Cooking with pebbles sets the food sizzling without overcooking it
By Wong Ah Yoke, 26 June 2005
CHINA never ceases to amaze with its treasure trove of culinary secrets. For most of us who have not really explored the country, what we think we know of Chinese cuisine is really pittance. Many ingredients and dishes are indigenous to specific regions and not seen elsewhere.
ON THE ROCKS : These drunken prawns cooked with heated pebbles are succulent. Just don't swallow the stones as well.
Even cooking styles can be unique to certain areas.
But with more people visiting China for both work and pleasure, the country is slowly yielding its secrets. And some have made their way here.
Among them is a unique way of cooking with stones that was introduced by Min Jiang at the Goodwood Park Hotel this month.
Unlike Western hot stone restaurants here which cook thin slices of meat and seafood on a heated stone, the Sichuan method is totally different.
First, some pebbles are heated to a high temperature and brought to the table in a pot. Raw meat and some oil or sauce are then added to them.
The heat sets everything sizzling and after a few stirs, the food is ready to be served.
The whole thing may look gimmicky but there are good reasons for this method of cooking.
First, the food does not get overcooked this way. The pebbles are hot enough to cook it just right.
Secondly, they help to keep the dish warm slightly longer as they still retain a bit of heat even after the cooking.
Another advantage is that any waitress can do the simple cooking at the table. The flavouring, however, lies in the expertise of the chef. It also helps if the meat or seafood is absolutely fresh.
Min Jiang scores on all counts.
It offers 10 different dishes in its hot pebbles menu, with three variations on the cooking method.
The first involves cooking the food in hot oil. For this, I'd recommend the sea perch fillet ($26).
Despite being covered with hot oil during the cooking, the completed dish does not taste very oily. Instead, the fish gets a very smooth texture.
Tossed with bits of ginger and onion, it is also very fragrant. Two different dips are provided for the dish, but its natural flavours are so wonderful that they are unnecessary.
For the second method, the meat is fried with the pebbles and a sauce is poured over to finish the dish. The beef tenderloin ($28) turns out very well, with the meat tender and juicy.
If you want something with stronger flavour, the black bean sauce used to cook the pork ribs ($24) would be the one to go for.
The third method is a flambe. For this, try the drunken live prawns ($28). The sweet prawns turn out perfect each time.
The only problem is that the sizzling creates fumes. And as the dish is cooked with dried chilli, the fumes can set off a bout of sneezing.
The restaurant has come up with an elegant solution to this problem. It provides diners ordering the hot pebble dishes with a Chinese fan. You can use it to fan away the fumes and protect your face from any splatter.
There is one thing the people at Min Jiang have not thought necessary to warn you of though. Do not eat the stones.
Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road
Opening hours: 11am to 2.15pm, 6 to 10.15pm
Price: Slightly high. Each dish, enough for two to four persons, ranges from $24 to $32. Be prepared to pay at least $40 per person for a decent meal.