Rice wine tips

Apologies to my faithful readers. Things have been quite difficult lately for a variety of reasons, but I hope they will improve soon, and there have been a number of standout moments that have been splendid, delightful, and utterly rewarding.

In the meantime, I’ve noticed I get quite a few people coming here in search of tips about rice wine, and since I’ve done quite a few batches now I’m happy to offer what advice I can.  Here are the top search terms in no particular order:

“homemade rice booze”

…is awesome.

“glutinous rice wine recipe”

Ingredients:

  • Sushi rice or glutinous rice
  • Water
  • Jiuqu which are Chinese rice wine yeast balls

You’ll also need:

  • A rice cooker*
  • A fermentation vessel
  • A strainer or fine colander

I use Japanese sushi rice rather than glutinous rice (the thin, extra sticky Chinese or Thai variety) because, well it’s still glutinous, but it’s easier to work with and I prefer the flavour.

I cook the rice at either a 1:1 or 1:1.25 rice to water ratio, in a pressurised rice cooker.

I usually cook six cups of rice at a time, but with that much water it’s usually enough to let the cooker just get itself up to pressure and then switch it off. As my wife explained to me, it takes so much time to heat that amount of water to boiling point that the rice is already mostly cooked by the time it hits pressure. If you let it go as long as the settings suggest, you’ll burn the rice at the bottom. Mind you, I’m using a very cheap cooker with basic settings. More expensive ones might account for the quantity of rice being cooked.

I let the rice cool overnight or until it’s cool enough to handle.

I use a sanitised fermenter (Starsan for the win) and rinse my hands in Starsan mix before basically digging out handfuls of rice and chucking it into the fermenter.

I do one layer of rice at a time, and for each layer I add one ground up jiuqu or rice-wine yeast ball.

You can add more rice as you go to increase the size of the batch. With my last batch I repeated this procedure twice, giving me three lots of rice added over the course of three days.

I then put the lid on the fermenter and set it somewhere out of the way.

I check on it every day, because I can’t help myself.

The mould should start to grow within a couple of days. It should be a white mould, though I have had it go a bit dark and still turn out okay. What has not turned out okay is getting large amounts of green mould. Not a good sign.

With this latest batch, I stirred it after about a week, and then left it for about a month.

I occasionally dip a (clean) cup into it to taste the wine, and when it tastes good to me, I tip it through a strainer (harder than it sounds), and bottle it (more complicated than it sounds).

What makes the straining hard is that the lees can be quite thick with wine, and the temptation is to try to squeeze out as much as possible. It may not be possible.

What makes the bottling complicated is firstly the level of clarity you’re after. If you let the wine sit in a container for a day or two it will settle quite a bit. But if you want a clearer wine, you’ll have to use some kind of fining agent. I’ve never tried this, because I don’t mind drinking it rough, and because fining agents supposedly remove some of the flavour.

The other complication with bottling will be answered in the next section.

* I use a pressurised rice cooker, but you could probably just use a saucepan so long as you do the “absorption” method, on the assumption that it is good to keep the rice grains intact. Traditional and commercial methods apparently use steaming.

“most effective way to preserve and store rice wine for few months”

If you’re going to bottle your rice wine, you need to prevent it from continuing to ferment, as this will not only change the flavour, but can cause the bottle to explode.

You can do this simply by keeping the rice wine in the fridge.

If you don’t want to refrigerate it, you can pasteurise the wine instead, which I now do routinely.

I’ve tried pasteurising at different temperatures: once at 70 degrees Celsius and once at 55. Side by side, the 70 degree wine lost a lot of flavour compared to the 55.  I don’t think 55 is a magic number, but you get the idea.

What I do now is to heat the rice wine in a large saucepan and bring it up to 55, holding it there for five minutes, and stirring to ensure an even temperature. You can pretty much bottle straight away, but I like to let it settle overnight, then I can bottle from clearer to cloudier.

“can we reuse rice wine yeast”

Yes and no.

