Monday, September 10, 2018

Red Zinfandel and Xian Noodles

Zinfandel (Zin), white or red, is big in California, representing around 10% of all the wine production in the entire state. When we talk about Zin, white Zin undeniably pops into everyone’s mind as an easy summer wine that goes well with all summer foods or drinks alone. Before the Italian Procecco steals the spotlight of the summer poolside parties in recent years, white Zin was once a large crowd pleaser. It’s sweet, fruit-punch like, cheerful, and after all, affordable. The James and Bell 2013 red Zin, which exhibits boldness, plush texture and notes of sweet spice, dark plum, leather, cracked peppercorn and licorice, however, is jammy and more sophisticated despite of a tad sweetness. The complexity of the old vine Zin is what I go after when pairing it with spicy Xian noodles. The Xian noodles, made out of wheat, bean or white flour, often are hand-pulled to bring out the elasticity and to demonstrate the noodle makers’ artistry of making noodles from scratch that’s passed down from generations. Like the Italian, noodles are cooked to al dente (slight firm to the bite) to retain the mouthfeel. The sauce that’s added to the noodle is another key part to how the noodle will taste. And the sauce is pleasantly oily, full of different flavors...soya sauce, peanut butter, cilantro, spring onion, sweet spices like cumin, and almost always spicy up with white pepper powder, chili oil, chili pepper, chili sauce (like Lao Gan Ma). When I was in the Muslim Quarter in Xian, where the street vendors sell different styles of noodles, the best way to try all these noodles in one day is to bring a bottle of red Zin, a crew of tasters to share food, and let-go low carb attitude!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Oysters and Cocktails

My annual summer ritual in New York is to enjoy oysters with cocktails like the smoky Hibiscus and Rose as well as the crisp The Shadmoor Smash ( The NYC oysters come from the east or the west coasts of the US (occasional Canadian oysters if you’re lucky), which typically are named by their harvest areas such as Chincoteague, Malpeque, Apalachicola, Wellfeet, Totten Inlet, Pickering Passage, Netarts Bay and Kumamoto. While I innately indulge on eating oysters raw without any vinegar, lemon or cocktail sauce to mask the taste of sea, I do adore how Cantonese Chinese cook oysters in so many different ways...stir fry, steam, deep fry. You name it they do it. Cantonese are ingenious in cooking seafood, typically not serving raw seafood to prevent the slight risk of poisoning but gently pursuing the extra complexity of taste by adding sauces. Steaming oysters with different Chinese sauces is a creative exercise. You could put hoisin, sriracha, black bean and garlic, vegetarian oyster, or XO sauce in the oysters and steam them in shell. Lee Kum Kee is the sauce master, which usually takes up half of the aisle in an Asian grocery store. To foolproof the steaming method, under boiling water, all it takes is 5 minutes to steam your oysters in a lid-covered steamer, and you’ll have a plate of to-die-for oysters in front of you, regardless of what sauce you put in. Deep-frying oysters, personally, is a less preferred method of cooking these delicate sea creatures, but could be very time-saving when you are serving and pleasing a large crowd. Just make sure it’s only 5 minutes dipping them in and out of the hot oil. Bon Appetit la!

Brut Champagne and Poke Bowls

Poke bowls are not Chinese but are Hawaiian food that recently gains swift popularity in the US mainland. While I was enjoying this Hawaiian ahi and Shoyu (Japanese soya sauce) ahi poke with brown rice at the picnic table of a beachside fish market at Hilo, all I was thinking is having a glass of well-chilled Jacqueline Leonne Brut to pair with it. This New Mexico brut is powerful yet sleek, which has layers of flavors like lemon, spice, minerals and nuts, and perfectly complements the soya infused ahi that is coated with sesame oil, light garlic and ogo seaweed. The nutty and toasty element of this brut (retailed in US at around $14) reminisces the finesse of Champagne but without the price tag, and enhances the ocean and earthy flavors of chilled marinated ahi and lurk-warm brown rice underneath. This may be the best poke I’ve ever tasted, or maybe it’s because I’m having it in Hawaii 🌈

