Hing Kee

Last night we went to Hing Kee, a much praised restaurant doing Bo Jai Faan or claypot rice that’s tucked in a grimy backstreet behind the tourist thronged Temple Street Market. The restaurant’s popularity, and the ongoing buzz about it on openrice, meant that as usual there was a long line of people waiting outside. They have a lot of tables in different shops round the area, though, so the queue moved pretty quickly.

But does Hing Kee’s food actually live up to all the hype it gets? Bo Jai Fan’s combination of rice and meat cooked in a clay pot is fairly simple, unpretentious, and hearty in style. So there’s not much a restaurant can really do to distinguish itself in terms of fancy cooking techniques or ingredients. But Hing Kee sets itself apart from other Bo Jai Fan restaurants by getting this basic combination absolutely spot on.

Our beef clay pot came with a big pile of succulent strips of beef laid on top of the rice, contrasting with a lot of restaurants which are really miserly with their meat. We broke an egg over the dish and the white soaked down into the rice, cooking as we mixed it and covering the grains with a fluffy eggy tasting coating that made the rice really hearty and heavy. This savoury egg coated rice combined well with the more juicy strips of beef mixed in with it.

Our second pot was chicken and Chinese mushrooms laid over rice. The small pieces of on the bone chicken were impressively juicy – the method of cooking perhaps allowing them to keep a lot of moisture so that they hadn’t dried out at all. The meat’s soft creaminess went well with the more earthy and fibrous texture of the dark Chinese mushrooms used.

The smoked fish and pork pot also had a nice balance of different flavours. Big pieces of silver skinned fish were laid on top of the rice. The dry, coarse flesh of this had a really striking and powerful flavour – salty and fishy and smoky all at once. Its intenseness was nicely softened, though, when eaten with a soft slice of the pork or some of the rice. Strips of ginger also added a really nice sweetness.

With all Bo Jai Fan, the rice at the bottom goes a crispy brown as it cooks against the side of the pot. It can be really nice to scrape up pieces of this crisped browned rice, that have a great crunchy taste. Here we did get some perfectly crisped rice, although some of it had also turned a little bit too black to be edible. For the clay pots to be absolutely perfect, it would be good if they weren’t burnt on the bottom at all, but that might be asking a bit too much.

Along with the clay pots we also had ho beng, or deep fried oyster omelette. This was perfect. In some restaurant’s the omelette is too thick and just the outside is fried and crispy, leaving a stodgy mess of uncooked egg and oyster inside. But here the tangled strands of egg were all nicely crisp and brown with just a thin layer of soft egg in the middle. Often I also find places use too many oysters, so these completely overpower things, but here they were nicely restrained, with just a few of the juicy oyster held in the crispy casing and plenty of spring onion mixed in too. Added to this, the omelette was really dry and crisp, with none of the soggy oiliness that some can have. It had clearly just been made and tasted fantastic.

So overall, I would say that Hing Kee definitely lives up to the praise it’s been given and is well worth the half hour or so you’ll have to wait. While other restaurants around do also serve fairly decent bo jai fan, many of them slip up on a few elements of the dish, while here you can enjoy clay pots that are almost exactly the way they should be.



Chicken and mash

I have recently moved back to Hong Kong, so expect some nice posts on the wealth of great Asian food that you can get in this city soon. I’ve already started exploring some of the new restaurants that have sprung up while I was back in the UK. But because I’ve also just moved into a new place, with a nice shiny new kitchen, I thought I’d see how easy it’d be to reproduce a Nigel Slater classic that I’ve cooked many times before in this foreign location.

Take two chicken thighs (Wellcome in Hong Kong has these for HK$20). Rub some olive oil into their skin and then season them with a fair bit of salt and pepper. Heat up a pool of oil in a large pan and drop in a big chunk of butter. Wait until the butter and oil start to bubble, then throw in the chicken – let it brown on both sides and then turn down the head. Take a few meaty cloves of garlic, press them down with a knife side until they split and throw them into the pot with the skin still on. Leave the chicken so it is just hissing slightly in the pan. Cook like this for a good forty minutes or so.

