When your dinner guests include a scientist who makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen at his own parties, and a food writer and broadcaster who is notorious for his adventurousness, how do you surprise and entertain them? I decided it was time to cook the dried frog ovaries I bought in Hangzhou last year.
Known in Chinese as é›ªè›¤ (xueha), and in English as hasma, hashima, snow frog etc (see this article by Jacqueline Newman in Flavour and Fortune), it’s one of those Chinese delicacies that is baffling to Westerners. It’s usually described as frog fallopian tubes, ovarian fat or ovaries – I’m not sure exactly what is is, but it’s the waxy looking amber-coloured stuff that encloses the eggs of dried snow frogs from the northeast of China. After a long soaking, and steaming, small pieces of this substance expand miraculously into flubberous, transparent clouds of tasteless texture. They are often served with papaya, or in soups that may be slightly sweetened.
I can’t remember where I first tasted xueha, but its precise origins were mysterious to me until I came across some women dissecting dried frogs to extract it in a medicinal store in Hangzhou (see photographs). Curious, I bought a small amount, and it remained in my fridge until yesterday.
I called Zhang Xiaozhong, the head chef at Barshu, for advice on how to cook it. He told me that I hadn’t really allowed enough time to soak it in cold water and steam it, so he suggested that I speed things up a bit by soaking it in warm water and cooking it slowly over a small flame.
In the end I served the xueha in hot water with a few crystallised violet petals that I bought ages ago in Salzberg – which is why the finished dish has an eerie purplish colour. Everyone was slightly surprised that such a delicacy had no inherent flavour. One guest said the slimy, slippery ovaries resembled bogies from someone’s nose.
Fortunately they were more impressed with the other dishes, which included crowndaisy chrysanthumum leaves with sesame oil among the starters, Dongpo pork, steamed wild sea bass, fish-fragrant aubergines and so on.
Apologies to regular readers, by the way, for my long silence on this blog. I’ve been in China, and when I’m in China I always plan to write many posts, but always end up too busy, or lacking decent internet connections…