by Brenda W. Clough
As other bloggers here have noted, food is key. Hobbits love lembas; wizards and Rangers smoke pipeweed. Long before you understand another culture, another race, you are happily eating their food. Thanksgiving is the quintessentially American holiday, because it’s full of other people’s food. So when the Washington Post put out a call for melting-pot Thanksgiving recipes, I obliged with my family’s recipe for sticky rice stuffing.
As I noted in the paper, turkey is not a Chinese favorite. Too big, too flavorless — you don’t see turkey often on restaurant menus in Chinatown, not compared to duck or chicken. However, fifty years ago some smart Chinese cook decided to help the bird along, and invented sticky rice stuffing. It was an instant hit, and a little googling around will find you many many variants — I saw a Laotian one the other day. The recipe below is fairly basic, and also fairly small. I routinely quadruple it, to prevent muttering from the children. It is unquestionably the most popular part of the meal.
You don’t want to stuff the stuffing into the bird, because of the other popular Chinese thing to do with the turkey — make jook with the carcass. All the bones, skin, etc. go into the stockpot, and the stock is used to make rice congee. Turkey jook is the the classic dish to serve on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. However, I’m American born, and what I make with my turkey stock is turkey gumbo: file powder, andouille sausage, and the holy Cajun trinity of green pepper, onion, and celery. And in return I’m certain that somewhere down in New Orleans there’s a nice Louisiana woman making jook this coming weekend.
To save you a click, here’s the recipe:
Chinese Sticky Rice Stuffing
Tested size: 6 servings
2 cups sweet (glutinous) Japanese short-grain rice (see headnote)
12 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup dried Asian shrimp (see headnote)
1 medium onion
3 ribs celery
One 8-ounce can whole Chinese water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
3 cups water
3 or 4 dried Chinese sausages, cut in half lengthwise and then into thin half moons (see headnote)
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or more as needed
Place the rice in a mixing bowl, cover with cool water by an inch or two and let sit for 30 minutes. Put the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water to soften them.
Pick over the dried shrimp and remove any heads and bits of shell. Place the dried shrimp in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let them soak while you cut the onion, celery and water chestnuts into small dice.
Drain the mushrooms and cut them into the same size small dice; do the same with the shrimp.
Drain the rice and put it into a pot with the 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. It will form a sticky mass.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat, then add the onion, celery, water chestnuts, mushrooms, shrimp and sausage; stir-fry just until the onion has softened, then add the sticky rice. Stir-fry, adding the soy sauce until heated through and well incorporated. The rice should be quite sticky. Taste and add more soy sauce, as needed.