When you’re left with a large amount of rice wine lees it feels like a waste to throw it away or even compost it. In searching for an answer to this same question, I came across the advice that while you can reuse red rice wine lees, for some reason the white lees will not successfully retain the aspergillus oryzae mould required to convert rice starch to sugar.

I tried adding freshly cooked rice to a batch of rice lees, and it failed to ferment. I then added some fresh red rice powder to the batch and it subsequently began fermenting. I haven’t yet tried it with red rice wine lees so I can’t confirm that part of the story.

Nonetheless, there is something you can do with your white rice wine lees. With my latest batch I decided to see if I could make some kind of rice-flavoured wine for cooking purposes. I put the lees back into a food-grade bucket, and added about eight litres of water and about a kilo of sugar, which I had dissolved into a simple syrup.

The yeast loved it, and I ended up adding extra sugar later to keep the fermentation going. The resulting wine tastes like a more dilute version of true rice wine. I’m planning to use it for cooking wine, and will let you know how it goes.

“dry rice wine lees for future use”

This one is tricky. I haven’t tried it. Based on what I wrote above, I suspect the lees would contain yeast, but may not contain the aspergillus oryzae mould required to convert rice starch to sugar.

Otherwise the yeast is presumably no different from other yeasts, and there are plenty of sites dealing with storage and reuse of yeasts generally.

“homemade rice wine abv%”

It’s hard to measure the alcohol level in rice wine because the usual method (hydrometer) won’t work with a solid-state ferment. There are more complex ways to do it, but I haven’t really looked into them.

Lore has it that the alcohol content can get “as high as 20%”, which is what I tell people when they ask. Tasting suggests that it is pretty potent.

Hope these notes are of some use to other rice wine enthusiasts. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

 

 

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Blue cheese, rice wine, beer, pickled vegetables and glorious shelving!

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It’s been a while since my last productivity update, but as you can see I have been busy!

I started a blue cheese on October 7th, and it bloomed faster than I’d expected. I inoculated the curds with a small chunk of a blue brie, which turned out to be not at all how blue brie is made. Apparently the way to make blue brie is to inoculate the curds as if making a blue, then scorch the surface of the cheese itself with hot water and re-inoculate with the white mould for brie. The trick is to keep the blue from overtaking the white.

I’m quite happy to end up with a blue, so I’ve poked holes in the cheese to encourage the blue mould to grow inside. Apparently I’m supposed to scrape off the exterior mould at some point, at least once per month over the next three months. I want it to cover the cheese completely first, and since the mould has sprouted ahead of schedule I think it should be fine to leave it for a while.

Hopefully it will be readyish in time for New Year’s.

In other productivity news, I’ve been making and drinking rice wine more or less continuously.  I may have mentioned previously that I find a strange allure in drinking the highly alcoholic liquid run-off from mouldy cooked rice. No one else seems to like it that much, but to me there’s a purity and pristine quality to it because it is little more than the product of rice, mould, and yeast. It’s so unprocessed and rustic.

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The red was admittedly a little disappointing, though it was made with glutinous rice instead of sushi rice. The white is quite sweet and seemingly of a higher alcohol concentration. I’ve forced myself to save a bottle of each to see how they age, and to share with returning friends.

With the warmth of summer fast approaching, we’re back into beer season. I don’t consider myself a brewer, but I can follow a recipe well enough and friend J has given us an amazing recipe that is a clone of Stone Ruination, an American IPA.  To buy Ruination in Australia would set you back $180 per carton. I’m not about to sample the real thing, but this clone has pretty much ruined me for lesser commercial beers. Coopers still hold their own as a very different beer, but I’ve been severely disappointed by some other “craft” brews that had as much flavour as one of my early failures where the post-boil volume somehow overshot the mark by about 5 litres!

The great lemon-wine experiment has about reached its peak with the unhappy conundrum of what to do with 25 litres of poorly fermented overly sweet lemon wine. Unfortunately the answer turned out to be “bottle it” in a hurry, to free up a fermenter for beer purposes. I’ve been looking into stuck fermentation and may try to restart it later with some champagne yeast. Various other little batches of lemon and lime wine are not so bad, having at least attained a reasonable level of fermentation, but lesson learned: don’t over-sweeten.

