KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — Auspicious dishes are for auspicious days and luxurious meals served only during a celebration. Correct? But why does it have to be so?
I’ve been feeling under the weather lately, in part due to the yo-yo weather itself — sudden showers one minute, hot and humid the next.
If that’s not a recipe for falling ill, I don’t know what is. Something nourishing and homemade, the way our mothers and grandmothers did it, is just the trick.
However, a basic chicken soup, while wholesome, lacks a certain oomph needed for a pick-me-up given the presence of the on-and-off rain clouds that create a dreary atmosphere. This soup requires something more to ward off the blues.
Enter abalone and fish maw, prized ingredients usually reserved for Chinese New Year dinners or wedding banquets.
With the availability of commercially farmed abalone these days, the cost has gone down so why wait till the next festive period for a reason to pamper yourself?
Essentially this is a one-pot dish: all you have to do is dump all the ingredients together in a pot of water or broth and cook it ever so slowly. Nothing could be simpler.
The aroma as the soup cooks is probably an elixir in itself, guaranteed to begin shooing the rain clouds away.
The result of hours of simmering is a golden liquid like manna from the heavens, so sweet and savoury no seasoning is really needed.
What’s more, like a good pot of rendang ayam, the taste of the soup will only improve overnight.
If there is any leftover, you can easily freeze it and use it another day as the base for your own bowl of decadent abalone noodles.
Nourishing and indulgent — that’s truly the best of both worlds!
ABALONE AND FISH MAW SOUP
Despite its name, fish maw isn’t the mouth of a fish but rather their dried swim bladders. Properly prepared, fish maw isn’t fishy but instead absorbs the flavours of the other ingredients it’s cooked with.
What it’s treasured for is its texture, possibly due to its high collagen content, giving a nice bite to the dish.
Dried scallops (or conpoy) is one of the most widely-used Cantonese dried seafood, due to its deep pungent flavour, simultaneously sweet and briny.
The name “conpoy” is taken from its Cantonese name gonbui, which means “dried shellfish.”
Look for conpoy from Japan rather than China as the former has a stronger umami flavour while the latter is milder.
Good quality conpoy has a bright colour, not dull, and won’t crumble easily if you try to pry it apart with your fingers.
Rehydrating conpoy is simple: soak in a small bowl of hot water for 10 minutes. Unless the conpoy has a discernible chemical scent, you can use the soaking water in the recipe too as it’s full of the scallop essence.
Dried shiitake mushrooms can also be rehydrated easily to provide a burst of umami. Just soak them in a bowl of water, ensuring the water is enough to cover them as they float.
Try to make sure the gills of the mushrooms are facing down so they can absorb the water faster. Once the caps are tender and velvety, they’re ready to be sliced and used.
The “emperor of seafood” in Chinese cuisine is none other than the pricey abalone (or bao yu in Cantonese). Abalone is now easily available as a canned food. These are usually pre-cooked so add them towards the end of cooking to avoid them becoming tough and chewy.
2 large dried fish maws
1 litre of water
3 slices of fresh ginger
3 stalks of green onion
1 litre of chicken stock
2 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin removed)
2-3 pieces of dried scallops (rehydrated)
4 shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated and sliced)
1 can of abalone (drained and rinsed; sliced into half if large, else leave whole)
Salt to taste (optional)
Soak the fish maw in water for 4-8 hours (preferably overnight), until they soften. Drain, then add them to a medium-sized pot with a litre of water, a slice of ginger and a stalk of green onion. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes to remove any residual grease. Remove the fish maw and cut into large pieces.
Meanwhile, in a slow cooker, add the chicken stock, chicken thighs, dried scallops, and the remaining ginger slices and stalks of green onion. Cook on low heat for 4-6 hours. Remove the scum from the surface at the end of the slow simmer, if required.
Add the fish maw slices and shiitake mushrooms. Continue to cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Next, remove the ginger and green onion, and add the slices of abalone. Allow to simmer for a few minutes (and no longer so as not to overcook the abalone).
Taste the soup and season with some salt to taste, if necessary. Ladle into warm bowls and serve immediately.
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