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Braised Dried Abalone with Mushroom


(serves 6)
Dried Abalone is one of the most exquisite of all Chinese delicacies and is served without fail at any respectable banquet. In Chinese cuisine, dried foodstuff when cooked properly is often preferred to the fresh original and Dried Abalone is considered to be the King of Dried Seafood. That’s why people take the effort to cook Dried Abalone over up to a weeks time. Compared to fresh abalone, Dried Abalone has a more intense flavour as well as a nicer tender texture to the bite.    
 

Ingredients Braised Abalone

  1. Dried Abalone (6 of 30g each)
  2. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (6)
  3. Chicken Feet (12)
  4. Crushed Ginger (1T)
  5. Mini Chinese Cabbage (Bok Choy)
  6. Hon Dashi
  7. Chinese Wine
  8. Light Soya Sauce
  9. Oyster Sauce
  10. Brown sugar

Preparation 

  1. warning: this requires about a week of preparation.
  2. Soak the dried abalone in cold water. Keep in the fridge for 2 days changing the water every 12 hours or so. You can soak for a shorter period of time if you are using small abalone.
  3. The day after you put the abalone in the fridge start making the stock. Blanch the chicken feet in boiling water in a pot for a minute and then discard the water. Add 4 cups of fresh boiling water and bring to a simmer. Add 1T of Hon Dashi pellets. Simmer the stock for 20 minutesSnip This and allow to cool. Repeat the 20 minute simmer several times over a 24 hour period adding water as needed. If chicken feet make you squeamish or are hard to find, see my notes below for alternatives.
  4. After the long soak, you will notice you abalone have grown in size. Snip off the bits protruding from the round part of the abalone with scissors. It’s circled in red in the picture. This part contains the entrails of the abalone, so dig out any black bits you see as well. Then rinse well under running water.
  5. Place the abalone in a pot of cold water containing 1T of crushed ginger and 1T of Chinese wine. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. This step removes some of the abalone’s seafood odour. Allow to cool and then discard the water.
  6. Pour the chicken stock through a strainer into the pot with the abalone. Add 1T soya sauce, 1T oyster sauce and 2T Chinese wine. Simmer for 20 minutes and allow to cool with the cover on. Do this 4 to 5 times a day for the next 4 to 5 days. Add more water as needed to ensure the abalone are submerged the entire time or else the exposed part will become dark and hard. At first you will notice a strong smell of dried seafood but do not be alarmed, this will diminish to a nice aroma before you are done. The danger of sticking to the pot’s bottom is greatest when you begin reheating, so check often until you see bubbling.
  7. On the third day of simmering, soak 6 shiitake mushrooms in cold water with 1t of brown cane sugar for an hour. Snip off the stems and add the mushroom caps together with the mushroom soaking liquid to the pot. Continue simmering as before.
  8. When the abalone is done it will be bigger yet again as the gelatin from the stock will have bloated it further. The circular bottom of the abalone is the hardest part so your abalone is done if that part has softened as much as the surrounding flesh.  When you cut the abalone in half the core should be of the same colour as the rest of the abalone.
  9. After the abalone is nice and soft, remove all the solids and boil down the liquid until it thickens into a light sauce. It is normal to serve the abalone with some baby bok choy or broccoli so add this to the sauce as you are boiling it down if you wish.
  10. Hydrating Abalone

Notesabalone in simmer

  • The best quality dried abalone is from Japan, they are the ones that soften most easily with braising. The medium sized ones are from Yoshihama while the large ones are from Amidori. They also happen to be the most expensive. For home cooking the ones from Dalian China are a good compromise in terms of price and quality. Abalone from South Africa is the cheapest, but they don’t tend to get as soft.
  • The size of dried abalone is measured in ‘heads’. This is the number of abalone in a catty (600g) and ranges from 6-30. The smaller the number, the bigger the abalone. The ones I used are about 20 head.
  • Dried abalone must be aged to draw out the correct taste. This is done (by the wholesaler) by alternately sunning the abalone and storing it in a jar over a few years, after which it will darken and develop a white dusty look. Beware of clean looking dried abalone of a light colour if you are buying through the internet, as they are un-aged.
  • The golden rule of rehydration is to use cold water. Do not use hot water as it makes rehydrated foodstuff tough and rubbery
  • The number of times you need to simmer depends on the size of your abalone. This recipe assumes size 20 head abalone. Smaller ones require less simmering and larger ones more simmering.
  • The best pot to simmer abalone in is one made of clay, as pictured. They spread and keep heat well. You can still use a metal pot if you don’t have one. 
  • Chicken FeetChicken feet is ideal for this recipe because of the gelatine it produces when boiled. They have very little fat but a lot of skin and connective tissue. Gelatine is the secret to the nice texture of rehydrated abalone. Pork tail also give off gelatine, but unlike chicken the taste of pork does not blend that well with seafood so you need to use pork that is not ‘porky’. I’ve also tried oxtail, taste-wise its not a bad alternative but oxtail leaves a lot of floaty bits and oil which you have to remove.
  • I have found hon dashi to be the easiest way to flavour the stock properly but a more traditional alternative would be to use dried scallops or conpoy.
  • A common use for any left over abalone sauce is to toss it with egg noodles, like a pasta sauce.
  • Don’t use fresh mushrooms as they have the wrong flavour and they would disintegrate with so much boiling anyway.
  • Here are some reference pages to Shiitake Mushrooms, Chinese Wine and Hon Dashi.
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Main Courses, Oriental, Poultry, Recipe, Seafood

