Book Revives Lavish Dishes that Disappeared from Hong Kong Restaurants

Bernice Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

In 2013, a Hong Kong newspaper invited a well-known chef and restaurateur to write a weekly column about long-lost Cantonese dishes. But Chui Wai-kwan, known as “Brother Seven” and a chef for over 50 years, had no experience in writing for the media, so the Hong Kong Economic Journal hired Malaysian-Chinese freelance writer Agnes Chee to ghostwrite the column in the Chinese-language publication.

“When they contacted me I didn’t know anything about these dishes, but immediately agreed to do the project because I thought it would be a good learning opportunity,” Chee recalls.

It turned out to be such an education that she recently turned these columns into a book called Vanishing Flavours of Cantonese Cuisine, which was published just in time for July’s Hong Kong Book Fair.

When Chee began interviewing chef Chui for the assignment, she was overwhelmed by his knowledge of these forgotten dishes she had never heard of before.

“Afterwards I tried to look them up online and either there was no information, or a famous writer like Chua Lam had mentioned them in passing but said nothing about how these dishes were made or their ingredients. That’s when I realised there was no written record of these dishes,” she says.

Decades ago in Hong Kong, wealthy customers visiting high-end restaurants, such as Fook Lam Moon, would order dishes like double-boiled pig’s stomach stuffed with chicken and bird’s nest; wok-seared crab cake with bird’s nest and egg white; and wok-fried, thinly sliced giant sea conch “snow flakes” with chicken fillet and crispy Jinhua ham medallions.

They were later dropped off menus because they were very laborious to prepare, the menu price didn’t make them worth the effort involved, or they required such expertise that the chances of executing them perfectly was very low, Chee says.

She asked Chui to make the dishes he talked about so she would have a better understanding of the cooking process and their taste. This was also a learning opportunity for staff in the kitchen of his restaurant Seventh Son, in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district, since many of them had never made the dishes, or had not made them in decades.

For example, lamb cheek and knuckle soup is considered a cheaper version of snake soup and, like the latter, is eaten in winter. The lamb cheeks are braised, then hand shredded. The meat is delicious and has a very smooth texture, Chee says.

The leg bones are used to make a soup, with the cartilage thickening it. The rest of the recipe is very similar to snake soup, featuring ingredients such as sliced mushrooms, shredded chicken, wood ear fungus, and Chinese ham. It is eaten with chrysanthemum petals, kaffir lime leaves and fried crackers.

The two soups are equally laborious to make, but when a restaurant can only charge HK$1,200 (US$150) for a tureen of lamb soup that feeds six, compared to HK$3,000 for a similar-sized amount of snake soup, it is obvious which one is worth cooking.

Another dish that requires top culinary skills is wok-fried, thinly sliced giant sea conch “snow flakes” with chicken fillet and crispy Jinhua ham medallions.

“It sounds like an ordinary dish, but it was lost for a long time. When I was researching this dish online, I could only find it mentioned once, in passing, by food critic Chua Lam, who said you can’t find the dish any more in Hong Kong. There was nothing about how it was prepared,” Chee says.

It costs HK$7,000 to make the dish. Sourcing a large, fresh sea conch of good quality from Chaozhou, in Guangdong province, southern China, can cost HK$2,000 alone. Then the chef must extract the meat of the conch carefully, without wastage, and slice it evenly, ensuring the slices are just the right thickness.

Another element of the dish is Chinese ham, marinated in a honey glaze and sliced thinly so that it, the chicken and the conch slices are eaten stacked together like a mini-sandwich.

People who have read Chui’s column have requested the dish at his restaurant. “I’ve eaten this dish five or six times, and each time Chui’s chefs improve. The sea conch is cooked a fraction of a second less [each time], so the taste gets better and better,” Chee says.

She describes another dish, called wok-seared crab cake with bird’s nest and egg white, which she nicknames “Chinese bird’s nest eggs Benedict”, though there is no English muffin or Hollandaise sauce involved.

