The Chinese Kitchen

I love Deh-ta Hsiung to bits – when I first started the cookery school in 1983 I longed to learn a little more about Chinese cooking – a friend told me about a Chinese chef who taught at Ken Hom’s cooking school in London. In fear and trepidation I wrote and invited him to teach a course at my then unknown Cookery School. To my delight he answered yes. 

He and his lovely wife Thelma came over to Ireland and it was love at first sight. His first taste of grey sea mullet from Ballycotton almost persuaded him to move to Ireland. He was enchanted by the quality of our ingredients.

Deh-ta was born in Beijing and has travelled widely in China. As a teenager coming from a family of gourmets and scholars, his interest in food and wine was encouraged as part of his traditional Chinese upbringing. He came to England in 1950 to complete his education at Oxford, and in London where he now lives he is an acknowledged expert on Chinese food and cookery. Besides being author of several best selling cooking books he is also a tutor of international renown. Before he arrived I went over to London to meet him. He brought me to Chinatown and we went through the supermarkets and Chinese shops selling all sorts of weird and pungent ingredients – I was intrigued and curious. Deh-ta was obviously held in huge respect everywhere we went. We bought woks, steamers, clay pots, spiders, cladets, bamboo spoons, chopsticks, porcelain bowls and spoons and lots of unfamiliar ingredients. After our shopping spree, I couldn’t wait to learn how to use them.

Deh-ta is tiny, we could scarcely see him above the work counter but he worked magic with his ingredients and painstakingly explained the basic techniques of Chinese food. Just today his new book “The Chinese Kitchen” arrived on my desk – this is no ordinary cook book, it is an encyclopaedic survey of Chinese ingredients, all readily available in the West, that are essential for authentic Chinese recipes. A thorough knowledge of what ingredients are available, where to buy them and how to prepare them is the secret of truly delicious and authentic Chinese food – it doesn’t need to be complicated. Over 120 items are listed ranging from basics like rice, chillies and soy sauce to cassia, lotus root, gingko nut and mango. Each ingredient entry includes historical background, medical properties, cultivation and manufacturing details, information on buying and storing and of course culinary uses.

This is essential information for anyone interested in cooking authentic Chinese food – armed with this knowledge one can embark on the 200 easy to follow recipes and there are lots of stunning photos of China and the recipes to guide and whet your appetite. For those of you with a yen for Chinese food this book is a real gem and one I personally highly recommend. “The Chinese Kitchen” is published by Kyle Cathie Limited at a price of £14.99 sterling. Here are some of Deh-ta’s recipes.

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Drunken Eggs

Here is a method of preserving eggs that you can try at home. They can be stored in the preserving jar for several months.
12 ducks or hens eggs
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon Sichuan Peppercorns
About 685ml (24fl.oz) distilled or boiled water 
150ml (5fl.oz) Chinese spirit, such as Mou-tai, or brandy, whisky, rum or vodka

Soft boil the eggs (3-4 minutes for hens, 4-5 minutes for ducks). Take care with the timing as the yolks must be neither too soft nor too hard.
Dissolve the salt in the distilled or boiled water. (It is very important that the water be bacteria free, because egg shells are porous.) Add the Sichuan peppercorns, then allow the water to cool down before adding the spirit. (Please note that Chinese spirit is 30 percent stronger than Western liquor so adjust the measurements of Western liquor accordingly.)

Gently tap the shells of the eggs to crack them, but do not peel. Submerge the eggs in the spirit in a jar or bottle, making sure that every egg is covered by the liquid. Add more spirit if necessary. Seal the jar or bottle well – it must be absolutely air-tight – then leave to stand in a cool, dark place for 7-8 days.

To serve, remove the eggs from the liquid, peel off the shell and cut each egg in half or quarters. They are an ideal snack.
Note: The liquid can be re-used.

