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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Make Summer Easy With Five Simple Grilling Recipes From Top Chefs

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . . .

We’ve said it before: Summer is the time when any cooking you do will hopefully involve the grill.

But as the hot weather months roll on, the excitement of cooking on a grill can fade. Whereas Day One of grilling season might entail dishes that take hours of preparation—handmade barbecue sauces, hours of smoking—by Day 55, it’s a different story.

In short, it’s a good time to master satisfyingly easy recipes. To do that, we turned to top chefs, who spend enough time crafting meticulous dishes in their day job. They still want to grill on their time off, but they want it to be as simple as possible. Josh Capon, of Bowery Meat Company in New York, breaks it down: “I work hard at my restaurant. When I’m off, I’m going to let my grill do the work.” His go-to recipe is a mess of chopped vegetables and cubed meat, tossed with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Get whatever kids are handy, he recommends, and get them to put the mix on metal skewers. Grill on medium heat until the meat is done, and you’re ready to go.

Here, five other hard-wording chefs offer the dishes they make with no more than six ingredients that, on a hot summer day, provide maximum flavor for minimal effort.

Buffalo Chicken Tenders

Who Says? Michael Symon, Angeline at Borgata, Atlantic City, N.J., and co-star of the daytime TV show, The Chew

Lazy Fix: “This recipe is from my cookbook 5 for 5 for Every Season, and it gives everyone the chance to feel like buffalo chicken is a summer dish.

“Season 2 lbs. boneless chicken tenders with salt and pepper. In a bowl, toss with ½ cup of hot sauce. Put the chicken on a grill over a medium hot fire and cook, covered, turning once, until charred and cooked through, about 4 minutes total.

“In a bowl, combine 2 cups sliced celery with ½ cup crumbled blue cheese and 2 tbsp. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the salad on top of the chicken, and add more hot sauce if desired.”

Stuffed Burgers

Who Says? Joseph Johnson, Minton’s, New York

Lazy Fix: “My go-to recipe on the grill at home is cheese-and-green stuffed burgers; the beauty of them is that you get everything in one bite. For the burgers, I use a blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket. Shape the meat into slim patties. Top half of them with a mix of grated cheeses—I use sharp Cheddar and feta, plus precooked, chopped broccoli or whatever vegetable you like. Cover with another patty and seal the edges so the filling is enclosed. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium hot fire. Serve it on a potato bun (you probably want to toast it) with some spicy pickles, and BBQ sauce on top.”

Eat-With-Your-Hands Lamb Chops

Who Says? Zak Pelaccio, James Beard-winning chef at Fish & Game, Hudson, N.Y.

Lazy Fix: “Take four large lamb chops. Use a mallet (or any heavy, blunt object at your disposal) to pound the lamb chops as thin as you can without tearing/breaking apart the chop. Season with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

“Meanwhile, mash 12 anchovy fillets and 8 peeled garlic cloves. Stir in 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil and ¾ cup fresh lemon juice. Season with salt.

“Grill the lamb over the screaming hottest part of your fire (and preferably that’s a charcoal fire with coals so hot they’re white and laced with flames). If you’ve pounded the chops nice and thin (to approx. ¼” thick), the cooking time will be approximately 1½ minutes on the first side and 45 seconds to 1 minute once flipped. Grind pepper on top and serve with the garlic vinaigrette.”

Korean Short Ribs

Who Says? Daniel Patterson, Coi and Alta, San Francisco, and co-founder of the charitable fast food mini chain, Locol, in California

Lazy Fix: “My go-to grilling recipe for the summer is kalbi (short ribs), treated simply with an easy marinade. [Editors note: Make sure to have Asian ingredients on hand.] All you need to do is whisk together ¼ cup soy sauce, 2½ tbsp. red miso, ⅓ cup lemon juice, ⅓ cup honey, 1½ tbsp. red chile paste (gochujang) or sriracha, and 2 tbsp. fish sauce (optional). Then you let the short ribs sit in the marinade for about 30 minutes at room temperature before tossing them on the grill over high heat. Takes about three to four minutes on each side. I typically serve the kalbi in a big pile with a bunch of different vegetables from my local market or salads made from whatever produce and scraps I can find in my fridge.”

Grilled Burrata Pizza

Who Says? Marc Forgione, chef/owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione, New York

Lazy Fix: “Roll out store-bought pizza dough into rough circles or rectangles. Set the dough over a very hot fire for 30 seconds. Remove from the grill (use a pizza peel if you have one), dust with semolina flour, and grill the other side for 30 seconds. Flip the dough again, top with cut-up fresh tomatoes or a good-quality jarred sauce, burrata (or mozzarella), and your favorite herbs. Close the top and cook just until the dough is cooked through and a little bit charred.”