Bird’s nest is first cooked in chicken stock to give it flavour, then combined with egg whites and fresh crabmeat before being steamed into the shape of a pipa, a pear-shaped Chinese plucked musical instrument. Afterwards it is pan-fried and served on a bed of vegetables.

“It’s so good, very fragrant and has such an elegant taste, with lots of umami from the crabmeat,” Chee says. “It’s very light and refreshing, but very flavourful.” This dish costs HK$320 and is available at Seventh Son. It was added to the menu because many readers wanted to try the dish.

For the book, she also interviewed other chefs like Leung Fai-hung of Hoi King Heen at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, Jayson Tang Ka-ho at Man Ho in the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong and Danny Yip of The Chairman, Hong Kong’s lone representative in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

“Chef Leung was very happy to make dishes he hadn’t made for many years,” Chee says. “He recreated dishes that he learned when he was 17 years old and hadn’t made since.”

She says Chinese food is still underrated, with many believing dishes are quick and inexpensive to make and ignorant of the fact they can include expensive ingredients and require skilled, knowledgeable chefs to cook them.

“Many Chinese chefs can’t speak English so their cooking techniques aren’t easily shared with non-Chinese-speaking chefs, Chee says. There are plans to translate her Chinese-language book into English next year.

Source: SCMP

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Shrimp Toasts

Ingredients

6 oz peeled shrimp
1/2 in cube fresh root ginger, peeled and crushed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon plum sauce
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 small egg, beaten
4 teaspoons sesame seeds
4 slices thin sliced white bread, crusts removed
vegetable oil
cucumber strips and chopped spring onion, to garnish

Method

  1. Put shrimp, ginger, garlic and spring onions into a blender or food processor and process for 30 seconds to roughly chop.
  2. In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, plum sauce, cornstarch and egg. Stir in prawn mixture and sesame seeds and bind together.
  3. Spread shrimp mixture over the bread, pressing down firmly.
  4. In a frying pan, heat 3/4 in of oil. Fry the bread, prawn sides down, for 2-3 minutes until golden, pressing down well in the oil.
  5. Turn over and fry for a further 1 minute. Remove from the pan and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Cut into fingers and serve at once, garnished with cucumber strips and chopped spring onion.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Breakfasts and Brunches

In Pictures: Home-cooked Breakfasts

Fighting Back Against the Ravages of Aging

Greta Harrison wrote . . . . . . . . .

New USC Viterbi research tells us more than we’ve ever known about how and why our cells age, paving the way for a healthier, happier old age.

For centuries, humans have been obsessed with halting the negative effects of aging; searching for a so-called fountain of youth. While humans are unlikely to achieve immortality any time soon, new research could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works. This paves the way for better cancer treatments and revolutionary new drugs that could vastly improve human health in the twilight years.

The work, from USC Viterbi Assistant Professor in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, Nick Graham and his team in collaboration with Scott Fraser, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, and Pin Wang, Zohrab A. Kaprielian Fellow in Engineering, was recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“To drink from the fountain of youth, you have to figure out where the fountain of youth is, and understand what the fountain of youth is doing,” Graham said. “We’re doing the opposite; we’re trying to study the reasons cells age, so that we might be able to design treatments for better aging.”

How do Cells Age?

To achieve this, lead author Alireza Delfarah, a graduate student in the Graham lab, focused on expanding our knowledge of senescence, a natural process in which cells permanently stop creating new cells. This process is one of the key causes of age-related decline, manifesting in diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis and heart disease.

“Senescent cells are effectively the opposite of stem cells, which have an unlimited potential for self-renewal or division,” Delfarah said. “Senescent cells can never divide again. It’s an irreversible state of cell cycle arrest.”

The research team discovered that the aging, senescent cells they studied stopped producing a class of chemicals called nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA. When they took young cells and forced them to stop producing nucleotides, they became senescent, or aged.

“This means that the production of nucleotides is essential to keep cells young,” Delfarah said. “It also means that if we could prevent cells from losing nucleotide synthesis, the cells might age more slowly.”

