Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

This dish is full of expensive, auspicious ingredients that are supposed to bring wealth and happiness in the Lunar New Year. It's not difficult, but it does take a long time, so spread the work out over several days.

Braised fresh abalone with conpoy, dried mushrooms, Chinese ham and goose or duck webs
Don't bother cooking this if you're not going to make the superior stock: canned broth and chicken powder isn't good enough for these expensive ingredients. You need a soup chicken - a larger, older hen that's very tough, but which, when simmered for many hours, yields a flavourful broth.

You can buy fresh abalone from wet markets but I prefer the larger, frozen variety that come from Australia or South Africa. If using small, fresh abalone, buy one per person and have the vendor clean them; for the larger ones, buy three or four weighing about 150 grams each, then slice them when they're tender.

Chinese ham is heavily salted then air-dried, so it's already very dense and flavourful. For the stock, buy the cheaper scraps and bones, but for cooking with the abalone, pick a nice, tidy piece.

For the superior stock:
1 soup chicken, about 1.5kg
800 grams pork trotters, cut lengthwise through the
bone, then into 5cm lengths
125 grams Chinese ham scraps
50 grams ginger, peeled
6-10 spring onions, depending on size

To make the dish:
Eight to 10 small abalone, or three or four larger ones weighing about 150 grams each
Fine sea salt, as needed
100 grams Chinese ham, in one piece
12 large dried mushrooms
A few lettuce leaves
Eight to 10 conpoy (dried scallops), about 2.5cm in diameter
12 goose or duck webs
About 1.5 litres superior stock, or as needed
Arrowroot powder for thickening, if needed
Iceberg lettuce and broccoli florets, for serving

Make the superior stock. Bring a very large pot of water to the boil and add the chicken, pork trotters and Chinese ham scraps. Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Drain the ingredients and wash the pot. Rinse the chicken and ham under cold, running water and put them back into the pot. Scrub the pork trotters, washing away all the scum and sediment from the bones and meat, then put the pieces back into the pot. Add four litres of water then put the pot over a high flame. Bring to the boil then add the ginger and spring onions. Cover the pan partially with the lid then lower the flame so the water is at a very low simmer. Cook for six to eight hours, skimming away any scum that floats to the surface. After six hours, the broth should be clear and taste very chicken-y. Strain the ingredients through a colander set over a large bowl. Discard the ginger and spring onions; the chicken, trotters and ham can be used in other dishes.

Cool the broth then put it in the fridge; after it chills, scrape off and discard the coagulated fat. You won't need all the stock for this recipe; the remainder can be frozen for later use.

If using frozen abalone, defrost them. With both fresh and frozen, rinse them under cold, running water. Pull the intestines and guts from the body. Sprinkle a lot of salt over the abalone then use a clean toothbrush to scrub them thoroughly until the bodies are clean and smooth. Rinse off the salt.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a simmer then add the 100-gram piece of Chinese ham. Bring to the boil then drain. Rinse the ham with cold water then drain again.

Soak the dried mushrooms in just enough warm water to cover them. When they are completely hydrated, trim off and discard the stems. Squeeze out the water from the mushroom caps. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a fine sieve into a measuring cup. Add superior stock so you have 1.5 litres of liquid.

Line a large clay pot with a few lettuce leaves to cover the bottom (this prevents the other ingredients from scorching). Put the mushrooms on the lettuce then add the abalone and the ham. Pour in the stock/mushroom soaking liquid, adding enough to cover the ingredients. Set the clay pot over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to very low, cover the pot with the lid and cook at a low simmer until the abalone is tender (about six to eight hours, depending on size). Check the pot frequently to make sure the ingredients aren't cooking too quickly and that there's a sufficient amount of liquid. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

About two hours before serving dinner, take the pot from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before placing it over a low flame (if you put it on the heat directly from the fridge, it might crack). Bring the contents to a simmer. Take the ham from the pot and cut it into fine julienne before stirring the pieces into the ingredients. Fish out and discard the lettuce leaves.

Scrub the goose or duck webs throughly and clip off the nails. Add them to the clay pot, tucking them among the ingredients so they're submerged in liquid. Simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Rinse the conpoy with water then put them in a bowl and add just enough warm water to cover them. Leave for about 15 minutes, or until they're soft but not falling apart. Add the conpoy and the soaking liquid to the clay pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the scallops are tender. Taste the braising sauce - it should be deeply flavoured and just a little salty. If it's too salty, stir in more superior stock to dilute it. If the sauce is watery, put a slightly heaped teaspoon of arrowroot powder into a bowl, mix in some sauce, then pour this mixture into the pot, stirring constantly. Don't add too much; the sauce should be just lightly thickened.

Blanch the lettuce leaves and cook the broccoli until tender, then drain.

To serve, put the lettuce leaves in a serving dish and arrange the webs, conpoy and mushrooms on top. If you used larger abalone, thinly slice them then lay them over the other ingredients; with small abalone, leave them whole. Add the broccoli and serve with white rice.