Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hong Kong-Style Afternoon Tea

This afternoon I had Hi-Tea hah-n'gh-chàh in a Hong Kong-style coffe shop (chàh-châan-têng) at the Mongkok branch of Tsui-Wah.

I chose the A Set on the selection of 3 listed on the table stand: 
Home Made Fish Balls & Fish Cakes in Fish Soup w/ Rice Noodles (Yùh-Dáan Hó-Fán) which is served with coffe or tea. I ordered a hot milk tea (yiht-náaih-chàh). This is a specialty of Hong Kong. This strong tea is made with a mixture of red and black tea leaves boiled and infused for a long time; then the very dark brew is poured in a large cup over a large dollop of evaporated milk. It is creamy and yummy!
I guess it is not really healthy but once in a while one has to indulge herself/himself, right? and at a price of $32, why not?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Raviolis and Chinese Dumplings

When I was 15 years old I liked to make Italian type ravioli. Although it is time consuming they taste much better than the ready-made ones sold at the supermarket. Of course raviolis come in a variety of sizes and fillings. The famous ravioles de Romans (from Romans-sur-Isère, a town located at about 80km south of Lyons) are small squares filled with cheese. The Italian type might have fillings made with meat, seafood, spinach, mushrooms, or cheese.

The Italian ravioli dough is made of the same ingredients as for fresh pasta dough: flour, oil, eggs, and salt. During the time the dough stands (about 1 hour) you can prepare the filling (mixture of minced meat, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, eggs, and spices), then you divide the dough into 2 and roll each part into 2 very thin rectangles.  Then you divide the filling into small equal parts and spoon it onto one of the rectangle making small mounts and leaving enough spaces between each other. Afterwards you draw the outline of the ravioli with a brush dipped into milk. Then, you cover the mounts with the 2nd roll-out pastry and seal the 2 parts together by pressing with your fingers on the milk lines. Finally using a pastry wheel (see picture) you cut the dough along the lines to separate each ravioli. The pastry wheel makes nice jagged edges.

Pastry wheel for Italian type raviolis

Chinese cooking offers many types of ravioli. I love those that are steamed and served in bamboo baskets at Chinese restaurants. My favourite steamed dumpling is the Chiu-chow style called Chìuh-Jâu fán-gwó. The skin is made of wheat starch and it is filled with ficus tikaua / deih-gwâ (of the gourd family), pork meat, dried peanuts, dried shrimps, and scallion.  

Besides the steamed dumplings such as hâ-gáau (shrimp dumpling) or the Shanghainese style síu-lùhng-bâau filled with juicy minced pork, boiled dumplings: séui-gáau (literally means water dumplings) filled with pork and baahk choi and served with a meat broth, or wonton / wàhn-tân which are usually filled with shrimps, double-boiled dumplings such as gún-tông-gáau, and even deep-fried water dumplings / jâ-wàhn-tân are commonly found at Hong Kong restaurants. 

Gûn-tông-gáau (at Celestial Court)

At Hong Kong style café or chàh-châan-têng both séui-gáau and wàhn-tân are served in a meat broth either with or without noodles / mihn. If the dumplings are accompanied with noodles they are called séui-gáau-mihn and wàhn-tân-mihn respectively.

Soon after my husband and I moved on our own to Chi Fu Fa Yuen (back in 1986) I bought a series of Chinese cooking books (Chopsticks Recipes by Cecilia J. Au-Yeung). I found some recipes of steamed dumplings and wanted to make it.
I was quickly discouraged by my husband’s kind advice: “the kitchen is too hot – there is not enough space – it’s too difficult to make dim-sum - nobody makes dim-sum at home.” In other words: M`g sái gam màhfàahn” or “no need to get into such trouble” which I also interpreted as: “it’s better to eat dim-sum outside!”
However, I insisted and bought 2 medium-size bamboo baskets. I already had a large wok and other cooking utensils. One day, when I was on my own I got started with the recipe called Steamed Raviolis (in English) and sîn-hâ fán-gwó (in Chinese).

The consistency of the wheat starch mixed with water was so different than the wheat flour dough’s. What seemed like an easy pastry to make turned out to be a rather challenging experience. Was it because I put too much water in? Was the water temperature too hot? Anyway, I tried a few times and finally got discouraged. I was not proud when mentioning my experience to my husband. He was right!  I never tried to make again dumpling pastry.  And as of today I have yet to meet someone who is making dim-sum at home!  No wonder that it takes about 8-10 years to become a good dim sum chef, as reported by Susan Chung - SCMP of 19 May 2011. She also mentioned that “trainees needed to learn to make about seven types of dough, from fermented dough for steamed barbecue pork bun / châ-sîu-bâau to egg wrappers for water dumplings / séui-gáau.”   Each kind of dough has its own specificity. For instance, “shrimp dumplings must have a skin that is chewy and a shape uniform with a minimum of 9-10 pleats”.

