Phoenix-tail prawns

Also known as 'Butterfly Prawns' in some Chinese restaurants, these prawns are deep-fried in their shells with the tails still attached, which is decorative and makes them easy to handle. For best results, use raw king prawns or tiger prawn tails - these are usually sold headless and are grey in colour, turning bright pink-orange when they are cooked. Ideal for cocktails or finger-food buffets, they can also be served as a starter course.

1 lb/450g tiger prawn tails in their shells

1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely grounded

1 tablespoon light soy

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon cornflour pasteOil for deep-frying (about 1 pt/600ml)

2 eggs, beaten

4-5 tablespoons breadcrumbs

For serving:2-3 spring onions, shreddedLettuce leaves

Spicy salt and pepper (see below)

Spicy salt and pepper

Mix 1 tablespoon salt with 2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns and 1 teaspoon Five-spice powder; heat them in a dry pan for about 2-3 minutes over a low heat, stirring constantly. This quantity is sufficient for at least 6-8 servings.

1. Thoroughly defrost the prawns if still frozen, then wash and dry them with kitchen paper or towel. Remove the legs by pulling them off with your fingers, but keep the body shells and tails on.

2. Using a sharp knife, carefully slit along the underbelly, cutting about 3/4 of the way through the flesh. Remove the vein without cutting through the back shell. Spread the prawn out with the flesh side down, then gently tap once or twice with the flat side of the cleaver or knife to flatten the back a little so that the prawn spreads to a 'fan' shape - hence the name 'butterfly'.

3. Marinate the prepared prawns with ground Sichuan pepper, soy, wine and cornflour for 15-20 minutes.

4. Heat the oil in a wok or deep-fryer until hot, then turn the heat down to let the oil cool off a little.

5. Pick up the prawns by the tail (two at a time with your hands), dip them in the beaten egg then roll them in the breadcrumbs before lowering them into the oil. Turn the heat up again and cook the prawns in batches until golden brown. Remove with a strainer and drain well.

6. Arrange the prawns neatly on a bed of lettuce leaves, and garnish with the spring onions after soaking in hot oil for about 10-15 seconds. Serve with the Spicy salt and pepper as a dip. Absolutely delicious!

Recipe Copyright © Deh-Ta Hsiung 1978, 1987, 2003
Taken from "The Home Book of CHINESE COOKERY" (Faber & Faber 1987)

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Ma-po tofu
Sichuan spicy beancurd

Although this Sichuan dish is popular throughout the world, very few people under stand its name, let alone its origin. Ma-po in Chinese means ‘pock-marked wife’, referring to the woman who was married to a Sichuan chef, and who created this dish in the 19th century for their modest restaurant in the provincial capital Chengdu. Its reputation spread far and wide, so much so that the couple opened a much grander establishment to accommodate their ever-increasing number of customers.

Today, Ma-Po Tofu is listed practically on every single Chinese restaurant’s menu throughout the world, but very few of them could be described as anything like the genuine article. I learnt this recipe from Chef Tsao Bing from Sichuan many years ago. He told me that only beef, not pork should be used, and that the fresh bean curd must be blanched first before stir-frying; another important point is the liberal use of ground Sichuan peppercorns, which is more aromatic rather than peppery hot.

2 cakes fresh firm bean curd

3 tablespoon oil115g (4oz) coarsely chopped beef

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon salted black beans, soaked

1 tablespoon chilli bean paste (toban jiang)

3-4 tablespoons stock

1 leek, cut into short sections

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon light soy

1 tablespoon cornflour paste

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns

Chopped spring onions to garnish

1. Cut the bean curd into 1cm (1/2 in) square cubes and blanch in a pan of boiling water for 2-3 minutes to harden. Remove and drain.

2. Heat the oil in a preheated wok and stir-fry the beef for about 1 minute or until the colour changes. Add the salt and garlic; stir a few times more before adding the salted black beans, crushing them with the cooking spoon against the surface of the work. Add the chilli bean paste, and blend well. Add the stock with the blanched bean curd and leek, bring to the boil and braise gently for 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the wine and soy, thicken the sauce with the cornflour, and finally blend in the sesame oil and pepper; garnish with spring onions and serve.

