Blog

3-Cup Chicken and Remembrance of Things Past

3-Cup-Chicken-A-Single-PebbleThe connection between 3-Cup Chicken and the great works of Marcel Proust may not be immediately apparent to your average Chinese food lover. But for Chiuho Duval, it is obvious. Like Proust with his cookie-inspired time-travel, Chiuho is immediately transported through vivid memories to her childhood in Taiwan whenever she smells 3-Cup Chicken cooking.

Proust describes his sweet experience this way: “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.” There are no crumbs or shuddering in Chiuho’s experience, but the rich, salty, pungent 3-Cup Chicken aroma does take her back to the sunlit corner patio of her childhood home. There she could sit for hours, gaze at the sky and visit with her mother. Conversation invariably turned to food. “What’s for dinner?” might just be Chiuho’s all-time favorite question.

One of Chiuho's Mother's  Secret RecipesModern 3-Cup Chicken is considered Taiwanese, though the original recipe comes from the Jiangxi province of southern China. The sauce consists of equal parts sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce (one cup of each). The chicken is cooked together with the sauce in a pot over very high heat, that is later decreased to a low flame as the sauce reduces. The intensely fragrant flavor of the sauce coalesces during this reduction process and fills the air with its transporting awesomeness. The dish is ready when the sauce is almost completely reduced and caramelized.

The magic of the sauce has almost as many interpretations as it has cooks who love to make it. A Single Pebble serves Chiuho’s mother’s recipe which adds garlic, ginger, sugar, and basil to the original. Other versions may include sherry, red chilies, scallions, spinach, mushrooms, or carrots. On an island whose national cuisine reflects influences from its neighbors, immigrants, and indigenous people, this kind of elaboration is fairly typical.

Culinary influences in Taiwan include Sichuan, Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Japan. After World War II, even the U.S. soldiers stationed in the northern part of the island had some influence on its famously eclectic cuisine. As a kid, Chiuho did not differentiate among the many cooking styles present in her home town of Changwha. She’d traipse from noodle shop to dim sum to BBQ to steak house to French toast in her nascent foodie adventure. To her, all of it was Taiwanese food; all of it good.

You can taste this yourself at the restaurant in the 3-Cup Chicken (or 3-Cup Tofu, if you prefer).
You may even find yourself transported.

 

 

 

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dragons, dragon boats, and sticky rice dumplings

Photos taken 22 years ago of Chiuho's mom preparing dumplings. Check out her nautical themed blouse - perfect for the festival.There be dragons! The dragon is an ancient Chinese symbol of auspicious power. Legendary controller of water, floods, and hurricanes, the dragon is the perfect figurehead for a boat and a festival. And like all good things in life, there is also food involved. In this case, sticky rice dumplings or zongzi.

Here she is tying the dumplings into a bunch to hang from the doorway.The Dragon Boat or Duanwu Festival is a time-honored festival celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month in the traditional Chinese calendar (June 12th on the Gregorian calendar this year) commemorating the death of poet Qu Yuan (343-278 BC). Considered the father of Chinese poetry*, Qu Yuan was a patriot who during the “Warring States Period” was exiled for his political passions. He killed himself in exile.

Some say his death was a ritualistic suicide in protest of the corruption of the era. Others tell a more magical ode of dragons and a river goddess. During his years of exile, Qu Yuan wrote poetry by the River Mi-Lo, famous for its fire-breathing dragons. Of course Qu Yuan was visited one day by such a beast, but instead of feeling fear, he felt enveloped in love and peace. Determined that the presence was not a dragon but a river goddess, Qu Yuan returned to the river again and again to taste the deep happiness he found in that magical presence. Not wanting to be parted from the goddess, he thew himself into the river to be with her forever. Some say Qu Yuan became a water spirit after his death.

Whatever end he actually met, Qu Yuan was deeply loved. When the people heard of his demise, they launched their boats into the river to rescue the poet or at least retrieve his body. They beat drums to scare away any creatures. To lure the fish away, they tossed sticky rice dumplings into the water, hoping the fish would feast on the dumplings rather than on their beloved late poet.

This is what the dragon boat, or pyramid dumplings, look like at A Single Pebble. Look for them on the specials menu.In this fruitless search for the body of Qu Yuan is the origin of the modern-day Dragon Boat Festival and Dragon Boat Rice Dumplings. The dumplings, also called pyramid dumplings, are wrapped in bamboo leaves. The leaves are tied individually and then in bunches (resembling spider plants with many shoots). Before steaming, these bunches are hung over doorways to allow gravity to tighten the lines and thus form neater dumplings. (Chiuho remembers as a child seeing bunches of dumplings hanging from doorways all over the city in preparation for Duanwu.)

