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Sugar: A Hidden Ingredient

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 32 and 33

This chemically pure substance is often used in Chinese cuisine, though in smaller amounts that westerners use it. Many do not know it is there, should be able to taste it, but most do not. I wonder if they knew this, would they love it as much?

Infants adore the taste of sweet, that is an innate taste, one people are born with. They enthusiastically suck it off a spoon within hours of birth, and soon thereafter learn to smile when so doing. This gets a positive reaction from the person feeding it to them. Not so with the other most common taste, that of salt. That pure white substance has them making unpleasant faces when first tasting it. They scrunch up their faces and often refuse to taste is again.

When an adult, they know that sugar is loved. They often like it best the three most popular hot beverages they might use it in, namely coffee, tea, and cocoa. This sweet masks bitter tastes such as those found in many medications. Using myself as an example, the only way I will drink coffee, the most bitter of these three popular hot beverages, is when it has lots of sugar in it. Cream helps, too. Very few people drink their coffee black because it is most bitter that way. Made with sugar or another sweetener does make it more palatable for most of them.

We believe the two foods most adored are sugar and meat. One is sweet, the other loaded with umami, which is a savory sensation. There is no relationship between these two except that they are both adored. We once read that those that accept and love Chinese food often speak to the fact that this cuisine has no sweetener in it. Wrong! They are not aware that many Chinese dishes have small amounts of sugar in them, Shanghai cuisine having the most.

The Chinese use many different sweeteners and thee can be plain white sugar, maltose, or another sweetener. Do they like sugar the most because it is pure and white? We doubt that. We believe it is because of its pleasant taste, one learned early in life.

Historically, sugar was scarce and expensive. Is that why it is adored and over-consumed or is it because it brings pleasure thanks to its taste? Some of us do watch our weight so maybe we like it more because it is something we should not eat or should not eat a lot of? Maybe many like Chinese food because it is cut up and one can be lazy and chew less when eating it. Do some like it because of that small amount of sugar in it?

In the last five hundred years, sugar has influenced history. To confirm this, read articles and books written by Sidney Mintz and/or Paul Rozin. Both have researched the use of sugar, Sid more than Paul has written about its influences and usage. He has written Sweetness and Power, a fantastic book that shares lots of background on this topic. Both authors books and articles are worth your time. We strongly suggest reading one or more of each of their printed materials.

Below are a few common Chinese recipes showing the small but important use of sugar. Be it white or brown, solid or liquid such as honey, molasses, maltose, or other sugars, do learn and enjoy from these two men; and learn about Chinese recipes that use sugar.
Chicken Casserole
4 to 6 chicken thighs, each chopped into six pieces
1 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated
2 slices of fresh ginger, grated
3 shallots, peeled and grated
1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Wipe chicken thighs dry with paper towels, then mix them with the thin soy sauce, salt, sugar, cornstarch, garlic, ginger. Mix the shallots with the minced chili pepper pieces and add them putting all of the above into a claypot or another type of casserole and stir well. Stir again and stir every ten minutes for half an hour.
2. Add the vegetable oil and the rice wine and continue to simmer on low heat stirring every five to ten minutes until the chicken browns and is cooked. That can take about half an hour or more.
3. Next, add the sesame oil, stir, and serve.
Pork Trotters with Chu Hou Sauce
1 pound pork trotters (feet), scalded, all hairs removed, and chopped into two- to three-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
8 slices fresh ginger, each one smashed
3 cloves fresh garlic, peel discarded, then slivered
2 shallots, peeled, then grated
1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns, smashed with the side of the cleaver
1 scallion, angle sliced, green and white parts separated
½ carrot, peeled and grated
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing rice wine
1 Tablespoon chu hou sauce (some is sold as chee hou, che hau, or chu hu sauce)
2 Tablespoons brown rock sugar, smashed
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Blanch pork trotter pieces in boiling water for two minutes, then drain and set them aside.
2. Heat wok or large pan, add the oil, then add the ginger, garlic, shallot, and white scallion pieces and stir for one minute then add the grated pepper, and stir for another minute before adding the smashed peppercorns.
3. Now add the pork trotter pieces, the grated carrot, rice wine, and the chu hou sauce and stir well. Then add the rock sugar and the salt and cover simmering this for one hour.
4. Next add the recommended salt amount or more to taste, and put everything into a preheated bowl, add the green scallion pieces, and serve.
Dry Scallops and Eggs
2 dry scallops (known as conpoy), steamed over boiling water for fifteen to twenty minutes, drained, then torn into thin strips
2 Tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons black vinegar
3 Tablespoons sugar, half white sugar and half brown sugar
1 one-hundred year preserved duck egg, peeled, diced, and set aside
2 salted duck egg yolks, steamed for ten minutes over boiling water, then peeled and smashed
3 large eggs, beaten well
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 scallion, green part only, slivered on an angle
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Mix dry scallop strips with the rice wine, black vinegar, and the sugars and set this aside for ten minutes.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and when hot, add the beaten fresh eggs, stirring continuously.
3. When about half set, add the duck egg pieces and the smashed duck yolks, the scallop strip mixture, and its liquid, then the green scallion pieces and any desired salt and pepper. Keep stirring, and when set as preferred, stir in the sesame oil and serve immediately.
Five-spice Chops
½ cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar or brown sugar crystals
1/3 cup Chinese rice wine
1/4 cup honey
3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
½ cup fresh pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
4 slices fresh ginger, each cut in several pieces
6 bone-in pork chops or lamb chops, or spare ribs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1. In a blender or food processor, pulse the soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, rice wine, honey, hoisin sauce, five-spice powder, pineapple, and ginger until all is made into a liquid.
2. Pour this into a wok or saucepan, and simmer for three minutes, then remove from the heat source, and cool to room temperature.
3.Add the meat, and soak overnight, or at least four or five hours, then drain and let rest for half an hour, and return the liquid to the pot and simmer until reduced by half.
4. Grill the meat, about three minutes per side, then serve with sauce on the side.

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