i slept about 5 hours, waking up at 10am, not well rested, but enough to get through the day. my project for today was to make some sichuan paocai. i researched my notes but found surprisingly few details about how i made it the last few times. sichuan paocai is easier to make than korean kimchi, as it doesn't stink as much and not as messy. besides the vegetables (cabbage, radish, carrots, ginger, chili peppers), the only other main ingredients are water, salt, sugar, chinese baijiu, and sichuan peppercorns.
it's been a while, and i forgot how much water i needed. i did boil two 1.5 L container of water with the electric kettle last night and left it to cool overnight. the water needs to be boiled to make sure its sterile and nothing bad will grow in the fermenation jar. but 3 L of water would still not be enough since the fido jars i was using each can hold 5 L of liquid. the smarter thing to do would be to fill one fido jar and boil that amount of water. then there was the question if i should boil more, as i needed to fill two 5 L jars. but with the displacement created when i add the vegetable ingredients, 5 L (or 18 cups) would be enough.
good thing i needed more water because i had to reboil the water from last night anyway because i forgot one crucial step: it's not just water i'm preparing, but salted water - brine - for the sichuan paocai. i could've added the salt to the cold water, but since i needed to boil the added water anyway, and since salt dissolves better in hot water, might as well do everything at once. how much salt should i add? fortunately from my notes there was a mention of the ratio of salt to water: 1 oz. of salt for every 3 cups of boiled water. so in this case 18 cups of water would require 6 oz. of salt (3/4 cup).
what type of salt? it really doesn't matter as i was dissolving it in boiling water anyway. i typically stay away from iodized salt when i'm fermenting, but i don't think it makes any difference, though some people swear it affects the fermentation or at the very least changes the color of the final product (for the worse). as the price difference is fairly negligible, i stick with non-iodized salt. just so happens i also have special sichuan paocai salt i got when i was in changshou last year. i came across it when i was browsing the supermarket, collecting specialty ingredients to bring back home. i remember the sales ladies there almost laughing at me for spending money on special salts for paocai, since they just use regular salt for their own vegetable fermentation. that was my thinking as well, but maybe they add special additives in the salt specifically for making paocai. in any case, it was worth trying, so i bought 3 240g (8.5 oz) packets (much to the chagrine of my luggage, because salt can be quite heavy).
reading the content listing on the sichuan paocai salt package, there are just two ingredients: 精制盐 (refined salt) and 亚铁氰化钾 (potassium ferrocyanide). potassium ferrocyanide? i saw the word cyanide, which can't be a good thing. they even included the chemical formula [Fe(CN)6]4- and said there was less than 10mg per kg of salt. maybe this was the secret ingredient that makes sichuan paocai salt so special. so i looked up this chemical online, thinking it was some kind of magical taste enhancing compound, and discovered that potassium ferrocyanide is simply a harmless anticaking agent. so in fact there is nothing special about sichuan paocai salt. but the fact that i bought it back thousands of miles from changshou does make it special. and the salt crystals are bigger for some reason, at least compared to regular morton salt.
i reboiled 18 cups of water with the special sichuan paocai salt added. 1 240g package turns out to be almost exactly 6 oz. of salt, which is the amount i needed. the chinese instruction says to add 1-2 packets (6-12 oz.) for every 12-19 cups of water, which is about the salt ratio i had of 1 oz. of salt per 3 cups of water. the water didn't actually need to be boiling; once it was smoking, i turned off the stove to let it cool in the stockpot.
i went to the cafe in the afternoon to pick up some carrots for the paocai. i told my father that i ordered an SDR and it'd arrive by tomorrow (wednesday). i then went to belmont to water the garden and the lawn, doing a bit of weeding as well. i was there for 45 minutes doing yard work before leaving. back at home, i parked the motorcycle and walked down to the community garden. is it wrong to say that i'm done with gardening for the season? i just want to clean out my plot. there are still some small eggplants which i doubt will mature given our cool nights, and a bunch of green habaneros, a few of which are only now showing some orange colors. the only reason why i go down there these days is to tag a few pokestops. i picked up bruce's monarch chrysalis on the way back (he's off on vacation in france tomorrow, won't be back until october; earlier i showed him how to sex his chrysalis by looking for a telltale notch on the pupa). i watered the front yard of my house when i noticed a few seedlings that could be either foxgloves or larkspurs (or both).