Finally, we’ve started branching out a little into preserved vegetables. I managed to find a recipe for zha cai, a delicious condiment typically marketed as “preserved chinese vegetables” but actually made from the ugly bulbous root of the mustard plant. Apparently the process is very similar to kimchi: salt, marinade, and allow to ferment. We’ve started with something simpler in the form of preserved Chinese cabbage, which just sits in salt water and a bit of vinegar for a week.

All of these activities require equipment and storage space, which has just become more readily available with the purchase of a cool room shelving rack! Dominating the landscape of our small kitchen, this four-tiered monolith can carry up to 100kg per shelf, and stands at 1.8m high, 1.5m wide, and .53m deep. It is now home to our microwave, coffee grinder and espresso machine all on one shelf, with others holding bags of rice, vegetables, cheese-esky, press, about 30 litres of beer and a dozen of aforementioned disappointing rice wine. It’s been such a benefit to us, we’ve only had it for seven days but it feels like it’s been with us forever.  To top it off, we got it at about a third of retail value from an auction. Every now and then the wife and I like to just stand in the kitchen and gaze at it in awe.

Until next time!

 

 

Wine time

Things have been a bit slow on the home-productivity front, due to other commitments and occasional low morale. Still, when you’re feeling a bit crap it’s great to be able to mull things over with a glass of your very own fruit wine!

Fruit Wine

Each time I make rice wine I have a bunch of ricey lees left over, and thanks to a friend’s donation of about a hundred and fifty lemons, I decided to have a go at making some lemon wine.  I followed this recipe roughly, leaving out the raisins, estimating the amount of sugar required based on ignorance, and using rice-wine lees for yeast. After a few days the mix begun to bubble and the lees swirled around in the jar like a lava-lamp.

After about three weeks the wine had gone quiet so I decanted and strained it into bottles, getting 2 litres from the first batch. As promised in the recipe, the flavour changes with age. In the beginning it was best described as ‘refreshing’ and a good palate cleanser. After about a month and with one bottle remaining, the wine is not quite as harsh and has met with approval from about half a dozen tasters.

Success with the lemon wine led me to realise that you can make wine out of pretty much anything, so long as it doesn’t taste foul or inhibit the yeast. Onion wine? Apparently it’s good for cooking, but I haven’t gone that far yet. Instead I made Feijoa Wine (surprised to note that excellent feijoa flavour came from boiling the skins), which independent tasters have confirmed “tastes like feijoa”, and am currently fermenting a little persimmon wine, another batch of lemon wine, and a lemon marmalade wine that is helping me deal with the results of an imperfect batch of lemon marmalade.

I’m experimenting with adding tea for tannin, and have a few ideas for future fruit flavours. It’s a simple process regardless, and a great way to reuse the rice-wine yeast, deal with surplus fruit, and keep us stocked with cheap and interesting liquor.

Rice Wine

The rice wine is a personal favourite, by which I mean most people don’t like it. I have two 1 litre bottles aging in a cupboard, one sweet and one dry, and I try a little occasionally to see how the flavours have developed. I’ve read that it takes six months for the rice wine to come into its own, but already after three months the flavour is more complex and interesting than before. I’ve switched from Sushi rice to glutinous rice (sticky rice), which has thinner grains and seems to hold less water. For my current batch I also experimented with aspects of a sake fermentation process, creating a moto or koji and yeast starter, which I suspect failed at some point, leaving me to hastily sprinkle additional jiuqu or mould and yeast balls over the rice to give the all-important aspergillus oryzae mould a fighting chance.

I just checked it, and it was covered in mould, hopefully the right kind of mould:

 

I’ve got hold of some red yeast rice which carries a different mould and will produce a red rice wine. Apparently the wine tastes like punch, and the bright red lees are used in various Fujianese dishes.  I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month or so, assuming the current batch of rice wine doesn’t kill me.

