#navbar-iframe { display: none; }

« Home | Freebie Friday: Win two tickets to a Beef and Beer... » | Konnichi wa » | Jasmin, Lakemba » | Beer tasting dinner at MuMu Grill, Crows Nest » | Itadakimasu » | Freebie Friday: Win a case of Sauvignon Blanc from... » | Bagan Burmese Restaurant, Strathfield » | Immanuel Cafe Restaurant, Ultimo » | Zeta Bar Hilton Sydney - Cryogenic Sorbet and Cock... » | Freebie Friday: Win a spice hamper with African re... »

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stomachs Eleven: A Shanghainese Banquet

The best kind of meal? One cooked by Mum and Dad.

Make that a meal cooked by any Mum and Dad because tonight Stomachs Eleven have descended on the home of L&M. M's parents, who are in town for the week, find themselves with a whole hoard of eager extra mouths to feed. We'd been promised a Shanghainese feast and we could barely get there fast enough.

It's hard to fathom the number of dishes already laid out on the table when we arrive. There will be sixteen of us tonight and the cooking commenced yesterday, we are told. Most of the dishes have already been done - the dumplings are all the remain and we pitch in obligingly when summonsed.

We are a happy huddle of friends gathered around the bowl of pork mince glistening with fat chunks of prawn. There's good-natured jostling as we try to reach for the dumpling wrappers and plenty of friendly teasing as we critique each other's folding methods. "There's no way you can put that much filling in there!" and "That dumpling is so fat it's gonna burst for sure!"

It doesn't take long for eight people to make 120 dumplings and soon we're shooed out of the kitchen and straight to the dining table for our waiting feast.

Drunken edamame (糟毛豆 Zao Mao Dou)

Sure we've all had edamame boiled soy bean pods at Japanese restaurants, but this is the first time I've tried the drunken version. The soy beans are boiled and then marinated in a spiced Chinese cooking wine. It's amazingly good, the edamame soaking up the wine flavoured with fennel seeds and cassia bark. This flavoured rice wine can be bought in a bottle straight from an Asian grocery store, just as M's parents did. It's an elegant idea for the next dinner party methinks.

And before I proceed, the Chinese characters and phonetics come courtesy of Pig Flyin'. He is also a font of knowledge when it comes to the preparation and background to each dish. Thanks Pig Flyin'!

As you wish (如意菜 Ru Yi Cai)

Sauteed soy bean sprouts don't seem that interesting until you find out the story behind them. Soy bean sprouts are said to look like a ruyi or ceremonial scepter, a symbol of good luck and good fortune. This dish is hence given the grander name "as you wish". Whilst Cantonese tend to eat more mung bean sprouts, Shanghainese have a particular affection for the firmer sprout of the mung bean.

Drunken chicken (醉雞 Zuiji)

Drunken chicken is heady with alcohol, the white poached chicken marinated overnight in Shaoxing Chinese rice wine until the flesh is plump and juicy.

Shanghai soy duck

We'd enjoyed Shanghai soy duck cooked by L via telephone instructions once before, but this time we're enjoying this dish cooked by consummate professionals. The duck has a sweet glaze, a deep brown shade generated by its slow simmer in soy sauce, star anise, shallots and ginger.

Duck in saltwater (鹽水鴨, Yan Shui Ya)

The poultry-fest continues with more duck. Duck in salt water has been poached in a white master stock of star anise, cloves, ginger and salt. Pig Flyin says this is a typical dish of Nanjing, and that many of the master stocks used in famed Nanjing restaurants are reputed to be decades, if not centuries, old.

Four ingredient gluten sponge (四喜烤麩 Si Xi Kao Fu)

Four ingredient gluten sponge is probably my favourite dish of the night. Gluten sponge is a vegetarian gluten dough that has been fermented until it is filled with air bubbles, then steamed to maintain its sponge-like texture. I love its bouncy soft chewiness and the way the gluten absorbs the sauce. This is a typical Shanghainese ingredient and can be purchased fresh or dried from large Asian grocery stores.

The four ingredients in this are daylily buds, black fungus, peanuts and bamboo shoots. It's a delightful combination of textures and flavours: chewy, crunchy, creamy, sweet. The daylilies are literally lily flowers, small unopened flower buds that are called golden needle vegetables ( 金針菜 Jin Zhen Cai) in Chinese because of their delicate strand-like appearance.

Smoked fish (熏魚 Xun Yu)

Smoked fish is the most complex dish of the evening to prepare. It is not smoked in the Western definition of the term. The dish is usually made with grass carp or pomfret, neither of which are easily available as live seafood in Australia. Instead a snapper was cleverly substituted, the fish marinated in Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce and ginger and then deep fried until crisp and almost dry.

The fried fish is transferred, still hot, to a sweet soy mixture containing star anise, ginger, shallots and Shaoxing cooking wine. "The act of dunking it hot into the flavored sauced is what they called 'smoking' in Shanghainese cooking," says Pig Flyin.

Personally I'm not so keen on this dish, finding it a little dry and salty, but it's easily the crowd favourite. Perhaps it's a dish you need to grow up with to fully appreciate.