Recipe copyright © Deh-Ta Hsiung 1999, 2003
Taken from The Chinese Kitchen (Kyle Cathie 2001)


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Mixed Seafood with Vegetables


It is not necessary to use all the different ingredients for this dish – both the squid and scallops can be omitted.

175-225g (6-8oz) cleaned squid

175g (6oz) tiger prawn tails, uncooked

4-6 fresh scallops

½ egg white

1 tablespoon cornflour paste

about 300ml (½ pint) oil

½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger

2 spring onions, cut into short sections

2-3 stalks of celery, thinly sliced diagonally

1 carrot, thinly sliced diagonally

1 red pepper, cored, seeded, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine

2-3 tablespoons stock or water

a few drops of sesame oil

  1. Open up the squid tubes and score the inside of the flesh in a criss-cross pattern. Cut into pieces about the size of a large postage stamp, and then blanch in a jug of boiling water for 25-30 seconds – each piece will curl up and the criss-cross pattern will open out to resemble ears of corn. Rinse in cold water, remove and drain. Dry well.

  2. Shell and de-vein the prawns, then cut each one in half lengthways. Cut each scallop into 3-4 coin-shaped slices. Mix the prawns and scallops with the egg white and about half of the cornflour paste.

  3. Heat the oil in a pre-heated wok until medium hot, then blanch the seafood for about 30-40 seconds, remove and drain.

  4. Pour off the excess oil, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the wok, add the ginger and spring onions to flavour the oil first, then add the vegetables, stir-fry for about 1 minute, then add the salt and sugar. Continue stirring for another minute, then add the seafood, oyster sauce and wine, blend well and add the stock; thicken the gravy with the remaining cornflour paste, add the sesame oil and serve hot.


Recipe © Deh-Ta Hsiung 2004


Steamed Chicken With Chinese Mushrooms


The original recipe calls for the chicken to be chopped through the bone. Here we can use filleted thigh meat without skin.

450g (1lb) chicken thigh meat

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 tablespoon light soy

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine

2 teaspoon cornflour

4-6 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked

1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger

salt and pepper to taste

sesame oil to garnish

  1. Cut the chicken meat into small bite-size pieces and marinate with the sugar, soy, wine and cornflour for 25-30 minutes.

  2. Squeeze dry the mushrooms, discard any hard stalks and thinly shred.

  3. Place the chicken pieces on a heat-proof plate, arrange the mushroom and ginger shreds on top. Garnish with salt and pepper and sesame oil. Place the plate on the rack inside a hot steamer and cook over high heat for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

Recipe © Deh-Ta Hsiung 2004

Peking-Style Lamb In Sweet Bean Sauce


A classic dish from Northern China. The leeks can be substituted by spring onions if you prefer.

450g (1 lb) leg of lamb fillet

10g (¼ oz) dried black fungus (Wood Ears)

2 young leeks or 6-8 spring onions

about 600ml (1 pint) oil

a few small bits of ginger

2 tablespoons crushed yellow bean sauce

For the marinade:

¼ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon light soy

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine

1 tablespoon cornflour paste

1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Cut the lamb into small thin slices and marinate in the marinade for at least 2 hours – longer if possible.

  2. Soak the black fungus in warm water for 15-20 minutes, rinse, drain and discard any hard bits. Cut the leeks or spring onions into short sections.

  3. Heat the oil in a pre-heated wok until hot, blanch the lamb for about 1 minute, stirring to separate the slices; remove as soon as the colour changes, then drain.

  4. Pour off the excess oil, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the wok, add the ginger, leeks or spring onions and black fungus, stir-fry for about 1 minute, then add the yellow bean sauce, blend well; now add the lamb and continue stirring for another minute or so. Serve hot.


Recipe © Deh-Ta Hsiung 2004

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