This is a must “have” dinner item in the Chinese New Year. Sea cucumber symbolizes everything is moving upward in the New Year. 步步高升 and mushroom is everything is going your way. 東成西就
However, sea cucumber is a very difficult food item to prepare in the kitchen. In a general term, you can buy fresh frozen or dry sea cucumber. Dry sea cucumber is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and the most pricy spiny sea cucumber (刺参) variety comes from the cold water region from North Eastern China and Korea. It claims to have medicinal property as well as nutritional values. It is also very difficult to prepare and it takes at least one week from re-hydration to cooking. For causal food enthusiasts, I would recommend you to stay away from it.
At the moment, you can find good quality fresh frozen sea cucumber from Australia, Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington State. It is much easier to prepare and the texture is similar to the pricy dry spiny sea cucumber.
Fresh frozen sea cucumber 1 lb
Dry Japanese Shitake mushroom 6 pieces
Seasonal vegetable 1/2 lb
Garlic 2 pieces
Ginger 8 pieces
Green onion 2 pieces (the white part)
Oyster Sauce 4 tablespoons
Light color soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Fish sauce 1 tablespoon
Dark color soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Rock sugar 1 large piece (10 grams)
Yellow cooking wine 1 cup (紹興酒)
Water a big pot for sea cucumber blanching
Oil 4 tablespoons
Chicken stock 6 cups
Cornstarch water: 3 tablespoons of cornstarch mix with 6 tablespoons of water
Re-hydrate the mushrooms with water overnight.(24 hrs)
Heat up a big pot of water to boil, add 4 pieces of ginger and 1/2 cup of cooking wine. Put the already defrosted sea cucumber in the boiling water and let it cook for five minutes. Drain the water and run the sea cucumber under cold water for ten minutes. Gently open the underside of the sea cucumber and remove any internal digestive tracks. Use a knife to cut up the sea cucumber to large triangle shape pieces.
Heat up a pot and pour four tablespoons of oil in it. Brown the garlic, ginger and green onion till you see smoke coming out from the edge. Deglaze the pot with the rest of the cooking wine. Allow the alcohol to evaporate and pour 6 cups of chicken stock in the pot. Wait for the water to boil again. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce (dark and light), fish sauce and rock sugar to the liquid along with mushrooms and sea cucumber. Cover the pot with a lid and turn heat down to medium low and braise for one hour.
Open the lid after braising for one hour and turn heat to high. Reduce the liquid by half to condense the flavour. Slowly add cornstarch water to the pot to thicken the sauce. Serve with seasonal vegetables.
Instead of seasonal vegetables, you can serve with “Mo Qua” Hairy melon. Peel the skin of the melon and cut it to two inch length. Braise the melon first after you add the chicken stock to the pot for 1/2 hour. Remove the melon and set aside before adding sea cucumber and mushroom, You’ll find your guests enjoy this option much better.