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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shanghai Sticky Rice Sticks

Chao nien gao, fried sticky sticks.

Nien gao or sticky rice noodles--I call them sticks because that's what's printed on the packet-- are small pieces of dough made of glutinous rice flour. In China, nien gao are sold fresh and ready-cut or in blocks to be cut according to your liking. Japan and Korea too have their own nien gao and like pasta, they come in different shapes. We can't get fresh nien gao here so if we are lucky to get them from relatives visiting from China, my kids would toast them over fire, like marshmallows, and dip them in light soy sauce for a tasty snack.

I have posted this recipe before but recently I found a better way to fry the rehydrated dried sticky noodles that we get here and the result is so good that I had to re-post the recipe. This is a great dish for days when you want something simple and quick.

The difficult part about frying rehydrated nien gao is getting the rice sticks cooked evenly without sticking together. I was taught by my MIL to add some water or stock during the frying process but sticky rice sticks cooked this way are not evenly soft and the texture is a little bit grainy and starchy.

I like the texture of Fuzhou fried nien gao (bai goh gang) so recently I wondered if blanching the nien gao briefly before frying will soften them evenly. I did just that and voila!--I fried the best plate of nien gao ever. Ever. The blanched nien gao was smooth and homogeneously soft with a gentle el dente bite, just like fresh nien gao. Frying time was shortened since the blanching half-cooked the noodles and the result was the noodles didn't become sticky-starchy.

Eaten with chili oil or my fave lime-bird' eye chilies-Maggi sauce dip, chao nien gao is a dish you won't stop eating until it's all gone. But be careful. Glutinous rice can cause indigestion.


Shanghai Chao Nien Gao/Fried Sticky Rice Sticks (feeds 4 to 6)
1 x 500 gm packet dried nien gao
1 small (300 gm) Chinese napa cabbage, in 1 cm strips  
1 cup to 11/2 cups thinly sliced meat (pork or chicken), marinade with white pepper, salt & cornflour
1 small can winter bamboo, cut into thin strips
8 to 10 small dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked & cut into thin strips
1 heaped T finely chopped garlic
4 T light soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee is good)
1/2 t chicken stock powder or a few shakes of msg
salt to taste
veg oil

Note: it's best to fry this amount of nien gao in 2 or 3 batches. If you fry too much in one go, the heat of the wok will be reduced and instead of tasting like it was fried, the dish will taste like it was boiled.

1. Soak the nien gao sticks in room temperature water, running your fingers through to separate them. Soak at least 8 hours prior to using. Once in a while, check and pull apart the noodles that are sticking together.

2. Keep a pot of water boiling while you fry the dish. Put 2 T oil into a hot wok or frying pan and then add the mushrooms, bamboo shoot and about 1/4 t salt. Stir-fry for about 1 minute under medium heat. Add the meat and stir well to mix. When the meat is cooked (no more pink color), push the mixture to the side of the wok or dish onto a plate. Add 1 T oil and 1/2 T  garlic to the wok, fry for 20 seconds and add all the cabbage plus a pinch of salt. When the cabbage is cooked (either still crunchy or soft, depending on your liking), push the meat mixture into the cabbage, mix well and cover for a couple of seconds for the flavors to blend. Remove the cover, stir again and dish onto a plate.

3. In the same wok or pan that's dry, add 2 T oil and 1/2 the remaining garlic. Keep the heat low. At the same time, put all the nien gao (drained) into the rapidly boiling water, stir well to separate them, and immediately use a big slotted ladle to scoop all the nien gao out, tapping the ladle well to drain all the water away. Now increase the heat to high and put 1/2 (or 1/3) of the blanched nien gao into the hot wok, drizzle 1 1/2 T (or 1 T) soy sauce over evenly, sprinkle the proportionate amount of chicken powder/msg and stir well to mix quickly. Now add 1/2 (or 1/3) of the fried meat and veg mixture, stir-frying quickly to mix all the ingredients evenly. Taste and season. Dish onto a serving plate and serve immediately. Repeat frying the remaining noodles and meat mixture.

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