Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Savory Chilled Tofu with Century Egg | 涼拌尖椒皮蛋豆腐

Some call it century egg, others call it the thousand-year-old egg, or millennium egg. In Hong Kong, it is simply known as pei-daan. However you call it, this most certainly isn't the ordinary egg you'd poach, scramble, or fry with.

Enveloped inside a translucent, soy-sauce colored, gelatinous egg "white" is a soft, gooey, greenish-black yolk - the ghastly color of gloom, one may say. The bouncy jelly-like exterior may not taste much of anything, but the dark center has the texture and sharpness of very ripe Camembert - creamy, pungent, with a heady, palpable whiff of ammonia. (Think your cat's urine. You get the picture.) Century eggs come covered in clay and rice hulls which, coupled with its somewhat misnomer of a name, does for a second appear like some dinosaur fossil excavated from an archeological expedition.

It is no wonder the century egg has proudly made appearance on TV shows like Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods and Fear Factor, the daredevil game show where contestants were once pitted against each other devouring and gagging on whole eggs alone.

So what is a century egg anyway? Long story short, the century egg is a preserved egg, most often a duck egg, sometimes chicken, or even quail, cured in a mixture of ash, quicklime, clay, salt, and rice hulls for a period time between several weeks to months. It happens to be an age-old Chinese delicacy that is oh-so-yummy when smartly paired with something else, not unlike Roquefort complemented with a glass of Sauternes.

In Hong Kong, the century egg is most often seen in the ubiquitous breakfast congee (rice porridge) cooked with lean pork, or encased in pastry with sweet bean paste and a touch of ginger. In restaurants, it is frequently served as an amuse-bouche alongside paper-thin slices of pickled young ginger, or as a side dish smothered in a savory blend of chili, garlic, and herbs. The trick is to enjoy the century egg in small bits along with other flavors and textures, lest you'd probably gag on eating the whole thing plain.

Century eggs take on strong flavors well and pairs exceptionally well with tofu for a contrast in textures. Here we have a typical household recipe that many families keep with minor variations. One thing absolutely in common is that there are no skills involved whatsoever and the entire dish practically comes together in under 15 minutes. It celebrates a melange of flavors and textures - from the silkiness of chilled tofu, the juxtaposition of chewiness and creaminess of century egg (and its odor), the heat of peppers, and the sweet and savoriness of the sauce. Some would also top the dish with dried pork floss. Opt for either sugar or honey for the sweet element - I prefer honey for its floral hint and consistency. The resulting dish makes for a simple, classic side dish, ideal for the sweltering heat of summer!

What you'll need...
2 century eggs
1 block (400 g) silken tofu
2 Chinese long green peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bird's-eye chili, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon oyster sauce*
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon cooking oil
Spring onion, chopped
Cilantro, chopped

Note: For a vegetarian option, substitute with vegetarian "oyster" mushroom sauce.

1. Peel century eggs and rinse with water. Cut into half-inch dice. (Have a glass of warm water ready while dicing the eggs - dip the knife in and wipe off with paper towel each time after slicing to avoid a gunky mess.)

2. De-seed long green peppers, remove pith and finely chop. In a nonstick pan, heat oil on medium heat. Sauté diced green peppers for 1-2 minutes. Add minced garlic and chili, cook until fragrant then lower heat. Stir in oyster sauce, soy sauce and honey. Season to taste, then set aside and allow to cool slightly.

3. Drain tofu, slice and arrange on a platter. Layer diced century egg on top and drizzle sauce mixture over. Sprinkle with spring onion and cilantro. Enjoy!

- Press tofu with paper towel to extract excessive water content. If time allows, return tofu to the fridge for an hour before assembling.
- If pressed for time, skip the cooking process and mix the chopped peppers and garlic with the sauce ingredients and pour over tofu and century egg. Watch out for garlic breath though!

【 涼拌尖椒皮蛋豆腐 】

皮蛋                           2 隻
盒裝蒸煮滑豆腐     1 盒
青尖椒                       2 條
蒜頭                           2 瓣
指天椒                      1 隻
蠔油                           1 湯匙
生抽                           2 茶匙
蜜糖                           1 湯匙
芫荽                           適量

1. 皮蛋
2. 蒜瓣剁碎。尖椒和辣椒分別去囊去籽再切細粒備用。蔥和芫荽切粒。
3. 開中慢火,易潔鍋入面下少許油,油熱後先放尖椒碎兜炒約 1 – 2 分鐘至出味,然後加入蒜末和辣椒碎略為炒勻。
4. 調到慢火,倒入蠔油、生抽和蜜糖拌勻再作適當調味即可關火。稍微放涼備用。
5. 滑豆腐擠出多餘水份後切片。鋪上皮蛋粒、淋上煮好的醬汁、再撒上蔥花和芫荽即成!喜歡的話,更可加肉鬆!

1. 滑豆腐擠乾水份後 , 放入大碗內蓋上保鮮紙放入冰箱冷藏1小時,效果更佳。

2. 如不想開爐火,可以免卻炒尖椒、辣椒及蒜頭的步驟,直接跟醬汁拌勻再淋在豆腐和皮蛋上。個人認為用炒的方法比較香及好吃,且能避免生蒜所引起的「口氣」。

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Heirloom Tomato & Stracciatella Bruschetta | 復古番茄意大利芝士蒜香多士

Every summer, farmers markets everywhere hustle and bustle with chefs and home cooks, beaming with color and radiating a vibrant energy seemingly distinctive to this season. Even with nothing in particular on my shopping list, I make time for a farmers market visit - if not to check out what's in season, at least to remind myself the simple fact that in many parts of the world, seasons still influence and inform our day-to-day decisions on what to eat.

