From Y3K Recipes Issue no.22 - Jan/Feb 2005.
Copyright of Y Three K Publisher. All rights reserved.
Genuine Sharksfins Vs Artificial and Vegetarian Sharksfins
The 'treasures of the sea' are the four most highly-prized delicacies in Chinese cuisine. Abalones, sea cucumbers, sharksfins and fish maws are arranged in this order. These are all considered to be true gourmet items as besides health-enriching qualities, they come with a range of beliefs steeped in symbolism and good meanings like bountiful harvests, prosperity and good wishes for life ahead. But auspicious meanings apart, the delicacies are a treasure trove for health too.
Each Lunar New Year, Y3K Recipes have showered readers with recipes using the delicacies. In this issue, sharksfin is the specially chosen feature as we go a little in-depth.
Sharksfins are obtained from a variety of sharks which inhabit the Indo-Pacific Oceans, Sri Lanka, South China and so forth. It can be quite a tedious task to extract the fins. Dried, processed fins are easily available at supermarkets, Chinese shops that offer traditional delicacies or even at herbal shops. On the other hand, many shops sell the non-processed fins as the costs are relatively cheaper. This product needs a series of treatments before it is soft and edible.
Prices of each grade escalates according to their quality. The general three types of fins are the dorsal (back), the pectoral (side) and caudal (tail) with the dorsal fins taking the top stand in premium quality. Pectoral fins are considered to be slightly inferior.
To remove the ligaments from the skin and flesh, the fins have to be cooked, braised, soaked, washed under running tap water and redone several times before approval is met. Please leaf through page 73 on the cleaning process of smaller pieces of fins. The complexity normally arises with the big fins as it has to be cooked in huge pots of boiling water for an hour to two, over low heat.
Once the flame has being turned off, it has to sit in the pot till the water has cooled down naturally. Next the fins are placed over a huge pot of boiling water, ready to be steamed for anther three to four hours. After this softening step, a knife is used to scrape off any unwanted materials.
Leave cleaned sharkfins in the third pot of boiling water. Add in some slices of ginger and several stalks of spring onion. Bring it to another boil over high heat for one to two hours. Fishy odours can be eliminated, remove fins to cool.
Separate the ligaments from the bones, wash it once again and the final product is the golden delicacy of sharksfins. It can be used directly for cooking soups or kept frozen for a period.
Please pay attention to the following tips if you intend to prepare this highly-prized delicacy from scratch. No cold water should be used for boiling the fins as all waters have to be at a boiling point when you lower the fins in. it needs no stirring at all times and refrain from using cast iron or copper pots. A chemical reaction may cause leaching into the fins.
Stainless steel or claypots are the best utensils for the cooking process. Oil, alkaline and salt are known to destroy the qualities during the cleaning process.
Do not prolong soaking unnecessarily as fins may disintegrate easily. This delicacy is valued for its gelatinous texture, protein, as it nourishes the body system.
On the whole, sharksfins has very little flavours of its own, but when cooked or braised with a superior stock of an old hen and Chinese ham, the flavours are good to the last drop as it has an interesting texture that absorbs good flavours in easily.
Gourmets have the passion to make lip-smacking cuisines from it.
Of late, marine life conservationists and environmentally friendly groups have tried to create an awareness of how gruesome an act can be when some deep-sea fishermen would cut off the fins from the sharks and throw the fishes back into the deep seas. This endangers their chances of survival and raising awareness had reduced consumers' demands. Many restaurants have resorted to using the artificial or vegetarian sharksfins to replace for the genuine stuff.
It is definitely much cheaper to using fake fins. How can one tell which is a real thing. A simple test is to cut a strand of fin.
Genuine sharksfins come in various long and short slivers and once cut, it leaves behind very minute strands of fins due to the gelatinous texture.
Artificial fins are of the equal length and the cut end is always neat.
How to differentiate genuine & artificial sharksfins
Demonstrated by Catherine Chia
(1) Genuine sharksfins can be torn apart.
(2) Genuine sharksfins break into very fine threads when you rub against them.
(3) Artificial sharksfins cannot be torn apart.
(4) Artificial sharksfins break into two when it is being rubbed.
Recipe: Sharksfin Soup Of The Day
150g processed sharksfins or artificial sharksfins
150g cooked chicken shreds
200g crab meat
2 litres superior stock
2 stalks spring onion (cut into sections)
4 slices old ginger
4 pips garlic (smashed)
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 chicken stock cube
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
For thickening: (mixed together)
100g potato starch or corn flour
1. Place sharksfins in a colander and wash it clean under running water. Pour boiling water over, remove and keep aside.
2. Place crab meat in a colander, wash and let it drain well. Remove crabs to a bowl, steam it for five minutes. Remove and set aside.
3. Heat up a little oil in a pot. Saute ginger, garlic, spring onions, superior stock and seasonings. Bring it to a boil, discard ginger, garlic and spring onions with the aid of a sieve.
4. Place in chicken shreds and flaked crab meat. Bring it to another quick boil.
5. Taste and adjust according to your own preference. Thicken the soup.
6. Turn off heat, beat in the egg, add in no.(1) the fins. Serve hot in small bowls with condiments of black vinegar and brandy. These are optional items.
1. Cooking Superior Stock: Chop a chicken into pieces. Remove skin and fats, parboil in boiling water for 10 minutes to remove scums. Remove and wash meat clean. Place meat into a pot filled with 2 1/2litres of water. Add in 5 dried scallops and boil it on high heat till it comes to a rapid boil. Turn heat to medium and boil stock till flavours are released. Cool stock before freezing it. Thaw stock before usage.
2. Potato starch gives a nicer consistency as a thickener even when the soup has been kept standing for a long time. Both cornflour and tapioca flour loosen up the glueing effect when the soup turns cold.