Monday, January 30, 2012

Chen Pi: Dried Tangerine Peel

Homemade Chen Pi

Recipe by Robin

A while ago I became obsessed with traditional Chinese herbal ingredients and their health benefits. Much of this interest came from reading The Chinese Herbal Cookbook by Penelope Ody, Alice Lyon, and Dragana Vilinac. The authors, according to the introduction, are trained herbalists in European and Chinese traditions, with medical rather than culinary training. Still, these “enthusiastic amateur cooks” have invented some unusual and intriguing recipes for specific health purposes. Their cookbook is one of my favorites, with sections about eating foods in season, immune-boosting, women’s health, and much more. Read my complete review on Goodreads.

Drying Chen Pi
Some recipes, both sweet and savory, call for Chen Pi, or dried tangerine peel. Typically this is soaked to reconstitute before using in recipes. Originally I bought Chen Pi in an herb store, but one time the supply had turned moldy due to moisture in the storage bin. Luckily, this happened in winter, and I decided to make my own by drying the peels that we would otherwise discard. Homemade Chen Pi is more colorful and tastes fresher, and you can cut any size or shape pieces that you like. For easy drying, I prefer thin strips.

Keep the Peels!
Tangerines are in season, and winter is the time to make chen pi for the year. Do buy organic tangerines, as citrus skin dyes are not subject to as strict regulation as food dyes, and growers are not required to disclose their use. I’ve experimented with just cutting the peel into small pieces, and with scraping the white pith from the inside of the peel and slicing up just the zest. Whole peel is more traditional, but takes more time to dry. Scraping off the pith concentrates the tangerine flavor and allows shorter and less fussy drying time, but perhaps doesn’t have all the health benefits. I like to make some of each, because they do taste different.

According to the authors, chen pi is a rich source of Vitamin C, tonifies spleen Qi (life force), and can ease indigestion and nausea. Traditional Chinese medicine considers chen pi bitter, pungent, and warm. You can use it in bean soups, minestrone, and confectioneries such as yam muffins and puddings. It’s also used as a Chinese medicinal herb in healing tea decoctions, and you can experiment with teas of your own. I’d like to boil some up with chai spices for an unusual and warming winter blend. If you have another idea for using chen pi, please post a comment.

Tangerine Peel Ready to Dry
Homemade Chen Pi
3 – 5 large tangerines

You will need to dry the chen pi in a somewhat warm room, but it only takes 2 – 5 days, and shrinks during the process. Air needs to circulate around the chen pi as it dries, so only cut up what you have room to dry. I’ve found the “broiler” pan on my toaster oven useful, also baskets lined with very lightweight kitchen towels. Wire cooling racks covered with a lightweight towel is another good choice.

It's Easy to Remove the Pith
In Chinese tradition, chen pi is left in chunks and not cut up. I found that smaller, more uniform pieces dry quicker and look prettier, and I don’t have to chop them to measure them when I use them. But it’s up to you whether to chop or not.

Begin by peeling tangerine skin off in one long strip, if possible. If making the no-pith, zest-only variety, scrape the white pith from the inside of peel with a spoon. For either variety, cut into small (1/4 inch or less) strips. Scatter onto a breathable surface, shaking or stirring around once or twice a day to separate pieces and expose different areas to air. They should dry in 5 days or less.

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