Hang Dai’s Karl Whelan Shares His Top Ingredients to Take Your Asian Cooking to the Next Level

Asia Market Karl Whelan

No matter how busy my day or heavy my load, as an Asian food lover no trip to Dublin city centre is complete without a visit to Asia Market on Drury Street.

Slipping in from the busy street I am instantly transported to a different world, or at least a different continent, and as I wander the aisles I am smug in the knowledge that my basket is heaving with ingredients that give an authenticity to my cooking, and that are half the price charged at other stores.

So you can imagine my delight when the opportunity arose to spend the afternoon perusing the vast collection of products at Asia Market with leading chef, Karl Whelan; the man behind one of 2016’s most exciting restaurant openings, Hang Dai Chinese.

As smug as I was before I realise now I was merely skimming the surface of what Asia Market has to offer. My eyes were opened with Karl at hand to decode the traditional, and often underappreciated or misunderstood elements of Chinese cookery.

The chef himself admits that along with old Chinese cookery books and his own experience of cooking and eating the cuisine, discovering new and unusual ingredients at Asia Market is a chief source of inspiration for his modern interpretations of Chinese food.

If you want to get the flavour of Hang Dai at home follow this list of Karl’s favourite ingredients that will take your Chinese cooking to the next level.

Only a sample of what Asia Market has to offer, Karl recommends that you “take a shot in the dark. You have years to work your way through the place!” – and don’t overlook the clearance section, “You’ll find some really out there stuff that you won’t see again. The stuff even the Chinese don’t buy!”

Preserved Duck Eggs

Asia Market Preserved Duck Eggs

What is it:
With grayish, soft yolks and egg whites that are almost blackish-brown and translucent preserved duck eggs, also know as Thousand Year Old Eggs, aren’t for everyone. They are prepared by caking the eggs in a paste of quicklime, salt, and ash, and leaving to age for a few months, producing an egg taste and smell likened to an overripe, slightly rotten avocado.

How to use it:
These salty eggs can be eaten straight from the shell and are a traditional topping for savoury Chinese breakfast porridge, congee. At Hang Dai, Karl serves them simply with a dressing of soy sauce and black vinegar.

Dried Fish and Shrimp

What is it:
Traditionally for preservation purposes, these are small fish and shrimp that have been sun-dried until completely dehydrated and crisp.

How to use it:
These are used many Asian cuisines to impart a unique umami and seafood-like taste. Karl suggests trying these in broths, stir fries and salads for a punch of saltiness, or milled to a powder for a salty seasoning or garnish.

XO Sauce

Asia Market Karl Whelan XO Sauce

What is it:
Originating from Hong Kong, XO sauce is a spicy seafood sauce made from chopped dried scallops, which Karl says are impossible to find in Ireland, cooked with chili peppers, onions, and garlic. Denoting the high quality of this sauce the name comes from fine XO (extra-old) cognac. The sauce is often even packaged using the same luxurious gold and black scheme as the French liquor.

How to use it:
XO sauce can be used as condiment or in cooking to enhance the flavour of fish, meats, vegetables, and makes for a flavoursome for fried rice too. Picking up a few jars while we shop, Karl has plans to create a sauce
for a new halibut dish on the menu by adding Chinese elements of XO sauce and dried shrimp to the classic smooth, supple French butter sauce, buerre blanc.

 

Cured Five Spice Tofu

Asia Market Karl Whelan Five Spice Tofu

What is it:
Tofu doesn’t have a strong taste of its own, but is a superb carrier of flavour; the more you marinate it, the better it gets. In this case it is flavoured with Chinese five-spice powder; a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.

How to use it:
You can bake or fry this tofu for a flavoursome addition to a veggie bowl or stir fry. Karl is planning on getting a little more inventive, using the tofu as the starting point for some new summer dish experimentation. He plans to try freezing and grating it over wok fried courgette and courgette flowers.

Red Fermented Bean Curd

Asia Market Karl Whelan Fermented Tofu

What is it:
“This is probably the most unusual thing I’ll show you today,” says Karl of the Marmite effect this aged and spiced tofu has. Tofu cubes are first fermented, then soaked in a brine made with rice wine, vinegar, chili peppers, cinnamon, star anise, and red yeast rice, the last which imparts the deep red hue.

How to use it:
In Chinese households, this fermented bean curd is often served among the accouterments served with breakfast rice porridge. Given its powerful aroma and taste one cube is usually enough for the whole family, who dab at it with just tip of their chopsticks and to add just dash to the porridge. Can’t hack the straight up pungency? Try stir-frying vegetables with it just one or two cubes that will impart a salty-sweet depth.