Pork belly with bean curd sheets and black fungus
(百頁燜豬肉 Bai Ye Men Zhu Rou)

Braised pork belly is always a welcoming comfort food. The soft and tender pork belly is braised with crinkly bean curd sheets and crunchy curls of black fungus. This is a dish you could quite happily eat on its own with rice.

Gravlax with dill

Pig Flyin has contributed two dishes for the evening. Home-made gravlax with dill doesn't exactly fit the Shanghai theme, but we don't care, we scoff down the shimmering slices of cured salmon with deep appreciation.

Pigs ears

Pigs ears are his other homemade offering, the cartilage providing a delicious crunch against the jellied stock.

Oil-brewed prawns (油 爆 蝦 you bao xia)

The prawns cooked in their shell are more complex than they first appear. The prawns are cooked confit, gently stir-fried in a cup of oil until lightly coloured. Sugar, Chinese cooking wine and soy sauce are then added, creating a caramelised sheen. Pig Flyin says that cooking prawns with the shell on is a typically Shanghai style, although this dish is usually done with freshwater river prawns.

Stir-fried radish

The radish has come from Pig Flyin's garden, a Chinese variety known for its green circumference and a speckled red-and-white interior. Whilst occasionally I've thrown slices of radish into a stir-fry, enjoying it as a dish on its own is a revelation. The radish has a faint crunch with a mild peppery heat that makes it a gentle palate cleanser.

Pressed tofu with soy beans (豆乾毛豆 Dou Gan Mao Dou)

A stir-fried medley of pressed tofu, soy beans, capsicum and mushrooms is another personal favourite of the evening. I love the textural variation of this dish, especially the contrast between the firmness of the pressed tofu and the slippery soy beans.

Pork and prawn dumplings

We finish with seemingless endless plates of pork and prawn dumplings. The dumplings wrappers are like silk ribbons, enclosed around a pork filling chunky with prawn that is juicy, sweet and succulent.

Glutinous dumplings in fermented rice soup

After so much food, dessert is a simple affair. We finish with glutinous rice dumplings (store-bought) served in a fermented rice soup. It's not overly sweet but after a huge dinner like tonight's, we're happy with this traditional conclusion to our meal.

Heartfelt thanks to M's parents who cooked such a feast, and tended to us all as though we were their very own!


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2010 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Teochew feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Mole poblano and pulled pork tacos (Me)
Stomachs Eleven: Pizza and friends (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Ten kilograms of mussels (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Shanghainese banquet (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Wagyu shabu shabu and dessert sushi (Silverlily)
Stomachs Eleven: Stuffed deboned pig's head + nose-to-tail eating (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: French feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Whole suckling pig and Chinese banquet (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Hotpot night (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Crackling roast pork and black sesame cupcakes (me)
Stomachs Eleven: No ordinary steak dinner (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Polish feast (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2009 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Char siu and Hainan chicken (me)
Stomachs Eleven: Amazing impromptu dinner party (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Dumplings and Shanghai soy duck (M&L)
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/15/2010 06:00:00 am


  • At 2/15/2010 7:12 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh oh oh, the four ingredient gluten sponge and the drunken edamame, my way, please! Stat! I don't know which is worse; that you're currently in Japan, or that you already ate this... Sigh. Life is hard.

  • At 2/15/2010 8:11 am, Blogger John said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 2/15/2010 8:13 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    What a beautiful looking spread. I think I'd make sure I was sitting where the duck and pork were kept. Yummo

  • At 2/15/2010 8:35 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Wow wow what a feast! Totally with you on the gluten sponge, I always order it when I go to New Shanghai now. The Chinese variety of the radish is stunning!

  • At 2/15/2010 10:32 am, Anonymous Rose said…

    This looks amazing! Lucky you - homemade food is always the best :)

  • At 2/15/2010 11:01 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Lucky you indeed! Everything looks fabulous. And gravlax!

  • At 2/15/2010 11:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I see the "stomachs Eleven" on the title, I know I am in for a feast. How can I join the stomach eleven crews? hehehe!!

  • At 2/15/2010 11:58 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh wow, this reminds me of feasts of Chinese New Year proportions. Wish I'd taken a picture of the feast my mum created over the weekend - there was soo much food, it makes me worry that all those recipes are going to disappear when it's my turn.

    That duck + Hainanese-esque chicken looks amazing.. any poultry is amazing. I feel like this meal is a little lacking in pork belly, but who cares!! FOOOOODDDD..

    Thanks for keeping up the blog while you're in Japan, Helen! =)

  • At 2/15/2010 12:52 pm, Blogger cinnamobus said…

    Oh those dishes are very close to heart :) They look amazing.

  • At 2/15/2010 12:55 pm, Blogger Gabrielle said…

    Wow! That looks amazing!! I think I need to befriend a Chinese family, I'd be a good guest and eat lots!

    My family enjoys cooking and entertaining but there's not usually that variety.

  • At 2/15/2010 3:14 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Drunken Chicken... two words that never fail to get me salivating :) Awesome post Helen, very eye-opening for somebody unfamiliar with Shanghainese food. Omg... drunken chicken!

