Mother is the typical hardworking Hakka woman, who works tirelessly to provide for us and cooks only the best meal especially during Chinese New Year, where all dishes have to be made out of the best quality ingredients. Grandmother always hydrated her sea cucumbers and there were tales of our great grandfather who owned a provincial store hence with unlimited supply of dried sea cucumber, naturally he got to enjoy sea cucumbers almost all his life.
I have never prepared dried sea cucumbers, and when I asked her if we could just purchase a dried one, she snapped, why get a dried one and all the extra work, when we are gifted clean ready to eat sea cucumbers? There’s a good point right there. Sea cucumbers are gifted as Chinese New Year gifts from others, usually in the form of dried or ready to cook. It is considered very auspicious food item to eat during the most auspicious day of the year in Chinese calendar. Since mother is Hakka, we have mostly Hakka dishes, including braised sea cucumbers and Buddha’s Delight (Luo Han Chay).
Sea cucumber is tasteless on its own. Its prized character is its unusual gelatinous texture that can be really awesome when cooked correctly. One of its peril is overcooking, because it turns mushy. The sea cucumber takes on all the other flavours best when braised with other ingredients, it will soak up all the juices and have combined flavours of everything.
This is the sea cucumber we had last Chinese New Year. It was given a couple of weeks before and stored in freezer.
The sea cucumber (hai som) is produced in the country, here is the package. It said it is ready to cook, so no need to cook for extended period of time. Let boil and cover for 10 minutes and it is ready to serve. This method is best to retain its valued texture and not over cooking.
These are the ingredients, which include half of sea cucumber (we kept the other half for other dishes), dried squid, dried shiitake mushroom, organic chicken, garlic bulb and roasted pork belly. The seasoning called for is soy sauce and Hua Diao wine (or other Chinese cooking wine)
The sea cucumbers are normally sliced in slightly slanted way. Cut them into 1″ slices (2,5 cm is the perfect width), not too thin and not too thick.
Dehydrate the other dried ingredients, such as squid and shiitake mushrooms. Peel off the thick skin of the squid and slice 1/2″ width. Cut stem off mushrooms and quartered. Set aside for later use.
The secret of all Hakka style traditional cooking is the caramelising of sugar at the beginning of cooking. It gives such rich color and deeper flavour to all element of the dish. Heat 1 cup of cooking oil over high heat. Add sugar. Keep stirring sugar in the hot oil until melted and turn slightly brownish.
Take care not to burn the sugar. Add mushroom, squid and garlic cloves to the caramel and oil. Quickly stir fry.
Keep on stirring the wok until all ingredients are coated by the caramelised sugar.
It will give such nice brownish colour without the use of dark soy sauce. Season with a bit of salt.
Add chicken and some water.
Keep cooking over high heat. Let the water boil. Let simmer for 10 more minutes.
Add cooking wine and soy sauce.
Remove the dish from wok and transfer to heavy pot or dutch oven. Season with freshly ground white pepper. Cover and cook for … minutes. Cook until chicken pieces are soft and liquid slightly reduced. If the liquid is reduced too much, please add more water. Season with soy sauce if needed.
Add slices of sea cucumber and roast pork and let boil. After boiling, turn off heat and cover for 10 minutes. Served warm with steamed rice.
- 500 g chicken cut into medium sized chunk
- 325 g sea cucumber soaked and ready to cook
- 3 dried shiitake mushroom soaked overnight
- 1 dried squid soaked overnight and sliced
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Hu Diao wine / Chinese cooking wine
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 250 g roast pork belly cut into big chunks
Heat cooking oil and add sugar. Stirring quickly over high heat until sugar melt and turned brownish
Add mushroom, squid slices and garlic cloves. Keep stirring quickly until all ingredients are coated by caramelized sugar
Add chicken pieces into the wok. Pour 1 cup of boiling water until the water simmer some part of the chicken pieces. Add some salt
Continue cooking in high heat until the water boils
Add cooking wine and soy sauce. Let simmer for 10 minutes
Transfer to pot and let simmer over medium heat. Season with ground white pepper and cover for 10-15 minutes. Take care of the water level. If the water reduced too much, add more water
Add roast pork slices and sea cucumber slices. Let everything boil and turn off heat. Cover for 10 minutes
The dish is ready to serve. Serve warm with steamed rice and other vegetable stir fry