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.

Stirfried Pork with Bamboo Shoots & Broccoli Stems

I generally try to buy local, fresh ingredients, but once in a while we will buy something more exotic, such as bamboo shoots. If you live near an Asian market, look for the vacuum-sealed packages – the bamboo won’t carry the taste of the can with it. If you want to stick with local ingredients, omit the bamboo and double the amount of broccoli stems – this is a great recipe for using up those tasty leftovers from dishes that just require the florets. Looking for something vegetarian or vegan? Substitute pressed or baked tofu for the pork. Want a quick veggie stirfy – omit the port entirely.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb pork – look for less lean chops, preferably from pastured pigs – cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ shreds
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz cooked bamboo shoot, cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • 4 oz broccoli stems, peeled and cut into matchsticks approximately 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″
  • salt, to taste

marinade:

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl, add the pork shreds and combine thoroughly, allowing to rest 15-30 m. Drain off excess marinade.
  2. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the ginger and garlic just until fragrant, then add the pork shreds and stirfry quickly just until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.
  4. Add the other 1 T oil, heating just until it shimmers, then stirfry the bamboo shoots and broccoli stem pieces just until crisp-tender.
  5. Add the pork back to the wok, stirfry quickly to combine.
  6. Season to taste, and serve.

Curried Beancurd

Full disclosure – this is really not a Chinese recipe. But since you can occasionally find curry recipes in Chinese cookbooks, and since I just received a lovely gift of some homemade curry powder, I thought, “Why not?” So here it is, with thanks to Madhur Jaffrey for the basic idea. We prefer the silken tofu, but you can certainly use any firm variety.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg firm silken tofu
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 1 T yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon, to taste
  • 1 sprig fresh basil or 1/4 tsp dried

method:

  1. Cut the tofu into 1/2″ cubes, then soak in salt water (1 c water:1 tsp salt) – this keeps the tofu from breaking apart during cooking.
  2. Place the ginger, garlic, and onion in a blender with 1/4 c water and process until liquified.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat, just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the liquid from the blender and stirfry until slightly less watery.
  5. Add the curry powder, stir to combine, then add the coconut milk.
  6. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 m or until slightly thickened.
  7. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.
  8. Add the tofu and the basil and simmer until the tofu is heated through.

do ahead:

The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator or up to 2 h in advance and left, covered, at room temperature.

variation:

This sauce would go well with all sorts of vegetables and/or meat: stirfry the main ingredients, then add the sauce and stir to combine.

Winter Vegetable & Pressed Beancurd Stirfry

Truly deep into the winter vegetables in Michigan now – if we want to buy local, we’re down to roots and a lot of the cabbage family. Luckily we like those veggies, but we do think often of the farmers’ market in Torrance these days…. This recipe is great for using up broccoli stems, although I often see only broccoli crowns available. We often eat steamed broccoli, both stems and tops, but we like to reserve a few stems for just such a dish, making the food dollar stretch a little further.

I try to cook with mostly whole, local, close to the source ingredients, but once in a while we will buy some bamboo shoots, and they are a great addition to this dish. If you live near an Asian market (or your regular grocery is into Asian ingredients) you should be able to find vacuum-packed bamboo, either the whole shoots or slices or shreds – any of those are infinitely preferable to the canned varieties.

Pressed beancurd, called doufu gan (sort of translates into “tofu jerky!”) is literally tofu that has been pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. The result is a firmer texture that some people compare to meat, although the flavor is of course different. Pressed tofu comes in a variety of flavors – our favorite is five-spice, which has a dark, slightly smoky exterior and an off-white center. You can easily substitute baked tofu, now readily available in most conventional markets, for this ingredient. Since much of the flavor in this dish comes from the beancurd, you can play around with the various flavors available – as with the Christmas Stirfry, the bbq type might be interesting here – but you may want to reduce or eliminate the soy sauce in that case.

Leftovers? Chopped finely into “confetti”, this stirfry is excellent mixed into Fried Rice.

ingredients:

  • 3 squares pressed five-spice beancurd or baked five-spice tofu (other flavors can be substituted)
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ strips
  • 1 large broccoli stem, peeled and cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ strips
  • 2 oz bamboo shoot, cut into 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ strips
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste

method:

  1. Slice the beancurd 1/8″ thick, then cut the slices into shreds approximately 1.5″ long.
  2. Heat the oil in the wok just  until it shimmers.
  3. Add the carrot, broccoli stem, and bamboo shoot strips and stirfry gently until the vegetable just wilts but is still bright green.
  4. Add the tofu and stirfry to heat through.
  5. Add the soy sauce, stir to combine and heat thoroughly, adjust seasoning, then slide onto the serving plate.

“Christmas Stirfry”

My husband made this for dinner yesterday, and it was strikingly pretty (as well as tasty!), in the perfect seasonal colors.

