Sunday, January 3, 2010

Local Chinese Evolution

When Anthony Bourdain came to Hawaii, one of the most authentically local things that was served to him, was a Chinese style onaga (local red snapper) stuffed with lup cheong (Chinese sausage).  When I saw Lanai & Kaleo serve it to him, I was really excited because it's one of my favorite fish preparations and it is totally local.   You really wouldn't really find this preparation in any other Chinese community in the world (especially not in China).  But it reflects evolution of Chinese cuisine local to the Chinese in Hawaii.

Honey Walnut Shrimp at Golden Duck Restaurant
Mayonnaise is not, after all, a typically Chinese condoment.   But you will typically find it at dim sum accompanying the deep fried shrimp dumplings.   It is also the key to one of the most beloved Chinese dishes in Hawaii, honey walnut shrimp.   The sweetness of the honey glaze and the creaminess of the mayonnaise works so well with the salty shrimp flavor.  Of course what brings that dish alive are the little candied walnuts with their sweet, roasted crunch.  It doesn't seem very Chinese at all, yet when you taste it, it still tastes very Chinese.  The lup cheong and oyster sauce mayonnaise preparation that Bourdain tried, and which I made for New Year's Dinner, has a similar impact.  But unlike the honey walnut shrimp, it's difficult to find in the restaurants.  So here is my interpretation of the classic dish, so that you can try this at home kids.

So here's what you need:

 Ingredients for My Lup Cheong & Oyster Sauce Mayonnaise Stuffed Salmon
  • A fish.  In my case I used a big side of salmon, because I think this peparation works best with strong buttery flavor of salmon.
  • About half a bag of lup cheong (Chinese sausage)
  • Some doong gu (black shiitake mushrooms)
  • About half an onion
  • Some Mayonnaise
  • Some hau yau (oyster sauce)

    So here's what you do:

    Whenever working with doong gu or shiitake, the first thing you have to do is soak it to rehydrate them.   I used about a big handful of dried mushrooms.  You just have to eyeball how much will fit in your fish.

    Slice your onion in half, and then slice up the half pretty thinnly.   I would recommend about a 1-2 mm thickness.  The reason for the thinness is because unlike sauteeing the onions, baking in them in the fish won't really cook them too much.  It'll be just enough to take the sharpness of the onion sting out and convey the onion flavor to the rest of the stuffing, but they will still retain most of the their crunch.  So a thin slice will better.  I sliced up a whole onion, but I realized afterwards that only about half would fit in my fish.

    Slice up your lup cheong. Unlike the big chunks I used in my lup cheong stuffing, I would again recommend using a thinner (slanted) slice.  Like the onions, the thinner slices will both fit better in the fish and cook better in the relatively short cooking time.  Also like the onions, as the lup cheong cooks the lup cheong flavor should be infused into the whole dish.

    In a bowl mix up some mayonnaise and some oyster sauce.   Notice the amounts I'm giving you?   That's because this is where your personal interpretation and artistry should come in.  I threw in about 3 spoons of mayo and a couple big dollops of oyster sauce.   Keep tasting and mixing until you find the right balance for yourself.  Remember oyster sauce can be very salty, but the creaminess of the mayo also cuts it.  You've just got to figure out the right ratio.

    Now you want to make a few incisions into the side of the fish.  You do NOT want to cut all the way through, but only about half way through the fish.  The cuts should be down the spine of the fish and outwards from the spine.   The reason for this, is partly so the fish will absorb more flavor, but mainly so the fish can stretch more (ie. it will be easier to fold the filet in half).

    Flip the fish over and lay it in the pan.  The cut part will be on the outside of the fish, and the cut part will be on the inside (as you pick up the fish it will make more sense to you by how much easier it will be to fold thanks to those cuts).  Layer in the lup cheong, the onions, and the mushrooms (be sure to drain off the water from the mushrooms first). 

    Now you can start slathering on that oyster sauce mayonnaise.   Don't be afraid to use your hands to make sure everything fits in the fish and is evenly distributed (just be sure to wash them first).  

    Finally flip fold the top half over and wrap it around your stuffing (again don't be afraid to get your hands dirty).   If you've got any of that oyster sauce mayonnaise leftover, you can brush it along the top of the fish to give it a nice glazing.

    Pop your fish into the oven, and bake it for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Sounds pretty short doesn't it?   But many fishes, especially salmon, taste better when they're more on the rare side.  That's why sashimi and seared preparations are so popular.  If you overcook a salmon, it will get very dry and tougher.  It's better to err on the rare side than the overcooked side.  Additionally, if you have any leftovers, this gives the fish a little more room for reheating.

    It's pretty simple isn't it?   The total time is only about 30 minutes (most of which is simply the baking time).  Cooking doesn't necessarily have to be a long and arduous process.  Often the tastiest dishes can be simple and fun to prepare. 

    Dreaming up simple and fun dishes is essential to keep my son interested in creating something in the kitchen.  I remember how my Po Po used to make pie crust dough for my sister and I to play with, rather than playdough.   Remembering the fun of having that soft squishy, cold dough in my hands, I figured my son would really enjoy rolling up his sardines in Pillsbury crescent dough to make his sardines en croute.   My Po Po while letting us play, was secretly training us to have some skill in the kitchen.

    When I called my son over from the TV to wash the rice for his other dish, my wife commented that when I said to "wash the rice", she said I sounded a lot like Mr. Miyagi.   That somehow, if he does something simple as wash the rice, I was secretly training him in kung fu or giving him some magical powers that would just appear one day.   Little does she know how right she really is, as dedication, passion, and perserverance are the heart of true kung fu.

    1 comment:

    1. put mayo on anything, and all of a sudden it becomes local.

      did my little boo boo like both of his dishes or only the ikura?