Steamed Chicken with Cordyceps Flower and Lap Cheong 蟲草臘腸蒸雞
By Ellen L.Published: 2014-10-05
The cool seems to blow in around this time of year in every other place that I've lived except Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we have turbid summer heat until somewhere near the end of October up to mid November. I think, anyways. The coming of real autumn weather seems to shift every year so I could be inaccurate on this point. My point is that one really starts to long for the soothing winds of calm after a long hot summer. Especially this summer, a real hotbed of dissension for Hong Kong, chaos and madness everywhere in a usually restrained and orderly dense city life. (I'm sure you must have heard about it in the news.) School has been cancelled in our area for a whole week already! (And my little girl's loving it!) The rest of us oldies (with principles and responsibilities) are stuck in the strange ditch of understanding the monumental problem but also knowing of the eons old wily dragon that breathes behind it. So, for the meantime, we decided to simply celebrate the hope of the coming of the fresh, free breeze of autumn with an easy, delicious and healing recipe for Steamed Chicken with Cordyceps Flower and Lap Cheong, or 蟲草臘腸蒸雞.
This is the cordyceps flower, or 蟲草, (translated literally as "Bug Grass") a most interesting member of the fungi family. It is a mushroom that has for thousands of years been part of the repertoire of Chinese Medicine, used as a tonic healing agent for kidney, lungs, liver and also as an aphrodisiac. In the most potent and original form it has become a rare and much treasured natural resource from the highlands of places like the Himalayas and Tibet. To understand its rarity and its quirky name let me introduce this image of the true original cordyceps:
What, you are shrieking right now, the h*ll is that?! And yes, you are quite right, this is a prime example of another one of those absolutely freaky things that Chinese people consume (into their bodies!) with complete nonchalance. I remember the first time I had one of these things. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "What the heck is this in my food?! It looks just like a caterpillar?!"
Chinese Person: "Yeah, it's 蟲草, or Bug Grass."
Me: "WTF?!!! I'm eating a bug?!!!"
Chinese Person: "Umm...no, no it's bug grass, not a bug."
Me: "Oh, I see." Gulps down the 蟲草. Licks lips. "Yum! This is good!"
Well, guess what, that person was completely wrong! The 蟲草 that I ate was the real thing and the part that I thought looked exactly like a caterpillar was really a caterpillar!!!! (AHHHH!) Apparently these cordyceps fungi attach themselves to real caterpillars and suck the life out of them, in essence mummifying them, in order to grow into 蟲草. (Okay, excuse a moment while I go throw up.) But then again, seriously, I would eat it again, it was really yummy! And don't worry folks, we aren't using these type of bug grown cordyceps for this recipe, instead we use a much cheaper, farm grown type of cordyceps that skips the bug life sucking part entirely!
Here's a video of the bug life sucking cordyceps in action (tender hearted bug lovers please skip):
Clever people have since figured out how to grow cordyceps without the bugs and nowadays one can buy bagfuls of these mushroom at a very good price. These 蟲草 are often used in Chinese dishes that are considered to be tonic, or healing foods. The Chinese very much believe that the food that you eat can be a major player in your body's health, a slow but sure way of tweaking and helping to heal and balance your body's weaknesses and strengths. Cordyceps strengthens and balances your overall 'Qi', boosts your immune system and helps you deal with stress and aging! (Whew, a lot of good stuff!)
The taste of the cordyceps itself is an subtle, sweet, fragrant, mushroomy (but not earthy) flavor. Very good actually. Subtle and yet it creeps up on you and you want to eat more. Actually, that's how come we ended up with a big bagful of cordyceps, my little girl just loves this stuff! The texture is a delight, chewy and slightly crunchy at the same time. This was the first time we paired cordyceps with lap cheong, or chinese sausage 臘腸, and we thought that the flavors were super complementary to each other, playing off each other to create a delightfully rich and layered sauce for the delicate steamed chicken.
So if you're feeling out of sorts, or maybe the cool autumn winds are blowing already where you live, you might consider to whip up this easy and quick (and super fortifying!) Steamed Chicken with Cordyceps Flower and Lap Cheong dish. Comforting meatiness of delicately flavored chicken, infused with the wonderful warming and satisfying flavors of lap cheong and the subtle, healing flavors of 蟲草. Have a bite and feel better already!
Steamed Chicken with Cordyceps Flower and Lap Cheong Recipe 蟲草臘腸蒸雞
8 chicken wings
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Shao Hsing rice wine
1 lap cheung, chinese sausage 臘腸
1 handful cordyceps flower , 蟲草
Marinate chicken wings with soy sauce, salt, sugar and wine for 20 minutes. Rinse cordyceps and then let soak in cool water for 5 minutes. Slice lap cheung into diagonal 1/4" thick slices. Shake water from cordyceps and add it and lap cheung to chicken wings. Mix well. Steam for 15 mins over high heat. Serve hot and be strengthened!
More Steaming Delights at The Hong Kong Cookery:
Steamed Hairy Crab 清蒸大閘蟹
Steamed Garoupa Fish 蒸石斑
Steamed Chinese Preserved Duck Leg 蒸臘鴨腿