Seriously Asian: Toasted Rice Powder
Fatty pork, beef, or lamb steamed with rice meal is one of my favorite homey, home-style Chinese dishes of all time. It ranks up there with Mapo Tofu and red-braised pork because the flavors are strong yet soothing. Rice meal is rice is that has been toasted and ground-up. The dish Fen Zheng Rou, or steamed meat with rice powder, consists of some fatty meat marinated in a combination of Sichuanese spicy bean paste, soy sauce, and rice wine, which is then coated in a thick layer of the toasted rice powder.
As the meat and ground-up rice cook together in the steamer, the rice soaks up the fatty and spicy juices of the meat. The dish is topped with ground chilies, ground Sichuan peppercorns, green onions and cilantro. Drizzle chili oil at your own discretion.
It may not be much to look at. Most renditions of the dish appear as a pile of mushy brown meat, but the flavors are rich and comforting. The rice looks mushy, but when you break into the mixture, you'll see that the kernels of broken up, toasted rice are fluffy.
In a pinch, I've used cous cous and quinoa instead of the toasted ground up rice. Chinese markets will sell packets of the rice mixed with five spice powder (a combination of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, Sichuan peppercorns and fennel). You can just as easily make the rice powder by toasting white rice in a dry wok or cast iron skillet, then giving it a whirr in the food processor. The five spice powder is a nice touch if you have a jar on hand. Or, you can also toast all or a few of the spices to grind along with the rice.
Best of all, this dish in adaptable in a number of ways. I prefer using fatty pork or lamb ribs in the dish, but it is commonly made with beef as well. Most cooks like to throw in a few pieces of sweet potato, potato, or even fresh peas so the starchy vegetables contrast with the rich, fatty meat. Taro, plantains, and squash would be just as delicious. Vegetarians can ignore the meat and use extra peanut and chili oil in lieu of fatty meat juices.
The true appeal of the dish, let's be honest, lies in the blanket of softly steamed, fluffy rice powder.