Garlic chives, jiucai in Mandarin, are available in Asian markets and at farmers’ markets that have vendors of Asian produce. The look like a long, flattened version of our chives. When fully grown they are not hollow at the center and sometimes have buds at the tips. If you can’t find them, you can substitute the more commonly found chives (reduce the cooking time) or scallions cut into thin 2″ long strips. The flavor won’t be identical, but it will be tasty all the same.

Pressed beancurd, called doufu gan (sort of translates into “tofu jerky!”) is literally tofu that has been pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. The result is a firmer texture that some people compare to meat, although the flavor is of course different. Pressed tofu comes in a variety of flavors – the most common one for this dish is five-spice, which has a dark, slightly smoky exterior and an off-white center. You can easily substitute baked tofu, now readily available in most conventional markets, for this ingredient. Since much of the flavor in this dish comes from the beancurd, you can play around with the various flavors available – bbq might be interesting here – but you may want to reduce or eliminate the soy sauce in that case.

Leftovers? This stirfry is excellent mixed into Fried Rice.

ingredients:

  • 3 squares pressed five-spice beancurd or baked five-spice tofu (other flavors can be substituted)
  • 4 oz garlic chives (or use 2 oz chives or 4 scallions as mentioned above)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 x 1.5″ strips
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste

method:

  1. Slice the beancurd 1/8″ thick, then cut the slices into shreds approximately 1.5″ long.
  2. Wash the chives well and cut into 1.5″ lengths – you can keep the buds intact if there are any.
  3. Heat the oil in the wok just  until it shimmers.
  4. Add the tofu and stirfry to coat with the oil and heat through.
  5. Add the chives and red pepper strips and stirfry gently until the vegetable just wilts but is still bright green.
  6. Add the soy sauce, stir to combine and heat thoroughly, adjust seasoning, then slide onto the serving plate.

Chili Peppers with Pressed Beancurd

I was thrilled to see chili peppers at the Westside Farmers’ Market last Thursday and to find a bell pepper in my CSA box as well. For this dish, choose your favorite chilies from among the larger, spicier varieties such as poblano, anaheim, etc. -or use a mix of green and red varieties. Can’t take the heat? Use bell peppers. This is a great time to use the burner on your outdoor grill or turn the exhaust vent on its highest setting!

Pressed beancurd, called doufu gan (sort of translates into “tofu jerky!”) is literally tofu that has been pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. The result is a firmer texture that some people compare to meat, although the flavor is of course different. Pressed tofu comes in a variety of flavors – the most common one for this dish is plain, which is creamy white with a light tan exterior. You can easily substitute baked tofu, now readily available in most conventional markets, for this ingredient.

ingredients

  • 4 ea chili peppers
  • 2 squares plain pressed beancurd
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp fermented black beans (optional)

method:

  1. Cut the tops off the chilies and remove the seeds (or leave them in if you’re truly brave!)
  2. Cut into sections that are large, but still can be picked up with chopsticks – quarters or eighths are usually a good choice as they will expose a good, flat surface.
  3. Cut the beancurd into thin rectangles, approximately 1/4″x1.5″x1/8″.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok until it shimmers, then stirfry the chilies until they are slightly softened and the skins are a bit charred.
  5. Add the beancurd, stirfry to heat it through.
  6. Season to taste with salt and/or fermented black beans (you may not need both), then serve immediately with lots of rice!

Chinese Chives with Pressed Beancurd

Garlic chives, jiucai in Mandarin, are available in Asian markets and at farmers’ markets that have vendors of Asian produce. The look like a long, flattened version of our chives. When fully grown they are not hollow at the center and sometimes have buds at the tips. If you can’t find them, you can substitute the more commonly found chives (reduce the cooking time) or scallions cut into thin 2″ long strips. The flavor won’t be identical, but it will be tasty all the same.

Pressed beancurd, called doufu gan (sort of translates into “tofu jerky!”) is literally tofu that has been pressed to squeeze out excess moisture. The result is a firmer texture that some people compare to meat, although the flavor is of course different. Pressed tofu comes in a variety of flavors – the most common one for this dish is five-spice, which has a dark, slightly smoky exterior and an off-white center. You can easily substitute baked tofu, now readily available in most conventional markets, for this ingredient.

ingredients:

  • 3 squares pressed five-spice beancurd or baked five-spice tofu
  • 4 oz garlic chives (or use 2 oz chives or 4 scallions as mentioned above)
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste

method:

  1. Slice the beancurd 1/8″ thick, then cut the slices into shreds approximately 1.5″ long.
  2. Wash the chives well and cut into 1.5″ lengths – you can keep the buds intact if there are any.
  3. Heat the oil in the wok just  until it shimmers.
  4. Add the tofu and stirfry to coat with the oil and heat through.
  5. Add the chives and stirfry gently until the vegetable just wilts but is still bright green.
  6. Add the soy sauce, stir to combine and heat thoroughly, adjust seasoning, then slide onto the serving plate.

