China is the world’s second largest country by land area and has the largest population, 1.3 billion. The precise total area is controversial, since China also claims ownership on e.g. Taiwan (also known as Republic of China, while China is officially the People’s Republic of China – quite confusing). It has a rich, far-reaching history in both culture and science. Being geographically massive it contains areas with very different terrains, climates and peoples, from a huge coastline to Mongolian grasslands and from the Gobi desert to the Himalaya mountains. It also has the largest high-speed rail network in the world. China is the world’s fastest growing major economy, which has spurred Chinese studies in many Western countries.
Chinese cuisine is widespread, but most Chinese restaurants serve food that is far from authentic. E.g. in Finland most restaurants mainly serve veggie and meat based stir-fries (mostly with soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce) with rice, maybe deep fried jumbo shrimp. My husband never liked “Chinese food” in Finland, but here in Amsterdam we really like eating at New King in Chinatown. There are, of course, not one but several Chinese cuisines, which vary depending on the area (such as Cantonese and Sichuan), some being e.g. much spicier than others.
Soy sauce is the best known Chinese condiment, but there are many other popular seasoning sauces, most of them fermented, like black bean sauce (my favorite), oyster sauce (with a tasty vegan option available), hoisin sauce and brown bean sauce. In general fermentation is used a lot, from “rotten” eggs to preserved tofu, with a sharp taste that has been said to resemble blue cheese (when I first bought it I threw it away, thinking it had gone off!). Other popular spices include e.g. black and white pepper, ginger, Sichuan peppers and fivespice, but flavours tend to rely more on fermented sauces, rice wine and vinegars, sesame oil, citrus fruit, mushrooms and sometimes tea than actual spices. Traditional vegetarian fare may feature tofu, yuba, mock meats made of seitan.
A few people have complained about mock meats being used so often in Vegventures instead of choosing intrisically vegan dishes. Well, this dish features mock meat, but it is also a traditional Chinese dish, originally vegan and comes from Bryanna Clark Grogan – yes, again, but this one is not from World Vegan Feast but her website and her book Authentic Chinese Cuisine, which I have been supposed to get since I expect it to be awesome.
Yuba or tofu skin is available from most Chinese/Pan-Asian stores, there is more information about it in her linked blog entry. It is often layered to make mock meats, like here. The texture is interesting, chewy but not like gluten, nothing like tofu, tempeh, seitan or any commercial Western mock meats (the canned “mock duck” sold in Chinese stores is seitan-based). Yuba is very mild so it is all about flavouring it. This almost always features toasted sesame oil (dark sesame oil), which is pretty much essential.
I used twice the amount of yuba (and steamed it longer, using baking parchment instead of cheesecloth), substituted vegan “chicken” broth for the mushroom broth, mirin for the sherry and sugar and didn’t get my “duck” quite as brown as hers nor did it really expand, but it was very tasty nonetheless. The instructions about folding the “duck” may seem unclear (I folded it an extra time at the end as not to look so flat in the photo), but it doesn’t matter that much how you fold it, as long as you have layers of yuba cooked with the sauce between.
I did buy the brown bean sauce used to make authentic Peking duck sauce as in Bryanna’s recipe, but never got around to making it, as the “duck” was so good on its own. Next time I’ll try to make a filled, smoky “goose roll” similar to the ones they sell in Chinatown here. (The brown bean sauce likely isn’t gluten-free, by the way.)
Buddha’s roast duck
3 large (about 16″/40 cm in diameter) round sheets fresh yuba, cut in half or 3 large rectangular sheets dried yuba, soaked in water for 10 minutes
1/3 cup/0.8 dl mushroom or vegan “chicken” bouillon or water from soaking dried mushrooms
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp dry sherry (or mirin and skip the sugar)
3/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
oil for shallow-frying (e.g. peanut oil or canola oil)
Mix the broth, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, and sesame oil in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved (if using mirin, just stir the ingredients together, no need to boil). Pour this into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.
If using the dried yuba, soak the sheets (handle carefully) in warm water for 5-10 minutes, then pat them dry and cut them in half. Spread a piece of fine cheesecloth or thin white cotton sheeting, over a cookie sheet (or just use baking parchment). Place one half-sheet fresh or reconstituted dried yuba on this. Brush the sheet with the soy sauce mixture. Cover with another piece of yuba and brush. Repeat until all of the yuba and sauce is used up. If there is some sauce left, pour it over the yuba and brush evenly towards the outsides.
Fold the short side in, once, and then once again, so that it is folded in thirds, and flatten lightly. You may have to fold it once more to fit in your steamer. Wrap it in the cloth and tie the ends, or wrap in the baking parchment. Steam the roll on a steaming tray or a metallic sieve for 20 minutes.
Remove the cloth/parchment carefully. Cut the roll into two sections, if it seems to big to handle. Heat oil about 1/4-1/2″/0.5-1 cm deep over high heat in a large, heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully add the roll(s) and fry until golden-brown. This will take only a few seconds. Turn over and fry the other side. It will probaly puff up. Remove from the pan. Drain the yuba on paper.
To serve, slice diagonally into thin slices on a cutting board with a sharp knife, and serve hot or cold as an appetizer. To make Peking “duck”, serve thinly sliced Buddha’s roast duck with Mandarin pancakes or flour tortillas and shredded green onion. Place a bit of “duck” along with about 1 tsp of duck sauce and a few shreds of green onion in a Mandarin pancake, roll up, and eat out of hand.
Bryanna’s duck sauce
1/2 cup/1.2 dl water
4 tbsp brown bean sauce
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
Mix the ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir over high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened to your liking. Chill the mixture before serving.