Cantonese Tag

DIM SUM MONTH: Crystal shrimp dumpling w/ shrimp oil mayo



Welcome to DIM SUM MONTH!

WHAT:  I’m dedicating this whole month to the delicate art that is dim sum.

WHY:  I’m slowly and painfully realizing how scarce a good, thoughtful and delicious dim sum can be.  Even in Hong Kong – the supposedly promised land of dim sum – I found my expectation being shattered with sloppy, tired, and borderline unethical display of dimness.  Frankly, I’m fed up.

HOW:  Just as unfamiliar as most of you are in terms of making dim sum, I’m going to show you that it is possible for us to create these little baskets of happiness at home.  We are going to take each conventional dim sum item, and mix them with a bit of thoughtfulness and fun.  Almost every items can be made ahead of time, and hopefully at the end of the month, we’ll be able to host our own dim sum party that is more awesome than most.

Let’s start with the classic of the classics – crystal shrimp dumplings.

We are going to correct all of its frequently ignored mistakes: soggy and texture-less wrappers, and frankly, boringness.  This recipe will yield a wrapper that is beautifully translucent, shiny, and just a bit bouncy to the bite, filled with a generous amount of whole tiger shrimps held together by fatty ground pork.  Last but not least, a small dollop of mayonnaise made with shrimp oil and thickened up with cashew butter, will knock this out of the park.

It is a single bite that embodies a carnival of senses: textures, flavors, esthetics and imaginations.  Which is exactly what dim sum is supposed to, but somehow forgotten to be, literally, as to touch heart.


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Sometimes ideas arise upon the complete rejection of another.  This recipe is a perfect example of such.

The other day (I say “the other day” a lot, which really means “last year”), I was watching this video on YouTube, a michelin-starred chef explaining how to make his “perfect roast chicken”.  Curious, so I watched, as he demonstrated with a straight face on how he cooks his chicken slowly inside a low-temperature oven for 4 hours, then afterwards, finish browning the skin inside a skillet, and after which, injecting the chicken with melted butter.

I mean, is this guy serious?

I don’t even know where to begin.  First of all, the whole notion that one could crisp up a whole, uncut chicken inside a skillet is basically again the laws of physics.  The extremely curvy and maneuvering silhouette of a chicken is exactly the reason why people resort to a three-dimensional heat source to tackle it in the first place.  Steaks, flat.  Chickens, curvy.  Simple logic.  Is he Doctor Manhattan?  Did his pure geniuses allow him to leap into another dimension of space and time to warp his chicken to the skillet?  Of course not!  That patchy-browned chicken looked like it just suffered from a skin-graft.  But you know what, even if, just because I’m nice, even if one could disobey the laws of physics and pull this whole thing off, why would I spend 4 hours of slow-cooking in the pursuit of supple meats, just so I can over-cook it later while I roll it around a super hot skillet like a total moron?  “Not too long in the skillet.” he said.  Yeah, like you mean just long enough to color the outer patch of the thighs plus to realize that this is complete idiocy?  No injection of butter can help you, my friend.

Can you believe this guy….

But wait a second now…. there there there….

Even though his low-oven chicken method is, in my humble opinion, not the answer for crispy skin roast chickens, it would actually… work perfectly for something else.

I don’t know if you know, but there is a whole other branch of philosophy on cooking chicken where crispy skins are actually not the holy grail.  Instead, it’s the extremely supple, juicy, and almost silky slick texture of the meat that reigns supreme.  And this dish called soy sauce chicken, seen hanging inside the steamy windows of Cantonese restaurants everywhere in the world, is where cooks put their relentless pursuit for such texture to the test.

Traditionally, the chickens are cooked inside a pot filled with a shallow, simmering layer of soy sauce-mixture, turning every so often until the skins take on a deep amber sheen and the meats are cooked to perfection, after which it’s hung to cool down to room temperature in order for the salty skins to tighten and become elastic, and the meats to become “jelled” almost.  Not that this traditional method doesn’t work, but it has its flaws.  First, again, uneven heat source, making it that much more difficult to cook the chicken evenly.  Second, the risk of burning, which requires the cook to stand-by and babysit the chick as it matures safely into perfection.

A low temperature oven, solves both.

The whole chicken encased in its own skin inside a low oven is almost functioning as a sous-vide operation, and on top of which, the coating of that deeply savory and aromatic soy sauce mixture never gets burnt, but instead, gets condensed and caramelized on every inch of the skin as the meats slowly and gently comes of age.  The result, on first trial, is perfectly, and I mean perfectly silky and luscious chicken meats that literally slips down my throat, wth firm and salivatingly salty skins that, in my mind, goes head to head with crispy.

