Sunday, March 20, 2011

Zhong Zi

I have been a very busy bee today, immersed in a culinary adventure.  The first thought I had when I woke up was, yay zhong zi!  I tried to be good about taking pictures, but was still rather sporadic about it.  Fortunately, I got the recipe from use real butter and SHE is phenomenal at picture taking.  So for clarity on any point, please visit her site.  You should visit her site regardless, because she is an amazing cook and photographer.  Her site has really become my go to site for recipes.

Yesterday, I prepared the meat filling and set the rice out to soak.  There are no pictures of this sadly.  What I did manage to do though, was to burn the meat a little to the bottom of my pot.  I don't know if my heat was too high or maybe I just didn't need to take it out to 30 minutes as the recipe suggested.  Will keep a closer eye on things next time.  Fortunately, it wasn't too bad and most of it was salvaged.

This morning, I popped out of bed like a loon and fried the raw rice together with the dried shrimp, soy sauce and bit o salt.  I like peanuts so I added some when I made the filling, but next time I think it would be better to add the peanuts to the rice mixture.  It was kind of a drag digging around for peanuts in my filling mix to make sure some got incorporated into each zhong zi.

After that, I boiled the string (I cut each about 26 inches and that worked out all right, but next time I"ll go for 30 inches.  I think the string should be reusable, just boil again and lay them out to dry) and the bamboo leaves in my large stockpot.  I only filled my stockpot halfway with water because I didn't want to wait forever for it to come to a boil.  Next time I'll fill it up almost all of the way because I had some bits of bamboo sticking out and it was a drag.

Next it was time to wrap!  For this step I highly recommend you head over to use real butter's site.  I scrutinized her pictures closely and still had trouble.  I think I got better toward the end but these were not very easy to wrap.  The unsightlyness of my zhong zi fortunately, did not affect the outcome however.  I only stashed one piece of meat and a piece of mushroom with each zhong zi, but next time I'll add more.  For some reason, the ones I'm used to buying always had very salty meats and mushrooms so I was afraid to add too many.  I found the meat and mushroom to be perfectly seasoned in these though, so will have no scruples in adding more in the future.

It seems incredible that you can spend a bunch of time making these and they are not immediately edible.  But such is life.  The recipe recommends either boiling in water for 1 hour or steaming in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes.  I tried both methods and I think the texture of the rice in the boiling method was much better.  Perhaps I needed to steam longer; the rice in the steamed ones were tender, but not as soft and sticky as the boiled ones.  The feel of grease was also a little too much.  Again, this might be because I didn't steam them long enough, but since boiling turned out so well, I will be sticking with that method in the future.

The one shown here is the steamed one.  You can see that the rice doesn't look as soft as it should be.  In any case, the zhong zi were delicious overall.  I've already eaten 3 (with some soy sauce sprinkled on them).  I've frozen the rest of them (for me the recipe made 11.  I played around with wrapping single leaf zhong zi and two leaf zhong zi so I have two leaves left over).  Make sure the zhong zi are cooled before freezing in zip lock bags.  I remember I used to just microwave frozen ones to heat them up, but I imagine you can steam them too.  I have some filling leftover so I'm totally soaking more rice now to make more.  I love having a stash of these in my freezer.

I think if dumpling making was Part I in my journey of becoming a traditional Asian grandma, zhong zi would be Part II.

Zhong zi (adapted from use real butter)

3 cups sweet rice
20+ bamboo leaves (use 2 for bigger zhong zi)
butcher's string (at least 24 inches, I think 26-30 is best)

1.  Rinse the rice until the water runs clear.  Soak overnight.  Drain the rice.

2.  Rinse the bamboo leaves and boil the leaves with the string for 5 minutes.  Remove and drain.

Meat Filling
1 lb pork belly
3 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs fried shallots (found in Asian grocery)
1/2 tbs shaoxing wine
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground pepper
5 Chinese black mushrooms (rehydrate in boiling water, remove stems, slice in quarters)

3.  Cut the pork belly into 1 inch thick pieces.  Marinate the pork for 30 minutes with the soy sauce, shallots, wine, sugar and pepper.  Add the mushrooms and simmer (on very low!) with the lid covered for 30 minutes. I recommend making this ahead of time so your life is not overwhelmed by zhong zi.

Rice Mixture
4 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup dried shrimp, chopped (or buy really little shrimps)
1 1/2 tbs soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
as many raw peanuts as you like

4.  Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and cook the shrimp until fragrant.  Add everything else and stir until well mixed.

5.  To wrap, take two bamboo leaves and partially overlap them.  Make a cone and add some rice then some meat filling then more rice*.  Bring the top part of the leaf down and tie it all together with string.  This step takes quite a bit of practice and you may end up with something interesting looking still.  But as long as there is no rice falling out, it's probably ok.

6.  To cook, put the zhong zi in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil then turn the heat to low and simmer covered for an hour.  Serve hot with soy sauce!

*Note: you can also add some salty duck egg yolk in here.  Sometimes I find them too intense, but I may add a little next time, probably just a quarter of one.


  1. OH MY GOD THESE LOOK SO GOOD!!! these are one of my childhood favorites. can we make more when i come visit pleeeeeeeeeeeeease.

  2. wow.

    do you think they travel well? let's find out.

  3. i was confused for a while when you told me you were making these because i confused Zhong Zi with Rush Hour 2 supporting actress Zhang Ziyi.

  4. omg that would be weird if i was making little replicas of that
    actress (or any actress.