Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Recipe: Chinese New Year Glutinous Rice (Luo Mi Fan)

Sometimes to be a good baker or cook, you have to be obsessive- willing to repeat a recipe with slight variations until the texture comes out just right. Over the last few weeks, I have been testing and re-testing a superbly easy recipe, with trays of Glutinous Rice, with different ingredients and sauces, with the intent of producing a rice dish that is smooth in each grain and yet not sticky, hard or mushy.

The ingredients are all quite similar- dried shrimp, shallots, Chinese sausage (lup cheong), canned braised peanuts and so forth. My grandmother's recipe included shallots, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, dried scallops, peanuts, mushrooms and Chinese chestnuts, so that is what I tried first (in the foreground). For the second dish, I was more restrained and added only the shallots and dried shrimp (must-haves) and then just the dried scallops, Chinese chestnuts and fresh pork strips. This wound up having a lighter and sweeter taste, which scored the top marks in my test groups for it's clarity and purity.

(The third dish was a mix of the ingredients, but with the Chinese sausage diced finely, as to not be overpowering in taste and oiliness).

From my experience, I have a few tips to share in making a good glutinous rice. The first debate is whether you should soak the glutinous rice. In each of the times that I made this dish, the longest I soaked the rice was for 2 hours and I felt it produced a slightly wet rice. I now wash the rice thrice, but I do not soak the rice. I also try to buy rice from when I am in Thailand- although most of the glutinous rice in Singapore is ostensibly Thai rice, I find there is a huge difference and the quality of the rice brought back from Thailand is invariably sturdier, cleaner and shorter-grain.

You should also soak the Chinese Sausage in boiling water and then in iced water, to remove the intestinal wrapper skin of the sausage (it is truly quite disgusting when this chewy material is left on) and the dried scallops, which then need to be shredded into thin pieces.

Second, most of the dish is actually in preparation, or slicing all the ingredients, as the assembly is relatively quick. In particularly, you should thinly slice the shallots and the dried shrimp, as how well they are incorporated makes a big difference to the overall taste of the rice. For my last batch, instead of chopping them by hand, I literally ground the dried shrimp into a light, airy spun sugar-like fluff, in my spice and nut grinder and I find that imparted an almost invisible savouriness to the rice. I also like to use good quality dried mushrooms, then soak and braise them in a mixture of shaoxing wine, soya sauce and oyster sauce, then slice them thinly. You don't have to go through this extra step and can use fresh shitake mushrooms but I find the dried mushrooms to be more fragrant and turgid.

In order of frying, add a splash of oil into a non-stick saucepan and heat. Each of the pans above is 400 grams of glutinous rice, if you are making a small pan, 200 grams will do. I usually make 400 grams each time, so that I have some to eat at home and some to give away. If you are making a 400 gram portion, you should use about 4 Tbsp of oil. When the oil is hot, add 1.5 Tbsp of finely minced garlic and 1/3 cups of finely sliced shallots. Fry until slightly wilted and add 1/2 cups of finely ground dried shrimp and continue to fry until all the ingredients are soft.

I then add all the ingredients, which are approximate measures, I usually use about 1/3 cup of each but you can add more if you desire.  If you are using more variety, then of course, you can use less of each. The last ingredient you add, is the rice, followed by just enough stock to wet the rice. The liquid added has to be less than the volume of the rice, if the liquid level is over the rice, the rice will wind up being too wet, or it will boil instead of steaming, causing it to become mushy. I use a stock that is 2/3 boiled chicken soup and 1/3 water but you can use canned chicken stock or more water if it's convenient. Fry the rice until all the liquid disappears and the rice is dry. This is the most important step in the process and it's important to do it quickly, over a fairly large flame and turn the rice over frequently, so that the drying process is even and quick. The rice should essentially be more than half cooked at this point, although you may still see white bits that haven't cooked thouroughly.

Add white pepper, light soya sauce and dark soya sauce to season and for colour. I add about 4 tsp of white pepper, a pinch of salt, 2 tsp of light soya sauce and 1 Tbsp of dark soya sauce. I'm fairly liberal with the white pepper and salt- you want to add enough salt, as the rice can be flat or tasteless otherwise.

Prepare a steamer and steam the rice for another 15 minutes, turning after the first 10 minutes and returning to steam for another 5-10 minutes. You can bury some spring onion pieces in the rice while steaming. Fluff the rice when you remove it from the steamer and let cool, gradually.

This glutinous rice, or 'luo mi fan' makes a good base for a meal, or else for the filling in Teochew kueh (they are wrapped with a pink glutinous rice flour wrapper and banged into a mould shape, then pan-fried. You can also wrap the rice with a nice fat piece of chicken thigh, in a dried lotus leaf, tie it up and steam it to make the Cantonese 'lo mai kai'.

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