 

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Claypot Chicken Rice – Rice Cooker version


(serves 3)
Claypot Chicken Rice is Cantonese comfort food classic where rice is flavoured with sausage and sweet soya sauce. Traditionally, Claypot Chicken Rice is cooked in a claypot as the name implies but in modern times it is very often cooked in a rice cooker at home so it is done perfectly every time. The recipe is somewhat special in that the rice and chicken are cooked separately, and then again together. Additional items used to flavour the rice are fragrant Chinese sausages and Shiitake mushrooms. The chicken is tenderized with bicarbonate of soda, making it super tender and juicy. 
 
Ingredients Claypot-style Chicken Rice
  1. Chicken Thigh & Leg (1)
  2. Red Chinese Sausage (2)
  3. Brown Chinese Sausage (2)
  4. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (4)
  5. Raw Jasmine Rice (1.5 cups)
  6. Minced Ginger (2t)
  7. Dark Soya Sauce
  8. Chinese Wine
  9. Vinegar
  10. Sesame Oil
  11. Golden Syrup
  12. Coriander Seed Powder
  13. Corn Starch
  14. Bicarbonate of Soda

Preparation

  1. Soak 4 dried shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup of cold water plus 1T soya sauce and 1t sugar for 2 hours. After the first hour snip off the stems and discard them, then cut each mushroom in half and continue soaking. Soaking overnight is the best.
  2. Debone the chicken leg and cut it into bite sized chunks, trim off all the loose skin and fat. Mix 2T soya sauce with 1t golden syrup and 1T each of sesame oil and Chinese wine in a big bowl and marinate the chicken with this. Separately mix 1t corn starch and a pinch of sodium bicarbonate with 1/3 cup of cold water and add this to the marinating chicken.
  3. Cut off the tip of the sausages with the string attached and slice them into 1/3 inch pieces.
  4. Rinse the raw rice a few times in the detachable rice cooker pot. Use Jasmine Rice or any other type of long grained rice. Mix the sausage pieces into the rice evenly and pour in the mushroom water (but not the mushrooms). Top up with water until the water level is half a finger over the rice (i.e. less than the amount of water you would normally use) and set the rice cooker to ‘cook’. As soon as the rice cooker has gone to ‘keep warm’ mode open the lid to let the rice dry out a bit.
  5. After an hour or more has passed since step 2 add 1T of vinegar to the marinating chicken to neutralize the bicarbonate and mix well. Wait 10 minutes and then strain the marinade into a separate container.
  6. Coarsely mince 2t of ginger. Fry the ginger in 3T of vegetable oil in a pan on high heat. When the ginger begins to brown and the oil is really hot, add the chicken. Stir fry the chicken until no visible part of the meat is raw.
  7. Next, add the marinade and mushrooms to the pan. Bring to a simmer briefly and sprinkle in 1t white pepper and 1t coriander seed powder.
  8. Arrange the contents of the pan on top of the (now cooked) rice inside the rice cooker (see picture below). Sprinkle all the left over liquid from the pan over the chicken in the rice cooker evenly.
  9. Set the rice cooker to cook a second time. When it returns to ‘keep warm’ mode again, your chicken rice will be done.