Kung-Po Chicken

This is one of the most popular Sichuan dishes in Chinese restaurants. Gongbao was a court official from Guizhou, who happened to be stationed in Sichuan, and it was his cook who created this world-famous dish.
Serves 4

275g-350g (10-12oz) chicken meat, boned and skinned
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon light soy 
1 teaspoon cornflour
3 tablespoons oil
4-5 dried red chillies, soaked and chopped
A few small bits of fresh ginger
2 spring onions, cut into short sections
1 small green pepper (capsicum), cut into cubes
2 tablespoons yellow bean sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine
85g (3oz) roasted peanuts
A few drops sesame oil

Cut the chicken into small cubes about the size of sugar lumps. Mix with the salt, soy and cornflour.
Heat about half the oil in a preheated wok and stir-fry the chicken cubes for about 1 minute; or until they change from pink to white. Remove.
Heat the remaining oil and add the red chillies, ginger, spring onions and green pepper (capsicum). Stir-fry for about 1 minute; add the yellow bean sauce and chicken. Blend well, add the rice wine, and continue stirring for another minute.

Add the peanuts with the sesame oil and toss a few times. Serve hot.

Ginger-flavoured Lychee Sorbet

This is the most refreshing sorbet imaginable. Ginger can also be added to other types of sorbet, such as lemon, coconut, kiwi fruit, or mango
Serves 4-6

60g (2oz) rock sugar and 100ml water (if using fresh lychees instead of canned ones)
450g (1lb) fresh lychees in their shells or a 450g can of lychees in syrup or natural juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

Make a syrup, if using fresh lychees, by dissolving the rock sugar in boiling water, then leaving to cool.
Peel the fresh lychees and remove the stones. Place the lychees and ginger in a food processor or blender with the syrup, or juice from the can, and process to a smooth puree.
Pour the puree into a freezer-proof container, and place in the freezer for about 2 hours or until almost set.
Break up the iced mixture and beat until smooth. Return the mixture to the freezer for 30-45 minutes to set solid before serving.

Crispy Roasted Belly Pork

Serves 10-12 as a starter or 6-8 as a main course
1kg (2lb 4oz) belly of pork, with rind on
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
Lettuce leaves

For the dip:
3-4 tablespoons light soy 
1 tablespoon chilli sauce (optional)

Ideally, the pork should be in one piece, like the pork you see hanging in the windows of some Cantonese restaurants. But if you prefer, the meat can be cut into large pieces for cooking. Pat dry the skin with the kitchen paper and make sure that it is free from hairs. Rub the meat and skin all over with the salt and five-spice powder, then leave to stand for at least 1 hour – the longer, the better.
Heat the oven to 240C/475F/gas mark 9. Place the pork, skin side up, on a rack in a baking tin and roast for 20-25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and cook for a further 45-50 minutes or until all the skin has turned to crackling.
To serve: chop the meat into small bite-size pieces, place them on a bed of lettuce leaves and serve hot or cold with the dip.
Note: any leftovers can be used in other dishes.

Shredded Duck with Mango

Fresh fruit is seldom used in savoury dishes in Chinese cooking, so the following recipe must have originated somewhere else in Southeast Asia, where fruit plays a bigger part in the diet.
Serves 4

225g (8oz) cooked duck meat, boned but not skinned
1 fresh mango or 175g (6oz) canned mango slices, drained
3 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small red pepper (capsicum) thinly shredded
½ teaspoon salt 
2 tablespoons Hoi Sin sauce
1-2 spring onions, cut into short sections

Cut the duck meat into thin shreds. Peel the fresh mango and cut it into thin slices.
Heat the oil in a preheated wok or pan. Stir-fry the onion slices until opaque. Add the red pepper (capsicum) and duck meat with the salt and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
Add the mango slices with Hoi Sin sauce and spring onions, blend well. Cook for another minute. Serve hot.

