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Health from a wok

Delicious Chinese food can be good for you, a chef in Bangkok shows gourmands

Published on November 14, 2007

Health from a wok

Low-fat dish: Braised Japanese bean curd with Hong-fu Ji mushrooms.

Anew chef at the JW Marriott Hotel's Man Ho restaurant is challenging the old stereotype that the best Chinese dishes are fatty and greasy.

Only an hour before lunchtime, the gleaming back kitchen of Man Ho is relatively serene. Steamers and stoves are humming in standby mode, waiting to be kick-started when the first order comes in.

Five of us are taking a quick tour of the new kitchen led by the restaurant's new executive chef, James NJ Kiang, a veteran Chinese chef who is introducing new ways of cooking up tasty and healthier Chinese dishes with less oil and more organic ingredients. We also get a quick peek into a small room where Peking ducks have been hung up to dry after the grilling process and rows of suckling pigs on skewers are ready for the oven.

A Singaporean, Kiang has more than 30 years' experience working in Chinese kitchens in Singapore, Beijing, New Delhi and the Philippines. Four months ago he joined the Bangkok JW Marriott Hotel, where he has created a new Chinese menu based on his faith that Chinese cuisine can be both delicious and good for you.

"It matters what techniques you use while cooking," explains Kiang. "As I became more health-conscious, I wanted my customers to eat food they would feel the benefit from. I didn't want them spending too much money on medical bills. Healthy people are also free to do whatever they want to in life. And the prime way to keep your health is to eat right."

A lot of Chinese dishes rely on stir-frying and thick sweet sauces, which use artery-clogging ingredients such as lard for the taste impact. But in Kiang's kitchen, olive oil is the preferred option for the stir-frying station and while deep-frying is needed, he does it in a super-swift pass-through manner, dunking in boiling water afterwards, "just to wash off the excess oil without losing the flavours".

Demonstrating how to make braised sea prawns tied to string beans (Bt480), Kiang tips his wok so that flames flare up, then briefly dips the beans in the boiling oil then the water. The beans, seared a beautiful bright green, become malleable and wind around each prawn which, in the blink of an eye, are thrown back into the boiling oil, removed and rinsed in the boiling water. The whole process takes less than five seconds, producing beautiful, succulent and plump bright-orange bites.

"I also use a lot less salt, focus on organic ingredients and have quit using MSG of any kind," says the chef, who adapts a lot of international flavours and ingredients for his own style of cooking. "I source a lot of things from abroad, too. The noodles are from Singapore, the organic ginseng is brought fresh, still partly covered  with soil, from a farm in China.

"People who come to try the new menu will instantly notice the low-fat quality of the dishes we serve," he says.

Kiang's innovation extends to his presentation of familiar dishes. His drunken chicken comes rolled up into bite-size portions and doused with a garlic-and-chives dressing French-style. The tender chicken is served with crispy fried prawns in noodle rolls. Kiang calls the paired delicacies "Double Happiness Combination" (Bt380).

The chef's "superior" stock is rich in flavours but not in fat. He uses only the leanest ingredients, simmering them for longer than usual to extract maximum nutrition. Assorted vegetables, dominated by baby green bokchoy, arrive laced with the tasty stock and fried sliced garlic. This dish won the hearts of this reviewer and assembled friends.

Fried rice is a Chinese staple but quality is often overlooked. Kiang asserts that he only uses freshly cooked rice, never the leftovers that a lot of restaurants are accused of serving. Along with the rice, fresh from his wok came Yunnan ham, dried scallops and crab for a rich and tasty dish (Bt240).

The chef's other new and delicious and low-fat dishes include braised Japanese bean curd with Hong-fu Ji mushrooms (Bt260), braised duck with shredded mushroom (Bt300), and wonderful desserts like chilled almond bean curd with longan.

Man Ho now offers Kiang's special low-fat eight-course set meal for 10 people, which includes the above mentioned dishes and more, for Bt7,500. Call (02) 656 7700.

Sirin P Wongpanit

 The Nation


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