Cioppino – San Franciscan Fish Stew

PB and I are part of a fantastic group of foodies who love anything to do with good food, and we’ve combined spending time with close friends, the love of cooking, and the love of eating into a fabulous dinner party circuit! We all take turns to cook dinner parties for the 8 of us, and each time a different theme is chosen. In the first round of dinners, we determined the theme should be food from each of our cultural backgrounds, and so mine was a mishmash amalgamation of Chinese, Indonesian and English. We are now on the 2nd round, and this time, we put countries into a hat and tried our luck.

I managed to pick America, and at first I was uninspired by it. Rather, the idea behind our parties is that we go all out, we create and print menus, we cook for hours, and we choose to make dishes that create a lasting memory of the evening  – hamburgers, fried chicken and nachos just weren’t going to cut it.

I found this CNN article listing the Top 50 American Foods, and it was a great inspiration – some of the things on the list I hadn’t even heard of, the most tasty looking one being #28 – cioppino. Judging from it’s name, it has no place being called an ‘American dish’, but it is indeed an Italian-American dish invented in San Francisco in the late 1800’s. The dish is comparable to a French Bouillabaisse, and was apparently created by a famed Italian fishmonger, who would make it from any leftovers of the catch of the day.

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Cioppino – Seafood Stew

Typically, cioppino is made with a firm white fish, some mollusks (mussels, scallops or clams) and shellfish (crab, prawns or even lobster if you’re feeling generous). The recipe below was with halibut, prawns and clams, but next time I’ll try to add some scallops too, as well as increase the amount of the cooking broth to have a more soupy consistency.  Basically, you can throw whatever you want in there – this recipe is simple, easy and super tasty. Believe me.

The broth can be prepared in advance and then finished 15 minutes before sitting down at the table.

Cioppino  – San Fransisco Seafood Stew
(adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com)
Serves 8 as a starter, or 4 as a main course

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 fresh bay leaf (or dried if unavailable)
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes with juice, crushed
1 3/4 cups dry white wine
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup bottled clam juice **
24 littleneck clams **, scrubbed well
450g halibut ** (or other firm, skinless white fish fillets such as red snapper or sea bass), cut into bite-size pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
24 large shrimp **, peeled and deveined, tails left on if desired
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

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Pan-seared Scallops – Minted Peas – Pancetta

I was very keen to try making this dish after eating it at Ripples Milsons Point in Sydney. It’s not a revolutionary recipe and it’s been around for yonks, but it doesn’t take that much time to prepare and is actually quite a simple recipe in terms of it’s components and cooking method.

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Scallops, minted peas and pancetta served on a block on Himalayan pink salt with truffled cream

Believe it or not, I have never attempted to cook scallops before, one of the easiest things too cook and actually not as expensive as I thought they would be. I cleared out the scallops at GrEAT and bought 12 pieces of scallop meat for HK$282 to cook as a starter portion for 4 people. It is a dish that feels quite grand, will impress your guests, and you can have a little silent chuckle with yourself whilst they eat it up, because it was just that easy to make.

The petits pois were in the freezer – smaller than the US brands of frozen green peas, they are picked young when they are sweeter. I find they keep their colour better, and are more crisp. The bacon was in the fridge too, so I used that instead of pancetta. You could use pancetta cubes as well if you want. The truffle cream is not necessary, but it looks pretty on the plate if you can be bothered. I had black truffle paste in the fridge from a previous dinner party, so I stirred that into some crème fraîche and hey presto!

Allow me to digress, but whenever I hear the words ‘crème fraîche’, I am always reminded of that hilarious South Park episode featuring an emotional Jamie Oliver, an aggressively passionate Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batalli, Paula Dean and Giada de Laurentiis – and let’s not forget the  Shake Weight. Or the cream freeeesh. Definitely one of my favorite episodes!


Ok, now back to the cooking – try out the recipe, you won’t regret it. This recipe serves 4 as a starter.

You’ll need:

4 rashers of pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
12 scallops
25g unsalted butter
salt and ground black pepper

For the Minted Pea Purée:
50g unsalted butter
6 spring onions, finely sliced (I used 3/4 of an onion, which is also fine)
200g petits pois
1 tsp caster sugar
275ml chicken stock
2 tbsp mint, leaves only, rough chopped
80ml double cream

Method:

Make the minted pea purée. Melt half of the butter until hot and foaming in a deep skillet and soften the onions. Add the petits pois, sugar, stock and the rest of the butter. Make a drop lid from greaseproof paper: cut off a piece just bigger than the skillet, fold it in quarters and use scissors to cut the edge in a circular shape. Cover the peas with the drop lid and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

(Drop lids help to cook evenly, and also preserve the bright colour of the peas.)

Remove the drop lid, stir in the mint and cream and cook briskly for a further minute or so until the liquid has almost all evaporated. Pour the pea mixture into a food processor and blitz into a purée that still has a bit of chunk to it. Set aside.

