Almost all of my friends use Netflix and a decent percentage find its selection of streaming movies less than exciting. I enthusiastically disagree. I think the assortment of social, cultural, historic and nature documentaries is really appealing. Maybe it is because of the fact that I have already seen the feature films by the time they’re streaming that my instant queue is full of documentaries. Regardless, I – and I can’t be the only one – think it’s much more interesting to watch PBS’ Story of India documentary (yes, all 6 parts) than the latest Fast & Furious installment.
I recommend Wild China, a 6 part nature documentary series on the natural history of China. It was filmed all in high-def so it is incredibly visually striking. A lot of the program was filmed in the most remote parts of China and use special filming techniques to capture amazing animal behavior. The program highlights the rich biodiversity of China and also the relationship between animals and the ecosystem. This is true of humans and our food as well.
Mantou, Chinese steamed bread, is a staple in my repertoire. It’s decidedly a northern Chinese dish. Southern China is mountainous, rainy, warm and hilly, suitable for rice terraces. The north has a flatter topography and is suited for the cultivation of wheat and corn. Oftentimes I use mantou and regular bread interchangeably. Mantou, since steamed, is very soft, pillowy and absorbent (mmm…juices). I also find it much lighter than baked breads; so I can eat more of it!
And since summer has practically started already in New York, I’m combining the best of both worlds with mantou and pulled chicken. I also added in Pickled Cucumbers and Radishes to provide a bit of flavorful tang and textural contrast to the soft bread and meat.
-For the Steamed Rolls-
- Dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Add yeast.
- Let stand about 10 minutes, so that the yeast will froth.
- Mix together flour and salt.
- If using a bread machine (like I did), mix all ingredients together and set on dough cycle.
- If making it by hand, mix ingredients together and knead until a soft dough forms. Shape into a ball, place in a large bowl and cover lightly with a lid. Let rise in a warm area for 1 to 1.5 hours.
- After it has risen, knead a few times and shape dough into a long rectangular log. With a knife, cut 16 pieces.
- Places the pieces into steamer baskets. Cover and let rise again in a warm area for about 45 minutes.
- Steam mantou in the baskets for about 12 minutes.
-For the Pulled Chicken-
- In a skillet, heat canola oil and brown chicken on all sides. Transfer to slow cooker insert.
- Then in the skillet, saute onion slices until softened, about 4 minutes. Add to slow cooker insert.
- Pour the barbecue sauce over the chicken and onion in the slow cooker.
- Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.
-For the Assembly-
- Break open a mantou bun, add cucumbers and radishes.
- Layer in the shredded chicken and top with cilantro.
If your kitchen isn’t warm enough for the dough to properly rise, preheat your oven to 350F for 30 seconds. Let the dough rise in the warmed oven.
I find that the stainless-steel 3-tiered steamers work much better than the bamboo version that’s place over a wok. The latter kind is used mainly for dim sum plates while the 3-tiered kind can be used for steamed breads, corn, fish, etc. This steamer is an example of the kind I have. They can be found on Amazon or at any housewares shop in Chinatown. New Kam Man is a great supermarket on Canal St. where I buy my Asian sauces, noodles and kitchenware, including plates, steamers and utensils. They also have a great Asian snack section!
Bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs (breasts, drumsticks, etc.) are usually cheaper than the prepared boneless, skinless version. To save money, buy the bone-in, skin-on kind and prep it yourself. The skin is usually pretty much almost separated and easy to remove. And if you’re slow cooking, the meat will fall off the bones anyway when done, so the bones won’t be an issue.