Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Lo Mai Gai)

A Dim Sum favorite. In Taiwan we had "Jongzi," or "Ba Tsang" (as we say in Taiwanese), which is sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves - traditional faire for Dragon Boat Festival. My grandmother made the absolute bestest, most delectable Ba Tsang ever! They were loaded with fatty pork, shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts, and fresh bamboo braised in soy sauce, and dried shallots  - all seasoned with a touch of Five Spice powder. My first taste of the Cantonese version using lotus leaves was at a dim sum restaurant in LA back in the early eighties. The lotus leaves impart an almost tea-like flavor to the rice that's very distinctive and different from bamboo leaves. 

I've never mastered the art of wrapping Ba Tsang, which involves using multiple bamboo leaves and deftly wrapping the rice and filling into a tight little triangular package - a real IQ test. But I've managed to do ok with lotus leaves because the method is very similar to making a burrito. And I know how to make burritos...So there.

This recipe makes 12 lotus leaf packets. 

4 dried Lotus Leaves
4 cups Glutinous (Sweet) Rice
1 1/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1" dice

Marinade for Chicken
1 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger
4 tsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. Shaoshing or rice wine
2 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup diced Chinese barbecued pork (Char Shiu), or substitute with sliced soy-braised pork belly
4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked & diced (approx. 1 cup)
4 tbsp. soy sauce
6 tbsp. oyster sauce

4 hard boiled eggs, each half cut into thirds
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sambal (hot sauce)

1. To make rice: rinse 4 cups glutinous rice with water until water runs clear. Cover rice with water and soak at least 2 hours or overnight. 

2. Dice chicken and place in bowl. Add marinade seasonings to chicken, mix well, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. 

3. Boil 4 large eggs: cover eggs with water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, and then turn off heat. Leave eggs in pan for about 30 minutes. Rinse in cold water and remove shells. Cut each egg in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 3 pieces. Place on a plate or container, cover, and set aside. 

3. To prepare lotus leaves: cut hard stem end off of the lotus leaf and trim edges. Cut each leaf into 4 pieces. Fill sink or very large container with hot water and soak the leaves and the raffia-like ties (usually included in the lotus leaf package). Use plates to weigh the leaves down into the water. Soak for at least 1 hour, or until leaves are pliable. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry before using. 

4. In the meantime, cook the rice. I use a rice cooker, because it's the easiest method. Unlike regular rice, which needs more water to cook (1:2 rice to water ratio), you just want to barely cover the glutinous rice with water before placing it in the cooker. Too much water will turn this rice into mushy glue.

5. Heat wok or large skillet over high heat and add 2 tbsp. vegetable oil. When oil is very hot, add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until lightly browned. Add barbecued pork (or sliced pork belly), diced shiitake mushrooms, 4 tbsp. soy sauce and 6 tbsp. oyster sauce. Stir well.

6. Add hot cooked rice to the chicken mixture and thoroughly mix together. Turn off heat. Taste for seasonings (add more oyster sauce, if needed).

7. To assemble the packets: Place 1 piece of lotus leaf on a large chopping board, with the greener, shinier (top) side of the leaf facing up - filling will be placed on this side. Place about 1/2 cup of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Top with 2 wedges of boiled egg and a few sprigs of cilantro. Cover with another 1/2 cup of rice filling . Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the rice and roll over once. Next, fold over the sides of the leaves and then roll over one more time to close the packet. Use the raffia-like ties (you can strip these into smaller pieces or, if you prefer, use kitchen twine instead) to tie each packet together. 

8. Place rice packets in a bamboo or metal steamer and steam over high heat about 20 minutes. 

9. To serve: you can eat the rice on the leaves or discard the leaves altogether and place the rice on a plate or bowl. I like this with either a little sambal (chili sauce) or Sweet Chili sauce on the side,  and/or some Chinese hot mustard. 

Rinse the glutinous rice until the water runs clear. Soak at least 2 hours or overnight before cooking.

Ginger Root

Finely mince about 1 tsp. of ginger.

Le quattro stagioni: Cornstarch, Oyster Sauce, Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil. 

Marinade for the chicken. Clockwise, from bottom left: cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil.

Add marinade ingredients to the diced chicken.

Cover chicken with plastic wrap and place in the frig until ready to use.

Boil the eggs (I've got six in here, but you really only need four for the recipe).

Cut each egg half into thirds (i.e. slice each egg lengthwise into 6 pieces).

Here's a convenient form of Shiitake mushrooms. They're presliced and were purchased from Costco. The only quibble I have about these is that the tough stems are still on the shrooms, and I have to cut them off after soaking. Not as labor-free as I thought they'd be. Dried Shiitakes have a great woodsy, earthy taste and aroma to them that is completely different from the fresh. Must use the dried in this recipe.

Soak the Shiitakes in hot tap water for at least 30 minutes, or until they are soft. Remove the stem ends and cut the mushrooms into small dice. Set aside.

These are how the dried lotus leaves come out of the package.

Notice how large they become as they are unfurled.

That's why I cut them into fourths (i.e., each leaf is cut into 4 equal pieces from the stem). If the edges are raggedy, you can trim those too.

Soak the leaves (and the raffia-like ties) in hot water in your sink or in a really, really extra large bowl. 

Place plates, bowls, or any weighty object on top of the the lotus leaves to keep them submerged. 

Braised pork belly. Normally I would use store-bought Chinese barbecued pork for this recipe. However, when I don't happen to have any, I substitute soy-braised pork belly, which my mom keeps me well-supplied with (I have an actual stockpile in my freezer). This stuff ain't just for noodle soup anymore...

Rough chop about 1/2 cup of cilantro. Place in small bowl, keep covered and set aside.

For the rice cooker: barely cover glutinous rice with water.

Saute chicken in 2 tbsp. vegetable oil.

Add pork belly slices.

Add diced mushrooms.

Soy sauce & oyster sauce.

Add oyster sauce & soy sauce to the chicken.

Fluff the hot rice.

Stir hot rice in with chicken.

Place lotus leaf quarter on large chopping board. The ribbed side (lower surface) of the leaf should go face down on the board. Filling will be placed on the smooth side (upper surface) of the leaf. 

Mis en place for the packaging. Clockwise: Chicken-rice mixture, chopped cilantro, boiled egg slices, and lotus leaf. 

Place 1/2 cup of rice mix on the leaf. Top with 2 slices of boiled egg and a few sprigs of cilantro.

Top with another 1/2 cup of rice mix.

Roll bottom (stem end) of the leaf over rice mixture twice. 

Fold sides over (left & right), like you would a burrito.

Then one more rollover to tuck the end part underneath the packet. Yeah. I know. This all makes crystal clear sense.

Use the raffia stuff or kitchen twine to tie the packet together. 

Steam rice packets over high heat for about 20 minutes. 

You can eat the rice right out of the lotus leaf packet if you like.

Btw, Lo Mai Gai freezes well (place in a Ziploc bag). However, if you do plan to freeze these guys, make sure to leave out the boiled eggs, as their texture gets real funky after being frozen.

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