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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Archive for September 2010

Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes (Nian Gao)

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The most memorable dish Chen Leilei made for us, with fresh live crab and their roe.

My poor attempt to recreate the dish, with too-small, roeless Maryland blue crab.

For more Hangzhou recipes, check out my NPR Kitchen Window column.

Cleaning and cutting up live crab is not for the faint of heart.

I had no problem watching Hangzhou TV chef Chen Leilei do it when she gave me a cooking lesson back in China in August. But I had more trouble when I tried to recreate the recipe, using too-small Maryland Blue crabs, with my dad in Virginia.

Chen’s Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes (nian gao) was about the best thing she prepared for us at her apartment in Hangzhou. We met her at a local, open-air wet market, where she picked out the still-swimming fresh crabs. At the market, she also bought those pillowy glutinous rice sticks (nian gao) so much fresher than the refrigerated or frozen “rice ovalettes” (known as dduk in Korean) you find at Asian markets here.

The finished recipe, from the seaport of Ningbo just east of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, had the perfect balance of salty, sweet and umami flavors smoothed out by the presence of the dry sherry-like Shaoxing wine. This ubiquitous cooking wine is central to Hangzhou dishes and shows up in much of Chinese cuisine. Pick some up at your local Asian market and use it to enhance any stir-fry or dipping sauce.

What follows is my attempt at translating Chen Leilei’s recipe. And if you’re squeamish about live crab, try boiling them in salted water for two minutes first before you dismantle them. Just stun them unconscious first (by hitting the head against the cutting board), so they aren’t boiled alive.

Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes

Makes about 4 servings

2 live crabs, weighing about a pound total (mature females with roe if possible)

1/3 of a 2-pound package of sticky rice ovalettes, separated and softened in hot water

Small bowl of cornstarch for dipping crab

2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil

2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut into slivers

3 teaspoons sugar

1 cup water

1 bunch scallions, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 2- inch strips (or use a mix of scallions and garlic chives or Chinese leek flowers)

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1/2 cup Shaoxing wine

1.Stun the crab, remove aprons and carapace (reserve whole back shells for stir-fry) and clean out guts and lungs. Quarter crab and bash the shell a bit with cleaver so flavor will seep out when it cooks. Dip exposed meat in cornstarch to keep it in the shell and add texture. Separate the rice cakes and soak them briefly in hot water to soften them. Drain them.

2. Heat canola oil in wok. Add slivered ginger and stir-fry a minute, until fragrant. Add crab pieces (including the whole carapaces) and stir-fry about 4 minutes, until the shells turn red.

3. Add the Shaoxing wine, half the scallions, soy sauces, sugar, rice cakes and water. Cover with lid and simmer about 2 minutes, until done.

4.Remove lid and stir in remaining scallions. Plate and serve, with crab crackers if necessary.

Chen Leilei picks out the crab.

Cleaning the live crab. That orange roe is crucial for flavor.

Cutting up the whole crab.

Dip the exposed meat in cornstarch before stir-frying.

Dip the exposed meat in cornstarch before stir-frying.

The much smaller live Blue crabs I used from the Asian market. Next time, I’ll try it with larger Dungeness or Red Rock out here in Oregon.

These immature crabs had no roe to flavor the dish. Crab roe is really big in Shanghai and Hangzhou cuisine.

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Written by baltimoregon

September 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

Ha-la for Rosh Hashanah (and Our Two-Year Anniversary)

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20 oz. Ring O' Challah from New Morning Bakery in Corvallis. The stuff is more dense, eggy and sweet back East, but this is a decent substitute. Hä-lä, as the bakery spells it out phonetically, is no longer a rare delicacy here.

Our first night in Corvallis, almost exactly two years ago. Funny, Dan has returned to sleeping on the floor some. He thinks it's good for his back. We need to get a tatami mat.

It’s September 2010, which means we’ve been here exactly two years now. Though after another summer mostly out of town, it somehow feels like we’re moving in once again. It’s a time of new beginnings. With the new school year and approach of fall (it’s friggin’ cold here!), somehow it makes more sense to celebrate the new year now instead of in January. It also just so happens to be the two-year anniversary of this blog!

Yet walking around the Corvallis Farmers’ Market yesterday with a gal from back East who is new to town, I realized how comfortable I’ve finally gotten here. I’m especially grateful for the farmers, chefs and activists who make our local food community so vibrant.

Speaking of Rosh Hashanah, this article on kreplach, the Yiddish dumpling, made me nostalgic. I only made them with Nonny (and my mother) once, but I have fond memories of rolling out the dough and stuffing the wontons that day. Nonny’s mother’s kreplach recipe calls for cinnamon-spiced chopped brisket or roast beef, but any leftover meat can be used. Maybe I’ll try a vegetarian version, since we feel compelled to eat less meat these days.

Any other Jewish foods (Ashkenazi or otherwise) to out try this time of year? I plan to make Stuffed Swiss Chard (like dolmades) once I stop testing Hangzhou recipes for my next NPR column. Enough Chinese food already:)

Local challah, local Honeycrisp apples from First Fruits Orchard, local Honey Tree Apiaries honey for a sweet new year. Plus, a real honey wand I picked up in Brazil. Now, I see the beauty of these things. Less sticky mess when drizzling honey.

Written by baltimoregon

September 9, 2010 at 11:14 pm

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