Zong Zi (Sticky Rice in Bamboo Leaves)

Every culture has its favorite starch-and-pork-in-a-bundle snack, and zongzi (粽子) is the Chinese version.

There are lots of different variations of zongzi – the basic idea is sticky rice wrapped in a leaf, but you can add chestnuts, a cured eggyolk, Chinese sausage, and the list goes on. Zongzi is eaten for the Duanwu holiday in late May or mid June, but really, they’re good any time.

I made a variation of zongzi with pork and egg yolk. Wrapping the bundle in bamboo leaves is a challenge. Most modern day Chinese grandmas would probably warn you away from it. But watching a few YouTube videos did the trick.

The bamboo leaves impart a very particular scent – a bit funky if you ask me. Next time I may try lotus leaves or just make the rice with pork and skip the leaves. But for tradition’s sake, here’s how zong zi is done.

First you’ll need to get some unusual ingredients at an Asian grocery store: bamboo leaves. Soak the bamboo leaves (they come in a huge package, dried and bundled) in warm water for at least four hours so that they are pliable.

You’ll also need some cured duck egg yolks (found in Asian grocery stores, probably in the same aisle as eggs) and some dried shrimp.

A few hours (up to an evening) before you make the zongzi, soak short grain sticky rice in water.

You’ll also need to marinade cubes of pork shoulder or pork belly in a 2:1 mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and a little sugar overnight.

Now to the fun part. Slice some shallots and fry in a wok with lard or vegetable oil until fragrant. Soak some dried shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimp in warm water until softened. Squeeze the water out of the shiitake mushrooms and cut into thin slices. Rough chop the dried shrimp. Add both the shiitake mushroom slices and chopped dried shrimp to the shallots mixture stir fry over a hot wok with about two tablespoons of soy sauce.

Then add the marinated pork, reserving the marinade.

Fry the pork until brown on all sides. If you’re using pork belly, cook the pork mixture for at least an hour so that the fat on the pork belly becomes meltingly soft.

In a separate pot over medium heat, cook the rice with the reserved pork marinade until all the marinade is absorbed into the rice. You want to make sure you flavor the rice. Set aside. Your mis-en-place should look like this. I cut the egg yolks in half for ease of wrapping later.

Now comes the hard part. Take some kitchen twine and tie them around a cabinet handle so that it is easier to tie up your bundles of goodies later.

Take two of the bamboo leaves and overlap one end over the other. Form a cone with the leaves and put some rice mixture into the leave-cone.

Stuff some of the pork and egg yolk into the bundle and add more rice onto the top. Fold the leave over, pinch lightly to make a triangle. Then use the twine to tie the whole thing together. You’ll end up with a bundle like this.

Bring a big pot of water to boil and drop the zongz into the water. If there are a few zongzi that look like they are threatening to burst, you can wrap the whole thing in a piece of foil before dropping it into the boiling water.

Cook for about an hour and a half until the rice is fully cooked. Drain the zongzi.

Zongzi freeze incredibly well and reheats easily. Serve with some soy sauce, hot sauce, and cilantro if you’d like.

And now, the recipe.

1 (12-ounce) package dried joong leaves, soaked for at least 4 hours until soft and pliable.
1/2 pound pork shoulder or pork belly, cubed (recipe)
pork marinade:
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice wine
dash of sugar

2 1/2 pounds glutinous rice, soaked overnight and drained
2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
2 shallots, sliced thin
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
8 raw salted duck egg yolks, halved
optional: 3 links of Chinese sausage, about 6 ounces total, sliced
1/4 cup dried baby shrimp, about 1 ounce total, soaked in water and roughly chopped
Kitchen twine

Soak the bamboo leaves and rice over night or at least for four hours. Marinade the pork pieces in the pork marinade over night. Soak the shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimp in water. Drain and set aside.

In a large wok over medium heat, fry the shallots in some oil or lard until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and dried shrimp, season with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Add the pork, reserving the marinade. Fry the pork until browned. If using pork belly, cook this mixture with the marinade until the pork belly fat is meltingly tender.

In a separate pot, par-cook the rice with the reserved marinade until all the marinade has been absorbed.

Set your mis-en-place of meat mixture, rice, and egg yolks. Wrap each zongzi with the meat mixture and egg yolk and tie with kitchen twine. The video below should be helpful.

Then heat up a big pot of water and cook the zongzi until rice is cooked all the way through, about an hour and a half to two hours.

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