Five-Spice Brined Ribs and….

I’ve become a big fan of brining (soaking an animal protein in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water before cooking), and this recipe is the result of an experiment in that arena. (You can find an excellent in-depth discussion of the basics of brining in Cook’s Illustrated.)

I have made this recipe with beef short ribs as well as pork ribs – cooking time will vary greatly, so plan on testing at regular intervals; otherwise, this is a great recipe that involves almost no prep time whatsoever. The brine will also work for other proteins – chicken, duck, rabbit, fish…and even tofu! (Count on 1/2 lb of bone-in poultry or 1/4 lb of fish or tofu per person).

Five spice powder is a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

brine – count on 1 pt (2 c) per lb of ribs

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c peach nectar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane
  • 2 T kosher salt

ingredients:

  • beef shortribs or pork ribs (spareribs, back ribs, or country style) – count on about 1 lb per person

method:

  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the ribs in one layer, stirring until the crystals are completely dissolved.
  2. Add the ribs to the brine – the liquid should just cover the meat.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-8 h, then remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 275F.
  5. Place the ribs on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast until very tender. For pork ribs, this can take as little as 1.5 h; for beef ribs, count on at least 2.5-3 h. Test for doneness: the meat should be sliding off the bones and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. If the meat begins to brown too much, cover with foil and reduce the temperature to 250F.

Oyster Sauce Beef with Broccoli

We’ve been enjoying the grassfed beef from Natural Local Food Express, particularly the flank steaks, which at approximately 1.5 lbs are plenty for 2 meals when used in a stirfry. If you can’t find flank steak or it’s too pricy, you can use another fairly large-grained cut of beef – because you cut it across the grain, the result will be very tender. I prefer to use the vegetarian version of “oyster sauce,” which is made from mushrooms.

ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb flank steak
  • 3 T oil
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 2 ea scallions, roll-cut into 1.5″ sections
  • 1 recipe stirfried broccoli, to be stirfried just before stifrying the meat

marinade:

sauce:

  • 1 tsp tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • 2 T water, stock or broth
  • 2 T oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best

method:

  1. Mix together the marinade ingredients and set aside.
  2. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  3. Rinse and pat the steak dry, then slice into 1/8″ thick slices, approximately 1-1.5″ long.
  4. Mix the marinade into the meat and set aside for 30 m at room temperature or up to 60 m in the refrigerator, then drain off any juices if any have collected.
  5. Stirfry the broccoli and spread on a serving plate.
  6. Mix 1 T of oil into the meat.
  7. Heat the wok over medium-high heat, then add 1 T oil just until it shimmers.
  8. Stirfry the meat just until it loses its pink color, then remove to a second plate.
  9. Heat the wok over medium-high heat, then add the last 1 T oil just until it shimmers.
  10. Explode the ginger root and scallions just until fragrant, give the sauce ingredients a quick stir and add them to the wok.
  11. Allow the sauce to thicken, then cook approximately 1 m to get rid of the starchy taste.
  12. Add the meat back to the sauce, stirfry briefly until the meat is cooked through, then arrange on top of the broccoli.

Pearl Meatballs

These delightful little meatballs are coated with rice – they will look like they’re studded with pearls if you use short-grain rice, and if you choose to use longer-grain rice, they will look like little hedgehogs. A big hit with kids, and a good school lunch item if packed in a thermos. Can be made ahead and reheated for a last-minute meal.

Glutinous rice (AKA sticky or sweet rice) is a very short-grain type of white rice that is used for dishes where its stickiness is a plus. It forms the base for Japanese mochi and Chinese rice cake, for example. It is also available in brown, but as with all whole grain rices, that will take much longer to cook and the appearance will not be so pearly.

