Saturday, 15 June 2013

A special Chinese soup Hannibal Lecter.

Being a fan of the Hannibal TV series - yes, that's right - a fannibal - I am checking out all the affiliated reports, blogs and websites (I am poor, and don't have Sky Living).

And lo and behold, I manage to find something that relates with my little blog!

In the episode 'Releves' Hannibal is visiting FBI profiler Will Graham in hospital (I think).  He has brought with him two bowls of soup, of which he tells Will is "Silkie chicken in a broth".  This, is "a black boned bird, prized in China for its medicinal values since the 7th century" with "wolfberries, ginseng, ginger, red dates and star anise".

He is correct: the Silkie chicken (烏骨雞)  is an ancient breed that originates from China - records show that Marco Polo wrote about them on his travels.  The Silkie chicken is highly distinguishable by its fluffy plumage that feels like silk - hence the name.  It is kept as an ornamental pet as well as for its eggs and its meat.  Underneath the feathers, the Silkie has black skin, black bones and grey/black meat, a rather unusual sight for poultry.  They are less meaty compared to poultry used in roasts, and has a taste and texture like game.  They also produce small eggs.  I have yet to see Silkie chickens being served in the UK - you can find them in Chinese supermarkets, but not often.  In Chinese cuisine they are commonly served cooked in broths, sometimes with the skin removed to reduce the fat content. 

 Silkie chickens - from (where else!)

 From the

Silkie chicken broth - from Mama Tong Soups.

In Asia, Silkie chicken is considered to be a food that has great restorative properties (補), in the sense that it acts as a tonic for building up blood (血).  It is not uncommon for Silkie chicken broth to be given to women during pregnancy and after childbirth.  

Other ingredients in the broth can be just about anything, including carrots, sweetcorn and mushroom - it is chicken soup, after all.  However, the use of herbal ingredients maximises the effect of the broth's curative properties, and hence distinguishes the broth to be used as a medicine.  The addition of wolfberries (goji berries), ginseng, ginger and red dates has the purpose of warming and energising the body, thereby helping to cure chills, fever; strengthen the immune system; replenish the blood and improve circulation.  It is very much something reserved for the elderly, or those who are very unwell.  (Note - I am not too sure about star anise as a medicinal property here - in my knowledge it is used as a spice, and as part of the Chinese five spice mixture.  I have not heard of it being used as an ingredient with chicken in a medicinal broth).

So, it is good that Dr. Lecter is looking after Will and helping him build his strength - but for what purpose??? 

I will have to save my pennies and buy the box set to find out.


Mads Mikkelsen tumblr

As with anything for medicinal purposes, such foods should be taken with caution.  Ginseng, red dates and goji berries have "inflammatory" properties that can cause side effects - such as nose bleeds, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea.  They can also interfere with the actions of certain drugs, such as warfarin.  Those with weak livers, have known allergies, or are taking any kind of medicine should consult their doctor.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dragon Boat Festival - how to make zhongzi rice parcels (粽子)

Beautiful colours on the river (Timeout Beijing)

The dragon boats (Onthegotours)

Originating from ancient China, the Dragon Boat festival, also known as the Duanwu (五日節) festival, is a celebration that takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunisolar calendar.  This year, it will take place on June the 12th.
The tradition of dragon boat racing stems from a story about a much-loved poet and statesman Qu Yuan (屈原), who lived during the warring periods and died by his own hands in the Miluo river.  The villagers who lived nearby, searched for his body.  To scare away the fish, the villagers banged drums and threw small triangled-shaped parcels of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river.

The triangle-shaped rice parcels are known as zhongzi ( 粽子).  These are traditionally made each year to celebrate with friends and family.
You will need:
Bamboo leaves: these can be bought dried from Chinese/Asian supermarkets.  They will require washing to remove dust and impurities and soaking for two days in warm water to rehydrate them in order to be used as wrappings.

Sticky rice: this is glutinous rice and is used in many Chinese/Asian dishes, gain this can be found in Chinese supermarkets.  You need to wash, drain it, and add a little salt and oil. 
Fillings: Depending where you are in Asia you can different fillings.  In Canton the filling is traditionally, green beans without the skin, fatty pork belly pieces (marinaded with Chinese five spice), rehydrated Chinese mushrooms cut into pieces, dried prawns, salted egg yolk pieces (you can buy these ready-to-eat) and chestnut pieces that have been peeled and soaked until soft.

You will also need something to tie the parcel together so that it keeps its shape.  You can use string, or rehydrated water reeds.  These are brittle when dry but tough and flexible after being soaked.
Take two long leaves, both with the smooth surfaces facing upwards (this will be inside of the parcel) and with the tip of one leaf opposite the broad of the other (this makes them easier to bend).  Have the two leaves slightly overlapping each other.  Bend the leaves from the middle, upwards and inwards, so that you get a sharp, cone-like pocket with no hole at the bottom.

Spoon in two tablespoons of rice, one tablespoon of green beans.  Then add one piece of meat, one piece of egg yolk, two dried prawns, one piece of Chinese mushroom and one piece of chestnut.

Push the ingredients into the cone using the flat of a spoon so that it is well packed.  Fold the excess leaves over to form a triangle shape and tie the parcel up with string or water reed.

In a large pan of boiling water, cook the parcels for three and a half hours so that everything is cooked until soft.  Drain and cool and you can store these in fridge or freezer.  When needed, you just steam them.

Enjoy and have fun!