The dish is served with hot steamed rice, a good moistening from the strained sauce, and scallion oil, which is the part that will hear no objection from me.






*UPDATED 2017/06/02: Added an internal temperature for the chicken for perfect doneness.



  • 1 small-size (1.2 to 1.4 kg/2.5 to 3 lbs) free-range chicken (weight includes the head)
  • 2 (45 grams) scallions, cut into chunks
  • 1" (20 grams) ginger, sliced
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) rock sugar, or light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp ground mushroom powder (see note)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (120 grams) finely diced scallions
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup (105 grams) canola oil


  1. TO PREPARE THE CHICKEN: This dish should be done with small-size chickens. Asian chickens tend to come with the neck and head attached. If yours doesn't, then it should weight even less (around 1 kg/2 lbs). In a pot, combine scallion, ginger, star anise, soy sauce, chicken stock, dark soy sauce, shaoxing wine, rock sugar, oyster sauce, mushroom powder, smoked paprika and black pepper. Bring to a simmer to cook for 5 min, then place the pot over ice to cool down to room-temperature.
  2. I marinated the chicken directly inside the pot, but I would recommend doing it in a large zip-lock bag, because it allows more surface area to be submerged in the marinate. So, place the chicken and the soy sauce-mixture inside a large zip-lock bag, and rub until coated evenly. Transfer to the fridge to marinate overnight (recommended), or at least 4 hours. Either way, turn the chicken once in a while, and remove from the fridge 2 hours before cooking.
  3. PREPARE SCALLION OIL: Place diced scallion, grated ginger, salt and ground white pepper in a large bowl. Heat canola oil in a pot over high heat until it just starts to smoke a little, then pour it evenly over the scallion-mixture. It will sizzle enthusiastically. Stir the mixture evenly with a spoon while hot, then let rest for at least 2 hours before using.
  4. TO COOK THE CHICKEN: Preheat the oven on 300 F/150 C. Choose a pot that will fit the chicken neatly without too much empty space. Remove the chicken from the zip-lock bag, then transfer the marinate into the pot. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat, then add the chicken inside. After turning it once or twice to be coated, transfer the pot inside the oven, UNCOVERED. Every 15 min, come back to it and turn the chicken, basting/brushing the sauce evenly over every surface, then return the pot back in the oven. The chicken will be perfectly done with a beautiful sheen after about 55 to 60 min, until the internal temperature around inner thighs reaches 172 F/ 77 C.
  5. KEEP IN MIND that this timing is for a small chicken about 2-plus lbs. I haven't done it with large chickens (and wouldn't want to), but just purely guessing, I would add 20 more minutes to every 1 extra lb, but go by the internal temperature just to be safe. ALSO, when I say "perfectly done", I mean it as really supple meats with a bit of pink inside the bones.
  6. After the chicken's cooked, hang it either by kitchen-twines around its wings or with meat-hooks, then brush the skin thinly with vegetable oil (keeps it shiny and prevents drying). Let it cool down to room-temperature. Strain the sauce, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can, then discard the solids. Add 2~3 tbsp of chicken stock to the sauce to thin out the saltiness, set aside.
  7. To serve, cut the chicken in small pieces and place over steamed jasmine rice. Ladle everything with the sauce and a good dollop of scallion oil. Sprinkle with ground white pepper.


The chicken is served at room-temperature over hot rice.

To make mushroom powder, simply grind dried shitake mushrooms in spice-grinder until finely ground.
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Drifting over moving chaos, under the clouds of settling dusts, weeks… have passed.  It’s been almost a month since my last post, the longest it has ever been.

This posting gap was considerable in blogging years, unplanned nor welcomed, and in many ways in fact, nerve-wrecking.  But I wanted to do the first “official” post properly, to wait, to get all the shit that needs to be done in our apartment, one that we renovated ourselves 6 years ago before moving to Beijing, so I could include a proper introduction of our new life to your all in this post.  Kind of…  Friends, apartment.  Apartment, friends.  Now help yourself at the buffet.

But turned out, as it seems, that there is more work involved behind those House And Garden variety of apartment showoffs that I used to take completely granted for.  After 4 weeks of grinding constructions, big and small, to touch up those little imperfections that, really, bothered nobody but myself… the apartment, is still not there yet.  So I decided not to wait any longer.  This post may not include apartment therapy – maybe in another week – but worry not, it’s still got food.

