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Secrets in Chinese Restaurant cooking? Specifically like what you find at Congee Star (moved from Ontario board)

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  • Idas Jul 22, 2011 03:06 PM
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Right now our favourite congee resto is Congee Star on Don Mills, North of Eglinton.
Very nice service and consistent taste and freshness though the A/C right now is insane in there unless it is scorching outside like this heat wave week.

I have 3.5 questions that puzzle me like crazy:
1) They make very good Wat Dan Ha Yan (shimp in a soft egg sauce with green onion).
1.1 How do they get the vein to appear clean yet the back of the shrimp are still fullly intact? Is it like snails, they feed them something differnt in their diet that purges the filth? If not they that's unexplicable?
1.2 How do they get the egg sauce to be so soft yet fully cooked and so tasty!!!! It's like waves of egg.

2)How do they make the crispy cubed tofu (spicy & salt)? I order it without the spice and salt and a side dish of oyster sauce as a tribute to my first favourite (but dingy) Cantonese Chinese restaurant (Now closed but was called The Winds near York U) I have tried everything and I can never get tofu crispy and light.

3) This one is the most key for me in making some Chinese food at home: when ordering stirfy veggies with garlic sauce (sun yeung), it is a clear sauce with lots of white garlic.
How the heck is that sauce prepared that a) is still flavourful but uncoloured and b) the garlic is SO super sweet!!

Thanks for any insight from experience chowhounders!
Idas

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Congee Star
900 Don Mills Rd, Toronto, ON M3C1V6, CA

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  1. For tofu, try taking soft or medium firm tofu, patting dry, cubing, and coating with potato starch or corn starch, then deep-frying, taking care that the frying oil is at a good temperature. I think the salt and pepper tofu is usually done with that style of coating.

    It's hard to make Chinese style stir-fried vegetables at home without a more powerful burner than most houses have - some of the flavor is probably coming from high-heat cooking in a wok. You could experiment with adding the garlic later in the process, or briefly tossing it in hot oil, removing it, and then adding it back in later. I would suspect that chicken MSG / chicken powder (ji jing / ji fen) or at least plain MSG may also be a big part of why the clear sauce at restaurants tastes so good.

    1. They probably starve the shrimp, if using fresh, but here is a paraphrased recipe using dried shrimp:

      Steamed Egg Custard, Beijing Style

      3 eggs
      2 t soy sauce
      salt to taste, 1/4 t?
      1 t sesame oil
      1 1/2 C/350 mL water, warm or cold
      1 T dried shrimps
      1/2 t shredded scallions

      1. Soak shrimps in water until soft. Drain and chop.
      2. Whisk together eggs, soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil in a heat-proof bowl. Blend in the water.
      3. Place bowl on steamer. Steam 15 min. Remove from steamer, sprinkle with shrimps and scallions. Serve.

      1. For basically all of your questions, you need a hot wok, and to work quickly with your mise en place already set out. Hard to do at home, esp. the wok part.

        As for as the shrimp goes, it just appears that each shrimp is a whole shrimp, when in fact it has been filleted in half, which is why you don't see the vein anymore. You fillet it in half, de-vein, and then you cook it with a slurry, esp. something like eggs, hard to tell what's whole or half.

        For the tofu, you just need hot oil, and to work quickly. Again, hard to replicate at home, esp. if you don't have a gas stove.

        For the clear "sauce" it's basically with water and chicken stock.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ipsedixit

          water, chicken stock, and cornstarch?

        2. 1.1) Could be smaller freshwater river shrimp? I don't know. Most of the high heat stir fried shrimp "ha yun" at Shanghainese restaurants, seem crystal clear as well (no vein).

          1.2) To achieve a somewhat similar smooth and runny texture of egg at home, you will have to start your wok with high heat (and very hot oil). The moment you dunk your mix of egg, shrimp, scallions in, turn the heat to low and keep stirring until the right consistency is reached. You could try adding a little bit of water to the mix (and perhaps a little cornstarch + water mix).Some prefer to marinate the raw shrimp with a little rice wine and salt (and of course adding a bit of salt + pepper + sugar to the eggs before beating them). Of course it will not taste the same as a dish done by a chef with good wok stir fry skills with a high BTU output industrial kitchen stove.

          1 Reply
          1. re: K K

            K K,
            that sounds delish! I have a simple gas stove but your recipe sounds bang on.

            I would sure love to know how they get those veins clean, it's weird. River shrimp sounds interesting..the ones at Congee Star really do smell fresh.
            I would really also love to know what the secret is to the sweetness of the garlic used in Chinese stirfry, never "too garlickey". Never mind how sweet the onions taste..perhaps oil blanching but still...
            I always forget the sugar factor.
            Really appreciate the tips!

          2. For the tofu, I suspect that they are using a type of tofu that is frozen and then thawed; it's got a spongier, lighter texture than ordinary tofu, and when deep fried (no breading necessary) you end up with a crispy crust and chewy light inside. I can't remember what it's called, though.

            2 Replies
            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              Are you thinking of silken tofu?

              1. re: milkyway4679

                No, silken tofu is a whole other type. Tofu that has been frozen and thawed has a different texture entirely -- not silky at all, more spongy and chewy (because the water has been expelled).

            2. You can devein the shrimp by poking near a joint at the tail end with a toothpick and pulling the vein out...that'll leave the shrimp intact.

              2 Replies
              1. re: baby_tran

                my mom taught us (me and sibling) to do this in the middle, with a sharp needle, just yank the whole vein while keeping the shrimp whole.

                It's good to know now, but I HATED doing it as a kid, since it smelled shrimpy, hands gets all prunely, and we would have to do an entire box in one go.

                1. re: gnomatic

                  Wahoo!! Vein myster solved!! Thank you Baby_tran and gnomatic!! Whew, I was worried something weird was done to them :) Great!