Jan 13, 2015

The Elusive SHAOXING RICE WINE

Shaoxing Rice Wine
Click on photo to view larger
One third of Hawaii's population can trace some Chinese heritage in their family tree. The love of Chinese food comes naturally here. Unfortunately, ingredients for Asian recipes are hard to come by in this country. One ingredient that comes to mind is the "elusive" Shaoxing rice wine.


River City of Shaoxing
Shaoxing rice wine has a written history of more than 2500 years, and is China’s oldest alcoholic drink. It originates from the region of Shaoxing in the Zhejiang province of eastern China in the south wing of Yangtze River Delta. Among all the Chinese rice wines, Shaoxing rice wine best embodies all the characteristics of Chinese rice wine and is widely used as both a beverage and a cooking wine in Chinese cuisine. In 2006, the Shaoxing rice wine brewing technique was listed as a national heritage.


Zhejiang provence of eastern China where
Shaoxing rice wine comes from.
Click on photos to view large
Shaoxing rice wine is made from top-quality polished glutinous rice, wheat, and pure water from Jianhu Lake. Shaoxing wine is noted for its amber color, complicated flavor of sweet, bitter, sour and spicy, with a mellow fragrance. It comes in three varieties: shang niang, which is robust; chu yeh ching, which owes its pale green color and delicate flavor to young bamboo leaves added during fermentation; and hsiang hsueh (fragrant snow), which is sweet and pale. These wines are very popular with urban and rural people, and is the drink of choice during festivals, banquets and social gatherings especially in southern China. Chinese rice wines are usually warmed to about 95˚F to 131˚F, or 35˚C to 55˚C before drinking, as warming allows the aromas in the wine to better develop. It is also an essential ingredient in Chinese cuisine. In Chinese recipes, Shaoxing rice wine is used to flavor sauces or as the acidic base to marinate meat, poultry or seafood. It's also widely used in braising and stir-fry, and is often added at the beginning of cooking to add umami to the dish.

Shao Xing Hua Diao Chiu
(5 year old Chinese Shaoxing Rice Wine) - 15% alcohol
16.9 fluid ounces - $7.49 + Shipping and "Surcharge"
$32.46 total. The "Surcharge" is because I live in Hawaii,
however they ship free with NO "Surcharge", 
if you live on the mainland and purchase 
$75 worth of merchandise, which isn't hard to do.
Available through eFoodDepot.com
Unfortunately this wine is hard to get in this country, especially in Hawaii. This is probably because of its popularity throughout mainland China, as well as in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Because of this, many Americans have been looking for Shaoxing rice wine on the internet. If you look at the comments foodies make about this product, you find that it is only available in large cities like New York, usually in Chinatown.

Many Chinese recipes ask for Chinese cooking wine, I strongly suggest that you use Shaoxing drinking wine instead. It will add much better flavor to the dish. Most cooks say that cooking wine is made with an inferior wine and has too much salt added.
I was able to find this brand of Shaoxing rice wine on eFoodDepot.com with no salt added (see photo to the right). It came beautifully packaged in a small jade colored ceramic bottle, only 5 1/2 inches tall and 3 1/2 inches wide, with 16.9 fluid ounces of rice wine inside, enough for many recipes. Another very popular brand in this country is Shaoxing Pagoda brand rice wine. It has 16% alcohol, and seems to be the most available here, but beware, be sure and get the "drinking" wine", not the"cooking" wine, both made by this same brand.

Shaoxing region of Zhejiang,
where the wine has been produced since the fifth century.

The Chinese cook with wine everyday for even the simplest recipes. Just like wine made here in the U.S., there are many types of Chinese wines: distilled from rice, glutinous rice, wheat, sorghum, millet, ginger, tea, herbs, berries, bamboo and fruits. The difference between Chinese wines and U.S. wines is that Chinese wines have a higher alcohol content (15% to 40% proof). However when used in cooking, some of the alcohol is burned off leaving a wonderful layer of flavor that is hard to come by otherwise. If you can't find Shaoxing rice wine, I find that brandy makes for a good substitute, but you risk loosing the character of Chinese cuisine. Another note, Shaoxing rice wine can be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, and does not have to be refrigerated.