Source: Bloomberg

Food Scientists have Discovered a Surprising Principle behind Good Recipes

Given the number of ingredients that humans eat, the total number of ways to combine them is on the order of 10 to the 15th power. And yet the actual number of recipes we eat is around one million—a small fraction of the total. That strongly suggests an organizing principle that, in recipe terms, sorts the wheat from the chaff.

So an ongoing challenge for food scientists is to discover laws that govern flavor combinations and use them to create new recipes yet to be experienced by human taste buds.

Today, Tiago Simas at Telefonica Research in Barcelona, Spain, and a few pals say they have discovered an important principle of flavor combination by studying foods of different cultures. This new insight could help create novel recipes.

The background to this group’s discovery is the hypothesis of food pairing developed by the chefs Francois Benzi and Heston Blumenthal. At first glance, foods such as chocolate and blue cheese can seem as different as it is possible for foods to be. And yet, these foods share 73 different flavor molecules.

That’s why at certain high-end restaurants, you’ll sometimes find blue cheese and chocolate in the same dishes. The thinking is that when ingredients contain the same flavor molecules, they can be successfully paired. The idea is that shared flavors help blend ingredients more effectively. Food pairing immediately suggests a novel way to create new recipes, which is why it rapidly gained influence among a certain breed of gastronomist.

Then in 2011, a curious piece of research revealed that food pairing was only part of the explanation behind successful recipes. In this work, a team at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, analyzed the network of links between ingredients in recipes from all over the world. In this network, ingredients are nodes in a web, linked when they share flavor molecules.

This approach turned the food-pairing hypothesis on its head. When recipes from North America and Western Europe are analyzed in this way, the networks reveal that food pairing is an important factor. But when the team analyzed recipes from East Asia (Korea and Japan, for example), they found exactly the opposite. These cuisines seem to combine the very foods that do not share flavor ingredients. Clearly the food-pairing hypothesis is just part of a bigger picture and in need of a serious upgrade.

Enter Simas and his colleagues. These guys have looked a little harder into the web of flavors behind recipes and discovered a deeper principle at work. The basic idea is that when two ingredients do not share flavors, the team look for a third ingredient with flavors in common with each of the first pair. In this way, they were able to identify flavor chains and explore how recipes in different parts of the world use them.

For example, apricot and whiskey do not share flavors with each other but do have flavors in common with tomato. This creates a flavor chain that links all three ingredients, making them suitable to be used in the same recipe.

The team call this food bridging. They define it as “the ability to connect a pair of ingredients, that may or may not have a direct connection, through a path of non-repeating ingredients.”

This has an important impact on recipes. While food pairing intensifies flavor by mixing ingredients in a recipe with similar chemical compounds, food bridging smooths any contrast between ingredients, say Simas and co.

So what role does food bridging play in recipes from different cultures? To find out, Simas and co examined the flavor networks of cuisines from various parts of world and then analyzed the respective roles of food pairing and food bridging in each cuisine.

In Latin America, for example, recipes exploit both food pairing and food bridging, while East Asian food seems to avoid both principles. Southeast Asian cuisines such as Thai and Vietnamese seem to rely only on food bridging, while North American and Western European food use only food pairing.

That’s interesting work that extends the principles behind the way we create recipes. Indeed, it reveals that food pairing is really a special case of food bridging in which the number of nodes in the flavor chain is 0.

A better understanding of these principles should help chefs create new recipes in specific styles. But it is by no means the be-all and end-all of cooking. Successful recipes have a wide range of different parameters in addition to flavor. There is the texture of the food, its temperature, its mouth feel, and its color, to name just a few.

Food bridging can certainly help with new recipes. But a truly universal tool for recipe creation will need to be much broader to incorporate these other factors into its model. That will require significant work.

But step by step, food scientists are learning how humans prune the list of all possible combinations of food to produce the combinations we actually end up eating.

Source: MIT Technology Review

The “No-Knead Bread” Chef Now Has the Secret to Sourdough

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

How do you explain America’s ever increasing obsession with bread, even as the ranks of gluten-free adherents continue to expand?

Credit one pioneer in the world of artisanal bread: Jim Lahey. At his Sullivan Street Bakery, which began in a tiny storefront in Soho in New York in 1994, Lahey baked monumental loaves such as the long, oval, pane pugliese with a sturdy, almost-burnt crust and chewy, moist interior. Soon, he was supplying bread to prestige restaurants around the city, including Jean-Georges and the Spotted Pig, as well as to upscale markets like Dean & Deluca.

