Monday, December 3, 2018

Long bean fish nests

One of the most beautiful of all Hakka-style dishes, for some strange reason this also happens to be one of the least well known. But that is certain to change once you realize that these also taste wonderful. 

In fact, they are so unusual and delicious that long bean fish nests will cement your reputation as a great Hakka cook.

The filling is simply homemade fish balls. But these are unlike any commercial fish balls you’ve ever eaten because they are light and fluffy, and yet have a bouncy enough texture to stand up to the long beans. 

Plus, I’ve figured out a way to make these in a food processor, which turns a labor of love into an easy feat.

Long beans are best through late summer and early winter here in California, around the same time that string beans are in season.

Look for thinnish beans, which will be firm and supple. Older beans have pithy insides, and they will often offer you fresh cowpeas inside, which are delicious too, but not what you want here. Select beans that look and feel perfect, as they are the stars of this particular show.

Long bean fish nests
Dòujiăo yúròujuăn  豆角魚肉圈
Hakka cuisine
Serves 6

12 tender long beans (also called snake beans, foot-long beans, etc.)
Boiling water, as needed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

12 ounces | 300 g any variety of firm white-fleshed fish filets you like, defrosted if frozen
3 fresh or plumped-up dried black mushrooms
1 piece (about 1inch | 2 cm wide) aged tangerine peel
Boiling water

2 teaspoons ice water
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
Potato starch or cornstarch, as needed
Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

3 fresh or plumped-up dried black mushrooms
½ cup | 125 ml rice wine or strained mushroom-soaking liquid
½ cup | 125 ml water
2 teaspoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Finely chopped cilantro or scallion greens for garnish

1. Trim off the stem ends of the long beans. Fill a wide pan with the boiling water and sprinkle in the salt. Add the long beans and blanch them only until they turn bright green. Empty the pan into a colander set in the sink. Rinse the beans to cool them off, as this will stop them from cooking any further. Drain the beans and pat dry.

2. Wind each bean around itself into a 2-inch | 5-cm wide nest as shown in the photos to the right, and tuck the ends inside to secure them. This is much easier than it sounds.

3. Set the fish on a couple of layers of paper towel to absorb excess moisture while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Remove the mushroom stems and chop the caps finely. If you are using dried mushrooms, reserve the mushrooms’ soaking liquid for the sauce. Place the tangerine peel in a bowl and cover with boiling water. After at least 10 minutes, chop the softened peel into a fine mince.

4. Remove any bones still hiding in the fish by pulling them out with heavy tweezers or needle-nose pliers. Cut the fish into small pieces and place in a food processor with the tangerine peel. Whiz the fish until it clumps up into a pasty ball. Add the ice water and salt to the fish paste and pulse it a bit more. Pulse in the mushrooms, sugar, pepper, and scallions. You should end up with a firm, bouncy, light green paste.

5. Wet your hands and divide the fish paste into 12 balls. Stuff a ball into the center of each nest. Put a couple tablespoons of the potato or corn starch in a bowl and dip the fishy parts in the starch to coat them.

6. Set a frying pan over medium heat and drizzle in a few tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, slide in the filled nests. Fry them on each side until golden and then remove
to a shallow serving bowl. Pour off the oil and wipe the pan with a paper towel.

7. Make the sauce by heating the sesame oil and ginger together until they smell wonderful, then add the sliced mushrooms and fry until the mushrooms are golden. Pour in the rice wine or mushroom-soaking liquid and the soy sauce. Add the nests, cover, and
cook until most of the sauce has been absorbed, which will just take a few minutes. Plate the nests. Sprinkle them with the cilantro or scallions, and serve hot.