Chinese Style Bacon

Asia Market Karl Whelan Chinese Cured Bacon

What is it:
Pork belly cured in soy sauce and air-dried, Karl likens this to a Chinese version of Pancetta, or Alsace bacon.

How to use it:
Use as you would any cured meat, or like Karl make with a pork belly broth. For maximum flavour and an extra texture, finely dice the bacon, crisp it up and scatter on top.

Chinese Black Vinegar

Asia Market Karl Whelan Chinese Black Vinegar

What is it:
Often likened to balsamic vinegar, Chinese black vinegar is an inky-black complex vinegar made of glutinous rice and malt that’s aged for a deep smoky flavor.

How to use it:
Karl avoids the use of lemons, not traditionally used in Chinese cooking, so this or red wine vinegar is the sour element in his sweet and sour dishes. At the restaurant it’s used for everything including dipping sauces for dumplings, in all the vinaigrettes, and the kung po sauce.

Salted Jelly Fish

Asia Market Karl Whelan Salted Jellyfish

What is it:
The Chinese are well-known for considering certain items delicacies that we would scarcely have considered edible. Jelly fish is one of those things. These can be bought in brine, or coated with salt and packed in plastic bags.

How to use it:
Like many ingredients in Chinese cookery it is enjoyed not for the taste (indeed it has very little flavor) but rather for the unique consistency it possesses: like properly cooked squid. If already in brine there’s no need to rehydrate these, just chop up and add to salads or stir fries.

 Chinese Rice Wine

Asia Market Karl Whelan Chinese Rice Wine

What is it:
Chinese rice wine, known as shaoxing, is widely used for cooking, and some varieties can be consumed as a beverage too. Like Japanese rice wine, sake, it technically should be called “rice beer,” since it’s fermented from a grain rather than a fruit.

How to use it:
Karl suggests incorporating it into sauces, dressings and marinades and sauces to add sweetness and depth of flavor.

Fermented Bean Paste

Asia Market Karl Whelan Fermented Red Bean Curd

What is it:
Chinese fermented bean paste is also known as chilli bean sauce, or doubanjiang and made from broad beans, soybeans, salt, rice and chilies. ,Referred to as “the anchovies of Chinese cuisine”, this dark reddish-brown paste has a strong fermented savory, salty and spicy taste.

How to use it:
In China this sauce is often simple stir-fried with rice or noodles as a quick meal, or mixed with instant noodles for an effective flavour hack. In Hang Dai this paste is a key flavour in the base sauce which Karl uses across a number of dishes, like the green beans and beef sirloin, which he adds varying amounts of a number of ingredients. “A little adjustment in the amount of each ingredient makes a big difference in flavour.”

Dried White Fungus Sponge

Asia Market Karl Whelan Dried White Fungus

What is it:
It may look like loofah more at place in a shower than in the kitchen, but this dried mushroom also known as snow ear fungus opens up like a golden lily when rehydrated and is prized for its medicinal benefits.

How to use it:
Karl is determined to find a home for this on the menu at Hang Dai. In China this is often mixed other dried mushrooms to make a sweet soup to nourish the body and heal dry coughs.

 

Preserved Black Soybeans

Asia Market Karl Whelan Fermented Black Beans

What is it:
Similar in appearance and texture to raisins, Douchi are soybeans that have been dried and fermented with salt; other spices such as chilies and ginger.

How to use it:
They may smell like they’ve gone off, but these little nuggets of umami are an ingredient that will instantly improve your efforts at Chinese cuisine. Heavily salted these black beans are normally rinsed before being used in cooking. Karl purees these into a sauce that acts as the base of his black bean sauce.

Pickled Mustard Greens

Asia Market Karl Whelan Pickled Mustard Greens

What is it:
These may look a little sad, like a wilted baby gem lettuce, but sour pickled mustard greens are not to be overlooked and are ubiquitous in China’s Sichuan cuisine.

How to use it:
Among a range of greens that the Chinese pickle, these are often served as an accompaniment to spicy meat dishes. Follow Karl’s innovative lead by dicing these up and tossed straight into a salad, stir fry or wonton soup for a sour and salty flavour.

For more information on Asia Market and their product range visit www.asiamarket.ie. You can also follow Asia Market on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

ARTICLE BY ERICA BRACKEN

erica-brackenErica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.

Erica Bracken  Erica Bracken

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