Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chinese Sticky Rice

A jamillion years ago (that's a real number), on another blog, I made a resolution to complete a few goals before year's end. I called it six in '06. Okay, so it was four years ago. I wanted to go on a girls' trip, take a cooking class, get a short story published (even if it was in some teeny-tiny publication), hire a personal trainer, learn how to make sticky rice, and buy or make some art for my walls. I managed to knock out trainer, art, and cooking class within the allotted time frame. And I've since taken multiple girls' trips, written some stuff I've liked for some pretty big websites, taken pole dancing lessons, volunteered at a farm, brought my Omnivore's 100 score up to 83, lived in another country, met a guy, got married...a lot has happened. But that darn sticky rice has been hanging over my head this entire time.

I had latched onto the idea that sticky rice was really hard to make. In our family, we only have it twice a year—at Thanksgiving and Christmas—so it's a dish I associate with spending all day in the kitchen. Add to that the fact that in '06, my cooking repertoire was pretty much limited to pasta salads, simple soups or stews, and the occasional roast chicken, and sticky rice was starting to seem like the impossible dream. Fast forward to 2010. Now that I've made my own noodles, chicken biryani, and a full-on cassoulet, I figured sticky rice should be a snap. And guess what? It really is. Just think of it as a giant chopped salad that you throw into your rice cooker.

You need to soak your sticky rice (often sold in packages labeled sweet or glutinous rice) for a few hours before starting. Then collect all the items you want to include. I used a fairly traditional mix of shiitakes, chinese sausage (lap cheong), pork sausage, water chestnuts (for crunch), and garlic, shallots, and green onions. I also threw in the Untamed Feast wild mushrooms that I won in February's Beet and Squash You competition, just to keep things interesting. Other popular add-ins are dried shrimp and sliced pork butt. Of all of these, the only thing that was somewhat labor-intensive was peeling and chopping the fresh water chestnuts, so if you're feeling lazy, just skip that ingredient. I think the extra ten minutes is worth it, because I like the fresh crunch it adds to the otherwise soft and sticky ingredients.

Should I start a ten in 2010 list? It would pretty much look like this: remodel the first floor of our house, followed by nine recipes for noodles.

Chinese Sticky Rice (Nor Mai Fan) 
2 cups of sweet rice, soaked for 2-3 hours
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves of garlic
3 shallots
2 stalks of green onion
3 links of lap cheong (or two, if you're not married to a meat fiend)
2 links of pork sausage (I used bratwurst from Trader Joes)
1½ cups mixed mushrooms
10-12 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and diced
1¾ cups water and/or mushroom soaking liquid
1½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Chopped green onions and cilantro to garnish

1. Before you do anything, make sure you start soaking your rice. This will take 2-3 hours.

2. Mince garlic, dice shallots, slice green onions. Chop up your lap cheong into small dice.

3. The wild mushrooms kind of got lost in the dish, so I'll probably skip them next time, and just use shiitakes. If you're soaking dried mushrooms, submerge them in just enough hot water to cover, let them sit for half an hour, and save the liquid to add to the rice. Dice mushrooms.

4. If you're using water chestnuts, peel off their tough brown skin, along with any mushy or rotten bits with a sharp knife, then dice. Don't make these too tiny, or they won't retain their crunch. Definitely do not substitute canned water chestnuts. These are watery and soft and will ruin rather than improve the texture of the final dish. A few stalks of diced celery would make a reasonable substitute.
5. Heat oil in a large wok, then add the shallots. Let them get slightly brown, which should take about four or five minutes. Toss in the garlic, and then start squeezing in your pork sausage, throwing the casing away. Break the sausage up into small pieces (I like to use two wooden spatulas for this step) and cook until browned on all sides. Toss in the rest of your chopped ingredients: mushrooms, green onions, water chestnuts, lap cheong, and give them a quick stir.

6. Drain your rice. Dump this into the pan and mix well with the other ingredients. Then turn off the heat and transfer the whole mixture to your rice cooker. If you soaked mushrooms, pour the reserved soaking liquid into a measuring cup. As you pour (slowly), check if there's any grit from the mushrooms in the soaking liquid. Stop pouring before the grit makes it into the measuring cup. Add enough water to make 1¾ cups total. Add this to the rice cooker. You can also just use water for this step.

7. Add soy sauce. Hit cook. This took half an hour in my rice cooker.
8. Serve into individual bowls and scatter chopped green onions and cilantro over the top.

Stay tuned! At some point, I plan to tackle the much more complicated zhong zi.


  1. YUMMERS, I love this stuff. I guess I better get a rice cooker again finally. (I got rid of mine in SF when I moved)

  2. OMG also I can't wait for your zhong zi entry!!! That is like the holy grail.

  3. Zhong zi is a two-day project. But the sticky rice is totally manageable. Maybe only 20-30 minutes of hands-on work.

  4. you did it! it looks awesome :)

  5. Mmm, I love sticky rice and can't wait for your zhong-zhi post. I was just thinking about making it the other day too, but I got lazy. I think I'll wait for yours :)

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