Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Phoenix Soup – A Cure Fit for a King’s Concubine


Think Hakka cuisine, and yong tau foo and yam abacus immediately comes to mind. A couple of weeks ago, I managed to convince Mr Lai Fak Nian, proprietor of Plum Village, one of the few Hakka restaurants in Singapore, to cook some of the lesser known dishes for The Jumping Table, full details here.

Tonight, I prepare another Hakka dish that is almost non-existent in Singapore. For hundreds of years, this dish was prepared for women in confinement. In fact, the story is told of how in the Ching Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong’s favorite concubine Yifei, fell sick after giving birth. Despite the best ministrations of the imperial doctors, she remained unwell. One imperial doctor, who came from South China, sensed that she could be suffering from fatigue due to childbirth, and decided to use this age-old remedy to nourish her health instead. When the concubine eventually recovered, Emperor Qianlong named this dish “the Rebirth of the Phoenix/凰投胎” since the chicken was wrapped in a pig’s stomach during cooking.

Huang Jing/黄精
Since then, many variations of this dish have appeared in Southern China, containing different combinations of Chinese herbs. My grandmother would use another herb, Huang Jing, which was frequently used by the last Empress Dowager to maintain her good complexion.

Huang Jing is widely used to nourish the kidneys, liver and stomach; the Chinese also believe it helps to improve blood circulation, detox the system, and improve skin texture. I have been drinking this soup since young – and most probably, that accounts for my good complexion!

The Rebirth of the Phoenix or Pig’s Stomach Chicken
凰投胎/猪肚鸡


Spring chicken               1 kg, wash and drain
Pig’s stomach                 1
Huang Jing 黄精            30 g (Siberian Solomonseal Rhizome)
Sha Shen 沙参               10g, (Adenophora stricta)
Wolfberries 枸杞子        15 g
White peppercorn         5 g, dry-fried for a few minutes
Ginger                            15 g
Spring onion                 5 g
Water                            1.75 litres
Salt                                2 tsp
Light soy sauce            ½ tbsp, optional


Method:
1.     Rub pig’s stomach inside and out with plain flour, salt,  and Chinese wine thoroughly, and rinse. Repeat this a couple of times until it is odourless.
2.     Divide the rest of the ingredients into half.
3.     Stuff one portion into the chicken.
4.     Stuff chicken into the pig’s stomach. Leave the chicken neck protruding out of the small hole in the pig’s stomach. Tie both ends of the pig’s stomach tightly with string.
5.     Blanch pig’s stomach with hot water and drain.
6.     Boil 1.75 litres of water in a crock pot or a pot used for double-boiling. Add the chicken and the remaining portion of the ingredients.
7.     Simmer for 2 hours or double-boil for 3 hours.
8.     Remove stuffed pig’s stomach from the pot. Cut the stomach and chicken into bite-size portions. Return them to the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes.
9.     Season it with salt and soy sauce if necessary.
10. Skim off the oil and fats from the surface of the soup, and serve hot.

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