June 17, 2010

My Kind of Rice Dumpling Season and Cantonese Lemon Chicken 我的粽子季節和酸甜的西檸煎軟雞

I’ve been suffering from mild migraine this evening after work. But, I don’t simply bow down to that. Coming home, seeing my beloved family again, and being able to visit fellow bloggers can be such a blessing to life. I’m tired. Still, I feel motivated enough to march on with all the love and support I’ve been receiving.

On the Chinese calendar (農曆), the Fifth Day of the Fifth Month (五月初五) is when Chinese all over the world would observe the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節). This year, this meaningful day fell on June 16, which was yesterday. (Pei-Lin always likes to take her own sweet time. That’s why she’s so damn slow and late in everything. *Sigh*) When I was in elementary school, I remember I’d be told of such a legend. Well, I won’t go into detail as I can’t recall everything. In a gist, this was how the story went.

During the Warring States Period (戰國時代) of the ancient China, there was a patriotic scholar and politician who went by the name of Qu Yuan (屈原). He came from the state of Chu (楚國). He loved his country so much obviously; however, he held opinion that was the opposite of other fellow Chu politicians. Somehow, after all the glitches and whatnot, he got into serious conflict with other politicians. Some evil ministers became jealous of and thus framed him. So, he ended up getting fired and in an exile (for good). Throughout these years, he dedicated himself to literary work; however, he was not freed from the deep anguish, compassion and sorrow he felt for his fellow countrymen as he witnessed the downfall of Chu in the hands of those venal ministers. While he was disempowered from doing anything, he felt helpless and hopeless. Upon hearing the seize of Chu by Qin (秦國), the state which eventually brought the divided China under one ruling, Qu felt depressed and subsequently waded himself into the Miluo River (汨羅河) in the Hunan (湖南) province. The suicide took place on the Fifth Day of the Fifth Month of the Chinese calendar. (I've also heard that he jumped into the said river and ended his own life by drowning himself in the rapid, merciless current.)

My aunt's Malaccan Nyonya-style glutinous rice dumpling, homemade, with pork filling. Some of the glutinous rice used is tainted purplish blue with the butterfly pea flower (or bunga telang in Bahasa Malaysia).

So, we commemorate the great Poet on this day, which is now known as the Dragon Boat Festival. But, why are all the glutinous rice dumplings (粽子)? According to the Chinese folklore, the people worried about Qu’s body being eaten up by underwater creature. (I know it sounds ridiculous, but I heard that the creature were turtles! Some said fish. Whatever that might be; unless, my memory is trying to fool me, which can be possible.) So, the people made and threw gobs of rice dumplings into the Miluo River to stuff the creature up real well. Now, that’s why we are stuffing ourselves up with rice dumplings during this time of the year.

This year, I had my first Dragon Boat Festival back home since I returned from the States last August. I personally think that as a Chinese, and to be a good mother and wife, I should learn how to make rice dumplings. Actually, I love doing so. I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up such skill while I was a college student in the U.S. as there’s no Asian grocer in that obscure little town I once lived in. Knowing that I’m now home, I called up one of my aunts and asked if I could be an apprentice. (我要上山拜師咯!)

My aunt lives in Malacca (or Melaka, 馬六甲), which is where my Teochew (潮州人) mom would call home. My goal of that southbound trip was to pick up the basics of wrapping rice dumplings. So, just 3 days ago, I took a 2-day annual leave and traveled for 2 hours down from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca. 

(Well, I also intended to spend quality time with my 70-year-old aunt, whom I last met during Lunar New Year. I’m glad I did! I had fun chatting and learning so much from her! Love you, Great Aunt 大姨媽! Oh, did I tell you it was also a sweet getaway from the city? It’s been ages since I last slept till 10-ish in the morning …)

“We shall make Cantonese pork-and-salted yolk rice dumplings,” I begged her. “No, we’ll stick to my original plan,” she replied. Think Malacca, think of the Baba and Nyonya (峇峇娘惹). We churned out close to a dozen of Nyonya-style rice dumplings (娘惹式粽子). With the surplus of marinated (long-grain) glutinous rice (長糯米), we turned the rest into Teochew-style savory rice dumplings (潮式鹹粽). According to my mom, these are known as “giam zang,” which is pronounced as “GHEE-ahm ZAH-ng” in the southern Chinese dialect of Teochew (潮州話).

