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She’s fat?

ChinaSMACK, one of my daily guilty pleasures, has an article about the Chinese netizens’ reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese-American girlfriend. The consensus seems to be that she’s an egregious porker. And in most parts of China, she’d be seen that way, as a woman is supposed to look like a stick of bamboo. I’ve written before about this phenomenon, including a research trip to Shanghai Hooters. The sacrifices I make for science.

I am not going to comment on whether I find Miss Chan attractive or not, as beauty is highly subjective, whereas weight is (mostly) objective. Indeed, a woman can wear weight well or know how to dress her body (Kate Winslet comes to mind), but at the end of it, weight is measurable, whereas beauty is not. I assume that when you’re worth US$4 billion and founded the 3rd largest “nation” in the world, meeting girls is not a problem. Mr. Zuckerberg thinks she’s hot, and that’s what matters.

But I will say clearly that she ain’t fat. Give the poor girl a break.

I find this all interesting and worthy of commentary because the Chinese diet has changed so radically with the prosperity of the last 30 years, that seeing a little extra weight on women is pretty common in the cities. Listening to chatter on the streets, much air is spent bemoaning how fat so-and-so is now. Fat, as in 105 lbs versus 90 lbs. They are also 3 inches taller than their parents because they’ve had abundant food and animal protein their whole lives, and now have a discernible figure. To me this is a good thing.

It has long been considered attractive in China for a man to have a few extra pounds, as it is a sign of wealth. In a nation with a long history of famine, calories were the ultimate bling. But women were supposed to stay skinny.

Since I do not see China’s economic trajectory reversing, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese physique changes in decades to come. We know what’s happened in the USA, and India seems to be traveling a similar path (sorry – old article). Even more so to see if the cultural biases change to match the new reality. Should be fun to watch.

By request, my recipe for Singapore (Hainan) Chicken Rice – soon to be world-famous!

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An email from a client:

Hi Whit!

I am no longer receiving the PM blog.?? I only have my iPhone as I have been in *********. Hope to reconnect soon.

My, I feel like a heel for not blogging more often. Blogging should really be a team effort, and so I am happy to announce that our new intern, David Bruns has started a Sourcing Blog to document his experiences learning the China sourcing game in the trenches.

I’ve had many readers of this blog tell me to get back to food and travel blogging (yes, I still owe you the photos from the April trip) and to post some more recipes. So since it is summer and I REALLY don’t feel like working, I am going to give you one of my favorites, “Singapore Chicken Rice”, more properly Hainan Chicken Rice, hǎi nán jī fàn, 海南鸡饭.

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Now before I get into the specifics of the recipe, understand that I have developed a system that reuses the stock from each iteration for the next dinner. The roughly 2 gallons of chicken stock I use is by now a treasured resource, having had dozens of chickens cooked in it. To call it rich is an understatement. If there’s a house fire, get the family out, grab the photo albums and the chicken stock from the freezer. You will not be able to buy stock that flavorful in a store, so your first attempt at this recipe won’t taste like mine. By the 10th or 12th time, you will start to understand why my children clamor for my chicken rice over pizza or hamburgers.

If you want to start with something close, here’s how I make a pot of stock:

  • at least 4-5 chicken, turkey, duck, goose, etc. carcasses, broken or cut apart
  • smoked ham hocks (these are usually available in the meat department of a grocery store, usually packed out at about a pound), and any other pork bones you may have (ribs are great)
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • two white onions quartered
  • handful of pepper corns
  • 2-3 large carrots washed or peeled and sliced in half lengthwise and chopped coarsely
  • 3-4 large celery stalks washed and broken or chopped coarsely
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 12 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
  • 1 bay leaf
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 large boxes of chicken stock from the store (yes, really)

I crush the garlic with the flat of my knife and cook in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a big stock pot. When the garlic is fragrant and before it burns, pour in the first of the chicken stock. I was always taught to make stock with stock, so if this is your first pot of chicken stock, you’ll need to buy some. Note there is a BIG difference between chicken broth and chicken stock. The broth is flavored water, the stock has collagen extracted from the bones and herbs / spices and is the better choice. If your store carries no stock, use the broth, as it is better than water.

Start adding the bones, breaking or cutting the carcasses into smaller pieces. Add the peppercorns, onions, carrots and celery and remaining stock and top off with enough water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam and scum that will develop. Reduce heat and boil for about an hour, regularly skimming the scum / foam.

Reduce heat to a simmer and add the bouquet garni of leek, thyme, parsley and bay leaf, tied together with butcher’s twine, or you can throw in loose. Top off with water or more stock as needed to keep the bones submerged. Cover and simmer for at least 4 hours, and you can really go as long as you like. By 8 hours, the bones should break easily in your tongs, as all the collagen has been extracted.

