Apr 182014
 

Three-cup chicken is a classic Taiwanese dish and one of my favorites! Actually, I did some fact-checking about this dish, and turns out, it originated from Jiangxi Province in China. In the original rendition of the dish, the “three cups” referred to 1 cup each of the following ingredients: lard, sweet rice wine, and soy sauce. There’s actually even a legend relating Three-Cup Chicken to a Chinese historical hero, Wen Tianxiang. Apparently the legend goes, Wen lived in the last years of the Song Dynasty and fought against conquer by the Yuan. However, he was eventually captured, and an old lady from his village visited him in prison with a live chicken. She asked a sympathetic guard to help her find ingredients to cook the chicken, and the only thing he was able to procure was three cups of rice wine. So, she cooked the chicken in the three cups of wine and served it to Wen as his last meal. After he died for his country, the old lady prepared the dish everyday as an offering to his spirit. She replaced the three cups of wine with one cup each of sweet rice wine, lard, and soy sauce, which are the ingredients we see today.

Yup, Chinese people love stories… I think there’s probably a story behind every single dish in Chinese cuisine.

Source of story: Baidu Baike (Chinese).

Anyway, eventually, this dish made its way to Taiwan, where it was modified to be cooked with regular cooking oil instead of lard, and incorporated sugar and regular rice wine as sweetened rice wine became less common. In addition, the Taiwanese added a special ingredient – Thai basil, which adds a truly aromatic flavor to the dish. (There’s another story about the basil, too… But I’ll spare you of that.) The usage of Thai basil is so iconic now that I can’t imagine Three-Cup Chicken without basil.

Okay, that was a lot of rambling and story-telling… All this to say, I love this dish, and I love making it at home, so I wanted to share the recipe with you!

P1040895-1

(I only snuck in one quick photo of the dish before S and I started eating it… Oops. I’ll try to be better next time about taking photos!) Continue reading »

Apr 022014
 

Here’s another easy weeknight dinner recipe – cold sesame noodles! This is one of my favorite Chinese dishes, and I’ve ordered it before at Yes! Pingo and Infini Tea. However, I wanted to try making my own version, and it turned out to be super simple and delicious.

P1050232-3

 For the main ingredients, I used shredded chicken, sliced cucumbers, and sliced carrots – but you can use whatever you like. Some ideas for my next batch are spam, tofu curd, mung bean sprouts, and shredded cabbage.

P1050230-1

The shredded chicken took the longest to prepare. While it was poaching, I also cooked the noodles and put the sauce together. I think it took just over 20 minutes from starting my prep to calling S for dinner – now that’s what I like for my weeknight dinners.

One of the key components in the sesame sauce was rice vinegar – it adds a touch of acidity to brighten up the dish, and also thins out the sesame sauce so that it can coat the noodles evenly. After adding the vinegar, you can actually see the sauce going from pasty to really smooth.

I was fortunate enough to receive a couple of samples of Marukan Rice Vinegar, a premium vinegar brand. Marukan vinegar is slow-brewed for maximum flavor and less acidity, and uses all-natural ingredients. I found out that the company has actually been around since 1649! Crazy. Well, you know their product must be good if it’s withstood the test of time – in this case, centuries of time.

P1040916-3

I was sent both their original rice vinegar and the seasoned version. For this recipe, I simply used the original. I’ll be featuring the seasoned gourmet rice vinegar in a future post! Definitely try out Marukan rice vinegar if you haven’t before! It has a really nice taste compared with other brands that I’ve tried before, much less pungent. In fact, S – who is normally really sensitive to the acidity of vinegar – said that he really enjoyed the flavor and said that I could use even more vinegar next time, haha. Well, maybe I will try it out for the next recipe, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these cold sesame noodles!

Continue reading »

Mar 102014
 

I don’t have much time to cook on weeknights, so I’m always in search of simple or time-saving meals. Thankfully, I have a slow-cooker, which is one of my favorite kitchen items. I can throw all the ingredients into the pot in the morning, and come home in the evening to a pretty much ready-to-go meal! Recently, I’ve started documenting some of my favorite go-to dishes, and I thought I’d share them here. Recipes and links are at the end of the post!

Slow-cooker pulled pork

Slow-cooker pulled pork

I’ve made many curries and soups with the slow cooker, but the recipe that made me fall in love with the slow cooker is pulled pork. It’s nothing like the smoky pulled pork in Carolina barbecue, but it’s juicy and flavorful. I’ve also made my own Carolina-style barbecue sauce before, but nowadays I’ve gotten lazy and just use store-bought. (My favorites are Bull’s Eye and Sweet Baby Ray’s, but you can check out a Serious Eats taste test here.)

Braised pork belly with takenoko

Braised pork belly with bamboo shoots

This is one of S’s favorite dishes, and we actually order it often when we go out to eat – at home, this is still a works-in-progress as I haven’t perfected my own recipe yet! But if I do say so myself, it’s been improving and getting slowly to the flavor that we like: an interplay between salty, savory, and sweet. I’ve also experimented with different add-ins, including bamboo shoots (I used vacuum-sealed boiled bamboo shoots, found at most Japanese or Korean markets), tofu curd, and hard-boiled eggs.

The key to this dish is that the pork needs to be cooked long enough that the fatty part should be melt-in-your-mouth tender, but the lean part is still intact and not falling apart or too dried out. I’ve found that 4 hours on high heat is pretty good timing – often I prepare this the night before I plan to serve it, so I start the cooker when I get home, it’s done cooking before I go to bed, and I let it sit in the fridge overnight so that the next day, I have an easy time skimming off the grease that’s solidified at the top. Then, I simply reheat the portion that I want to serve in a small pot on the stove over low heat, and in the meantime prepare a quick vegetable stir-fry.

Chinese beef stew

Spicy beef stew

For some reason, for the longest time I was afraid of making beef stew – I guess because I was scared of turning out tough, chewy chunks of beef? Haha. But I decided to face my fears a while back and made beef noodle soup. It turned out surprisingly well, and since then I’ve tried to tinker with the ingredients a bit. This spicy beef stew has plenty of garlic and ginger, and flavored with spicy doubanjiang, a Chinese bean paste. This batch was cooked for a bit too long, so the beef shank pieces were actually a bit more “fall-apart” on the tenderness scale. But, the beef tendon pieces in there were super delicious. Next time, I’ll have to find a way to get both the beef shank and the tendons right.

Continue reading »