Mushroom Duxelles with Rice

Mushroom duxelles is one of those simple dishes that can fill a kitchen and surrounding rooms with its intoxicatingly rustic aroma. I first made this dish way back in culinary school, where we paired the buttery mushroom and shallot concoction with steak. Since then I've made variations for other meat dishes, omelets, and pastas.

Yesterday I decided to tweak the original French preparation to have the mushrooms go with rice. Sort of like a vegetarian version of Cantonese minced pork with rice. Fearing that stewing the mushrooms in butter would be too heavy for rice, I decided to use olive oil instead, then mount a bit of butter towards the end. Turns out, because mushrooms soak up oil a lot faster than butter, I kept having to add more and ended up with rather oily mushrooms.

Tonight I went back to good ol' butter. Not only was it was perfect for the slow caramelizing of shallots and mushrooms, it also didn't overwhelm the rice at all.

Mushroom Duxelles with Rice

Serves 2 as a side dish

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large or 2 medium-sized shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 to 10 medium-sized button mushrooms, finely chopped
45 mL (3 tablespoons) red wine or sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stalk scallion, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked rice

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium-sized skillet or small pot over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic. Sautée until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and the rest of the butter; stir to melt the butter and have it coat the mushrooms. Reduce the heat to low and let the mushrooms simmer in butter for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.

Turn the heat to medium. Add the wine/sherry and swirl it around the pan to deglaze. Reduce the heat to low again and simmer until the alcohol has reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, pour the mushroom duxelles over rice or mix into rice. Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.

Baby Bok Choy with Braised Shiitake Sauce

One of my favorite ways to eat steamed vegetables is with a braised mushroom sauce. To my omnivorean palate, mushrooms are a good substitute for meaty flavor when you want a vegetarian dish.

But there's sometimes a dilemma when Westerners cook Chinese dishes that involve mushrooms, especially shiitakes. When Chinese cooks do braises or soups, most of the time they will use dried mushrooms, favoring the more complex flavor profile. The sun-drying process for shiitakes draws out the strong umami flavor.

As Westerners, however, we've been taught that fresh ingredients (almost) always tastes better than its dried equivalent. And many Westerners (Jacob, for example) don't like the chewy texture of dried mushrooms or think the soak-to-rehydrate preparation is too much of a hassle.

I've tried the following recipe for baby bok choy with both dried and fresh mushrooms, and I have to say I like the fresh version slightly better. In dishes where ingredients are few and the mushroom texture stands out, my opinion is that plump and juicy fresh shiitakes win out. However, in dishes that have a lot of ingredients like Buddha's Delight, dried mushrooms lend a valuable umami flavor to rest of the dish.


Baby Bok Choy with Braised Shiitake Sauce

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 5 or 6 large shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried
  • 15 mL (1 tablespoon) vegetable oil
  • 10 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise
  • 10 mL (2 teaspoons) cornstarch
  • 30 mL (2 tablespoons) water
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 30 mL (2 tablespoons) soy sauce
  • 15 mL (1 tablespoon) oyster sauce*
  • 15 mL (1 tablespoon) Asian sesame oil
  • 10 mL (2 teaspoons) sugar
  • 1 3-cm slice of peeled ginger, sliced into very thin matchstick-wide strips

Special equipment: Bamboo steamers or another method of steaming (See Step 2).

  1. If using dried shiitakes: Pour enough hot water over the shiitakes to cover. Let them soak until soft, about 45 minutes. Drain, squeeze to remove excess water. If using fresh mushrooms, go directly to step 2.
  2. Cut off the mushroom stems and discard. Slice the caps into thin strips.
  3. To steam the veggies: Set up bamboo steamers in a wok or large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Make sure the water does not touch the vegetables when they're in the baskets. Steam for 5 minutes or until just cooked. Other ways to steam: rice cooker with a built-in steaming compartment, or a veggie steamer.
  4. Whisk the cornstarch with the water in a bowl. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add shiitakes; stir 1 minute. Add broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low or until the mixture is at a simmer.
  5. Stir in the starch mixture. Cook until sauce thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over bok choy; garnish with ginger on top.

Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ikea Restaurant in Beijing

Whew! With being mildly under the weather and furnishing a new apartment, I haven't had time to write a lengthy post yet this year. I did, however, make it out to Beijing's Ikea over the weekend. I had thought US IKEAs were crowded, but here I couldn't push a shopping cart 3 feet without hitting someone. (Had to resort to a yellow bag hooked on a dolly.)

Beijing's Ikea restaurant seats 700, possibly one of the largest Ikea restaurants in the world. The picture above shows only about 1/4 of the restaurant. We went at 3pm on a Saturday, and it was so packed many families were roaming around with their trays looking for seats. And while most people were enthusiastically chowing down on such un-Chinese specialties as herbed salmon and Swedish meatballs, there were stirfries available to appease the local palate. (Like how the McDonald's in Spain has gazpacho, and so on.)

