Our annual dumpling do always started a couple of weeks before the dumpling festival on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. In the evening after we all got our housework or homework out of the way, adults and kids alike would sit at the dining table and pick out the non-glutinous grains in the glutinous rice. Say what? Say my mother bought glutinous rice which had a little bit of non-glutinous rice mixed in it. For bak chang, that didn't matter. For kee chang, however, the non-glutinous grains wouldn't cook in the alkaline lye water. Hence, these had to be picked out one by one. Amazing, eh? The amount of rice we managed to sieve through would determine how many kee chang were made. You can still buy impure glutinous rice nowadays but I presume no one uses it for kee chang anymore.
The actual process of making the dumplings was spread over two days. On the first day, the bamboo leaves and dumpling strings were sorted, soaked and washed. The rice would be soaked too, as were the mushrooms, dried prawns and dried chestnuts. On the second day, the filling and rice for bak chang were stir-fried and wrapped, then boiled 3-4 hours. Whilst the savory meat dumplings were being cooked – over a wood fire so as to save on gas! – Mum did the kee chang. These were much easier than bak chang since there wasn't any filling, and the rice wasn't stir-fried.
Mum was quite proud of her bak chang. Every year, she gave some to a few relatives and they gave her theirs in return. She'd taste each and everyone's dumplings versus her own, and then she'd quietly declare herself the winner of the dumpling making contest. It was a weird contest that the contestants, other than my mother, didn't even know existed. And there was only one judge, who was the only contestant who knew about the contest.
One year, the day after making dumplings, I found my mother looking like a panda with dark circles around her eyes. She hadn't slept well the night before, she said. What happened? Mum's bak chang wasn't as good as in previous years. Why not? Because she didn't stir-fry the glutinous rice. She was getting on in years and wasn't as sprightly as before. So she simplified things a bit, skipping what she'd thought wasn't a crucial step, and made the bak chang without stir-frying the rice. Hence, the sleepless night. And hence – despite everyone going 'NOOOOO! NO WAY!' – she made a second batch of bak chang, this time with the rice properly stir-fried. It was the only time she did two batches in one year. And that's why it's been burnt into my brain: fry the friggin' rice!
Here's how I enjoyed last weekend, frying rice and other stuff:
|BAK CHANG (肉粽; MEAT DUMPLINGS)|
(Recipe for 25 dumplings)
25 large and 25 small bamboo leaves
check that leaves aren't broken or have holes; soak overnight in enough water to cover, weighed down with something heavy; wipe clean and rinse thoroughly25 dumpling strings or plastic raffia, each about 90 cm long
if using dumpling strings, soak overnight with bamboo leaves; rinse till water runs clear and wring dry; tie to a pole with a slip knot; rest pole between back of two chairs or maybe kitchen cabinets and a table120 ml vegetable oil
200 g shallots
peel, rinse and slice thinlyFilling
70 g dried prawns
rinse and soak overnight in 4 tbsp water; squeeze dry, reserving liquid70 g Chinese dried mushrooms
rinse and soak overnight in 2/3 cup water; squeeze dry, reserving liquid; cut bite-sized into 50 pieces, reserving stems for other dishes50 dried chestnuts (about 200 g)
soak overnight in enough water to cover by 5 cm; remove peel with toothpick; trim black spots if any; rinse and drain550 g pork belly
rinse and cut bite-sized into 50 pieces3 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp dark soya sauce
1 kg long-grain glutinous rice
rinse till water runs clear; soak overnight in enough water to cover by 5 cm; drain thoroughly3 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp chicken powder
Fry shallots in vegetable oil over medium till lightly golden. Turn off heat. Continue stirring till residual heat dissipates. Remove shallots to a colander. Remove half of the oil to a bowl.
Turn on heat to maximum possible. Fry dried prawns till lightly golden. Add mushrooms and stir till heated through. Add chestnuts and stir till heated through. Add pork and stir-fry till slightly brown. Season with light soya sauce, salt and sugar. Stir till absorbed. Drizzle with water drained from dried prawns. Stir till dry. Drizzle with half of water drained dried mushrooms. Stir till dry. Drizzle with remaining mushroom water. Again, stir till dry. Add dark soya sauce and ground white pepper. Stir through. Taste a small piece of pork that should be cooked through. It should taste slightly more salty than how you'd like it. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle 2 tbsp water around wok. Stir to deglaze. Turn off heat. Add the water to the pork mixture. Sit till absorbed. Add half of fried shallots. Stir till evenly mixed.
Wash wok and heat till dry. Place remaining shallot oil in the wok and heat till just smoking. Add glutinous rice, then remaining fried shallots. Stir till thoroughly heated. Season with light soya sauce, salt, sugar, chicken powder and ground white pepper. Stir till well mixed. Taste (but do not eat because rice is still raw) and adjust seasoning if necessary. Rice should be a bit saltier than usual because seasoning will be diluted by boiling water. Transfer to a bowl.
Wrap and tie dumplings as shown in video (4:04 - 5:02). Boil 3 hours in enough water to cover. Unwrap one and see if the rice is soft. If it isn't, boil another 15-3o minutes.
Remove dumplings from water. May be eaten immediately if you like. Or leave to drain and cool down, then serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers and steam to heat through before eating.
The bak chang would be a bit smaller than the ones you buy. If you make them regular size, you may get only about 20 pieces instead of 25.