Tuesday, August 14, 2012

a bit of mystery in every bite


I believe there's a great deal of room for theatre in food. Whimsy and mystery, on some great looking flatware . . . that's the kind of food that transcends simple home cooking. I'm certainly not saying that this here is an example of all that; after all, what do I know about cooking. But in all things, I have my honesty, and I try to cook what I know best. Comfort food really, sort of a swing of the pendulum back to the food I grew up with; the food of my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother.

This is one of those things passed down, something I always try to cook for special occasions. A Shanghai classic, steamed eggs . . . with a surprise. Well beaten eggs, steamed quickly until it turns silky and fluffy. Topped at the last minute, just before you take them out of the steamer, with sliced green onion, and drizzled with sesame oil. But it's not until you stick a spoon in that the dish really comes together. The dish is a steamed egg and clam dish, something every true Shanghai native recognizes. What I've tried to do is to refine it a bit, season it all the way through, so every bite gives a pillowy mouthful of egg with the savoury marine flavours of the clam.

I have great affection for this dish because for me at least, it satisfies all the elements for my favourite kind of food. Clean flavours, texture, and simplicity, sort of distilling the essence of all the elements in the dish. I mean, of course you can keep adding things. Punching up the broth with lobsters or shrimps . . . topping it with some kind if fish roe or uni. But who was it that said perfection is achieved not when you can't add one more item, but rather when you can't take one more element away.

Steamed egg and clams

Use as many eggs as the number of people you're serving. For a romantic dinner with your beloved, two eggs.

Beat thoroughly with a whisk, until no threads remain, and the eggs look creamy.

Any variety of clam will do. It's not easy to find, but I love using savoury clams from British Columbia. Dark, thin shells, yielding succulent, savoury clams.
Lightly poach the clams until they open, but are still half raw. Plunge into an ice bath, and remove the flesh. Set the clams aside.

Pour the clam broth into the beaten eggs, using roughly a 1:1 ratio. I prefer steamed eggs that are slightly runny, almost like a soup. Whisk the broth and eggs together, and have a quick taste for seasoning - sea salt if necessary. Quickly scoop the broth into large ramekins.

Add the clams into the ramekins, and of course, be generous. Ramekins go in the steamer (at full blast already) for 8 minutes.

At minute 6, top off each ramekin with freshly sliced green onion. Once you reach 8 minutes total steaming time, remove ramekins from the heat and drizzle with sesame oil on top.

Right. Serve, and just tell your guests it's a steamed egg dish. And if they dig in and tell you they don't like clams, tell them to fuck off and never invite them back.


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