To get you started using Shaoxing rice wine in a recipe, try this simple dish, "Braised Chinese Chicken Wings with Carrots and Snow Peas" (recipe below). Of course, first things first, you need to find yourself a bottle of good Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, because without it you will never be able to recreate authentic Chinese dishes. This wine is not expensive at all, I have seen it go for as little as $4, and up beyond $20... if you can find it, it's worth the effort. 

Interesting Chinese Shaoxing rice wine websites:
• This website (winner of the best Asian weblog in 2014) will give you a taste of how beautiful Shaoxing is, with amazing photos of the lifestyle and culture. (Click here)

• Occasionally I buy hard to find Asian food products online from efooddepot.com, like the rice wine pictured above. This company is the largest online ethnic foods retailer online, with over 8000 food products.

• Here's a wine blog I found interesting, it's about tasting different Chinese rice wines (click here). 

• This excellent site takes you on a tour of Chinese markets in New York's Chinatown including Mike's Wine and Spirits Inc. that sells Shaoxing rice wine (click here). 

• Chinese wine culture is very interesting, check out the #1 Chinese food website to learn more. They have lots of interesting recipes as well.


Shaoxing rice wine recipes:

Braised Chinese Chicken Wings 
with Carrots & Snow Peas
This is a delicious recipe, but a little messy eating the wings. Serve with extra napkins.
Braised Chinese Chicken Wings 
with Potatoes and Carrots
Click on photo to view larger


Marinade Ingredients:
2 tablespoons Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon potato starch (or corn starch)

Ingredients for Braising:
12 chicken wings mid-section, organic chicken if possible
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 3" matchsticks
1 cup snow peas, stems and threads removed
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup water
2 star anise (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
a pinch of salt to taste
3 tablespoons spring onions, cut to rounds
1 teaspoons potato starch with 1 tablespoon of water to thicken sauce

Procedure:
Marinate chicken wings in marinade for 4 hours, refrigerated. Heat wok or large skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add oil, when hot, add the marinated chicken wings, without the marinade. Stir fry the chicken wings continuously until skin is a golden brown (about 10 minutes). Add the water, star anise, potatoes (if using), carrots, soy sauce, salt, sugar, oyster sauce. When water boils, lower to medium heat, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the cover, add snow peas, and continue cooking about 6-8 minutes until the sauce is thickened, and the chicken wings, and the peas and carrots are cooked through. If you want the sauce thicker, add the potato starch and water mixture. Taste sauce and add salt to taste (may not be necessary as oyster sauce is salty already). Dish up, sprinkle with spring onions and serve hot with white rice on the side! Makes 2 large servings.

Shaoxing Pot Stickers
Ingredients for pot stickers:
3 cups chopped napa (Chinese) cabbage (about 4 ounces)
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
5 ounces lean ground pork
5 ounces ground chicken breast
1 large egg white
48 gyoza potsticker skins
1/4 cup canola oil, divided
1 1/3 cups water, divided

Ingredients for sauce:
3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced green onions
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons chile puree with garlic sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

Procedure:
To prepare dumplings, cook cabbage in boiling water 1 minute or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Cool; chop.

Place mushrooms in a small bowl; cover with boiling water. Cover and let stand 30 minutes or until tender. Drain mushrooms; chop.
Combine cabbage, mushrooms, 1/4 cup green onions, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours.

Working with 1 gyoza skin at a time (cover remaining gyoza skins to prevent drying), spoon 2 teaspoons pork mixture into center of each skin. Moisten edges of gyoza skin with water. Fold in half, pinching edges together to seal. Place dumpling, seam side up, on a baking sheet sprinkled with remaining 1 teaspoon cornstarch (cover loosely with a towel to prevent drying). Repeat procedure with remaining gyoza skins and filling.

Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 dumplings to pan; cook 3 minutes. Add 1/3 cup water. Reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until water evaporates. Repeat procedure with remaining canola oil, dumplings, and water.

To prepare the sauce, combine 3 tablespoons chopped ginger and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Serve sauce with dumplings. Makes 16 serving of 3 per serving.

Chinese Sweet & Sour Fish
Ingredients:
1 firm white fish (or equivalent fish fillets)
2 tablespoons oil
6 slices ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon potato starch (or corn starch)
2 spring onions, sliced to rounds

Sauce Ingredients:
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

Procedure:
Mix sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Rinse fish and dry. Rub a coating of oil all over the fish. Heat wok to medium heat and add oil when the wok is hot. Add the ginger slices and stir till fragrance released. Add the fish in, being careful of oil splatters. During the first minute of cooking, use the spatula to lift and shift the fish around a bit. (Sometimes I just shake the wok back and forth lightly.) This will help to prevent the fish from sticking to your pan. Lower the heat and cook for another 2 minutes or until golden brown. Flip fish over (add a bit more oil if needed) and cook for 1 minute, lifting and shifting as before to prevent the fish from sticking. Then cook another 2 minutes or until golden brown.

Add garlic to the wok around the fish and stir till fragrant. Add mixed sauce ingredients to wok, cover and cook fish over low heat for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce is reduced by half. Stir 2 tbsp of water with the starch into small bowl then pour into the sauce, stirring constantly. Once the sauce is thick and glossy turn off heat. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with spring onions and serve. Makes 2 servings.

Shaoxing Braised Pork Belly
Shaoxing Braised Pork Belly, or "Red Cooked Pork" as it is known in China, is a very popular comfort food. This dish, like most braised meat dishes, is better if left overnight and reheated the next day.

Ingredients:
3/4 pound of lean skinless pork belly (cut into 3/4-inch thick pieces)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves of garlic peeled
1 1-inch piece ginger, cut into "coins"
3 tablespoons Shaoxing Chinese rice wine
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 cups water
green onions, shredded and sprigs of cilantro for garnish

Procedure:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch the pork for a couple minutes. This gets rid of impurities and starts the cooking process. Take the pork out of the pot and set aside.

Over low heat, add oil and sugar to your wok. Melt the sugar for about 3 minutes until the sugar is slightly brown, then add the pork. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the pork is lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Turn the heat back down to low and add the garlic, ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, and water. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until pork is fork tender. Every 5-10 minutes, stir to prevent burning and add more water if it gets too dry. Once the pork is fork tender, if there is still a lot of visible liquid, uncover the wok, turn up the heat, and stir continuously the sauce has reduced to a glistening coating. Garnish with shredded scallion and cilantro. Serve with Chinese steamed buns (recipe) or Kings brand Hawaiian sweet dinner rolls. Makes 4 servings.

Pork Wonton Soup with Shaoxing Rice Wine
Ingredients:
2 quarts lower-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, 1 inch finely grated (1 teaspoon) and 2 inches thinly sliced
1/4 pound lean ground pork
2 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (green and white parts kept separate)
1/2 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon Asian sesame oil; more as needed
20 square wonton wrappers
2 romaine lettuce heart leaves, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise

Procedure:
In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the chicken broth, 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, and the sliced ginger to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and let the ginger steep while you make the wontons.

Combine the pork, the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, the grated ginger, scallion whites, rice wine, cornstarch, and sesame oil in a medium bowl and mix gently by hand.

Arrange the wonton wrappers on a clean work surface and put 1 teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of each.

Fill a small bowl with warm water. Dip your finger into the water and run it along the edges of a wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper diagonally over the filling, pressing out any air, to make a triangle. Press the edges firmly together. Moisten the two points on the long side of the triangle and pinch them together over the filling to seal. (The finished wonton should look like a pope’s hat.) Repeat with the remaining wrappers.

