Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bamboo Rice Tea & Senbei

I did this one wrong... I know.  But crazy tasty tea and crunchies - sometimes you gotta go where the ingredient leads.

A breath of that bitter-sweet grassy smell of spring...
combined with crunchy-salty-sweet!

Marx Foods sent me some beautiful rice!

I'm supposed to use 2 ingredients in a recipe.  But I couldn't get over the delicate tint, smell and flavor of the infused bamboo rice.
That delicate green of expensive jade and fragile porcelain.

So I went another direction, and went with the two ways to draw the best of the sweet starchiness of this short grain rice, and the gentle bitter of the bamboo infusion.

And I love tea & snacks - especially the Japanese version with the crunchy savory/sweet senbei crackers.  And this... well.

I thought about going with a rice pudding - but I'm not enough of a baking alchemist to figure out how to make that happen without the cream or the eggy flavor taking over the delicate bamboo flavor.  I tried using rice milk - but it's lack of protein to contribute to a matrix made it useless in that context.  And by that time I just couldn't excite myself to separate eggs and go for an egg-white only... Oh never mind.

Because I had remembered the magical fried rice cake.  That roasty, toasty, salty, sweet crunchy indulgence.
Rice cake you say?  How can one of those circles of squeaky, packing peanut substitute possibly be an indulgence?  When it is Fried! That's when.

And nothing goes with fried-salty-sweet like tea, especially my new favorite tea - Gen-Mai-Cha*.  This is the tea blend with green tea and toasted brown rice.  The bitterness of the tea, balanced by the sweet toasted starch of the rice grains is somehow magical.

So I thought I'd send a few tablespoons of this rice on a trip through the oven - and this is what I got:

A lightly browned collection of toasty goodness - and the scent of bamboo was in the air.

I brewed up a bit of the rice all on it's own just to test - and yes, the toasty flavor of the rice was there, but so was a hint of spring - sort of that chewing on a grass-stalk bitterness.

The only problem - if I mixed that with green tea, the distinct astringency of the green tea would mask the delicate bamboo.
So off to the tea shop for some delicate White Tea.

Whoops.  Those are hard to find in coffee crazed Seattle.
Well, not so hard to find, really.  I know of 2.
New Century Tea Gallery - down in the International District and
Savrika Tea  - a new spot in Kirkland.

I didn't feel like parking in the CID or fighting traffic on I-5, and I didn't feel up to explaining my crazy idea to the staff at an amazing, but fundamentally traditional Chinese Tea shop.  I wanted free parking, and hopefully someone who would be sympathetic to this hare-brained scheme.  So to Savrika I went.  And was able to find exactly what I wanted.  A nice gentle and quite lovely white tea.

Then it's just the rice cakes...

Bamboo Rice Tea and Senbei**

small pan - lined with foil
sauce pan with a lid
stirring spoon
baking sheet
Silpat or parchment paper
measuring stuff
oven proof ramekin or other ceramic cup
(optional: ring mold - I used the ring off a small canning jar)
heavy pan/cast iron skillet
heat proof flipping spatula
extra fork or chopsticks
(optional: thermometer - hi-temp, candy or digital)
tea pot w/ a removable diffuser/basket


Rice Cakes -
1C bamboo infused rice
1+1/4C water
neutral oil with a high smoke point - enough to cover the bottom of your heavy pan with a scant 1/8 inch layer.
Lyle's Golden Syrup - or other thick caramel-y cane sugar syrup.

Roasted Bamboo Rice White Tea -
4 Tbs bamboo infused rice
loose leaf white tea - (I picked out Bai-Ho Silver Needle for this adventure)

In the saucepan, add 1C bamboo rice and 1+1/4 C water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat a little, and stir occasionally while cooking covered.  When the water is absorbed and the rice looks sticky and pretty dry - and has a biteable, but clearly undercooked texture it is "done."

(Think - that texture I always imagine that gets contestants kicked off reality TV cooking shows, when they try to convince the judges that they meant for their rice to be "al dente.") About 10 minutes, give or take.
Oh - and DO NOT rinse this rice.  It's as rinsed as it needs to be.

When you finish under-cooking your rice, put it aside to cool while you line a small pan with foil, and pop in the 4 Tbs of bamboo rice.
Put about 1/4 C of the Lyle's Golden Syrup in a small ramekin or coffee cup - set aside.

Set you oven to heat to 350˚F, and make cute little rings of rice on your Silpat/parchment paper.  Put a little over a Tbs of rice int a small ring canning jar lid ring, and pat it down flat with your fingers.  Be sure to do this with damp hands or you'll get rice grains stuck to everything.

When the oven is hot, pop both the dry rice in the small pan, and the little rice circles on the baking sheet into your oven for 15 minutes. Or until the rice circles are firm enough to hold together - but do not look brown at all.†
The dry rice in the small pan should have a nice light toast on it - and smell amazing.
Pull both pans out and turn off the oven.
Put the Lyle's Golden syrup into the oven to warm up.
Set up paper towels for the rice cakes to drain on.

Let the rice circles cool down while you put some fresh water on to boil (OK Tea people, calm down, I'm not going to bring boiling water in contact with white tea.  It's OK).

Into a teapot, add 1Tbs roasted bamboo rice for each 6-8 oz. of water you are going to brew tea with.

Heat the oil in the heavy pan until a left over "undried" rice grain fries up to fluffy in a count of 10.  (Or about 425˚F for those of you with thermometers).  Place a few rice circles into the hot oil.  They should sizzle merrily.
The rice will fry and expand - sort of fluff up.  Flip over after about 45 - 60 seconds.  Use the extra fork/chopsticks to help the flipping go smoothly and prevent splashing oil.
When all the rice grains have lightened and the very edges take on a little bit of a light toasty color, your cake is done.  Remove it to the paper towels to drain.  It should be so delicately crispy it'll be a bit fragile.

When the water comes to a boil - pour it over the roasted rice in your tea pot - and set a timer for...
3 min if brewing 1C of water
5 min if brewing 2C
8 min if brewing 3C
12 min if brewing 4C.

At the end of that time - your water will be down around the 180˚F range - perfect for white tea.
For each cup of water you are brewing, add 1tsp of loose leaf white tea to your basket/diffuser and steep for 2 minutes.

Then assemble crispy rice cakes, give them a light sprinkle of salt, and then a drizzle of the warmed Lyle's Golden syrup.  (If you need to serve tea later, pop the fried rice cakes into a air tight container for a day or two.  Only drizzle on the syrup when it is time to serve them.)

hey Wait!  I need 1 more picture!

*Yes, tea people are can be crazy, obsessive, detail oriented snobs.  I know, I have been them.  But wade through the off putting smak-talk and they're no worse than wine people, coffee people and other (overly) knowledgeable experts who can show you amazing things.  Ask them about tannins and food pairings, flush, pickings, rains and other things that sound like wine terms.  Just don't say "tea bag" or tell them the water "needs to be boiling" and it'll be fine.

**No - these are not traditional senbei, but they hit that same magic of cruchy, salty, sweet, complex - and go great with your tea.  They're actually somewhere between senbei and Thai crispy fried rice cakes (nang led, khao tan).

† Don't get distracted and leave them in for 30min.  This is bad.  The only test case/failed attempt my son wouldn't eat ("Wow, bitter Mom.")

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