Not to wax too much sentimental here, but the hustle in the office and the unforgiving weather lately have really taken their toll on me. Yet, I can still find the good news in such plight, which is, it makes me good excuse to boil another good bowl of Cantonese soup to nourish my 'weak' body. For this very occasion, let me introduce to you a soup that is very good for health: The soup of fish maw and conch, fa gau heung law tong 花膠響螺湯.
The first ingredient we need to fetch for the soup is fish maw, a staple for all Chinese dried seafood vendors. Fish maw, the air bladders or 'sounds' of fish is one of the so-called 'Four Delicacies from The Sea' (海四珍) -- the other three are the abalone, sea cucumber and shark's fin. Fish maw is also billed as fa gau (which literally means floral plastic, for reason I don't know why). According to traditional Chinese medicine, fish maw can make lungs and kidneys stronger and moisten joints. It is also highly regarded for its richness in collagen and proteins. Because of this, fish maw and bird's nest have long been two of the most cherished nourishment for the ladies who want their skins look soft and youthful; also because of this, legend has it that this is our Chinese answer to Viagra, in a bowl, sort of -- well, well, well, okey dokey, there I said IT!
Next up we need the dried conch to improve my vision (so I can see better what's in the mind of my pains-in-the-balls boss). Make sure you buy the conch foot, the part that this shellfish used for moving about and sucking up to stones, not the conch meat. The flavor of this part is stronger than the meat and so is more suitable as soup ingredient. In all cases, I advise against using fresh conch for good fresh ones are hard to come by and is too expensive for this kind of soups. One funny thing is, conch foot is widely known as 'law tou' (螺頭), which means exactly the opposite in Chinese.
As always, there are some herbs to add in a Cantonese soup. For this particular recipe, I use the Chinese wild yam (wai shan), soloman's seal (yuk juk), wolfberry fruits (kei chi), dried longan (yuan yuk), lotus seeds (lin chi) and glehnia root (sah sham, 沙參). Adding these boost the merit of the soup. Take the glehnia root for example, itself alone can moisten our lungs and clear the 'hidden heatness' out from our bodies. I am quite sure with all these added up, there's nothing in this world can ail my body any more.
It'd be nice to add a chop of pork in this soup to further sweeten the flavor too. My affable butcheress suggested the loin chop to me. I guess she's perfectly correct: while the fish maw is tasteless, the fragrance of the conch is readily heady for a soup. The loin chop will prove handy enough. And no matter how much I love it, the pork is just a sidekick in this soup for there're the fish maw and conch to lead the show. Still, it does add some neat chews in the end. By the way, did I tell you the approving gaze my butcheress gave me when I told her I'm making a fish maw and conch soup by myself? Yeah, that kind of look really makes my day...
Dried fish maw -- 2 taels (about 80g)
Dried conch foot -- 4 taels
Pork -- 500g
Pre-packed assorted Chinese herbs -- 1 pack
Dried tangerine peel -- 2 slices
Soak the tangerine peels, conch and fish maw with warm water for about 1 hour
Blanch the pork for about 2 minutes to wipe out the blood and grease (look how beautiful these chops are in the blanch -- no wonder they're also coined as 'white jade' in classic cook books)
Pour 10 bowls (rice bowl size) of water into the pan, add Chinese herbs, fish maw, conch, peels and pork into pan and cook over high heat to the boil
Simmer very gently for 3 hours
Add salt for flavor