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TOPICS INCLUDE: Balsamic and black vinegar; Wine in cooking; Smithfield ham; The Chinese Cuisine symposium

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Spring Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(1) page(s): 4 and 14


From JO T. of NEW PALTZ NY:
I heard that the Chinese have a balsamic vinegar, can you tell me about it?
DEAR JO: The Chinese have a black vinegar, and though you can substitute it for balsamic vinegar, which is made in Modena, Italy and is the home of the best of all balsamic vinegars, if you can obtain it, I would not always do so. The best Chinese vinegar is Chenkiang black vinegar. It is made from a fermentation of glutinous rice often mixed with millet, wheat, and/or sorghum. It is dark, as the name implies, and is milder and different in taste from any of the balsamic vinegar varieties. In China, black vinegar is popular in northern areas and is used in sauces, red-cooked dishes, and in noodle dishes because its flavor is less acidic than most other vinegars and it is a mite sweeter, more flavorful, and somewhat smokey. As do all vinegars, black vinegar stays at room temperature for many months. Mine doe not last forever because we use it often not only in Chinese dishes, but also several drops find their way into soups, salads, stews, and other savory cooking.

From BOB of NEW YORK CITY NY:
Do you use the best wine in Chinese cooking?
BOB: The Chinese have used many different kinds of rice wine for thousands of years for both drinking and culinary purposes. If you have no access to a Chinese grocer, try a dry sherry, a Japanese sake, a mild-tasting vodka, or better yet, try a mail order catalogue. The Shaoxing rice wine in the square-sided bottle is the one I use. It is from the city of the same name and is both fabulous and famous. As many good wines, the older the better when drinking, as one would with sake, and do try it warm. Young wine is fine for cooking. Most people do not taste differences after the alcohol is mixed with other ingredients in a dish, and you should mix yours in as I do, just before serving for the most intense of flavors. As to storage, as the black vinegar discussed above, it keeps on the shelf for months.

You might want to buy something called ‘rice balls’ and then make your own fermented rice and wine. These marble-shaped almost moth-ball-looking items make a wonderful fermented product after preparing them that keeps in your refrigerator for months. They enhance most stir-fried and long-cooked foods as does Shaoxing wine. In our next issue, Wonona Chang, our test kitchen director, will discuss how to use them and provide some recipes.

From BETTY in BOCA RATON FL:
Can I use Smithfield ham as a substitute for Jinghua or Yunnan ham?
BETTY: Why not? If you like the taste any ingredient makes an acceptable substitute and many Chinese cookbooks recommend that you use Smithfield ham. Just be aware that they do not mean the kind of ham that requires cooking, but rather one that is fully cured and can be eaten directly and at room temperature. Of course, Jinghua and Yunnan hams have different tastes. They are more smokey flavored than hams made in this country. Which ham you use is your choice, just use it in small quantities for seasoning, do not allow it to overwhelm a dish.

From MARY in BROOKLYN NY:
Missed your wonderful symposium, can you tell me about it and how to get copies of the talks presented there?
DEAR MARY: How nice of you to ask and offer compliment. Read Susan Asanovic’s article in this issue if you missed all the press releases, radio, and TV coverage. The 'Chinese Cuisine and the American Palate' symposium was a great success, so much so that we received many requests such as yours. Charles Press in Pennsylvania is ready to publish the papers, they are awaiting final copy. We will keep you posted as to cost and availability.

                                                                                                                                                       
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