Wednesday, April 13, 2011

recipe : chinese polenta


chinese polenta, locally called "midoufu"

When I was living in China in 2000-2002, I had the extraordinary experience of spending quite a lot of time in rural Sichuan. I came to know a bit about farming life in this small and isolated part of the world, and had the priveledge of having my life intertwine for nearly a decade with one family there. This week, a sudden burst of culinary inspiration took hold, and I was compelled to try my hand at one of the farm-style meals we often enjoyed while in the Sichuan countryside. I am by no means an expert in Chinese food, but in my many years living in both Northern and Southwest China, I never saw this dish, featuring polenta made from rice and corn flours, made elsewhere. Who knew that Chinese people even ate polenta?!? I was thrilled to find that I could make it successfully, and so by request, I share this rough recipe here. Let me know how it goes for you! farm-style chinese rice & corn polenta 1/2 c fine cornmeal 1 1/2 c rice flour, plus 1 c extra 1 1/2t sea salt 3 c boiling water* method 1. Bring water to a boil, and set next to stovetop work area. 2. Combine rice flour, corn meal, and salt in a deep skillet or sauce pan. Set heat to medium-high. 3. Add water to combine all ingredients. Mixture will be sticky and the consistency of thick oatmeal. If you add too much water, simply add some more cornmeal or rice flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until well-combined and completely heated through. 4. At this time, and when mixture is thicker and forming a sticky ball, turn onto a wooden cutting board well-floured with rice flour. Divide into 3 or 4 balls, and work each ball with your hands, adding rice flour until you are able to form a log that is no longer sticky, but not dry. You just have to play with it. If it's too sticky, it will be too challenging to cut. turning your polenta into a farm-style meal, or... bring on the bacon Now it's time to try this dish Chinese-style. The simplicity of the flavors will probably come as a surprise, but like farm-style meals in the US, Chinese farm food is utterly simple and delicious. First, fry up some bacon... I'm thinking about a pound. When the bacon is crisp, drain on paper towels, and remove about half of the fat from the skillet, leaving enough to well-coat the bottom of the skillet (maybe 2T?). When the bacon is cool, chop roughly into bite-sized pieces. Next, wash and roughly chop about 1/2 c fresh cilantro (or spinach). Set aside. Then cut the polenta using a piece of string - see the video below. Simply wrap the string around the log of polenta, and pull the two tails, causing the string to slice the polenta. This is the easiest way to cut it and retain the circular shape of each slice. Using a knife will flatten the pieces, and you'll have to clean the knife every couple of slices. Each piece should be about 1/4" thick.


video

Then, simply fry the polenta in the bacon fat. When the pieces are crispy (about 3-minutes on each side, cooked on medium to medium-high heat), simply toss with the bacon and cilantro. Serve hot and watch it disappear.
chinese polenta with sausage & spinach


Folks around my table don't care for cilantro, so I used spinach instead, and the second time I made this, we used bulk Italian sausage instead of bacon, olive oil seasoned with about 1t salt (added to the hot oil), and included the spinach. I can imagine this dish served Italian-style, with a variety of herb seasoning styles (fresh basil? hello, wonderful!). If you diverge and try it differently, please do share!

*note: I didn't measure the water as I made the polenta. I boiled probably 2.5 or 3 cups and used most of what I boiled.