No Cantonese pork-and-salted yolk rice dumpling (粵式鹹蛋豬肉粽) for me this year. Too bad, as a Cantonese (廣府人), this very dumpling is the one I grew up with. I simply love the bits of lard and meat amid the chewy stickiness. Mmm … But seriously, I’m not a fussy eater. I’m happy with just about any rice dumplings. At the end of the day, I happily gobbled down three Malaccan Nyonya rice dumplings. *Burp* (Of course, not in one sitting, I swear.)

After an evening of hands-on lesson and practice, to tell you that I’ve successfully picked up the skill of wrapping rice dumplings seems to be too early. My aunt has been wrapping rice dumplings for close to 20 years. She gave me golden advice before I departed: This is a skill that will take me years of practice, patience, trial and error to master. In fact, this is true in whatever we pursue. On top of that, she encourages me to observe and learn from others. She reminded me of not to expect an overnight success out of myself. Thank you once again, Great Aunt!

That’s about it for my Dragon Boat Festival experience this year. My family, especially my mom, have been pestering me to make rice dumplings since I got back. My mom loves her lye-water rice dumplings (鹼水粽) with either kaya or palm sugar syrup (sirup gula melaka). These rice dumplings, as the name implies, are treated with (edible) alkaline lye water; hence, the signature yellowish hue.

Though I have yet to officially wrap any rice dumpling that I can call my own, I’d like to share with you one of my all-time favorites: Cantonese-style fried chicken with lemon sauce (西檸煎軟雞). Well, don’t we all have some sort of reunion dinner on a special day like the Dragon Boat Festival?

The lemon chicken I made when I was still a college student in the States. I didn't use custard powder at that time as I couldn't source any in the States; hence, the dull color of the lemon sauce here.

Since I don’t get to have Cantonese rice dumpling this year, I’ll just rant on about something Cantonese. Haha! I have made this fusion dish a few times since my college days in the States. This classic Cantonese treat never fails to amaze me. It’s easy to execute; however, the following recipe is only for reference, which is typical of Chinese home cooking. Do note that the custard powder (吉士粉) is there to provide some flavor and that beautiful yellow golden color. So, don’t be too generous with it! Also, don’t cook the lemon sauce for too long as you may risk having the sauce thickened up way too much! (Or you’ll have lemon pudding for dessert instead! Haha!) Remember to remove the sauce from the heat the soonest bubbles appear. Stir or whisk the sauce, too, as you cook it. Last but not least, here’s a shout-out to Siukwan for sharing this fabulous recipe with us! 唔該晒小軍

Fresh-off-the-stove crisp fried chicken, coated in generous amount of sweet and sour lemon sauce. It’s that brief tangy spike, that citrus sweetness … that render you bursting with greater and greater appetite all at the same time! Pairing this ultimate sensation with the tender, succulent chicken, you’ve put yourself in finger-licking goodness! Yum!

I hope this post didn’t come too late for the Dragon Boat Festival. Still, even if it did, here’s to wish everyone a Happy Dragon Boat Festival! 在此恭祝大家端午節快樂!Hope you’ve had a great one, like mine!

Cantonese-Style Fried Chicken With Lemon Sauce 西檸煎軟雞
Adapted from Siukwan's

450 g chicken thighs and/or drumsticks -- washed to clean, then drained well and cut into smaller pieces
* I let the butcher cut up the chicken for me. I only did the cleaning and whatnot after I got back from the farmers' market. Don't remove the skin! For the health-conscious, this dish is perhaps not for you, unfortunately. *
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp granular chicken bouillon 雞粉 -- optional
Ground white pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp slightly beaten egg

Enough cornstarch, for coating the chicken pieces upon frying
Enough cooking oil, for frying the chicken pieces

