Monday, February 11, 2013

The Making of a Legend

Mum's New Year Chinese Doughnuts - Step by Step Instructions
  Depending on your outlook, this blog is either a few days too late as the Lunar or Chinese New Year heralding the Year of the Snake has just passed or, from my perspective, I'm giving you a headstart on making these for next year! And once you take a look at the recipe, you'll understand why you may need it!
  New Year is a time of traditions, incense burning, the New Year's Eve feast, the vegetarian breakfast to kick off the New Year, tea sweetened with sugar-preserved sweet meats (such as coconut, ginger, lotus root, water chestnut, melon), the essential dried red dates and the day after New Year breakfast. One of my favourite traditions is the deep fried sesame ball known in Cantonese as "jin dui".
  Traditionally a small ball of red bean paste surrounded by a dough made from glutinous rice studded evenly with a layer of sesame seeds and deep fried until it puffs up into a ball, we grew up with our mother's version - a sweet thin and crispy yet chewy exterior with a savoury filling.
  If you think this sounds familiar, the closest known thing I can find to it is the "ham sui gock" (with thanks to which I found through a google search.
  It is served at yum cha in most Cantonese restaurants although the dough is generally thicker, the filling less complex and there are no sesame seeds. As this recipe is a bit of a commitment, if you're not sure if you will like these, try one of those first! Then read through the whole recipe to decide if you still want to go ahead!
  I guess I inherited my tendency to fiddle with recipes from my mother because no one else made their jin dui like hers and over the years that she made these, people would just "pop in" to visit knowing that she would be making these delicacies fresh that day. Hers contained an added ingredient which meant that the balls (or eggs as they more often than not turned out more oval than round) once cooled would collapse into a deflated football which still tasted good but nowhere near as straight from the deep fryer.
  Year after year, I would watch my mother prepare the ingredients then all but scorch her hands while she mixed the hot parts together. Last year, for the first time, I used a (shock horror) food processor to mix the dough in half the time. It turned out smoother and more pliable. We haven't looked back since.
  The hardest part in recording and sharing this recipe is that it is almost impossible to list the ingredients accurately for the filling which was made up of available ingredients so no two years were ever the same.  However, I finally convinced my Mum to allow me to weigh and record all the ingredients as she picked up handfuls of this and that, for the first time, I made sure everything she wanted in the filling she had. In spite of this, there are no rules for the filling and you can pretty much use what you like the taste of but if you want to try the one people rave over, well, the recipe follows.
  Another note before you start, I used a mini food processor to do most of my chopping (although I still prefer a sharp knife for the onion as my processor tends to mash it up too much! There is no need to wash it out between all the ingredients as they're mostly all mixed together for the pre-cooking and final seasoning anyway. So, here we go!

Day 1 - Collect, measure and prepare (relevant) ingredients:

For the Dough:
500 gr bag of Glutinous Rice Flour
300 gr (raw weight) orange sweet potato
3 bars (234 gr) of plank or bar sugar (usually comes in a 6-pack)
250 gr raw sesame seeds to coat

For the Filling:
200 gr raw minced pork
23 gr wood fungus (soak dry fungus in cold water until they soften, remove any hard stringy bits);
6 medium sized shitake or Chinese mushrooms (soak immediately in a bowl of cold water overnight)
42 gr dried bean vermicelli
80 gr roast pork (available at Asian BBQ shops)
22 gr dried shrimp, diced (although you can buy pre-minced)
40 gr salted preserved radish (soaked in water for 5 mins to reduce saltinesss and squeezed dry)
87 gr canned water chestnuts (the remainder is great in a stir fry)
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil for stir frying
1 medium onion (170 gr)
2 tablespoons' Sesame oil (I prefer dark as it has a more intense flavour)
Salt and pepper to taste (I found half a teaspoon of each was sufficient but if you're not sure, start with a quarter teaspoon and keep adding until you're happy with the flavour)

For Frying:
3-4 litres of Sunflower (or suitable neutral) oil (less if you have a small saucepan but you'll be able to fry fewer at a time)
A slice of raw ginger to indicate the oil is hot enough for frying (I didn't use a thermometer but this "old-fashioned" method works every time!)

