The picture above shows what appear to be three very different things but, in fact, they are just different forms of a product used in Chinese and South-East Asian cookery, and commonly referred to as ‘Fish Maw’. The word maw actually means stomach, or gullet, and, as such, the term for this product is a bit of a misnomer as it is really the ‘Swim bladder’ of certain bony (non-cartilaginous) species of fish. The swim bladder, is a gas filled sac that lies in the belly and allows the fish that possess them to maintain and control buoyancy at different depths.
As with a number of products in Chinese cookery, this item is used primarily for its texture. Some sources state bluntly that it has no taste of its own but, like tofu, takes on the flavors of other ingredients in a dish. In fact, it does have a certain, mild, ‘fishiness’, but it is still the texture that is important. It is rich in collagen, which not only gives a pleasant texture itself, but the collagen will dissolve into soups and braising liquids to lend added richness.
Several species are harvested for their bladders (Yellow Croaker is a favored type), but I do not know what from what fish any of the ones you see picture were taken… the packages I have, all written exclusively in Chinese characters, are silent on that point… In any event, the two basic forms are the plain dried article (the yellowish things at the bottom right of the picture), and the sort that consists of the same thing that has been deep-fried before being packaged for sale… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)”
The filling for these Jalapeño peppers is very straightforward and simple… not much more than ground pork with scallion and garlic, really. It is the sauce, though, that I think makes this dish. It is based on Oyster Sauce mixed with some rice wine and a little chilli oil, and the sweetness of the primary ingredient is just right without needing any added sugar… Continue reading “Stuffed Jalapeño Peppers”
Dried Abalone is one of those special ingredients, such as Shark fin, to use another example, that are highly prized, especially in Chinese cuisine. These sorts of delicacies typically just served for special occasions, not only because of the sheer expense, but also, because of the time-consuming preparation required.
For those unfamiliar, the Abalone is an open-shelled marine snail that is cultivated and harvested in many places around the world. The fresh meat is considered a delicacy in many cuisines, and one can also buy it canned, but the dried variety is most particularly associated with Chinese cookery. I have yet to try the fresh article myself, and so cannot compare it to the dried , but my experience is that dried abalone, while very tasty (and with a pleasant texture), owes much of its cachet, like, say, rare wines, or long-aged single malt scotches, to the expense rather than any special quality. That being said, though, it is definitely worth trying at least once… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Dried Abalone”
When I was a kid, I heartily disliked green-beans and I never really changed my opinion much over the years. I liked them raw, actually, as they taste quite a bit like snap-peas in that state, but, once cooked, especially by boiling, the nice sweetness of the raw product disappeared. Fresh ones were the best, if I had to eat them, but the frozen sort were rarely very good and the canned (which were all we ever got in school dinners) were nothing less than disgusting.
Once I discovered the Sichuan method of dry-frying beans, however, I found a way where I could genuinely enjoy this vegetable. In this cookery style, the beans are first quickly fried (nowadays mostly by briefly deep-frying) and then they are stir-fried a second time along with various ingredients (commonlya little ground pork, or dried shrimp) and the sort of seasoning such as chili paste, scallion and garlic, that you often find in Sichuan dishes. The taste of the fresh, raw article is preserved and the texture is terrific… Continue reading “Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans”
Lettuce, in the west, is pretty much exclusively thought of as a salad vegetable and always eaten cold. In Chinese cookery, however, it most commonly appears cooked and, indeed, has, traditionally at least, never been eaten raw. It is a bit unfortunate, really, that we haven’t cottoned on to the idea of cooking our lettuce once in a while as the process actually brings out flavors that are often missed. Today, I am showing you a simple preparation illustrating a common sort of dish… Continue reading “Braised Lettuce”
At the restaurant in Ottawa where I ate the above dish, it appeared on the dim sum menu as 煎釀茄子 (jiān niàng qiézi). The final two characters mean eggplant while the second character (which contains the wine radical) generally means to ferment or brew, but, in this specific context, it indicates a stuffed vegetable. The character that is a little odd here is the first which means to pan-fry. However, this particular version was, I am fairly sure, actually deep-fried.
