Thursday, June 20, 2013

Abalone shreds with mung bean sprouts

This beautiful Beijing dish is very subtly flavored, making it an understated classic worthy of a palace meal or a place on the table of the wealthiest merchants in the capital. Nothing here is loud or obtrusive, but rather is classic Beijing cuisine at its most refined.

To begin with, the bean sprouts have both their heads and tails nipped off so that only the pure white stalks remain. These are then simply stir-fried with only a suggestion of green onion and ginger to provide flavor. 

On top of this the abalone will practically disappear, for its white flesh has been cut so as to match the sprouts; it is quickly simmered in a gentle mixture of stock and rice wine to cut the fishiness a bit and allow it to marry well with the crisp vegetable bed. 
King top shell -- yum

Only when a mouthful is tasted do the two main ingredients display their individual natures.

Really and truly easy, and yet really and truly elegant.

Abalone shreds with mung bean sprouts
Bāosī yínyá  鮑絲銀芽
Serves 4
7 to 8 ounces fresh, frozen, or canned abalone (see Tips)
12 ounces very fresh mung beans
1 cup good chicken stock, salted or unsalted
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste (for unsalted stock)
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons fresh peanut or vegetable oil
2 green onions, white parts only, trimmed and finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger

Nipped & not
1. If you are using fresh or thawed frozen abalone, trim off the foot and any tough parts. If you are using canned abalone, simply rinse it off and pat dry, and then trim off any discolored areas. Then, cut the abalone across the grain into thin slices, and then cut them crosswise into matchsticks about the same width and length as the white stalks of the bean sprouts. (Because canned abalone will still taste of the can, place the julienned abalone in a sieve or colander, set this in the sink, and douse it liberally with boiling water; taste a piece, and if you can’t taste any stale flavors, proceed to the next step, otherwise blanch it once more.)

2. Next, prep the bean sprouts by using your fingernails to pinch off the heads and the whiskery tails. Don’t skip this step, as this is what sets this dish in a different universe from rustic cooking. If you aren’t using the sprouts right away, place them in a bowl and cover them with ice water; the will keep well this way for a day or two if covered and refrigerated.

Rinsed well...
3. Pour the stock and rice wine into a small saucepan and heat it over high until it boils. Add the salt and abalone, and bring it to a boil, and then lower the pot to a simmer; gently cook the abalone for about 15 minutes, or until the stock has reduce to an almost syrupy texture. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and gently stir the abalone over low heat until the sauce thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat but keep it warm.

4. Drain the sprouts in a colander and shake off all the water; lay them on a tea towel and pat them lightly to get rid of as much water as possible (see Tips). Heat a wok over high until it starts to smoke, and then pour in the oil. Add the green onions and ginger to the oil and stir them around quickly to release their fragrance. Then, add the bean sprouts. Stir-fry the sprouts quickly until they just lose their rawness, and then toss in about 2 or 3 tablespoons of the abalone’s sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. Scoop the bean sprouts out onto a serving plate and then pour the abalone and sauce over the center of the sprouts.


Farm-raised abalone from anywhere other than China or Japan is the best choice here, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Check the labels when you buy.

Another alternative is the large sea snail called “king top shell” that is sold in cans; very tender and tasty, it mimics abalone admirably.
... & then towel dried

Because all of the ingredients are white here, this dish looks fantastic if plated on something of a deep, contrasting color. No garnishes are needed in that case. Otherwise, tuck some cilantro or something into the side of the bean sprouts to add a touch of color.

When you nip off the heads and tails of the sprouts, it turns into a completely different vegetable, much better mannered, much prettier, and also much more pleasant on the tongue, as the beany head and the hairy tail are little more than distractions, when you come to think of it, so toss them in the compost bin.

Since you don’t want the bean sprouts to boil instead of stir-fry, make sure that they are as dry as possible. This will give them a much crunchier texture.

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