December 13, 2020

Stir Fry King 小炒皇

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

I have heard tell of certain dishes that Chinese chefs use to test the culinary skills of applicants to their kitchens.  This classic Cantonese stir fry dish with the rather cheeky name of Stir Fry King 小炒王 is one of them. This dish originates I believe from the famous Chinese city of gastronomy, Shunde 順德 of Guangdong 廣東 province, where the chefs aspire to enhance the natural flavors of fresh ingredients and strive toward a taste that is light, fresh, crispy, tender and smooth.  If done well, this Stir Fry King 小炒皇 demonstrates these traits to perfection,  the stir fry working its hot and furious magic to cook the seafood and vegetables just enough and no more while melding the flavors of all to form a delightful unified stir fry incorporating all differents kinds of tastes and textures.  And that is why the name for this dish is Stir Fry King!  If you want to truly test the skills of the Chinese kitchen, order this dish next time you are at a Cantonese restaurant and test for yourself how good the chefs are.

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

To make this dish at home is a bit more complex than your usual stir fry.  But then it's the "king" of stir fries so it's worth it!  The complex factor is that the dish has many ingredients in it and some need to be separately prepared before bringing it all in for the final 'wok hai' infusing stir fry.  (Wok hai being that slightly smoky caramelized flavour that is achieved by searing the food at a very high heat.)

Whole dried squid  (Photo by Jesper Rautell Balle)

As for the ingredients we'll start with the seafood.  Traditionally two types of squid are used. First there is fresh squid, so delicious in flavor and sweetness and tender chewy texture.  The second is whole dried squid 魷魚乾 which needs to be reconstituted with water before slicing.   You can find dried squid at the dried seafood shops at your local wet market or at the many shops along Dried Seafood Street 海味街 in Sheung Wan 上環. 

Why both types of squid you ask?  They provide different tastes and textures.  The fresh squid is tender and sea sweet.  The dried squid has a chewier texture with a more intense concentrated squidy taste.  This stir fry is a dish that celebrates different tastes and textures.

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,
Fresh shrimp
seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,
Dried shrimp

The next sea ingredient is fresh shrimp and dried shrimp 蝦乾.  Fresh shrimp, as all shrimp lovers know, is one of the sweetest meat offerings from the sea.  Dried shrimp captures and intensifies the sea sweetness of the shrimp meat and has a lovely chewy meaty bite to it.  We love these 蝦乾 and use them for snacks too!  These are not the usual dried baby shrimp used in Chinese cooking, rather these are normal sized shrimps, about 2-3 inches, that have been sun dried.  This seems to be a specialty from the Guangzhou/HK/Macau area and can usually be found in the wet market at the dried seafood shops or at  one of the many shops along Dried Seafood Street 海味街 in Sheung Wan. 


I've also spied it a time or two in the HK supermarkets near the fresh fish sections.  And most delightfully of all if you explore the little piers and fishing settlements that still dot the winding coasts of our greater bay area you can buy these dried shrimp straight from the fisher folk who dry them!

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,
seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

The last seafood ingredient is a little white fish known as Dried Whitebait Silver Fish 銀魚.  Usually about the length of your pinky or less, these delicate dried fish are deep fried into tasty crispy crunchy fish morsels before adding to the final stir fry.  Look for these at any dried seafood goods store at your local wet market.

So far for the seafood ingredients we have four ingredients each of varying tastes and textures.  On to the veggies!

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

There are a variety of vegetables in this stir fry, ranging from the more tender to the chewy and, of course, the crispy.  We start here with the graceful flowering garlic chives 韭菜花 with its mild garlicky flavor and tender yet crunchy texture.  The flower buds are eaten as well but remembers that the bottom of the stem should be checked for toughness and cut away as necessary. 

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

The next veggie addition is this humble yet very popular Chinese preserved radish 菜脯 also known as Choi Poh or preserved sweet turnip.  This is Chinese white radish 白蘿蔔 or daikon that is salted, fermented and sun dried.  The transformed vegetable lasts forever, has an intense umami packed salty sweet flavor and a great chewy crunch.  It will provide a lot of the salt as well as an alluring sweetness for this dish.  Look for it at your local wet market.  There are actually a ton of preserved veggies to be found at the wet market!