Filter through a wire mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth and freeze for later. Now that you have about a gallon or two of frozen stock, you are ready to actually make the Singapore Chicken Rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs
  • 10-12 cloves garlic
  • 6-8 green onions
  • large piece of ginger, 3-4 inches long
  • 1 small jar minced ginger
  • kosher salt
  • sesame oil
  • dark soy sauce paste
  • chili sauce
  • short grain rice – I prefer Tamaki Hiaga or Tamaki Gold
  • 1 bag of ice (10 lbs)
  • 6 pack of Tiger beer (or Tsingtao or Harbin or Anchor or whatever – just get some beer)

Equipment:

  • two large stock pots – I like Cuisinart – with lids
  • one smaller pot lid that will fit inside the stock pot
  • small frying pan with cover
  • Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker – this is an indispensable piece of equipment. If you don’t have one, get one. If you won’t get one, follow these instructions. And then go buy the rice cooker.
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Regency Soup Socks
  • tongs
  • cooler
  • bottle opener

The first step is to put half the bag of ice in the cooler. Put the beer on ice. Make sure to save half the bag of ice (about 5 lbs) and keep in it the cooler or in your freezer.

The stock should be frozen, so set it out to thaw. The chicken fat should have separated into a layer on top. Scape this off into a bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chicken in lukewarm water in the sink and remove the organs and neck from the cavity. I also cut the tail off at this point as well. These pieces can be discarded or kept in the freezer for the next time you make chicken stock. I always have a trash bag in the freezer to save up fowl and pig bones and scraps.

In one of the two stock pots, brine the chicken. That is, submerge the chicken in warm water with plenty of salt. I use a handful of kosher salt to start and add more until it stops going into solution. Let the chicken brine for 30 minutes.

Put the frozen block of chicken stock in the other stock pot and start melting it over medium heat.

Now for the rest of the mis en place,

  • take 5-6 cloves of garlic and crush roughly
  • take the other 5-6 cloves and chop fine
  • rinse the green onions and trim both ends, but otherwise leave whole
  • peel the ginger and slice lengthwise into thin (1/8″ – 1/4″) strips

Rinse the rice – I usually make 4-6 servings using the Zojirushi measuring cup – in the fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Put the drained rice in the rice cooker.

The broth should be completely unfrozen by now and the chicken fat should have melted as well. In a small frying pan, heat the chicken fat over medium heat, and when hot, add the finely chopped garlic and at least one tablespoon of the minced ginger (I eyeball it). Make sure to cover the frying pan so it doesn’t splatter everywhere. Cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan constantly until the garlic and ginger are fragrant. Pour the contents of the pan on top of the rice in the cooker. Carefully ladle the chicken stock from the stock pot in to the rice cooker to the fill line. Start the rice cooker.

Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and fill the cavity with the crushed garlic, green onions (fold them up so they fit) and the sliced ginger. Put the chicken in the Regency Soup Sock (what a great invention) and add it to hot chicken stock, breast down. I use another smaller pot top to keep the chicken submerged. Cover and bring to a boil. When you reach a boil, reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Boil for 10 minutes per pound.

Wash out the stock pot used for the brine and fill about half way with cold water. If you have room in your freezer, put it in there to get really cold.

A couple minutes before the chicken is done cooking, add the remaining ice to the cold water in the stock pot. Carefully lift the cooked chicken from the hot liquid and plunge it into the ice bath. You need enough ice water that the chicken will be completely submerged without overflowing the stock pot. The ice bath stops the cooking and congeals the fat under the skin, which is critical to proper Singapore Chicken Rice.

Let the chicken rest in the ice water until cool to the touch inside and out. Lift from the ice bath and drain well. Remove the Soup Sock, discard the herbs from the cavity and pat dry. On a cutting board, rub the chicken well with sesame oil. Then carve the meat, taking care to keep the skin intact. I do not follow the Chinese tradition of cutting through the bones, as I like my teeth the way they are, so I joint the legs and wings, discarding the wing tips, and carve the breasts off whole and cut into manageable pieces across the grain of the breast.

Let the chicken stock cool and strain and refreeze for the next time. I prefer using one BIG plastic container rather than a bunch of smaller ones – I recommend Rubbermaid.

I usually serve with Pai Huang Gua and my stir fried greens.

Give each diner a small dishes for dipping sauce. I make mine of roughly equal shares of sesame oil, dark soy sauce paste and chili sauce. You can also add black vinegar if you like. Serve with a bowl of rice (make sure to fluff the rice well when cooking is done) or make a bed of the rice and lay the chicken across it for each diner.

Each bite of chicken should be dipped in the sauce. If you didn’t overcook it, the chicken should be just done, even a bit pink – this is how it should be. Done right, this is the most tender chicken you will ever eat.

Finally, open an ice cold Tiger beer and enjoy!

Headed to China

I am flying to Hong Kong in the morning, and looking forward to good and lengthy trip back to Shenzhen, hopefully with some side trips to Yangshuo and my old home of Singapore.

I intend to do a better job with daily “life-in-China” posts, including plenty of food blogging.

Wish me luck!