Then take the chicken and the garlic out of the pan and keep it warm. Pour some wine into the pan (the recipe really says you should use white wine, but I had some red left over from a past meal and it seemed to work well too). The wine will de-glaze the pan, taking up all the fat that is stuck to the bottom and absorbing all the bits left over from the chicken. Simmer it for a while to boil off the alcohol and reduce this gravy. Throw in some herbs – time if you can get it, or rosemary in my case.

I’d say it’s best to serve this with mash of some kind to soak up this nice gravy. I made standard mashed potato that has a nice earthy texture to compliment the crisp and slight oiliness of the chicken flesh. I think that sweet potato mash would also work well. Anyway, all in all, a nice simple dish, and easy to produce even in Hong Kong with limited resources and ingredients.

Bibimbap House

Cambridge has seen quite a few new Asian restaurants opening up recently. Earlier this year it gained its second Korean restaurant, the small Bibimbap house on Mill Road.

That there is decent demand for this kind of restaurant was clear when we went in early on a Thursday evening. Every table in the restaurant was filled and the waitress politely asked us if we’d mind coming back a bit later.  While we ate each newly vacated table was also quickly filled with new customers.

The restaurant was fairly basically decorated. The freshly painted white walls bare apart from two nice pieces of modern Korean art, while a few flowers and a big black lantern sat in the window alcove. Rather than austere, this limited decor gives the place a nice zen-like simplicity.

At the moment, the menu is also quite minimalist with just a list of six or so different varieties of the namesake bibimbap. The owner said she’d deliberately decide to focus on serving bibimbap, a dish she extolled for its healthy benefits. This typical Korean dish consists of different vegetables and meat of fish which are mixed together with rice, usually in a hot stone bowl that cooks them at the same time.










I went for the standard bibimbap, which came with piles of spinach, onion, sliced carrot and straggly beef pieces arranged like segments of a colour wheel on top of the white rice. A raw egg is typically broken over this to cook as it’s mixed, but here an already fried one had been used in what was perhaps a bow to English tastes. We mixed the ingredients together so they cooked against the hot stone bowl, scooping in some of the chilli sauce so that it stained the rice a bright orange.

This gochujang sauce is the fundamental ingredient of bibimbap, giving the rice its distinctive flavour. Made by fementing soya beans and chilies, it has a powerful pungent flavour that is overwhelming when eaten on its own, but when mixed which rice diffuses more gently together with a tingling spice. Some restaurants have a bad, bland version of this sauce. Here, however, it was excellent and gave each mouthful of rice a satisfyingly strong flavour.

The quality of the rice can also let the dish down if it’s too stodgy or dry. The rice at Bibimbap House was prepared perfectly though. Plump pearly grains had nice soft sponginess that soaked up the sauce to release it in the mouth. As it’s meant to, the rice at the bottom of the bowl had fried slightly so as you dug down with chopstick you pulled up delightfully crispy golden pieces.

Adding more texture were strips of carrot, which were fresh and remained slightly al dente in a way that gave them a cool crispness which contrasted nicely with soft rice’s softness. The other vegetables also contributed their own cool fresh flavours in a way that pleasantly balanced the pungent and spicy sauce.

The person I was eating with had the japchae bibimbap which similarly displayed interesting textures. The translucent sweet potato noodles had an unusual springy gelatinousness, while little strips of wood ear mushroom were elastic in a way reminding of squid. These cool and earthy flavours mixed nicely with the sharper spice of the chilli sauce. While not quite as striking as the other bibimbap, it was a nicely done dish.

As is customary in Korean cuisine, the two mains were orbited by lots of small side dishes. The kim chi nicely contrasted the almost icy cool taste of pale white cabbage with the spice of the bright red sauce that coated it. The other dish presented similar contrast, but with crisp slices of raddish. Miso soup, while nothing that special, was a heart-warming addition.

These small sides, and the substantial mains, meant that both dishes were excellent value for money for just under ten pounds each and left us truly filled. But more than just satisfying my appetite, they succeeded in offering a stimulating range of tastes and textures that satisfied my curiosity as well.

Pork In Milk

Yesterday evening I tried cooking a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for Pork In Milk which was published in the Guardian Weekend Magazine a couple of weeks ago.

The recipe is loosely based on the Italian dish Arrosto Di Maiale Al Latte. There are good articles about how to cook that here and here. From what I can tell, the main thing Whittingstall’s recipe adds is the use of lemon zest and sage in the milk sauce.

