this dish is typical of chinese restaurants, and especially around chinese new year, especially since abalone is such an expensive ingredient. I bring a couple cans over to london every year with me as rations (rations for my emotions, okay).
I cooked this dish out of desperation for something a little decadent and homey tasting, especially since I’ve been surviving on simpler food due to a lack of time to cook more elaborately.
it’s a simple dish to make, and really is more tricky to assemble if you want to stack it up to make it look pretty, like I tried here.
- soak your dried mushrooms the night before or in the morning before you cook this dish. I know many people recommend using large mushrooms, but I prefer to use small-tending-to-medium ones because being able to eat an entire cooked mushroom at once and and risking scalding from the juices is a remarkable experience. I highly recommend it.
- when you’re ready to cook, mince up about half an inch of ginger and three garlic cloves. set aside, and also trim the stalks off your mushrooms – these are going to be too hard and will not be of any use eating-wise, but they give good flavour when fried as an aromatic alongside the garlic and ginger.
- fry your garlic, ginger and trimmed mushroom stalks in about 1 tbsp of sesame oil until they are golden brown but not burnt. squeeze the ‘shrooms slightly to remove excess water and throw it into the pan – be aware that it can splatter! stir-fry the mushrooms for about 2 minutes, then throw in the water used to soak the mushrooms in together with about a tablespoon of oyster sauce and half a tablespoon of dark soya sauce.
- bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with a cartouche i.e. a round of baking paper so it doesn’t dry out at the top and keeps deliciously moist and succulent. the longer you cook these the better they get.
- meanwhile, trim the florets off your broccoli and slice up the stem into half-inch disks. typically, the stem isn’t used in this dish but you are at home, and the stem is the best part of the broccoli in my opinion. prepare an ice bath using a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes.
- bring a pot of water to the boil and salt it liberally – about a tablespoon of salt – and also add about a tablespoon of sesame oil into the water. this is an old woman’s trick for getting boiled vegetables bright and green. I don’t usually do this, but it is absolutely irreplaceable for getting vibrantly green vegetables. do not overboil your vegetables. once you can stick a knife through the stem you will want to take it out.
- drain the broccoli, give it a brief rinse under the tap and then throw it into the ice bath. this stunts the cooking and keeps it crisp. add more ice cubes or change the water as necessary to keep it cool and once you’re sure it is, drain the broccoli as you don’t want it to get soggy.
- open the can of abalone and slice it up into thin slices of about 2mm. steal a couple of slice while you’re at it.
that’s basically it! arrange your abalone on a traditional chinese-looking plate prettily and then stack your broccoli in the centre to form a nice ring. I usually stack the florets outside and then the slices of stem in the centre to give it some height.
scoop out the mushrooms and place it within the broccoli ring. this time I had some black moss that I bought from a trip to china – add this to your mushroom stew just before you want to eat it as you don’t want to over the moss – and so I added it right on the dish.
so yes, this dish is a tad fussy. but it returns a lot in flavour and looks, and you can add other things to the dish as you’d like, such as dried scallops or dried mussels, as well as use vegetables such as mangetout if you’d prefer. let me know if you get to try this out!