Testing recipes – the awesomeness of red fermented tofu sauce
Something important happened this week to spur me into action… my research group, the China Energy Group, announced we would be having a Chinese New Year party in just a few short weeks, and everyone had to cook for it. Bing!! Perfect opportunity to test my recipes on a candid (and Chinese) audience. To the grocery store we go! On Saturday afternoon, I went to Ranch 99 with my roommate Maggie. It’s a Chinese-owned supermarket chain in the states, and it was exactly like the supermarkets in China! Boxes in the middle of the aisle, overcrowded, people not watching where they’re going, haphazard organization (various kinds of sauces/condiments found across several aisles rather than in just one aisle)…it was a real kickback to China, loved it!
I picked up all the essentials: cilantro, green onion, a couple kinds of sauces, wonton wrappers (to make the crispy inside cracker known as the “bao cui” 薄脆), couple kinds of flour to try out (corn, soybean, rice, but couldn’t find the illusive mung bean variety), and black sesame seeds.
The hoisin sauce I prepped by heating some finely chopped ginger and green onion into oil and combining with hoisin sauce and water. Then, I diluted some red fermented tofu sauce (which I was so pleased to find at the store) with water. Lastly, I used an awesome brand of chili paste called Sichuan Weijute 四川味巨特 (the Chinese trying to make up a fun word that mimics the English word “vegetable” but means “flavor big and special”).
The house I live in is amazing. My roommate Maggie is a chef, and she has every cooking tool imaginable, including a deep frier! She was also very excited and curious about trying out some jian bing recipes. Oooh, when I dropped those little wonton wrappers into the deep frier, they just sucked up the oil like magic. Sure, it’s really fried dough, but I just refer to it as “fried air”. When you are eating a well made jian bing, it feels like you’re inhaling fried air, and it is delicious.
Maggie suggested we try a big skillet outside with the “Camp Chef”. This thing is an ancient beast and spews a serious flame in honor of the upcoming Year of the Dragon.
Ok, I’m all set up now with my cute and well-prepped ingredients table! For the batter, I have used a mixture of white and soybean flours with water and salt…very tricky to get the right consistency but I think I’m on the right track.
Unfortunately, the heat was so intense that the griddle we were using got way too hot, especially in the middle, which mucked up the batter and additionally it was really difficult to flip that sucker without even heat and with the deepness of the griddle/skillet we were using. Evenness of heat distribution is key for making crepes and jian bing…this may lead me to purchase a more professional crepe griddle or try a griddle over a huge pot of boiling water, like they sometimes do in China. Here’s my first attempt, came out more like a scramble and tasted pretty bad.
At this point, Maggie suggested we go for a more manageable size…we got out a non-stick pan and decided to focus on getting the taste right, doing an omelette-size jian bing.
Above, you can see we’ve laid down the batter, cracked an egg (in this case just half an egg due to the smaller size), and added the cilantro and green onion. Then, you flip it, add the three sauces (hoisin with special ingredients, red fermented tofu sauce, and spicy sauce) as well as some black sesame seeds. Then fold it over one piece of delicious fried air and you’re good to go.
Le voila! With Maggie’s tremendous help, I made a pretty successful attempt today. I called my other two roommates (Alli and Jeremy) down and they also helped with the taste testing. Everyone approved, especially with the mixture of sauces. I have to say…the sauces were perfect, especially that red fermented tofu sauce which adds that almost smelly element to the jian bing and gives it both a sweet and salty taste. Next time, I’m going to re-investigate the cooking surface and batter, which are directly correlated. First, I’m going to want a slightly bigger cooking surface, that’s evenly heated. This way, the batter can spread nice and thin over the whole surface, making it easier to flip, lighter, and crispier. Stay tuned! Hope I haven’t made you too hungry… 🙂