Reincarnation of the Phoenix
Chinese chefs have poetry in their souls. They take the most down-toearth ingredients and create some amazing creations. Then, to gild the lily, they give the finished dishes some pretty unforgettable names.
Can you imagine a dish called Reincarnation of the Phoenix? And when you discover what it involves, you can only marvel at the graphic but very apt description.
Take a whole chicken, stuff it with various herbs like a handful of ginkgo nuts and wolfberries, and crack the carcass so it becomes a limp bag of flesh. Then stuff it into a whole pig stomach.
The fleshy bundle is then sewn up and slow-cooked over a low simmer until the chicken and tripe are fallapart tender. It is one of those soupy stews that you can drink as well as eat.
Stuffing the chicken into the tripe allows the bird to tenderize without losing any flavor. The stomach acts as an edible pouch, which at the same time absorbs the flavors of chicken. A load of whole white peppercorns warms the soup, and dried bean-curd sticks melt into the liquid to create a milky, rich soup.
This beautifully named soup is of Hakka origin and is a banquet dish from Meizhou and Huizhou in Guangdong province, where large communities of the “guest people” live.
But, like almost every famous dish in China, the romantic version of its origins is linked to the imperial kitchens in faraway Beijing.
One of the consorts of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperor Qianlong had just recovered from a difficult birth and was getting weaker by the day. She had no appetite for food. The consort was the emperor’s favorite, and he became very anxious.
The imperial cooks and doctors were summoned and, together, they created this dish.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, chicken is easily digested but also nourishes a weakened constitution. The whole tripe is a reference to the womb, but it is also a collagenrich food full of protein and fat.
Various Chinese herbs such as ginseng, ginkgo and wolfberries add to the curative effect. In addition, dried bean curd skin melts into the soup and creates a nondairy creaminess. Soy bean also has phytoestrogens which are good for recovering new mothers.
White peppercorns add some heat and chase away any residual “wind” from the childbirth.
The soup is also believed to be very good for improving skin health. It is a carefully deliberated recipe and so effective that it soon leaked out of the palace kitchens.
It is believed that it traveled southward with Hakka settlers and was naturalized into their regional cuisines.
There appear to be several variations. One recipe has glutinous rice and dried Chinese jujubes stuffed into the chicken. The main Chinese herb used is baizhi, or angelica
dahurica. It is a milder form of danggui, the more pungent angelica root, and baizhi promotes blood circulation without shocking the system. Glutinous rice adds body, and it is also a warming food, giving heat and energy.
There is another more elaborate way to eat this dish — as a hotpot. In certain Chinese provinces, this has become so popular that many hotpot chains specialize in it.
The soup is first slow-cooked. When it’s ready, the tripe and chicken are cut up and returned to a hotpot with the soup. The slowly simmering broth is brought to the table, and the tripe pieces and chicken are served.
Finally, after all the meat and vegetables are finished, the remaining soup is ladled out for a final satisfying slurp.
Yet another variation combines two Hakka classics. The chicken-stuffed pig tripe is wrapped in oiled parchment paper, then swaddled in wet clay and buried in hot coals for several hours, just like Beggar’s Chicken.
The hard clay shell is ceremoniously cracked open at the table, and the intensely fragrant package is unwrapped. The shredded mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dried pickled vegetables, radishes and carrots stuffed into the chicken become the vegetable side dish.
The chicken and tripe, trapped inside the clay shell, retain all their juices and become intensely fragrant. It is a dish that can now be easily replicated in the home kitchen, using a simple dough and a large oven.
Chicken is definitely the fowl of choice in Chinese cuisine, and it rightly deserves its “phoenix” moniker. When it is paired with tasty tripe, it rises from the hot ashes like the proverbial reincarnation of its legendary cousin.
The dish is of Hakka origin and is a banquet dish from Meizhou and Huizhou in Guangdong province.