There are generally two types of dragon boat dumplings: sweet and savory. The sweet version usually includes a sweet bean paste and dried fruit and is often served as desert topped with honey. The savory version is better known here in the United States. Fillings often include shrimp, pork belly, eggs, dried fish, mung beans, garlic, ginger. Look for them on the specials menu.

*Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions of Heaven), Jiu Ge (Nine Songs), and Huai Sha (Embracing the Sand) are among his greatest works are .

 

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm Weather, Cold Food: The History of the Spring Roll

It a makes sense that as the weather warms up, cold food makes its way back to the menu. In the warmer temperatures, no one wants to stand in a hot kitchen cooking hot meals for people who really just want to cool off. But like much of Chinese Food, there is a story behind cold food. Chiuho was reminded of this story on a recent trip back to Taiwan where she found herself craving Spring Rolls. Spring weather and tradition may have conspired to create the craving.

You see, Early April is the season for the Cold Food Festival. This traditional Chinese festival (also celebrated in Korea and Vietnam) pays tribute to the budding sprouts in the field as it honors a legend of loyalty. The festival commemorates Jie Zi Tui, who lived in the Jin State of China during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC until 470 BC, or thereabouts).

Jie was a loyal and beloved official of the State working for the Crown Prince Chong’er. It was a tumultuous time and the State fell into upheaval. The Prince and his men were exiled and faced numerous hardships – hunger being the biggest. To prevent the starvation of his Prince, Jie fed him with a piece of meat cut from his own thigh.

When the Prince was later able to return to the Jin State, he took his place at the throne and proceeded to live royally, as was his due. In his luxury, however, he completely forgot about Jie and broke his heart. Jie ran off to the mountains to live in sadness and seclusion with his mother. When the Prince eventually learned about Jie’s life in the hills, he tried to bring him back home, sending search parties near and far. Jie’s location in the mountains was discovered and the Prince tried to smoke him out. The fire went terrible wrong, however, killing both Jie and his mother. The Prince felt so terribly guilty he forbade cooking fires and ordered everyone to eat only cold food. Each spring thereafter, the Cold Food Festival (Hanshi Festival) honors the memory of Jie Zi Tui. The Cold Food Festival starts the night before Tomb Sweeping Day (Qingming Festival), a day of remembrance and respect.

A_Single_Pebble_Spring_RollAnd there you have it, the Spring Roll. This not-fried, cold roll incorporates raw and chilled pre-cooked foods (like eggs, shrimp or pork). The type of wrapper used varies regionally, but the roll is usually served with a pungent sauce.

Tradition runs deep in this cuisine. Many Chinese specialties find their origins in legend and ancient history. This spring when you bite into a delicious Spring Roll, know that you are in excellent company. You are part of a thousand-year-old legacy honoring loyalty…and really, really good food.

 

 

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Family Dinner at A Single Pebble – It’s a Secret

The Crew - A Single PebbleEvery family has its secrets. Our histories reveal dance-hall girls, rum runners, flappers, smugglers, and even secret loves. These colorful stories are often kept quiet among relatives in the know. Not any more. A Single Pebble has a family secret. It’s family dinner. And yes, the Single Pebble crew is family! Not in the traditional sense of blood relations, but in the modern sense of union behind a single purpose.

Each afternoon at 4:00 a seemingly disparate group of food lovers gathers for a shared meal, family style. The group is comprised of all the staff on duty that day. Bussers and chefs, waiters and bartenders tuck in for family dinner. A Single Pebble, as in Chinese culture, the sharing of food as a family is a very important way to show love and respect.

For chef-owner Chiuho Duval food is about connection. That’s exactly what happens at family dinner. Staff members share their stories as they pass the soup and get to know the varied flavors and specials they’ll be serving up that evening.

Family Dinner - A Single Pebble - Chinese RestauranteFamily dinner is also an avenue for experimentation and creativity. Chefs are encouraged to ‘play’ with their food. Local Vermont ingredients marry traditional sauces and cooking techniques in completely unique dishes. Ma Po Tofu, traditionally served with pork, finds new life when combined with smoked duck; vegetable dumplings, usually poached, suddenly become more festive when deep-fried. The most successful experiments find their way to the evening specials menu. A popular side-dish that has become a staple of A Single Pebble’s banquet menu is the result of chance (the right ingredients readily at hand at the right time): blanched green beans, with sesame oil, sliced almonds and salt and pepper. How do you say green bean almondine in Chinese?