1/3 cup (78 mL) water
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
* Don't even think of using bottled lemon juice! Fresh one DOES make a difference! *
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 Tbsp custard powder 吉士粉
1 tsp cornstarch
  1. Combine (A) together and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Once the chicken has been marinated, coat the chicken pieces with cornstarch thoroughly and evenly.
  3. In a wok/skillet/something similar, over medium heat, heat up a fair bit of cooking oil just enough to almost submerge the chicken pieces. Once the oil is hot enough, lower the heat slightly and fry the chicken pieces (半煎炸方式) till they are golden brown and cooked through -- turning the chicken halfway through the cooking process to fry and cook the other side too. Once the chicken is fried till golden brown, dish it out and drain off the excess oil. Then, transfer it onto a paper towel-lined plate (or something similar, as long as it's lined with paper towel). Set aside.
    When it comes to frying chicken, too high of a heat will have the outside of the chicken cooked too fast while the inside still remains, sort of, uncooked.
  4. For the lemon sauce, whisk (B) together to combine. Then, pour the mixture into a small saucepan/something similar, and bring it just to a boil over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat. Next, dump the fried chicken pieces into the sauce and toss to coat them up well. Dish out onto a serving plate.
  5. Serve the lemon chicken hot!


Swee San said...

i've not had a bak chang with "bak" inside yet.. I've had one vegetarian, and i think the rest of them in the fridge are vegetarian ones.. *grumpy*

Honey Bee Sweets said...

My friend, sounds like you need rest and plenty of water! Take good care!

OMG, I love the idea of tinting the tip of the glutinous rice with bunga telang! And it's a superb idea to spend quality time with your great aunt and learning tips about wrapping a good dumpling. :) A well deserved "get-away"...no wonder you didn't reply my email...hahaha, just kidding. BTW, hope we can catch up more this weekend! take care!

Shirley @ Kokken69 said...

PeiLin, taking 2 days annual leave for Dumpling lesson - Exactly the kind of thing I would do myself too... :) I wish I have an aunt who could teach me and I seriously love Nonya dumpling. You are at your prime with boundless energy. This is the time to 冲!When age and jadedness set in- 想冲都没精力冲咯! But must remember to eat well and sleep well! Take care!

zenchef said...

I have never seen glutinous rice dumpling tainted blue with the butterfly pea flower. How cool this is! I bet they were out of this world delicious too!

Thanks for sharing. I learned something new today. :)

Jess @ Bakericious said...

Hi Pei Lin, I love nyonya chang than other types of chang. For many yrs my mil n mum didnt make anymore but I am still able to consume homemake cos colleagues ve "hardworking" mum as well, so they wil bring to share with us.

The lemon chicken looks yummy, drooling when looking at it, chicken is my all-time favourite. :)

Do take care of urself, do rest more. I do ve headache one and off for quite sometimes as well due to the bad weather, my sensitive nose making me cant sleep well :(.

babe_kl said...

i hvnt tasted one coloured with bunga telang yet! and i dunno how to wrap dumpling hahaha

Kitchen Corner said...

WOW! I like the lemon chicken! It looks so appetizing! Got to learn this. Thanks for sharing!

noobcook said...

wow travelling all the way to Malacca to apprentice - that's total dedication to your craft! :)

I've always wanted to learn, but put it off year after year ... coz I know it's not easy and as you know, I'm super lazy and a short cut cook hehe those chang with purple colouring looks unique and tasty ... and I love the lemon chix as well. Hope you feel better now.

My Asian Kitchen said...

Like your nyonya zhang.look so delicious!..I heard from my mom nyonya zhang take longer time to make coz it's involved extra work then regular zhang but taste better,right?

pigpigscorner said...

Are you under a lot of stress?? Do take care! No bazhang for me this year cause too lazy =P

Elin said...

Hey Pei Lin..
glad that you had a wonderful time with your aunt in Malacca :) I wish someone can teach me how to wrap the zhang...haha wait one day I will try it out :p

hey btw I wanna ask you how much is that Dorie Greenspan book you bought in KL? Is it cheaper to buy from amazon.com thru paypal. I saw on amazon.com selling for USD26.40. I was thinking of getting Dorie and the other Heavenly Cakes. Please advise. Cheaper to buy from KL? Thanks.


sorry to ask from this post.

wendyywy @ Table for 2 or more..... said...