Now, for the first “official” post marking a new beginning in Hong Kong, I thought it was only fitting that we start with something iconic to this city.

Every city needs a hero.  Best yet, an nourishing one, dependable, non-judgmental, and accessible to all under its shelter, big or small, rich or poor.  One that doesn’t care if you were hustling sober through the high traffics or stumbling drunk on the stone-cold pavement, always and forever, as the city promises, the rescue that is steaming just around the corner.  Dirty water hot dog in New York, jian-bing in Beijing.  Here, this thing called curry fish balls is the food-hero that bonds between Hong Kong’s identity and its people who hold it dearly.

The fish balls, pre-fried, are boiled in a large tank of neon-yellow water which gets replenished as more fish balls are removed from the water, and served with a spoonful of curry sauce and hot sauce to standing customers huddling around the booth.  This boil-and-sauce technique, I suspect, is catering more to a streamlined service with higher turn-overs than say, optimising flavours.  The fish balls, without actually being cooked in the curry, are slightly bland and therefore have to draw all their flavours from the topical sauces instead of being a single, together, perfect entity.  This makes sense for street vendors, of course, especially in this relentlessly expensive city where any means necessary to speed up services are justifiably, if not rudely, executed.  But if we were to recreate this dish at home – and I would argue that it’s in the best interest to honor its complexity – we shall do things a little differently.


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Your Next Perfect Porchetta Sandwich is from Chinatown

I guess I am currently in the middle of what one would call, a blogger limbo.

We have “officially” moved out of Beijing, so to speak.  But in the next 3 weeks when our apartment is under renovation, we are going to be staying in a hotel where the closest thing to a cooking vessel is the bathroom sink with hot tap water (hotel sous vide?).  How do I create something delicious when the mere act of making fruit smoothies posts challenges?  Then I realised, the answer lies just around every corner in this city.

Cantonese-style roast pork.  Something as abundant in Hong Kong as Starbucks are in New York.  This awesome thing, is everywhere.  Even if you didn’t live here, chances are you’ve seen it in your nearest Chinatown, a staple in Cantonese cuisines.

Typically served with rice, which I’ve always had my doubt on.  I mean, it is a great piece of roast pork, with salty yet juicy flesh and gloriously blistered skins.  But on its own, and paired with yellow mustard, in my opinion, it just isn’t the most flattering companion for steamed rice.   It is however, the most perfect yet most under-utilized sandwich candidate, practically an half-way porchetta sandwich.

Here’s what you do.  You chop up a whole box of these porky awesomeness, then you make a “dressing” out of minced scallions, ginger and red chilis, with pungent savouriness from fish sauce and a tang that cuts through the grease from red wine vinegar.  You let this “dressing” seep through the nooks and crannies of an unapologetic pile of the chopped roast pork, into the thirsty holes of a toasted crusty roll that catches it all.  Then you cap everything up with a few slices of provolone cheese, and you draw your finishing touch with a smear of yellow mustard.

Porky, crispy, drippy and zero-cooking involved.  What can I say?  Hotel meal.



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History had it, that whenever two polar opposite cultures are smashed together, often under reluctant or even violent circumstances, despite hardships and losses, something mutated but beautiful eventually comes out at the other end.  That something, is usually food.

No doubt that America has its unspeakable history from the time of slavery, but what was left from its ugliness, was the unapologetic creole and cajun.  Taiwan’s predominantly Fujian and kejia culture (derived from China’s southern coast) adjusted to 50 years of Japanese rule by nurturing an uniquely categorized cuisine all of its own, which, some say, may be the last-standing pride of this politically fading island.  So on… what unfortunate events gave us the Vietnamese coffee, and so forth… what conflict left us the baba-nyonya?  Food, among sadness and realities, always knows how to find its own humble delights.  Food, is always optimistic.

And right now, standing in Hong Kong where such experiences were no stranger, I’m holding in my hand, a  glorious testament of such history.  A legacy from Portuguese’s colonial time in Macao, the pork chop pineapple bun.

Macao’s pork chop bun compared to Portuguese’s bifana, obviously, is another life.  It uses bone-in pork chops instead of cutlets, reflecting Asian’s general preference for flavour over convenience.  On top of which, it deploys soy sauce as part of the seasonings, and baking soda, a typical and effecient meat-tenderizing agent in Cantonese cooking.  But perhaps the most controversial act of it all is that, in one version, it stuffs the shallow-fried pork chop, without a blinking of an eye, in between an iconic pastry of this particular region.  The pineapple buns.