Family dinner is also a place where A Single Pebble chefs can have some fun. Though dishes are always made of fresh, local and traditional Chinese ingredients, some are “not quite Chinese enough” to make it to the evening menu: Nachos composed of fried wonton wrappers, tomatoes, jalapenos, lemon and cilantro or Beef stroganoff made with Chow Fun rice noodles.

The real secret of A Single Pebble starts here at family dinner, where great food and shared enthusiasms create a nurturing environment of friendship and comfort. If A Single Pebble had a single purpose, it would be this nurturing environment. The feeling spills out into the dining room as dinner guests arrive and the ‘family’ gets to work.

They say that “Fashion is in Europe, living is in America, but eating is in China.” Eating is also in Burlington. You’ll want to make a reservation.

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Evolution of a Dinner Special at A Single Pebble: Dancing in front of Heirloom Tomatoes

Recently a guest at A Single Pebble asked “Does Chef Duval actually cook?”

The ‘Chef’ in question happened to be hosting that night. She overheard the dinner guest and laughed to herself. Yes. Chiuho Duval cooks! When it comes to creating the weekly dinner special, she really cooks.

Chiuho gets her inspiration for weekly dinner specials from the seasonal produce she finds at local farmers markets and from local stores like City Market, where she recently got busted for dancing in front of the heirloom tomatoes. Hmm…You say. Dancing tomatoes does not sound like Chinese food. But you’d be wrong.

Tomatoes are indeed part of the palette. In fact there is a stir-fried egg and tomato dish that is the cultural equivalent of our grilled cheese sandwich. It is a comfort food that is often the first thing little kids learn to cook.

Dancing in the produce department is a little bit harder to explain. Chef Chiuho Duval gets her inspiration from many things, foremost on this list is the availability of fresh, local foods, like Heirloom tomatoes. She also gets inspiration from color and music. When the three come together, something magical is bound to happen, including dancing.

The song list below and the heirloom tomatoes above inspired a succulent scallop dish. She was going to reduce the tomatoes into a coulis, but their texture, taste and vibrant color inspired her to keep them fresh. The scallops were lightly battered and crisp; she combined the tomatoes with plum and seasoned them with basil, lemon, salt and pepper and poured them over the scallops.

Eblouie Par La Nuit by Zaz
Downpour by Brandi Carlile
Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard & Market Irglova
Beautiful Night by Josh Ritter
Splendor in The Grass by Pink Martini

You wont hear these songs at the restaurant, but you might taste their influence on your plate.

Posted in Local Food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wine Pairing and Chinese Food

The pairing of wine with Chinese food is a mystery to many of us. We all know the basics: red meat and red wine; white fish and white wine. And if you’re eating goat cheese, you’ll probably reach for a Sauvignon Blanc. Snacking on pretzels? Take a sip of Tawny Port. But what do you drink when you’re eating Chinese Food?

Take Mock Eel for example. It is not a fish (does an eel even qualify as a fish?). It tastes meaty, but it is not meat. This is starting to sounds like some kind of riddle from Game of Thrones. Red Zinfandels, Shiraz or Syrah wines go well with your classic grilled steak, but what compliments the exotic braised Shitake mushroom (this is the main ingredient in A Single Pebble’s mock eel)?

Here’s the general rule of thumb (from Wine Folly):
- Acidity in wine pairs well with fatty and sweet foods.
- Fatty foods need either an acidic or high alcohol wine, otherwise the wine will taste flabby.
- Bitter (aka Tannic) wine can be balanced with a sweet food.
- Salty shouldn’t compete with acidity in wine. Use sparingly as necessary to keep sharpness in the meal.
- Sweet food/wine benefits from a little acidity.
- Alcohol [content] can be used to cut through fatty foods or balance a sweet dish.

Wine pairing can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. For Chef Chiuho Duval, wine is what brought her to cooking in the first place. She even moved to the United Sates in order to study it. “For me, wine is super romantic,” she says. Sure she enjoys the flavor, but the attraction for her is in the story behind the wine. For her, the hard work, climate, people, lifestyles, and history behind each of the wines she selects for the wine list at A Single Pebble create a deeper connection than do the traditional rules of wine pairing.

