Justly famed for their skill in cooking small birds, the Cantonese overcame the problem of there being so many small bones by cutting the birds into bite-sized morsels before serving them. Diners can then easily extract the meat.
In this recipe, the squab are not really roasted. They are quickly cooked in aflavourful liquid, dried, and then, just before serving, dropped into very hot oil to finish the cooking. Their skin becomes crisp, with a lacquered look, while the meat remains tender, juicy, and flavourful. The preparation takes a little time but the first steps may be done well in advance. The result is well worth the effort and makes a terrific first course.
Blanch the squabs in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes and remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain well.
In a medium-sized pot, combine the braising liquid ingredients, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the squabs, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the squabs and allow to dry thoroughly, about 1 hour. The recipe can be made to this point up to 4 hours ahead.
Just before serving, heat a wok or large frying pan until hot. Add the oil and when it is medium hot, deep-fry the squabs until they are crispy and brown. Dram them on kitchen paper, cut them into bite-sized pieces, and serve at once.
© 1990 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.