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'Grass' with spirit

Updated: 2015-02-17 07:33
(China Daily)

Warm spring weather in Shanghai means it's time for the popular local dish jiu xiang cao tou (grass head or tips).

The regional plant, says Chinese master chef John Ma at Dragon Phoenix in the Fairmont Peace Hotel, is called jin hua cai, a favorite in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces as well as in Shanghai.

It's unavailable in winter, when the "grass" doesn't grow and there is no fresh top. But the dish is everywhere in springtime, with a fresh, nutty taste that comes from a surprising ingredient: baijiu (white liquor).

"An experienced chef will choose the right Chinese spirit for the dish," says Ma, a native Shanghainese.

"Mao Tai is the best choice. The alcohol is not strong while the flavor is rich."

But because it's expensive, he says, many locals use Xiao Hu Tu Xian to cook cao tou.

Spread the spirit on the raw vegetable and saute for just under a minute in 300-degree oil, he confides, to keep it tender and the taste - which locals call "magic sugar" - perfect.

Fairmont Peace Hotel, 20 Nanjing Road East, Shanghai. 021-6138-6930.

'Grass' with spirit

(China Daily 02/17/2015 page24)