A few years ago, when I lived in New York, my weekends consisted of driving out of Manhattan by car, into the heart and soul of Queens, aka Flushing, New York’s âreal Chinatownâ.
Imagine Sydney’s Haymarket or Melbourne’s Chinatown, but on steroids. Flushing is where New Yorkers go for authentic Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese cuisine. As soon as you enter the confines of Flushing, you feel like you’ve been transported to Asia. At 7 a.m., Cantonese-style bakeries are bustling with life and you have to fight with elderly diners for your fluffy cotton buns. Dim sum carts are hauled through the streets, and barbecue meats hang by the window, calling your name.
One of my favorite stores and weekly haunts at the time was a traditional Cantonese barbecue on Main Street. The crispy pork belly was juicy but had a crisp top, the slightly sweet pork loin made with a sweet soy glaze was excellent, and the fatty chicken was one of the best in town. But the piece de resistance was surely shallot oil (it’s spring onion for us Australians), which accompanied all roast meats. It was so good that you would be kind enough to ask the waitress for two little jars, take the angry look of disapproval and walk away with another win for the week.
Condiments are the unsung heroes of Asian cuisine. Rather than relying on spices, many Chinese dishes are made from a jar and without them you won’t get the same taste, texture, or flavor. Soy, satay, hoisin, and oyster sauces are all important for traditional dishes like mapo tofu, braised pork, and even for livening up a rather boring stir-fry or slurry.
While you can pick up many condiments at the supermarket, there isn’t one homemade that you don’t need to buy: spring onion oil, a hallmark of Cantonese barbecue. You can serve this oil with roast chicken, duck or roasted pork belly. There are loyal fans who hold the humble and rather simplistic spring onion oil in high regard for its fragrant punch. If this oil is exceptional, it does not matter whether the meat it covers is average.
“If you have scallion and ginger sauce in the fridge, you won’t go hungry.”
However, this oil is not only used in Cantonese cuisine. The Vietnamese incorporate it as a dip or sprinkle it with grilled eggplant and noodles. In Singapore, the same condiment is served alongside the famous Hainanese chicken. Since this chewy, chewy chicken is a bit bland, the sauce takes it to a whole new level.
Spring onion is also loved by Taiwanese families who use it as a garnish for freshly baked bread, roll it up to make spring onion pancakes, and use it as a garnish on steamed fish and vegetables. grilled shrimp. They even add it to beef noodle soup for that extra richness.
My favorite dish with spring onions couldn’t be simpler. On warm Australian summer evenings, my mom would cook a large pot of noodles, make spring onion oil in under a minute, and mix in chilled, drained noodles for a dinner on the fly.
As celebrity chef David Chang puts it in his Momofuku cookbook, “If you have ginger and scallion sauce in the fridge, you won’t go hungry.”
However, his recipe does not heat the oil to release the flavors of the spring onions – misstep, Chef Chang!
There are many recipes for spring onion oil and when you find your favorite that packs a punch, it becomes a staple.
As simplistic a spring onion oil recipe is, given that it only involves mixing a few ingredients in oil, you still have to be careful how you do it. You need hot oil to make the ingredients release their aromas. Otherwise, you just have a big mass of oil with crunchy floating spring onions, rather than an explosive condiment ready to garnish and complement any dish, carbs or protein.
There really is no formal recipe for making spring onion oil. Some versions add ginger or grated garlic. Don’t be too strict on the measurements, as long as you have enough oil to cover the spring onions aka the green onions.
Spring onion oil
- 4 spring onion sprigs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- White pepper, pinch
- Finely chop the spring onions and place them in a large clean jar with salt and pepper.
- In a small saucepan, heat the oil to 80 degrees Celsius, or until hot but certainly not steaming. I usually test my oil with a wooden stick. If it boils a bit near the wand when inserted into the oil, it is quite hot.
- Pour the hot oil over the spring onion mixture, but be extremely careful to avoid splashing when the hot oil hits the spring onions – your pot should be large enough to accommodate this.
- Reserve, stir and enjoy for a few days.
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