Zongzi: Eating China

by Karen on Saturday, June 19, 2010

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I’m typically not a fan of foods that take a whole day of attention and preparation. Foods like zongzi are an exception to that because although there’s a ton of prep work involved, it brings together people in the making of it— the whole process turns into an assembly line. 8 hands are better than 2 when you’re wrapping and stringing dozens of small packets of rice. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of thing you make on a whim, you’ll need to plan a day for this! Different regions throughout China have different variations on zongzi ingredients and methods of preparation. Since I’ll be my mother’s sous chef this time, we’re making the Shanghainese version, which she grew up eating: the bamboo leaves are filled just with raw rice and cooked pork, then steamed. However, I’ve added shiitake mushrooms, since I love the flavor they impart to the rice.

Preparing the pork:

– 2 pounds of pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes (you can also substitute with pork belly)
– 1 thumb sized knob of ginger sliced thinly on the bias
– 3/4 cup of soy sauce
– 1/4 cup of rice wine
– 1 tsp of five spice powder (this is available at any Chinese supermarket and consists of ground star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel seed)
– 1 whole star anise
– 1/2 cup of chicken stock
– 1 1/2 tbsp of brown sugar
– oil

Heat some oil over a medium flame in a heavy bottom pot large enough to fit all the meat. Add the sliced ginger and saute for a couple minutes. Then turn the heat up to medium high and, in batches, lightly brown the pork (if you throw all the meat in all at once it’ll just steam instead of brown).

Once you’re done browning, turn off the heat and deglaze the pan by adding the rice wine, soy sauce and the 1/2 cup of chicken stock, scrapping up bits of meat with a wooden spoon. Add the pork and its juices back into the pot and bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Add the star anise and the five spice powder and stir to incorporate. Cover the pot and let it simmer on very low heat for about an hour and a half, or until the meat is starting to fall apart. When the meat is finished, add the sugar until it is dissolved.

I check on the meat every so often turning and stirring it to make sure the dark sauce is coating every side of the meat. If there not enough braising liquid, you can add some chicken stock as you go. Remember to reserve the braising liquid that’s left over, as you’ll need it for the rice.

Preparing the bamboo leaves:

– 50 to 75 bamboo leaves

A lot of recipes instructed to boil water and pour it over the leaves in a large container, but I think its much easier to just plug up your sink and run very hot water over them and just let them soak. After about 4-5 hours of soaking, the leaves will turn a deeper hue and be more pliable.

After they’ve softened, trim the stems off the leaves.

Preparing the rice:

– 5 lbs of sweet rice
– Juice reserved from pork preparation
– 4 tbsps of soy sauce

In a large bowl, rinse the rice under running water, until the liquid is no longer milky. Soak the rice in water for about 3-4 hours. Drain and rinse with water again. Drain the water very well so the rice is as dry as you can get it. Pour the juice from the pork over the rice and gently stir the rice so it is coated in the juices. Add 4 tablespoons of soy sauce to the rice.

Preparing the mushrooms:

– 12 dried shiitake mushrooms

Soak the mushrooms in a bowl with boiling water for about 3 hours. Remove them from the water and gently squeeze the water out. Remove the woody stems and slice the caps into strips.

The Assembly:

Cut 30 pieces of string about 2 feet long each. Take two bamboo leaves with the pointy ends overlapping each other, and the shiny side up.  Make a fold in the middle of your bamboo leaves so it takes the shape of a cone.  Fill the bottom of the cone with a large spoonful of rice.  Place a couple pieces of meat and mushrooms on top of the rice.  Add another heaping spoonful of rice over the meat and mushroom.  To close off your zongzi, fold down the longer end of the bamboo leaves, pinch the corners in and fold the ends towards one side of the zongzi. Once you have your package folded, wrap a string tightly around the middle of it a few times and knot it.  And if none of that made sense, watch the video tutorial below!

After you’ve finished making your zongzi, place them gently in a large pot with enough water to cover them and simmer for 1 hour. You should end up with about 25 to 30. You can freeze them and to reheat them just place them back in a steamer for about 30 minutes or until they are soft.


LeeYong J. Wong August 7, 2010 at 7:39 am

Thank you! Thank you!!! I’m so grateful you youtubed this for everyone… I’ve always wanted to make this and now that I have some sweet rice in my kitchen – this is a must! I guess you can pretty much use anything as the filling since I’m a veggie…

Thanks again!
All my best…

Karen August 7, 2010 at 10:39 am

Glad the video helped! It’s a pretty tricky process, but after a few you get the hang of it. I’ve been wanting to make some sweet red bean ones too! Good luck with your veggie ones and let us know how it turns out!

Mei Teng August 10, 2010 at 12:01 am

I love eating zongxi (or bak chang as known locally here). Love the ones filled with egg yolk and chestnuts. Excellent photo of the zongxi.

Karen August 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Yum that sounds good! I love the sweet red bean ones too 🙂

Cindy August 10, 2010 at 12:03 am

I tried to wrap the zongzi before….
It was a total mess haha…..
But yours look extremely delicious!

Karen August 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Yes they’re tricky! Just gotta keep at it and eventually you’ll get the hang of it.

Isaac Kojima November 7, 2010 at 8:58 am

Not a triangle but a tetrahedron.

Shanti Christensen June 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I just made zòngzi on Friday. I wish I had found your blog post then. I really struggled with making zòngzi using the local reeds available here in Beijing. My ayi came to the rescue, but next time I make this relatively easy dish, I’m using your video for instruction. Well done!

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