Cook the scallops and the bacon. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, heat a griddle pan and melt 25g of unsalted butter, then sear the scallops for one minute on each side. If there are one or two pieces that are a bit bigger then cook them for a little longer, but don;t be tempted to cook for too long – they’ll get rubbery. Meanwhile, fry up the bacon.

Plate it up – I did it exactly like they did at Ripples in the picture above. It was so good that I didn’t have time to take a picture!

♥♥♥ Enjoy! ♥♥♥

Ripples on Sydney Harbour

But calm and lucid as an English lake,
Beloved by beams and wooed by wind and wing,
Shut in from tempest-trampled wastes of wave,
And sheltered from white wraths of surge by walls—
Grand ramparts founded by the hand of God,
The lordly Harbour gleams. Yea, like a shield
Of marvellous gold dropped in his fiery flight
By some lost angel in the elder days,
When Satan faced and fought Omnipotence,
It shines amongst fair, flowering hills, and flows
By dells of glimmering greenness manifold.
And all day long, when soft-eyed Spring comes round
With gracious gifts of bird and leaf and grass—
And through the noon, when sumptuous Summer sleeps
By yellowing runnels under beetling cliffs,
This royal water blossoms far and wide
With ships from all the corners of the world.

From the poem, Sydney Harbour, by Henry Kendall.

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Going under the bridge for the short ride across the harbour to Luna Park

There is little wonder why Sydney Harbour is known as the most beautiful natural harbour in the world. As a Hong Konger, I’d like to proclaim the same about my harbour, but apples to apples, it doesn’t make the cut. Perhaps I am lucky to always visit in the autumn, when the sun shines brightly and the breezes are cool, but I have fallen in love with this city, so much so that I am reading poems about it!

On the final day of our visit, we boarded a ferry named Alexander (like my brother!)  for lunch at Ripples Milsons Point Luna Park, which is the first stop on the Darling Harbour service and a short 7 minute chug across the harbour.  We had been recommended to go there by a friend, who mentioned that there is a smarter restaurant above called Aqua, but that Ripples on the ground level was casual, well-priced and yet served great food.

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Circular Quay and a blue, blue sky as we leave the terminal

This is what we saw as we approached on the ferry – a huge smiling face with great big teeth between two Empire State Building-esk towers and a colourful ferris wheel! In this computer-reliant age, I am guilty of being one of those people that googles everything before I visit it. The experience is akin to film versus digital photography – sure, it’s nice to be able to check your screen to see if your photo turned out well.  But don’t you sometimes miss that excitement and anticipation of picking up the little envelope of photos after developing your roll of film, wondering how they look and even surprising yourself with photos that you didn’t recall taking?  Well, this time, I didn’t google anything before our lunch, so you can imagine the surprise and glee when I realised that Luna Park wasn’t of the garden variety, but a huge colourful theme park – I felt like a little girl again, for a few moments! My mother mentioned that she used to love coming here when she was younger, and the look of nostalgia that crossed over her face was heart-warming.

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Luna Park

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The entrance to Luna Park

North Sydney Olympic Pool

From sydneywebcam.blogspot.com – a wonderful blog site that used to publish a photo of Sydney every day, but for some reason stopped in 2006. I’m tempted to write to him and ask him to continue where he left off!

The restaurant is situated next to the North Sydney Olympic Pool, most likely the most scenic public pool in Sydney, perhaps the world! Ripples is located on the bottom left-hand corner of the pool, and used to be where the pool kiosk was located.It was transformed in to an alfresco restaurant in 2002,which serves casual Australian fare with seasonal ingredients, with a view to die for.

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Ripples Milsons Point

We ordered a bottle of Rosé and a selection of food to share between the three of us. Apart from pavlova, I can’t think of a particular dish that represents Australian cuisine, like France has coq au vin, Italy has pasta, or the Philippines has adobo. When I think of Australian cuisine, I think of BBQs, seafood, and I think of the most fresh ingredients that I have tasted, ingredients that taste of sunshine. So for me, that is what Australia has – sunshine, on a plate.

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Scallops – minted peas – pancetta – truffle cream AUD$21 (HK$170)

The scallops were served on a block of Himalayan pink salt – stunning! I need to get me some of those! The scallops were bouncy and full of delicate flavour. I have always loved this combination of scallops, mint and pancetta and this dish does not disappoint. In fact, we liked it so much that we immediately ordered another one!

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Sashimi – avocado – cucumber – ginger AUD 22 (HK$ 177)

I was a bit reluctant to order sashimi, particularly because we eat so much of it at home, but my mum insisted, and I’m glad that she did. First of all, the fish was served almost at room temperature, which was actually quite nice and different from your usual sashimi experience. The kingfish had a nice fresh flavour, and I loved that avo (avocado for us non-Australians) and ginger flavour. I’m definitely trying to replicate this at my next dinner party!

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Fish of the day?

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Aracini – tomato – basil – mozzarella AUD 18 (HK$ 145)

We had a thing with risotto balls during this trip, and these ones were certainly very different to the ones that we tried at Berta (post coming soon). I’m not usually a fan of risotto, or risotto balls by extension, but the rice was tender and the center of melted mozzarella was a really nice surprise –  I like dem Aussie risotto balls!

