A plump favorite of the Tang Xuanzong emperor, it is said that she loved lychees with such passion that a relay delivery system was set up by the emperor to quickly transport these fragile tropical fruits from southern China to the capital - Chang'an - in the north so that they were fresh enough to please this lovely lady.
If you've ever had a perfectly ripe lychee (or litchi), you'll understand. They are the most remarkable fruit, and even if you don't have a pony express at your disposal, they certainly are worth seeking out.
A few years ago, the only ones available were from China or Taiwan, but then Israel started producing them, and now Mexico is growing some fat little fruits that are really quite good. So, if you see them in the market, try a couple. The fruit should be a mottled red and green, and the skin must be soft enough to squeeze without cracking; this shows that they are still fresh, while hard skins tell you that the fruits have been hanging around for a while. Perfect lychees have a bright fragrance about them that is almost perfumey; if they don't smell gorgeous, they won't taste gorgeous.
The best way to eat ripe lychees is to rinse them, shake off most of the moisture, and chill them in a plastic bag. Then, peel the leathery skin off, nibble around the pit, and enjoy one of the best flavors on this good green earth.
|Canned and fresh lychees|
Fujian - as well as Taiwan, Guangdong, and other southern regions - is renowned for its delicious lychees, and this dessert does the local fruits justice. It is simplicity itself: just pitted fruits, gelatin, sugar, and water. If you are using canned fruits, you can even use the light canning syrup in place of some of the water and sugar. Traditionally this is made with agar, but gelatin gives this a more tender texture, in my option; feel free to use agar if you prefer.
This dish can easily be made ahead of time, and it can be as fancy or as simple as you like. If it's just for family, you can skip the molding and just add the fruits to the gelatin mixture before chilling; it's not as pretty, but it tastes perfectly delicious!
Shuijing lizhi 水晶荔枝
Shuijing lizhi 水晶荔枝
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal2 pounds (more or less) fresh litchis, or 2 ( ounce) cans litchis
1 tablespoon gelatin
3¼ cups filtered water
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Citrus or similar leaves for garnish, optional
1. Chill a 5- to 6-cup container in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Rinse the lychees, peel, and use a paring knife to remove the pits from the fruits. Be sure and cut the fruit over a bowl so that you can save any juices. (If you're using canned lychees, drain the fruit and reserve the syrup.)
4. If you have some fresh lychees available, reserve about 6 of the prettiest lychees unpeeled as a garnish. Arrange the rest of the lychees in the bottom of the chilled mold so that the cut sections face the inside. (This way you will have only smooth, rounded surfaces showing when you unmold the jelly.) Pour a thin (½ inch) layer of the gelatin over the fruit and immediately refrigerate the mold for about 10 minutes, or until the gelatin has solidified. Pour the rest of the gelatin into the mold, cover, and refrigerate the mold for a few hours to give the gelatin the chance to firm up.
5. Just before serving, run warm tap water over the bottom of the mold to loosen it. Gently shake the mold and place a serving platter over the mold. Swiftly turn the mold over onto the plate, gently shake it again, and the jelly should plop down onto the serving plate; if it doesn't, run more warm water over the outside of the mold. Garnish the jelly with the reserved lychees. Clean and dry some citrus leaves, if desired, and arrange them around the jelly. Serve immediately.