Today, instead of making steamed dumplings I make water dumplings / séui-gáau with ready-made wrappers, which is much easier to prepare and that my husband love!  Let me share my recipe with you. This is an adapted version of a recipe given by Susan Chung in the Post Magazine of SCMP a few years ago.

Water dumplings / séui-gáau
Filling: for 4 persons / ~ 56 dumplings (14 pieces per person)
-         300 g minced pork
-         500 baahk-choi             
-         1 tbsp water
-         1 tsp cornstarch
-         1 tsp salt (coarse)
-         1 tbsp light soy sauce
-         1 tsp sugar
-         1 tsp sesame oil
-         2 cloves of garlic, thinly chopped
-         Salt and black pepper

1st part:
  1. Mix minced pork with marinade well and chill for 1 hour.
  2. Wash vegetables, drain, and pat dry with paper towel. Chop greens as thinly as possible.
  3. Put greens and minced pork in a mixing bowl; add seasoning together with garlic and blend well. Chill in fridge for 1 hour.
  4. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling into the centre of each round-shape wrapping.
  5. Moist the seams of the dough with water and fold so as to form a half-moon shape, and press the seams to seal.

2nd part:
  1. In a large pan bring 4 liters of water to a boil.
  2. Drop ½ of the dumplings (28 pieces) into the boiling water. Stir gently so they don't stick together.
  3. Cover. Bring the water to a boil.  Leave the lid on and cook for 5 minutes (after the water comes to a boil again). 
  4. Remove the lid. The dumplings should be floating and the dough translucent. Scoop the dumplings and some of the cooking water into a large bowl.

3rd part:
  1. Repeat with the remainder of the dumplings.
  2. Serve with dipping sauces such as light soy and the famous Guilin chili sauce / gwei-làhm laaht jìu jeung.

I usually serve the dumplings in the cooking water or in a homemade broth (or a remainder of pot-au-feu soup).
We bought ~ 560 g (a bit less than 1 catty) which had 66 dumpling wrappers – round-shape (thick). Cost: $9 (March 4, 2011).

Monday, May 16, 2011

About Chinese Soups & Chinese White Cabbage and Bean Curd Soup

Before coming to Hong Kong I only drank vegetable soups. Most of them were made with potato, leek, and carrot – homely soups prepared every day by my mum.  However, here in Hong Kong, most of the Chinese soups contain meat in addition to vegetables. They also include dried fruits such as honey dates, legumes or nuts such as green beans, peanuts, apricot kernels, and even dried seafood.  

At first I found Chinese soups quite strong in taste and too greasy. I would not have imagined that one day I would drink such a rich broth. During my first year in Hong Kong I did not really appreciate Chinese style soups.  It was as if I was drinking the broth of a pot-au-feu [a popular and rather low-cost French dish made of carrots, turnips, leeks, onion, and beef - usually a cartilaginous cut or bone with marrow - and boiled for a few hours]. Pot-au-feu is the closest thing I can think of that can be compared with Chinese soups.

Today I really appreciate the taste and virtues of these nutritious soups and like most local people I drink them with pleasure. I do believe that similarly to western medicinal herbs most of the dried foods (such as those put in Chinese soups) have specific therapeutic values.
After almost 25 years in Hong Kong I say without hesitation that I love Chinese soups. Of course I still love the soups my mother makes although they taste different.  I even enjoy having a soup in the summer!  I also understand why my husband after a few days in France would always ask my mother to prepare him a dish of “pot-au-feu”. He is missing Chinese soups!

I think that Hong Kong people not only like soups for their properties but also the feeling hidden behind: going to one’s parents to drink soup is very important.  I often heard my colleagues and friends mentioning that their parents had asked them to go home to “drink soup / yám tong”.
Are soups a symbol of love and more specifically of filial love? Is it because not only soups are nutritious but also need time to cook and therefore shows the mum’s devotion to her family?
Time spent by the mother expresses her love towards her children. After their young ones get married and live on their own they usually have no time to cook such soups at their home as they work long hours. Parents will call back their little ones home and show their love by preparing them a nutritious soup to keep them strong and healthy!

There are 3 kinds of soups:

1) Slow-cooked soups that are simmered for at least 2 hours under direct heat.

2) Double boiled soups (or herbal soups) that are made with delicate ingredients such as bird’s nest.

