New Meal Monday: Red Cooking, Pork Dumplings & Chinese New Year

So this week's New Meal Monday is a bit different.  With last Friday being the celebration of Chinese New Year, we wanted to post something celebrating Chinese cuisine. However, this is a style of cooking that we don't have a great deal of experience with in our house. So we thought we'd spend this week instead, doing a bit of learning and exploring some different types of recipes and cooking styles, and then sharing a bit of what we learned, as well as some of the resources we learned from.
One of the first places I started was a book we carry called, Land of Plenty.  This book focuses and the cooking and cuisine of the Sichuan Province, which is often known for spice and the Sichuan pepper, but is claimed to be home of about 5,000 unique dishes made possible by a variety of flavoring techniques. One of the things I love about this book is that you don't even read a recipe until page 85. In some instances it's nice to get right into all the great recipes, but when your talking about a region with such a rich and long history I feel like it's important to understand more about the history of how the recipes were born. The author discusses food prep and cooking methods--of which Sichuanese chefs claim their are about 56 distinct cooking methods--as well as the appropriate tools and utensils, for example the wok has been used in Sichuan kitchens for over 2,000 years.  One of my favorite recipes from this books is the steamed pork and pumpkin dumplings!

After this book, I began pick the brain of our store manager, Sherwin, who I knew has more experience with cooking a wider variety of cuisines, and he turned me towards a source I otherwise may not have thought of. He mentioned that one of his favorite recipes came from the book All About Braising which has a recipe for Red-Cooked Pork Belly. This recipe discusses the use of a "lu" in Chinese cooking. "Red-cooking" is a method of braising using a soy-based sauce that the food is then also left to cool in.  The sauce is typically refrigerated and saved for a future braises.  While the sauce for braising can be made fresh each time, many Chinese chefs believe the the "lu" gets better and more complex over time, and that it should be saved and simply replenished with fresh spices and liquids over time.

In the Land of Plenty, author Fuschia Dunlop references that "When Westerner's think of Chinese cooking, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a fast stir-fry in a smoking wok..." and prior to this week I was somewhat guilty of that. However, my reading, exploring and dabbling taught me a lot of lessons that will enhance our cooking for years to come!
So here is to wishing everyone the best of luck in both your Food Journey, and in the Year of the Dog!