Since moving to Indiana, I’ve found fewer Chinese or Asian grocery stores (three so far), and fresh Chinese cuts of pork have been slightly harder to find, but chicken is ever-present and evermore inexpensive. So…I guess it’s time to make more chicken? Also, I find myself reverting to making dishes with pork because that’s what I love and am used to eating, so using more chicken is a culinary stretch for me 😉
My mom and grandma started having weekly get togethers at Puopuo Jia (grandma’s house) which involve sharing stories and best of all, food. Sometimes my grandma cooks, sometimes they make food together, and sometimes they find a restaurant to try together. There’s a Sichuan restaurant that they loved (where my grandma and waitress spoke in Sichuanese, which I never even knew puopuo spoke!) that my mom’s going to take me to when we visit in December! Wooo!
My mom was telling me about one of my Puopuo’s most recent food experiments; this time it was feng ji,（風雞）, which translates to ‘wind chicken,’ because part of the process involves drying the chicken outdoors. Chicken gets salted and Sichuan-peppered , put in the fridge for a few days, then is hung outside to ‘dry’ and continue in the curing. Then, you steam it and EAT IT! After all, Chinese people don’t do prosciutto, cheese and crackers as a snack;D
Puopuo used her garage for the curing step, but I have no garage or basement, nor a crafty box to ward off critters as it hangs on the balcony.
Hearing of chicken, salt, and hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorn) made me salivate and want some, too. Since I haven’t devised that box yet, I made this dish to temporarily stave off my craving for some of puopuo’s feng ji. Thanks for the inspiration, Puopuo!
Turns out that this was quite tasty- the hua jiao does not overwhelm the chicken, and yet lends a nice different taste than ‘typical’ stir-fries. The carrots stay rather firm and don’t produce much water, so even if you stove is weaksauce, your stir-fry will not boil 😀 This was NOT created to be a spicy dish; the hua jiao are just supposed to give the chicken a little something. You can certainly add dried hot peppers with the oil at the beginning, if you wish.
When I was growing up in the great state of California, our house never had air conditioning. Despite the shade that the humongous avocado tree in the backyard provided for the house, summer would be very, very hot.
I remember many hot nights of sleeping next to my sister on the large area rug under the dining table, in the one room that had a window air conditioning unit. It was also common to see my dad walking around the house without a shirt! (Is there a more economical way to cool oneself, anyway?)
As a remedy for these hot summer days, my mom would make liang2mian4, also known as 涼麵 or cold noodles, for dinner. Whereas we would rinse the noodles with cold water to speed up the cooling process, my mom’s job as a kid, assigned by her grandmother, would be to cool the noodles by fanning them!
If my mom’s job as a kid on 涼麵 days was to fan the noodles, my job was to make the sesame paste sauce. My mom would hand me the jar of zhi1ma2jiang4 (not to be confused with the game, mahjong) so I could scoop some into a bowl, asking “more?” until she said that it was enough. I learned how to adjust the ratio of sesame paste to water, adding more of one or the other until I got a nice consistency of ‘paste’: not too thin, not too thick.
I knew I wanted to make cold noodles because of the warm weather, and I knew that I had leftovers of romaine lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots from previous cooking days. The first thought that came to mind was the question of authenticity. I’m sure they don’t use cabbage and romaine in Taiwan. I remember romaine in cold noodles from Silk Road Express, a Chinese cafe on JHU’s campus! But other than that, I had never eaten it in cold noodles; after all, I’m quite sure romaine lettuce is not a frequently eaten vegetable in Taiwan.
I’ve been thinking about “authenticity” lately. I remember that we would more often than not, eat spaghetti noodles in our liang2mian4. Why? It
happened to be the noodles that we had in the house. Then I thought, if my mom used spaghetti, I should be able to use nontraditional vegetables if that’s all I got. Apparently, my mom was open to using substitutes in order to feed her ravenous husband and children without another trip to a store. Sounds logical, right? These is a place and time for substitutions, I have come to realize more and more.
Although my favorite cold noodles are still my mom’s version, I enjoyed today’s as well (so did Tim!). I’ll provide both versions. In my family, liang2mian4 was DIY, and I would encourage you to do the same.
Yep! Just sesame seeds.
I can tell you that sesame paste and tahini are very different, both in color and taste. My research tells me that Chinese-style sesame paste is made from unhulled sesame seeds, whereas tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds. The difference in color seems consistent with that claim. The sesame paste shown above is made from white sesame seeds and should not be confused with sesame paste made from black sesame seeds (used in Chinese desserts).
My mom got me “I’m Just Here for the Food” and I have yet to go through all of the recipes. BUT, of the recipes, I love the spice rubs. In particular, the chicken rub recipe is what I like to think of as magic dust. Do nothing to your chicken but add this spice rub + salt, and you have a delicious piece of protein. For someone who looves spices (see previous post), this is the perfect thing to mix together! Alton’s recipe featured parts/ratios instead of measuring devices, so I made one part = one teaspoon to simplify things. Feel free to double or triple as needed. His recipe also usually includes filé powder and dried sage, neither of which I actually ever have on hand (gasp!). Even without those ingredients, the rub still is pretty tasty. This rub is best on chicken that is seared, grilled, or roasted.
adapted from Alton Brown
1/2 tsp toasted fennel seeds
1 tsp toasted coriander
1/2 tsp toasted cumin
1/2 tsp toasted celery seeds
1/4 tsp toasted white peppercorns
1/4 tsp toasted black peppercorns
1/2 tsp toasted red pepper flakes
1 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients in a blender or coffee bean grinder. Store in an airtight container and label and date it with masking tape! Alton says the rub is good for 3 months, but I keep mine a little longer with no harmful consequences. Add salt to your chicken when you use the rub.
If you don’t have whole spices, it’s okay to use ground spices. But, whole spices can be toasted, which is nice.
A.B. Spice Rubbed Chicken
chicken drumsticks, legs, or thighs
1) Preheat oven or toaster oven to 425F. Rub spices and salt liberally over the chicken (the thicker the piece of chicken, the more spices you need).
2) Line a pan with foil. Place chicken on foil, making sure to leave space between the chicken. Don’t crowd the chicken!
3) Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165F-175F.