Notes CP Chicken Cook

  • Chinese sausages should be easy to find in any Chinatown. If you really hate liver, use 4 red sausages instead. If you can’t find any Chinese sausages, use braunschweiger (i.e. liverwurst) instead. They will be different in size to the Chinese sausages, so adjust the quantity accordingly. For reference, a Chinese sausage is 6 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter.
  • If you have one of those rice cookers with fuzzy logic and all kinds of settings, just use the simplest one- usually labelled as ‘quick cook’ or something similar.
  • You can make your claypot chicken rice well ahead of time and reheat with the ‘keep warm’ function of your rice cooker.
  • If you want to skip the bicarbonate for a natural chicken texture, remember to skip the vinegar as well.
  • If you don’t have a rice cooker, you will need a clay pot. It will be very difficult to cook this in a metal pot so I suggest you don’t try. The rice gets burnt very easily.
  • If you like this recipe, have a look at my Oyakodon recipe, which is the Japanese version of chicken rice. 
 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Main Courses, Oriental, Poultry, Recipe

 

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The Dried Mushrooms Page


Dried Mushrooms are considered to be delicacies around the world. They are one of the few classes of food that actually taste better after preservation. It’s very easy to bring dried mushrooms back to life, you simply have to soak them in water. Originally mushrooms were only dried as a means of preserving them but today dried mushrooms have become a culinary class in their own right. They are indispensable in certain recipes where fresh mushrooms simply can’t do the job. In this post I will cover the gourmet dried mushroom varieties, namely: Morel, Porcini and Shiitake.

There are three reasons why dried mushrooms are prized in the kitchen. Firstly, the dessication process somehow transforms the slightly bitter taste of mushrooms into a nice umami flavour, that fifth taste which tricks the brain into thinking there is meat present. The taste and aroma of the mushrooms is also intensified. This makes dried mushrooms great for vegetarian dishes. Secondly, a by-product of using dried mushrooms is the tasty soaking liquid which can be used to flavour soup, rice, batter, pasta or anything else that requires water. Thirdly, specific taste can also be infused directly into dried mushrooms by adding herbs, sugar, soya sauce, mirin or whatever else you fancy to the water the mushrooms are soaked in.

Once the packaging is opened, extend the life of your dried mushrooms almost indefinitely by keeping them in the fridge. While they won’t spoil in the fridge, it is still important to store them in air-tight containers as otherwise they will lose their aroma over time.

Hydrating the dried mushrooms properly is important. Give your mushrooms a quick rinse under the tap before soaking. Always soak your dried mushrooms in cool water to make the rehydration process as gentle as possible. Hot water may work faster, but it makes the mushroom flesh tougher than it needs to be. It goes without saying; never just throw dried mushrooms into a boiling pot. Twenty minutes of soaking time should do for most varieties. Don’t use too much water or the soaking liquid will get too diluted; if your mushrooms go up to the 1/2 cup mark, add water to the 3/4 cup level.  After the mushrooms have become thoroughly soaked and supple, you can use most of the soaking liquid for cooking but discard the last bit at the bottom of the bowl that contains the sediments. 

Dried Morel Dried Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms are the undisputed King of Dried Mushrooms. This fact is reflected in their price; they tend to cost anywhere from 4 to 6 times more than other types of premium dried mushrooms. There is no such thing as cheap morel. Because they are expensive, you should beware of fakes. Some growers appear to offer cheaper produce but only because they purposely leave on too much of the stem to increase the gross weight. The bottom of the stem is leafy and must be trimmed off. Charlatans will even sometimes try to substitute morels with similar shaped mushrooms. The real McCoy has a honeycomb type lattice laced all over a yellowish brown cone shaped cap. The fakes are easily recognized once you see their skin is wrinkled and not honeycombed.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Morel mushrooms as nutty, meaty and slightly sweet. Darker morels are more valuable as they have a stronger taste and fragrance. Morel mushrooms are a kind of sponge mushrooms and after they are soaked, it is important to squeeze them dry. This spongy quality also allows them to absorb a generous amount of whatever sauce they are cooked in, which is later released with every bite.

Morels go extremely well with butter and one of the best ways to cook them is to sauté them in butter with a pinch of salt. You would normally serve them with roasted or pan-fried chicken, pork or veal dishes, pretty much anything that goes with white wine. Stronger meats may overwhelm its delicate taste. I will sometimes add sautéed morel to my mushroom soup in lieu of truffle. As morels have a crispier meatier texture than most mushrooms, they also go well with certain pureed foods like Cauliflower Puree. Morels are most often used in French cooking and morel sauce is one of the key sauces in any French kitchen. The sauce is made by blending butter sautéed mushrooms with their soaking liquid, white wine and cream followed by simmering.

Dried Porcini Dried Porcini Mushrooms
If there is a King of Dried Mushrooms, then there should be a Queen and this would be the Porcini mushroom. Unlike Morels, Porcini are always dried in slices but you can get a pretty good idea of what a whole mushroom is like by looking at the nice cross section of the Porcini on the left side of the photo. One distinct feature of Porcini mushrooms is they have no gills. They also have a long fleshy stem which is as edible as the large brown cap.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Porcini as slightly salty, smoky and meaty. They exude an intense heavenly aroma like no other mushroom. After your first whiff, you’ll easily recognize its signature smell. One nice thing about Porcini is it remains nice and soft after rehydration.

Porcini is common in Italian cuisine and it is the key ingredient in some Porcini-based risottos. Generally the soaking liquid is used in place of wine when simmering the risotto and its concentration by boiling off most of the water results in a very distinct porcini taste. They are also used to flavour polenta for the same reason. Because of their concentrated flavour, you’d normally serve Porcini with beef, lamb and wild game, anything that goes with red wine. They are often used in ragout, sauces and gravies. Slices of porcini also go well with salads, especially if you add some soaking liquid to the dressing. 

Dried Shiitake Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
The Shiitake (pronounced She-E-Tah-Kay) is the predominant gourmet dried mushroom in the Far East. It is the most popular mushroom in Japan where its Western name is derived. In China it is called the winter mushroom, a reference to the past when fresh mushrooms were not available in winter. It is always dried whole and if you see any sliced shiitake at the store, these are of an inferior grade.

As Shiitake are bulkier, they will take a longer time (I’d say 45 min) to get thoroughly soaked. You would normally quarter, slice or even dice Shiitake after they have been soaked. The stem of the Shiitake is quite woody and is always removed. As they are very hard, you cannot remove the stem before soaking. But you don’t want to wait til after soaking because then the part of the cap attached to the stem will still be hard. Snip them off completely with scissors when the mushrooms are partially soaked. If don’t like to waste, use the stems when boiling stock.

Shiitake have a less distinctive taste and fragrance than its Western counterparts above. I’d describe its taste and aroma simply as a very interesting earthy mushroom flavour. It is a common practice to put soya sauce, sugar or other similar seasoning items into the soaking liquid, so the shiitake gets additional layers of taste. The rehydrated Shiitake mushrooms have a firmer, I would even describe it as plump consistency compared to their limply fresh cousins and they are prized as much for their texture as their taste. They stay that way even if you cook them for a long time.

While Morel and Porcini are wild mushrooms, Shiitake are cultivated. This means they are readily available in both fresh and dried forms, which introduces the complication of when the fresh ones should be used and when the dried ones are more appropriate. For example, dried Shiitake would be used in rice-meat combination dishes (Chinese Claypot Rice and Japanese Oyakodon) while fresh Shiitake would be battered and deep fried (like Western stuffed mushrooms). It’s too complicated to get into the details here, just apply common sense. In Western style dishes, you can use them when braising meat, in terrines etc.

Dried Chanterelle Dried Chanterelle Mushrooms
Including Chanterelle in this post was an afterthought. I’m not really a big fan of this type of dried mushroom but I just happened to have some in the fridge.

Chanterelle is one of those dried mushrooms which I find have a milder flavour. It is light coloured and is sometimes called Golden or Yellow Chanterelle. You can recognize them by their small size and trumpet shape. Its aroma has been described as fruity and its taste as peppery but I don’t really discern too much beyond the ordinary mushroom taste and smell. I’m one of those that believe dried mushrooms have to be dark coloured to give an interesting flavour; if not it might be better to leave them fresh.

The main reason I don’t use dried Chanterelle much is they have a tendency to be fibrous and chewy so I use them mostly in situations where I cook them to death, like in stews and pie fillings. There is a school of thought that you should cook them lightly instead (like steak) but if that works, I haven’t experienced it. Maybe those guys were referring to fresh Chanterelle? One day I’m going to try soaking my dired Chanterelle in chicken stock to see if they end up tasting like shredded chicken breast.

Notes Porcini Stock Cubes

  • If you really want something convenient, you can try the Porcini stock cubes by Knorr. They contain little flakes of Porcini and are great as the stock cube for cream of mushroom soup or risotto.
  • Porcini is also sold in powder form, which is simply dried Porcini ground into powder. Use Porcini powder if you want to enhance flavour (its not a bad substitute for MSG) without imparting a Porcini-specific taste.
 
 

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