Spring Onion Pancakes

Popular in northern China, these savoury pancakes can be served on their own as a snack or as the fan part of a meal with other cai dishes.
Makes 10-12

450g (1lb) plain flour
300ml (½ pint) boiling water
50ml (2fl oz) cold water
dry flour for dusting
4-5 spring onions, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp sea salt
100g (3½oz) lard
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and gently pour in the boiling water. Stir for 5-6 minutes, then add the cold water and knead to a firm dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to stand for 25-30 minutes. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a sausage and divide it into 10-12 pieces. Roll each piece into a flat pancake about 20cm (8 inch) in diameter. Sprinkle each pancake evenly with the chopped spring onions, salt and lard. Fold up the pancake from the sides, then roll again to make a 5mm (¼ inch) thick pancake.
Heat the oil in a preheated frying-pan and fry the pancakes, one at a time, over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, turning over once. They should be golden brown and crispy on both sides. Shake and jiggle the pan while cooking so you have a flaky pastry finish.

Serve hot. Cut each pancake into small pieces and eat with your fingers. The pancakes should have a strong spring onion flavour with the occasional sharpness of the salt crystals – absolutely delicious.

Minced Meat or Seafood Wrapped in Lettuce

The original version of this Shanghai dish calls for quail or pigeon. Chinese restaurants generally use chicken or pork, while seafood (a mixture of prawns, squid and scallops) seems to be quite popular too.
Serves 4-6

225g (8oz) chicken or pork or seafood
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon light soy
1 teaspoon rice wine
2 teaspoons cornflour paste
3-4 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked
100g (4oz) preserved vegetables
50g (2oz) water chestnuts, drained
3 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onions
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
12 crisp lettuce leaves (Webb or Iceberg) to serve

Coarsely chop the meat or seafood and marinate with the salt, pepper, sugar, soy, wine and cornflour for 10-15 minutes.
Squeeze dry the mushrooms and discard any hard stalks. Coarsely chop the mushrooms, preserved vegetables and water chestnuts.
Heat the oil in a preheated wok and stir-fry the ginger and spring onions until fragrant. Add the meat or seafood and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Tip in the mushrooms, preserved vegetables and water chestnuts, and continue stirring for 2 more minutes. Pour in the oyster sauce and blend well. Serve on a warm dish.

To eat: place 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture onto a lettuce leaf and roll up tightly into a parcel. Eat with your fingers and provide finger bowls and paper napkins for your guests.

Foolproof Food

Bang Bang Chicken
This popular Sichuan dish is known as Bon-Bon Chicken because the meat is tenderized by being banged with a stick (bon).

Serves 4-6 as a starter.

225g (8oz) chicken meat (boned and skinned)
A few lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons sesame paste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons light soy
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chilli sauce
½ teaspoon sugar

Place the chicken meat in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving a little liquid. Beat with a rolling pin until soft, then pull into shreds.

Shred the lettuce leaves and place them on a serving dish. Place the chicken meat on top of the lettuce leaves.
Mix a little of the liquid in which the chicken has been cooked with the sesame paste. Blend in the soy, vinegar, sesame oil, chilli sauce and sugar. Stir until you have a smooth, creamy paste, pour all over the chicken and serve.

Hot Tips

A Taste of West Cork Food Festival 2006, Skibbereen – 14-17th September 2006
Includes ‘A West Cork Feast’ at the West Cork Hotel, story telling at local primary schools, final of schools cookery competition, photo exhibition by John Minihan, West Cork Food Festival Pub Trail, demonstrations and tastings in supermarkets, Farmers Market, Art Workshops, field visits, open air Food and Craft Market and much, much more. Visit www.atasteofwestcork.ie  for more information. Food producers contact Kevin Santry at 023-34035 & 086-2672288, Craft makers contact Ivan McCutcheon on 023-34035 or email foodfestival@skibbereen.ie  

Diploma in Speciality Food Production at University College Cork
This course is intended for those who are interested in developing speciality foods as a commercial venture or as a way or adding value to agricultural food commodities. Suitable for those currently in the speciality food sector as well as suppliers, buyers and retailers. For details contact Food Training Unit, Faculty of Food Science and Technology, UCC. Tel 021-4903178. email:fitu@ucc.ie