Since then, Lahey has embarked on a mission to empower home cooks to bake their own bread. Through the University of Bread seminars he teaches at his bakery headquarters in New York’s Hells Kitchen, the “no-knead” method he introduced more than a decade ago has become a sensation, turning an army of hobbyists into passionate bread makers. No-knead bread, as the saying suggests, is a loaf made with minimal ingredients and work; the only thing you need a lot of is time—at least 24 hours.

But Lahey’s no-knead bread has become a victim of its own success. “Everyone is an expert now; no one wants to take those no-knead classes,” he told me, referring to “They want to learn the next thing.”

That new thing? Sourdough bread, with its yeasty, lightly tangy flavor and buoyant crumb. If no-knead is the beginner loaf for home bread bakers, sourdough is firmly in the intermediate category. No-knead bread is made with pre-packaged bakers yeast, a fast fermentation that works fine, according to Lahey in his forthcoming The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook (W. W. Norton & Co., November 2017). “But it tends to preclude the development of more interesting flavor.”

Lacey continues: “If you are like me and want breads that are not merely predictable but awe-inspiring—with an open crumb and a bouquet of unbelievable flavors—then you’re going to need a different kind of fermentation, one that relies on a sourdough starter.” He prefers a liquid-y starter style mixture that he calls a ‘biga’ to help the dough ferment and rise.

In his upcoming book, Lahey devotes plenty of room to topics like “a beautiful fermentation,” and he counsels readers on how to make their own. (His secret ingredient is a kale leaf, which has natural yeast clinging to it.) It’s a three-day process at minimum and can often take up to five days just to get the starter started, plus a couple of additional days to let it refresh.

For those who like short cuts, though, there is good news: Excellent ready-made starters are out there. The venerable baking company King Arthur sells a very good one, and Sullivan Street expects to have its own commercial product by this summer. Your local bakery or passionate bread baking neighbor might also be persuaded to give you starter for your bread.

In this exclusive preview, here is Lahey’s sourdough bread recipe, adapted from the The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook, co-written with Maya Joseph. It takes four steps and, with a starter, can be done in about four hours.


The Ultimate Fast Sourdough

“Often I counsel patience when baking—so very often, the only secret to making a good bread better is to wait a bit longer, and let the flavors, fermentation, and rise develop, “writes Lahey in the book. “But as an impatient guy, and there are sometimes when I want to mix, bake, and eat a loaf not tomorrow, but today. Here is a recipe for those moments. It’s not instant bread, but it is faster bread. ”

Yield: One 9-inch round loaf.

Equipment: A 4½- to 5½-quart heavy pot with lid; a large piece of parchment paper.

Ingredients:

100 grams prepared starter (such as King Arthur Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter)
200 grams (about 1 1/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour
100 grams (about 2/3 cup) whole wheat flour
6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) fine sea salt
230 grams (about 1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon) 65ºF-70ºF water
Wheat bran, for dusting

Method:

1. In a large bowl, combine the white flour, wheat flour, and salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk the starter and water until the starter is fully dissolved. Pour the starter mixture into the flour, and use a flexible spatula to quickly mix. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and let the dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Turn the dough, pulling it off the sides of the bowl and folding into the center as you turn; work it as little as possible. Cover loosely and let rest for 30 minutes before turning the dough again. After approximately 5 turns, or 2 ½ to 3 hours, the dough should be ready. (Don’t expect to see a big increase in size in this dough—by turning the dough every half-hour, you are doing what I call the lazy man’s version of kneading the dough—improving the texture without much effort.)

Note: How do you tell when it’s ready? You want it to get to the point where it is capable of holding a shape, and not ooze into a pancake when you shape it into a ball. It should be so interested in sticking to itself that it easily peels off the bowl when ready to shape.

3. Place a large piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan and cover with wheat bran, so that you can no longer see the paper. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form it loosely into a ball: hold it with both hands and gently tug the sides down and under, into the middle of the dough, to make a taut ball; don’t let the dough tear. Set the dough seam side down on the bran-coated paper. Dust the top of the dough lightly with more bran. Cover loosely with the towel and let it sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 500ºF (450ºF if your oven runs hot). Preheat a cast-iron ovenproof pot with tight-fitting lid, such as Le Creuset, in the oven. Carefully remove the lid and transfer the dough on the parchment into the pot. Use a serrated knife to score the loaf with a long slash, to allow the dough to expand. Cover the pot immediately and place the pot in the oven.

5. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes with the lid on. Carefully remove the lid and tear off any excess parchment. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes with the lid off, until the crust is a very, very dark brown. (I urge you to let the bread cook, uncovered, until the top of the bread nearly blackens and the sides reach a very, very, very dark brown.) Remove the loaf from the pot. Cool the loaf on a wire rack. The loaf will continue to cook as it cools, so try to wait an hour or so before cutting into it.

Source: Bloomberg

Fennel

Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.

Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which closely superimposed stalks are arranged. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.

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