Besides the overflowing crates of fragrant peaches and nectarines and punnets of summer berries are always a festive array of heirloom tomatoes. Red, brown, green, yellow, zebra-striped - heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and, unlike the store-bought hybrids, are each so unique that often no two are the same. Many a times I find myself curious about these gnarly, lumpy yet gorgeous fruits. So, what exactly are heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom tomatoes are basically open-pollinated varieties of tomatoes that have been passed down for generations without crossbreeding. This is in contrast to typical supermarket tomatoes, which have been carefully bred to carry particular traits: things like higher productivity, enhanced durability, uniform shape for ease of packaging, greater resistance to pests and diseases - often at the expense of flavor. Have you ever swooned over a perfectly blemish-free, luscious-looking tomato, taken it home and taken a bite, only to find it mealy and completely tasteless? Unfortunately, that has happened to me all too often, seeing that I live in Hong Kong. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, are genetically unique and produce fruits that carry distinct flavor and texture, widely believed to be superior to their mass-marketed hybrid counterparts. The "disadvantage"? Thinner skin, shorter shelf-life, lower yield and greater susceptibility to disease - all of which logically make up for a heftier price tag.

With all that said, are heirloom tomatoes worth the price? Eager to find out just how different they are, I finally turned a blind eye to the price tag (often more than double that of supermarket hybrids), wrapped each individual tomato in bubble wrap, and with the greatest care transported them as carry-on luggage thousands of miles away like some museum relic from New York's Union Square Greenmarket to my kitchen. All was smooth until my suitcase flopped and my bag plopped on the ground on my last stretch home. It was a miracle that all my tomatoes made it home whole - not as sauce. Was it hard to slice into my first ever heirloom tomato? Oh yes, it was just about as hard as cutting into the most revered giant white peach from Japan (I made sure they all got a well-deserved photo shoot beforehand, just in case).

The verdict? Yes, these heirloom tomatoes were remarkably juicy, fleshy, bursting with flavor that slightly differed one variety from another, with a skin so thin it was nothing like the typical hybrids I was used to. All that aside, it is important to take note that store-bought hybrid varieties are not necessarily inherently inferior. A well-grown hybrid cultivated on land that is tended with care and quality in mind can be just as good as any well-grown heirloom variety. Any ordinary supermarket tomatoes I have bought in London and Italy are still a far cry from whatever I can find in Hong Kong. Hence, I personally think heirloom tomatoes are worth the price in so far as a treat exclusive to the summer season (chances are any heirloom tomatoes found in winter are out of season).

Some foods are exceptional - if not better - enjoyed in their most natural state, adorned with nothing more than perhaps a crack of sea salt and black pepper and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil; uncooked and unmasked by complications. One prime example is the prized heirloom tomato.

Another example is Stracciatella di Bufala - fresh cream thickened with thin strands of mozzarella - a sexily milky, erotically oozy Italian cheese that I fell in love with at first bite years ago dining at Eataly, Rome (their stracciatella is made on site and in plain sight). In a nut shell, stracciatella is Burrata without the outer shell of mozzarella - the buttery center that is as good straight out of the tub as plopped on a wood-fired pizza or simply spread on toast.

The creaminess of stracciatella pairs harmoniously with sweet, fleshy heirloom tomatoes, allowing each to shine through beautifully. When layered on crusty, garlic-rubbed toast, the result is pure magic. The bread, of course, plays a vital role in tying together this magic. For me the perfect bruschetta will be lightly charred at the crust, crunchy on the exterior and soft and chewy inside, where a faint yeasty sourness meets the grassy, peppery notes of fine olive oil and a hint of garlic. Sometimes, magic is this simple.

What you'll need...
Sourdough or any crusty bread, sliced 1.5 cm thick
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic
140 g Stracciatella or Burrata cheese
2-3 medium sized heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1 cm thick
Baby spinach, arugula, and/or basil (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper

1. Toast the bread on both sides until lightly charred on a preheated grill or grill pan. Drizzle with olive oil. If using a skillet, spray or drizzle bread with olive oil then toast until lightly charred on both sides.

2. Cut the garlic cloves on a diagonal. As soon as the bread is ready, rub both sides with the garlic cut-side down to lightly flavor the toast. Using a spoon, dollop and spread stracciatella over the bread. Arrange some baby greens of choice on top and layer on the sliced tomatoes. Finish with a crack of sea salt and black pepper. For an extra herbaceous note, top sparingly with a sprinkle of basil chiffonade.


節限定、獨一無二的「復古番茄」Heirloom tomato,千里迢迢由 New York farmers market 護送回家,配上超 creamy 的意大利芝士 Stracciatella, 滋味無窮!要品嚐大自然最原始的味道,就係咁簡單!

酸種麵包 (Sourdough)                    切 1.5 公分厚
初榨橄欖油                                      適量
新鮮蒜瓣                                           2 瓣
絲翠奇亞芝士 (Stracciatella)        140 克(可以布拉塔芝士取替)
復古番茄                                          2-3 隻,切片約 1 公分厚
嫩菠菜葉、火箭菜、羅勒葉       隨個人喜好
海鹽和黑胡椒                                 適量

1. 預熱烤盤,把麵包兩面烤至金黃色和輕微焦香後撒上橄欖油。如使用平底鍋,先在麵包雙面塗上橄欖油,再在熱鍋上烤至兩面呈金黃色。
2. 將蒜瓣切開,以切口磨擦於烤好的麵包表面。
3. 在麵包上塗上絲翠奇亞芝士,再放上嫩菠菜葉或火箭菜(隨個人喜好)和切片蕃茄。完成後撒上適量鹽和胡椒作調味。喜歡香草的話,可撒上少量羅勒葉絲。

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