5 June 2015
***DISCLAIMER: There seems to be a large number of ways to spell the name of this dish, so I’ve used what seems to be the most commonly used. Sorry if it’s incorrect!***
I’ve loved San Choy Bow for as long as I can remember. Tasty hot mince wrapped up in crispy lettuce, how could you go wrong? And actually not too unhealthy!
When I was fairly young (maybe around 9), my mother decided to try to make it at home, rather than order it from a restaurant. I don’t really recall how it turned out, but I guess that’s how things go! I didn’t really think much more on it until a few years ago when I was on a ‘low-carb’ kick and wanted something that tasted Asian but didn’t come with rice or noodles.
The only problem was, the only ingredient I remembered from the recipe was water chestnuts. I suppose that’s not bad for a dish that was only cooked once over 15 years previously, however as you can imagine, it didn’t really give me much to go on. Determined to get it as close as I could, I hit the local supermarket and spent a bit of time in the Asian Foods section grabbing items that seemed like they belonged in the dish.
As it turned out, I did have some idea what I was doing, and I’ve never seen fit to change the recipe I cobbled together that day. It may not be very traditional, but then again this is an Asian dish and I’m a half-Italian Australian, so I did my best!
500g chicken mince
12 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 large white onion, diced
5cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
4 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
½ cup water chestnuts, julienned (cut into matchsticks)
1 red birdseye chilli, deseeded and chopped roughly
½ cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped roughly
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp black vinegar
2 tsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
Peanut oil (for frying)
Lettuce leaves (to serve)
When I was first planning the recipe in my mind, I was adamant that it should be made with pork mince (a remnant of that forgotten recipe from my youth perhaps?). When I went to buy the ingredients, however, the supermarket butcher was suspiciously out of almost every type of pork. With deep regret, I grabbed the chicken mince instead. As the resulting dish was so tasty, I’ve never even really considered trying it with pork since then.
If you can find tinned shitake mushrooms, go with that. Otherwise, go for fresh ones. If you have no other option, go for the dried ones, but they seem to take forever to rehydrate, and then there is still some residual rubberiness in the texture later.
I’ve never seen fresh water chestnuts in stores, so I can’t even begin to guess what they look like (basically, I just picture chestnuts sitting in some water). Buy the tinned ones, it’s just easier. If you can get sliced water chestnuts in a tin, then that means less prep work for you!
I realise that the amount of garlic and ginger may seem extravagant to some, but this dish is about big flavour. And don’t chop them up too much, as the dish is also about texture and crunch.
For the lettuce: I would recommend Iceberg, but Cos could be used too. You’ll want something that can hold its shape and keep some crunch. To remove the leaves intact (or as close to it as you can get), cut out the core, place the lettuce in a bowl of icy water, and gently peel away the leaves. They will change size, shape and texture as you get closer to the middle, but who cares?
1. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, rice wine and sesame oil. Set aside until needed. (TIP: If you want a thicker sauce, also add 1 tsp of cornflour/constarch, but I don’t think it’s necessary.)
2. In a pan over high heat, fry the onion in some peanut oil until softened. (You still want to keep some texture in it.)
3. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry until browned.
4. Add the mushrooms and water chestnuts and fry until the mushrooms are cooked. (If you are using tinned mushrooms, this should not take very long.)
5. Add the chicken and fry until browned.
6. Add the bowl of sauce and stir until it has reduced and coated everything. (This only takes about 60 seconds.)
7. Stir through the coriander and remove from the heat.
8. Serve immediately. (I would recommend serving it ‘communal style’ with the meat in the pan and all the lettuce leaves in a bowl for people to serve themselves.)
Serves 2-3 as a main or up to 5 as a starter.
A video of this recipe is also available - https://youtu.be/vfxfLvrs-50.