Beijing Crispy Squab with Chinese Seaweed

Squabs are not so much pigeons as plump domesticated doves. Until recently they were imported from France, which made them very expensive. However, they are now reared in Britain and are consequently cheaper. If you cannot get any, this recipe also works well with poussin. In either case you will need one bird per person and, since you will be deep-frying, it may be better to make this a dish you cook for two.

You could serve the squabs with pancakes like Peking Duck, but try Chinese 'seaweed' instead. Of course, this is not seaweed at all, but finely sliced greens.

This recipe was developed by Juliet Peston, my co-chef at the restaurant for seven years.

Ingredients

  • 115g/4 oz ginger root
  • 6 spring onions
  • 2 squabs
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • ½ tbsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp Sichuan pepper
  • sunflower oil, for deep-frying

For the Seaweed

  • 900g/2 lb spring greens
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp caster sugar

Utensils

  • heatproof film
  • steamer
  • deep-fryer, or deep-frying pan or large wok with a heatproof thermometer
  • spider
  • anti-splatter mesh screen (optional) tongs
  • strong serrated knife
  • coffee grinder
  • thermometer

Method

Mise en Place

The day before: cut the ginger and spring onions into chunks and stuff them into the body cavities of the birds • Put the salt five-spice powder and Sichuan pepper into a coffee grinder and pulverize. Rub the skins of the birds all over with this mixture, carefully wrap each bird in the heatproof film to hold the spices uniformly against the flesh. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

An hour before you start cooking, prepare the ‘seaweed’: destalk the greens and wash the leaves. Working with one leaf at a time, roll each up like a cigar and cut this across to make the finest strips you can manage. Spin dry and put to one side on paper towels to absorb any moisture. The drier you can get them, the better.

Cooking

Put the squabs, still wrapped in the film, in the steamer and steam for 40 minutes. Then set aside to cool.

In the deep-fryer or frying pan, heat the oil to 180°C / 350°F. Unwrap the squab and, using a spider or deep-frying basket, carefully put them into the oil, keeping your face well back because the oil will surge up with the moisture and spit ferociously. Put an anti-splatter screen in place if you have one. In any case, beware: this is a dangerous piece of cooking and not for the faint-hearted.

The birds will be floating on one side. After 5 minutes, using tongs, turn each bird on the opposite side, holding them until they float in that position without rolling back. The oil will splatter again at this point.

After a total frying time of 12 minutes, remove the birds and drain on paper towels. The squab should be a shiny mahogany colour with the skin crisp.

Bring the oil up to 190°C / 375°F. Fry the greens a handful at a time for about 2 minutes (they will visibly darken) and remove with a spider to drain on masses of paper towels. (They can be made in advance and stored in an airtight box.)

Serving

When cool enough to handle, use a strong serrated knife to saw the birds in half, cutting down from the breastbone ridge. Discard the ginger and spring onion.

Toss the seaweed with the salt and sugar. Put a mound of it in the middle of each of 2 warmed plates, then place the halves of the bird on either side and serve at once. Finger food for sure, so finger bowls will be appreciated.

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