I’ve come to a certain point of my cooking life where I cook from and for my memories. When I was in medical school, one of my clinical group mates invited us to his home for lunch. I remember his mother, who hailed from Taiwan, serving us a simple but amazingly well-composed and delectable lunch. One memory that stayed in my mind was her braised cabbage which was beautifully served in a mound that rose like a graceful island from a rich scallop sauce. It has truly been many years that I have eaten cabbage done so beautifully but the craving came on me this week, perhaps triggered by all the Chinese New Year cooking.
I had also been to the wet market last week and the dried provision store in Ghim Moh Market was selling a beautiful piece of Jin Hua ham that had been professionally vacuum packed. Jin Hua ham is a much sought after Chinese dry-cured ham that many Chinese think tastes better than Jamon Iberico. Apparently Jin Hua ham predated European cured hams and it was Marco Polo who brought the idea of curing the ham from China back to Europe. The best of these cured hams are probably found in traditional Chinese groceries and not the supermarket (not that I’ve seen it being sold in most supermarkets). I was not disappointed with this buy as the Jin Hua ham I got was not overly salted but beautifully cured. The ham and dried scallops bring such a delicate umami flavour to the braising liquid, I was so delighted as these were the very flavours I remembered in my friend’s mother’s dish.
Most people have an impression that Chinese food is mostly about stir fry; however my best food memories are usually of braises and poached or steamed dishes. The wok is an amazingly versatile tool in a Chinese kitchen that can fry, boil, steam, and braise. But I do love the Instant Pot for the ability to turn on a function and literally walk away from it and do something else. Truth to tell I could have done this entire recipe in a wok (both the frying and the steaming) but it was nice just to have the Instant Pot do the work neatly and cleanly.
This was a really fun cook – I flatter myself that this looked restaurant-worthy, but truth to tell it was good just to relive one of my best food memories in the kitchen.
Braised Napa Cabbage with Dried Scallops
- 10 – 12 leaves of a large head of Napa cabbage (wong bok)
- 4 dried Japanese scallops
- 1 one-inch cube of Jin Hua preserved Chinese ham
- 1 century egg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp sugar substitute
- 1/4 tsp Hua Tiao Chinese wine
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tbsp chopped spring onions (green part only)
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
- Cut the cabbage leaves down the center in half first, then stack the 2 halves over each other and cut again in half (stem on one side and leafy part on the other). Keep the stems and leaves separate and set aside.
- Slice the Jin Hua ham into thin slices. Place in a heat-proof bowl with dried scallops and 3/4 cup of water.
- Place a trivet into the Instant Pot. Pour 1 cup of water into the inner pot. Place the bowl of scallops, ham and soaking liquid on the trivet. Seal the pot and put in steam mode for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat a skillet up with the peanut oil over medium heat, fry the cabbage stems first, in batches, placing the cabbage in a single layer on the skillet without overcrowding it. Fry for about 1/2 – 1 minute per side, turning over and making sure the cabbage is somewhat wilted but not too browned. Do the same for the leaves but these would probably only need less than 1/2 minute per side to cook.
- In a medium-sized heat-proof bowl, line the bowl with the stems first, overlapping the stems slightly and in a radiating pattern. Continue doing this, using the stems first followed by the leaves.
- Place the bowl in the Instant Pot again and steam for another 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, break up the dried scallops with your fingers till they are in shreds. Add the salt, white pepper, sugar substitute and Chinese wine.
- Place the scallops, ham, soaking liquid into a saucepan and heat over medium flame. Bring to a gentle simmer. Sprinkle the xanthan gum over the surface of the liquid and stir well while it thickens. Set aside.
- When the cabbage is done, carefully remove the bowl from the Instant Pot. Invert a serving bowl over the bowl of cabbage and carefully and quickly invert the bowl. The cabbage should fall into the serving bowl in a mound. Tidy up any leaves of cabbage that have been dislodged.
- Cut the preserved egg into a small dice. Scatter around the rim of the mound of cabbage. Carefully heap the scallop shreds and ham slices over the top of the cabbage and spoon the thickened sauce over the cabbage.
- Garnish the top of cabbage with the chopped spring onions. Serve hot.