Monday 20 November 2017

Eastern Promise

China's emperors were so fond of their chefs' work that they kept recipes secret for hundreds of years. With food as good as this, it's easy to see why

Aromatic crispy duck
Aromatic crispy duck
Sui Mai
Coconut King Prawns

This cookbook has been simmering for more than 100 years, with recipes written on the backs of envelopes and memorised as if they were nursery rhymes.

Writers Helen and Lisa Tse's great-grandmother, grandmother and mother are the unsung heroes behind most of these dishes, and the twin sisters have vowed to continue the family's culinary journey through their restaurant and range of sauces.

The sisters' grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as a servant after the murder of her father. Moving from Hong Kong to Manchester, she opened one of the city's first Chinese restaurants, where her daughter, Mabel, worked until they tragically lost the business.

Twins Helen and Lisa opened the Sweet Mandarin restaurant and became the third generation of women restaurateurs and the fourth generation to make a living from their sauces. The sisters are re-establishing their grandmother's dream.

'Sweet Mandarin Cookbook' by Helen and Lisa Tse, published by Kyle Books, €27.50 Photographs by Gareth Morgans


RECIPES from Helen and Lisa Tse

Aromatic crispy duck

This recipe for aromatic crispy duck is the Tse sisters' answer to Peking duck. The latter originated during the Yuan Dynasty and appeared on the imperial court menus for the Emperor of China. But the chefs were sworn to secrecy, and the recipe wasn't revealed until after the Republic of China was born in 1912, when the head chef started creating Peking Duck for the masses.

Dairy and egg-free

Serves two

Preparation time: 1½ hours

Cooking time: 45 minutes


320g duck legs, skin on

Cornflour, for dusting

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the marinade

1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns

1 tsp five-spice powder

2 star anise

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 tsp dark soy sauce

200ml water

For the pancakes

220g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

½ tsp salt

150-170ml boiling water

Sesame oil, for brushing

To serve

1 cucumber, cut into 0.5 x 7cm batons

4 spring onions, white part only, cut into 7cm lengths then quartered

Hoisin sauce


Score the duck skin all over in a criss-cross pattern. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the duck and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked through. Then remove the pan from the heat and set aside to marinate for 1 hour. While the duck is marinating, make the pancakes. Combine the flour, salt and boiling water in a bowl and mix together with a fork until the ingredients start to come together.

Use your hands to bring the dough into a ball, and then turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for five minutes until smooth, adding a little more water or flour if necessary.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Take the duck legs from the marinade and pat dry on kitchen paper. Transfer them to a plate and set aside to dry in the fridge, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Now your dough is ready to use. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, but not sticky. Roll out into a large rectangle, 2mm thick, and cut out small circles about 6cm in diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush a light coating of sesame oil over both sides.

To cook the pancakes, pan-fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, then layer them on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Heat 750ml vegetable oil over a high heat to 180°C. Deep-fry the duck for 8-10 minutes until it turns dark brown. Remove the crispy duck with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, patting it dry.

Transfer the duck to a plate and shred the flesh. Serve with the pancakes, cucumber, spring onions and Hoisin sauce.

GLUTEN-FREE VARIATION: Use a gluten-free barbecue sauce such as Sweet Mandarin Barbecue Dipping Sauce rather than Hoisin sauce. And use gluten-free flour rather than plain flour for the pancakes – or even substitute pancakes for lettuce for a healthy alternative.

Aromatic crispy duck

Coconut king prawns

Coconut King PrawnsI was working as a corporate lawyer for Clifford Chance in Hong Kong in 2002, and it gave Lisa an excuse to join me for a few weeks.

One of the perks was to have access to the company junk (a Chinese boat), which gave us the opportunity to visit Lamma Island.

Famous for its seafood, heritage, peace and tranquillity, Lamma Island was a breath of fresh air away from the traffic jams of Hong Kong.

I remember it was hot the day of our visit, so we decided to eat outdoors to catch the breeze. This is what we ate, served by a scraggly-looking man with even more scraggly trousers.

