|So . . . many months ago, I was in Chinatown chatting with Ben Top, a second-generation grocery store owner who does excellent Chinese BBQ. He has been my source for any small insight I have gained into Chinese cooking. He is exceedingly cryptic in his remarks: "Yeah, that's a good question . . . " and I have learned not to trust him about where to eat. ("Go to the Beijing, they're good friends of ours.") However, his gossip about what is going on in Chinatown is impeccable and he did give me a pint of his own stock of aged soy sauce "for dipping only, not cooking."
So, many months ago I mentioned that I get my chickens from my friend Phil who has a farm an hour from here and every once in a while when I go in, Ben says "Where's my chicken?" So I brought him one, frozen, about 4 to 5 pounds, "not big enough for salt-baked, you understand. But the right size for steaming." I had hoped for something BBQ but I wasn't going to tell Ben what to do; on the other hand, boiled chicken . . . not what I would consider a chart-buster.
Yesterday there is an email from Ben (through his kid's email address, which starts as 3violins@ . . . . Apparently all three of his kids are taking violin lessons and are giving local concerts). The message was simple: the chicken will be ready this afternoon.
We went down around 3 p.m. I chatted with Ben's wife while Ben disappeared down into the basement (I have been in that basement. There is alchemy down there). We were talking about where I could get a good soup in Chinatown ("Go to the Beijing," she said . . .) She said she had stopped making soup at home "Ben doesn't like that clear stuff. He tells the kids not to eat it. He only likes rice gruel with beans in it." Hmm, I thought, a congee lover, one of my favourite comfort foods.
Ben came back carrying the chicken in front of him. It was a slightly golden, very plump bird. He had steamed itbraised it actually, in a pot of chicken stock that has gone through several generations. "When the stock cools it gels." So not only was the flavour of Phil's chicken preserved, it was enriched. "Half for you, half for me, OK?" We brought it home with some fresh noodles and a few BBQd pork buns. I braised some endives, celery and red peppers in a little butter and salt (the endive becomes sweet. This is a wonderful dish, just make sure you cook them covered at a low temperature for at least 45 minutes.)
Today, hooray, leftovers.