Monday, August 4, 2008

Nor Mai Gai ... Lotus-Wrapped Heaven

I love Chinese food. Yes, I do. I love it very much. I love dim sum even more. I could eat it every day ... for just about every meal.

And, my very most favorite dim sum dish is Nor Mai Gai. I first ate this in the Dark Ages (1989) at a restaurant called Sun Ya in Seattle's International District. A workmate of mine suggested it. I've loved it ever since.

Like borscht and pierogi at the now defunct Kaleenka, I taught myself to make Nor Mai Gai because I wanted to eat it often.

  • 20 lotus leaves
  • 18 cups cooked sticky rice
  • 20 pieces Chinese sausage
  • 750 grams ground beef
  • 750 grams ground pork
  • 400 grams pork tenderloin
  • 400 grams chicken breast
  • 2 cups oyster sauce
  • 1-1/4 cups hoisin sauce
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar (optional)

The first thing I did was start making the rice. 18 cups of cooked sticky rice is three batches in my rice cooker. This takes a while.

Take your lotus leaves and cut them down the spine. They typically come folded in half and we only want to use half a leaf per serving. Once cut, take the leaves and put them in lukewarm water to soak. They come dry, so you want to hydrate them to soften them up for later. They won't want to go to the bottom of the water. So, weigh them down with whatever you have around.

While the rice is cooking and the leaves are softening, start in on the sauce. I brown the ground beef and ground pork together. It's faster that way. Brown these and drain them completely. You don't want this dish to be greasy.

Cut up the pork tenderloin and chicken breast while the other meats are browning. I cut them into cubes about 1cm on a side. If this is hard to imagine, just cut the pieces up the size of your thumbnail (unless you have freakishly large thumbs, then get out a ruler to measure). Fortunately, my thumbs are approximately normal-size.

Once the ground meats are browned and drained, toss the chicken and pork tenderloin into the pot and cook them. Cook these over medium flame. It's good to cook them completely, just don't char them. We want tender and yummy ... not well done horrors ready to be fed to the dog. Once cooked, drain the fat from the chicken and pork, too. Again, we don't want greasy.

Put all the meats into the pot. Add the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce. Keep the pot over a medium flame and stir thoroughly. If you want your sauce to be a little less salty, add the optional white sugar at this point. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. I like this dish on the slightly salty side, so I left that out.

At this point, take your Chinese sausage and cut each one into four equal pieces. Microwave these for 40-50 seconds. You want the sausage to warm up, not really cook. Don't cook it over the stove because you don't want the pieces to show any searing.

Take the soaking lotus leaves out now and drain them of their water.


The assembly process is very straight-forward. At first, it seemed slow. But, once I got onto the process, I was able to mass produce these little pieces of Culinary Heaven fairly quickly.

1. Take a lotus leaf and lay it out onto your workspace. Lay the leaf dark green side down. I do that because I think it's more attractive that way.
2. Take about 1/4 cup of sticky rice and spread it out into a 4-inch wide circle or square. If you see holes in the leaf, don't worry. Unless the hole is huge, when you roll the leaf up, it'll get covered.
3. Take 2-3 tablespoons of the sauce and place it on the sticky rice. Then, place two of the cut pieces of Chinese sausage into the sauce.
4. Add another bit of rice on top. Again, about 1/4 cup of rice spread out into a 4-inch wide circle or square. The rice doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be placed on top nicely.
5. Fold the sides of the lotus leaf inwards. Pull on the sides a bit while doing this to neaten up the rice-and-sauce stack.
6. Fold the bottom portion of the lotus leave up and over the rice and sauce portion. Pull the bottom portion of the leaf up snugly.
7. Finally, roll the whole assembly forward, tucking extra leaf under and neatening it. While rolling, try to tighten up the insides a bit. Make a nice package.
Test Results

Primary Test Group: Very good. Everybody liked.

Test Group C: Ate two of them. Still not enough. Oy!

Test Group M: Ate only one-and-a-half (because another friend stole half while M wasn't looking ... said food thief had three-and-a-half). Very much liked them.

Random Test Group: Played in a small golf tournament this weekend. Brought 36 of these up there. Took none home. Very, very well received. The picture to the right shows what I brought.

Potential Improvements

No real improvement needed in the food itself. However, it occurred to me during preparation that there might be a faster way to make them. I thought one could spread a layer of sticky rice out on two baking sheets (sprayed lightly with cooking spray). I'd then put the sausage pieces in what would later be the middle of each unit. Spread a layer of sauce on one of the sheets of sticky rice, over the sausage pieces. Finally, place the second sheet on top of the first with the sauce and press. Put this all in the fridge for 30 minutes to let things cool. Then, cut it like you'd cut a rectangular cake into perfectly square parts. Then, wrap those.


I love these. Apparently, so does everyone else. So glad I have a lot of lotus leaves.

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