My list of comfort foods is long and includes everything from soondubu chigae to sausages and mashed potatoes to Hainan chicken rice. But when I’m really tired, I crave the food I grew up with. These comforting dishes are easy to make and are light but filling.
Chinese steamed custard with conpoy, minced pork and mushrooms
Steamed custard is a dish my mother made frequently when I was growing up, and she changed the ingredients depending on what she had on hand. Sometimes, it was salted shrimp with mung bean vermicelli (both ingredients soaked in warm water until soft), other times it was chopped canned clams, or some cooked fish or seafood.
It’s also one of the first dishes she taught me how to make, instructing me on the right proportions of liquid to egg (1.5: 1), stressing the importance of straining the mixture to make it really smooth and then steaming it gently, and finally showing me how to tell when it’s done.
The best version I’ve had of this homestyle dish was at Flower Drum restaurant, in Wan Chai; in addition to conpoy, they used Japanese pork and matsutake mushrooms, as well as aged soy sauce. Fresh matsutake are hard to find (and expensive), so I use shimeji. But you should use a high-quality soy sauce to drizzle over the custard to “finish” the dish. I like Yuan’s Royal Soy Sauce, which sells for about HK$175 for a 125ml bottle (but a little goes a long way).
20 grams conpoy (dried scallops)
50 grams minced pork
35 grams fresh shimeji mushrooms, roughly chopped
3 large eggs (I use Japanese or Korean eggs), at room temperature
A little cooking oil
Fine sea salt
A pinch of ground white pepper
About 10ml aged soy sauce
2 spring onions, minced
Put the conpoy in a bowl, add about 60ml of boiling water and leave to soak until the dried scallop is soft and pulls apart into shreds. Remove the conpoy from the water and squeeze out the excess moisture before shredding the scallops. Save the soaking water.
Heat a wok over a high flame and when it’s hot, rub it lightly with the cooking oil.
Add the pork and stir-fry until it starts to lose its pink colour. Add the shimeji and shredded conpoy. Sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry over high heat until the mushrooms lose their moisture, then reabsorb it. Mix in the white pepper and transfer the ingredients to a heatproof shallow bowl that holds about 450ml. Spread the ingredients into an even layer.
Pour the conpoy soaking liquid into a measuring cup and add tepid water until the total amount is 225ml. Whisk the eggs until they are thoroughly mixed, then stir in the water. Strain the egg/water through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl holding the conpoy/pork/mushroom mixture. Carefully move the bowl to a rack placed over simmering water in a steamer. Cover the steamer with the lid and turn the heat to medium high. As soon as the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat until it’s very gently simmering. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until the custard is barely set; to test that it’s done, shake the bowl gently – it will still be a little wobbly in the centre.
Drizzle the soy sauce over the steamed custard; carefully swirl the dish so the soy sauce coats the surface. Scatter the spring onion over the custard and serve with stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice.
Straw noodles with pork and dried shrimp
If you have children, make them this dish and let them drink up the soup by sucking it through the straw noodles (which is actually bucatini pasta) – that’s what my brothers and I did when my mother cooked this for us. I still like to eat these soup noodles for a light lunch. If you prefer, use boneless chicken thigh instead of pork.
15 grams dried shrimp
150 grams pork fillet
10ml soy sauce
10ml rice wine
¼ tsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
½ tsp sesame oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tsp cornstarch
1-2 thin ginger slices, peeled
About 500ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
100-150 grams bucatini pasta
2 spring onions
Briefly rinse the shrimp with water, then put them in a bowl and add about 60ml of warm water. Leave to soak for about 15 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
Thinly slice the pork and put the pieces in a bowl. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, white pepper, ½ tsp of sesame oil and the cornstarch. Mix well, then set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the bucatini and cook until slightly firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, pour the chicken stock into a saucepan, add the ginger and bring to a simmer. Put the shrimp and the soaking liquid into the pan, and then mix in the pork and the marinade. Add the cooked bucatini, then bring the broth to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about five minutes, or until the pork is cooked and the bucatini is al dente. Taste the broth and add a little salt, if needed. Divide the ingredients between two bowls and drizzle with sesame oil. Mince the spring onions and scatter them on top, then serve immediately.