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Whitebait – lime mayo AUD 9.50 (HK$ 76)

From the ‘nibbles & sharing” section of the menu, the whitebait was crispy and quite meaty as far as the small fish goes, with a nice and very dip-able dip – with all that mayo, it probably wasn’t a good idea to dip at the frequency that we were dipping …

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Fish n Chips AUD 26 (HK$ 209)

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Tai Hang Eats: Katte Shabu Shabu

It’s starting to get HOT ‘n SUNNY, Hong Kong! Could this mean the first scorching Rugby 7’s weekend that we’ve seen in a few years (fingers crossed)? One can hope … still, you may have a week or two to sneak in some tummy-warming shabu shabu sessions before the real heat comes. We paid our first visit to Katte Shabu Shabu a couple of weekends ago with our foodie friends and sat at the 8 person counter table. Each setting is complete with your own electric hot plate which heats your individual hot pot – a nice touch! It was better to not have to share, and a smaller and shallower bowl means you can keep better track of what goes into your pot.

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We all started off with a chilled glass of Hitachino Nest White Ale, a superbly refreshing and surprisingly tasty beer with hints of orange! I’m not a huge beer drinker but am always up for a Japanese brew, as I find they tend to be more delicately flavoured. You can find the beers at several restaurants around town, and if you’re a real enthusiast, you can place an order with their Hong Kong distributor GoTech Limited, and have it delivered straight to your front door! All information is available on their very well designed (and dare I say cute) website.

 

hitachino nest beer

The menu is designed so that you order a Shabu Shabu Dinner Set each. Some of us went for the Deluxe Set, which features A5 Kyushu Beef Sirloin/Ribeye in 80g (HK$380) or 150g (HK$600) portions. Others opted for the Seafood Set: oyster, prawn and 200g of horsehair crab for HK$480. The menu states that the Seafood Set has to be ordered 12 hours in advance (!!), but we didn’t have an issue. I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of it, but it was a very generous plate of quality fresh seafood, and each set comes with assorted raw vegetables, noodles, soup and a dessert.

The Japanese take their beef very seriously such that some beef connoisseurs might even be able to differentiate the type of animal and the terroir which it was reared on! Let’s get our terminology straight here – the term ‘wagyu’ refers literally to ‘Japanese cows’. Within the wagyu umbrella are several breeds of cattle, which are often referred to in name by the prefecture that produced them. There are a few different types of cattle that are reared on the island of Kyushu, and it wasn’t specified which one we were eating at Katte.

‘A5’ refers to the Japanese Wagyu Beef Grading classification, A5 being the best standard of beef that you can get your hands on! The grading is determined by the yield grade A-C and quality (referring to marbling) grade 1-5 of the beef. Here’s more information if you’re interested!

If you want to know more, Asia Tatler has written a great article about Wagyu Beef.

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A large portion of vegetables, making this quite a healthy meal!

Some of us chose the Red Snapper broth, whilst others chose the Sukiyaki broth. The Red Snapper broth was milky white in colour and quite mild in taste in the beginning, but never have I drank so much broth at the end of my meal! Once we had our full and the dipping subsided, the broth had absorbed all the flavour of the veggies, beef and seafood such that it’s taste is so wonderful that you can’t stop dunking your spoon. The Sukiyaki broth was also surprisingly nice, not too sweet and actually preferable for dipping the pork slices and seafood. If two of you are dining together, I would suggest getting one of each broth and trying them both.

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From the Dinner Set: Clam Soup

The clam soup almost too delicately flavoured. It was a nice way to warm up the stomach before starting with the shabu shabu, but other than that, nothing to write home about. And giving you one clam is a bit stingy!!

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The $600 set comes with 5-6 slices of A5 Kyushu beef

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The $380 Deluxe Set comes with 3 slices of A5 Kyushu beef

I didn’t want to be limited to just eating beef or seafood, so I decided to take the smaller beef set, and for the same price as the larger set, I ordered a selection of other things from the hot pot and kushiyaki menus. Having reviewed the photos afterwards, my beef looked much more marbled then the other beef – why the discrepancy I wonder?

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From the Hot Pot Menu: Japanese Pork Slices HK$150

The Japanese pork slices were very flavourful and although a bit chewy, they were excellent dipped in the Sukiyaki broth!

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From the Hot Pot menu: Scallops HK$60

These scallops are humongous! I feel that scallops really shine the most when they are grilled, and it was almost a waste to dip them in a hot pot. Nevertheless, they were nice and meaty, and a generous portion for $60.

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From the Kushiyaki menu: Grilled Ox Tongue with Salt HK$46 per skewer

The Ox Tongue was really well seasoned and whilst one or two of the pieces were a bit chewy, the rest was nice and tender and definitely up there as one of the better Ox Tongue kushiyaki that I have tried. Definitely better than the ones at Kushiyaki Beco, though not as amazing as the ones at 3 Monkeys.

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