the brine was still pretty hot so i decided to put the stockpot in an ice bath to speed up the cooling process. i'd never done that before and it seems to work pretty well, turning the brine cold in 2 hours. about 5:30pm i finally began to make the sichuan paocai.
as far as steps, you could argue that both korean kimchi and sichuan paocai present their own challenges, but i find sichuan paocai easier to make. with korean kimchi, there's a salt reduction step for the cabbage, followed by food processing some additional ingredients, then the mixing (wear gloves, can be messy, and the hot chili pepper flakes can irritate your skin), and allowing the jarred kimchi to ferment out in the open for a few days. with sichuan paocai, one challenge is finding a suitable container (a fermentation crock is ideal, i've discovered fido jars are make great fermenters). that's followed by creating the brine, then packing all the vegetables into the container. fermentation takes place inside the container, and though it will leak slightly, there is almost no smell (that is until you open the container for inspection and even then the smell is not as strong as korean kimchi).
i managed to use up the container of old thai red chili peppers that i had frozen in the freezer. i bought them back in december 2016 for some korean kimchi and i sort of forgot about them, only rediscovering them recently. frozen chili peppers actually keep very well and they don't need to be thawed as they're easier to cut when frozen. i split them in half, leaving about 2 dozen chili peppers per jar (might be overkill, could be too spicy, i guess i'll find out eventually; back when i made sichuan paocai in changshou, i remember using a lot of peppers as well).
i prepared the vegetable ingredients: peeled then diced the daikon radish, the carrots, and the ginger; quartered the chinese cabbage, then cut them into smaller cubes so i can stuff them into the fido jar. i added the ingredients in layers, a layer of cabbage, a layer of radish/carrot/ginger, then repeat again, sprinkling hot chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns between layers.
something else new i was trying this time was a package of sichuan paocai spices i got in changshou at the same place i bought the salts. this is totally extra, as traditional paocai doesn't need these additional spices, but i was curious to try these extra flavors: star anise, fennel seeds, dried chili, orange peel, black cardamom (Amomum tsao-ko 草果), chinese parsley seeds, sichuan peppercorns (prickly ash), regular peppercorns, and dried hawthorn berry. the combination smells nice, the parsley seeds especially strong. a scan code in the back of the package even takes you to an online sichuan paocai recipe (in chinese). i didn't read the instructions, which said to boil the spices first and let it steep overnight before adding to the paocai. hopefully the spices will still penetrate the brine without boiling. i bought 3 packets but only use one packet for one of the jars, the 2nd jar just original paocai flavor.
i wasn't shy about packing the vegetables into the jar as tightly as possible. i did have a lot of cabbage and was afraid i'd have extra, but surprised i managed to get everything into the 2 jars. i began adding the liquids, carefully measuring by cups so i knew how much i was using and how much left over for the 2nd jar. i managed to fill the jar with exactly 9 cups (half of the brine) plus half a cup of chinese baijiu. at one point in pressed my fist into the vegetables to push it down, which turned out to be a mistake, as my skin hurt afterwards from the combination of salty brine, 50% chinese baijiu alcohol content, and 2 dozen hot chili peppers.
after i filled the two fido jars, i still had a little bit of brine left over, which i saved, in case i needed to add more liquid to the paocai. i was finally finished by around 6:50pm, more than an hour later after i started. the sichuan paocai should be ready to eat in about a week.
i wasn't very hungry for some reason (must've been that whole bag of chinese licorice watermelon seeds i ate), so didn't have dinner until late, around 9pm, when i heated up some ready-made refrigerated chicken prosciutto raviolis with my homemade tomato sauce. i ate while watching a download of baby driver on my HDTV.
someone from cuseum contacted me this evening expressing an interest in talking. they do museum interactives on portable devices, which seems right up my alley, although i don't know too much about iOS. nevertheless, i'll get in touch with them tomorrow to find out more.
amazon sent me e-mail, said my SDR won't arrive until thursday. this has been going on a few times, not receiving my items within the 2-day delivery limit despite being an amazon prime member. amazon does a sneaky thing where it gaslights me by erasing all records of a wednesday delivery so now when i check everything says thursday, despite it being obvious more than 2 days. i heard if you complain amazon gives you an extra free month of amazon prime.
li texted me around 2:20am to let me know he was already at his hotel in hilo, 8:20pm hawaiian time. he said the place was pretty good, a very big room. tomorrow morning he will have some time to visit the beach which is right next to the hotel, before making his way up mauna kea.