I have the man but am still not married! It can only be, the Zhong. Everytime I bring it up (zhong, not marriage) I get discouraged by aunties and members of the sisterhood. "Its too difficult dear" or "Why don't you just buy them, they will taste better than whatever you make anyway". I'm onto them. They just don’t want me to get married! They want to keep me single so that they can keep patting me on the arm and give me that look. You see, the key is Zhong. When you can make zhong, you can rule the world. Seriously. Come one day, when I host my mah jong party, which is really a guise for tai-tais to one up each other (hello, didn’t you watch Raise The Red Lantern and more recently, Lust, Caution?), I will bring out the Zhong after my opponents offer homemade kaya, egg tarts and hmmph, rojak. Pitiful! And they will all fall to my feet and proclaim me Supreme Ruler of the... er, Tai-Tais?
It is all fated. Just as I am told that I can finally pick up the keys to my new apartment, The Cooking House has a zhong workshop. The stars are aligned, the time is ripe! Marriage is whthin my grasp! (Run, Hunky run!) Come Sunday morning, I found myself a tiny group of women at Gina Tan's "Dumpling Workshop". She was organized, personable and gave us useful tips along the way. It felt like a sisterly-bonding thing. If she was willing to share the trade secrets, she must be one of the good guys. A godsend if you will. After spending three hours of training, the two tips to making a good zhong is in the folding and investing in a pressure cooker. The first really is as tricky as it seems. Under the guiding hand of Gina, it was easy-peasy but when I actually got home to trying it, it was a different story altogether.
I announced to my mother a few days after that I was going to attempt to make zhong. Big mistake! Mother got super enthusiastic and bought enough raw materials to make enought zhong to sell. 3kgs of pork belly and enough green beans to make dahl for 100 roti canai. I started with alkaline dumplings since it virtually requires no prep work apart from soaking the rice and adding alkaline water and some salt into the clean rice. And although Gina’s recipe said 50 dumplings, I only got 20. I just couldn’t get them as small and delicate as Gina’s. Furthermore, half of them fell apart. It was so disappointing lifting open the lid to find yellow stained water and floating rice bubbling away. And the cooking time was slightly off too, it took three hours instead of two. So when I got to making the cao mai zhong, I made sure I wrapped the hemp string around the zhong twice. It doesn’t look pretty but better than finding broken zhong floating in the water.
Prepping the ingredients was actually the hardest work which is expected really with all Asian cooking. I blanched the pork in boiling water first to get rid of the impurities, then marinated it with rose wine, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, white pepper, salt and sesame oil. This was cooked with shiitake mushrooms later. The green beans were soaked and marinated with some salt and sesame oil. What was most fun were the salted eggs. I’ve never handled raw salted eggs before so cracking them open to find perfect neon orange yolks was perfectly cheap thrill. I never knew yolks came in pairs! My mother’s maid thought it might have been goose eggs instead of duck as they were a little larger. Think it seems more likely to be a product of genetic modification. Next up, raw chestnuts which needed to be boiled and peeled; shallots and dried shrimp were deep fried and set aside. Last but not least, soaking the glutinous rice for an hour and letting it dry completely. Once dried, fry the rice with garlic, fried shallots and ground dried shrimp, and season with dark soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper. It took me a whole day to wrap as there was so much of it. I have to say, as much as I enjoyed spending the day in solitude with just my greedy and hopeful golden retriever Carlos for company, wrapping zhong is something that should be done with your “sisters”. The job would be done much faster and the whole experience, more pleasurable and meaningful. So next time, I shall be recruiting my sisters to help me with this age-old tradition of zhong. Oh wait, that would mean I have to share the secret. Uh oh.
The second batch of zhong turned out to be a lot more tasty as I fried the glutinous rice with garlic, fried shallots and dried shrimp (fried and chopped finely). This week I want to make nyonya dumpling. Stay tuned for more zhong posts.