It can’t be right.  It shouldn’t be right.  But in between the crispy and salty edges of a well-seasoned and juicy bone-in pork chop, and the sweet and crumbly crust of a buttery pineapple bun, it miraculously is.  To be honest, I don’t even know why I doubted it in the first place.  Salty and sweet.  A proven equation that works.  Really, give it a chance.  No matter how unseemly and conflicting the idea may sound, like the clashing of the cultures that nurtured it, pork chop pineapple bun is a tasty mutation that made the best of it all.

And don’t forget to serve it with Hong Kong-style English milk tea.


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There are some women, whose problem is that they never believe they have what it takes to put together an IKEA coffee table.  Then, there are those such as myself.  Who hold unexplained and relentless faith in their own physical strength.  Who ask, how hard can it be?  Who practically built every single bed-bath-and-beyond in her apartment, with chapped unpolished nails and a can of diet coke.  And who, sometimes, get cocky.

If you ask me now, I would tell you I have absolutely no idea whatsoever, on why on earth did I think I had the same skills as a professional large-scale furniture builder/wood carpenter, which must be how I felt when I bought 3 colossally humongous, solid wood, antique courtyard doors that I thought I could turn into a dinning table with nothing but a mini screwdriver?  Why… why did this feel a bit different from those IKEA bookshelves with their friendly pre-drilled holes?  Why?  I kept asking myself the same question when I dragged this bone-crushingly heavy thing into the shower, scrubbing and rinsing off its ancient dirt that ran into the drain as black as the humour I found in all of this self-inflicted pain.  Today, I can’t feel my neck.

This is the kind of day when I’m really grateful for awesome leftovers.  I can only thank my foretelling self when I crawl to the fridge, dragging behind me a trail of defeat, and find a pure Macanese creation called “Portuguese sauce rice gratin”, a cheesy and bubbly seafood fried rice flooded with a light coconut milk curry and gruyere sauce then finished under the broiler, which I suspect, probably has nothing to do with Portugal.  I came up with its recipe the other day, because I’ve long been curious of it.  With its name being as confusing as its concept, this is one of those dishes that sounds weird but ultimately, defies all logics.  It’s one of the classics on every menu of “tea restaurant” in Hong Kong, among with its peers that all came into existence under the great mashing of different cultures during colonial times.   Without trying it before, you’d probably question… really?  But yes.  YES!  The rice gratin stirs into kind of a cheesy, coconut-y, mildly curried risotto almost, and pleases all way from the taste buds down to a warmed tummy, and repeats.  It is easily one of the most surprisingly delicious, can’t-stop-won’t-stop mess-on-a-plate I’ve cooked, with unlikely flavours that weld perfectly together into your next week-night regulars.

So I feed, heartily, staring into the wooden beasts with restored combativity.  I will break you, I say, and sit a piping hot pan of Portuguese rice gratin on your face while I sip lemonade.  You just watch…


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On the 20th of May 2013, I made a recipe that up to this day, more than a year later, still haunts me. It was a glorious, beautifully crafted specimen of pork belly confit, originally created by the Thomas Keller of whom I almost always, agree with.

There was nothing fundamentally wrong with it. The belly went through long hours of brining process before taking a hot-fat-tub bath that was equally as elaborate, then it went on to sit through an overnight pressing procedure… for reasons I followed without asking. Then, finally, 24 hours later in this excruciating climb to climax, it was sent into a skillet to fulfil its actual purpose – to form a golden, perforated crackling from the skin. The final torching of a caramel crust, although not from the original recipe, added a nice and thoughtful crunch and sweetness to the overall score. Like I said, there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it…

Except that it was just too damn, unnecessarily complicated!

OK, you’re right. For those who only stop by once in a while, I’m evidently not someone who, by principle, seeks kitchen-shortcuts. I receive considerable amount of twisted pleasure from fiddling with obsessive cooking behavior I mean, I have an entire section named “Got nothing but time” (which I do) for crying out loud. But the premise is that the extra fusses should always be because a) it’s absolutely necessary by science (like fermentation), or b) it actually saves the overall effort by doing so (like leaving something to roast overnight). I guess all I’m asking for, the pole that I’m curbing my insanity to, is that the time and effort spent are not for some minuscule, or sometimes, undetectable differences. And I’m afraid that in the case of pork confit, I’m gonna have to prove myself right by proving myself wrong.READ MORE

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