Pei Lin,
Did you take down the recipe????
I plan to make this next year when I plant my own flowers...

Page said...

i had zhongzi a few days ago! :)they were delicious :)
love your pictures and your blog :)

ICook4Fun said...

Pei-Lin, I love love the vibrant purple color of the chang. It is so great that you can learn the art of making this from your great aunt. Our ladies group are going to attempt making nonya bak chang next week too. Do take care of youself. Work is important but health is as important.

Su-yin said...

My grandma makes a whole load of bak chang every year, and my mum always freezes a few for me to have when I go home. :D

Please take care of yourself too, don't overstress!

Angie's Recipes said...

The dumpling with the blueish point looks cute.
Lemon chicken is the best when summer arrives! Very appetizing.

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Wow, guys! I'm amazed at the fact many of you refer to Chinese rice dumplings as "cang." Actually, I didn't know that till my college years, when I got to know more Hokkien friends from southern Malaysia. Haha! Sorry about that, I'm an ignorant Cantonese. Haha! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind words! I feel much better. Thank you! =D

@Swee San: Then ar ... you can't call those bak cang loh ... Just call it vegetarian zong in Hokkien lah ("zai zong" in Canto), whatever that may be ... Haha! Well, you can always pester your folks to get you carnivores-friendly ones mah ... =_=""" Did I tell you, my aunt is a Buddhist vegetarian? And she fixes food for omnivores like us ...

@Bee Bee: Too bad, the plan doesn't work out! So you had to leave the morsels to Reese then. Promised. I'll bake/cook something for you and Reese when we meet up. Sorry about that totally! Seems like locations contribute to the problem, so is the time factor! *Sigh* When I head down to Singapore, I'll let you all folks down there know. Thanks for the kind words! Take care!

@Shirley: Haha! I know there's an age gap in between us. You're from 1969!? I'd do anything, as long as it's for something that I love and care about. No regret. Yea, my aunt told me Nyonya dumplings should have a firmer texture than the other types; therefore, it's special in this way. Erm ... Turning 23 ain't a really good sign, I think ... I'm ageing, too! Haha! I'm trying to make the best outta my youth/early adult life. Hopefully, I won't get myself overworked. I do feel tired, VERY. *Sigh*

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Wow, guys! I'm amazed at the fact many of you refer to Chinese rice dumplings as "cang." Actually, I didn't know that till my college years, when I got to know more Hokkien friends from southern Malaysia. Haha! Sorry about that, I'm an ignorant Cantonese. Haha! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind words! I feel much better. Thank you! =D

@Zen: Hey, I'm totally flattered when I saw your comment! Thank you! It's been ages since you dropped me words, and vice versa. I feel so pissed by myself ... Haha! Will come visit you when time allows. It's not easy living in a crazy city. Oh, we don't taint all known Chinese rice dumplings blue. I think it's just for Nyonya-style rice dumplings, especially those from Malacca. Oh, well ... You can do however you want such as tainting your home-made ice cream, bread, cakes blue with butterfly pea flower ... Haha! That's the nice thing about being able to cook/bake. You can do as pleased. Haha! Oh, you bet! I'm so glad that I get to tell more about my culture to others from different cultures! How cool is that!

@Jess: Aiyo ... You're so lucky to have colleagues who have moms to cook/bake, HARDWORKING some more ... So jealous ... Those that I've come across at my current job now, pesto also lazy to make. I dunno how to entertain or respond to them. Oftentimes, I just keep quiet. Can't click! On the contrary, they like eating out, which is my total opposite. Haha! I love chicken, too. But I try to consume more fish now ... friendlier to my waist. Haha! Besides migraine, I now have problems hearing with my right ear. Will see the doctor next weekend. *Sob*

@babe_kl: Aiya ... It's OK one lah ... I'm learning also mah ... Trying to berlagak also ... Haha! So action ... Haha!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Wow, guys! I'm amazed at the fact many of you refer to Chinese rice dumplings as "cang." Actually, I didn't know that till my college years, when I got to know more Hokkien friends from southern Malaysia. Haha! Sorry about that, I'm an ignorant Cantonese. Haha! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind words! I feel much better. Thank you! =D

@Grace: Should you ever get to try making this dish at home, please lemme know of the outcome! It's always nice to learn about others' experience. ;-)

@Wiffy: Nah ... You're just as good! It's just each person has different preferences, and that he/she is good at one thing but not the other. See, you can come up with a reliable, fool-proof recipe. Me? No way. I still rely on others' recipes! Haha! Yea, I love how bunga telang makes a difference in the dumpling.

