Jun. 3rd, 2011

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
Description follows.

[Image: A plate piled with pieces of kidney, doused in a reddish-brown sauce. The kidney pieces have been cross-hatched diagonally to form flower-like textures.]

I described the Chinese culinary concept of "kidney flowers" (腰花/yāo huā) earlier this week; essentially, the idea is to score the kidneys in a cross-hatched pattern before cooking, so when heat is applied they open up like flowers. As [personal profile] nanila mentioned in a comment on my post on 花/huā/flower, the idea of describing meat in terms of flowers isn't one that comes up in English. However, the Chinese menu has not only its kidney flowers, but also "five-flower meat" (五花肉/wǔ huā ròu), i.e. pork belly.

One common way of cooking 腰花 is known in Chinese as 火爆 (huǒ bào), literally "fire-exploded". This describes a method of cooking in which ingredients are stir-fried very briefly at a very high temperature. Indeed, when making 火爆腰花, you can expect to spend significantly more time on cleaning the kidneys than on cooking them!

If you're not familiar with how to clean kidneys before you cook them, check out Titli Nihaan's video on YouTube; transcript here. Note also that once your kidneys are clean and you're ready to score them in the 腰花 crosshatch pattern, you need to make sure you score them on the inside, not the outside. Scoring them on the inside lets you cut deeper, since the "skin" on the outside will help hold them together.

When I made 火爆腰花, I used the recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery, which flavours the kidneys with spring onions, pickled chillies, garlic, ginger, salt, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine. Ms Dunlop warns that you should be careful not to overcook the kidneys; I obeyed this instruction dutifully and ended up with probably the best-textured kidneys I've ever eaten — tender yet with that little bit of resistance to the bite that you get with e.g. perfectly-cooked squid.

The flavour of the sauce was a little underwhelming, though, with saltiness being the primary taste. A comment on Cooking The Books (bottom of the page) says that some versions include chilli bean paste and Sichuan pepper too, so I may try this next time. Having said that, Ms Dunlop's version is certainly a nice rebuttal of the idea that all Sichuan food must be spicy hot and slicked with bright red chilli oil!

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.


December 2012


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