Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Zongzi (Glutinous Rice Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves)

I've been dreading this post for the past week. I don't know why but maybe it's because I've been obsessing (me obsess? unheard of) about zongzi since I decided to try to make them for this year's Dragon Boat Festival. And maybe it's also that I've been sleep deprived the past week and probably should have just listened to the Mister to wait until I'm not so tired (but why start listening to him now? haha!). So apologies upfront. I'm still a bit sleep deprived so this post might be a bit all over the place. Oh, and this is a very long post with pictures.

What got me on a zongzi craze was a flyer from 99 Ranch Market's ad on this year's Dragon Boat Festival this past Sunday. Rather than going down there to buy some expensive, most likely tasteless zongzi, I decided to try to make my own expensive, tasteless zongzi. It's been years since I've had zongzi. It's something my mother would make every year. She would usually make savory meat ones for me and some sweet ones for herself. I never developed a taste for the sweet ones. I decided to try my hand at making meat ones.

It's been many many years since I've helped make zongzi, back in grade school, I think. So I had to do a little research to see if my memory served me correctly. To my surprise (or not), there's several videos on YouTube showing people the technique in making zongzi. They did help jog my memory a bit. I also googled for some zongzi recipes and none of them were close to how I remembered my mom's recipe. Some recipes called boiling the zongzi (more Taiwanese) but my mom (and grandmother) have always steamed them. The savory fillings varied widely, as I suspected, as well as how to prepare the glutinous rice. I couldn't remember if my mom soaked the rice in soy sauce or just soaked in water. She's probably done them both ways because I remember having both a darker colored and light colored versions. I decided to choose one with similar fillings and one that soaked the rice in plain water.

A day before making the zongzi, I soaked the bamboo leaves in water overnight. You can also soak the bamboo leaves in hot water for about 30-45 minutes the day of to get it more pliable. I put all the leaves in a very large stainless steal bowl and weighted them down with a large heavy bowl filled with water. The next day, I rinsed them well and gave each leaf (about 60) a scrub.


I then cut up the pork belly for marinating overnight. The slab on the left is the skin side. I trimmed that off, leaving on a fair amount of the fat. According to the recipe, the pork should have a decent amount of fat to help flavor the zongzi, and I recall my mom doing the same. I cut the pork to about 1" to 2" pieces. (BTW, the large chef's knife to the right is one of my newest Japanese knives. It's a Tojiro DP Gyutou 27 cm and it is wicked sharp! Yeah, yeah, I have to get around in doing my knives post...) Just one more word on knives, if you've never used a "krazy keen knife" before, it's something you'll wonder how you lived without once you do.



The next day, I started to prep the rest of the ingredients. I started with soaking of the rice for 2 hours (according to the recipe). I rinsed the rice several times before soaking. In the end, I used about 3 lbs of rice (yeah, that's a lot of rice).

I also had to peel all the salted duck eggs (cooked). Each egg was wrapped in plastic and some of them have a slimy film on them that you need to rinse off. I still remember the duck eggs from my childhood. They would come covered in packed and seasoned earth. I would help rinse them off and the yolks were oh-so good! I didn't care much for the whites and they were always way too salty for my liking.

Here are the yolks for the filling. Since I didn't have enough whole egg yolks for each zongzi, I halved the yolks, even 3rd some of the large ones. Boy, I had forgotten how potent the yolks can smell.


Next, I soaked the dried Shitake mushrooms, removed the hard woody stems and then sliced them.

I also soaked some Chinese black mushrooms.

I decided to include some Asian brand dried shrimp, too (since mom used to do that).


Okay, so...after everything was all ready, I began the ordeal, I mean process of making these "hopefully" good zongzi. I took 2 similarly shaped and sized bamboo leaves and made the cone.
I then filled the cone part with rice.

I added a piece of pork belly, some sliced Shitake mushrooms, black mushrooms, and shrimp.

I then added more rice and then topped that with a yolk. Then topped with more rice and patted everything down.

This next part is where I highly recommend watching at least one of the YouTube videos on this process. It was hard enough trying to take pictures with one hand and prepping with the other. No way I could have filmed this by myself. I folded the sides in a little and then brought the top down and folded around the filling part. Pinched the ends and tucked them to one side. Then I wrapped about 2 feet of cotton string around it and tied it. (sorry, I tried to take a picture of it but my first zongzi exploded on me when I tried.)

Here's the final product.


I used my electric wok to steam these since it was the biggest wok I had. I didn't have bamboo steamers so I just used the steamer rack that came with the wok. Worked out just fine since.



After steaming for about an hour, I pulled one out and tried it. Not quite done yet. The rice was still al dente and the rice didn't have that shininess when it's done. So back in for another 15 minutes. Here's what the little package looked like. You can see a bit of the black mushrooms and egg yolk.


This is what the inside looked like.

So what was my overall assessment of the taste? Mediocre to fair. After having one from the first batch, the rice was very bland and I was very surprised by the lack of infusion of flavor from the filling and the bamboo leaves. At this point, I had wished I soaked the rice in soy sauce. To adjust, I added some kosher salt to the remaining rice, hoping to add a bit of flavor. I also added a bit of the marinade from the pork to help improve the flavor.

The result was a little better on the second batch but I then noticed that I should have added more filling. The pork belly had shrunken down to half the size and I would have liked more of it. Hmm, I wonder if this is what a store bought one would taste like? For the last batch (yes, I made 3 batches of these suckers), I picked out the larger pieces of pork and some I added 2. But in the end, it still felt like I didn't have enough filling and they still tasted a bit bland to me but the egg yolk and the Shitake mushroom added some very nice flavor to them. I remedied the blandness by adding just a bit of soy sauce. Did the trick!

Also, in some of the zongzi I had, part of the rice were a still just a tad dry, almost al dente. My guess is the way it was steaming in the wok. Some of the zongzi was riding low and getting a fair amount of steam and maybe even slight boiling from the rising water. Hmm, maybe I should have tried boiling a couple of them to test. But 4 hours later (yeah, 4 hours), I had enough of zongzi and was ready to call it quits. The results was good enough for my first try, and good enough where I will try again next year. I will make note of things to change. Maybe I'll soak the rice for longer next time and then soak in soy sauce. In my groggy state by the end, I counted about 45 zongzi, or somewhere in that ballpark. Yeah, that's a lot of zongzi. Next year, I'm only going to make half of that.

Postscript: Further evidence that I was completely out of it when making these, it wasn't until a day later that I realized I completely forgot to add Chinese sausage. Duh! Now I'll have to go buy some Portuguese sausage and make some fried rice.

4 comments:

KirkK said...

Hey CAB - Wow what an effort. Just goes to confirm why we always buy these, and never try to make them. ;o)

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hey Kirk! lol! Yeah, maybe I should have spent the effort searching for good zongzi rather than making it. This reminded me of making my own dumpling peels, yeesh!

So are you ready to take some of these off my hands? Make sure you have a bottle of shoyu nearby.

Now that I've caught up on sleep a bit, I might be stupid enough to make it again now that I have a feel for how much and how long. We'll see what my mood is around Christmas. :-)

Chubbypanda said...

Yay! I used to make zongzi all the time with my grandma! She used to soak the rice overnight, then parboil it, let it cool, and finally wrap the zongzi. I miss making them with her.

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi CP! Parboiling the rice!?! Did you see the lightbulb go on above my head? Maybe that's the ticket to a more consistent cooking of the rice. I'll have to try that next time. Thanks for that tip.

Hmm, maybe I can pawn off some of my mediocre zongzi on you...hehe

I miss cooking with my grandma, too. She really was the inspiration for my love of food.