What we ate at the restaurant (and what furniture we bought) isn't as important as what I found at the Swedish food market: vodka, for 86 yuan! That's at least 3 to 4 times cheaper than any bottle I've seen elsewhere. I also found some other Swedish goodies like fish roe, Wasa, and lingonberry jam that would (naturally) fit into our Chinese kitchen.

IKEA Restaurant
3rd floor, 1 Taiyang Gonglu, Dongbahe
Chaoyang District, Beijing
800 810 5679

2007: A Year in Food

In the spirit of end-of-the-year reviews, I've hopped on the bandwagon and created my own. This past year, travel and moving sucked up most of my expenses, so dining out took a backseat compared with previous years. However, I've had many wonderful meals at home and at the houses of friends and relatives. I've become well acquainted with grocery stores in Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Denver, LA, and San Francisco, where the simplest provisions can make hearty and delicious picnic fare. And nothing cheers up the appetite and the wallet simultaneously better than street food, of which I had plenty this year.

So below is my little year-end ode to joyous eating. Happy New Year!

Best Meal in China

Din Tai Fung, Beijing: The chefs here have certainly mastered xiaolongbao's soup-to-filling ratio. We had basket upon basket of steaming hot pork xiaolongbao, crab and pork xiaolongbao, mini pork xiaolongbao, veggie dumplings, and sides like their signature chicken soup. A must-visit if you're ever in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan, or any other city where there's a location. (See Food Resolutions for 2008 below)

Best Meal, Outside China

(Tie) A, New York, NY: Jacob and I went to this tiny BYOB French-Caribbean restaurant on the Upper West Side the week before we left New York. We had sumptuous spicy prawns, meltingly delicious duck confit, and a very memorable chocolate crème brulée, in the very type of low-key neighborhood restaurant that embodes the spirit of New York.

"Cowboy supper", King City, California: Ever since I had known Jacob he has longingly reminisced about the barbecued tri tips in the Salinas Valley, where he grew up. All over the Valley, public parks have huge 6- to 10- foot long pits over which locals (mostly ranchers and Mexicans) grill beef and chicken. I finally got a chance to taste these tri-tips on a visit to King City this summer. The meat was all fresh from nearby ranches, and the slow cooking process rendered the juiciest, most buttery steak I had ever tasted. Along with crisp and fragrant garlic bread, salad from nearby farms, and a bunch of local wines, I would take another "cowboy supper" over a fancy steakhouse dinner any day.

Best Street Food Discovery in China:

Roujiamo, Beijing: After I had my first, I wrote a post in which I raved on and on about these delicious pork pockets available all around Beijing, Shanghai, and other northernish Chinese cities. Even in the dead of Beijing's winter, when eating street food means standing outside in subzero temps and braving the Mongolian winds, I still chow down on roujiamo at least once or twice a week.

Best Street Food Discoveries, Outside China

Reindeer Kebabs, Stockholm, Sweden: A delicious mound of reindeer meat (texture and taste of lamb) inside a warm pita, topped with yogurt and lingonberry sauce. (Before you chuckle, remember that venison is also deer, without the Rudolph connotation.)

California taco truck tacos, Los Angeles, CA: I know, it's a shame that I hadn't had a taco truck taco from California until this year. The seasoning and juiciness of the beef and carnitas tacos I had made me never want to eat a taco anywhere else, including restaurants and Jackson Heights taco trucks.

Food Resolutions for 2008:

1. Eat my heart out in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu
2. Try the Taiwan or Shanghai branches of Din Tai Fung. Bonus points for going to Shanghai during hairy crab season
3. Have soup dumplings at Shanghai's JiaJia Tangbao, purportedly almost as good as Din Tai Fung, at 1/8th the price
4. Visit Longjing tea fields near Hangzhou

We Didn't Have Eggnog for Christmas, But...

...We did have Lulu 露露, an almond milk drink that is all the rage here in Beijing. (You may have seen it in this Thanksgiving video.) And unlike eggnog, it's not so heavy that it sits in your stomach all night long with the turkey, pie, and chocolate pudding you stuffed into yourself.

Of course, living in Beijing and being thousands of miles away from either of our families, we didn't have turkey, rich desserts, and all that good stuff. We decided to go out for dinner instead. Let's just say Lulu goes quite well with Din Tai Fung's soup dumplings, although beer also does.

This almond drink featuring an actress and her signature on the can has inspired a host of other imitation almond drinks, or walnut and peanut drinks, also with actresses and their signatures on the can. But only Lulu is popular enough to make it onto the drink list of what seems like every restaurant in town. Including the upscale ones.

Although Lulu tastes good cold, the best way to drink it is warmed up. Restaurants will offer to warm up the can if you order one. At home, you can use an electric tea pot and heat it up as you would water. Of course, be careful not to wander off and accidentally let the almond milk boil over, resulting in a big mess, like I did tonight. Oops.

Accidents aside, I like having Lulu right before bed. It's warm and comforting, like steamed milk or good hot chocolate, but nuttier and much easier to find here.

Happy sipping and happy holidays!