Memories of Dried Shiitakes, Sweet Chinese Sausage, and Sticky Rice

Dried shiitakes -- a must-have ingredient for Thanksgiving sticky rice.

For my brother Dale and I, Chinese sticky rice has been both the hallmark and the bane of the Thanksgivings each of us has hosted over the years.

This traditional dish of glutinous rice studded with salty dried shrimp, slices of fatty Chinese sausage, earthy shiitakes, and crunchy bits of water chestnuts has been a staple at our family’s Thanksgivings since I can remember.

But the sticky rice also has proved, well, a sticking point. You see, try as we might, for years he and I could never make sticky rice that proved up to snuff for our Mom.

My late-Mom took pride in all that she did, and was quite the perfectionist. When she sewed, if a stitch was at all crooked, she’d rip it out and start over. When I used to sew as a teenager, I was less fastidious. I remember times when an inner seam might turn out a little less than straight, and I’d tell her, “Nobody will ever see it.” She’d give me that look, which basically said, “Yes, but you will know it’s crooked. You will know you did not do it as best you could.” All it took was that look, and the next thing I knew, I’d be ripping out the thread to redo it.

Of course, with a rice cooker full of steaming sticky rice cooking away, it’s a little harder to rip things out and start over.

Still, even as a child, I remember my Mom anxious over the outcome of the sticky rice. It was always made in the big rice cooker, not the smaller one we used for everyday meals. She’d peer into the rice cooker now and then to stir the contents or to monitor its progress. She’d fret if it wasn’t cooking as fast as it should. She’d sigh if it started sticking on the bottom of the inner pot.

Who knew rice could be so nerve-wracking?

When each of us got married, my brother Dale and I would take turns hosting the family Thanksgiving feast at our respective houses. And even if stuffing, potatoes or pasta were also on the menu, we’d still make sticky rice. It wasn’t a Jung Thanksgiving without it.

No matter how it came out, everyone would always enjoy a big scoop of it on their plates along with turkey, and the rest of the fixings. My Mom would always let us know what she thought of it, too. My husband even started turning it into a game every Thanksgiving; he’d purposely ask her, “Is the sticky rice as good as yours?” And we’d all wait with bated breath for the answer.

“Not salty enough,” she said once about my brother’s rendition.

“Too mushy,” she said another time about my first feeble attempt.

Then, there was the year I thought I’d inject a modern twist by using black rice instead. When she saw it, I think she thought I’d lost my mind.

Even after a stroke left her speech severely impaired and she could manage only one-word responses, my Mom still managed to pass judgment on the sticky rice. My husband would still ask her, “So is Dale’s rice as good as yours?”

Invariably, she would answer, “No.”

And we would all stifle a laugh at this Thanksgiving tradition we’d grown to enjoy as much as the sticky rice itself.

Because after all, no matter what she remarked about the rice, my Mom always ate it heartily just the same. I think she knew that unwavering constant in life just as all Moms do: No one can ever make a dish quite as good as their Mom’s original one. But I think she was pleased we continued to try our very best to do so.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be making the sticky rice. I’ll be using a recipe I’ve managed to perfect after many attempts. It’s similar to my Mom’s, but I like to add a few more flourishes, including freshly roasted chestnuts, slivered green onions, and a splash of mirin (Japanese rice wine).

I’ll be making it in the same big rice cooker my Mom once used. And when I take my first forkful of sticky rice that night, I know my Mom will be there in spirit, pleased that comforting dish graces our holiday table as always.

My Version of My Mom’s Sticky Rice

(serves 10)

1/2 cup dried shrimp

16 dried shiitake mushrooms

5 sweet Chinese sausages (lop chong), diced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

14 roasted chestnuts, peeled, and coarsely diced

8 fresh or canned water chestnuts, diced (optional)

3 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons mirin

4 tablespoons oyster sauce, divided use

2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided use

2 1/2 cups glutinous or sticky rice, washed and drained

1/2 cup jasmine rice, washed and drained

3 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Soak dried shrimp in a bowl of warm water for about 20 minutes. Soak dried mushrooms in another bowl of warm water for about 20 minutes. Drain shrimp and chop. Drain mushrooms, cut off woody stem, and chop mushroom caps.

Heat peanut oil in large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add Chinese sausages and minced ginger, and stir. Cook about 2 minutes. Add dried shrimp, dried mushrooms, roasted chestnuts, water chestnuts, green onion, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Stir, and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Mixture can be made up to 2 days ahead, and stored covered in refrigerator.

Place sticky rice and jasmine rice in a bowl of a 5.6-cup or larger rice cooker. Add chicken broth, 3 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour before cooking.

When ready to cook, place rice in bowl in your rice cooker.  Pour sausage-chestnut-mushroom mixture over the top. Cook in rice cooker, following manufacturer’s directions. Once cooked, allow to steam for about 15 minutes before lifting the lid. Stir cooked rice so all ingredients are incorporated, then serve. 