That said, Pinot Noirs do pair well with Chinese food, they are lighter and have higher acidity. Champagne also pairs well with Chinese food (for some people, champagne pairs well with everything). Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are also very good with Chinese food. The flavor profile of these grapes is semi-sweet, high acidity, and a little bit on the fruity side. This helps them cut through the soy sauce and spicy flavors common to Chinese food.

But we still have not answered the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: What will you drink with your Mock Eel? Take a look at Chiuho’s wine list and let your heart decide. Or ask your server for a recommendation.

To your health.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Sauced at A Single Pebble

A Single Pebble's Ginger Glaze
A Single Pebble has an excellent wine list, but we are talking here about the sauces on your plate. In a Chinese restaurant, the sauce is the chef’s secret weapon. The right sauce can mean the difference between a good meal and a great meal. Chances are very good you’ll find the latter at A Single Pebble.

Many Asian restaurants use sauces we already know like soy sauce and Hoisin. We are familiar with these flavors – they are staples in most home kitchens. But it’s the proprietary sauces that separate the cooks from the chefs. A Single Pebble has a boat load of these distinguishing sauces. Some are made daily, One of the few jarred sauces used at A Single Pebble, Lao Gang Ma brand consists ofothers take as long as two weeks or a month to mature. Chef Chiuho Duval’s White BBQ sauce, for example, has to marinate for at least two weeks; her Tang An sauce has to mature for at least a month before it can become part of your meal.

In a recent conversation, Chiuho revealed some (but certainly not all) of the secrets to her secret sauces.

Kung Po – The origin of this sauce is much debated in and most Chinese restaurants create their own unique version of this complex salty, sweet, sour, spicy sauce. Chiuho’s contains soy, vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, and chilis. The sauce is matured for one week prior to serving.

Tan Tan – A simple peanut sauce with a mild, nutty flavor, Tan Tan is often mixed with other sauces. Ingredients in this sauce often include peanuts, rice vinegar, soy, sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame.

White BBQ Sauce – Consisting of crushed ginger, scallion, salt, peanut oil and Five Flavor Powder, Chiuho’s White BBQ sauce must marinate for at least two weeks before it is served.

Copper Well – A versatile and spicy sauce, Copper Well consists of Sichuan peppercorn, cayenne, sesame seed, black vinegar, brown sugar, and sugar.

La Yu - La Yu is a sauce used for cold salads, noodles and dumplings. It contains: tahini, garlic, chili oil, sugar, Sichuan peppercorn, scallions, soy sauce, sesame, and black pepper.

Sesame Sauce – This sauce is also used for cold salads, noodles and dumplings, but has a nuttier flavor than La Yu. Ingredients: sesame seed, peanut, ginger, scallion, soy, vinegar, sugar, chili sauce, and tahini.

Tang An – This pungent sauce has to mature for at least a month before it makes its way to the table. Ingredients include: light soy, sugar, cider vinegar, rice wine, fermented hot bean sauce and patience.

With a little exploration, you’ll find that these sauces make Chinese food so much more than what you’ll find in a thousand-page cook book or in that little white take-out box.

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Single Pebble at 500,000 BTU’s: Chinese Alchemy

The wok has become a ubiquitous cooking tool in North American kitchens and tofu no longer scares the unwary public. Standard Chinese food ingredients like soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, and rice wine are practically kitchen staples in the average home. But there is more to Chinese food than your average home cook might expect.

Though Chinese food honors six thousand years of culinary tradition, Chinese cooking is like a journey that never arrives. Modern Chinese cooking, like modern yoga, is an evolving practice that conveys the personality and style of each practitioner. Regional and international influences are hard at work here. Chiuho Duval’s cooking style, for example, is informed by her culinary work in Taipei and her French cuisine concentration at the New England Culinary Institute.

Your own cooking will reflect your familial and geographic influences, but for cooks at home and in the restaurant business, there are some constants. Fresh ingredients, individually prepared vegetables and pre-cooked meats are common to much Chinese cuisine, as are these universal cooking techniques: stir-fry, deep-fry, steaming, boiling, barbecuing, cold mixing, and poaching.

But something you won’t find in your home kitchen is Wok-Hay. Wok, of course, refers to the round-bottomed cooking pot we all know and love. Hay is better known in its Mandarin transliteration, qi or ch’i (life energy). Wok-Hay refers to the life energy of a dish. It is also referred to as the spirit of the wok, or the breath of the wok. It is an almost alchemical interaction between the metal of the pan, the seasoning of the wok and the flavors of the food under extreme high heat.

