Eight Treasure Rice

Babaofan

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Meal: Almost in Advance, Steamed

    Probably the most famous Chinese dessert of all is a babaofan, or Eight Treasure Rice. It is a sticky, sweet pudding made of glutinous rice, sweet bean paste, with such other “treasures” as dried red dates and sweet potatoes arranged in decorative patterns on top of the rice. Mrs. Chiang’s version of this famous dish is unusual because it contains fresh bacon (a must in the recipe, even though this super-fatty cut of meat is difficult to obtain outside of Chinese grocery stores; a leaner cut won’t do). Putting pork into the pudding sounds strange, but it works. The fatty meat goes beautifully with the sticky rice and sweet bean paste. The result is an obscenely rich and heavy concoction, oozing with lard. It illustrates with unctuous clarity why Chinese gourmets prize fat — it’s marvelous.

    Such a heavy dose of cholesterol is not for daily consumption. Because a babaofan takes a long time to prepare and an even longer time to recover from, it was served only on the most festive occasions in rural Szechwan where it was, in fact, the equivalent of a wedding cake. Mrs. Chiang’s exceptional Eight Treasure Rice became famous on Taiwan, and her talents were in great demand for weddings.

    Though you don’t need to get married to enjoy this magnificent pudding, it really is too rich to treat as a regular dessert. Nor does it tempt all palates. Few Americans find the idea of eating pure pork fat, even sweetened pure pork fat, immediately appealing. But it is an easily acquired taste, and it would be a good idea to experiment with this pudding if only to experience one of the greatest achievements of Chinese gastronomy. Although its preparation does take a long time, none of the individual steps required are difficult. The preparation will require at least 6 hours from start to finish. It will not, however, be 6 hours of concentrated labor, since much of the time is spent soaking, simmering, and steaming.

    Method

    Preparation

    1-½ cups dried Chinese red beans

    2 cups water, approximately

    4 cups water

    Put the beans in a bowl, cover them with water, and let them soak for at least 1 hour. Then rinse them thoroughly.
    1 cup glutinous rice Put the beans in a medium saucepan, cover them with the 4 cups water, and bring them to a boil over a high flame. Let them cook for about 10 minutes before you reduce the flame, then cover the pan and let the beans simmer for 2 hours.
    2 cups water, approximately While the beans are cooking, put the glutinous rice in a bowl and cover it with water. Set it aside to soak for at least 1 hour.
    (beans) After the beans have simmered for 2 hours and are nice and soft, remove them from the heat and, without draining them, let them cool off. Then puree them, liquid and all. (Mrs. Chiang discovered that the easiest way to do this using Western implements was to force the beans through a strainer with a wooden spoon.) The pureed beans will probably be rather runny.

    1-½ tablespoons lard

    (beans)

    ½ cup granulated sugar

    Heat the lard in a flat frying pan over a medium flame. When the lard is melted, add the pureed beans and the sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, and if the beans are particularly watery, turn up the flame while you cook them. When they reach the consistency of mashed potatoes, remove them from the heat and let them cool off.

    2 tablespoons peanut oil

    1-½ tablespoons granulated sugar

    Heat the peanut oil in a wok or fiat frying pan over a medium flame for about 15 seconds, then add the sugar and stir it continuously until it melts and turns dark brown. Be very careful that it doesn’t turn too dark a brown and burn.
    1-½ pounds fresh bacon Cut the fresh bacon into 3 large chunks. Add these to the caramelized sugar in the pan and fry them gently for 4 or 5 minutes. Turn the meat often, so it gets brown and slightly caramelized on all sides. Remove from the pan and let cool.

    20 dried red dates

    2 cups water, approximately

    While you are waiting for the pork to cool off enough for you to handle, wash the dates well under cold running water, then put them in a small bowl and cover them with water. Let soak for at least 20 minutes.
    (meat)

    When the meat is cool enough to handle, slice it in the following way:

    First, cut the meat across the grain into a piece about 1/5 inch thick, but do not cut the meat completely through. Then cut a second slice of the same thickness, but this time cut all the way through the meat. This will give you a slice of meat that you can open like a book. Cut all the meat into the same kind of slices.

    (sweet bean paste) Stuff the cavity of each piece of meat with about 1 tablespoonful of the sweet bean paste.
    1 large sweet potato

    Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 1 inch cubes; you should get about 2 cups of cubed sweet potato.

    You are now ready to assemble the dish. Before you begin, it is a good idea to assemble your steamer. You will have to steam the Eight Treasure Rice in a large round bowl and you may find that such a bowl will not fit into a regular Chinese steamer. You may be able to devise one out of a wok and its top, or, if necessary, you can always make a serviceable one out of a large pot.

    (glutinous rice)

    (dates)

    (filled meat slices)

    Drain the glutinous rice and the dates. Arrange the bean paste-filled meat slices in a regular pattern around the sides and bottom of the bowl. The meat slices should be slightly overlapping.
    (dates) Arrange the dates decoratively in the spaces between the meat slices.
    (sweet potatoes) Cover the meat with the sweet potato cubes.

    (glutinous rice)

    1 cup granulated sugar

    Finally, heap the glutinous rice on top of everything and sprinkle the sugar evenly over the rice.

    Cooking

    Make sure that there are several inches of water in the bottom of your steamer. Place the bowl of Eight Treasure Rice on a rack over the water, then turn the heat to moderate.

    When the water is boiling, cover the steamer and steam for 2 or 3 hours, or until the rice is completely cooked, checking the steamer repeatedly to make sure there is enough water in the bottom and adding more if necessary.

    ½ cup water, approximately If the rice seems to be drying out slightly while it is steaming, sprinkle several tablespoons of water over it; repeat this process whenever you feel it is necessary.

    Serving

    When the rice is thoroughly cooked, moist, and sticky, remove the bowl from the steamer. Let it cool enough to handle and then unmold it by inverting the bowl gently over a large, decorative platter. Since the inside of the bowl should be swimming in fresh pork fat, you shouldn’t have any trouble unmolding the rice. If it doesn’t slip right out, loosen the rice gently from the sides of the bowl with a knife.

    You can eat the Eight Treasure Rice while it is still hot or you can wait until it cools down to room temperature. Don’t serve it cold; the liquid fat that is such a special feature of this dish is not very appetizing when it congeals.