Chinese Pork and Watercress Soup

In Cantonese cuisine, soup is very important. When I was growing up in Hong Kong and Singapore, my family would enjoy hot soup at the start of dinner, emptying our bowls before heaping freshly boiled white rice into it for the main meal. My favourites at home were my mom’s fish and tomato soup, and pork and lotus root soup; out at restaurants, double-boiled pig’s lung soup (yep, you read correctly).

To Western palates, Cantonese soup may resemble more of a meaty broth or consomme. And while I love soups like potato and leek, and New England clam chowder, nothing compares to homemade Chinese-style soups in their simplicity, healthiness, and subtlety in taste.

W and I often eat this Pork and Watercress Soup when we are lazy or feeling a little under the weather. It keeps well – just make sure you sterilize it by bringing to a full boil before eating and before storing in a covered pot.

Pork and Watercress Soup

porkwatercress

Ingredients (makes about 4 servings):
0.5-0.8 lb boneless pork stew cubes, excess fat trimmed
1 medium bunch of watercress, soaked and thoroughly washed in cold water
3-5 dried red dates
small handful of wolf (goji) berries
1.2 litres of water
salt to taste

Method:
1. Add pork, watercress, red dates, wolf/goji berries, water, and a dash or two of salt to large pot. Bring to boil.
2. When mixture has come to full boil, lower heat so that soup is just simmering.
3. Simmer soup for at least 1.5 hours. Before serving, check taste and add more salt if necessary. Use ladle to skim off any excess oil or scum that might have rendered from pork.

Despite my love of savoury foods, I am equally quite appreciative of ‘blander’ foods so I like this soup for its subtle sweetness. The pork in this soup is also great dipped in light soy sauce if you want more saltiness in your meal.

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Ginger Cod

My mom really liked this Ginger Cod dish the first time I cooked it for my family when they were visiting me earlier this month. I haven’t quite achieved my vision of it but it is getting there. It does turn out a little different every time I cook it but I guess this is what makes cooking fun — there’s always room for improvisation and improvement!

I made this at a time when I was getting bored of steaming fish so the cooking process is slightly more involved – just slightly.  First, you shallow fry fish covered in a flour and corn flour batter; the fish is removed from the wok when it’s cooked. Then there’s the sauce: ginger, garlic, spring onion (typical Cantonese combination) and sweet soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, and white pepper with the juices of the fish still in the wok, mmm. Finally, you return the cooked fish to the hot wok so that it absorbs the ginger and garlic flavours and also thickens the sauce. I think this three-stepped method works pretty well; maybe it’s not something I would do on a normal weeknight but when I do have more time, I quite relish the gradual process of cooking the fish, the ginger/garlic, and then the sauce.

you can’t get much more Cantonese than cod with ginger, garlic and spring onion…

Ginger Cod

Ingredients, for 3 persons as one of several mains

250-300 g cod fillet (skinned and de-boned), cut into 2-inch pieces
white peppper and salt to marinate the fish
sunflower or vegetable oil, 2 1/2 tablespoons

to coat the fish
flour, 1/2 cup
cornflour, 1/2 cup
dash of salt for the batter mixture

for the sauce
ginger, 1-inch piece, sliced thinly into discs
garlic, 4 cloves, minced
spring onion, 3 stalks, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces
Shaoxing rice wine, 2 tablespoons
soy sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons – I use for this dish the Rose brand of soy sauce, which is a light soy sauce that is quite sweet and fragrant. It’s from Malaysia, haven’t seen it in the UK, but you can use any light soy sauce and add a little white sugar to the same effect.
water, about 2 tablespoons

Method
1. Prepare the cod and marinate lightly with dash of salt and white pepper.
2. Mix the flour, cornflour and salt in a bowl or small baking dish.
3. Heat oil in wok on medium heat. As you wait for wok to heat up, thoroughly coat the marinated cod in batter mixture.
4. When oil is hot – you can tell by putting chopsticks into it and seeing if bubbles appear – carefully slip in coated cod pieces to the wok.
5. Shallow fry until cod is lightly golden. Remove from wok onto a plate.
6. Turn heat down to low. Stir fry ginger and garlic in leftover oil until fragrant.
7. Add rice wine. After thirty seconds, add soy sauce and water.
8. Sprinkle in spring onions, cook it in the sauce for at least a minute and a half.
9. Add a dash of white pepper.
10. Return the cod to the wok, and heat thoroughly in the sauce. The batter will thicken the sauce; if you want more sauce, add a little water and soy sauce.
11. Once the cod is coated in sauce and piping hot, switch off heat and serve immediately.

Served with white rice and blanched green vegetables, this is really a quintessentially Cantonese meal :).

食飯! (“Sik fan” or “Let’s eat” in Cantonese.)