Friday, September 11, 2015

Corn Noodles with Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd and Pork Belly







     Try Something Different!
     People that just look at the food photos without reading the text will probably think today's recipe is some kind of a Italian style spaghetti recipe.  The noodle entrée does have an Italian red sauce kind of look, but the ingredients have no relation to anything Italian.  The vermicelli noodles are made with corn meal, not semolina.  The red sauce is made with the hóng qū mǐ (red yeast rice), which is a component of Zhijiang Fermented Red Bead Curd.

     I was impressed with the flavor of Chinese Corn Vermicelli Noodles the first time that I tried them.  The flavor is similar to cornbread that is made in the American south.  Chinese Corn Vermicelli is made with fine corn meal and this product should not be confused with cornstarch noodles, which are considered to be a type of glass noodle. 
     Chinese Fermented Bean Curd is considered to be a gourmet specialty that commands the same respect as a matured fine French cheese.  There are many regional varieties of Fermented Bean Curd that have specific names.  Some have a white color and delicate flavor, while others have a dark color and stronger flavor.  
     The texture of Fermented Bean Curd can vary from very firm to soft and creamy.  The characteristic aged cheese flavor can range from a mild fresh brie flavor to putrid smelling Limburger.  The pickling brine strength and the amount of time that the tofu ages contributes to how strong the bean curd will taste.  There is no single starter bacteria used in the fermentation process and the bacteria can vary from one region to another. 

     Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd is one of a kind.  Zhijiang fermenting brine gets its color from Red Yeast Rice.  Red Yeast Rice is rice grain that is consumed by Red Yeast.  Red Yeast is a beneficial purplish red colored fungus that is called Monascus purpureus.  Red Yeast has been proven to lower cholesterol levels.  
     After the Red Yeast consumes the rice grains, the rice barely looks like rice anymore.  When prepared as a fermenting brine for Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd, the Red Yeast Rice thickens the brine to a medium thin sauce consistency.  The flavor is one of a kind.  
       
     Selecting a brand of Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd is best done by asking for advice from an employee at a Chinese food market.  Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean curd is packaged in glass jars of various sizes and it is also packaged in cans.  Either way, the level of quality is good.  Small or single portion packaging is available.  The prices usually are based on the amount of time the Fermented Bean Curd is aged. 
     The salt content can vary greatly, so if one brand is too salty for personal taste, then try another brand.  Many chefs only use a small portion of red yeast rice fermenting liquid to make a sauce with.  Some serve the fermented tofu with no sauce.  Others use all of the sauce from the jar, if the salt content is not overbearing.  Some chefs soak the fermented tofu in water to leach some of the salt out, but others frown on that practice.   
     Basically, a tolerance of salty food is required when eating Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd.  Serving Zhijiang red fermented bean curd with steamed rice or boiled noodles does help to tame the salty flavor. 

     Chinese Corn Noodles:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     Step 1:  Boil a pot of water over high heat.
     Add 1 portion of dried corn vermicelli noodles.
     Stir the noodles occasionally, till they are fully cooked.
     Step 2:  Drain the hot water off of the noodles.
     Place the hot corn noodles in ice water.
     Stir the noodles by hand, till they feel like they have a firm chewy texture.
     Step 3:  Drain the ice water off of the corn noodles.
     Set the corn noodles aside.

     Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd and Pork Belly:
     This recipe yields 1 large portion that can be shared by 2 guests.
     The square fermented tofu pieces must be handled gently or they will break apart!
     Step 1:  Keep a pot of water boiling on a back burner, so the corn noodles can be reheated.
     Step 2:  Separate the Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd pieces and the red yeast rice fermenting liquid into two separate containers.  
     *5 or 6 large squares of fermented bean curd are needed.  (About 6 ounces.)
     Set the fermented tofu aside.
     Step 3:  Taste the Zhijiang Red Fermenting Liquid to judge the salt content, before setting it aside.  If it is extra salty, use less later in the recipe.  
     Step 4:  Heat a sauté pan or mini wok over medium heat.  
     Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 3 ounces of pork belly that is cut into small pieces.  (The pork belly is only added for flavor.)
     Sauté till the pork belly turns a golden color.
     Step 5:  Add 1 teaspoon of ginger paste.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Asian leek or minced green onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped onion. 
     Briefly sauté till the onions become aromatic.
     Step 6:  Add 1 1/2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Add 1 pinch of Chinese chile powder.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of thin soy sauce.
     Step 7:  Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Add just enough cornstarch and water slurry to thicken the sauce to a thin consistency.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Step 8:  Add just enough of the reserved Zhijiang Red Fermenting liquid to the sauce, to give the sauce a red color and red yeast rice flavor.  
     *If the red fermenting liquid is very salty, then only add a little bit.  If the salt content is tolerable, then add more.    
     Step 9:  Carefully place the reserved square pieces of the Zhijiang Fermented Red Bean Curd in the sauce.
     Gently simmer till the bean curd warms.  
     *Do not stir or disturb the tofu pieces after they are added, or they will break apart!
     
     Corn Noodles with Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd and Pork Belly:
     This recipe yields 1 large portion that can be shared by 2 guests.
     Step 1:  Place the prepared corn noodles in a pasta net and reheat the noodles in the pot of boiling water.
     Drain the water off of the noodles.
     Line the border of an oval plate with the corn noodles, so an empty well is in the center.
     Step 2:  Spoon some of the sauce on the center of the plate.
     Carefully use a serving spoon to place the square pieces of Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd on the center of the plate.   
     Spoon some of the red sauce over the bean curd pieces.
     Step 3:  Sprinkle some thin bias sliced green onion top over the bean curd and noodles.   

     This entrée is meant to be shared by guests at a table.  The salt content is a bit much for one person, so small tasting portions are best.  This is a nice way to present aromatic Zhijiang Red Fermented Bean Curd!  

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