Monday, November 30, 2015

Taiwanese turkey + fried shallots

Turkey seems like it wouldn’t make much of an appearance on Chinese tables, as this bird is native to North America. Not only that, but it wasn’t until very recently that ovens started to be included in Chinese kitchens. In spite of all this, what we have here is a wonderful and wonderfully easy way with turkey – especially leftovers – that makes this Taiwanese dish a complete delight.

I first ate Turkey Rice in the bustling central Taiwan town of Chiayi back when I was a student. It was – and still is – pure genius. Shreds of moist turkey meat are piled on top of a small bowl of fresh, hot rice, and then the bird’s seasoned juices are poured all over. Some fried shallots, a bit of fat, and a couple of slices of Japanese-style pickled radish round out the dish. 

And so, this is a meal you can put together in minutes if you have leftovers from Thanksgiving or Christmas. In Taiwan, melted lard is poured over the bowl, giving it a delicious, buttery texture. I've opted for shallot oil here, as it's a side product of the freshly fried shallots we have here (a signature flavor throughout Southern Fujian and Taiwan) that just happens to be insanely delicious.

But how did turkey come to be popular in Taiwan of all places? The story I heard was that American soldiers introduced the bird to the island back when they were stationed all over Taiwan, which was from the early 1950s through about 1979, when the U.S. normalized relations with China. When I was a student in Taipei, the Americans had a huge base on the western edge of the city near the Confucian temple, and I was always trying to scheme my way in there in order to snag some Baskin Robbins.

This delicious way with turkey has become incredibly popular throughout Taiwan, especially in night markets and the innumerable small food stands that line the island’s endless alleyways. I always tell people who are planning to visit Taiwan to make sure to dine in these little places that sport some of the best food around. And Turkey Rice is one of my favorites.
T-Day redux, in a good way

Turkey rice
Huǒjī fàn  火雞飯
Makes 4 servings

2 cups (or so) cooked turkey meat (hand-shred the meat after removing the bones and most of the skin); cooked chicken meat can be substituted and is equally tasty
1 cup pan juices from the roast turkey, or 1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, or to taste
2 tablespoons mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
4 cups freshly cooked hot rice
1 cup fried shallots (see recipe below)
½ cup shallot oil (see recipe below)
Freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 thin slices Japanese pickled radish (takuan zuke)
Cilantro, optional

1. Place the turkey meat in a small saucepan and cover with the pan juices or stock. Bring these to a full boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Season with the soy sauce (use more or less depending upon the saltiness of the juices or stock) and rice wine. Remove from the heat and cover while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, as this will allow the meat to plump up.

2. Steam the rice and fry the shallots, if you haven’t done so already.

3. Divide the rice among four bowls. Top with the turkey and a couple tablespoons of the juices per bowl. Pile the fried shallots to one side of the turkey and drizzle around a tablespoon of the oil over the turkey in each serving. Grind some black pepper on top of each bowl. Fan out the pickled radish along another edge and add a couple sprigs of cilantro, if you wish. Serve hot.


The following is a modification of the recipe I offered on this blog a couple of years ago. I finally figured out a way to cook the shallots evenly without much danger of burning: I cover the pan as they fry over medium-low heat. This releases most of the moisture in the shallots and gets them cooked through before they are quickly browned. 
Snack food par excellence

One thing you have to keep an eye on is the browning process: These babies burn quickly, so stir them almost constantly as they begin to toast and then immediately remove the pan from the heat as soon as 95% of the shallots are a rich golden hue. It is preferable to have a few pale slices in the mix rather than burn even a couple slices. 

This oil is absolutely delicious, and I defy you to not nibble on the crispy fried shallots. 

Fried shallots and shallot oil
Yóucōng sū 油蔥酥 and hóngcōng yóu 紅蔥油
Southern Fujian and Taiwan
Makes about 1 cup fried shallots and 3 cups seasoned oil

12 ounces shallots, peeled
3 cups peanut or vegetable oil
Slice them & separate the rings
1. Slice the shallots crosswise and separate them into individual circles.

2. Place the cool oil and sliced shallots in a saucepan or wok and slowly raise the heat to create a gentle bubbling around the shallots. Cover the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. When the slices are still not browned, but just limp and looking a whole lot thinner, go to the next step. 

3. Uncover the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Keep a close eye on the pan, stirring often, and when the shallots are more or less a uniform golden brown, drain them in a metal sieve over a heatproof work bowl. Be sure not to overcook the shallots, as they turn bitter once they fry to a dark brown. 

4. Wick off any extra oil in the shallots by placing them on a paper towel. They will crisp up as they cool, and I like to toss them around a bit to keep them from settling into a mass. Refrigerate the oil and the shallots separately if you are not using them soon.


  1. Carolyn, I just came across your blog after reading a write up on 'All Under Heaven' (which I'm intending to get soon, once I get paid!) I've been loving all the recipes, but this one made me go 'EEEEEEEEE' in the happiest way possible. Why? Because, 紅蔥油! I live in Malaysia, and my maternal side of the family is Hakka while my father's side is Cantonese - ever since I was a little girl, I remember our domestic help, and later on my mother, making what we've always called 'bao yao' - a metric ton of shallots and ginger slices deep fried in several litres of cooking oil, strained, and kept aside specially for cooking. It's something I knew several other friends' mothers did, but in the last decade or so, people tend to give me a blank face when I mention doing this to cooking oil.

    I am SO gleeful about finding an actual /reference/ to this! I had to write and tell you just how happy it made me. Also, references to gan shui zhong - the amber zhongzi, which we also eat here but with palm sugar syrup (we call that 'gula Melaka', in Malay, 'huang tang' or 'wong tong' in Mandarin and Cantonese). It's a little more scarce these days, but we still can find it around!

    1. Oh, I'm so delighted you love Hakka food as much as we do! That shallot oil is so wonderful... and aren't the shallots delicious on everything?

      Amber tamales are so unbelievable, too. Did you see the recipe for them on this blog? ( Again, so easy and so addictive. Love your memories of the palm sugar syrup - I bet that would be perfect with this. I'm going to try that next time.

      Thank you so much for writing to me. It really means a lot to know that I'm helping people connect with their roots, especially such delicious ones as those that belong to the Hakka!

  2. Shallots are amazing! I can't take too much of them at a go, but my grandma insisted that adding ginger to the oil while frying it all up would take away the excess wind. I don't know how true that is, but given ginger's properties overall it might very well be true!

    Gan sui zhung are wonderful! They are an acquired taste, I agree - and there is just something about the palm sugar syrup's dark smokiness that brings out the taste in a great way.

    Isn't it amazing how food can be so easily integrated into cultures? There's a very strong Jamaican-Hakka presence in Jamaica - and their food has become an integral part of the culture now. Speaking of Hakka cuisine - have you tried lei cha? Oh so green but oh so good! I never thought I'd like it but I am hopelessly addicted to it now.

    We have our own Straits Chinese culture here, the Nyonyas, which have married Chinese cuisine with Malay and Portuguese cuisines in the most amazingly marvellous way. All the spices and the perfection of Chinese cooking technique - it's really quite something. If you get a chance to try it, you should!

    Thank YOU for putting all this wonderful information and recipes up for people - for research nuts like me, this is a gold mine!

  3. Sounds great! You wouldn't happen to know where to buy a fresh while turkey in Taipei, would you? Thanks!

    1. I'm not sure, but a quick look online shows that this should not be an impossibility. Here are some search results you can check out: Happy Thanksgiving!