Photography and Written by George Tang @ George Kitchen
In the 1990s, Master Xie, the owner of Mui Fa Chuen Restaurant, moved from his hometown to Hong Kong. Over the last 16 years, he has served in restaurants, large and small, mastering Teochew, Cantonese, and Hakka cuisines. Master Xie likes to soak in the sea breeze along the seaside promenade not far from his restaurant or go fishing with friends, and shop at the nearby market after breakfast. Hence, he has got acquainted with the stall owners in the market and the kaifong in the neighbourhood. Also, his restaurant mainly serves the kaifong in the community, and his oyster congee entices most customers.
Signature Teochew Cuisine in its Own Class
In the old days, when refrigerators were not common, brining was a primary way to preserve food. According to Master Xie, brining is an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master technique. The master stock of Mui Fa Chuen Restaurant alone comprises 26 kinds of herbal ingredients. Master Xie explained that cooking the food before brining cannot unleash the full flavour. Instead, foods need to be marinated in and braised with herbal ingredients to soak up all the essence. Chinese master stock sublimes with time by repeated braising, which is why many master chefs say that it is the treasure of a Chinese restaurant that sustains several generations of a chef family.
Master Xie said that people in the past had to work night and day. Oftentimes, they could only savour cooled-down dishes. Nevertheless, they found that cold foods are not bad at all; for example, fish tastes sweeter and fresher when eaten cold. That’s why Teochew people love cold food. They have various ways of preparing prawns, such as frying them in Typhoon Shelter Style or salt and pepper, but the saltiness and umami of the prawns are most prominent when eaten cold. As for frozen crabs, there is a species of crab that is particularly salty. Unlike most crabs commonly found in Hong Kong, which are suitable for steaming in double boilers, this kind of crab is best suited for broiling. Regarding the big eyes, although Teochew people prepare them according to the storage methods, it is essential to remove the fishy flavour of the frozen ones. Besides, Teochew people are also particular about seasonal foods; they only savour mantis shrimps, butterfly mussels, and other delicacies when they are in season. Owing to the rich and tangy relishes of Teochew dishes, Master Xie served me a cup of Kung Fu tea with triple concentration before and after my meal, which significantly improved my digestion and reduced stagnation.
Speciality Hakka Cuisine
As a Hakka, what Master Xie misses most are the stuffed bean curd and firewood smoked fish from his hometown, as well as his signature Hakka dish: deep-fried oyster cake—the favourite dish of Master Xie’s mother. Master Xie revealed that intense heat, excessive sweet potato flour, and fresh oysters of grade 5 or above are the secret to his awarded deep-fried oyster cake. He also shared with me his recipe for cooking the Salt-Baked Chicken in Hakka Style with a domestic rice cooker: Pick a 1.5 catties chicken that is not too fatty and cook it in a rice cooker with the bottom filled with shallots for 20 minutes without adding any water nor oil.
French Fusion Salt-Crusted Chicken
After scrutinising Master Xie’s meticulous cooking skills and learning his secret recipes, I have become concise about his love of cooking. Having grown up in a heritage walled village, I take great pleasure in mixing and matching the elements of the walled village, Hakka, and fusion French cuisines to create new dishes, and the salt-baked chicken is undoubtedly one of my favourite homely dishes. Inspired by Master Xie’s Hakka-style Salt-Baked Chicken, I have developed a recipe named French Fusion Salt-Crusted Chicken. For this one-of-a-kind recipe, I have picked some of the herbs commonly found in the Bouquet Garni in French cuisine, including thyme, rosemary, leeks, coriander, and bay leaves, as the substitution of sand ginger for marinating the chicken. By mixing the marinade with yam dices and cooked rice as the stuffing and baking the chicken under an egg white shell instead of baking papers covered with salt, I am pleased to present the French Fusion Salt-Crusted Chicken in walled village style.
1 French spring chicken, about 1-1.2 kg
5 egg whites, keep 1 egg yolk for stuffing
20g kosher salt
1 stick rosemary, chopped
8 strips thyme, chopped
½ tsp table salt
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sherry wine/ Chinese cooking wine
⅛ tsp ground black pepper
20g leeks, green parts, cut into thin strips
30g carrot, shredded
½ small onion, thin-slice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 stalks thyme with stems
½ stalk rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch coriander, leaves only,
keep the stem aside for rice stuffing
60g hot cooked rice
30g yam, cut into little dices
1 egg yolk