Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, includes recipes and articles like The Cuisines of the Chiu Chow and the Hakka; Squash Pancakes; Bird's Nests; Steamed Sweet Bird's Nest Soup; Sea Cucumbers; and Sea Cucumbers Braised with Steamed Black Mushrooms.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Bird's nest soup is as highly regarded as shark's fin soup as a component of a grand and festive banquet. When the Chinese hear it will be served, most of them automatically think of the sweet soup, in which the nests, their strands silky smooth after soaking and steaming, are cooked with white or rock sugar. In a variation on that classic, nests are steamed with sugar and rice into a kind of pudding. And in some restaurants, chefs add strands of the nests to sweet custard tarts.
The Chinese consider a steamed sweet bird's nest soup a true gastronomic experience, a dish that marries simplicity and refinement. The silkier the strands of the nest, the more honor is conferred on the guest to whom it is served. Sweetening the soup with white sugar is also a mark of respect, for the whiter the nest, the purer the message, and the more face is given to guests.
1. Combine the nests and hot water in a bowl and allow to soak for 4 to 4-1/2 hours, or until they soften, loosen, and separate into strands. Rinse them well, drain them in a fine-mesh strainer, and then repeat the rinsing again, to remove any remaining impurities. Drain the strands well.
2. Place the strands in a steam proof dish. Add the sugar and coconut "milk." Then pour in the boiling water and stir to mix the ingredients well and to dissolve the sugar. Place the dish in a steamer, cover, and steam for 20 minutes. At this point, all of the ingredients will be well blended.
3. Turn off the heat. Remove the dish from the steamer, transfer the soup to a heated tureen, and serve.
What I call coconut "milk" is the clear liquid found in unripe coconuts in the warm summer months. (Do not confuse it with the canned white coconut milk extracted from the grated flesh of mature coconuts.) Buy an immature coconut, cut off its top with a cleaver, and pour out the liquid. You should have about 1 cup. This coconut liquid, or water, has a natural sweetness. In fact, unripe coconuts, their tops cut off and straws inserted, are sold as refreshments by street vendors in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast and South Asia. You can also buy this liquid, sweetened and unsweetened, in cans usually labeled "coconut juice," "young coconut juice," or "coconut water." If you use fresh coconut liquid, use the amount of sugar specified in the recipe. If you use canned coconut liquid, reduce the amount of sugar to 2 tablespoons. Be sure to taste the liquid before adding any sugar.
This page created June 2010
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