@My Asian Kitchen: Yea! Nyonya dumpling has its unique taste and texture. It's firmer in texture, i.e. with something to actually chew on with effort. Every element, including the rice, is compacted together, unlike kansui zong (lye-water dumpling). Yes, definitely more work. BUT, worth it!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Wow, guys! I'm amazed at the fact many of you refer to Chinese rice dumplings as "cang." Actually, I didn't know that till my college years, when I got to know more Hokkien friends from southern Malaysia. Haha! Sorry about that, I'm an ignorant Cantonese. Haha! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind words! I feel much better. Thank you! =D

@Anne: Huh!? You also call it "bak zang!?" I thought we Canto call it 豬肉粽!? JOO-ee Yoke Zong! Haha! Thank you so much for the kind words. I'll go to bed REAL soon ... Already feeling headache ... You take care too, yea?

@Elin: Oh, buying online e.g. from Amazon or eBay is definitely MUCH cheaper ... So, you can try doing so ... I'm sure you'll be wrapping dumplings SOONER than you think ... Haha! You're one wicked talented cook! APOLOGIES DENIED! Haha! Don't ever apologize to me. What for? Let's share! ;) Take care, buddy!

@Wendy: No, I didn't. My aunt doesn't have recipe for that, too. All agak-agak one ... Yea, growing bunga telang is good idea!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Wow, guys! I'm amazed at the fact many of you refer to Chinese rice dumplings as "cang." Actually, I didn't know that till my college years, when I got to know more Hokkien friends from southern Malaysia. Haha! Sorry about that, I'm an ignorant Cantonese. Haha! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the kind words! I feel much better. Thank you! =D

@Page: Glad that you got to have zong zi this year! I remember vividly the past 3 years in the States, when I had to forgo zong zi ... Thank you so much for the encouraging words!

@Gert: Agreed! The natural blue taint does give the dumplings verve! Oh, do post up that dumpling-wrapping session for us to see ... Have fun with the ladies! Thanks for the kind words, REALLY!

@Su-yin: You lucky girl! Haha! Your mom and Ah Ma do love you so much! Ya know what, I had to forgo dumplings for the last 3 years of college education in the States ... Ugh ... And, thanks for such kind words!

@Angie: Yea, lemon chicken is indeed a summery dish! But I don't mind having it in the winter, too. Haha!

faithy, the baker said...

You better go take down notes and then practice how to wrap dumplings and then teach us later when you master it..lol!! Well, at least taking your own sweet time is better than me...i didn't even know that the festival was on that day and past..i didn't even had any zhong-zhi that day! LOL!

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

@Faithy: Haha! No worries! Well, it doesn't mean we have to have eggnog on Christmas, right? Same goes to Dragon Boat Festival & zong zi. Erm ... Hahaha! We shall see how things go ... I don't wanna brag and make too many promises ... and eventually, nothing realized nor succeeded. *Sigh* Thanks for the encouraging words though! We two keep up with our passion. Don't stop sharing, K? Love your work! ;-) Btw, it's never too late to have zong zi. We don't need to have them on Dragon Boat Festival! Haha!

rokh said...

i want to try the nonya one! though i am also very accustomed to the Cantonese style one ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pei Lin,

Greeting from London.

I was looking at recipes for cantonese rice dumpling and found your blog. Good work and I really appreciated if you can give me some advice on photography, especially on food.

Many thanks.


qinyi said...

pei-lin! i've tried out your lemon chicken recipe for dinner last night but I misread it and added in 2 tablespoon of cornflour into the sauce instead of half a teaspoon! i ended up with fried chicken pieces coated in lemon custard glaze! lol! :)

mycookinghut said...

I love rice dumpling!! Haven't had it for soooo long!

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