 

Another bacon update

Yesterday we spent an afternoon replenishing our beer and bacon supplies. This time around I learned my lessons from previous attempts and used pork belly with a wet cure, much less salt and a whole lot more brown sugar.  Here it is sitting in our makeshift smoker:

recently smoked2

And here they are after three hours or so of smoking:

recently smoked

I cut them up and freeze them for later use. Thinly sliced, each ingot(?) is enough to impart a delicious smoky flavour to a range of dishes, but mostly pasta sauces…

recently smoked3

It still doesn’t look like commercial bacon, since it has been hot smoked rather than cold smoked, and we don’t add nitrites to colour it. Still, even as smoked cured pork I’d use it over the commercial stuff any day.

How much for your happiness?

Recently a unit in our block went up for sale with an asking price lower than I had hoped. I went to check it out, compare it to our own unit, and see if we could honestly hope for a better price.

Not likely. Not without doing more work, perhaps renovating the bathroom here, which I would have to do myself to be financially viable. So not without considerable stress, effort, and daunting undertakings.

I have to admit when we first moved into the unit this kind of thinking really got to me. It’s a purely mercenary mindset, which on any other day I’ll happily admit I loathe to my core. Yet owning property and hoping to one day transition to nicer, better, more expansive property makes a money-minded approach seem necessary.

I had been counting on the value of our unit rising by more than it evidently has. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the bigger mistake was to let it get to me. The financial imperative runs so deep that I felt as though I’d just been diagnosed with a serious illness. Yet in reality nothing had changed except my expectations.

In reality, I just put a price on my happiness: 15-20k to feel totally miserable. Turning it around, the absurdity is obvious: how much money would you accept to feel totally miserable? Would 15-20k be enough to justify feeling stressed, burdened, and unhappy?

It wouldn’t be enough for me. So why feel bad about it? If renovating the bathroom is a thankless, stressful, miserable and uninspired experience, then don’t do it. You wouldn’t go back to your old job for the sake of twenty thousand dollars; why pile depressing obligations onto your own life for the same amount?

At the end of my life, I won’t be looking back and wishing I’d earned a few extra tens or even hundreds of thousands. Money isn’t going to be that important, especially not when truly significant acts of freedom and productivity and enjoyment can be had for next-to-nothing.

When we first bought our unit, I went through the experience of having my expectations and hopes ground down to almost nothing. That was painful, but I’ve since discovered that what matters is not how much money or how big a house or property we have, but how free we are to do what we want with what we have. The biggest constraint is not living in a unit, it’s knowing that we can’t do anything radically personal to it, because we don’t intend to stay here too much longer. If we were going to stay here, we could do any number of things to improve it, make it more our own, with no thought for market value and the ‘safety’ of mainstream design.

So, I won’t be making myself miserable for the sake of money that doesn’t exist and which may not have any practical bearing on my future life. I wonder what else I can find to not make myself miserable for?

The rectification of names

Replying to another of Matthew’s comments, I thought it worth making a new post to draw attention to a significant theme in Confucian thought.

If I may channel my inner Confucian: what bothers me about the phenomenon of Yoga drifting from its ancient roots is not a disdain for “cherry picking” nor a direct concern for the spiritual well-being of Western pseudo-yogis, but an appreciation for what Confucius called ‘the rectification of names’.

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

When someone says “Yoga”, but what they refer to is not actually Yoga, then we have the beginnings of ignorance and confusion. Defining our terms is vital from a philosophical perspective, and relying on incorrect terms or misappropriated terms is simply wrong; why do it if you don’t have to?

But the truth is that I enjoy looking at the meanings, natures, and definitions of things, as well as the origins and use of words.  I don’t really care if no one else thinks it important or relevant or worth the time and effort.

 

The power of smoke

Yesterday after four hours of brewing, we had a couple of beers while some of the salted pork from previous bacon attempts sat gently smoking in a make-shift smoker.

