Shanghai Vegetable Rice

菜飯

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    3–4

    hearty rice eaters .

Appears in

There is, for me, something extraordinary about Shanghai. Its people have a striking combination of beauty, intelligence, and strength. You can see it in the Isaac Stern film From Mao to Mozart and read about it in books by Emily Hahn. And the Shanghai dishes I have eaten feature a delicacy and a simplicity that is unique in my experience of Chinese food.

  • This recipe was inspired by my Shanghai mentor and friend, Lucy Lo. True to the above, Lucy has a remarkable beauty and intellect, and this dish has about it a certain simple delicacy. It is unusual in the context of Chinese rice dishes: a mixture of crisp green cabbage, sweet sausage, and raw rice, which one sautées and seasons in the pot before adding the cooking liquid. The final effect is perhaps more reminiscent of a pilaf or risotto than it is of our standard notion of a bowl of Chinese rice.
  • When you can find them, the miniature green cabbages that are 4–5 inches long are excellent in this dish. Otherwise, use the common Chinese cabbage that has an elongated head comprised of tightly wrapped, pale green-white leaves. The real requisite is short- or medium-grain rice. Without it, you lose the creaminess that is one of the most appealing features of this dish
  • Few recipes could be easier. Preparations take 10–15 minutes, then you simply wait 35 minutes for the rice to cook.

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Ingredients

  • 3 ounces Chinese sweet pork sausage (equal to 3 thin or 2 fatter sausage)
  • 1 cup short- or medium-grain raw white rice
  • ½ pound trimmed Chinese cabbage—either miniature green cabbages, or the crisp inner leaves and heart of the elongated variety with evenly broad, pale leaves (weight after trimming)
  • about 1 tablespoon corn or peanut oil
  • teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry (optional)
  • cups cold water

Method

Preparations

Slice the sausage on the diagonal into thin coins a scant ¼ inch thick. Put in a small heatproof saucer or bowl, then steam over high heat for 10 minutes, or until the fatty portion of the sausage is translucent and there is a pool of rendered fat in the bottom of the dish. Turn off the heat and leave the sausage in the steamer until you are ready to use it.

While the sausage is steaming, rinse the rice repeatedly. Leave the rice to drain in the sieve.

Cut the cabbage crosswise into bands ½ inch thick. If you are using miniature cabbages, separate the crisp ribs and leafy tops into two small bowls. If you are using the more common Chinese cabbage, use only the crisp inner ribs and core. Leave any baby cabbages you may find at the core uncut and slice any tender base pieces into wedges or thin coins.

Cooking the rice

Have all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a serving bowl or individual rice bowls in a low oven to warm.

Choose a heavy, 2–2½-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and set over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. While the pot is heating, drain the liquefied fat from the sausage into a ⅛-cup measure (equal to 2 tablespoons). Add enough corn or peanut oil to fill the measure.

Add the fat to the hot pot, swirl to glaze the bottom, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the fat is hot enough to sizzle a piece of crisp cabbage, add the cabbage. (If you are using the baby cabbage and have a bowl of stems and one of leaves, add the stems at this point, toss for 15 seconds, then add the leaves.) Toss the cabbage with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to glaze the pieces with the oil, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching. Sprinkle with salt, and continue to toss until the cabbage softens slightly and lessens in bulk, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle with wine, toss, then add the sausage to the pot and toss to combine. Add the drained rice, and toss well to mix the ingredients, and glaze the rice with the oil, about 1 minute.

Add the water to the pot, stir to combine, then raise the heat to bring the water to a full rolling boil, with large bubbles over the surface. Boil vigorously for a full 2 minutes, stir once or twice, then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low (if you are working on an electric stove, switch the pot to a low burner rather than wait the extra minutes for the coil to cool), and simmer the rice for 20 minutes. Do not open the lid. Check the simmer by putting your ear next to the pot (you can hear the mild bubbling within), and by watching the lid for wisps of steam.

After 20 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. Do not lift the lid even a peek, or you will dispel the steam that is at work cooking the rice. At the end of the 15 minutes, remove the lid and fluff the rice gently with a fork or chopsticks.

Serve the rice immediately. Or, cover the pot and the rice will stay warm for another 10–15 minutes before the sausage grows chewy.

Leftover rice is delicious at room temperature. It may also be rewarmed by steaming in a covered pot over high heat until hot. (Steaming turns the fat in the sausage coins translucent and tender, which reheating in the oven will not do.)

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