Day 2 - Preparation continued:
Drain softened mushrooms, rinse in fresh tap water, cut stalks off if any, put into a small saucepan with water to cover and a pinch of sugar, boil for 30 minutes, then drain and cool;
Cover preserved radish with boiling water for 5 minutes, soak then drain and cool;
Cover vermicelli with boiling water for 5 minutes, soak then drain when soft;
Dice onion;
In a 3-cup food processor, pulse the following ingredients separately then tip into a large mixing bowl:
  Barbequed pork (make sure any bones are cut out but retain any fat and crackling)
  Wood fungus
  Preserved Radish
  Water chestnuts
Stir the above to mix and add in the diced dried shrimp;
Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil in a shallow frying pan and cook onion till soft;
Add minced pork and break apart into small pieces;
Stir in the remainder of the minced ingredients and stir fry for a few minutes until fragrant;
Add sesame oil, salt & pepper to taste;
Spread on a shallow tray or dish to cool then refrigerate in a small container overnight.

In a small saucepan, add half a cup of tap water with the sliced sweet potato and plank sugar, bring to boil then simmer until the sugar is liquefied and the potato soft, cool then set aside.

Day 3 - Jin Dui!
Get out your stainless steel potato masher and a large steel slotted spoon;
Line a large tray with a couple of layers of paper towels and place next to your stove;
Prepare two trays covered with a wet tea towel (one is to keep your dough soft while you're making the jin dui, the other is to keep the raw jin dui moist prior to frying);
Pour your oil into a large, heavy-based saucepan (one you can fit 4 medium oranges in one layer)(traditionally my Mum used a wok but I find a large stock pot with its flat base offers greater stability for the pressing which is to come!) to approximately 10 cm deep and place on your stove;
Warm the sugar syrup and sweet potato mixture in a small saucepan to bring to just above room temperature;
Remove filling from refrigerator to bring it to room temperature;
Put the glutinous rice flour into your dry 2 litre food processor with a blade attachment;
Pour in the sugar syrup and sweet potato mixture;
Pulse until the ingredients come together into a light pumpkin coloured dough; depending on how much liquid boiled out, you may need to add up to 300 ml room temperature water to make a dough which looks like churned icecream when you knead it, it should be soft and pliable as warmed plasticine but not so wet that it sticks to your hands, pizza dough is another good textural example;
Remove from the processor and place in one of the clean trays and cover with the damp cloth until you're ready to use it;

Bring your covered trays, dough, filling, bowl of raw sesame seeds and a spoon to a table you can sit at for the following process (you'll be too exhausted to fry if you stand for it!):

  Pull a golf ball sized lump of dough from the main amount and keep the remainder covered;
Roll the dough in your hands until you have a perfect ball then make an indentation in the centre with your thumb;
Keeping your thumb in the indent, knead the edge of the dough with your other hand until you have a circle of dough roughly the diameter of a small orange; the dough should be approximately 5 mm thick; try to keep the round cuplike but it doesn't matter if it flattens out a little;
Spoon a teaspoonful of the filling into the centre then draw the rest of the dough around and over the top to cover the filling completely; 
Carefully squash the resultant triangle back into a ball shape and roll it in your hands until round then cover in sesame seeds, pressing with a fair amount of pressure so that  the seeds form part of the surface rather than sitting on top of the dough; put into the other tray, cover with a damp cloth and repeat with the remainder till you run out of dough or fillling;
  If you're still with me, you are now ready to cook and serve!
  Heat your oil until the slice of ginger bubbles and floats to the surface;
  Reduce the heat to simmering level and carefully lower 2-4 (whatever fits without overcrowding in one layer of your saucepan) balls into the hot oil with your slotted spoon; (Burns from hot oil aren't fun so try not to splash!)
  Roll the balls in the oil so that they start to brown evenly all over but once they become golden and float to the surface, it's time to push! It does sound like you're having a baby and after all the anticipation you'll likely experience the same degree of euphoria once you deliver and taste your first golden fried jin dui ball. But I digress, by push, I mean use your potato masher and carefully press down on the surface of each ball in turn then roll it over and  press down on the other side. Something magical happens and your golf ball sized ball of dough puffs up into the size of an orange and the more you press, the bigger and therefore thinner and crispier the ball gets.
  There is a fine balance between burning your jin dui and getting it to that thin and crispy stage so try not to overdo it and time the removal of your jin dui with your slotted spoon to your paper towel lined tray accordingly. Just before you are ready to remove the first batch, turn the oil up to heating level again. This is partially to heat the oil up for the next batch but also ensures that the jin dui are less greasy. It's a juggle but worthwhile I promise!
  Repeat with the remainder remembering to reduce the heat as soon as you've removed your cooked batch from the oil and turning it up just before.
  If you're cooking these for a roomful of people, you can start an hour beforehand and they will still be crunchy and hot by the time you want to start eating. Don't forget to save some for yourself! They'll disappear quickly!