After about an hour and a half, the handful of wood chips were consumed, leaving us with this exciting slab of hot-smoked, dry-cured pork:

smoked1

A friend’s new meat-slicer made short work of it:

smoked2

It looked like bacon, but would it taste like bacon?

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Yes, yes it would.

The verdict:

In future, I think there is not much point in air-drying the bacon as it requires such large quantities of salt that we are forced to soak the bacon for up to an hour with successive batches of water before it is edible.

But we can at least confirm that smoke is indeed the missing ingredient – the delightful, subtle, all-transforming flavour that was missing from the original cured pork.

We have refrigeration; there’s no point in air-drying the meat unless you’re short on space or you enjoy the look of it.  In future it will be far more practical to cure and marinade smaller cuts of meat, hot-smoking them to last refrigerated for a couple of weeks.

The future is starting to look pretty tasty!

Associate Editor looks askance at frozen berries

Greetings, O friends and readers.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently been offered some part-time work as associate editor at MercatorNet.com.

MercatorNet has long afforded me a means of expression for my often idiosyncratic take on various issues pertaining to ethics, philosophy, and social commentary more generally.  I’m quietly excited to be working more closely with the editorial team, so much so that I’m putting aside my otherwise powerful resistance to employment.

While I will continue to write feature-length pieces from time to time, I’ll also be writing more blog-like/editorial content such as my newest reflection on the frozen berry Hepatitis A outbreak here in Australia.

It’s not a bad outbreak, but nothing good can come of the words “frozen berries” and “fecal contamination” in the same sentence:

Aside from the revelation that the frozen berries may be contaminated with faeces, it emerged that the two brands being recalled are owned by the same company, sourced from the same suppliers, and processed in the same factories. While “Nanna’s” invokes images of my grandmother’s home-made pies and traditional cooking, “Creative Gourmet” is supposed to appeal to the quality-conscious, the budding foodie, or anyone with aspirations to ‘cuisine’.  Yet take away the packaging and they are the same product.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/frozen_berry_health_scare_puts_heat_on_big_food

Dedicated readers of this blog will notice that this links in quite nicely to the earlier post on bacon – another product that is typically sourced overseas, and subject to certain mysterious processes that are not necessarily in the best interest of the consumer.

 

Bacon comparison

My father-in-law dropped off some short-cut bacon that was on sale at one of the big chain supermarkets for about $8.00 per kilo. It proved an opportune moment to do a side-by-side comparison of my latest round of bacon against its commercial counterpart.

bacon comparison

I had to cut my bacon extra thick, as the hanging had caused the meat to move out of alignment with the fat and rind. Pictured above is the first slice of my bacon sitting below 2 slices of the commercial short-cut bacon.

The differences are pretty obvious. Firstly, the commercial bacon has a much nicer colour, which is achieved through the addition of sodium nitrite in the curing process. Sodium nitrite also changes the flavour, allegedly giving bacon its ‘characteristic’ taste, whatever that means.  In case you’re wondering: yes, a nicer colour is part of the rationale for adding sodium nitrite, though it also extends the life of the product.

Secondly, the commercial bacon is much more moist. My bacon was dry-cured, which (intentionally) leaches out water over a week, so that the meat can eventually be hung to air dry.  The commercial bacon has to be refrigerated or frozen, and is likely made using a brine – with some manufacturers injecting the brine into the meat to speed up the curing process.  As more traditional manufacturers point out, it’s much more cost-effective to sell by weight when your product is composed increasingly of salt water.

The water composition of the bacon changes how it cooks, as well as the texture, storage options, and value for money.  The Woolworths page states that their bacon is 90% pork, minimum. So at worst, 10% of the bacon you purchase is composed of brine.  By contrast, my first batch of bacon lost 24% of its weight during the curing process as it leached liquid.  I soak my bacon in water for at least half an hour before cooking to wash out some of the salt, and some of the water content is reclaimed at the same time.

cooked bacon comparison

Compared to the commercial bacon, when cooked, my bacon looked more like a pork steak. It even tasted more like a pork steak, with  thicker, tougher and more dense slices of meat that maintain a texture we don’t usually associate with bacon. Even the thinner slices had that ‘meaty’ feel to them.