  • At 2/15/2010 3:55 pm, Anonymous devi said…

    One little recipe? please? It all looks so amazing!

  • At 2/15/2010 10:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh wooww great spread!! Mmmm drunken chicken, soy duck and pork beellyy! and HAHAH how many pigs did u guys kill for all those ears :P hee hee I wanntt!!

  • At 2/15/2010 11:35 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    I really enjoy your stomachs eleven post. Everything always looks amazing. The pig ears are what caught my eye. I love pigs ears. Especially pig ear crackling from cabramatta.

  • At 2/15/2010 11:57 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Some amazing parents with cooking skills and hospitality to boot. Lucky you!

  • At 2/16/2010 12:12 pm, Blogger mcpip said…

    That radish looks amazing! It looks so pretty! Can i get it at Chinese food shops?

  • At 2/16/2010 3:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wowwwww! I could have a food coma just from looking at the pictures... everything looks amazing! <3

  • At 2/17/2010 11:49 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Looks like you had an amazing feast! The first photo of the radish is so pretty, I love the colours!

  • At 2/17/2010 7:59 pm, Anonymous lili - pikeletandpie said…

    Poultry feast! Would love to try to 'gluten sponge' and I've never seen a radish like that before. How lucky, so jealous :)

  • At 2/17/2010 9:28 pm, Blogger Gummi Baby said…

    Wow! That array of food made at home is truly stunning. I hope you shared the washing up afterwards! He he!

  • At 2/19/2010 10:47 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a feast!
    Very different to Cantonese food, which I have to say, is what I prefer.

  • At 2/20/2010 1:31 am, Blogger Kurt Falkenstein said…

    Oh my goodness... WHAT A FEAST! Yum!!

  • At 2/21/2010 2:17 am, Blogger yan_ange said…

    I want to eat the Drunken Chicken and Smoked Fish and Pigs' Ears...
    Oh, I wish I am a friend of yours right now!

    Happy Chinese New Year!

    Gong Xi Fai Cai.

  • At 2/24/2010 6:14 am, Blogger Chubby Chinese Girl said…

    that sure is a shanghainese feast!!!! love it

  • At 3/04/2010 1:18 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - lol. I think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Your fooding adventures have had me jealous a couple of times too :)

    Hi John - Ahh yes strategic seating is a little ploy of mine too. lol. We made sure we rotated dishes though - some for everybody!

    Hi Stephcookie - I love the texture of the gluten-free sponge and I agree, the radish was so very pretty.

    Hi Rose - Nothing tastes better than food made at home with love. We were lucky to be invited and very grateful for it!

    Hi Joey - It was a feast for the eyes and a better one for our stomachs :)

    Hi Ellie - lol. It's funny how our little dining group has taken on such public awareness. I'm pretty sure Pig Flyin could sell tickets to his dinner but I fear there might be scalpers. lol.

    Hi Margaret - I agree. The possibility of disappearing recipes and the heritage/history that goes along with them always makes me sad. Next time you will have to take a photo of your Mum's feast for sure! I wanna see!

    We did have a poultry feast but luckily nothing was paltry. Sorry couldn't resist, and ahh I couldn't bear the thought of tumbleweed on the blog. Glad the late nights were worth it!

    Hi cinnamobus - Glad you enjoyed the post. It was a very memorable meal.

    Hi Gab* - Yes I think I make a very good guest indeed. There's never any leftovers on my plate. lol.

    Hi Karen - It was an eye-opening meal for me as I haven't really eaten such a concentration of Shanghainese food either. Drunken chicken is always good though and drunken endamame was amazing too.

    Hi Devi - I'm not sure as M's parents were visiting from interstate. I think much of it was done by instinct honed by years of practice!

    Hi FFichiban - I'm pretty sure there's a glut of pigs ears on the market. Think of how many sausages we saved. lol.

    Hi A cupcake or two - I love pigs ears too. I must try my hand at them one day although I hear that cleaning them isn't always the most appetising job! And pig ear crackling? I must investigate!

    Hi mademoiselle delicieuse - M's parents are great cooks and we were very lucky (and grateful!) to be invited.

    Hi mcpip - I haven't seen the Chinese radish on sale before but you could always ask? I think it may be one of those things you have to grow yourself otherwise. Think of the possibilities!

    Hi debbii - I believe everyone went into a food coma shortly after our dinner. There was so much food!

    Hi Jacq - The Chinese radish is such a gorgeous colour isn't it? The feast was incredible. I wish I'd eaten more. lol

    Hi lili - I'm jealous of all your eating and cooking adventures in Vietnam. Looks like you are having a ball!

    Hi Gummi Baby - We helped clear the dishes but yes the automatic dishwasher certainly got a workout that night.

    Hi Anon - I grew up on Cantonese food as well, but there were certainly a few dishes there I could eat time and time again.

    Hi Kurt - It was a feast indeed. So much deliciousness it was hard to know where to start!

    Hi van ange - Thanks so much and happy belated Chinese New Year to you too!

    Hi and this blog - It was an incredible spread. I get hungry just looking at the photos all over again :)


Post a Comment

<< Home

      << Read Older Posts       |       >> Read Newer Posts