Friday, March 22, 2013

(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal#6: Char Siu Noodle Soup and Smoked Tofu with Celery and Peanuts (Liang Ban Dou Fu Gan)

It turns out that it's a good thing that I made those two homemade stocks while Alex was sick.  Guess who caught the head cold now?  I guess it was hubris to assume that I would be immune to Alex's most recent cold.  In my defense, I only get sick about 50% of the time when Alex brings something home.  It just happened that my body decided now seemed like a good time to catch a cold.  When I have a cold the only thing I want is wonton noodle soup.  It is my absolute favorite cold remedy.  If I can't have wonton noodle soup (or I am too lazy to make the wontons) I will settle for a bowl of homemade Vietnamese chicken noodle soup.  Since I didn't have any homemade wontons and we had just made homemade dumplings the day before, I decided to mix things up and make some sort of Chinese noodle soup.  I didn't want to do a chicken noodle soup because we had just made matzo ball soup with chicken and we had homemade pork-chicken stock in the fridge, so I decided to go with a pork noodle soup.  Once I settled on pork I knew that I would make homemade char siu and make a char siu noodle soup.  For the char siu I used a combination of two char siu recipes that we have made in the past.  I know that I said that I would never make char siu another way after I made Char Siu Take 2, but I didn't want an entire pork shoulder worth of char siu for my soup.  I just wanted a few slices for each bowl.  Plus, the grocery store nearest our apartment only had pork tenderloin.  So I used the marinade from Char Siu Take 2 and the cooking instructions from Char Siu Pork (Chinese Roast Pork) which used pork tenderloin.  I threw the marinade together and put it in the fridge, went to the gym, took the dog for a walk, etc.  And later that night we made soup.  Once you had all of the components prepared, it really didn't take that long to make your soup but preparing each component takes awhile - the broth takes about 3 hours, the char siu marinates for at least 2 hours (although you could easily do it overnight as we have done in the past) and then cooks for 30 minutes... 

The thing I liked most about this meal was how homey it tasted.  Variations on both of these dishes are available in restaurants, but everything tasted comforting and homemade.  The flavors were there, the textures were there (particularly with the tofu with celery and peanuts), but it was all very simple and homey.  The char siu wasn't the best that I have ever tasted (or made) and I wanted a little more depth of flavor and richness to the broth, but it just made me (and my head cold) happy.  It reminded me of something my grandmother would have made for me.  Granted, she probably would have picked up some char siu from the local Chinese grocery instead of making it at home, but the point still stands.  It wasn't a perfect dish by any means, but it was very satisfying.  And sometimes that is exactly what you want/need.  It has been a long time since I have had any smoked tofu and I almost forgot how great it can be.  I love the meaty, smokey flavor and the extra firm texture.  It works really well with the crisp, grassy celery and the sweet and spicy sauce.  I brought in the leftover smoked tofu for lunch this week and I thought it made for great leftovers.

Recipes after the jump!

Char Siu Noodle Soup

For broth:
1 1/2 lbs chicken parts
3 lbs pork neck bones
4 quarts water
1 large yellow onion, quartered
3-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into 1/2-inch thick rings and lightly smashed with the side of a cleaver
1-inch chunk yellow rock sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt
For char siu:
1 lb pork tenderloin
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 scallions, white and green parts, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver
2 cilantro stems, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver
1 star anise
1/2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp Chinese five-spice
For soup:
12 oz fresh noodles
4 cups stock
ground white pepper
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
leaves from two medium heads of baby bok choy
2 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
3 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped

Remove and discard any excess fat from the chicken parts.  Put chicken parts, pork bones and water in a large stockpot and bright to a boil over high heat.  Lower to simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the top with a spoon or ladle.  Add onion, ginger, rock sugar and salt.  Simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours.

Turn off the heat and let broth sit undisturbed for 1 hour to let the impurities settle and congeal.  Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth over a large bowl or pot and gently ladle broth into strainer.  Discard the solids.  Cover the broth and cool in the refrigerator overnight.  Discard solidified fat on top of broth.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar, soy, scallions, cilantro, star anise, rice wine, sesame oil and five spice.  Pour marinade over the pork.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (we let ours marinate for 6 hours).

Remove pork tenderloin from refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking.  Allow meat to come up to room temperature.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.  Place pork tenderloin in roasting pan on rack, or in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Reserve marinade.  Roast for approximately 30 minutes, basting with reserved marinade every 10 minutes, using tongs to turn the meat while basting so that it is evenly basted and browned.  Pork is done when an instant-read thermometer reads 150 degrees F.   

Transfer pork to a cutting board and allow to rest about 10 minutes.  Slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Set aside.

In separate serving bowls, place 1/4 tsp salt, a pinch of white pepper, 1 tsp vegetable oil, 1/4 tsp sesame oil. Stir to combine.

Bring a pan of water to boil for the noodles.  Cook noodles until almost al dente, about 2 minutes (don't cook the noodles too far or they will dissolve into mush in your soup).  Prior to removing the noodles from the pan, dunk the baby bok choy leaves until just wilted, about 15-20 seconds.  Drain noodles and bok choy and add to serving bowls.

Top noodles with char siu slices and ladle broth over each bowl.  Serve with additional scallions, cilantro leaves and sesame oil.


Smoked Tofu with Celery and Peanuts (Liang Ban Dou Fu Gan)
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking
By Fuchsia Dunlop

3 1/2 oz (100g) smoked or spiced firm tofu
3 celery sticks (about 4 oz/125g)
1 oz (30g) fried or roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tbsp chili oil with 1/2 tbsp of sediment, to taste
good pinch of sugar
salt, to taste
light soy sauce, to taste

Cut the tofu into 3/8 inch (1 cm) cubes. De-string the celery sticks, cut them lengthways into 3/8 inch (1 cm) strips, then into small pieces to match the tofu. Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan, add the celery and blanch for 30-60 seconds; it should remain a little crunchy. Remove to a colander and cool immediately under the tap, then shake dry.

Combine tofu, celery, peanuts, chili oil and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Season to taste with salt, light soy sauce, additional chili oil and additional sugar.  Serve.

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