January 15, 2015

Body-warming food for chilly nights

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The weather has turned chilly in Hong Kong this week, which makes it the perfect weather to enjoy some snake bisque.  Ever since my first taste of it at the private entertainment facility near my office, I have been determined to come back to this place as often as I could before snake season ends.  So I've rounded up different groups of friends and made not one, not two, but three bookings within the space of a month.  Tonight would be the first...

Besides shuffling various groups of the usual suspects together tonight, I also decided to invite a special guest.  After our very enjoyable date night (well, at least I enjoyed it...), I figured it would be interesting for someone in Uwe Opocensky's position to be introduced to what a few of us feel is Cantonese cuisine done at a very high level.  I felt a little bad about taking him away from his family on a rare night off, but I hoped he would enjoy it...

Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - somehow, being the host meant that I got myself the smallest claw... but no matter.

What I did get, despite being the midget cousin of the others, was a delicious, moist claw that was nice and a little crispy outside.  Love the natural flavors of the crab, accented slightly by the salt and chili peppers.

Stir-fried lobster with black beans (豉椒龍蝦球) - I substituted this in lieu of shark's fin.  The immediate comparison would be with the version at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), and they were pretty different.  Tonight's dish had big chunks of lobster, which were more satisfying to bite into yet took a little more effort to chew on.  The texture was softer, and less crunchy than FLM's version.  Flavors seemed deeper here, and I remember the FLM lobster being lighter and sweeter.  As the peppers and celery came in bigger chunks here, they're not in every mouthful... so they contribute less to the flavors of each bite.

Interestingly, Uwe expressed his frustration with how Chinese cooks choose to wash lobster meat (presumably in cold or ice water), in favor of delivering a crunchy texture while losing flavor in the process.  I joked that not everyone can wash their lobster in Krug Champagne like he does...

Braised mountain turtle (紅燒大山瑞) - well, this certainly wasn't as impressive as the one we had last time, but I'm glad we got the braised turtle and not the stir-fried shredded version.  This way we could still get big chunks of the skirt, which is much more satisfying than if they were shredded.  Pretty heavy in terms of flavor, with plenty of ginger to try to rid the dish of its strong, gamey flavors.

This dish brought about a discussion about how turtles are killed before cooking.  While someone mentioned boiling in hot water, Uwe recounted the tale of watching someone chopping the head off.  At the end of the evening, we were curious enough to ask the chef... who told us that usually they make a cut in the turtle's neck to let out the blood.  Simply chopping the head off would shock the turtle and, apparently, some of the blood would stay in the body.

Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - I can't rave enough about this snake soup, which many of us rate as the best we've had in Hong Kong - or at least, the best one we have access to.  Tonight the flavors from the aged mandarin peel weren't as obvious as the last few times, but the flavors were just as delicately balanced as always.  It amazes me how the flavors can be so rich without being overly seasoned and salty.  While some people may claim to use snake bone stock as their base, I definitely believe this chef when he tells me so...

I had wanted Uwe to taste this, and I watched as he took one spoonful, paused for a long while as he tried to figure out all the flavors in that mouthful.  I think he liked it...  While I greedily slurped my bowl down very quickly, he and a few others took their sweet time.  I took a second bowl, and there was no question that my circulation improved and I felt warm all over... and I felt heat emanating from the palms of my hands.  So that thing about snake soup warming your body is true...

Braised garoupa fin with garlic and ham (蒜子火腩炆斑翅) - I don't remember so much garlic from last time, but I'm not gonna complain too much...

Yes, I love eating fish fins and the whole area around it.  So yummy when it's been deep-fried and then braised.  Of course, before I even got to the fin, I decided to attack the pieces of pork belly...

Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - well, this was really good chicken, done the traditional way of ladling hot oil over it repeatedly.  The meat was certainly tender and moist.  It's too bad the Chicken Fiend couldn't make it to dinner tonight.

Four treasure vegetables with superior broth  (上湯四寶蔬) - it's pretty amazing how a simple of dish of vegetables could bring so much pleasure, and we were all in agreement about this.  Radish, mushrooms, broccoli (peeled), and choy sum (菜心).  Delicate flavors from the superior broth - tasty yet not overpowering.  Just like the rest of the food here.

Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - the only real disappointment tonight.  Not that the rice rolls weren't delicious, nor did the satay sauce lack its usual punchy flavors, but... there was just simply an imbalance between the two.   There should have been 50% more sauce, but the reality was that the rice rolls ended up tasting a little bland.

Jujube soup with longan and apricot kernels (南北杏龍眼紅棗湯) - there seemed to be a last-minute change in dessert, but I didn't mind at all.  In fact, this is my preferred dessert soup here.

There were a few winos tonight, but as it was a school night, I asked to scale down the number of bottles.  Thankfully we didn't go overboard on alcohol...

Ruinart Brut Rosé - nice nose of strawberries.

Kikuhime Tsurunosato (菊姫 鶴乃里), BY24 - a junmaishu (純米酒) with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 65%. this was served at room temperature and not chilled.  Pretty sweet on the palate, but a little spicy on the finish thanks to the temperature.  Pretty ripe, fermented rice notes, along with some banana.

1986 Vieux Château Certan - drinking very nicely.  Smoky, a little minty, with some leather notes.

1987 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Spätlese - not too sweet on the palate, with a nice acidity balance.  A little flinty.  Pretty nice.

2011 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve - pretty sweet on the nose, with some caramel and also some forest notes.  Pretty typical of US Pinot, and certainly my type of wine.

1995 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - love the sweetness on the palate.  This is always so smooth and delicious.

Once again, this was a wonderful dinner.  All the dishes were well-executed, with a wonderful, delicate balance of flavors.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to come as often as I am able, and look forward to another dinner in two weeks...

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