Rioja and Malaysian Chinese Foods

This Rioja was one of my favorites as it is spicy, coffee, a bit of fishy (in a nice way), and edgy. The young harshness is what I looked for in this wine to pair with these curry, satay and chilly meaty dishes. The Malaysian Chinese curry chicken and lamb use not only the curry power but also the anise and Sichuan peppercorns. All these powerful tastes would easily overpower a weak red (whites are out of the question!) Rioja, with a tad of fishy note, is edgy enough to complement the saucy meats as well as the curry squid. Anise and Sichuan peppercorns are herbal, a hint of medicinal and cast that numbing tingling sensation the palate. Compared with Indian or Japanese curries, these lightly saucy curry dishes are perfect on rice or are good to eat with no carb. Satay is an awesome sauce that combines peanut sauce, red pepper flakes and soya sauce, and goes well with almost any meats. When it’s brushed on the skewers of meat, it infuses the meat and max out the flavor. If this satay meat skewers are cooked on charcoal, it would be the best passing hors d'oeuvre you have ever tasted.

Bogle Red Blend plus Cantonese Comfort Foods

People from the southern part of China traditionally liked to cook snake soup and fried sticky rice during the fall and winter months. This combo has the medicinal benefit of warming your body and nurturing your stomach. Nowadays these two comfort foods are readily available all year around and are served as street foods or delicacy in pricier and ‘old-brand’ Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong. The nuances justify the price and quality differences. At pricier and traditional places, the careful deboning process of the snake and lightly coating the lean pork julienne with corn starch that are cooked in the soup ensure the customer enjoys a non greasy and creamy soup. The white chrysanthemum petals and dill that typically sit in a glass jar on the dinning table of these old shops are to be accompanied the soup, adding aroma and flavor. The right balance amount of sticky and long grain rice, cooked to perfection, is the base of the successful sticky rice...chewy, sticky but still allowing you to pull out each grain by chopsticks if you want to. Chinese sausages that are used in the rice need to be lean but fat enough to flavor the rice. The sea aroma of the scallion infused dried shrimp ties the rice and sausage together, distinguishing a great bowl from an average one. This Bogle Essential Red is an affordable red blend of old Zin, Syrah, Cab and Petit Siraz that I would pair with these Cantonese delicacies. The medium tannin of this red is ripe and mouth-filling and can tame the complex flavor of the soup and rustic texture of the rice.

Pinot and Chinese Take-out

Friday night, too tired to cook...Chinese take-out crosses my mind. If you go easy on the grease and meat but rather carb load, I’d say this young unoaked Bacchus Ginger’s cuvée Pinot Noir would reinvent your take-out dinner. Since there’s no oat getting into way, its freshness and light-body with bursting raspberries on the nose and palate really beams through all these tasty carb heavy dishes like moo shu pork, shrimp lo mein and chicken fried rice. This Pinot is light but structurally maintains the fruity note and tannins, making it east to drink with subtle acidity. Of course, always eat your vegetable, some fried string beans won’t hurt. After a couple of glasses, the Pinot leftover would undoubtedly go well with your fortune teller cookie and Chinese pastries like winter melon cake(老婆餅) or pineapple cake.

Cava, Tsingtao Beer and Vegetarian Hot Pot

I leave it up to you to pair Anna de Cordorniu cavas or Tsingtao beer with vegetarian Chinese hot pot...well the formers are classier especially the center one brut Blanc de Blanc reserve is bubbly happy with well smooth notes of banana cream, vanilla and hint of clover that adds small punches to your taste buds. Why do I need that for my vegetarian hot pot? The greens, the lotus root, tofu (fresh or rehydrated), udon, oily noddle are cooked in extremely favorable broth and suddenly turn into a bowl of hearty ramen or udon noodle. This cava has the ability to bring out the creaminess of the starch from the noodle, enriching the whole meatless experience. No need to explain, Tsingtao goes well with almost all Chinese food and can sooth your mouth from volcanic temperature with the icy contrast in this case!

Sparking Shiraz and Seafood Hot Pot

Why I think this sparkling Australian Shiraz will go well with Chinese hot pot? This rose like sparkling red, when served chilled, has the crisp characteristic that provides an excellent alternative to drinker who doesn’t like too much sweetness. The fuzziness makes this wine light enough to balance the large party of seafood in Chinese hot pot without overpowering the seafood. Seafood is a perfect ingredient for tilapia, salmon, sole, shrimp, crab, mussel, fish balls, squid balls, fish paste, etc, as it cooks fast. This sparkling Shiraz is heavy enough to deal with the seafood being drenched in all types of, in some cases, heavy-mouth-feel stuff. After all, you are eating extremely hot food and this chilled wine cools you off!