Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Jung - the Chinese Ploughman's Lunch, not the Doctor of Psychology!

As the Chinese New Year approaches, my thoughts turn to a winter Chinese delicacy, Jung. Yum Cha Restaurants and many Asian grocery stores have versions all year round but none are so good as the ones your mother made for you as a child. I remember the kitchen filling up with steam as the huge metal pot (taller than me) would bubble away with the heady scent of sticky rice, salty pork and the herbal scent of the bamboo leaves they were wrapped in. Nothing beat the unwrapping of a freshly cooked Jung, scorching our fingers as you rushed to get the string and the leaves apart, then the first taste of the silky pork belly as it melted into the rice. Unfortunately, all good things take time and like all good Chinese recipes, this one needs a few days' preparation so:

Three Days Before Wrap Day:

Buy your Ingredients (the quantities below are per kilo of glutinous rice which should make approximately ten Jung, the final number you get will depend on how "courageously" you wrap!); any Asian grocery store should stock all but the pork belly which can be bought from your local butcher or supermarket:

250 gm pork belly
1 kilo glutinous rice
1/2 teaspoon MSG (monosodium glutamate - optional but hey, it's traditional)
25 g salt
100 g dried Adzuki or Mung Beans
30 dried bamboo leaves
12 cooked salted duck eggs (optional)

Also like all good Chinese recipes, you can add all manner of other things such as lapchong (chinese sausage), mushrooms, lentils, mung beans, etc., but I wanted to replicate the jung I had as a child so this is my mother's recipe (which I'm sure to be fiddling with as soon as I'm practiced enough with the basics).

As soon as you get home:
  1. Wash the pork belly and slice into thumb-sized chunks
  2. Rub a heaped tablespoon of salt into the pork and leave covered in your refrigerator to marinate. 

One day before wrap day:
  1. Unwrap your bamboo leaves, snip the hard stalks from the base of each bamboo leaf and soak in a basin of cold water. Make sure to agitate the leaves thoroughly and change the water at least three times. The bamboo leaves should be pliable. (If you forget to do this the day before, don't panic, you can use boiling water on the dry leaves on wrap day. This is also good to remember if some of your leaves rip, as they are prone to do during your first wrapping attempts, and you end up needing more. Don't worry if they do, these can be used as the third outer leaf.)
  2. Soak the beans in cold water.
  3. Peel the duck eggs, discarding the shell and the white (although the whites can be kept for adding to a stir-fry or porridge in small quantities), cut the yolks in half if you think they're too big and put in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
  4. Wash and drain the pork, sprinkle with a little fresh salt and re-pack in a dry container in the refrigerator. 
 On wrap day:
  1. Half an hour before you want to start wrapping, soak the sticky rice in a basin of cold water.  After half an hour, rinse the rice and drain the rice through a sieve into a basin at least a third larger than the amount of rice you have. This is to ensure you have sufficient room in your basin to add in and mix the other ingredients.
  2. For each kilo of rice, add 25g of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of MSG, if using, to the rice.
  3. Stir through the beans and mix well with your hands.

Time to wrap!
  1. Remove your bamboo leaves from the water but keep them covered with a wet tea towel so that they don't lose their pliability.
  2. Bring all your ingredients to a large table and have a tray to catch any rice spillage.
  3. Take one bamboo leaf with the fat end on the left and the pointy end to the right.
  4. Bend it into a parabola shape and make a small pleated fold from the middle of the leaf to the bottom making a pointed pocket.
  5. Scoop a little rice into the corner and two thirds of the way along the long ends of the leaf.
  6. Top with a piece of pork belly and egg yolk if using.
  7. Take another leaf and make a similar shape around the top edge of the first leaf, overlapping a little and without a fold. This is to give some  height to the casing so that you can pack more rice in. 
  8. Top with another small scoop of rice mix and try to enclose the pork/egg completely.
  9. Fold the bottom leaves up or to the right to envelope the rice.
  10. Fold the side and top leaves in and cover with a third leaf if necessary
  11. Bind with cooking twine.
  12. Place as many Jung as your biggest saucepan will hold, cover with water and boil for at least 3 hours, replenishing the water if necessary (check every hour) or until the fat on the pork has rendered and the beans are tender.
  13. Eat steaming hot immediately (or refrigerate or freeze and reheat) with a drizzle of sesame oil, white pepper and soy sauce to taste. 

Craving some now! 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Phoenix Rises, Again - Argo Restaurant, Pymble

The last couple of years have seen more restaurant closures in Sydney than I can fathom and this site in Pymble has had more than its share of those. Following a run of different cuisines and restaurateurs hoping to make a success of this upper North Shore location, ranging from well before the previously reviewed Ad Lib to the short-lived Spanish influenced Lounge 10'47 we are hopeful that Argo is to here to stay for a while.

Billed as Modern Australian, all the dishes were very appealing to our small group which encompassed eight adults and four children. With a range of pastas, tapas-style dishes, burgers and grilled meats, there is enough variety from which to choose and more than enough for a return visit.

Very family friendly, the children were served first while we adults looked on enviously and we were not disappointed.

As we wanted to try as much as possible, we started with the entire selection of a "Few Things to Share": Olives, Taleggio and Parmesan croquettes, Haloumi with Hazelnut dressing, Grilled Prawn Skewers with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Chicken Wings with Chilli, Garlic, Rosemary & Lemon, Chicken Liver Pate with Onion Jam and Bruschetta of the Day (ours was mushroom and fetta and alas no photo!) $6 to $14

All the flavours were wonderful, exactly as you would expect from a really great kitchen. The wings and croquettes were hot and crispy, the sourdough toast was crusty and beautifully grilled, the haloumi perfectly coloured. The pick of the dishes to share was probably the Chicken liver pate and onion jam.

On to mains, we chose:

Calamarata with Bolognaise sauce $24
As with the other pasta dishes, al dente, flavoursome and satisfying.

Beef Burger with Scamorza, pickles, bacon, beetroot relish and chips $20
Neither too big nor too small, a brioche bun, melty cheese and sauce on the side so it doesn't run down your hand, whats not to like!

Scallops with Saffron & Corn Puree, Asparagus, Burnt Butter & Sage $22
Ordered as a main without fuss from the Entree menu, this (along with a side of Chat Potatoes with Roast Garlic and Rosemary Oil $7) made for a smaller main than the more generously portioned mains on offer for someone with a reduced appetite. It was the highlight of my meal. Scallops perfectly cooked, crispy but tender. All the flavours worked beautifully together.

1/2 Rack of Pork Ribs $32
Meat lovers everywhere rejoice! It also comes in a full rack!

Orecchiette with broccoli & pine nuts $22

Spaghetti with prawns, sea urchin butter, cherry tomatoes & zucchini $26

Perhaps our appetites for overindulgence have also wained over the years but in truth, we were all so well fed after the entrees and mains that we didn't have room for dessert. Ah well, next time.

Marrying food which celebrates its ingredients in classic yet solid combinations to a background of live music in the street-front window (at least there was when we were last there on a Sunday for lunch) and you can count on a more than pleasant dining experience. Please, give it Ar-go!