The flavour likewise was much more like cooked pork than the commercial bacon. Aside from the mysterious influence of the nitrites, the major difference between my bacon and the commercial bacon is that the latter is smoked, whereas mine is unsmoked.

Now, I’ve had properly smoked bacon from a local butcher before, and the taste is amazing. A single rasher in a saucepan full of bolognese sauce will totally change the flavour.  By comparison the regular commercial bacon has very little flavour from its smoking. Yet alongside my unsmoked bacon, I think the smoke is enough to distinguish the commercial product.

I’ve tea-smoked a chicken on my stove before, so I know that even a short smoking can impart incredible flavour to meat.  I’m therefore confident that if I was to smoke my bacon before air-drying it, the result would easily overwhelm the commercial product.  But as it stands, there is too much difference between my unsmoked bacon and the commercial, smoked variety.  I have to admit that as bacon, my product doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Until I am able to smoke it, it would seem best to continue to refer to it as cured, air-dried pork.

The only question remaining is whether it is worth continuing to cure and dry pork, when a tastier, apparently cheaper substitute is available commercially in the form of short-cut bacon?

On its own merits, my air-dried pork is a good addition to various dishes: pasta sauces, soups, stews, and so on. At a cost of roughly $11 per kilo, it is not as cheap as the commercial bacon if bought on sale and frozen long-term. However, the pork used for 75% of Australian bacon is imported from overseas, which explains the low cost. My pork was purchased fresh from a local butcher.  It’s also difficult to put a dollar value on the satisfaction of processing the meat myself, and having three or four kilograms of dried cured pork hanging in my laundry for whenever I want to use it.

All in all, it seems reasonable to continue making it; but the fact is that I’m not doing all this stuff to be reasonable.  I’m doing it because I want to produce something that completely and without qualification defeats the mainstream commercial product.  I want it to be both cheaper and laughingly superior to the supermarket offering, such that people try my bacon and quietly weep at having ever mistaken the commercial stuff for the real thing.  I’m not there yet, but the goal is clear.

 

 

 

Let’s not call it bacon

The thought of curing my own bacon carried with it a certain savour. Unfortunately I have to admit that as bacon the end result of my 10 days of curing a pork belly didn’t seem quite right.

If we were to call it ‘cured pork belly’ I think we could agree it was in fact an excellent result, with tasty slices of this salty, sweet, fatty meat adding depth of flavour to a range of dishes (though they are as yet to make it further than fried and eaten unaccompanied).

But bacon? Not really, no. Not unless you’re an American.

As a friend sojourning in the States noted recently:

You wouldn’t believe it because of all the hype you hear on TV but American bacon is shit. Absolute shit. It’s thin like double thickness prosciutto and full of water. Then when you cook it it shrivels up into tiny dry strips. Like hard dry beef jerky. I can’t believe how bad it is compared to the “bacon is awesome” hype. It has absolutely nothing on Aussie bacon.

It turns out that what Americans call bacon is indeed primarily cured porked belly. Since I dry-cured a pork belly, what I have is closer to American bacon than Australian or British bacon, which use the loin of the pig and is therefore a leaner cut.

Today I tried slicing it thicker, at about the thickness of Australian bacon:
slices

It’s heavily salted, so needs to be soaked in water for up to an hour before cooking, changing the water a few times. I haven’t made an exact science of it, so this batch of thick slices was still a bit salty when fried up:

cooked bacon

Not pictured: leaves of oil-soaked paper.

Slicing it thick helped a lot, bringing it within the domain of more familiar Aussie middle bacon rashers. Still not ‘bacon’ as we’re used to it, but extremely tasty, the star anise in the cure making the taste reminiscent of Chinese crispy roast pork belly.

I’m encouraged to now try the same procedure, sans star anise, with a slab of pork loin. Hopefully with something more akin to the familiar Aussie bacon rasher, I’ll be better able to judge the end result in terms of flavour, quality, and of course cost.