The eggplant in question is one of the slender Asian varieties that has been cut into sections on the bias and then slit open to make a pocket for a stuffing of minced shrimp. After frying, the pieces were served in a sweetish, soy based sauce that went really well. The eggplant was nicely tender and I generally enjoyed this but the restaurant was too skimpy with the filling. Eggplant dominated shrimp to an unfortunate degree. When I reproduce this dish (probably using zucchini instead of eggplant), I will be considerably more generous…
Chicken’s feet are a popular snack in many parts of Asia and are a regular item on the menu at dim sum restaurants where they are often not identified as ‘chicken feet’ but rather appear, in writing’ as 鳳爪 (fèng zhǎo), which translates to the slightly more poetic ‘Phoenix Talons’. I first tried them in Toronto about 30 years ago (as part of my first dim sum experience, as it happened) and, as with many westerners, the idea of actually eating the feet seemed a little strange but, after a while, they don’t relay seem that much different from eating wings (although the texture is quite different).
Feet are invariably served in steamer baskets in dim sum restaurants (and this is how they keep them hot), but they are first deep fried which not only gives them some color but also causes them to puff up slightly. Afterwards they are stewed in a simmering sauce that often contains bean paste, sugar, and, quite often whole black beans (though other ingredients and flavourings can be used as well).
The ones in the main picture above, which I recently had in Vancouver) appeared on the menu as 豆豉鳳爪 (dòu chǐfèng zhǎo), meaning that they are prepared with Chinese Salted Black Bean. Actually, very few beans were apparent (you can just make out a couple), and the usual black bean flavor wasn’t very apparent. The ones in the inset (which I believe I had in Ottawa), were also made using black bean, although the paste rather than whole beans) and they were also really garlicky, as well as being very plump and tender.
There is almost no meat in chickens feet (in contrast to the wing), and it is the skin that gives them the very gelatinous quality that is much loved by the Chinese and favored by me as well. Another factor that distinguishes the feet from the wing is the sheer number of tiny bones. The general approach is to suck larger pieces into your mouth and then work the plump, unctuous skin away from the little bones and then spit these out. In a Chinese restaurant, you will often see people doing this right onto the tablecloth … it’s all part of the experience J
A while ago, I downloaded a picture of an interesting looking dish which bore the title ‘Salted Duck Egg Yolk Fried Prawns’. There was no recipe, nor even any description, rather, it was just a picture of a dish enjoyed by someone in a restaurant in, I think, Malaysia or Singapore. Now, I have written about Chinese Salted Duck Egg before and I mentioned that you can purchase them in their raw state, or cooked. I do not know what was used in the dish that inspired this experiment, but I only had the latter on hand and so was limited to using that. Anyway, here is what I did… Continue reading “Salted Duck Egg Fried Shrimp”
Steamed pork Ribs, especially with Black Beans, is something I cook regularly at home but it is also a regular on dim sum menus everywhere. I most commonly prepare this as an entrée sized dish but a small plate of two or three makes a lovely snack at any time…
Generally, small sections of pork rib are dusted in flour after being lightly seasoned and then steamed with Chinese Salted Black Beans along with soy sauce, or rice wine, so that a nice light sauce is produced. Chilli can be included, as well as sugar, and the flour thickens things very nicely.
What was different about the ones I ate in in Vancouver’s New Town Restaurant recently (and pictured above) was the addition of a slice of Chinese Preserved Sausage. This added a unique umami depth and obviated the need for any additional sugar or other sweetener. I have not come across this before but I will be incorporating it in my own preparations in the future for sure…
Today’s little appetizer is adapted from a Chinese recipe I first tried many, many years ago. I can’t quite recall where I saw it, but I am fairly sure it is Cantonese. Although it is ‘oil sizzled’ the shrimp are actually first steamed with some aromatics, and hot oil is drizzled over them just before serving to really enhance the flavor. Once you have done the finicky part of ‘prepping’ the shrimp, the process is pretty easy… Continue reading “Oil Sizzled Shrimp”