The Chinese celebrate “Duanwu Festival” (端午节)on the 5th day of the lunar 5th month (9th June in 2019). This festival is celebrated with dragon boat races and the making and eating of glutinous rice dumplings. The story goes that the poet and minister Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) committed suicide by drowning himself due to patriotic reasons. The local people, who admired him, raced out in their boats to save him, or at least retrieve his body. This is said to have been the origin of dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi (glutinous rice dumpling).
The dumpling contains either sweet or savoury fillings. In Singapore and Malaysia, savoury dumplings are called Bak Chang. They are filled with marinated belly pork, mushroom, chestnut and salted duck egg yolk. The dumpling is traditionally wrapped in bamboo leaves in a pyramid shape and boiled in water for several hours.
It is often difficult to source bamboo leaves (especially if living away from Asia), so I decided to use greaseproof baking paper to wrap my dumplings. Instead of boiling the dumplings, I steamed the rice before wrapping the dumpling and compressing the rice. I am quite happy with the end result.
Here’s how I made my bak chang with baking paper.
Ingredients (makes 6 dumplings)
- 2 cups of glutinous rice (washed and drained)
- 1 tbsp rice bran oil
- 1 tbsp fried onion
- 1/2 tsp 5-spice powder
- 1.5 tbsp dark soya sauce
- 1.5 oyster sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups of water
- 100 gm belly pork (cut into small chunks)
- 12 ready to eat or raw chestnuts
- 3 dried mushrooms (soaked in 1 cup of boiling water)
- 3 salted egg yolks
- 1 tsp 5-spice powder
- 2 tbsp dark soya sauce
- 2 tbsp cooking wine
- 10 gm rock sugar
Make the filling first (as this step takes longer to complete)
- Dry fry the belly pork in a pot till brown.
- Add 5-spice powder, dark soya sauce and cooking wine.
- Add mushrooms including soaking liquid. If using raw chestnuts, add them at this stage.
- Add rock sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower temperature and simmer for an hour.
- Add ready to eat chestnuts (if using) and continue to simmer for another 15 mins. Till the meat and mushrooms are tender and the liquid is fully absorbed.
Steam the glutinous rice
- Heat rice bran oil and fried onion in a pot. Add 5-spice powder and mix well.
- Add glutinous rice and fry to mix well.
- Add salt, oyster and dark soya sauces and ensure rice is well coated.
- Stir in 2 cups of water.
- Pour into rice cooker and press “cook”. If rice is not tender at the end of the cooking cycle, use a fork to fluff the rice and press “cook” again.
- Cut a piece of greaseproof baking paper, the size should be double the height of a mug.
- Wrap into a cone and insert into a mug. This will help to stabilise the cone and make it easy to add rice and filling.
- Add in layers: rice, filling (don’t forget to include 1/2 a salted egg yolk) and then rice again. Fill to the top of the mug.
- Fold the baking paper over the top and press down to compress the rice. Twist the end together tightly and lift out of the mug.
- Squeeze to shape the dumpling, ensuring rice is compacted. If it’s too small, put it back into the mug and add more rice. You should get quite a nice conical dumpling (see picture). You may wish to strengthen the cone by wrapping with another piece of baking paper.
- Tie the end with a bit of twine, to keep the conical shape.
- Steam for 30 mins.
- To serve, cut the end and unwrap the dumpling. Serve with chilli sauce.