Basically the recipe involves first making a milk sauce loaded with herbs, garlic flavoured oil and lemon. The flesh of the pork then absorbs these different flavours as it slowly simmers in this sauce. It’s a simple method, but it works wonderfully.

The pork slowly cooked in the milk comes out tasting wonderfully tender and smooth. It has nice subtle flavours, the earthiness of the different herbs sitting well alongside the slight zestiness that lingers from the lemon.  A thin slice of this buttery meat, with a bit of the creamy tasting curds of the sauce, tastes fantastic.

More and more, I feel that slow cooking of meat is the way forward, producing the softest most flavourful results. But slow cooking in milk adds something extra again, letting the meat not just stay soft but absorb a kind of creamy smoothness. I plan to try this variant next.

Hong Shao Rou

This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve posted a photo of this Hunanese dish. But the reason I post about it, and cook it, so much is because it has got to be one of my all time favourite things to eat. The slow cooking makes the fatty cubes of pork belly wonderfully soft, so that they melt in your mouth. And each cube has soaked up and become swollen with such rich, heady flavours, a potent mixture of sweet wine and soy sauce with hints of the ginger and a slight buzz of chilli. This all sort of seeps out of each piece to delight you when you eat it. The sauce alongside the meat could be bottled up on its own and sold, because scooped onto pearly grains of plain white rice it turns them into something magnificent. But couple these flavours with the textured cubes of meat and you have something truly amazing. I used Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to make this dish, and find it works perfectly. Her writing about the origins and story behind it is also well worth reading.

Japanese Style Grilled Salmon

The Japanese are masters at preparing fish. Whether precisely slicing it into sushi and sashimi, or grilling it lightly, they always succeed in bringing out the natural  flavours of the fish so well. Their knowledge of the fish, and the techniques they use to prepare it have been carefully refined over more than a thousand years.Whilst I really like Japanese raw fish dishes, probably my favourite part of the cuisine are the different grilled fish. I remember the first time I had grilled tuna jaw in Hong Kong – breaking through that crisp charred skin with my chopsticks to reveal soft flesh that parted into small pieces when touched. Each piece was spongy and loaded with flavour, bearing a subtle hint of smoke from the grill.

Unfortunately getting Japanese grilled fish in the UK is much harder than getting sushi and ramen, which have spread widely around the world. Because of this, I decided that I would try to cook my own. Searching the shelves of a local Korean store, I picked out some special citrus infused soy-sauce that said it was ideal for dipping fish and meat. I hoped this might make a decent enough version of the sauce usually served with fish in restaurants.

I also picked up a huge white daikon radish from my local Chinese supermarket, chopping it up into tiny pieces. I bought a few chunky pieces of salmon from the local market. To prepare these, I first rubbed salt into them on all sides. Then I put them to soak for five minutes or so in a mixture of salt and boiling water. I was loosely following this recipe.

I used a top down grill. Technically, you’re supposed to grill the fish from below using a special oven but I didn’t have this option. I first placed the fish skin down directly onto the metal bars of the grill tray. I wanted to let the flesh toughen up a bit in cooking before I laid this down, fearing it would break apart and fall through the grill. I left it for about 10 minutes on each side, about 10cm below the hot grill, until the surface of this fish and the skin began to blister a little.

Overall, this seemed to work pretty well. The skin and the upper surface of the fish both had a nice, salty crispness to them, but this wasn’t as good as the smoky charred taste a real grill would give. The salmon flesh didn’t dry out at all and had a good full flavour. It wasn’t quite as succulent as the versions I have had in restaurants, and I wonder if trying recipes which marinade the fish might help with this. Unless somebody wants to tell me of a Japanese restaurant doing great grilled fish in the UK, I shall have to keep experimenting.

Look It Up

What are cheungfan? What does hing taste like? And what are bhindi? If you’re anything like me then I’m sure there are times when you’re left a little lost by the foreign words on menus, or bewildered by ingredients in a recipe. Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could create searchable online dictionary of different ingredients from around the world?

Well that’s exactly what Suzy Oakes did at www.whatamieating.com. This fantastic foodies’ resource is a dictionary of ingredients with more than 65,296 entries in over 303 languages. Sadly, Oakes died earlier this year and so the project remains unfinished. But even as it is, this is a really brilliant aid for anybody keen on exploring food.