It didn’t occur to me that Mr. Y, an old friend who is a private equity investor, is such an excellent cook, though I have known him for more than 10 years.
But I finally got the chance to know his secret passion when I told him I had to prepare for two back-to-back private banquets, serving 12 guests for each night.
He offered me his help, and before long I came to witness a master chef in action.
Those two dinners were no easy tasks to prepare. I needed at least two days to prepare for each night, gathering all the ingredients and marinating the meat.
Stir-fried beef shank – one of my favorite dishes – involved a number of tricky steps, including removing the tough fiber layers as well as slicing and marinating the beef.
But even before I could explain to him the procedure, he was already at the table, doing every step all by himself – and with perfect results. I was impressed.
At the first dinner, Mr. Y knew everyone at the table, so I gave him the chance to show off by asking him to help me with the deep-fried and stir-fried dishes.
My menu could intimidate any cook: deep-fried lotus root, stir-fried fresh abalone slices, fried beef shank with garden asparagus, fried crab with black pepper and Yangzhou fried rice.
But for Mr. Y it was all a piece of cake.
And he didn’t mind it at all when he learned that my wok at home was too small for preparing dishes for 12 people.
He just did each dish twice, but the result was always of equally superb quality.
The menu of the second banquet was not up to me; my friend, whose birth anniversary we were to celebrate that night, insisted on choosing the dishes.
She had a most intimidating choice: stir-fried shark’s fins with eggs and crab meat (炒桂花翅).
I tried doing it once, eight years ago, but I never dared to do it again after failing miserably on my first attempt.
The broth was too thin and it didn’t come out with enough wok hei – the signature feature of a stir-fried dish which results from a sizzling Chinese wok.
But I knew how to make it right this time, and with Mr. Y by my side, I thought nothing could go wrong.
The key was to fully immerse the shark’s fins in a strong broth, made from heavy portions of Chinese ham, stirring it slowly and patiently until the broth was completely absorbed.
And again, the dish had to be prepared twice.
But my friend managed to do it exceptionally well, keeping the scrambled egg unburned, crab meat juicy and shark’s fins moist.
Most important of all, what came out was a dish of sufficient wok hei!
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 15.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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