The prawns were massive, much bigger than I had ever seen before, and I can still picture the scene as they kept trying to jump out of the wok and into the open fire, only to be skillfully caught by a fat woman.

Under the fire, the coconuts were roasted, giving off a whiff of toffee as they caramelised.

This dish was the standout meal for me during that visit, and for days afterwards I raved about my find and how delicate the flavours were.

In addition, I was really pleased because breadcrumbs were not used, making this probably one of the tastiest and most moreish gluten-free recipes that I know.

Gluten and dairy-free

Serves two (makes 10-16)

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes


225g raw jumbo king prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact

½ tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

100g desiccated coconut

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

300ml sweet chilli sauce, to serve


Cut the king prawns slightly lengthways to devein, keeping the tail end intact, then rub the salt all over them.

Dip each prawn into the beaten egg, then the coconut. Repeat the process so the prawns have a double coating, then shake off any excess coconut.

To cook the prawns, fill a wok with approximately 100ml of vegetable oil and pre-heat over a medium heat to 180°C. Deep-fry the prawns for 5 minutes until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with sweet chilli sauce.

Lisa's tip: This is great for a party. You can pre-batter the king prawns in advance and freeze them until needed. When the party starts, deep-fry the prawns. Once deep-fried, the prawns cannot be frozen.

Coconut King Prawns

Sweet chilli sauce

An exciting concoction of fresh red chillies mixed with garlic and vinegar that tickles the tongue. Perfect for livening up stir-fries, noodles or salads as a zingy dip on the side.

Gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free Makes 250ml

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes


4 long chillies, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled

50ml white wine vinegar

100g white granulated sugar

200ml cold water

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp potato starch

Method Blend all the ingredients except for the potato starch in a blender. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Add the potato starch and stir vigorously to thicken the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Store in a sealed container in the fridge and use within two weeks.

Pork open top dumplings

Pork Open Top DumplingsOur grandmother, Lily, loved joining her father when he went off to sell his soy sauce to the restaurants back in the 1920s. Our great-grandfather made his own cart to transport his barrels of soy sauce. It was heavy yet functional and was pulled by him and Lily, who ran alongside her father tantalised by the blur of lights, shapes, people and noise.

When they finally arrived at their destination, she was often treated to free siu mai, which she gladly accepted, calling it 'a little piece of Heaven' as the meat, Chinese mushrooms and delicate pastry were so delicious.

I love siu mai and this is my own personal take, adapted from the recipe of the Hong Kong chef who trained me.

Use crab roe to garnish for the ultimate luxury, although if you are just making these for a week night dinner you can use finely grated carrot.

Use gluten-free wrappers

Dairy-free, egg-free

Makes approximately 12

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


200g minced pork

100g raw, peeled king prawns, coarsely chopped

½ tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

Pinch of black pepper

1 tbsp potato starch

1 drop of sesame oil

2 tbsps water

10 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes then finely chopped

1 tsp dried finely grated orange peel

12 wonton skins, corners trimmed so they are roughly circular

Lisa's tip: Before steaming, oil the plate with a dab of vegetable oil and set each siu mai apart from one another, otherwise they will stick together when they steam and cook.


Put the minced pork and chopped prawns in a bowl and mash together with a spoon until well blended. Don't use a food-processor for this as you still want to retain some texture.

Add the salt, sugar, pepper, potato starch, sesame oil and water and continue to lightly mash the ingredients together. Finally add the chopped Chinese mushrooms and orange peel, mixing well. The mixture is ready when everything is well blended and the mixture sticks to the spoon.

To assemble the dumplings, take one trimmed wonton skin and place it into a cupped hand. Scoop 1 tbsp of the filling into the wonton skin. Move the dumpling between the thumb and index finger and continue scooping in more filling until it appears full.

Begin to turn the dumpling using your thumb and index finger and mould it into the siu mai shape. Repeat with the remaining skins.

Lightly grease a heatproof plate with oil and arrange the siu mai on top.

To cook the siu mai, carefully place the plate of dumplings inside a preheated steamer and steam for 15 minutes.

If you don't have a steamer, you can use a wok instead.

Sui Mai

Irish Independent

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