Photo by Rafe Anons
Serves 4 to 6
Time: 15 minutes preparation, 1 1/2 hours cooking OK, let’s get this out of the way: It’s illegal to kill, cook, and serve dogs—even in Hong Kong, capital of “exotic” cuisines of the world. Recently California even passed a law that makes it illegal to prepare, sell, and serve foie gras, the national treasure of French cuisine. But if one were to go strictly by the book, one would be missing out on a lot of goodies in life. Including braised puppy. Case closed. So how does one get a dog for this dish? Do it like the Cantonese have been doing for centuries: Buy one from some poor peasant if you can or snatch a stray off the street. Just remember: Don’t ask, don’t tell. And keep in mind that you don’t want a grouchy old dog—unlessyou are really hard up—because the meat is too tough and stringy. What you want is a nice, happy, fat little puppy. But please, no chihuahuas, no cocker spaniels, none of those designer poodles. We are talking about rustic, down-to-earth, home-cooking fare here. So let’s keep the ingredients that way. One word of caution: This is one of the most aromatic dishes in all of Cantonese cuisine. If you wish to try out this recipe and you live in a close-quarter environment where there are other tenants nearby, it’s imperative that you close all the kitchen openings before you start cooking. Better yet, seal off any cracks and seams around the doors and windows with wet cloths so the wonderful, appetizing aroma There are lots more special dishes you can get in China. See how many you can eat on your next trip there! Sea Slug: AKA sea cucumber. Available presoaked and considered a delicacy. Spongy and gooey. Fairly expensive. Fish Maw: Don’t be fooled—it isn’t really maw. It’s the air bladder. Sold dried. Another expensive delicacy. Dried jellyfish skin: For those who like it, it’s crunchy and delicate. For those who don’t, it’s like eating rubber bands. Pig’s Feet: If you like gelatinous skin, chewy bits of gristle, and soft flavorful marrow, this is it. For those who don’t know, forefeet are meatier than hind feet. Pig’s Ears: These need one to two hours of slow cooking so that the cartilage is soft and crunchy. Pig’s Tail: Pretty inexpensive (gee, I wonder why). Slow simmer these like you’re cooking feet or ears. Snouts: Easier to recognize than other cuts (duh). Gelatinous and chewy and not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. They aren’t bad though. Pork Blood: Sold in coagulated cubes. It looks like deep crimson cranberry sauce. To cook, simmer briefly, drain, and add to hot and sour soup or congee, or braises with fish balls or fried pork skins with green chives. Very inexpensive. Pork Skin: Sold deep-fried in rectangular sheets. Soften in hot water, then add to braises so they can soak up all the tasty sauces. The best ones are from Canada. Pork Brains: Tough to get, but with the highest cholesterol count known to man, not a bad thing. Beats calves’ brains on all counts (as if there’s a contest). Pork Intestines: Simmered along with other innards in a tasty broth, this stuff is to die for. Chicken Feet: The perennial dim sum favorite. People in Hong Kong consume so many that they have to import them from Canada every day—which kind of makes sense since there are only two per bird. Duck Webs: See above, except more expensive. Snakes: In stir-fries or in soup. Very yang, and therefore excellent in cold winters. A popular tonic is aged rice wine with a snake soaked in it. Mice: Speaking of tonic, let’s not forget baby-mouse wine made by preserving still-suckling baby mice in rice wine. It rejuvenates your body’s vital organs (whatever that means). Dogs: But you already know this now. A true delicacy in wintertime. Yes, it is against the law. No, people in Hong Kong don’t give a shit. But no kitty cats, though. We Chinese love our kitties. Worms: That’s right, worms. But only certain big ones. Either deep-fried or braised. Monkey’s Brain: This banquet dish tops them all. A live monkey is chained under a custom-made table with the top of the monkey’s head sticking through a hole at the center. The host of the banquet uses a hammer and drill on its head, and the guests around the table then take turns spooning out the brain tissue and eating it raw. Yep, that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was not bullshit (even though it was India, not China). This was a very popular dish among the richest during the Ching Dynasty (which ended in the early 1900s), but word on the street is it’s totally still being practiced these days. Completely illegal of course, but, hey, we’re talking about the Chinese here. Bird’s Nest: These are nests of swallows in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. They are made of dried saliva and formed on sheer cliffs. The best ones are crystalline white and very rare and expensive—a 12-ounce twine-wrapped bundle could easily run over $600. Excellent texture, albeit totally tasteless. Bird’s nest is a banquet soup specialty usually cooked in a clear, rich stock garnished with minced Yunnan ham. Shark’s Fin: Specifically the pale yellow, transparent ligaments within the fins. Sold dried, it must be soaked in numerous changes of water and boiled till it reaches the right resilient texture, then cooked in a rich stock garnished with crab meat, crab roe, Yunnan ham, and other exquisite goodies since it’s absolutely flavorless by itself. Price ranges from $60 a pound to over $1,000, depending on the grades—the species of the shark, what waters they were caught in—kind of like fine wine. There is so much demand for shark’s fin from rich Chinese and Japanese that sharks have started being caught strictly for their fins, with the bodies simply dumped back into the oceans. This has resulted in protests from environmental groups all over Asia. won’t leak out. Otherwise, your nosy animal-rights-fanatic neighbors might detect the scent and report it to the authorities. Then you’re really cooked. INGREDIENTS 2 pounds dog meat, cut into 2-inch chunks (cuts from both the front and hind legs are wonderful) 1/2 medium head iceberg lettuce 1/2 pound Napa cabbage 1/2 pound spinach 1/2 pound edible chrysanthemum leaves (tong oh), optional 1/2-inch-thick slice fresh ginger, smashed 4 slices garlic 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 cups chicken broth 1 teaspoon salt 2 scallions, cut diagonally into 2-inch sections Cilantro sprigs Sauce mixture: 2 tablespoons ground bean sauce 2 tablespoons red wet bean curd (nom yu) 1 tablespoon oyster sauce 1 tablespoon light soy sauce 2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine 3 cloves garlic, smashed 2 square inches dried tangerine peel, softened in hot water for ten minutes 4 pieces star anise 1 tablespoon sugar 8 turns freshly ground black pepper
Sauce thickener: 1 tablespoon corn flour 2 tablespoons water PREP Separate the lettuce into leaves and break the leaves in half. Wash, drain, and pat dry. Ditto the Napa cabbage. Trim spinach, wash in several changes of water, drain, and pat dry. Discard the buds and the tough ends of the chrysanthemum leaves, wash and rinse them thoroughly, then pat dry. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce mixture and set aside. COOKING In a four-quart pot, bring about two quarts of cold water to boil over high heat. Add dog meat chunks and return to boil. Parboil for five minutes, drain meat in a colander, rinse under cold water, then pat dry. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottom wok or skillet over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the dog meat and stir-fry without any oil for three minutes to brown; the meat will stick to the wok a little. Dish up. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the wok, then the ginger. Drizzle in the sauce mixture, add meat, and stir-fry and turn for a minute. Transfer the whole thing to a four-quart clay pot, add the chicken broth, then bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for approximately an hour and a half, depending on the grade of the meat. Test doneness by inserting a chopstick into the meat: If the chopstick goes in with no resistance, it’s done. Mix the corn flour with water and stir in the mixture to thicken the sauce. Meanwhile, heat the wok or skillet over high heat again until it’s hot but not smoking. Add one teaspoon of vegetable oil and a piece of garlic, and stir-fry for ten seconds. Add the lettuce and stir-fry for one minute. Add a quarter-teaspoon of salt and stir-fry for another ten seconds or until the lettuce is just limp. Dish up. Repeat the same cooking procedure with the Napa cabbage, the spinach, and the chrysanthemum leaves. Line and surround the braised meat with the four batches of vegetables, garnish with scallions and cilantro sprigs, and serve immediately. Note: As with all braises and stews, this dish tastes even better the day after it’s made. Simply refrigerate it when it cools down, reheat it the next day, and serve. Be sure to cook the vegetables just before serving so they won’t get overcooked and doggy—I mean soggy. Whoops. PAUL SINN
Recipe adapted from 30 Years in the Kitchen by Chan Wing. Seriously. For real.