At A Single Pebble, Wok-Hay is achieved at 500,000 BTUs. The BTU (British thermal unit) is a traditional unit of energy. It is approximately the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit (from 39 °F to 40 °F). The average home stove has about 7000 BTUs per burner.

Image credits, Chiuho Duval, www.thekitchn.com

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to spot a good Chinese Restaurant in Vermont (of all places)

LaPlatte Black Angus up closeVermont is celebrated for many remarkable and beautiful things. Unfortunately for the culinary-inquisitor, cultural diversity is nowhere near the top of this list of attributes. Larger cities have developed cultural centers – Little Italy and the ubiquitous China Town. But even as Burlington enjoys a small but steady influx of people and cuisines from around the world, Vermont is still somewhat homogenous, e.g., meat and potatoes.

This makes it difficult to spot a good Chinese restaurant. In New York and Montreal, Chinese foodies and gourmets look for a couple of tell-tale signs: none of the waiters speak English, the diners are all Asian, the menu is written in Chinese. In Vermont, we have to be better sleuths. We have to use our noses to suss out the delectable fragrance of local food.

The abundant and inventive use of local food is part of the reason why A Single Pebble in Burlington was named “The Best Restaurant in Vermont” by Vermont Magazine. For Chef-Owner Chiuho Duval, not only does each dish carry it’s own unique history and story, each ingredient does, too. From the dairy in locally made gelato she serves, to the hormone-free, grass-fed local beef in her Braised Sichuan Beef, Chiuho honors that local story. Take a look at her list of friends.

The use of local foods is not only better for you and the environment, it tastes better. And like the ripple created by a pebble cast into still water, the beneficial effects of eating local food radiate outwards to:

  • Support the local economy – Money spent with local farmers stays close to home.
  • Promote Variety – You can see this on our ever-changing Chef’s Choice Tasting Menu!
  • Create Community – Knowing where your food is from connects you to the people who raise and grow it.

 

Posted in Chinese food | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

My Friend, John

John Kleptz is a tall, thin, reserved man – a farmer through and through.On his weekly visit to the restaurant to deliver beef, he is likely to show up with a gift of fresh peaches from his father’s tree, or to stay for a cup of tea. He knows everybody’s name and takes the time to check in with everyone, as if catching up with old friends.

LaPlatte River Angus Farm, located in Shelburne and Milton, Vermont, is small enough that John delivers our order himself every week; large enough, though to be able to supply the beef for all of our menu dishes, the beef specials we feature every evening, and many other local businesses in the area.  LaPlatte River is home to the largest registered Black Angus herd in New England.

The farm began as a hobby for Jim Kleptz, eventually growing too large for Jim to handle on his own. Now the farm is owned and run by Jim, John, and John’s brother, Mark. The philosophy behind the farm is one based on sustainability and good, old-fashioned neighborliness of a typical Vermont fashion. Most of the fields on which the cattle graze and where they grow and cut hay are either leased or donated by their neighbors. The upkeep of the land that is offered in return, by crop rotation, rotational grazing practices, and fertilization, is invaluable.

When I was a girl, I lived near farms, and when a neighbor would butcher an animal, they would bring some of the meat around to share with the neighbors. I spent enough time at the neighboring farms that I knew exactly which animal had been butchered. I knew what its life had been like, and how it had been raised. I understood the care that was given to every aspect of raising and butchering each animal.

This relationship with my neighbors’ farms is similar to the relationship I have with John and LaPlatte River. I have spent time at the farm, getting to know the animals that provide the food for the restaurant, touring the processing plant, and watching the business as it grows. Sometimes I will pack him a lunch and go to watch him hay the fields. He even let this city girl take a turn at driving his tractor! John wants to know about the restaurant, too; about the new things we are doing, new recipes we’ve tried. And he tells us about his plans for the future – his dream to build their own butcher house, and be as self-sufficient as possible.

In the beginning, Jim and John would pack frozen beef into a suitcase and carry it door to door until they found someone to buy it – a great way to get to know your neighbors. Jim has passed the love for his trade and his care for his neighbors on to his sons. John’s favorite aspect of the business is the face-time he gets with each business. Because of this, John has become a friend, although, sometimes he still calls me ma’am.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment