I love eating fresh fish – especially the fish skin. Alas, many fish fillets I find in markets have not had their skins scaled, making the skin inedible. Yet the healthiest part of fish like salmon is the omega-3 rich fat layer just under the skin!
Years ago, I bought a clamp that held the end of the fillet so I could scale it – very difficult to do without a clamp, since the fillet is so slippery. (Scaling whole fish is somewhat more manageable, since I can usually get a grip on it.) Alas, I lost that clamp and couldn’t find another one – until I accidentally bought one in a set of hot dish holders sold to remove dishes from food steamers and ovens. One of them was to clamp the edge of a plate – also usable to clamp my fish fillets!
Here’s the clamp in use, along with the best fish scaler I’ve ever found: a heavy brass one made in Japan. It does a brilliant job of removing scales easily yet gently, so it doesn’t tear the fish skin.
Of course, the clamp also works nicely holding the tail of a whole fish for scaling.
I’ll admit that I have too many kitchen gadgets. But some, like this one, are simply indispensable to do the jobs I need.
With the Stay-at-Home orders and closing of our favorite restaurants due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, I’m finding ways to feed my Mom and myself at home while minimizing my trips to food markets. Searching for foods that will keep while avoiding processed foods as much as I can for health reasons, I’ve been trying recipes that will let me do so.
I’ve found that frozen shrimp keep well and can be thawed reasonably quickly. One of the few processed foods I always keep in my refrigerator are a few boxes of Japanese tofu since they have a shelf life of several monthS, yet appear to be free of offending processed food additives.
Combining parts of recipes I found on the Internet, I made a version of one of the dishes at our favorite local Cantonese restaurant, Asian Taste that they offer on their Authentic Chinese Menu called “Steam Stuff Shrimp & Tofu”.
I started from a recipe for Chinese Steamed Tofu with Shrimp and Scallops. Rather than topping the tofu slices with a shrimp and scallop, though, I wanted a layer of shrimp paste between the tofu and shrimp. So I took a recipe for Shrimp Mousse I used to make Shrimp Toast Appetizers. (Since Mom is on a low-salt diet, I omitted the salt from the original recipe. The shrimp mousse was flavorful enough.)
The sauce and alternative final preparation was somewhat like the scallion, ginger, soy sauce one used for classic Cantonese Steamed Fish.
Here’s the combined recipe.
1 12oz package of tofu – soft or firm, to your preference
1 shoot of scallion green, julienned into 24 1½” lengths for final garnishing
½ teaspoon sesame oil for marinating the whole shrimp
Steamed white rice to serve with the dish
8 oz shelled and deveined shrimp, 41/50 size. Reserve 8-12 whole shrimp for topping.
½ teaspoon salt, optional
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 dashes ground white pepper
2 tablespoons finely sliced ginger
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
Marinate the reserved whole shrimp in ½ teaspoon sesame oil. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 4 hours.
Prepare the Shrimp Mousse: Rinse the shrimp with cold running water; drain and pat dry with paper towels. Put the unreserved shrimp and all the other Shrimp Mousse ingredients in a food processor with chopping blade. Blend well until the shrimp becomes sticky like a mousse. Remove from the food processor and set aside.
Prepare the steamer: Add 1 to 2″ water to a large pan or wok with lid. Use either a rack that will elevate the dish above the water or a bamboo steamer that just fits on the edge of the pan or in the wok.
Open the tofu box and drain the small amount of water. Cut the block of tofu into 8 to 12 equal sized blocks, roughly 1½” x 1½” x ½”. Arrange on a heatproof plate that will fit in your steamer.
Top each tofu block with a layer of shrimp mousse, followed by a marinated whole shrimp, then an “x” from 2 julienned scallion pieces.
Heat the steamer water to boiling and place the plate on the rack or bamboo steamer and cover. Steam on medium-high heat for 6 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. In a small pot, heat the sesame oil and ginger for about 1 minute, gently cooking the ginger, though not frying it. Stir in the soy sauce and sugar. Turn off heat.
Remove the tofu plate from the steamer. Remove the water that has accumulated on the plate, leaving a few tablespoons to mix with the sauce, reducing its saltiness. Spoon the sauce over the tofu & shrimp blocks and serve immediately with steamed white rice.
ALTERNATIVE FINAL PREPARATION: Though this will add more last-minute preparation steps, to preserve a fresher appearance, reserve the julienned scallion and uncooked sauce ingredients until the end. Heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil in a small pot until it smokes. Dissolve the sugar in the soy sauce. Sprinkle the sweetened soy sauce over the steamed tofu and shrimp blocks. Top each with ginger and scallion threads. Carefully drizzle the hot oil over the tofu blocks to sizzle the ginger and scallion threads. Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve immediately.
My Mom and I had the good fortune of being invited to a lavish Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of our friends, James & Elizabeth Wong, who had rushed back from a stay in Hong Kong to prepare and host the dinner for a small group of family and friends.
As dictated by Chinese tradition and superstition, there are a host of dishes to be served and eaten during the Chinese New Year season – starting on Chinese New Year Eve and continuing through the 15th day after New Year’s Day with the celebration of the Lantern Festival. These dishes are thought to bring good luck during the year, based on their names or appearance. There are many lists and examples presented on the Internet.
The dishes James & Elizabeth provided showed their particular thought and care, not only for the symbolism of the names and ingredients of the dishes, but also for their appearance and actual taste.They were so special that we asked James if he would provide detailed descriptions to accompany the photos we took of the dishes. Together, they document a 5 1/2 hour dinner that offers to bring extraordinary auspiciousness to all the participants.
Our first wine: NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut as an aperitif, which we enjoyed while James was cooking.
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig
The culinary history of a roasted pig in China goes back more than 1,400 years. From the Southern and Northern Periods 南北朝, records showed 22 different recipes to roast a pig. In central and southern China, it is customary that a roasted pig is presented to the ancestors on Ching Ming Festival 清明節 (Tomb Sweeping Day). The tradition of consuming a roasted pig during a large family gathering extended beyond the Tomb Sweeping Day and the pig is nowadays featured wherever there is a major celebration or a feast, particularly in Cantonese communities.
This 1995 vintage Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, while aged, still drank beautifully and went nicely with the lusciousness of the Roasted Suckling Pig.
🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
This is a traditional New Year dish in Cantonese speaking communities. It is invariably featured in New Year meals at home and in restaurants. Most of the ingredients rhyme with phrases of good fortune in the Cantonese dialect. The homonyms are 發財~髮菜 (make a fortune)；好市~蠔豉 (good business)；生財~生菜 (grow a fortune)
🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue
From the idiom 年年有餘 (surplus every year), fish (魚) has become an essential food ingredient around the New Year because 魚 and 餘 are homonyms. (Usually the fish is not eaten but carried over to the new year to symbolize surplus. We had leftover fish!) Tongue (脷) is another popular food ingredient in New Year meals because 脷 and 利, meaning profit or benefit, are also homonyms. This homonym pair works only in Cantonese because in Mandarin, tongue is written as 舌 and pronounced differently. Note that tongue is usually mixed in and cooked with the oyster dish described above (發財好市 ，生財大利 lettuce and large tongue).
I picked the name 漁人得利 for this dish because it contains homonyms for both surplus (漁=魚 and 餘) and profit (利 and 脷). The phrase came from the second part of the idiom 鷸蚌相爭、漁人得利, which literally means “when the snipe and the clam fight, the fisherman nets the benefits (both the clam and the snipe)”. The story – when two sides quarrel, it is always the third party who benefits – on which this idiom is based (https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/鷸蚌相爭，漁人得利) dates back to the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history. I created this dish a few years ago not just because it features two popular New Year food ingredients (fish and tongue) but to remind myself to be in harmony with others (和氣), living up to the New Year idiom 和氣生財 (peace brings money).
A wonderful 2007 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne-Aligoté Puligny-Montrachet to accompany the Braised Dried Oysters and Steamed Fish Filet
🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce
Chicken is not an everyday dish in southern China and is reserved for special occasion meals. Chicken baked in salt is a famous 東江 and 客家 Hakka dish originated more than 300 years ago from the salt fields of Guangdong Province, it is nowadays seldom prepared at home and not often found on restaurants menus (unless preordered a day in advance).
清炒蘆筍 • Sautéed Asparagus
Just using up surplus asparagus from an upcoming dish. Read on for hidden meaning!
🥕🥒葡汁焗六蔬 • Baked Six Vegetables in a Mild Portuguese Curry Sauce(西蘭花、台山菜花、紅蘿蔔、夏南瓜、蘑菇、洋蔥)
This dish usually features 4 vegetables. However, four 四 rhymes with 死, which means death, and thus not a good omen for the New Year. Therefore 2 vegetables were added to make the number 6 六 which rhymes with 祿 (福祿壽), meaning blessings, happiness and prosperity.
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
Beef is not a traditional Chinese New Year dinner dish. But we were celebrating New Year in New York ….
2012 Cantine San Marzano Collezione Cinquanta Salento IGT
1996 Château Gruaud Larose
Two nice reds to accompany the delicious steak and vegetables.
🏎一路順暢 • Grilled Asparagus with Chinese Sausage
The name of the dish literally means “one smooth journey”. The word play here is that 路順 (smooth road) and 蘆筍 (asparagus) are homonyms, as well as 暢 (unobstructed) and 腸 (sausage). The ingredients were plated in straight lines in foil trays to emphasize smoothness.
臘味飯 • Rice Cooked with Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats
Steaming rice with the Assorted Air-dried Meats gives the rice a delicious flavor and aroma from the meats.
🥥椰汁年糕 • Coconut Flavored Glutinous New Year Cake
“Chinese New Year cakes can be eaten year round, but traditionally, they’re served around Chinese New Year to celebrate the holiday. In Mandarin it’s called 年糕 (Niángāo) and the literal transition of that is Year Cake. Because the second word 糕 also sounds like the word “higher” in Chinese, it was thought to be a lucky food as eating cake would help you achieve a higher status or prosperity.” (From Angel Wong’s Kitchen http://www.angelwongskitchen.com)
🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)
柑 and 金 (gold) are homonyms. Also, the golden orange color of tangerines and persimmons symbolized a bowl of gold.
Thank you, James & Elizabeth, for such an auspicious welcome to the Year of the Pig!
There are many “best restaurant” lists. I found one by La Liste which provides a fairly transparent methodology for their ranking of their top 1000 restaurants in the world.
I’ve extracted the top restaurants in the U.S. from this list; there are 90 of them. Here they are. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve eaten at – including the top-rated Guy Savoy in Paris that I had the great pleasure of dining at in December 2018.
Brining is essential for a juicy, flavorful roast chicken. Brining is simple to do, and with a vertical chicken roaster and digital cooking thermometer with probe, roasting requires little work and is fairly foolproof. The result is so tasty, unless you don’t have time to do the brining or roasting, there’s no reason to ever buy a supermarket-roasted chicken again.
1 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, thoroughly washed
1/4 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
2 T black peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 T minced or crushed garlic
Dissolve the kosher salt and sugar in about 2 cups of boiling water. After thoroughly dissolved, add about 1 quart ice cubes with water to cool the hot brine. Stir in the crushed peppercorns and garlic.
Stand the chicken, vent side up, in a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag, in a tall stockpot. (I use an 8 qt. Calphalon stockpot; it makes the bagged chicken easier to handle, catches any overflow or leaked brine, and fits nicely in my refrigerator.) Pour the brine into the bag, aiming at the vent to concentrate the pepper and garlic inside the chicken. (If you wish, add the neck piece and gizzards; don’t brine the liver or heart – clean, lightly flour and gently pan fry these separately as a snack.) Zip the bag closed, squeezing out all the air, adding cold water, as needed, so the bag is completely filled with brine when zipped closed. (This will ensure all parts of the chicken are brined. Having put the bag in the pot, any overflow will be caught by the pot, preventing a mess.) Soak the chicken from 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
Remove the chicken from the brine. Strain the brine through a fine sieve to preserve the pepper and garlic and put it into the cavity; discard the brine. Stand the chicken on a vertical chicken roaster on a small pan to catch the juices. Insert the neck piece and gizzards under a flap of the neck skin. (If you’d like a crisper skin on the roast chicken, pour boiling water over the chicken skin to firm it up and let the chicken air dry for about an hour before roasting.) Roast the chicken in a 350° oven until the thigh meat (away from the bone) reaches 175-180°. Remove from oven and let the roasted chicken rest at least 20 minutes before slicing. Reserve and de-fat the pan juices for making a sauce. Because of the brining, even the white meat will still be moist and it will all be very flavorful.
VARIATIONS. Add herbs, spices, soy sauce, or Japanese mirin to the brine. Use brown sugar, honey or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). Use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.
My British-born foodie friend, Bethia Woolf, sent me a link to an article by noted British Chinese-food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on Classic Dan Dan Noodles. As a Sichuan dish, Dan Dan Noodles is not something I grew up with, but have enjoyed a few times in restaurants. I’ve made versions at home using sauce from jars, so when I saw the recipe, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!
