Recipe: chinese fermented sweet rice (jiu niang)
We are two weeks away from the Lunar New Year, which I’ve always known as Chinese New Year. If you are wondering what to make for a party or for your own celebratory dinner, I refer you to my Chinese New Year recipe round up from last year to help give you a few ideas.
I consider myself a very lucky girl. I’ve always been pretty happy (except in graduate school – sheesh) and a little silly and very much loved by my family. It’s that love which anchored me from an early age. Wherever I went and whatever I did as a kid, I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. I know now that much of that warm fuzzy was because of Grandma, who was always there for me. We had our routine: a daily walk around the neighborhood, making her bed together every morning (good habits!), putting my hair into cute little pigtails, emptying the sand from my saddle shoes when I got home from school, folding laundry together while watching cartoons. This kind and gentle matriarch would create special Chinese treats from scratch in our 1970s southern Virginia kitchen while I sat on the counter next to her, pretending to be the neighbor’s dog. These memories are so vivid in my mind. I told my friend over the weekend that Grandma has been gone for almost four years and yet I still feel her presence in my heart. She is just that much a part of me.
Last November, when my parents were in Boulder, Mom told me she was going to make jiu niang or Chinese fermented sweet rice. This was one of Grandma’s specialties that I used to sneak spoonfuls of from the refrigerator – that sweet rice porridge floating in rice wine with the slight fizzy tang of fermentation. She would turn it into a hot sweet soup for celebrations or to help kick a cold, flu, or tummy ache. I loved it so much. You can buy it pre-made in Asian grocery stores, but it’s expensive for a pretty small quantity. “Come down and learn how to make it,” Mom commanded. She had been trying for a few years to reproduce Grandma’s recipe, but with mixed results. Now, Mom had finally mastered it with consistency and it meant a lot to her because she too loved, cherished, and missed her mother. It wasn’t something I could put off. Mom and Dad were flying back to Virginia in a few days and as I get older I know not to take time for granted. “Okay, Mom. How about Saturday?”
start with good quality sweet rice
and chinese rice wine yeast
It’s just two ingredients, but you need to get the right two ingredients. You can’t use sushi rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, wild rice, long grain rice, medium grain rice, black rice, whatever rice that isn’t sweet rice – you must use sweet rice. Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice, which contains no gluten, it’s just really sticky. I’ve shopped around for sweet rice and have seen some bagged varieties with grains that look longish, almost like medium grains. My advice is to get the good stuff. Premium sweet rice resembles short, fat, pearly, oblong grains. As for the Chinese rice wine yeast – it’s jiu qu (see Wikipedia) – a fermentation starter. This one can be tough to find even if you know what you are looking for. It always seems to be tucked away in some random little bin or corner of Asian grocery stores. Luckily for me, Mom had already found them at Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, so she told me where to look (by the refrigerated canned drinks at the front near the cashiers). If you can’t find it or if the employees in the store act like your Chinese is just THAT BAD, you can order it from Amazon – but you have to order a dozen and they’re four times as much as what I paid (I paid $.79 for two balls).
2.5 pounds of sweet rice (uncooked) and a ball of chinese rice wine yeast
crush the yeast ball with a mortar and pestle
turn it into a powder
**Jump for more butter**