Signature soups recipe: What you’re looking at might look like a congee, but as I probably gave away in the title, it is decidedly not a congee.
This is chaiyugeng or ‘shredded fish soup’, and it’s a dish that’s practically synonymous with the town of Shunde – a small city south
of Guangzhou, and one of the epicenters of Cantonese cuisine.
In Shunde, it’s one of those much-beloved dishes where almost every family has their own recipe, but I think it can also actually
tell us a bit about Cantonese food in general as well.
See, if you asked ten Cantonese chefs what the essence of Cantonese cuisine was, you’d probably get ten different people telling
you that it’s all about preserving “the original flavor” of ingredients.
And while granted, Cantonese cuisine certainly doesn’t make use of the chili pepper like neighboring Hunan does that mantra never
really jived with us.
Because like, there’s plenty of bold flavors in Cantonese cuisine, right?
Black bean garlic’s pretty bold.
Or, I mean, Fermented tofu. Shrimp paste.
Fermented soybean paste.
This isn’t some stuffy cuisine that doesn’t know how to season things.
Cantonese wonton noodle soup is my favorite noodle soup in the world, and there’s probably enough dried seafood in there to choke a Penguin.
Instead, to us at least, Cantonese food is less about ‘original flavor’ and more about the playful manipulation of form.
For example, here we’ve got Shunde.
Shunde, aquacultural – is the land of two fish – the lingyu and the wanyu.
Now, you could keep that original flavor and make sashimi with the fish, and Shunde-style sashimi is quite delicious, but you could
also chop it up real fine and use it as a stuffing.
Or, alternatively, you could take that paste, add some starch & egg, and deep fry it to get fish tofu.
Or, like we’re doing today, you could make some milky fish stock, shred the meat, thicken and get a dead ringer for congee.
And outside of fish, you can find the so-called ‘wild chicken rolls made from thinly sliced pork fat, and course, all kinds of
milk in raw form, pudding form, deep-fried, and, naturally, stir-fried.
And expanding past Shunde, isn’t the entire Dim Sum cart basically stuff stuffed in other stuff?
I mean, c’mon, this is a fun cuisine.
So today, let’s take a look at that shredded fish and teach you how to turn it into a congee doppelganger.
High-level overview at first – to make it, you’ll start things off by pan-frying some fish – traditionally, with the whole fish,but I like to fry the fillets from separate from the bones, which I’ll explain in just a second.
Then, traditionally you’d pick the fried fish to separate it from the heads and bones – an infamously painful process, which’s why I like to work from the aforementioned fillets.
You can just sort of smush the fish between your fingers and double-check there are no bones.
Then, you’ll add the bones back to the pot, fry them up and make a Chinese milky fish stock.
After that, you’ll strain, add some water, the fish, and a few other ingredients.
Then you thicken things right up, and that’s pretty much it.
Traditionally the fish that’d used here is that Wanyu or Asian Carp, fried whole and picked like a crab.
It’s a great way to use up the relatively more boney wanyu but – I am lazy so instead today I’m using a kilo’s worth of seabass,
filleted at the monger for me because of the aforementioned lazy.
And while any white flaky fish will work here just fine, just make sure you can get the whole fish, bones and all.
So. We’ll be starting this off by frying it in a stick pot.
Tablespoon of lard, or any neutral oil, and over a medium flame fry the fish fillets.
Go about three and a half minutes on each side, and don’t worry if your fillets end up a little on the ugly side, remember that we will just be smushing this all to pieces anyway.
Once a chopstick can easily and smoothly punch right through it, remove the fish, and transfer over to a plate.
Now, to smush.
This step is pretty self-explanatory, just try to get everything vaguely rice grain-sized and do make sure that you pick out any stray
Keep any leftover skin or bones for later, and then now we can make our milky fish stock.
So.Back to your unwashed pot, medium-high flame go in with another touch of lard or whatever and toss in the chopped fish bones and head together with an optional knob of ginger.
Continue to fry until the fish bones begin to brown, about three minutes, then pour in a liter and a half of hot water – water must
be hot for maximum milky effect.
Add back in the skin from before, and bring that all up to a boil.
Then just keep your flame on medium-high,and let that all rapidly boil together – covered for 45 minutes.
So then, 45 minutes later, your stock should be all nice and milky, so strain it, and that will be the base for our soup.
Ok, now, other components.
Something that I like adding to my chaiyugeng is dried scallops.
These aren’t very traditional, but because Asian carp is a bit more umami than seabass,dried scallop can more than makeup for that gap.
Just take eight dried scallops and let those soak in one cup of hot, boiled water for one hour, and for what it’s worth a nice time
to prep, all of this stuff would be while that milky fish stock was bubbling away on the stove.
Then besides that, we’ve also got some other dried stuff.
This was 5 grams of wood ear mushroom together with 15 grams of fuzhu, that is, dried tofu skin.
Let both those soak in cool water for one hour, and if you don’t happen to have either on hand, feel free to skip them.
Then once those are good and reconstituted,just give them each a quick julienne.
Next, for some crunch, we’ve got four water chestnuts, sliced and julienned together with a bit of gourd.
This is luffa gourd, which we’ll use about five inches of and predictably julienne but you could potentially swap that for a
bit of cucumber if luffa’s inconvenient to source.
Now back to the soup, you should be looking at about one liter’s worth of milky fish stock, so to that toss in a half-liter of
water together with the dried scallops and the liquid they were soaking in.
Then just move that over to a pot, bring it all up to a boil, add in your wood ear, and let it boil for about three minutes.
Then toss in the tofu skin, fish, and luffa boil for another three minutes, and at this point we can season and thicken.
Now, like pretty much all much-beloved dishes the world over, the exact seasoning can be a matter of great debate.
For us, our seasoning is gonna be a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of white pepper powder, a quarter teaspoon of MSG and also something a little weird.
Personally, I like to add a teaspoon of fish sauce into my chaiyugeng, I think it tastes pretty good, but feel free to skip if you
think it doesn’t belong.
Then, to thicken, you’re gonna need some starch but not cornstarch – for these sorts of soups, cornstarch just doesn’t
hold very well.
So today we’ll be using a slurry of six tablespoons of water chestnut starch, which’s traditional for the dish, but any root vegetable
starch will also do the job.
When thickening, just lower the flame and add your slurry in a thin stream while stirring constantly – this will help avoid glooping.
Then once that’s thickened to your liking, toss in the water chestnuts – and also cucumber,if you went that way in place of the luffa.
Then transfer over to a serving bowl – if you feel like it, we usually just serve from the pot – and with that, your shredded fish soup is done.
So I first learned how to make this dish in college from my friend who was from Shunde.
She would make this dish in very hot summer days and we’ll eat it with fried rice noodles or fried noodles.
Because this way, you can get some protein from the soup and then some starch from the fried noodles.
So it’s a great summer meal.
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