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry
seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry

The final veggie addition swings once again to the crispy side of texture.  Buy a large taro as opposed to the small kind.  The large taro 芋頭 can be shredded into long thin strips and then deep fried into wonderful crunchiness.  Be sure to wear gloves while working with taro as taro juice will severely irritate the skin.  And use one of these shred peelers to make the lovely long shreds.  If you don't have a shredder slice into thin matchsticks instead.

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,
seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry

The final touch is a sprinkling of cashew nuts that have been first deep fried until golden brown and crunchy.  Sweet and slightly caramelized nuttiness.  I love cashews but deep fried they are so much better!

And there you have it.  A bit of everything delicious in this classic Chinese stir fry.  The just cooked deliciously tender squid and sea sweet shrimp.  The garlicky chives.  The meaty chewiness and intense flavors of the dried squid and sweet dried shrimp.  The umami packed saltiness and sweetness of the choi poh.  The crunchiness of the deep fried white bait fish, the crisp starchy sweet taro and nutty cashews.  A truly queenly buffet of tastes and textures!
 
This legendary Stir Fry King 小炒皇 dish does require a bit of work but darn it, the result is really quite spectacular and worth it.  No wonder the Chinese chefs choose this dish to test aspiring chefs.  It requires a deft touch with the wok and a thorough understanding of timing and wok hai.  When done right this Stir Fry King 小炒皇 is a celebration of tastes and textures, light, fresh, crispy, tender and smooth all at once, a bit of everything wonderful and tasty in each bite!

seafood, Shunde, chinese, Stir Fry King, 小炒皇, 順德小炒王, recipe,  stir fry,

Stir Fry King  小炒王 

1 dried squid
1 cup dried whitebait silver fish 銀魚
10 dried whole shrimp 蝦乾
10 small fresh shrimp
1 medium squid
3 cups flowering garlic chives 韭菜花
1 cup shredded taro 
1/2 cup cashew
1 tbsp shredded ginger
 1 tbsp shao hsing rice wine
1 tsp sugar
 salt

Prepare the dried seafood: Soak dried squid in cool water for an hour until soft enough to slice.   Drain and dry with paper towels.  Slice into 2 inch length matchsticks.   Soak dried whitebait for 15 mins.  Drain and dry well with paper towels.  Slice dried shrimps into 3 or 4 sections lengthwise.

Prepare the fresh seafood: De-shell and devein the fresh shrimp.  Wash fresh squid.  Pull the head apart from the legs.  Cut the eyes and the ink sac away from the legs.  Slice legs into separate sections.  Pull cartilage from the head, remove skin by picking up a corner and pulling.  Slice head into 1/4 inch rings.  Pat both shrimp and squid dry with kitchen paper.

Prepare the veggies: Wash flowering garlic chives.  Cut off any tough bottom bits of the stems and slice remaining into 2 inch lengths.  Slice the preserved radish choi poh into 2 inch matchsticks.  Peel then shred the taro in long shreds, remembering to protect hands with gloves when handling taro.

Deep Fry: Add 2-3 inches of oil to a hot wok.  When bubbles foam around a chopstick stuck in the oil, the oil is hot enough.  Add in whitebait.  Let fry for 1-2 mins, stirring occasionally or until the fish is golden and crisp.  Remove onto paper towels to soak up extra oil.  Next add shredded taro into the oil in small batches so as not to crowd the pot, and fry until golden brown.  Remove onto paper towels to soak up oil.  Repeat until all taro is fried.  Add cashews into the oil in a small batches so as not to crowd the pot, and fry until golden brown.  Remove onto paper towels to soak up oil.  Repeat until all cashews are fried. 

The final stir fry:  Add 1 tbsp of oil to a hot wok over very high heat.  Add in ginger and give it a stir.  Add in fresh squid and fresh shrimp and stir for 1 minute then push to sides of wok.  Add another 1 tbsp of oil, add in dried squid, dried shrimp, dried whitebait, chinese preserved radish, and 1 tbsp shao hsing rice wine and stir fry for 1-2 min until fragrant and then push to sides of wok. Add another 1 tbsp of oil, add in the garlic chives and 1 tsp sugar, stir fry for 2 minutes or until the chives are just cooked.   Taste and add salt as needed.  Turn off heat and add in the fried taro and cashew and give everything a good stir.  Scoop out onto a large dish and serve hot.  Enjoy!

More Spectacular Stir Fries at The Hong Kong Cookery:





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