Cousin Tony's Xi'an Hot Chili Oil
Hot, spicy and with a distinctly different flavor from any we’ve had, the secret is not just the ingredients, but also the technique. Pan roasting and pounding in a mortar is a key technique. Seeping the chili mixture in hot oil draws out the flavors.
Whole Red Chili peppers (one part chili to 4 parts sesame seeds)
Whole roasted sesame seeds (from Asian Markets)
Neutral tasting oil (we use grape seed oil)
Cut the stems off the chili and cut into rough pieces. Toast the chili in a wok or cast iron pan until you can smell the aroma – stir occasionally. Pound the chili with a mortar and pestle. In a heat resistant container, add the pounded chili, a little salt (adjust later) and the toasted sesame seeds.
Heat the oil until hot and carefully pour over the chili sesame seed mixture generously covering the chili sesame mixture. The mixture should bubble. Mix and let cool. Adjust salt. Store chili oil in covered glass jars. When using, scoop out some of the ground chili sesame mixture with the oil. Good on everything!
Note: Be careful touching the chili and wash the wok or pan thoroughly.
* Hardworking gregarious Tony Lu (Lu Wei) our tour guide in China is a native of Xi’an, Shaanxi province. Xi’an -- west and south of Beijing -- was the center of ancient China. Tony made friends everywhere and they became his “cousins” meaning someone who he could go to for help and advice. After he gave Chris his family’s recipe for chili Oil, we decided to call it, “Cousin Tony’s Hot Chili Oil”.
Winter Melon Soup
Winter Melon Soup is healthy and satisfying. Good for what ails you, it is easy to make and a staple for Chinese cooks.
About 3/4 lb of pork butt or similar cut or pork bones
3 Chicken carcasses or chicken backs, necks, feet or a combination
1/4 of a medium sized winter melon - traditional chunks or cubed
3 medium pieces dried tangerine peel
6 dried jujube dates
6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
salt to taste
1 tablespoon dried goji berries
1 small piece virginia ham
Cover the pork, bones and other meat products with water and bring to a high boil. Boil for 1 minute to bring the scum to the surface. Drain and wash the pot out to remove all scum. Rinse and drain the meat and bones about 3 times until all the minute little piece are rinsed away. Using the cleaned pot, add the meat and cover with water.
Scrub the exterior of the winter melon to remove the white powdery coating and remove the inner seeds and membrane. The homestyle way to cooking the winter melon is to cut it into large square or triangular chunks about 3" across and add to the water and meat.
Rinse the dried tangerine peel, shitake mushrooms, jujube dates and gay gee and add to the soup mixture. Bring to a simmer and simmer covered for at least 2 hours.
Optional Cubed Method:
I cube the melon flesh to make it easier to eat, but I add the melon rind and remove it at the end of the cooking period. The rind seems to add additional flavor to the soup. For a more upscale presentation, when serving, slice the mushrooms into slivers and add additional slivers of cooked virginia ham to garnish the top.
Potsticker Hom (Stuffing)
In Cantonese we call the savory filling of a dumpling "hom" or salty ingredient.
1/2 pound pork butt - chopped
1/2 head napa cabbage - shredded,
salted, rinsed, and squeezed dry**
ginger - finely shredded or grated
** for a Korean version, rinse kimchee and chop finely
There's something about succulent slightly fatty pork seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce - just assertive enough to capture your attention and then allow you to move on to other sensations.
Shred napa cabbage and put into a colander to drain. Add a generous amount of salt, mix and let it sit for about 20 minutes to extract the liquid from the cabbage. Rinse the cabbage to remove the excess salt and squeeze dry with your hands. The amount of salted and squeezed cabbage should be about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of chopped pork. While salting the cabbage, chop the meat.
The texture of the meat is important. Chewy with bite, juicy and creamy all at the same time. Hand chopping is the classic method. I admit I take a shortcut and grind the meat by machine. The old way is to chop the meat using two large Chinese cleavers like a drummer in a rock band. You get a varied texture with some hefty chunks as well as creamy paste. When you grind it by machine, it's all uniform with no creamy texture.
Or - try approximating the hand chopping technique by double or triple grinding a portion to give it a varied texture. Either way, lighten the texture by beating it. Beat the chopped meat in the same circular direction with your bare hand.
This northern dish has a simplicity of ingredients that I admire. Pork, cabbage, and seasonings. Its the technique and proportions that count. Season with salt, white pepper, and finely grated ginger. Cook a small portion of the seasoned meat and taste. Correct seasonings. The potsticker hom is ready to use.
The view from San Francisco