3) Quick soups: as the name indicates, need a shorter time to cook than slow-cooked soups.

Here is my recipe of Chinese white cabbage and bean curd soup (a quick soup).

Soup with fresh baahk-choi only

Soup with fresh and dried baahk-choi

  • ~300gr (1/2 catty) spareribs (cut into small pieces) or lean pork (sliced)
  • 1 block of solid bean curd
  • 300gr (1/2 catty) Chinese white cabbage (cut into short lengths)
  • 6 rice bowls of water
  • 1 slice ginger
  • ½ tsp salt
  1. Wash meat clean and scald it in boiling water and drain for use.  Wash Chinese white cabbage. Wash the bean curd clean.
  2. Bring water to a boil. Add meat and ginger slice in and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for ½ hour.
  3. Put the bean curd in to boil for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the Chinese white cabbage in and boil for another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add salt to taste before serving.
Option: Add ~75gr of dried baahk-choi (previously rinsed with water and soaked in warm water for at least 1 hour). Remember to decrease the quantity of fresh baahk-choi (250gr are enough).  

Dried Chinese white cabbage (baahk-choi)

Note: I bought a pack (130gr) of dried baahk-choi at HK$12 (at Yue Wah Chinese Products). The pack can be divided to make 2 soups.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

About Spinach - Chinese Spinach in Broth

Chinese spinach or yihn-choi in Cantonese is sold at wet markets with roots (see photo below). One of the varieties has red leaves.  
There is another kind of spinach bô-choi which is more like the western type. We also find in Hong Kong a variety of water spinach / tûng-choi which is excellent stir-fried with garlic and fermented bean curd / fuh-yúh or even dried shrimp sauce / hâ-jeung. A popular dish at Chinese restaurants is fuh-yúh tûng-choi.

Here is my recipe of Chinese spinach in broth:

Chinese spinach in broth

  • 300gr (1/2 catty) Chinese spinach / yihn-choi
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Some Tsinghua ham / gâm-wàh fó-téui (a few thin slices)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • A dash of vegetable oil

Broth: I make my own broth with 1/2 catty (300gr) of lean pork and 1 slice of ginger.
1) Scald meat in boiling water. 2) In a large saucepan filled with 6 rice bowls of water, add pork and ginger and bring to a boil. 3) Cover and reduce heat and simmer for 30mn.
Optional: Add 1 block of soft bean curd. 

  1. Prepare broth (see above recipe). Remove meat and ginger (reserve bean curd for later)
  2. Bring the broth to a boil, add ham, garlic and spinach (previously washed and trimmed of roots).
  3. Bring to the boil again and cook until the leaves and stems are tender (to your liking). Season with salt and add oil.
  4. Transfer the spinach into a large serving bowl and pour some broth around the spinach.   
    Scoop the garlic and ham and place them on top of the dish to garnish. If you have prepared your broth with bean curd you can place the block cut into small cubes around the spinach.
Chinese spinach (red-leaves type)

Water spinach / tûng-choi

Chinese spinach (green-leaves type)

Mum's Cherry Clafoutis Recipe

Here is my Mum’s recipe of cherry clafoutis. It does not take long to make. The batter is quite similar to the pancake’s, although slightly thicker. The clafoutis is more like a baked pudding than a cake. Its texture is creamy yet it is a light dessert. I like to eat clafoutis warm.  It is delicious. Children and adults alike love it!

Cherry Clafoutis

Ingredients: for a 21cm diameter baking dish
  • 125g all-purpose flour
  • 80g sugar (reserve 20g for sprinkling on top)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ litre milk
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 30g unsalted butter (reserve 5 small bits for top)
  • ~350g cherries (without pit and stalk)

  1. Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir well.
  2. Make a well in the centre and break the eggs into it one by one, adding gradually the milk in and stirring well between each egg to form a smooth batter. 
  3. Melt butter in a frying pan.  Pour the melted butter in a baking dish. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter evenly on the bottom and sides of the baking dish. 
  4. Pour excess butter into the batter. Add rum in and stir well.
  5. Leave batter to stand for 30 min.  After 15 min preheat oven at a moderate temperature (gas no.4 /180 º C) for 15 mn.
  6. Put the cherries (previously washed and pat dried with a paper towel) in the baking dish; cover with the batter.
  7. Sprinkle half of the reserved sugar and scatter the reserved bits of butter on top.
  8. Bake for 40mns or when the clafoutis starts to turn golden. Remove baking pan from oven. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar.
  9. Serve in baking dish warm or cold.

Bon appétit aux gourmands!