From Carolyn Jung

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Date: Tuesday, 25. November 2008 5:15
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Asian Recipes, General, Ginger, Recipes (Savory)

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21 comments

  1. 1

    Thanks for sharing those memories with us! This sticky rice dish sounds fantastic!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    Few people believe they make the beloved dishes of their childhood as well as their mother. But there’s no better way to honor a mom than to continue her traditions. I am certain your mom will be smiling down on you as you prepare sticky rice this Thanksgiving. And it will be every bit as good as hers because you are making it in her honor. Thanks for sharing a nice memory, and a great sounding recipe, Carolyn.

  3. 3

    I had this rice all the time as a kid – though not for Thanksgiving since I didn’t celebrate that til I moved to the US as an adult. I can’t wait to try this out! Thanks.

  4. 4

    Lovely story, and great recipe, and is very similar to my mom’s version (which always had those tiny dried Chinese oysters). Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and keep up the great writing!

  5. 5

    Great memories. My mother ALWAYS has sticky rice at her house. Rice gets eaten with everything. I think the world would fall apart if her rice cooker ever broke. Hmmm….maybe I should try to make some sticky rice with Christmas dinner this year, I think she’d like that.

  6. 6

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! May it be filled with lots of sticky rice — or barring that, many other beloved dishes that have soul, passion, and love.

  7. 7

    Thanks for sharing the touching story! And nothing will ever beat mom’s cooking, no matter how hard we try. Chinese sticky rice has become a Thanksgiving staple for us too. It’s definitely my favorite turkey day dish.

  8. 8

    Lovely story, and terrific-looking recipe. Where can I find Chinese sausages locally? I’d like to give this a try.

  9. 9

    Cheryl, you can find Chinese sausages in the refrigerator section of most Asian markets, such as 99 Ranch. They are a great addition to many Chinese dishes, included a home-style one of steamed chicken and black mushrooms. My Dad used to like to slice some up to mix into scrambled eggs, too.

  10. 10

    My aunt used to make this for us every Thanksgiving. After she passed away, no one dared to even try making it — for fear of comparisons.

    Years later, I now make this annually for my own family, as a part of our Chinese New Year celebration. It’s always a hit, and the good news is that my nieces and newphew are wanting to learn how to make it, so the can have it more frequently. I guess the traditions will continue!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. 11

    Now I have the recipe and the story too :-) Thank you, Carolyn.

  12. 12

    I’m totally making this. Totally. Loved the entire post.

    I lost my Mom when I was 12 and she was a BIG cook (only American Southern, Creole and Cajun instead of Asian) so your story touched me. I always make her yellow squash casserole for T-day. I seriously doubt she would think it’s as good as when she makes it. My aunt has actually told me that. Nice, huh?

    I’ll let you know how the recipe goes. AKA, I’ll let you know how I screw it up. I don’t have a rice cooker though, is that okay? I can borrow one.

  13. 13

    Culinary Sherpas, you crack me up about your aunt. Why is it the elderly can be so brutal in their honesty at times? Hah. I’m sure we’ll all be like that, too, when we get to that age.

    And sure, by all means, borrow a rice cooker. It is so much easier than trying to cook it on the stovetop. Of course, it can be done that way, too. On the stovetop, you just need to increase the amount of liquid a bit, and to watch it a little more carefully.

    Happy holidays. And I am sure your version of your Mom’s yellow squash casserole rocks!

  14. 14

    You’re right. Our mothers’ cooking will always be better than ours. Your mum will be happy knowing that this tradition is still being carried out on your dining table every Thanksgiving xxoo

  15. 15

    Carolyn!

    Thanks for sharing this sweet story and memory of your mom. Thanksgiving is always the hardest holiday for me as it’s near my late mom’s birthday. xo

  16. 16

    [...] repertoire. She first published this recipe in early 2000 and later republished it on a memoir in her blog. Click image to zoom [...]

  17. 17

    What brand of sweet/glutinous rice do you recommend? Thank you in advance.

  18. 18

    Cindy: I’m not sure if the brand makes a big difference, but I’ve been using a Thai sweet rice I get from my local Asian market. Hope that helps!

  19. 19

    [...] More Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Table: My Take on My Mom’s Sticky Rice [...]

  20. 20

    Hi Carolyn! This is a super old post but I was thinking of making sticky rice and thought of your website first. I was wondering if you use the “sweet rice” setting on your rice cooker. I have a Tiger brand cooker – not sure if that makes a difference. I made a very different kind of sticky rice before (just rice, mung beans and sausage) and I like it really soft so I use the sweet rice setting. I know this version of sticky rice is supposed to have more of a chewy consistency, so will the sweet rice setting work here too? Thanks!

  21. 21

    Lisa: I just have a very old-school rice cooker that has only on/off/warm/cook buttons. But I would guess that the “sweet rice” setting would work on your rice cooker for this recipe. Sticky rice takes longer to cook, so I’m thinking this setting would allow for that.

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