Saturday, December 09, 2006

Kindness & Bounty

The public holiday yesterday turned out to be rewarding in more ways than one. Our esoterically tuned masseuse Diana paid me an afternoon visit. I often joke that I turn into the worst hostess with her because she routinely declines my offer of food and drink, not even a drop of mineral water would go pass her lips when she visits our home.

On the other hand, she is always bearing me gifts – trays of organic eggs (once there were so many that I had to give some away), medicinal herbs and ointments; even homemade sweetened red bean paste (red bean is commonly known as aduki) from her family's well-guarded recipe. This time she brought me a bag of glutinous rice (糯米).

This short-grained Asian rice turns very sticky when cooked. Almost every Asian culture has its unique way of transforming the humble grains into culinary delights. Glutinous rice is typically used in the Chinese culture for a leave-wrapped parcel of rice and meat called 糭子 (pronounced zòngzi) eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival 端午節 in May and during autumn and winter for it is believed that, in addition to the rustic yumminess, glutinous rice nourishes our Chi.

One way the Chinese cook glutinous rice is in a sweet 八寶飯 which means "eight treasures rice". This pudding, most often eaten with the floral syrup of Osmanthus, is popular in the Jiansu province (where Shanghai is located). It is made from sticky rice steamed with sugar, red bean paste and eight kinds of fruits or nuts. This elaborate dish is often the last course of important festive meals when the whole family celebrate together.

On the other hand, it is the Thai cuisine that should be credited for propelling glutinuous rice to international recognition through their national pudding, sticky rice with mango and coconut cream.

Glutinous rice should not be confused with the also short-grained rice which is used to make gohan (cooked rice) in Japan. Our glutinous rice is referred to in Japanese as mochi rice.

Cooked mochi rice is stickier than conventional Japanese rice which is already quite sticky compared to the long-grained Jasmine rice favoured by most other south-east Asian countries. Mochi rice is commonly used for daifukumochi 大福餅 (rice dumplings filled with sweetened adzuki paste), other sweet pastries or pounded into rice cakes which are usually grilled and then served in a savoury soup or wrapped in nori seaweed.

This bagful is a timely gift for La Familia tomorrow. I am going to make a savoury dish simply referred to as 糯米飯 or glutinuous rice. I have been soaking 3 cups of the rice with water. Tomorrow morning, I'm going to steam the rice until 80% cooked (equivalent to par-boiling, just without actually touching water).

When the rice is steamed it would turn sticky. If sourcing ingredients weren't such an issue, I would then fry the rice with some dried Shitake mushrooms 冬菇 (soaked and softened) with diced up chinese duck liver sausages 臘腸, dried shrimps 蝦米 or the pricier conpoy 瑤柱. Some cooks even add a bunch of roasted peanuts for texture.

Since, I don't have all the ingredients to make the trad version, I am going to just fry the rice with some soaked Shitake mushrooms and diced up spicy salami.

I am still tossing between sticking with couscous stuffing intended for the roast chicken I have been planning to make and serve the rice as another side dish or throw all the rules out and stuff the bird with some of the sticky scrumptious mess and in doing so turning it into a Chinese dish inspired by a Cantonese delicacy 糯米釀雞翼 - stuffed chicken wings with glutinous rice. In this labour intensive dish, each chicken wing is skilfully de-boned, stuffed with gultinuous rice and then fried. The resulting wings hold their shape beautifully.

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