The recipe provided looked simple enough. I had most of the items in my pantry or freezer. The two of concern, though, were Chinese Alkali Noodles and Sweet Fermented Sauce. I did a little research and headed out to one of my local Asian supermarkets where I managed to find just one example of each.
I scanned the store’s noodle shelves for yellow colored noodles and found one with sodium carbonate – an alkali – as an ingredient. Okay, that was easy.
Then I searched for the sauce. I had cruised the Internet and found it’s called Tian Mian Jiang, also called Sweet Bean Sauce, and is used for Peking Duck (not Hoisin Sauce, as I’ve always believed). It’s made from fermented flour and soybeans. I found this jar with flour and soybeans listed as the only ingredients (hard to read and impossible to photograph, since it’s black type on a clear label against the black sauce).
Missing ingredients in hand, I converted Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to American measures, made a few other adjustments, and tried it. The alkali noodles really do make a difference: They keep their nice chewy texture. It was delicious – and simple! No more need for the sauce from a jar! I’m adding it to my standard repertoire.
Classic Dan Dan Noodles – adapted from a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop
3 T cooking oil
4 oz minced pork
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 t sweet bean sauce
1 t light soy sauce
7 oz Chinese alkali wheat flour noodles
For the sauce:
1 c chicken stock (or noodle cooking water)
2 t light soy sauce
¼ t salt
1 t Chinkiang vinegar
2 T chili oil with pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 T scallion greens, sliced across the stalk into small rings
5 T Tianjin preserved vegetables, diced
Stir fry the pork in oil in a skillet or pot until it loses its red color, pressing the meat against the pan with a cooking spatula or spoon to separate out into small, but still juicy pieces. Add the wine, stir a few times, then add the sweet bean sauce and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Pour cooked pork into a plate to hold.
Boil water in a pot to cook the noodles. In a separate pot, heat the stock. Boil the noodles according to suggested time on the package (mine said 3-4 minutes). While they are cooking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the stock in a serving bowl.
When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander (reserving some of the cooking water if you are not using stock). Add the stock or noodle cooking water to the sauce in the serving bowl. Place the noodles in the bowl, top with the pork and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly distributed.
Having learned a different way to peel an orange from my sister after 50 years of doing it the wrong way, I stumbled upon another fruit I had been peeling incorrectly for decades: bananas.
Lifehacker’s post Open a Banana like a Monkey opened my eyes as well. The basic lesson: Instead of peeling from the stem end, imitate monkeys and peel from the bottom end, pinching the end to separate a skin section. Much easier! (By the way, my clever sister said she’s always done it this way too!)
Having learned new ways to shuck corn, peel oranges, and now, peel bananas, I wonder how may other techniques I’ve been doing wrong for all these years! Well, at least I’ve proved that this old dog can learn new tricks!
I grew up peeling oranges the way my father taught me: With a knife, cut through the skin and pith down from the stem end to the bottom, with 4 cuts. Pierce the little scar where the stem was with the tip of a knife and peel down each of the 4 quarters of skin. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and thought this was the only way to peel an orange.
Then a few years ago, my sister showed me that she peeled an orange differently. She did the same scoring, but started peeling from the navel end towards the stem. I tried it and found my sister was brilliant! On most types of orange, the skin comes off much more easily that way!
I was looking through You Tube for videos illustrating the difference for this blog and I discovered those aren’t the only ways to peel an orange. Here’s one that’s a variant of the method my father taught me, slicing off the top and bottom of the orange and scoring the peel into 6 or more pieces instead of 4:
Then I found yet another, totally different method:
How to Peel an Orange the Russian Way!
This looks messier, but you get a half of a skin to use as an orange oil candle – or to fill with sherbet and freeze as a self-contained dessert. Others videos show a variant of this method, massaging the skin to loosen it from the fruit before scoring and peeling.
Looking through You Tube there are even more ways including a nice way of cutting to make pieces of cut orange for a fruit salad:
After so many decades of peeling oranges one way, I’ll now keep looking and trying other methods. So far, though, I think I’ll end up using the “cut off the top and bottom and score into 6 sections” method but peel from the bottom end to the top.
I have to share this new discovery while we’re at the peak of fresh corn season on a remarkable way to shuck corn!
I love fresh corn on the cob – enough to put up with the time and hassle of peeling off the husks and fastidiously pulling off the silk so it doesn’t get caught between my teeth. Then, just a week ago, I saw a posting about a better way to cook and shuck corn – so interesting that I especially looked forward to visiting my local farmers market.
