广式煲仔饭 Cantonese Claypot Rice – A Revisit…
The weather has been rather cooling of late and this makes me crave for piping hot food. Such an irony right I know… when it’s hot and wretched, we want something cold and chilling, and when the temperature takes a dip, we yearn for something to get our rumbling tummies all warm and happy. There are many things I love to cook and eat really warm, like stews, soups, porridge and of course claypot rice. I love eating 广式煲仔饭 Cantonese claypot rice for the piping hot and perfectly cooked grains with succulent bits of chicken and of course my favorite Chinese sausages and salted fish! Really yums!!!
The ingredients for Cantonese claypot rice changes with the seasons. In the cooling autumn and winter months back in Guangzhou, folks like to eat claypot rice with lotsa 腊味 “lup mei” added, which includes 腊肠 Chinese sausages, 腊鸭 waxed duck, 腊肉 waxed pork belly etc. These strong flavours these ingredients carry would permeate well into the rice grains too boost one’s appetite!
Drumsticks and thigh are my default “body parts” to use for claypot rice because they cook really easily and stay moist and succulent. Use fresh chicken whenever possible instead of frozen ones. Chicken wings are good too but I like bigger chunks of meat. That said, don’t get really big whole drumsticks because they can take a much longer time to cook, which by then the rice and other ingredients would have already overdone.
And these are for me the “stars” of the dish, the Chinese sausages. I like 腊肠 lup cheong Chinese pork sausages, as well as 膶肠 yuen cheong Chinese duck liver sausages. I usually stock up whenever I go Hong Kong but the lup cheong I’d used for this particular pot of rice were gifted to me by my friend Jo who in turn got it from her friend staying in KL who handmade a batch this Chinese New Year. They are so so fragrant with the aroma of Chinese rose wine… so so precious so I’m gonna enjoy them really really slowly.
Just to share my own experience on choosing good lup cheong and yuen cheong, good Chinese sausages should be really fragrant with no undesirable odour whatsoever. One thing I always “smell out for” is the aroma of good mui kwai luk zau 玫瑰露酒 Chinese rose wine used in the sausages. No this is not the same as rosé wine in case you are wondering! It should have a good proportion of fat as well, which would render and seep into the rice to flavour then grains below when one’s cooking it. So gah sau 加瘦 “extra lean” Chinese sausages is a no-go for me. The fat bits should look crystalline and translucent, like how traditional 冰肉 looks like, which uses an old technique of curing meats in sugar. The surface should look glossy and attractive like it has good yau shuei 油水 yet when you touch it, it should be gon sang 干身 i.e. relatively dry and not oily at all. Give it is a bit of squeeze and it should be firm yet bouncy. If it feels really dry and twiggy or looks really wrinkled like an old grandma’s face, it is probably “super old stocks” already. There are some folks who do advocate storing lup mei for a really prolonged period of time like many years, but I don’t prescribe to this notion personally.
Here’s an impromptu video I made while cooking the claypot rice over the stove. Don’t mind the 云雾缭绕 look from the steam! There is a sequence which the ingredients are added so that everything cooks well as they should. The mushrooms should be placed below while the sausage slices on top so that the juices would nicely flaour the mushrooms as well. The vegetables are always added last and “steamed” using the residual bits of moisture at the very end for them to stay crunchy and green. The choice of vegetable really depends on personal liking. For me, it is usually 郊外油菜 kinda leafy greens like 小白菜 siu bak choy as in the video or 菜心 choy sum. 油麦 yau mak is also a good choice and so are endives. Some folks like 芥蓝 kai lan but do take note that the stems take a considerably longer time to cook than the leaves. Back in Guangzhou, the vegetables used are always reflective of the season.
Yes there are diehard aficionados of this dish who insist that charcoal is the only way to go for cooking claypot rice. I do agree to some extent as traditions are often the best but this is simply not possible to replicate at home. One can always set up a charcoal stove BUT the crucial part in cooking traditional claypot rice is the “two part” cooking process which most folks do not realise. The rice and stock has to be cooked under 武火 high heat first to get the water boiling as soon as possible. Afterwhich, the heat needs to be as low as possible 文火 so that the grains would have enough time to soak up the liquids and the flavours carried by the stock and become perfectly cooked while remaining individually grained. One needs to have not just one but two charcoal stoves to do this properly. If you have seen how traditional claypot rice is being sold, you would notice that the person would have to keep switching the claypots around from one stove to another and the reason is precisely what I had described. Different charcoal stoves are maintained at different 火候 i.e. flame and temperature conditions, catered to the various stages of cooking required for a good pot of claypot rice. This can be achieved by adjusting our stove hobs at home however. But won’t we miss out on the tan heung mei 碳香味 i.e. smokey aromas from the charcoal stove? We probably would but for me, the jiu heung mei 焦香味 from the slightly charred rice at the base of the claypot more than makes up for it…
Which brings us to this… the reason why many of us still love to eat claypot rice cooked the traditional way in a Chinese earthen claypot. The layer of charred and crisp bits of rice formed at the base of the claypot during its cooking which we call fun jiu 饭焦 or 锅巴. For some, this is the ONLY reason why they eat claypot rice. This is more difficult to reproduce in our standard rice cookers at home and even when it is possible, we are actually running a risk of damaging the non-stick coating of the pot of the rice cooker in doing so. And where did the chemicals from the non-stick coating go? Well, into the rice and then into our tummies of course… So personally, I won’t advocate cooking “claypot rice” in electric rice cookers if you do have a choice. Sometimes convenience at home with technological novelty does have its price to pay. So for me, it is still claypot rice the old way…
After the rice is cooked, all that is needed is a generous drizzle of good quality dark soya sauce and some cooked peanut oil. Simply give everything a good toss for all the ingredients to be evenly coated and enjoy!!!
And here’s the recipe link for my homecooked 广式煲仔饭 Cantonese Claypot Rice
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