Please note that the rice needs to be soaked for a long time before preparing this recipe, so do that early or overnight.

ingredients:

  • 1 c glutinous rice (you can also use regular, medium-grain rice)
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, preferably not too lean – look for pastured pork if you can find it!
  • 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms: stems reserved for making stock, caps finely minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 large egg, from pastured hens if possible
  • 2 T cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato flour
  • 1 T water (or oil if you’re using very lean meat or poultry)
  • salt and pepper to taste

method:

  1. Rinse the rice well, then soak: you can boil water, then pour it over the rice and allow it to soak for 3 h, or you can use cold water and soak the rice overnight. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Oil a heatproof plate that will fit into your steamer.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to mix thoroughly.
  4. Shape the mixture into 1.5″ balls, then roll in the soaked rice to coat completely.
  5. Place in a single layer on the plate, then steam 10-15 m – when done, there will be no pink left in the center.
  6. You can serve the meatballs on the same plate or pile them in a bowl.

do ahead:

The meatballs can be assembled, steamed, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Resteam 10 m to reheat.

variations:

  • The meatballs can be made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the flavor varying accordingly. Adding a bit of minced ham and/or shrimp makes poultry versions a little more flavorful.
  • In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop jazzes these up by adding minced ham and shiitakes to the rice instead of the filling – this makes for a more interesting presentation and opens the door to even more variations….

Steamed Pork with Five-Spice Rice Powder

This is a delicious dish that can be quickly assembled if you use Cream of Rice cereal or the rice powder sold in Asian markets. Or you can make the rice powder from scratch – it’s not difficult, but will take an extra step (see note below). You can then let the dish steam while you prepare some other dishes to accompany it.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle. If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the ready-made mixture, you can substitute ground anise seed.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz pork, sliced 1/8″ thick across the grain: You can use pork butt, belly, or shoulder, but stay away from the overly lean cuts or the meat will be tough when steamed.
  • 1/2 c Cream of Rice cereal
  • 1/4 tsp five-spice powder

marinade:

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the meat slices and marinate for 30 m.
  2. In a dry wok or skillet, toast the rice cereal and spice powder until light brown and fragrant, then set it aside to cool.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, then coat each slice with the rice mixture and arrange, overlapping, on a heatproof plate.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining powder over the top of the dish, drizzle with the reserved marinade, and steam ove medium heat for an hour or until the meat is meltingly tender.
  5. Garnish with scallion and a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

note:

To make the rice powder from scratch, toast a mixture of 1/4 c glutinous rice and 1/4 c medium-grain rice in a dry skillet until lightly browned, adding the five-spice toward the end of the toasting. Use a food processor, spice grinder, or coffee grinder to grind it finely. This mixture can be made in larger batches and kept in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

variations:

You can substitute other meats for the pork:

  • spare ribs – across the bone or left whole;
  • beef slices – you may want to add 1-2 T of oil to the marinade if the beef is lean;
  • chicken – traditionally, the pieces of chicken are cut into pieces, bones and all, but you could use whole pieces or cut them off the bone and cut into large (2×1″) chunks. Reduce steaming time to 30 m.

You can also make the dish spicy by adding ground red pepper (cayenne) to taste.

do ahead:

This dish can be steamed ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days or frozen, tightly covered for 2-3 months. To serve, steam it until heated through – no thawing required, although you should be sure your plate can withstand the temperature change.

Mooshu Vegetables (or Pork or Beef or Chicken or Shrimp or…)

“Mooshu” will never be the same after Disney’s character (voiced by the hilarious Eddie Murphy) in Mulan, but Mooshu (also spelled moo shu, moo shi, or mu xu in Mandarin) is probably found in most Chinese restaurants in America. Its name appears to come from the dish’s appearance: the ingredients are basically cut into such small strips that they resemble wood shavings. Traditionally the ingredients include some sort of protein (meat, chicken, shrimp, tofu) plus wood ear, lily flower buds, bamboo shoots, and scrambled eggs. After being stirfried, the mixture is wrapped in a Mandarin pancake with a dab of hoisin or plum sauce and becomes a Chinese wrap of sorts.

