Lucky foods: How to shop on Hong Kong's dried seafood street
With Chinese New Year around the corner, Sheung Wan’s 'dried seafood street,' which stretches along some 200 shops on Des Voeux Road West, is humming with frantic activity. Housewives haggle over preserved sausages and delivery boys whiz past with overloaded bikes. It’s all part of the Chinese custom of stocking up for the new year and dried goods are in particular demand. Many of them have names that pun on auspicious phrases, and they are prized in Cantonese cuisine. They are used liberally in Chinese New Year dishes and also make generous traditional new year gifts.
Here, three vendors reveal how to identify the best produce and how to cook each one.
When it comes to dried abalone, Amidori abalone from Japan ranks among the best, according to Leung Wing Chiu, owner of the 91-year-old Tung Hing Tai Kee Marine Products. The star of most Chinese banquets, dried abalone is valued for its resemblance to the ancient Chinese ingots used as currency. The texture is like a meaty, chewy mushroom, and it’s often cooked in a rich soy-based broth. Leung recommends home cooks to soak the abalone in water for two to three days in the fridge, then dunk it in boiling water for an hour, and leave it to cool in the pot. After rinsing the abalone under running water for two hours, it’s ready to be stewed with red meat such as ham and roasted goose.
Fish maw, with its silken texture and abundant collagen, is much loved by Chinese ladies.
“For fish maw, it’s best if they have a deep yellow hue, as opposed to a whiter one," said Leung Huen, owner of Yuen Hing Ho, a dried seafood shop that has been on 'seafood street' for over two decades. "A richer color means the fish maw will maintain its texture even with prolonged cooking.” The older the fish maw is, the better. Older fish maws have less oil and thus less of the unpleasant fishy taste.
"It’s a really popular item in Chinese New Year banquets because people like to eat well at the end of the year, but not because it has any superstition attached to it,” Leung adds. To re-hydrate dried fish maw, cook it in boiling water for half an hour. Place the replenished fish maw under slow running water for one hour, then cut and store in the freezer for later use.
Black moss and dried oyster
These two delicacies are popular during Chinese New Year because of their auspicious names. Dried oysters (bottom) are called 'ho see' which sounds like good deeds, good fortune, or prosperity, while black moss (top) is a pun on 'faat choi' which means 'to get rich.'
The briny dried oyster is the perfect compliment to black moss, which is bland by itself but soaks up flavors like a sponge. Leung Huen, says the best dried oysters are plump ones from Japan and Korea. They should be soaked in water for half an hour before cooking. As for black moss, keep an eye out for fakes. The best way to tell is to soak a small section in water -- fake black moss turns the water murky.
The brackish conpoy, or dried scallop, is a versatile ingredient that can either be served whole, or shredded in vegetable, meat and rice dishes.
“The best quality conpoys are from Japan and should have sharp, clean edges. They are the ones with strong aroma and flavor,” says Leung Huen. “The ones with rounded edges are from Mainland China and are generally less fragrant with more impurities.”
Conpoys should be soaked for half an hour in water before cooking.
Preserved sausages, which are mildly sweet and have tiny pockets of fragrant fat, are usually steamed, sliced and served with rice. Leung Wan, who owns the 52-year-old preserved food specialty store Man Lee Long, cautions against buying preserved sausages that are too red in color.
“It indicates there’s a lot of artificial coloring," says Leung. "A good quality preserved sausage should also be free of stale smells and feel bouncy to the touch.”
As for cured pork belly, good ones should have alternating layers of fat and thin pork, giving it the moniker 'five-storey meat.' Leung suggests boiling preserved meats for 15 minutes to remove the surface layer of fat before cooking or frying them.
Dried Seafood Street
Dried Seafood Street refers to the part of Des Voeux Road West from Queen Street to Centre Street.