Remove the ginger from the broth with a slotted spoon. Raise the heat to a lively simmer, add the wontons one at a time (so they don’t stick together), and cook until the pork is done, 5 to 8 minutes. (To check, pull one wonton out and cut it open to make sure the pork is cooked through.)

With the slotted spoon, divide the won tons among 4 soup bowls. Divide the lettuce among the bowls. Season the broth to taste with 1 or 2 drops of sesame oil and divide evenly among the soup bowls. Sprinkle with the scallion greens and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Chinese Beef Vegetable Stir-fry
Ingredients for the beef:
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
3/4 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed of any silverskin, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

Ingredients for the stir-fry:
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
2 small serrano chiles, minced (2 tsp.)
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
1/2 medium red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 small cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 ounces snow peas, cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick strips
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and cut into matchsticks
3 tablespoons canned shredded Sichuan preserved vegetable, drained (or whole, cut into matchsticks)
2 tablespoons chicken broth or lower-salt chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 medium cloves garlic, minced

Procedure:
In a large bowl, whisk the oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine  sugar, cornstarch, and pepper. Add the beef and toss to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Heat a 14-inch wok over high heat for 45 seconds. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl it around the sides of the wok to coat. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add the ginger and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the chiles, carrot, bell pepper, cucumber, snow peas, bamboo shoots, and preserved vegetable and stir-fry until the vegetables are brightly colored and just wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large plate; discard the ginger.

In a small bowl, stir the chicken broth and cornstarch until smooth; set aside.

Wipe out the wok and clean the spatula with paper towels. Return the wok to high heat for 45 seconds. Add the remaining 2-1/2 tablespoons peanut oil and swirl to coat the sides of the wok. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the beef and its marinade, spreading it in a single layer around the sides and bottom of the wok; tip the wok from side to side to keep contact with the flame so the meat browns evenly on the underside, about 2 minutes. Stir the beef, add the vegetables, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Make a well in the center of the mixture, stir the cornstarch mixture to loosen, and add it to the wok. Stir the liquid until it bubbles, about 1 minute, then toss everything together and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Beef-Broccoli Stir-fry 
with Shaoxing Rice Wine
Ingredients:
1 pound London broil, cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
1/4 cup soy sauce (divided)
1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine (divided)
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/3 cup low-sodium homemade or store-bought chicken stock
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, whites finely sliced, greens cut into 1/2-inch segments, reserved separately
4 tablespoons vegetable, peanut, or canola oil
1 pound broccoli florets (about 1 1/2 quarts)

Procedure:
Combine beef, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine in a bowl and toss to coat. Place in refrigerator and let marinate for at least 20 minutes at room temperature and up to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, combine remaining soy sauce with corn starch and stir with a fork to form a slurry. Add remaining Shaoxing rice wine, chicken stock, oyster sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside. Combine garlic, ginger, and scallion whites in a bowl and set aside.

When ready to cook, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add half of beef and cook without moving until well seared, about 1 minute. Continue cooking while stirring and tossing until lightly cooked but still pink in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon of oil and remaining beef, adding beef to same bowl. Wipe out wok. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon oil and half of broccoli. Transfer to bowl with beef. Repeat with remaining oil and remaining broccoli. Return wok to high heat until smoking. Return beef and broccoli to wok and add garlic/ginger/scallion mixture. Cook, tossing and stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sauce and scallion greens and cook, tossing and stirring constantly until lightly thickened, about 45 seconds longer. Carefully transfer to a serving platter and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Chinese Cold Asparagus Salad
Ingredients:
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimed, cut into thirds at a slight angle, and left to soak in water for 15 minutes
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil (or less, to taste)
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed but whole

Roasted sesame seeds for garnish

Procedure:
Drain the asparagus. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and put the asparagus in for just one minute. Drain and run under cold water. Drain again. Leave in a colander.

Mix the rest of the ingredients for the dressing. Just before serving, put the asparagus into a bowl. Remove the garlic from the dressing and toss the dressing with the asparagus. Serve garnished with sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.
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