Jostling his way through the aisles in between myriad food stalls, Gao Xiaosheng seemed to be at ease among squealing housewives bargaining with the vendors at Laoshan Wet Market, taking his time browsing over vegetables, seafood and other produce. The executive Chinese chef of Gui Hua Lou, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, visits the market almost every week to learn about the market and source the latest ingredients. Knowing the market like the back of his hand, Gao can easily tell where the vegetables and other goods sold here come from. “The secret to tell whether the green-leaf vegetables were grown in nature or in greenhouses is to look at their colors. The color of the veggies grown in greenhouses is usually even, while that of those grown outside is a bit streaky and varied in shape, due to uneven sunlight,” said the Yangzhou native who comes from a farmers’ family. As the mercury drops, the latest veggies coming into the market include pea sprouts, white turnips and radishes, bamboo shoots, tonghao (crowndaisy chrysanthemum) and qingcai, which is the most common green vegetable on Chinese dining table. White turnip and radish are among the main seasonal ingredients in autumn and winter. The root vegetables, which are “more nourishing even than ginseng after autumn,” help relieve cough, clean the lungs, reduce phlegm and improve digestion. The “cool” ingredients also help relieve internal heat and autumn dryness. There is a variety of white turnips and radishes on the market. Radish is usually marinated and made into a side dish for breakfast. Those long plump ones are best to stir-fry or make soup, which “taste like fruits,” Gao said. A kind of smaller, round turnips with fushcia skin is also commonly seen. It can be cut into shreds to stir-fry or mix with seasonings, chili or spring onion oil. “These are also good for making soup, especially for the elders, as they will become very tender after stewing with pork ribs for a long time,” he added. To pick the right turnip or radish, hold it in hand and feel the weight. Quality turnip has thin root and smooth skin. But the chef said it’s still not the best season for these veggies. “The most savory winter bamboo shoots will come in late November and December. And only after the frost falls will veggies taste best, a bit sweet and soft,” he added. Normally, the frost comes when the lowest temperature drops below 5 degrees Celsius. Right now, people can still grab the chance to savor those food that are about to exit the market, such as water chestnuts. The season for water chestnuts is July to October. The water plants vary in shapes; those with four pointed ends taste best — “sweet and crunchy,” said Louis Yang, Event chef de cuisine at Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai. Pick the water chestnuts that are in bright maroon, spotless on the surface. “They are good for skin, and help reduce the internal fire,” Yang said. November is also the time for shrimps, fish, hairy crabs and other seafood. Andaz recently added a typical Shanghai homemade soup noodle onto their menu that features yellow croaker. “The croakers for the soup noodle should not be too large, about 100g each will be best,” Yang said. Fresh croakers have shiny scales and bulged eyes, and should never smell too fishy, he added. They modify the process, fry the fillets before boiling with noodles to make it crispy on the outside but tender inside, according to the chef. Eel is another seasonal waterfood.
Yellow croaker noodle
25g pickled mustards, 100g small yellow croaker, 25g bamboo shoots, 5g spring onion, 5g ginger, 100g egg noodles, 5g pork oil, Water, Salt, Chicken powder, White pepper
1. Prepare small yellow croakers. Remove the fish bones and cut the croakers into fillets.
2. Chop the fish bones into small pieces and fry with ginger slices. Put in spring onions, rice wine. Add water to make fish soup.
3. While the soup is on the stove, marinate the fillets with ginger and spring onion shreds, salt and rice wine. Put aside for 15 minutes.
4. Fry the fillets till both sides turn into gold. 5. Fry pickled mustards and bamboo shoots with pork oil. Put it in fillets and fish soup, and cook with high heat. Simmer for another 5 minutes after the soup boils. Put in a dab of salt and white pepper to add flavor. 6. Cook noodles in another pot of boiling water. Put the noodles in a bowl when done, pour in soup, and put the fillets on the noodles. Spray a bit spring onion shreds.
Hualiang handmade egg noodle is best served with this dish. They use duck eggs instead of chicken eggs to make noodle. The noodles can stay intact for 10 minutes without sticking together in the soup.
Wok-fried duck eggs with hairy crab paste in mini buns
1. Prepare eels. Remove the bones and skins. Cut into slices and put into iced water for about 1 hour. Dry the eel slices, and starch.
2. Deep fry the eels. Drain the oil. Fry with vinegar, soy sauce, oyster oil and sugar. Starch.
3. Add in pine nuts and stir-fry.
Add a bit of vinegar to remove the fishy smell of eels. Vinegar also breaks down the fiber of eels to make the meat more tender. Chef Gao pairs the dish with tart to enrich flavors. You can use the base of egg tarts to simplify the process.