Monday, August 13, 2007

Heritage Cuisine Part 1

A Feng Hong Kong Restaurant
2nd,3rd, 4th floors,
Hua An Conifer International Hotel
No. 2001 Bao An South Road
Luo Hu District, Shenzhen, China
The above restaurant is a well known place for abalone and sharks fin. It caters to mainly to business clients and top bureaucrats of the provincial government. It has two floors of private dining rooms and another floor for the main dining hall. With multiple accolades and many awards of excellence for its culinary skills, the kitchen has more than 100 cooks and chefs and just for ushering guests, there were at least 15-20 ladies in attendance. This is the typical restaurant scene in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China. It makes our local Chinese restaurants look really dwarf in size. Anyway we were here at the invitation of the boss not for the high end stuff, but authentic flavours of our home town Shantou, featuring its produces and dishes that are not available in Singapore.
It was our first private dinner in a private dining room twice the size of an average 5room HDB sitting room that comes with a full audio video entertainment system. Oh yes, it also came with a private chef in attendance. Our host was the owner of this newly opened restaurant and a connoisseur for gourmet Chinese cuisine with a refined palate. We share the same dialect group and ancestral home town so this was an opportunity to taste some traditional Chaozhou recipes that we do not get to see in Singapore. Food was simple, light and the focus on ingredients grown organically and harvested in Shantou area.
Menu for the night:
On the table for each guest was a homemade fermented shrimp confit which we promptly named it “Yang Jia Jiang” or the Yang’s family special blend of sauce as it was the family name of our host.
Using small bay shrimps harvested from the coastal regions of Shantou, the shrimps were salted and left to ferment for three days before being coarsely grounded. It is then slow cooked in oil like a confit with raw sugar and spices like garlic to a delicious savoury mix similar to XO sauce. A small amount of fragrant chopped spring onions is then added to balance the fermented delicious pungent aromas of the sauce. It can be used similar to XO sauce applications and one of the best combinations I have ever tried out was to pair it with sashimi grade salmon belly on a previous trip here last year.
Organic Gourd with Homemade Cuttlefish Balls in Superior Broth
Shantou is the province in China that is blessed with the longest coast line and hence the abundance of seafood in all kinds. A specialty of Chaozhou cuisine is the making of springy balls with different kind of seafood from fish to prawns and cuttlefish. Using a traditional recipe passed down from his dad, our host had taught his personal chef the artisan method of hand making cuttlefish balls without the aid of starch and modern machinery. These lovely springy cuttlefish balls were served with organically grown autumn squash harvested from the roof top garden of our host’s penthouse unit in a superior broth made with long hours of simmering an old mother hen and dried scallops.
Braised Pigeon with Bamboo Shoots and Mushrooms Fresh young tender bamboo shoots from Shantou were the focus in this dish and not the pigeon as thought. Relatively hard to find in Singapore (we get only fresh matured bamboo shoots from Thailand), these shoots were stewed with pigeon till the sauce became a rich gelatinous milky texture with a slight gamey after notes. Mushrooms were added for umami dimensions and old ginger was used to calm the gamey notes of the stew. My wife N, who loved bamboo shoots as the only vegetable in her life left me only with the simmered bits of the bird after polishing off the crunchy flavourful shoots and mushrooms.
Daikon and Spring Onion Cakes with Fermented Shrimp Confit
Utilising the above mentioned sauce, fresh daikon were cut into cubes and simmered in chicken stock till tender. They were then drained with chopped spring onions added into. The mixture was then bind with a sweet potato starch (the kind that they used for oyster omelette or or luak as it is commonly known in Teochew) from our home town, shaped into patties and lightly pan fried. These little daikon cake are then appreciated with a little topping of the fermented shrimp confit, giving it a touch of savoury elegance and a delicious salty fragrance note of fermented pungency.
Steamed Coastal Sole on Fresh Wood Ears, Dried Citrus Peel infused Soy Broth with Red Dates
This was Mum’s favourite dish as it reminds her of her childhood. The coastal sole (Leng Ji as it is known in the dialect) is a favourite fish for steaming due to its ideal size, fine textured flesh with a delicate sweetness. We like the delicious soy broth with a touch of dried orange peel that bathe over the beautifully steamed fish and the colourful topping of wood ears, red dates, fresh coriander leaves and mushrooms.
Chaozhou Stuffed Beancurd with Asparagus on Daikon Essence
I was told that beancurd in China is still very much produced in traditional ways and the stone grinds are still available for sale even in the most modern Chinese cities. I guess making beancurd for the Chinese is like making cheese for the French. The more artisan (read: backyard production in limited quantities), the better it is. How true it was when I tasted the first bite of this dish. The tofu (taukwa) was very flavourful and the intense soybean flavour can only be achieved with handmade tofu and not via machine process. It tasted very much like vegetarian chicken (if u have eaten in any Buddhist monastery, u will know what I mean) which is actually layers of soybean skin compressed together. This is not something that u can find in Singapore. The radish essence provide a nice back drop for the tofu and supported the taste of the dish with a earthy note of humility.
Chaozhou Pan Fried Asparagus Pie
The Chinese version of an asparagus quiche, diced young asparagus were binded by potato starch, interspersed with shrimps giving it an extra dimension of umami sweetness. It is then pan fried till a crispy layer is form and the entire pie is set before being cut up into serving pieces. Thought I like this version of the asparagus pie, I was secretly fantasising what would the effect be if some diced Jinhua Ham was added to the batter mix? This would certainly notch up the overall taste of the dish by another level. I should try this on my own sometime soon!
Braised Glass Noodles with Shantou Cabbage in Chicken Consommé
Another dish showcasing the flavour and sweetness of cabbages harvested from Shantou. Braised with a meaty chicken consommé made with boiler fowl, the noodles absorb the sweetness of the vegetables through the stock and it was very flavourful despite the absence of any fancy ingredients or meat. The mung bean noodles were also very smooth and a little springy, pretty much like Korea’s Jap Chae. I could finish two bowls of noodles with battling and eyelid!
Chaozhou Shrimp and Squash Omelet (Seafood and Vegetable Or Luak)
A much healthier version than oyster omelette, the autumn squashes were pre blanched and added to a batter of sweet potato flour with some rice starch. Fried only with shrimps, egg white and a touch of Chaozhou fish sauce, this dish is a new discovery for me and it seems that locally here in Singapore, we might just be able to reproduce this with angled lufa (Kak Kuay in Teochew).
Saute Sweet Potato Shoots with Fermented Shrimp Confit Lovely tender shoots of handpicked young sweet potato leaves no more than 5cm in length, they were quickly wilted in a hot wok with oil and garlic, refreshed with chicken stock that imparted flavour to the leaves and at the same time removing any excess oil. The result was a lovely mould of wok flavour sweet potato leaves that blew me off when paired with the fermented shrimp confit.
Chaozhou Four Sweet Treasures (Huai Shan, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Yam)
Dessert was a simple ending of the 3 tubers and 1 squash cooked in simple syrup. It was a dish of natural flavours that tasted so good that I absolutely forgotten to snap a picture for this last item on the menu.


Rebecca Lemke said...

Your blog, your writing and your recipes are stunning. Please add me to your feedblitz or email list as I most appreciate your style. Thank you for sharing your art with the world.

Coolchef said...

Hi Rebecca,
Thanks for the compliments.Do visit here time to time as I add on new stories.