Rein­car­na­tion of the Phoenix

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By PAULINE D LOH paulined@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The dish is of Hakka ori­gin and is a ban­quet dish from Meizhou and Huizhou in Guang­dong province.

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