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I am part Taiwanese and part Hakka. I grew up in a predominantly Hakka community in the city of Chungli in Taiwan. Until our move to the U.S., I was surrounded mainly by my Hakka-speaking relatives. It’s a shame that I can barely speak the dialect now. I can still understand some though. It’s definitely a language that makes me feel at home when I hear it. It brings back a lot of the comforts of childhood. Hakka food in Chungli is phenomenal. Even in the big city of Taipei in Taiwan, Hakka food is still subpar to that of Chungli. It’s definitely something you can barely find half-decent in the U.S.

I distinctly remember eating frequently at this stall in the basement of a large public market in Chungli with my family. It was not the fanciest place. In fact, I think by today’s standards, it might not even be sanitary. However, they served this amazing fried Hakka salted pork. It’s basically cured pork belly that’s been deep-fried, then sliced. You then eat it with plain rice porridge. I don’t typically like fatty pork, but I liked this stuff. It’s funny because this was a part of my early childhood and I still have strong memories of this. In fact, I still dream about this ice shop in Chungli that we used to frequent for taro ice pops. I dream about food. I am not ashamed to say I do.

So not being able to get any decent Hakka cuisine in the U.S. nor live anywhere near my Hakka mother, I’d have to make my own. Thankfully, my mother was here to visit last week. It was a fun and a blessed week. As always, she was busy in the kitchen even if it’s not hers. She loaded up my fridge with lots of dishes to savor for later. We made Hakka salted pork together. According to her, this came about in the old days because refrigeration for food was rare, so people had to cure their meats. She recalled her grandmother making this dish with lots of salt. You can fry, steam, or stir-fry this with vegetables or bean curd. This recipe is more of a modern day version of the traditional Hakka salted pork.

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Hakka Salted Pork Belly 

(adapted from Little Bear’s Kitchen)

Ingredients:

2 strips of pork belly (about 1 pound each strip)

2 teaspoons salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

1. In a marinating dish, salt the strips of pork belly so that all sides are covered evenly.

2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the pork belly and salt in a small bowl. Mix well.

3. Place the two strips of pork belly into a marinating dish. Pour the marinade over the pork belly and massage into the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours.

4. When finished marinating, remove from fridge. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Set pork belly strips on a wire rack in a baking dish. Bake for 60 minutes or when no longer pink inside. Flip the strips of pork belly to the other side halfway through baking time.

6. When finished baking, set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

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You can find this dish everywhere in Taiwan. It’s another Taiwanese comfort-food.

Taiwanese people take their aromatics seriously. It’s a lot of fried shallots, dried shrimps, dried Shiitake mushrooms, garlic…etc. As H says, you can have some serious “strong” breath afterwards. Always keep a pack of gum with you if you ever travel to Taiwan. :p Nevertheless, the fried shallots in this dish gives the dish an amazing flavor. You can buy this in most Asian supermarkets. In case you’re not sure what to look for, this is what it looks like:

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I never really appreciated this dish growing up. In fact, I never really liked it before. This wasn’t until after having E and S when we started hosting quite a bit of large group gatherings at our house. A lot of times, it’s hard to prep for dinners let alone large groups of guests. My mom gave me this idea as she is quite gifted in the kitchen. It’s easy, inexpensive, and you can make ahead of time. In fact, the longer it simmers, the better it tastes. I will often serve this with a pot of freshly steamed rice and a side of veggies. The meat sauce is good as leftover the next day, too. It’s tasty with noodles, as the noodles will absorb some of the broth. My kids like this with macaroni pasta. I know. It’s quite weird, but macaronis are easier for them to eat then long noodles. It also makes it easier for me to clean up afterwards.

These days, anything that’s easy and make-ahead is a keeper around here.

 

Taiwanese Braised Meat Sauce

Serves 4-6

 

Ingredients:

1 pound ground pork

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 cups water

1 tablespoon rice wine

3 tablespoons fried shallots

 

Directions:

1. Brown the ground pork in a saute pan over medium high heat while breaking up the meat into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula. (I typically don’t use oil as the ground pork is quite fatty and will release oil as it cooks.)

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2. When the meat is almost cooked-through, add water, soy sauce, rice wine, and fried shallots. Bring to a boil, cover, then simmer over low heat for approximately 30 minutes.

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3. Serve over rice, noodles, or steamed/boiled veggies.

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There is something comforting about eating bento boxes (bian dang) that they sell all over Taiwan.

Perhaps it’s because I spent a large chunk of my childhood there. It’s like fast-food Taiwanese-style. You can get them in train stations, eateries that specialize in just selling bento boxes, to convenience stores like 7-Eleven which seems like they are on every street corner. They often come with a meat, a few sides of veggies, and some pickles all served on top of freshly steamed rice. The contents are compacted into these small rectangular paper take-out boxes with rubber bands to hold the lid down.  It’s like eating a home-cooked meal out of a box, packed with love. Ok, I’m sure they weren’t pack with love like mama would have, but close enough.

This chicken dish reminds me of my childhood days eating out of a bento box in Taiwan, as this is often a type of the meat you would find in a bento box. It goes well with rice and a squeeze of a lemon wedge, served with steamed rice and a few sides of veggies.

A chicken leg quarter usually consists of a drumstick, a thigh, and sometimes part of a back. It’s an inexpensive cut. I try to buy humane meats from my local stores. I’ve found that they actually taste better than “regular” factory-farmed poultry. The trickiest part to the recipe is probably deboning the chicken. You’d be surprised how little meat is actually there after you debone the leg quarter. Leave the skin on. It helps retain moisture in the meat. Browning the meat before baking also helps to maintain maximum moisture and flavor.

 

Baked Garlic Boneless Chicken Leg Quarters

serves 2 adults and 2 children, or 3 adults

 

Ingredients:

6 chicken leg quarters

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon rice wine

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves, sliced into halves

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use olive)

lemon wedges

 

Directions:

1. Debone the chicken leg quarters. If you have never done this, here’s a good video to get you started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrGYaVN_T_0

2. Make 1-2 cuts about 1 cm deep over the thickest part of the meat (not the skin-side). This helps to cook the meat more evenly.

3. Marinade the chicken with soy sauce, black pepper, rice wine, and bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to a maximum of 6 hours. Re-distribute the meat in the marinade as needed during this time so that every piece can marinade evenly.

4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set aside.

5. Remove chicken pieces and let the marinade drip off of the chicken. Place on a plate.

6. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic. Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds before adding the chicken pieces skin-side down onto the skillet. Let them sear undisturbed for about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip over when there is a light brown color to that side, then brown the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces skin-side up in one layer onto the lined-baking sheet. Place them with at least 1 inch spacing from each other.

7. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or when the meat reaches 165 degrees in a meat thermometer.

Optional: Serve with a squeeze of a lemon wedge

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