Spinach with Fermented Beancurd

This recipe may fall under the “I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it” category – it calls for an odd ingredient called fermented beancurd (furu), which comes in spicy and bland varieties. Before you read on and say, “Ewww,” just remember how bleu cheese is made. Fuchsia Dunlop writes that it is

…an essential relish with a pungent, cheesy flavor and a creamy texture. It is made by covering firm bean curd in dry rice straw and leaving it to mold for a couple of weeks. The molded curd is cut into cubes, mixed with strong liquor, salt, star anise, and chili flakes, and packed into pickling jars for at least a month to mature.

Gloria Bley Miller simply calls it “Chinese white cheese.” (The chili version is reddish.) If you have an Asian market nearby, you will be able to find it – if not, you’re probably out of luck unless you want to try your hand at making it and happen to have dry rice straw on hand. Besides cooking with it, we also use it as a condiment for steamed buns (mantou) – the kids just call it “salty tofu” – and Dunlop claims it’s tasty spread on toast. Store the fermented tofu in the refrigerator, making sure that it is completely covered with its liquid – if there is not enough liquid, add enough oil or sesame oil to cover.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb spinach or water spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-2 cubes of fermented beancurd
  • 2 T water
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T oil

method:

  1. Soak the spinach in cool water, then remove, allowing the grit to remain in the bowl or sink. Repeat this until no grit remains. If you are using water spinach, remove the stems and reserve for another dish. Drain the leaves, allowing some water to cling to them.
  2. In a small bowl, mash the beancurd into a thin paste with the water, sugar, and salt.
  3. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, then add the oil, just until it shimmers. Explode the garlic just until fragrant.
  4. Add the spinach and stirfry only until wilted.
  5. Add the beancurd paste and stirfry quickly until it is well mixed in and coats all the vegetable.
  6. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Braised Beancurd with Mushrooms

Warm and nourishing and vegetarian (although the original recipe often contains a bit of pork)! I usually prefer the silken version of tofu, but for this dish the regular water-packed firm variety works best. You can use fresh mushrooms or rehydrate dry ones for 30 m in hot water – if you do the latter, save the soaking liquid for flavoring this dish and adding to soups.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz firm tofu
  • 1 T salt dissolved in 2 c water
  • 1 T tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making stock, caps cut into quarters
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 c water
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1.5″ sections
  • 1 tsp tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch dissoved in 1 T cold water
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 1/4″ thick rectangular slices approximately 1″ x 1.5″ in size, then soak in salted water for 30 m.
  2. Drain the beancurd and pat dry, then dredge lightly in the tapioca flour.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in a wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then add the beancurd, reduce heat to medium, and allow to brown on one side before flipping and browning the other side – this may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your wok. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 T oil in the wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then explode the garlic just until fragrant – do not let it brown. Add the mushrooms and stirfry quickly for 15 seconds.
  5. Add the beancurd, soy sauce, and water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for approximately 10 m, uncovered.
  6. When the liquid is down to approximately 1/4 c, add the scallions and then the thickener. Stir gently but quickly so that your sauce does not become lumpy – it should thicken and become clear in a matter of seconds, but keep simmering until the starchy taste disappears, approximately 1 m more.
  7. Adjust the seasoning, drizzle with sesame oil, and serve.

Kungpao Tofu (or Chicken or Shrimp or…)

This is another dish that probably shows up on most Chinese restaurants in America. It really is for the die-hard fire-eaters, but even they should leave the chilies on the plate and just enjoy the rest of the dish! You can substitute shrimp or chicken for the tofu and cashews for the peanuts (see the variations below).

ingredients:

  • 1 c pressed beancurd or baked  tofu (more on that here)
  • 1/4 c dried red chilies
  • 1 T oil
  • 1/2 c roasted unsalted skinless peanuts
  • 2 slices fresh ginger root, cut into thin strips
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1″ lengths

sauce:

  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1.5 tsp tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • 1 tsp black vinegar or apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar, raw cane or brown is best

method:

  1. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Cut the beancurd into 1/2″ dice.
  3. Wipe the dried peppers with a damp cloth anc cut into 1/2″ sections – keep the seeds if you really love the heat, or throw them out.
  4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, the explode the chili sections, ginger, and scallions just until fragrant.
  5. Stirfry the beancurd quickly to heat thru, add the peanuts and stir to combine.
  6. Add the sauce and cook until it thickens and loses its starchy taste, approximately 1-2 m.

variations:

  • You can substitute 1 c diced chicken or shrimp for the tofu: marinate 20 m in 1/2 egg white combined with 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry; stirfry in place of the beancurd just until cooked through.
  • Substitute roasted unsalted cashews for the peanuts.
  • You can add some bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, or other vegetable for extra color – dice and stirfry separately, then add back to the dish just before you add the sauce.