You can substitute ingredients based on what’s at hand – the following is simply a suggestion to get you started. I avoid canned food such as bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and tend toward the fresh ingredients. The more exotic vegetables (wood ear, lily flowers) are available in Asian markets, but the recipe works fine without them. We don’t use too much processed/prepared food (in prepared sauces from China you run the risk of ingesting way too much msg and sodium) but I do like to add a bit of fermented black beans to this – you can then omit the hoisin or plum sauce as you will have enough flavor. If you don’t have the black beans, it will still be fine, with or without the added sauce.

ingredients:

  • your choice of protein (optional), approximately 8 oz, shredded:

pressed or baked tofu
shrimp (check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for a list of the most sustainable varieties)
pork, beef, or chicken (visit Local Harvest for sustainably raised products available near you)

  • marinade

for beef/pork: 2 tsp soy sauce + 1 tsp cornstarch
for chicken/shrimp: 1/2 egg white, beaten + 1 tsp cornstarch
for tofu: none

  • your choice of vegetables, enough to make approximately 2 c, shredded:

carrot
celery
bean sprouts
cabbage
shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried (rehydrate 20 m): stems reserved for making broth, soaking liquid reserved for another use
wood ear: rehydrate 30 m, rinse well, remove tough parts
lily flowers (golden needles): rehydrate 30 m, snip off the tough ends
bamboo shoots
water chestnuts

sauce:

  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fermented black beans, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

method:

  1. Finely shred (1/16 x 1/16 x 1″) all ingredients.
  2. Combine the protein (if you’re adding some) with the appropriate marinade and allow to rest for up to 30 m.
  3. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet or omelet pan, then add the beaten eggs. You can either scramble them or allow them to cook over low heat into a thin omelet, which you can turn out and also cut into fine shreds.
  5. Heat 1 T oil in a wok over high heat until it shimmers, explode the scallions until fragrant, add the vegetables, and stirfry quickly until crisp-tender. If your wok is small, you may want to do this in 2 batches, or the vegetables will crowd the pan and steam instead of stirfry. Remove.
  6. Heat 1 T oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the protein (if applicable), stirfrying until the meat loses its pink color, approximately 1-2 m.
  7. Add the vegetables back to the wok, add the sauce, stirfry quickly to combine, another 1 m or so.
  8. Adjust seasoning and remove to a serving bowl, serve with the pancakes on the side.
  9. You can let your diners wrap their own “Chinese burritos” or you can make them yourself just before serving: place a pancake flat on a plate; using a slotted spoon, add approximately 1/4 c of the vegetable mixture down the middle of the pancake in a long mound, leaving 1″ between the end of the mound and the rim of the pancake. Fold up the rim where the space remains, fold over 1 side of the pancake perpendicular to the first fold, then roll tightly toward the opposite side. If you prefer to use chopsticks, be sure to roll tightly, then slice the wrap on the diagonal with a sharp knife.

Stirfried Beef with Bell Peppers

Super-easy basic stirfry recipe – the trick is to keep the food moving and not overcook it, or you will have tough meat, limp veggies, and too much juice! If you have a small wok, cook the food in 2 batches, or it will crowd the pan and steam instead of stirfry.

Once again, I strongly encourage you to cook with grassfed beef – the flavor is unbeatable, and the impact on the environment much smaller. For more information on this, see “The cost of steak.” Grassfed beef (as well as pastured pork, bison, and chicken) is ever-more present at farmers’ markets and even at some conventional stores – try to buy the meat labeled “grassfed, grass-finished,” which means the animal never saw the inside of a CAFO/feedlot. This recipe can be made with just about any cut – the shreds are small, so even a large-grain piece such as flank steak will come out tender. For an extra-special treat, try it with tenderloin!

ingredients:

  • 12 oz beef (see note in intro)
  • 1 red bell pepper (or use a combination of red/yellow/green/orange – whatever’s in the market!)
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

marinade:

method:

  1. Cut the beef across the grain into thin strips, approximately 1/8×1/8×2″ long.
  2. Combine the beef with the marinade ingredients in a bowl and allow to rest for 15-30 m. Drain off the marinade before cooking.
  3. Wash and dry the pepper(s), then Cut off the tops and bottoms, removing the seeds. Cut the peppers into thin strips, again approximately 1/8×1/8×2″ long, set aside.
  4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers.
  5. Add the beef and stirfry quickly just until the outside is brown – the inside should still be pink, approximately 1 m.
  6. Add the peppers and stirfry 15-30 seconds more.
  7. Add the salt, stir to combine thoroughly, then remove from the heat.
  8. Adjust the seasoning, and serve.