 Gong He Fat Choy - for next year!  : )

Friday, February 8, 2013

RivaReno Gelato

RivaReno Gelato, Darlinghurst

RivaReno Gelato is the latest gourmet import to hit our shores. Established in Bologna in 2004, RivaReno has had a rapid climb to the top of the Italian gelato establishment. Touted as a 'must visit' culinary stop in Milan, it's now Sydney's turn for the authentic Italian gelato experience. Walk into their Darlinghurst store and you'll notice that this doesn't appear like a regular gelato store. You won't see a glass freezer with mounds of brightly coloured gelato on display. Instead, the gelato is kept in a pozzetti counter. Those of you that have visited San Crispino in Rome will know what I'm talking about. There are a series of stainless steel lids that cover the gelato to ensure that it is maintained at it's optimum temperature. It may not offer visual excitement like a traditional storefront, but this is no traditional gelato.
The Pozzetti Counter

Overwhelmed by the variety of flavours and lacking the patience to read each description, I start off with a 'few' tastings. First up is the curiously named 'New York - New York' (Organic Canadian Maple Syrup and caramelised pecans). I'm immediately struck by how smooth the gelato is compared with most that I've tried. It's rich and dense, with a silky smooth mouth feel. The creamy texture is maintained as it melts and is not the least bit icy. The pozzetti counter has clearly done it's job in keeping those ice crystals as small as possible.

Next is 'Contessa'(Sicilian Almonds, Piedmont hazelnuts and crushed armaretti and caramelised almonds). Again I can taste all the flavours in here. It's not sickly sweet. There is restraint and sophistication in the flavouring of this gelato. The different textures of the crushed armaretti and caramelised almonds add another dimension.

'Nicciola Piemonte' was like eating fresh roasted hazelnuts but better.

'Cioccolato extra fondente' is made with extra dark chocolate that straddles the realms of bitter and sweet. The delicious complexity of the chocolate lingers on my taste buds but interferes with the remainder of my taste tests:
'Fiore de Panna' (white cream gelato with Madagascan vanilla) and 'Pistcchio Bronte' (Intense Pistachio from Bronte, Sicily). Mental note: I will need to try these again. Feeling guilty at the growing bunch of used plastic spoons in my hand, I end up choosing a scoop of New York - New York and the Extra dark chocolate.

It is clear the guys at RivaReno are Gelato purists. I like that. There are no compromises in the production and storage of their product. No artificial colours or flavours and made every few hours for maximum freshness/taste. Ingredients are imported from Italy. There are even two types of ice cream machines (imported from Italy of course). One horizontal and the other vertical (which I'm told is better at preserving and distributing nuts and other solid flavourings). Training was undertaken in Italy so it would be exactly the same as the gelato served in Milan. They have even imported a RivaReno staff member from Italy - now that proves they're serious! 

Here's the best part. There is a Grand Opening this Saturday, 9th March February 2013 where they will be giving away free, yes that's free gelato from 3pm till midnight. 

RivaReno Gelato
280 Crown Street, Darlinghurst