Lo Mai Gai
(Chinese rice steamed in lotus leaves)
These yummy, steamed rice packets wrapped in lotus leaves come from the southern Guangdong province and are a traditional item at dim sum restaurants. Each packet typically comes with a flavorful filling of chicken (gai), sausages and mushrooms.
Lo mai gai (糯米雞) are made with a special, sticky type of rice called glutinous or sweet rice that gives them a unique texture. It's worth it to use this type of rice if you can find it. Otherwise, you can substiture regular long or medium-grained rice.
It takes some time to prepare the ingredients for lo mai gai, but the actual assembly is really quite easy. Make up a single or double batch on a Sunday and freeze it for a quick and easy lunch option for the work week. Or make smaller, appetizer-sized packages (chun chu gai) to serve with an assortment of dim sum for a special dinner party.
Makes 8 packets
For the rice
- Glutinous, or sweet, rice -- 2 1/2 cups
- Rice wine -- 1 tablespoon
- Light soy sauce -- 1 tablespoon
- Sesame oil -- 2 teaspoons
- Salt and white pepper -- a pinch of each
For the filling
- Chinese sausages (lap cheong) -- 2 or 3
- Dried shiitake mushrooms -- 6 to 8
- Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless -- 1/2 pound
- Rice wine or water -- 1 tablespoon
- Oyster sauce -- 1 tablespoon
- Garlic, minced -- 2 or 3 cloves
- Sugar -- 1 teaspoon
- Cornstarch -- 1 teaspoon
- Salt and white pepper -- a pinch of each
- Oil -- 2 or 3 tablespoons
- Lotus leaves -- 4
- Place the rice in a bowl and add fresh water to cover by about two inches. Soak the rice for 4 to 8 hours, the longer the better better. Drain the rice and mix it with the rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Set the rice aside while you prepare the filling.
- Soak the sausages in hot water for 10 minutes. Then drain and rinse, remove the casings and slice each sausage thinly on the diagonal. Set aside.
- Soak the shiitakes in hot water for 30 minutes. Then drain and squeeze the soaked mushrooms to remove excess soaking water. Remove and discard the mushroom stems and slice the caps thinly.
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and mix in a bowl with the remaining ingredients except for the oil. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high flame. Add the sausages and saute to lightly brown, 1 or 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute for another 1 or 2 minutes. Finally, add the chicken and its marinade and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Set the filling aside to cool.
- Use a pair of scissors to cut off the pointy stem end of each leaf, then cut each leaf into two equal pieces. Add the leaves to a large bowl or pan and pour hot water over them. Set aside to soak and soften for about 30 minutes. Drain the lotus leaves and pat dry.
- Now you're ready to assemble your lo mai gai; gather all your ingredients together. Lay a leaf out flat on a cutting board or work station. Mound about 1/4 cup of the seasoned rice in the middle of the leaf. Top the mound of rice with a spoonful of the filling mixture. Then put another 1/4 cup of rice over the top and mold the mound with moistened hands to enclose the filling.
- Fold the bottom of the lotus leaf up over the rice mound, then fold over each side of the leaf like a package. Finally, roll the package up from the bottom to completely enclose the rice. Take care to leave some room for the rice to expand in the package as it steams or it may burst. Set the packet aside, seam-side down, and repeat with the remaining leaves and rice. You can tie each package closed with some string if you like.
- Half fill a large pot with water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.Place the rice packets to a large steamer basket that fits snugly inside or over the top of the pot. Reduce heat to medium and steam the packets for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, checking now and then to make sure the water doesn't evaporate. Add more water as needed.
- Remove the packages from the steamer and serve. Each diner unfolds his or her own package to get at the flavorful rice inside.
Lo Mai Gai Notes and Variations
- To cut the steaming time: Partially or fully cook the rice before steaming to cut down significantly on the amount of time needed for steaming the packets. Let the cooked rice cool enough for handling before assembling the packets.
- Other filling additions: Feel free to vary the filling ingredients to your taste. Other popular additions include cured pork belly, salted egg yolks, baby corn, bamboo shoots, dried shrimp.
- Other wrappings: If you can't obtain lotus leaves, you can use banana leaves, parchment paper or even aluminum foil instead. The lotus leaves do impart a unique flavor to the rice though.
- Freezing: Lo mai gai freeze well. Wrap in aluminum foil or plastic before freezing. To reheat, steam or microwave on high until heated through to 165°F.
- Lo mai gai in a bowl: For an easier version without the leaves, you can steam the rice and its filling in bowls. Partially cook the soaked rice first by adding it to a large pot of boiling water and cooking for about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse the rice and then mix it with the rice seasoning ingredients. Add a tablespoon of dark soy sauce to give it some color. To assemble, add a scoop of the cooked meat and mushroom mixture to the bottom of lightly oiled medium-sized rice bowls. Fill up the rest of the bowls with the par-cooked rice. Place the bowls into a roasting pan and fill the pan half full with hot water. Cover the roasting pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil and seal tightly. Place the pan in a 350°F oven and cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn each bowl over onto a serving plate or into a larger bowl. Serve immediately.
- Zongzi: Zongzi are a variation of lo mai gai that are wrapped in bamboo leaves into a triangular-shaped package.