Friday, August 24, 2007

Cai Fan - Vegetable Rice with Chinese Sausage

Cai Fan - Chinese Vegetable rice with Chinese Sausage

Ever since I was little, I have always been captivated by infomercials boasting of ridiculous products that can perform almost impossible feats that defy the laws of science. Plastic Pringle-tube esque pasta doodads that "cook" pasta in just 2 minutes. Knives sharp enough to cut through a brick and stay sharp enough to slice through a tomato or a pineapple in midair! Or what about those indoor rotisseries - just set it and forget it! As-Seen-On-TV products amazed me when I was a gullible youngster, but now that I'm older, practicality always wins out over curiosity and I stick with my tried and true kitchen gadgets and appliances. The only thing that comes to my mind that you can set and forget is a rice cooker. That's not to say I don't believe in any shiny bells or whistles. Oh no, when it comes to rice cookers, I've been eyeing the Bentley of all rice cookers, the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Logic. When you eat rice at least once a day, perfectly cooked rice is important, downright crucial! Bad rice can ruin a meal. I mean c'mon, who doesn't want a machine that serenades you with "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" when it's finished cooking each grain of rice to fluffy perfection with its Fuzzy Logic "electronic brain." Ah alas, the catch? The $180 price tag. Oh well, practicality wins out over extravagance (but here's something that's definitely going on the wedding registry some day).

In Chinese, the word cai has two meanings. It can mean vegetable or any type of dish or entree (veggie, meat, or both) that you normally eat with rice (fan). Cai fan translates into vegetable rice. Traditionally cai fan is made with just veggies and rice, but when my mom made this she would add baby bok choy along with Chinese sausage because I loved these sausages and the fat from the Chinese sausage melts and cooks into the rice (mmm...). So now this cai fan, has taken on a second meaning. Now it is almost like "your entree" with rice, or entree in your rice (this is just my interpretation of my mom's recipe, not the traditional cai fan that is strictly rice and veggies). She cooked it on the stovetop and there would be a layer of golden brown, toasty, very fragrant rice crust, the guo ba, on the bottom of the pot. That crust is the best part so we would dig deep into the bottom of the pot to scrape up the yummy crusty bottom. Unfortunately, I never learned how to make rice on the stovetop so I'm forever reliant on my rice cooker (and no yummy guo ba using the rice cooker). On that bright side, that means this recipe can't get any simpler, toss the ingredients into the rice cooker, set it and forget it!

The caveat of this method is that the bok choy becomes very soft and the leaves do not stay a bright green. If you prefer the bok choy to stay crunchy, you can lightly stir fry the bok choy and then mix it into the rice later. But this is an extra step, dirties another pan, and to me it defeats the "toss everything into the pot" method of cooking. The Chinese sausage and bok choy only lightly stud the rice so we can eat this accompanied by other Chinese dishes in place of plain white rice.

Cai Fan - Chinese Vegetable Rice with Chinese Sausage

- A rice cup is a plastic cup that comes with the rice cooker. It is 180 mls, which is the equivalent of about 3/4 standard US cup. I use a 1:1 rice to water ratio in my rice cooker.
- Instead of baby bok choy you can also used some Chinese mustard greens, xue li hong.

1 head of baby bok choy, 1 link of Chinese sausage, and 1/4 tsp of salt for every rice cup (or standard cup) of rice (I like medium grain)

Wash and roughly chop your bok choy and chop the Chinese sausage into small bite-size pieces.

Add your ingredients to the rice cooker. I normally add 3 rice cups of rice, wash, then filling with water to the line, then toss in the Chinese sausage, then put the bok choy on top, and let the rice cooker do all the work.

For the second version, more stand-alone rice, simply double the amount of Chinese sausage and bok choy (2 links of sausage, 2 heads of bok choy for every cup of rice) then salt to taste and you have a very quick one-pot meal and you won't need any more dishes.

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