MANILA, SEPTEMBER 20, 2008 (STAR) EAT’S EASY By Ernest Reynoso Gala - Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” — Alice May Brock (of Alice’s Restaurant fame)

It was the coldest day recorded in Hong Kong, too cold for anyone to go outside for a stroll. Stranded in the Marriot Hotel, I decided to order beef noodles or more commonly known as beef mami. The weather was a blessing in disguise as it proved to be the perfect meal, the hot soup kept me warm and my spirits high. The occasion also brought about a bonding moment between Auntie Leni, my mom and I, as we discussed our culinary experiences and how to analyze dishes using our senses. What seemed to be a gloomy day turned out to be a culinary education from two experts, skills that I still use today in recipe development.

In Chinese cooking, there are four varieties of noodles. The first is the rice flour noodles which are white in color and have straight, fine strands. They often go well with seafood and mushrooms. The next is pea starch noodles made from mung peas. When raw, they are opaque but become translucent when soaked or simmered in water. The third is wheat flour which is similar to spaghetti in texture, where the outside is soft while the inside firm when cooked. Last is the egg noodles which are yellow in color and require short precooking in boiling water (about two to five minutes for 250 grams). They quickly absorb the surrounding soup or sauce, instantly adding flavor, and are used for mami. This can be bought in the supermarkets and markets, making it hassle-free.

Black soy bean paste or black bean sauce (preserved soy beans) is added for saltiness, often mashed to bring out the flavor. Hot soy bean paste is derived from chilies and soy bean, pounded well with a mallet to form a paste. Star anise, locally known as estrella or sangke, gives a specific aroma and is generally found in Chinese cuisine. It is also one of the main ingredients of five-spice powder which consist of star anise, anise pepper, fennel, cloves, and cinnamon. Ginger, which removes any unwanted flavor, can be wrapped in foil and stored for weeks in the refrigerator. Garlic should be browned to extract the taste.

For the beef, tough meat like the brisket or shank is used because slow cooking or pressure cooking requires hard, “inexpensive” meat that will tenderize over a period of time. Make sure the meat is cold before cooking, has no foul smell, and has white fat. For the chicken, boil it in a stock for 30 minutes, then cut into pieces. Use the stock and add noodles, chicken, and top with mushrooms and spring onions.

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Delicious Beef Mami

1 kilo beef brisket (punta y pecho) cut into 1 inch cubes, 1/2 cup cooking oil, 1 tbsp. crushed garlic, 2 thin slices ginger ( size of a P1 coin), 1/2 cup chopped spring onions, 1 tbsp. hot soy bean paste (Arranque or Wei Wang store, Wilson Street, beside Mercury Drug, Greenhills, San Juan), 1 tbsp. black soy bean paste, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 sections/petals star anise (estrella or sangke), 6 cups water,

9 cups soup stock (9 cups boiling water with 3 beef cubes, 1 tbsp. sesame oil).

1 kilo fresh mami noodles (blanch in eight cups boiling water for two minutes when ready to serve). Available in vegetable chiller in supermarkets.

For garnish: 8 Baguio pechay leaves sliced 2-inch wide.

Prepare 8 2-cup capacity soup bowls. Put oil and garlic in pressure cooker. When garlic is browned, add ginger, beef, spring onions, cooking until beef is brown. Add remaining ingredients. Cover. When pressure cooker hizzes, lower fire and cook 45 minutes. Cool. Release pressure.

Note: If pressure cooker is unavailable, use 7 cups water plus other ingredients. Let boil, then cover and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until beef is fork tender.

Arrange mami noodles on 8 bowls. Top with broth, beef, and vegetable.

Chicken Mami Soup

 A) 4 whole chicken breasts — 1 -1/2 kilos, 12 cups water, 3 tbsps. chicken powder or 4 chicken cubes, 1 tbsp. rock salt, 1-1/2 tsp. white pepper.

B) 1 kilo fresh mami noodles, blanch 2 minutes in 8 cups boiling water. Drain.

C) For the topping: 1/4 cup spring onions. Optional: 8 pieces dried Chinese mushrooms (shiitake). Wash, soak in water 15 minutes. Remove stem. Add to letter A when cooking.

D) Put letter “A” in a deep soup pan. Cover and let boil, then simmer 30 minutes. Turn off fire . Remove chicken breasts and cut into 1/2-inch wide long strips.

E) Put noodles in 8 2-cup capacity soup bowls. Top with chicken, spring onions, boiling broth (Letter A).

Discovery of the Week

A must-try is the Red Ribbon mocha choco crunch. Extremely delicious with crunch bits in the middle, mocha cake, and whipped cream. At P500 for a whole cake, it’s definitely value for money.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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