Tuesday, January 04, 2011


While discussing wonton soup in a previous post, I mentioned an ingredient that is often used in the soup: dried flounder. It is not used in any great quantity, but for that real Cantonese taste it is absolutely essential.

This disgusted one of my readers.

Zheng Xie wrote: "Dried fish? Huh, typical. Probably stinky for words. I'll stick with steamed dumplings."

His name and attitude suggest that he is a northerner. And I may have been guilty of eliciting just such a loaded reaction by advertent snarkiness about his kind in that post.....

"Northern dumpling filling always includes chopped cabbage, garlic, and other stuff that to the southern mind has absolutely no business being there."

Mo yi-si ah, chan oi dik pakfong yan, but it's a valid opinion!


The taste contribution of dried flounder (左口魚 jorhau yu, 大地魚 daidei yu), roasted or fried before added, is not particularly 'fishy'. Rather, like many other dried seafood products, it contributes a unifying flavour and hint of sweet savouriness most complimentary to the other ingredients. The roasting or frying process mellows the dried fish and makes it easy to pulverize or crumble.
Per person per serving the quantity is in fact minute - probably less than half a teaspoon at best.

"Dried fish, huh, typical, probably stinky for words."

Dried flounder is also used in the form of little fried flakes in a number of simple vegetable dishes - such things as mustard greens (芥蘭 gai-lan), asparagus (蘆筍 lo-seun) or even little cabbages (小白菜 siu paktsoi) benefit from the inclusion of a small amount of dried flounder.

Just remove any scales and bones from the fish pieces if they're supposed to remain in the dish - if you are making stock, that isn't really necessary, as you will be straining it anyhow.
Fry the dried flounder crispy, but do not let it blacken. If you're making a supply of powder for future use, let the pieces dry on kitchen paper, then grind them fine. Otherwise, simply add them to the food during a moist stage, to let the flavours meld.
A few small pieces for the soup or added to one of the various should be perfect.
About one or two teaspoons (or more, if you really have a gevaldikke taam) for the entire dish.


About that unusual term in the title of this post: Harðfiskur is an Icelandic term for various kinds of dried fish. Seeing as Zheng Xie voiced a very northern bias, it seemed appropriate to throw in a word from a very Northern language.
Should make him feel right at home.

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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


petercc said...

Hi Fellow Ex-Pat,

I'm from HK but migrated to Sydney, Australia some 35 yrs ago. It was only the other day that I finally found the elusive secret ingrdient to the authentic HK Wonton Soup. I read that you could also add Dried Shrimp Roe. That started my relentless search for Dried Flounder Fish Powder, as I thought you can buy the powder form in Chinese Supermarkets in Sydney. After ventured to over 10 shops, I have given up the search. Can you tell me if the Dried Flounder Powder actually exist? Or should I follow your advice and buy the Dried Flounder (which is readily available), deep fry it, let it cool and then put it through the blender to make a powder? I should I store the powder and how long would it keep?

Thanks in advance for your advice.


The back of the hill said...

Actually, it is probably easier to just have a dried flounder in a plastic bag in your pantry, and break off a piece as needed, to be dry-fried or toasted as needed. It keeps far longer in whole dry form than after it has been fried and pulverized, and preparing it for cooking purposes only takes a few minutes.

It's available wherever there's a Cantonese community, usually called 大地魚 (dai dei yu). I've seen jars of pulverized toasted flounder, but never bought it in that form, not knowing how old the product was. Many dried ingredients go bad if stored too long as a powder, but keep nearly forever if whole. If you make the powder yourself it is probably best to keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a month.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen flounder powder yet. Got mine in a bag and fried them in oil then ground em up. Nutty goodness. PRC, ROC, SAR, and maybe even JPN and ROK need to get together to do a DOC thing. There are some foods too good to have to worry about some crazies adding formaldehyde as a nutrient supplement.

Anonymous said...

tastes like bacon. would just sub with bacon bits. everything's better with bacon. even wontons.

The back of the hill said...

Actually, I often use crumbled up real bacon when preparing certain sauteed vegetables. Where flounder crumbles would work as well.

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