The best rice wine ever (very very very sweet, no tartness at all, and full of rice wine flavor), from my mom's neighbor's granddaughter-in-law's mom. I bought 2 dozen bottles, RM6.50/US$2 each. Next brew I'm told, will be RM7 each. Worth every cent.
Ever made rice wine? I have, a few years back, and it was a total disaster. Based on a friend's written instructions, I brewed my own wine and waited eagerly for 30 days for my rice to turn into wine. When it was time to 'harvest' the wine, Hub and I, like a pair of expectant parents, had no idea what to do. We spent a whole Saturday afternoon pressing down on the fermented rice with our soup ladles, scooping the wine out and funneling it into bottles. After 3 hours, we had 4 precious bottles of pretty good (meaning sweet) but cloudy wine, although we could've gotten 5 bottles if we didn't spill. It was truly laborious. Three, four days later all the wine went sour and had to be thrown away, and that ended my moonshining days. Those who still aren't deterred can follow Rei or Nee's excellent wine-making instructions, both of whom are experts at making red rice wine, a Fuzhou/Foochow specialty.
Chinese yellow rice wine (the more common type) is usually home-brewed for mothers who have just had their babies. The lucky mothers have MILs or their own mothers to brew the wine for them while others have to buy them from the market or friends of friends who make the wine. The sweeter the wine, the better. The wine is cooked with chicken, or eggs or even pig liver, with lots of ginger to keep the mom warm. Not all Chinese new mothers drink rice wine during confinement. I think it is more a Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese practice because if you ask the China Chinese, they will be as blank about it as Mrs.Jones. Or maybe it is still practised in southern Chinese villages, I'm not sure. Whatever, rice wine is drunk to strengthen the new mother (and keep the baby stoned through breast-feeding?!) for a whole month, a period called 'confinement' which literally means the woman is confined to her house and in some cases, to her room for a whole month! During that month, the new mom is not to wash her hair for fear of weakening/cooling her body, can you believe it?! I once went to see a friend a couple of weeks into her confinement, and I will never ever forget the stench when I stepped into her room. Every window was closed, there was no air-con and the fan was banned. I nearly collapsed withholding my breath and grinning at the same time. Advice: visit new mothers early before they become 'odorous'!
I never went fully with those confinement practices and my first and only confinement lady (those busy-bodies who charge you an arm to supervise your maid and you) and I clashed over traditional practices and my 'modern' ways. She made my confinement utterly miserable (yes, I did have the blues. Out of the clinic and back at home, on the 4th day, I wept as I breast-fed Yi, shocked with the sudden realisation that I was a mother) because she wouldn't let me eat veg and fruits and feed me and Hub rice wine chicken two times a day until both of us were...you know, the condition where prunes prove useful? My advice is: get rid of those domineering confinement ladies, have your MIL come over (if you are on talking terms) or better still, emotionally black-mail your own mother to come over, eat properly and do wash your hair as usual but dry it quickly, and most of all, keep warm, especially your feet. Never lift heavy objects too. Where was I?
Okay, so one month after the baby's arrival, a big celebration called 'Full Month' (mistakenly called 'Full Moon' most of the time) will be held and guess what's the piece de resistance? Yes, rice wine chicken, one of my fav dishes. The strangest thing about this dish is that it tastes better if it was cooked for a woman who really had just given birth. I think it's because those ladies are so pampered they get the best kampung/village chickens. And if there's one dish restaurants don't cook as well as home, it is rice wine chicken. Doesn't it disappoint you whenever you get invited to Full Month dinners and the catered rice wine chicken tastes like chicken oil soup? Anyway, that's what I think so I'm always happy when new mothers invite me over to eat their rice wine chicken. Now that most of my friends are...ehem, not exactly in a productive age, I don't get to eat 'real' rice wine chicken. So what do I do about that? Cook my own rice wine chicken of course, with wine from my mom's neighbor's granddaughter-in-law's mother who makes the sweetest rice wine I have ever tasted. (Su-en, I'm told you read this blog, so please tell W that I have several bottles waiting for her. Am making some special zhongzi too for her. And Don is to tell K too, thank you.)
The Chinese believe that certain food will give strength and heat and rice wine chicken is one of those dishes. There' s the wine that runs your blood, the chicken that nourishes and the ginger that keeps you warm. My mom used to cook rice wine eggs for me and my sis and sometimes rice wine pig liver and kidneys. It made me feel so special because it was specially for me, once a month.
I will be giving 3 recipes using rice wine. These are for all those preggies, especially AF who just started reading my blog and for my younger brother Clive's wife Lena who unexpectantly is expecting in December after more than 8 years of marriage. I am going to have another nephew/niece! I have a strong feeling it's a nephew although personally, well, never mind, boys are okay too.
First, we start with rice wine egg. I have never cooked this before until today and gosh, this is so delicious that I forgot to take a photo before I poured the whole thing into my stomach!
1. Heat up a wok or small pot, add 2 t sesame oil and two or more knobs of ginger, smashed lightly. Fry until the ginger is slightly browned. Crack in an egg (or two).
2. Turn the egg over when the edge is set.
3. Using the sharp corner of your frying ladle, break and roughly scramble the egg, but not too much. Let it fry a couple more seconds, but not too long because the yolk should be half cooked only.
4. Pour in 1 cup of good yellow rice wine, let it boil for 20 counts (add a pinch of salt if like) and dish out. Not very impressive looking but believe me, this is heavenly. The incredible sweetness and the flavor just combine into an intoxicatingly delicious soup.
Next...Chinese rice wine Part II