At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

HO SI FAT CHOI 好事發財 DRIED OYSTERS WITH BLACK MOSS

Probably the most Cantonese of good luck New Year dishes is the combination of dried oysters and black moss - neither of which are used by many Caucasians for some weird reason.
Both ingredients add their own unique characteristics to a dish, and they are delicious in combination.


BLACK MOSS

Nostoc flagelliforme, called hair vegetable in Chinese (髮菜 fat choi), is a cyanobacterium which grows low to the ground in arid regions. Because harvesting it is labour intensive, and the supply is naturally limited to begin with and getting more so due to high demand, it tends to be expensive. Prices vary between four and ten dollars per tael.

[TAEL: 兩 or 两 (leung): 37¾ grammes ~ 1.3 oz.]

The hair-like strands of black moss resemble steel wool in appearance and general dimensions, and are a dark green that verges on black when dry, dull greenish when wet. Lower grades are often adulterated with a dyed starch-strand imitation that appears jet-black and darkens the soaking water, and bargain black moss may in fact be mostly or entirely ersatz.

Black moss needs to be soaked for a few hours, and well-rinsed to get rid of sand, before use. If blanched in boiling water after rehydrating, the cooking time is shortened.
It is available in packets of one or two taels. Sealed against moisture it will keep for well over a year.

As a food it has no nutritional value whatsoever, is not really digestible, and is in fact mildly toxic, containing an amino acid which could adversely affect the normal function of nerve cells, possibly leading to dementia.
That does not appear to have significantly impacted anyone I know, and one would probably have to consume quite a bit for that ill-effect to be a problem for anyone other than the very rich and self-indulgent.
One minor benefit is that it helps the stomach cope with food impurities.

Black moss is used primarily for texture and appearance, and soaks up the flavours of sauces very nicely.
What makes it exceptionally desirable, especially for dishes served at New Year or at celebratory events, is that the name in Cantonese is homophonous with the term for getting rich.
Combined with dried oysters (蠔豉), the term for which sounds precisely like 'good affairs' (好事), you get the phrase 'ho si fat choi' - 好事發財 - expressing the wish that business should flourish.



HO SI FAT CHOI 好事發財
Family style dried oysters, pork, dried mushrooms, and black moss.

One pound streaky pork belly (五花腩 ng fa nam), left whole.
A small handful (about a quarter of a 兩) of black moss (髮菜 fat choi).
A dozen dried oysters (蠔豉 ho si).
3 - 5 dried shiitake mushrooms (冬菇 dong gu).
2 or 3 cloves garlic.
A small thumblength ginger.
A little bit of ground pepper and a pinch of five spice powder.
Half cup soy sauce.
Half cup sherry or rice wine.
Half cup stock or water.

Soak the black moss, dried oysters, and shiitake separately for an hour or so. Rinse the black moss and the oysters to remove sand or grit.
Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.
Whack the garlic and ginger with the flat side of a cleaver, but do not smash them.

Heat a little oil in a wok. Gild the garlic and ginger briefly, remove from pan and set aside.
Fry the piece of pork on all sides until the colour has changed and it is fragrant - drain off any excess grease that melted out.
Add the mushrooms, as well as the garlic and ginger, quick-fry briefly. Then add the oysters, liquids, and spices. Simmer for forty five minutes or so. Add the black moss, and cook for about twenty minutes more. Add water if necessary to keep the dish moist.
Arrange on a platter, garnish with cilantro or spring onion.

The pork should be soft enough that it can be broken with chopsticks or cut with a spoon, but you may wish to slice it for better presentation. This is enough for four people, but keeps well if there are any leftovers.


HO SI FAT CHOI 好事發財
Restaurant style dried oysters with black moss.

A dozen dried oysters (蠔豉 ho si).
8 black mushrooms (冬菇 dong gu).
A small handful (about a quarter of a 兩) of black moss (髮菜 fat choi).
Half cup superior stock.
Two TBS oyster sauce.
One Tsp. sugar.
One Tsp. sesame oil.
One Tsp. cornstarch mixed in a tablespoon water.

Soak the black moss, dried oysters, and shiitake separately for an hour or so. Rinse the black moss and the oysters to remove sand or grit.
Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

Briefly stirfry the soaked oysters, add the mushrooms, chicken stock, oyster sauce, sugar, mushroom soaking water, and fatchoi. Simmer until the mushrooms are soft. Add in the cornstarch water and sesame oil, stir till slick, and plate it.
Garnish with cilantro or spring onion.


FAT CHOI JAU SAU 發財就手
Wealth right into the hand: pig's trotter with black moss and dried oyster.

One pig's trotter, rinsed scalded and scrubbed.
A dozen dried oysters (蠔豉 ho si).
A small handful (about a quarter of a 兩) of black moss (髮菜 fat choi).
Six to ten baby bokchoy.
A few slices of ginger.
Quarter cup sherry or rice wine.
Quarter cup superior stock.
Two TBS oyster sauce.
One TBS soy sauce.
One Tsp. sugar.

Soak the black moss and dried oysters separately for an hour or so. Rinse the black moss and the oysters to remove sand or grit.

Place the trotter with some salt and a little oil in a wok, and tumble-fry it till it is well coloured and aromatic. Remove from pan and set aside. Wipe pan, add a little oil, and gild the ginger. Add the oysters, stir-fry briefly, seethe with the sherry. Add the trotter, stock, sugar, and water to keep it fairly soupy. Decant to a clay pot or casserole and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours.
Add the black moss, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and cook for another fifteen or twenty minutes.
Rinse and blanch the baby bokchoy, use them to rim a serving plate. Scoop the stew into the centre of the plate. Garnish with cilantro or spring onion.

The knuckle should be soft enough that it can be taken apart with chopsticks.

If you really want to play on the symbolism, you could serve a stirfried dish with carrot disks alongside.



NOTES:
日本蠔豉 (yat bun ho si): The best kinds of dried oysters come from Japan (日本), are nicely plump, show no damage, and are even and regular in appearance. As usual, you get what you pay for - it's worth spending a bit more.

髮菜 (fat choi): Nostoc flagelliforme.
Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_choy
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostoc

好事發財 (ho si fat choi): 好 ho: good; to love. 事 si: matter, affair. 發 fat: issue, send out, bring forth, occur, happen. 財 choi: money, wealth. 發財 fat choi: get rich.


For more on symbolic edibles, see this post:
Chinese New Year - Lucky wishes, lucky foods
http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2011/01/chinese-new-year-lucky-wishes-lucky.html

Concerning unfamiliar Chinese culinary substances:
Bird's nest - Shark fin - Sea cucumber
http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2010/11/chinese-slimy-things.html
Common flavouring ingredients
http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2010/10/dried-shrimp-chinese-cooking-fat-girls.html


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