Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recipes from Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an international city of commerce, which also makes it a place of great culinary wealth. Food in Hong Kong is influenced by China, Japan, Southeast Asia and parts of the Western world, and all that diversity has contributed to a unique cuisine that is worthy of a stop on anyone’s culinary world journey.

I love American Chinese food, but that’s just what it is. Americanized Chinese food, not to be confused with true Chinese cuisine.

Of course, it’s next to impossible to promise that anything I present on this blog is a true representation of any particular cuisine, just based on the difficultly of verifying Internet sources. So now that I’ve said all that stuff about American Chinese food verses authentic Chinese food, someone is probably going to write to me and tell me that I botched Hong Kong.

Anyway the point I was going to make is that I’m learning that I love true Chinese cuisine as much as I love the Americanized stuff, and if this week is any indication of that I may actually love it even more. Because this week’s menu was delicious.

But first things first. Yes, I know, Hong Kong isn’t a country or really a region, either, but you’re used to that with this blog. Hong Kong is a “Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.” It is also 7 million people stuffed into 426 square miles of land, which makes it one of the most densely populated areas of the world and, in my defense, far more populated than some of the actual countries I’ve done for this blog.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Sprengben

Despite the smog, which we’ve heard a lot about this year, Hong Kong is really a pretty good place to live. It has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, one of the best public transportation systems in the world and is highly ranked in economic freedom, quality of life and human development. If that’s not good enough, Hong Kong residents have the highest average IQ score out of 81 different world nations, oh and the longest life expectancy of any region in the world, though I expect that might change if they don’t get the smog under control.

So yes, the food is very Chinese in nature but is also influenced by the western nations that have at one time or another either controlled it (British colonialism and all) or simply had a trade relationship with it. Because Hong Kong is so densely populated, there are a lot of restaurants there, and competition is fierce. Fierce competition amongst restaurants, of course, leads to excellent food, which is really good for everyone isn’t it?

Anyway I did have to do some digging and also some online shopping to put this meal together, because although food from Hong Kong is delicious it doesn’t always contain easy-to-find-in-California ingredients, which is a shame because otherwise I would eat it all the time. So here are the recipes I chose, with the following disclaimer: every recipe in this menu contains soy sauce. This may be a little overly soy-saucy or salty for the average person. You have been warned.

Hong Kong style soy sauce chicken
(this recipe comes from
  • 10 chicken drumsticks, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 slices of fresh ginger
  • 6 stalks green onions
  • 1 star anise
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce *
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 tbsp Shaoxing Wine
  • 2 tbsp rock sugar
*There are two kinds of soy sauce in Chinese cooking: light and dark. “Light” simply refers to the soy sauce we Americans are used to and can find in any supermarket. “Dark” soy sauce is thicker and sweeter, and can generally only be found in Asian supermarkets.

Stir-fried green beans with minced pork
(this recipe comes from Christine’s Recipes)
  • 12 oz green beans, trimmed
  • 1 stalk salted mustard greens*
  • 3 1/2 oz ground pork
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tbsp water
  • pepper to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp Ground Bean Sauce
  • 1 tsp Chili Bean Sauce
  • 1 tsp XO Sauce
  • 1/3 tsp salt
*To make salted mustard greens, rub fresh mustard greens with salt and then place them in the refrigerator for a few days. Confession: I didn’t do this, instead I just cooked them down a little with some salt and water on the stove.

Soy sauce fried noodles
(this one is also from Christine’s Recipes)
  • 7 oz fresh egg noodles
  • 4 oz bean sprouts
  • 1 1/2 oz chives, chopped into 3-inch lengths
  • 1/2 onion, shredded
  • Crushed ginger to taste
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • Sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp raw sugar
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • Sesame oil to taste
So you do need to do a bit of juggling to get all of this food to come together at the right time, but I think you have a bit more wiggle room with the chicken, so I’ll start there.

Heat 3 tbsp of cooking oil in a large pot over low heat. Add the ginger, garlic and green onions and cook until aromatic. Now pour in both types of soy sauce and the water. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil, then add the sugar and wine.

Wow, this is an epically bad photograph.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, then add the drumsticks.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, turning the drumsticks about halfway through to ensure that they cook evenly. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer (I like to cook dark meat to 175 degrees).

Remove from the pot and serve.

Now for the noodles:

Mix the water with the two types of soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce and sesame oil. Make sure the sugar dissolves all the way, and then set aside.

Cook the noodles briefly according to package directions. I used dried lo-mien noodles because that’s what was available, and I cooked them for one minute less than the package told me to. My past experience has taught me that you can’t overcook lo-mien noodles because they get slimy, and then your kids don’t want to eat them.

Drain the noodles and set aside. Now heat the oil and stir fry the bean sprouts and chives for just a minute or two. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the onion until translucent. Move the onion to one side of the pan, add more oil, then cook the ginger with the shallot until the shallot starts to soften.

Another terrible photo, I'm on a roll.

Add the noodles, tossing gently if they are stuck together. Cook for another three minutes or so, then add the sauce. Stir so everything is well-coated, then return the sprouts and chives to the pan. Serve hot sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Finally, the beans:

Soak the salted mustard greens in cold water for 20 minutes or so, then rinse and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Chop roughly and set aside.

Mix the soy sauce, sugar, corn starch, water and pepper together and then pour over the pork. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Heat about an inch of cooking oil in a medium sized pan until bubbles rise around the end of a wooden spoon. Now add the green beans and fry for three minutes or so, or until bright green and just starting to soften. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Remove all but a tablespoon of the oil from the pan and add the pork. Stir until cooked all the way through, then remove to a plate and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the garlic until aromatic. Add the mustard greens, sugar to taste and stir fry for a minute or so. Then return the pork and green beans to the pan. Add the ground bean sauce, chili bean sauce and salt to taste. Sprinkle with a little bit of wine and then stir in the XO sauce. Serve hot.

I loved, loved, loved this meal and amazingly, my kids did too. The chicken was a huge hit and I wished I’d made more. The noodles were the best Asian noodles I’ve ever made—a perfect texture and very well-seasoned. And the beans were equally yummy and perfectly cooked.

This food was definitely reminiscent of American Chinese food but was also definitely not the same animal. I felt like I was eating food in a restaurant in Hong Kong, rather than in a Chinese restaurant in California, so I must have been doing something right. This is one of those rare meals where everything was delicious, and I was really thrilled with how it came out—especially since my whole family seemed to enjoy it. Well, my kids didn’t eat the beans but that has more to do with the fact that they were green than whether or not they tasted good. Kids.

Next week: Anhui Provence, China (Huangshan Mountains)

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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