Although I grew up in a mainly Western community, I am very accustomed to Chinese cuisine and all its exotic ingredients. In fact, I find that I tend to prefer foods that have that extra layer of exoticness or foreign quality. One such example is my fondness for organs. For those who don’t know, fish maw (also called swim bladder or air bladder) is an internal gas-filled organ found in all fish except sharks and rays. It helps fish control its buoyancy while moving underwater. Fish maws from certain large fishes (namely the conger pikes) are considered a food delicacy in Asian cuisine, although it is not necessarily expensive. Fish maw itself has no fishy taste, but when cooked it brings out the flavor of the surrounding ingredients.
You can purchase fish maw (花膠, “hua jiao” or 魚鰾, “yu biao”) in almost all Asian supermarkets. When purchased, fish maw is dried and appears puffy and translucent. In this state it will keep indefinitely, and must be soaked to soften it just before use. Fish maw is an excellent source of collagen and it is believed that drinking fish maw soup will improve your skin and help with blood circulation. In Cantonese cuisine, there are four items that are considered the top gourmet items of the sea:
- 鮑魚 (bao yu): abalone. This is the most expensive of them all.
- 海參 (hai shen): sea cucumber. This texture requires some familiarization.
- 魚翅 (yu chi): shark fin. This ingredient is starting to be banned in many places.
- 魚肚 (yu du): fish stomach. The fish stomach referenced here is the fish maw.
These four items are grouped together as 鲍参翅肚, “bao shen chi du” which has a good-sounding resonance when spoken with reference to an upcoming feast or banquet.
That said, I decided to make my own fish maw soup to impress my parents-in-law coming over for dinner. Of course I’m also always health conscious when menu planning for my guests. This is a recipe for thick soup, referred to as “geng” (羹). Adding the egg white improves both the texture and appearance of the soup. It also blends the fish maw to make it smoother and whiter. Another technique is to bring the soup to the boil, and remove it from the heat before adding egg white to prevent over-heating, which will cause the egg white to become too tough.
20 g dried fish maw (乾魚肚); for reference it looks like this:
3 slices crushed ginger
1 stalk crushed spring onion
5 stalks yellow chives; for reference it looks like this:
2 cups homemade chicken broth (or canned)
2 cups water
1/2 cup sweet whole corn kernels
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 shakes white pepper
2 tbsp cornstarch + 3 tbsp water
1 egg white
乾魚肚 20 克
薑 3 片
蔥 1 條
韭黃 5 條
清雞湯 2 杯
水 2 杯
粟米粒 1/2 杯
鹽 1 茶匙
糖 1 茶匙
生粉 2 湯匙
水 3 湯匙
蛋白 1 隻
Soak fish maw for about an hour or until soft. Squeeze dry. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil together with ginger and spring onion. Add fish maw and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Remove, drain, and squeeze out excess water. Chop fish maw roughly.
Rinse and chop the yellow chives roughly.
In a large pot, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add fish maw, sweet corn kernels, and yellow chives. Allow it to boil again and add the salt, sugar, and white pepper. You can adjust the amount of seasonings to your liking.
In a small mixing bowl, make the cornstarch and water mixture. Add to the pot and simmer until soup is thickened.
When ready to serve, stir in egg white. Serve immediately.
乾魚肚用蓋面水浸至軟身 (1 小時). 搾乾. 燒 4 杯水, 放入薑, 蔥及魚肚煮片刻至腍身, 取出搾乾便切碎.
清雞湯及水煮滾, 加魚肚, 粟米粒及韭黃, 拌勻適量調昧料, 煮成羹.
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