Fresh corn in hand, I simply placed them into the oven to convection roast at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven and let them sit until they’re just cool enough to handle (several minutes) – or use gloves while they’re still hot. Some of the recipes on this process say the de-husking must be done while the corn is still warm.
Cut each ear with a serrated knife just past the point where the stem connects to the corn cob, cutting off the first ring or two of kernels. This will leave enough room for the ear to slide out of the husk.
Grasp the top of the corn with the silk and shake the ear. The corn will start to emerge and will come out easily, leaving the silk in the husk.
Voila! A clean ear of corn with almost no time shucking and a very easy cleanup!
Now talk about coincidences, just today I was listening to a book on tape: Jonah Burger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In it, he describes a YouTube video that went viral: Shucking Corn — Clean Ears Everytime. It was posted in Sep. 2011 and shows the same process, except for microwaving for 4 minutes per ear instead of oven roasting. Here’s the video:
I tried the microwaving for 4 minutes per ear, for 2 ears at a time in my microwave oven. I had to cut off part of the long stems to fit on my microwave’s turntable, but the corn turned out fine. It slipped out of the husks easier than the oven roasted ears did and they taste the same. I also tried cutting the ends off the cooked ears with a heavy Chinese cleaver instead of a heavy serrated knife and it cut easily as well.
After so many years of shucking corn the old fashioned way, peeling away the husk leaves and silk, then picking at the remaining pieces of silk, then cleaning up the loose corn silk that has scattered around the kitchen, this is really a remarkable discovery! It even makes the shucking chore fun!
As to taste, the corn seems to be as fresh and sweet as by using the usual shuck and steam method. I’ve seen some recipes recommend washing the corn and cutting off the top silk to remove dirt that would impart a bad taste to the corn. My hand-picked farm corn is very clean, so I didn’t bother to do so and it tasted fine.
From an early age, I learned that the sugar in fresh corn starts turning to starch the moment it’s picked. So I try to find corn that has been picked just before I buy it. That seemed to be easier out east than here in Ohio, but this fast way of cooking and shucking corn means there’s little excuse not to cook it the minute I get them home, so they should be as sweet as possible.
I found a farm market run by a wonderful person just 10 minutes from my home in New Albany, OH: Hellwig Farm. As a member of Slow Food Columbus, I’m learning how to connect more directly to the food and farms that feeds us. This visit helped feed my mind and soul as well as my body.
Jennifer is from a farming family and she is as charming and friendly as she is beautiful. A recent article in Edible Columbus provides a nice write-up on Jennifer and her work to provide free food for needy families in the area, so I won’t repeat that story here, but it’s heartwarming to know that there are people like Jennifer who care so much about her neighbors to help meet their needs with dignity. It’s wonderful that the proceeds from this year’s Fête help support these efforts.
We chatted while I copied Jennifer’s photos and she boxed up some produce. Then I started selecting various items for myself to take home, piling them on her counter. She gave me a price for the lot. I don’t recall what the total was, but it was very little. Jennifer explained that she wasn’t looking to make a lot of money on her produce and that she doesn’t participate in the local farmers markets because she doesn’t want to undercut the prices of others there.
Only after I got home did I realize how much I had bought for so little money! And it was so healthy and delicious! Fresh sweet corn; young kale leaves (so tender that I just quickly stir-fried them like spinach); local honey made in New Albany (that should help ward off my hay fever allergy); raspberries (for only $2 for the pint!); mildly hot peppers; and heirloom tomatoes (so beautiful and delicious!). This load kept me eating fresh food for a week!
Two weeks later, I went back for more. I made a note of what I got this time: 6 ears of corn; 2 3/4 pounds of heirloom tomatoes; 1 1/2 pounds of beets; a 2 pound butternut squash; a 4 3/4 pound cabbage; 10 oz of fresh garlic. The cost: less than what I would have paid for the tomatoes alone at my local farmers market!
I’m a big supporter of the New Albany Farmers Market – it’s one of the best in central Ohio, with a wide variety of local offerings and friendly vendors. But while the season lasts, I’ll be heading out to Hellwig Farm first to see what Jennifer has to offer. And I’ll be eating very healthy for about the same price as supermarket food.
Hellwig Farm is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm until August 31st. “Friend” Hellwig Farm on Facebook to be informed of her limited opening hours after that.