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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dim Sum at Din Tai Fung and Ginger Chicken with Sushi Rice at Home

Today started out as a really bad day. I had an important business meeting, but it...canceled. I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch, but he...rescheduled. A day that looked incredibly full was now...completely empty.

I checked the TiVo in the bedroom and watched the Chocolate Battle on Iron Chef America (Bobby Flay v. Graham Bowles). Since I had nothing better to do, it seemed as if it was time to finally clean off my desk. That's when I found a review I'd cut out from the Los Angeles Times by Susan LaTempa about Din Tai Fung, in Arcadia. She made their dumplings sound amazing, but Arcadia?

That's miles away from where we live. Besides which, how accurate a review is depends on the taste of the writer. I hadn't read her reviews before, so she was an unknown quantity. But I love dumplings and, if they were as good as she said they were, maybe it was worth the drive.

From where we live near the beach in Pacific Palisades, Arcadia is on the far, eastern edge of LA, a good 40+ miles by freeway, taking me east across the LA Basin, north through Downtown, then across Pasadena, and finally east again into the San Gabriel Valley.

The review had predicted there'd be a long line out in front. She was certainly accurate about that. I joined the queue and waited 45 minutes before I got a table. With some friendly advice from the waitress and guided by the review, I spent the next hour enjoying the highlights of the menu: a mound of sautéed garlic-string beans, 10 pork/crab dim dumplings, a large steamer filled with pork shumai topped with whole shrimp, and stir fried noodles with shrimp and spinach. One of the condiments that came with the lunch was a small bowl of finely shredded fresh ginger. Adding soy sauce into the bowl with the ginger made a dipping sauce that added the right amount of edge to the sweet dumplings.

Susan LaTempa's review accurately reported about the special qualities of dishes like the pork/crab dumplings: usually a Chinese dumpling has a stuffing of meat and some vegetables, but here the dumplings had an added "spoonful of fragrant broth in each".

Happily, the meal put me in a very different frame of mind. More than an enjoyable lunch, Din Tai Fung's dumplings made me want to go home and cook. The julienned ginger and soy sauce combination had given me an idea.

Passing through Downtown, I made a quick stop in Chinatown to pick up ingredients. An odd fact about Chinatown is that virtually all the large Chinese supermarkets are gone. What's left are mom-and-pop style stores like the Far East Supermarket at 758 new High Street. Although small, the market has a good collection of Chinese vegetables, fresh fish, and meats. I decided on deboned chicken legs, a nice piece of fresh ginger, baby bok choy, and some shiitake mushrooms.

Ginger Chicken with Italian Sausage and Bok Choy

You can use breast meat, but dark meat holds up better and won't dry out as easily. Asian markets sell deboned leg meat very inexpensively. If you're buying chicken legs from the local supermarket, cutting the meat off the bone isn't difficult. Combining the chicken and Italian sausage with the ginger and soy sauce puts an edge on the sweet and savory meats. You can serve plain, steamed rice, but using sushi rice adds another layer of tartness. The generous amount of broth holds all the flavors together.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 60 minutes.

Ingredients

2 pounds deboned, skinned, chicken leg meat, washed, cut into 1" pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1" piece of ginger, peeled, julienned
2 Italian sweet sausages, cut into 1" rounds
1 bunch baby bok choy, ends trimmed, quartered length-wise
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups Japanese rice
2 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a wok or chef's pan, brown the sausage rounds in the olive oil then remove, drain on a paper towel, and set aside. Sauté the chicken meat, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and garlic until lightly browned. Add the chicken stock, soy sauce, and the sausage. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the bok choy, lightly cover with a sheet of tin foil, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Making the rice: I have to confess I have used a rice cooker for so many years, I couldn't begin to tell you how to make Japanese rice without it. With the rice cooker, add the rice and water, cover, push the button, wait for the button to pop up, use chop sticks to fluff the rice, put the cover back on, and leave alone for 5 minutes. Put the cooked rice into a large metal bowl, add the Japanese rice vinegar and sugar and toss well. Cover the rice to keep it hot.

Put a large spoonful of the sushi rice in the middle of a bowl. Ladle the chicken, sausage, and bok choy with plenty of liquid over the rice.

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