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Rice Wine article by Wonona Chang written in 1995

by Wonona Wong Chang

Beverages

Summer Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(2) page(s): 8 and 14


Rice wine, called Geo Niang, is a very popular drink in China. Most of the people from southern China and the warmer provinces know how to prepare it for their own enjoyment and for major festivals.

Rice wine was first discovered when a selected strain of yeast reacted with the water-soluble starch of glutinous rice to form sugar. On further fermentation, this yielded a very fragrant sweet alcoholic brew. Thereafter, it became known as sweet rice wine.

My father who lived in Medan, Sumatra in Indonesia loved to make rice wine for special occasions; he always shared it with his friends and relatives. He would use large-mouthed crockery jars as the fermentation vessels. After a few days of fermentation, our house would be filled with a very fragrant and delicious aroma. Before World War II, polished glutinous rice was not readily available in Medan, so he would use the unpolished red glutinous rice instead. The resulting brew would have a lovely red color. When the brew settled, the clear effluent was the rice wine and the residue was used in desserts and other cooking (this is called wine lees). To stop the fermentation at the rice wine stage, the jars would need refrigeration in their closed containers, without that, the liquid would eventually turn to rice wine vinegar.

On a cold winter afternoon in the outskirts of Chunking during the second world war, as I got off the bus in front of a little store I was greeted by a whiff of the unforgettable rice wine and I felt homesick. I walked into the store and saw an old man attending to his pot of rice wine and noticed some fresh eggs nearby. He asked me if I'd like to try his rice wine with an egg. How could I resist! As I agreed, he dished out a bowl of bubbling thin hot rice wine mash and broke an egg into it stirring all the time. He then handed the bowl to me. It was a delicious snack - something I had not tasted for a long time. Like a tonic, it warmed me from my head to my toes.

Fujian is most famous for its rice wine mash or lees. It is readily available there in grocery stores and local merchants are making it in the United States. Look for it in the refrigerator section of a Chinese market if you don't plan to make your own.

A recipe to make sweet rice wine follows, as do two to use it. I hope you will enjoy them as much as my family and I do.

Sweet Rice Wine
Ingredients:
4 cups glutinous rice
1/4 piece Chinese yeast ball
1 teaspoon all purpose flour
Preparation:
1. Soak the rice in hot water for one hour.
2. Drain water and steam the rice over boiling water for twenty-five minutes then rinse with warm water until the rice is cooled to about 95 degrees F.
3. Crush the yeast into a powder; mix it with the flour.
4. Put the rice in a warmed three-quart saucepan. Add yeast mixture and mix by hand. Use your fingers to push the rice against the side of the pan evenly then make a well in the middle. Cover with plastic wrap and then the cover of the pan. Leave this in a warm place or wrap the pan with one or more heavy towels and keep it in a warm place. After four or five days, uncover the mixture, transfer to a jar with a lid, and refrigerate. This can keep about two years.
Note: The clear liquid is the sweet rice wine, the remaining mash, called wine lees can be used as a condiment.

Rice Wine Cornish Hen
Ingredients:
1 Cornish hen (about a pound and a half)
1 Tablespoon Shao Hsing wine or a dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup rice wine mash
2 scallions, chopped fine
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/3 cup chicken broth or water
Preparation:
1. Cut cornish hen into bite-sized pieces then marinate them with the wine, salt, a half teaspoon of sugar and the cornstarch for fifteen minutes.
2. Mix soy sauce, remaining sugar and the broth.
3. Heat a non-stick wok or a fry pan and add one tablespoon of oil. When hot add the Cornish hen and saute for five minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a dish lined with paper towels.
4. In the same pan, brown the garlic, ginger, and two teaspoons of scallions; saute them for only a few seconds.
5. Add the rice wine and mix then add the Cornish hen and stir well. Cover and cook for three minutes.
6. Add the soy sauce mixture, mix well, then cover and cook for two more minutes.
7. Serve garnished with the rest of the scallions.

Rice Wine with Egg
Ingredients:
2 cups rice wine mash
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
Preparation:
1. Beat egg and egg whites lightly
2. Add rice wine mash to three to four cups of boiling water, bring it back to the boil and turn off the heat and immediately stir in the eggs and mix well. Serve hot to four or five persons.
Note: Sugar can be added, to taste. A can of mandarin oranges or fruit cocktail can be substituted for the eggs.

                                                                                                                                                       
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