nutritional data:

I have used conventional flank steak for my calculations – still need to get hold of the nutritional content of grassfed beef! As with other dishes where marinade is used, it is hard to estimate how much marinade is drained off before cooking – the calculations here are based on the assumption that it’s approximately 1/2. The relatively high level of fat calories, cholesterol, and sodium can be balanced out by serving the dish with plenty of brown rice and some vegetable-centric dishes. The recipe serves 4 as part of a larger meal, and the figures given are per serving.

  • Total calories 178, calories from fat 86
  • Total fat 10 g, saturated fat 3 g
  • Cholesterol 29 mg
  • Sodium 467 mg
  • Total carbs 2 g, dietary fiber 1 g, sugars 1 g
  • Protein 18 g

Beef or Pork in Garlic Sauce

This is another recipe that is originally from Sichuan – like the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce it is at once spicy, slightly sweet, and a bit sour. The Mandarin name, yuxiang rousi (literally “fish fragrance meat shreds”), comes from a style of cooking fish using the mixed fragrances/flavors of garlic, scallion, ginger, hot pepper sauce, Sichuan pepper powder, sugar, and vinegar. The list of ingredients would seem overwhelming except that most are simply combined before incorporating into the dish.

The recipe can be made with beef or pork with slightly different results. In either case, I urge you to seek out pastured meat, which will not only provide you with an amazing flavor experience but also have less impact on the environment. For more on this topic, see “The cost of steak”.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb lean beef or pork, cut into fine shreds (1/8×1/8×1.5″), approximately 1 c
  • 2 T oil
  • 2 T dried wood ear (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, shredded
  • 1 cl garlic, sliced
  • 2 scallions, cut thinly on the diagonal

marinade:

sauce:

  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp black vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1/8 tsp ground Sichuan pepper or white pepper
  • 1 T chili sauce, such as sriracha
  • 1 tsp hot pepper oil, more to taste (optional)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 T water

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients with the meat shreds and allow to sit for 10-20 m. Mix in 1 T oil.
  2. Soak the wood ears in hot water approximately 10 m, rinse to remove all the grit, cut out the tough sections, then cut into shreds about the same size as the meat.
  3. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 T oil in the wok until it shimmers, then quickly stirfry the woodears and salt. Remove to a plate, leaving the oil in the wok, and reheat the wok.
  5. Explode the garlic and ginger just until fragrant, then add the meat and stirfry quickly until the shreds begin to separate.
  6. Add the woodears and the scallions, stir well.
  7. Give the sauce a quick stir and add to the wok.
  8. Bring to a simmer (don’t allow it to come to a rolling boil, particularly not with pasture meat), and stir gently until the sauce thickens and the starch is cooked out, approximately 1-2 m. Do not overcook at this point, or the meat will release too much of its juices – it will become tough and the sauce will thin out.

nutritional data:

Like the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, this is a tough recipe to “healthify”: it contains large amounts of sodium (32% of the average healthy adult’s daily recommended MAXIMUM intake!) and a rather large amount of fat compared to a lot of other recipes I regularly cook. I have reduced the amounts of both somewhat but tried to maintain the authentic flavor of the dish. My best advice would be to serve this as part of a larger meal with lots of brown rice and vegetable-centered dishes (such as the Steamed Vegetable Mountain) that contain less sodium and fat to balance it out. Everything in moderation….

Hard nutritional facts forthcoming – it’s time to do a few laps around the park before my real job starts!

ETA:

Back to finishing up the hard facts: I used beef flank, omitted the wood ears and chili oil. The recipe serves 4 as part of a larger meal, figures below are per serving.

  • Total calories 144, calories from fat 66
  • Total fat 7 g, saturated fat 2 g
  • Cholesterol 20 mg
  • Sodium 763 mg
  • Total carbs 6 g, dietary fiber 0 g, sugars 3 g
  • Protein 13 g