Notes: My Mum’s recipe is with fresh ripe cherries. As they are not in season yet I bought raspberries and blackberries at the supermarket.
It is better to leave the clafoutis in the baking dish as it is difficult to remove from the mould.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Steamed Eggplants & Silver Fish

Yesterday we went to Tai O village, a former fishing village on the western side of Lantau island. We walked from Tung Chung (we could see the planes taking off and landing at Chek Lap Kok airport as we walked along the coastline) to Tai O under a scorching sun. Today in the SCMP they said that yesterday was the hottest day of the year with records as high as 34 degrees C in the city! No wonder we sweated a lot! 
We reached Tai O at about 1:30pm and went straight to a small local restaurant called Lìhn Hèung Jáu-gâ (Lotus Fragrance Restaurant). Although it does not look anything special, we like going there each time we go to Tai O.  The dishes are local, light, and delicious.

People waiting to get a table

We ordered our favourite: Steamed Eggplants with Silver Fish (ngàhn-yú). This dish has been once recommended to us by the lady boss and each time we have it! Last time we went to Tai O I brought back some dried silver fish so I could make this dish at home. But, as I put less oil in it's less fragrant than at Lìhn Hèung. That gives us one more reason for going back to Tai O!

Steamed eggplants and silver fish
I like the contrast between the eggplants which are tender and the small dried fish slightly crunchy. The addition of spring onion sprinkled on the top of the dish not only bring colour to an otherwise "pale" dish but also a tinge of pungency. The hot sesame oil poured over the dish makes the dish more fragrant.
We also ordered a dish of mixed seafood, fried fish maw (fâ-gâau), black fungus (wàhn-yíh -cloud ear) and angled luffa (sî-gwâ -silk gourd). This is not a stir-fry dish. The ingredients are cooked in a light fish broth. I like the earthy taste of the silk gourd.
We could not order more for the 2 of us as the dishes are rather large.  We washed our meal down with fresh Qingdao beers.  Afterwards, we felt refreshed and crossed the village passing by the many shops selling Tai O's famous dried fish and shrimp paste (hâ-jeung) as well as other products: dried shrimps (hâ-máih), octopus (jêung-yùh), fish maw (yùh-tóuh), etc.

Friday, May 6, 2011

About Chinese Vinegar

I few months ago I watched a CCTV4 programme on TCM and food issue. On this particular Sunday morning, while I was doing some exercice at the gym and watching TV at the same time, I listened attentively to the story of a man, born in 1919, who came to eat a tablespoon of vinegar soaked black beans each day for 16 years to keep his arteriosclerosis at bay. I found his story quite interesting and, although I do not suffer from arteriosclerosis, I decided to try to make this magic potion. Black beans are good for health and it cannot hurt to eat a small amount from time to time as a condiment.

So on March 4 I went to Yue Wah Chinese Products in Jordan (in Kowloon) and bought 500g of black beans - 黑豆 and 2 bottles of mature vinegar - 陈醋 to make my own vinegar soaked black beans. Here are the old man's instructions: 
  1. Rinse the beans and let them dry in the sun. 
  2. Fill in glass jar(s) with the beans and covered them with mature vinegar. Leave room on top of the jars for the beans to swell. 
  3. Let stand for 2 months. From time to time open the jars and check if vinegar needs to be added as the beans are absorbing the vinegar. 
Today, 2 months later, I opened the jars and tasted the beans. They are ready to eat! They are a bit crunchy and the sharpness and smoky flavor really rev up my appetite!

About rice vinegar:

Rice vinegar is considered to help digestion. In Japan it is considered a health tonic that has the ability to increase one's energy levels. It is also said to have anti-tumor properties.

They are many types of black rice vinegar:
  • Chinkiang vinegar: from Zhenjiang 镇江 zhen4jiang1 (also named京江jing1jiang1) of the Jiangsu province.  Deep flavour; gold plum colour; considered the best. It is made with fermented glutinous rice (millet or sorghum).  In Chinese cuisine it is often added in soups and braised dishes. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce (sometimes mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil) for fried dumplings. I read that it could also be used an alternative to balsamic vinegar. I have yet to try this.
  • (Shanxi) mature vinegar:  Smoky distinctive flavor. Made with sorghum 高粱, barley 大麦 and peas 豌豆; less sweet than purely fermented rice.  This is the one used by the old man in the TV programme.

Besides black, red and white rice vinegars are also used in Chinese cuisine:
  • Red rice vinegar: usually used as a dipping sauce for dumplings, in noodle, soup and seafood dishes (such as shark fin soup).
  • White rice vinegar: best for sweet and sour dishes and for pickling vegetables.