delivers the requisite “crunch,” while preserving the equally exquisite “silky” texture of the upside. Sui bian ni (up to you)!

Storing Dumplings:

Due to the somewhat tedious nature of making jiaozi, especially if you do home-made wrappers, I often make a double (or near double) recipe and immediately freeze most of them…whatever doesn’t get gobbled up that meal. While fresh jiaozi are clearly superior, I’ve found little to complain about when frozen jiaozi are properly cooked. And it’s easier to make and store a batch of jiaozi when there isn’t a gaggle of guests with watering mouths hanging around. For a dinner party, frozen jiaozi will ease the pressure.

Best method I’ve unearthed so far, to prevent them from sticking together, is to place the first layer in a (lightly oiled) 9 x 13 baking pan. Cover that layer with wax paper and continue layering until you run out of dumplings. Freeze overnight; then remove and stash together in a good, plastic freezer bag; replace in freezer and use as needed.