Saturday, June 27, 2009
DUMPLINGS & BUNS - chinese grocery essentials
Something I try to do every once in a while is reconnect with my "roots" by going to the San Gabriel area for a little grocery shopping. This is something that always reminds me of my Mom and I always end up calling her on my drive over there to chat about what I feel like buying or cooking for the week. She always has great recommendations on brands and what to buy...she's a pro and one of the best cooks EVER. I'm not just saying that.
The grocery store I always end up at is 99 Ranch. They're huge, and they have a location in San Gabriel and one in the valley as well. If you've never been to a Chinese market, you're in for a treat. You'll see fruits and vegetables you've never laid eyes on....the infamous durian can be purchased fresh here during the summer. It's the stinky fruit, so they call it, so I would proceed with caution. They also have a live seafood area and an extensive meat market with all kinds of parts that you don't normally see...exciting and potentially disgusting all at the same time.
But you'll also find gems like ramen that's not fried, multi-grain rice mixes (see pic below for reference)...fresh lychee, canned longan (a tastier sister-fruit to the lychee). One of my fave aisles has all kinds of accompaniments to congee (Chinese rice porridge) which I'll have to delve into another time.
I always have to have frozen dumplings on stand-by in my freezer. ALWAYS. They're super easy to put together, throw into a noodle soup or make into postickers for impromptu guests. The brand that my Mom recommends is Wei-Chuan. They are amazing and they really have a fresh flavor for being frozen. My favorite is probably the pork & leek mini-bun...if you order that at a restaurant, it would be the "Juicy Pork Dumplings" or Soup Dumplings because they freeze bits of pork broth and fold it into the meat mixture. When the dumplings are steamed, the broth melts and fills the doughey pocket with juicy goodness. Just becareful when you bite into these because you can easily burn yourself. It's sometimes better to take a nibble to release the steam. Use one of those Chinese soup spoons to hold them so that the juice doesn't spill everywhere. Now, in terms of steaming, a good way to do it is to lay down Napa Cabbage leaves on the steaming tray first. It keeps the dough from sticking, and it gives off a good flavor as well as providing you with some steamed vegetable to eat with your meal. :)
If you're getting the potstickers, heat some oil in the pan, sit those dumplings in (careful that they don't touch each other so they don't stick). Once they get a nice golden crust on the bottom, add some water or broth to the pan and cover to steam it the rest of the way. When the water evaporates, a sort of "sticky" crust developes around the dumpling. PotSTICKER!
Sauce for your dumplings: soy sauce, rice vinegar (although Chinese black vinegar is also VERY tasty for this), finely chopped scallions, a clove of garlic (smashed & just steeped in the sauce...you can remove it before serving), a few drops of sesame oil
Last but not least, the first photo is of my Mom, holding a bag of Green Onion Buns. I took this of her at a grocery store in Northern Cal so that I could remember what brand I was supposed to get once I got back to LA. Unfortunately I can't read Chinese so thank goodness for my iPhone camera. These buns are delish. If you've never had steamed bread, it's pretty darn tasty. These are great for eating on their own and also for stuffing with meat or whatever else you want. You might recognize a similar treat when you order Peking Duck. I'd rather have duck with these buns since they have some green onion baked into them. Yummm! Isn't my Mom cute?!