For me, adolescence tastes like medium-rare steak, the flavours of grilled fats, protein, salt and blood mingled into one perfect mouthful. It also tastes like salmon sashimi, fatty and succulent. These were foods that my family never permitted me to have before the age of 12, and the wait made the occasion even more memorable… I still remember my first cut into a perfectly cooked steak, seeing the perfect blushing pink centre and thinking to myself “I am never going back to well-done again”. What does all this have to do with a review of a congee (Chinese rice porridge, usually eaten while under the weather) restaurant? Well, if adolescence tasted like medium rare steak and raw fish, adulthood must taste like offal – a pungent, metallic tang to remind you that an animal consisted of more than just meat. You will never become a true gourmet, an ‘adult’ in matters of food, without learning to eat and appreciate offals.
Offal tastes like adulthood because it is something only people with a wide knowledge of food and a well-cultivated palette will enjoy. As kids, the thought of eating something inside the animal terrified us (even though the meat we tore into technically also comes from the inside of the animal). Or perhaps, simply put, we have never tasted well cooked offal. They should be just a touch under well-cooked, pink in the centre, but without any traces of blood. Well done or overcooked offal is a sin, ashy and grey, and should travel from one’s plate straight to the bin. Offal should accompany strong tasting ingredients or sauces, so that most of the taste of urea and blood is masked (I do like a slight uric tang in my kidneys, but it should be faint, as a fleeting reminder that you are eating kidneys and not just regular meat). The Chinese are masters of the off-cuts (see brisket) and offal, as prime cuts were only eaten by the wealthiest – a nation would not be able to perfect chicken feet if drumsticks were readily available for everyone. I tried my first offal at a young age, but slowly grew to appreciate and love it as I advanced into adulthood. I can now happily eat a chicken testicle without a second thought – for you amateurs recoiling in shock, just pretend it is a small, rather tasty chicken meatball. Another quick theory: If people ate offal not knowing that it was offal, they would eat it without a second thought
As mentioned earlier, well cooked offal is a testament to a kitchen’s skill and expertise, especially in Chinese cuisine, where often times, offal is thinly sliced and flash cooked, served as an ingredient in a hearty bowl of congee. But each individual part has a different cooking time, and ensuring that each element is done right requires a deep knowledge of the animal itself. Here in Sang Kee, a Michelin recommended congee restaurant near the Sheung Wan MTR station, I got in touch with my adult side with a bowl of congee with carp belly, liver and pig’s heart (HK$55). Like most other congee restaurants in Hong Kong, Sang Kee specialises in fish – a mainstay in congee, and there is no denying the quality of cooking of my piece of carp. Tender and flaky, just cooked enough so that the fat melts on the tongue. The congee itself was pillow soft, a testament to long hours of slow cooking. Upon each order, the chef incorporates the congee base with the customer’s selection of raw ingredients and cooks it over high heat so that the flavours marry each other.
Then there is the offal, each individual piece cooked to perfect. The pieces of heart was punchy, strong and added much needed texture. The liver remained soft and pink, and tasted of the animal itself. A bowl of dipping sauce is served alongside the congee, the brightness of the ginger and scallion balancing the pungency of the offal and fully rounding out the bowl.
Come to Sang Kee if you want to make the leap from adolescence to adulthood, it’s a big step, but you’d be glad you made the leap.
Sang Kee Congee Restaurant, 7 Burd Street, Sheung Wan