Graham’s team examined young cells that were proliferating robustly and fed them molecules labeled with stable isotopes of carbon, in order to trace how the nutrients consumed by a cell are processed into different biochemical pathways.

Scott Fraser and his lab worked with the research team to develop 3D imagery of the results. The images unexpectedly revealed that senescent cells often have two nuclei, and that they do not synthesize DNA.

Before now, senescence has primarily been studied in cells known as fibroblasts, the most common cells that comprised the connective tissue in animals. Graham’s team is instead focusing on how senescence occurs in epithelial cells, the cells that line the surfaces of the organs and structures in your body. These are also the types of cells in which most cancers arise.

Graham said that senescence is most widely known as the body’s protective barrier against cancer: When cells sustain damage that could be at risk of developing into cancer, they enter into senescence and stop proliferating so that the cancer does not develop and spread.

“Sometimes people talk about senescence as a double-edged sword, that it protects against cancer, and that’s a good thing,” Graham said. “But then it also promotes aging and diseases like diabetes, cardiac dysfunction or atherosclerosis and general tissue dysfunction,” he said.

Graham said the goal was not to completely prevent senescence, because that might unleash cancer cells. “But then on the other hand, we would like to find a way to remove senescent cells to promote healthy aging and better function,” he said.

Drugs to Help Humans Grow Older More Comfortably

Graham said that the team’s research has strong applications in the emerging field of senolytics, the development of drugs that may be able to eliminate aging cells. He said that human clinical trials are still in early stages.

He added that in order for successful senolytic drugs to be designed, it was important to identify what is unique about a senescent cell, so the drug won’t affect the normal, non-senescent cells.

“That’s where we’re coming in—studying senescent cell metabolism and trying to figure out how the senescent cells are unique, so that you could design targeted therapeutics around these metabolic pathways,” Graham said.

Source: University of Southern California

Study: Blood Test May Spot Brain Changes of Early Alzheimer’s

A simple blood test helped pinpoint the early signs of Alzheimer’s in a new study.

Up to two decades before people develop Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss and confusion, harmful clumps of amyloid beta protein begin to accumulate in their brain, researchers explained.

But it’s possible to measure levels of amyloid beta in the blood and use that information to determine whether the protein has accumulated in the brain, they added.

Combining blood amyloid levels with two other major Alzheimer’s risk factors — age and the genetic variant APOE4 — can identify people who have early Alzheimer’s brain changes with 94% accuracy, according to the scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The study included 150 adults over age 50 who had no thinking or memory problems.

The blood test may be even more sensitive than the current gold standard — a PET brain scan — at detecting early amyloid accumulation in the brain, according to the authors.

The findings advance efforts to have a blood test to identify people who will develop Alzheimer’s before they have symptoms, and such a test could be available in doctors’ offices within a few years, the researchers said.

They added that the benefits of the blood test would be even greater once there are treatments to stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also noted that one difficulty in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s drugs is identifying patients who have Alzheimer’s brain changes but no symptoms. The blood test could provide an efficient way to find people with early signs of the disease to participate in drug clinical trials.

“Right now, we screen people for clinical trials with brain scans, which is time-consuming and expensive, and enrolling participants takes years,” explained study senior author Dr. Randall Bateman, a professor of neurology.

“But with a blood test, we could potentially screen thousands of people a month,” he said in a Washington University news release. “That means we can more efficiently enroll participants in clinical trials, which will help us find treatments faster, and could have an enormous impact on the cost of the disease as well as the human suffering that goes with it.”

Maria Carrillo, chief science officer the Alzheimer’s Association, said such a test would be welcomed.

“There is a great need for simple, reliable, inexpensive, noninvasive and easily available tools to support early detection and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

“That said, while the results are encouraging, none of these tests is ready for use in doctors’ offices. They need to be verified in larger and more diverse populations,” Carrillo added.

“In fact, rather than in doctors’ offices, the first uses for these new techniques/technologies may be in clinical trials to identify possible participants who are most likely to benefit from the tested intervention,” she said.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.

Source: HealthDay


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