I was in Hong Kong two weeks ago; Phoenix Eye seed (sterculia nobilis) was in season. The pod resembles the slit eye of a phoenix and the seed looks like a black nut with one side flattened. Phoenix Eye is also known as nine-layered skin, as one needs to peel through several layers before the edible pale-yellow kernel is exposed.
In Hong Kong, the kernel is normally used as a substitute for chestnut in stew or soup. It has a powdery nutty texture when eaten boiled, and a distinct flavor with a mild, sweet aftertaste.
Phoenix Eye is used by the Chinese as a medicinal remedy for round worm, gastric discomfort, and even hemorrhoids. If you intend to use it, however, do consult a Chinese physician for the exact prescription.
For me, I have decided on a Western approach for this recipe. A friend turned up at my home unexpectedly bringing a couple of wines, so I decided to turn the Phoenix Eyes I had with me into cocktail nuts for the evening. The end result was surprisingly yummy.
Phoenix Cocktail Nuts
Phoenix Eye nuts 600 g
Sea salt 60 g
Five-spice powder 1 tbsp
White pepper 1 tbsp, coarsely grinded
Butter 3 tbsp
1. Microwave nuts for 3 minutes. Remove the shells until the white layer of the seed is exposed. Set aside.
2. Mix nuts, sea salt, 5-spice powder and black pepper in a French oven.
3. Fry the nuts in low flame for 15 minutes. Switch off the flame, add butter and continue to fry the nut for another 20 minutes.
4. Remove the nuts and strain off the excess butter.
5. Serve or store the nuts in a glass bottle once they have cooled.