i had all the ingredients i needed to make a jar of sichuan paocai. i haven't made since september 2017. last time i boiled the water in a stock pot but this time i just measured it out in cups from the electric kettle. halving the portions from last time (18 cups for 2 5L fido jars), i measured out 9 cups of hot water and added 3 oz. of paocai salt (purchased in chongqing, it's essentially just fine salt) (using the fermenting ratio of 3 cups of water per 1 oz. of salt). also different this time around was boiling the special packet of paocai spices to bring out the flavors instead of just adding them as-is into the brine.
the spice packet just listed the ingredients but didn't specify the portions. so i took it upon myself to find out exactly how much of each ingredients so i could then recreate the spice packet in the future. the larger pieces were easy to sort out (orange peel, anise, cardamon, dried chili pepper, hawthorn berries), the small ingredients (pepper, coriander, peppercorn, fennel) took a lot longer and required some fine sorting.
some of the ingredients are surprising: hawthorn berries? is that just for some sweetness? fortunately my parents have a hawthorn tree in their backyard and i can collect some berries. and cardamon? not just any cardamon, red cardamon, AKA chinese black cardamon, AKA amomum tsaoko, AKA 草果. apparently it's widely used in sichuan cooking, though in what dishes i don't know. the packet contains some sichuan peppercorn (AKA prickly ash), but just a small amount. it also has a piece of dried chili pepper, but most authentic sichuan paocai would definitely add more hot peppers.
i ended up boiling the spices with an additional 1 tbsp of red sichuan peppercorns in 1 cup of water. i realized i made a mistake, because i should've just used 8 cups for the brine, then added a cup of boiled spice liquid to make it a total of 9 cups. afterwards i left the brine to cool to room temperature before stuffing the fido jar with vegetables later today.
i ate a bowl of yogurt with granola and fresh blueberries for lunch. i made myself a cup of aeropress coffee, making sure not to dilute it too much before adding some half & half and sugar. this cup tasted much better, strong coffee flavor than the past few brews.
around 1:30pm i rode the motorcycle to the cafe. today's temperature was in the 30's. my new winter starting technique is to open the choke, turn on the lights, wait a few moments, then finally starting the engine. so far i've managed to start successfully, but we haven't had another cold morning since saturday, when my battery died and the morning temperature was 20°F. because the battery had gone out a few times, the trip odometer was all messed up and i couldn't use it to gauge my fuel level, so i went to the speedway and filled the tank before arriving at the cafe.
i went to the cafe to check on the status of the wyze cams at my sister's place. for some reason i have intermittent success trying to connect to them over the internet but they work fine locally via wifi. it may just be a matter of too many people sharing the same router, but the router they have new is a real workhorse so i wouldn't suspect it to be the problem. i ended up just power cycling the cameras, hoping they'll be better now. i also installed the color-changing smart bulb on my sister's porch. this way it can turn on and off during dusk to dawn, since her window camera needs properly lighting to see at night. i rode back home sometime after 4pm.
missing this time around is ginger, which is more for eating than anything flavor related. the recipe that XL originally taught me back in changshou was just chinese cabbage, carrots, and ginger. plus lots of of hot peppers (sichuan people love the spicy). in my own personal ingredient i add daikon radish, which i personally don't really like for sichuan paocai (they get soft, i prefer the crunch of carrots; daikon is important for korean kimchi however) but my mother enjoys it.
due to the boiled spice ingredients, the brine had a brownish yellow color. i'm hoping once mixed with the release water from the vegetables, that the color will get diluted.
a more discerning paocai chef would wash all the ingredients and letting it dry before adding it to the fermenting jar, but i've found it to be an unnecessary step. cabbages are bundled up anyway, so contagions can't easily get inside, and i peel the carrot and daikon radish, so contagions on the skin are removed. making sichuan paocai is definitely a lot easier than korean kimchi.
i started with a layer of chopped "cubed" cabbage, then a layer of wedged carrots and cubed daikon radish sprinkled with a few hot peppers, before i repeated the layers two more times. i started adding the flavored brine cup by cup. when i got close to the end i realized i made a critical mistake: all the spices would be on top of all the layers instead of mixed throughout because i didn't added them while i was layering. actually, when XL taught me the technique, all the peppercorns were placed at the bottom of the jar initially before anything else was added. i wasn't going to take out the ingredients and relayer them so i just dumped all the spices into the jar once i had all the layers and brine in place. i then closed the lid and gently shook the jar back and forth, which 1) released trapped air bubbles and settled the vegetable content, and 2) made the spices sink to the bottom, at least the small pieces. so everything worked out in the end.
i also forgot to added the chinese baijiu, and ended up pouring in 1/8 cup. i used to do 1/4 cup, but that seems like too much waste of a perfectly good baijiu. later before i went to bed, i realized i forgot the rock sugar, so added about 8 rocks, which will eventually melt.
for dinner i made general tso's chicken, after the success i had with general tso's pork last week. i had 1.79 lbs. of boneless skinless chicken thighs that i cut up and left to marinate in the fridge in a bowl of chinese cooking wine (1 cup) and soy sauce (1/4 cup) at 6pm.
i started frying around 8pm. it took about 45 minutes to fry all that floured thigh nuggets, working in 3 batches, 15 minutes per batch. the fried nuggets themselves are pretty delicious as is, maybe with some dipping sauce. the smaller chicken bits are easier to fry compared to the large pork bits last time. when i was finally done, i only used 1/3 of the fried chicken, into a pot of sticky sweet and sour general tso's sauce.