Ching-He Huang: 'I put seaweed paste on porridge, which is wrong but delicious'
Sunday 08 May 2011
My earliest food memory... Sitting on my grandmother's knee in southern Taiwan, watching her wrap glutinous rice dumplings called zongzi in preparation for the Dragon Boat Festival. The other memory I have is trying avocados for the first time after we moved to South Africa when I was six. My mum's friend came over with two of them and slathered them all over bread. My mum took a bite and thought it was gross but then after [the friend] had left, she fried an egg, put it on top and then put some soy sauce on it. It's still one of my favourite breakfasts.
My store-cupboard essentials... All the usual Chinese ingredients: light and dark soy sauce, rice wine and bean paste. And I always have packets of miso from the Japanese supermarket, which provide a great foundation for noodle soups. I also love momoya, a Japanese seaweed paste: it's really salty; I like to put it on rice and sometimes on porridge, which is a bit wrong but delicious.
My favourite cookbook... Jamie's 30-Minute Meals (Michael Joseph, £26) by Jamie Oliver: it's a brilliant idea done really well. The Nobu cookbook is really aspirational; I do love my Japanese food, because Taiwan was occupied by Japan for 50 years, and it has some of the best outside of Japan. Also, The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (William Morrow, £22.50): she's a very traditional Chinese chef and that's where I go time and time again for inspiration and extra knowledge.
The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My Chinese cleaver. I picked it up from a Chinese supermarket when I started my food business, and it's the best tool for everything: mincing, chopping, slicing, hacking, and scooping ingredients off the chopping board, as well as fending off burglars!
My culinary tip... For Chinese food, you have to make sure the wok's hot enough. People are scared of heating it up to full heat as they think they're going to burn the ingredients, but if you don't, you won't get that smoky wok flavour which is what we call wok hei and is the essence which gives Chinese dishes that X factor.
My top table... Fine dining isn't really me, and I prefer good, honest food with no pretensions. The Far East Chinese Bakery [13 Gerrard Street, London W1] does the best wonton soup with the juiciest wontons and, round the corner, Joy King Lau [3 Leicester Street, London WC2] does really good-quality dim sum.
My desert-island dish... Ants Climbing Trees would be cool, given the location: it's a stir-fried noodle dish, a bit like a Chinese spaghetti bolognese, with minced beef or pork, fresh tomatoes, chillies and Chinese seasonings. I also add very fine green peppers, spring onions and some mung-bean noodles.
My guilty pleasure... Oysters, whether they're fresh out of the sea or fried tempura-style with a Thai dressing or steamed with egg. Also, experimenting with ice-cream; I've got vats of different types in my freezer, including azuki red bean and sweetcorn ice-cream.
The strangest thing i've eaten... Squid sperm sacs. I ate them in Hong Kong scrambled with egg and Chinese chives, and they smelt a bit off.
My pet hates... People who wash up then leave the dishes on the side without rinsing them: they get smelly and then, when you're eating a dish, all you can taste is soap. Rinse, please! Also, chefs who say they don't wash mushrooms: it's meant to be a faux pas, because they act like a sponge and absorb too much water, but if you don't, you can blatantly see bits of manure or soil on them.
My tipple of choice... I love making my own oriental Pimm's with fresh lychee, pineapple, mango and kiwi to give it that exotic twist, then serving it with a little Chinese umbrella.
Ching-He Huang is a food writer and TV chef. Her third book, 'Ching's Fast Food' (HarperCollins, £20), is out now
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