This is not complicated. You can do it with one hand behind your back,” said chef Jereme Leung, as he stirred the sugar until it dissolved in the heated water.
Watching him prepare the custard fritters in the kitchen of Conrad Hotel’s China Blue restaurant, it indeed seemed like an easy dish to cook—we had milk custard fritters in a matter of minutes.
Not so simple were the details involved—and this is perhaps what sets Leung above the rest: his attention to detail, the expertise with which he slices and stirs, his knowledge of each ingredient.
Having cooked in restaurants all over Asia, Leung has mastered the technique of blending modern Chinese cuisine with traditional recipes.
The fritters he prepared for us that morning are among the dishes in the Summer Harvest menu available at China Blue through the month of April. There are several others in the carefully crafted menu, all inspired by the seasonal harvests of fresh Oriental ingredients.
Trio of appetizers
Our set menu, which was served after we had learned how to make the fritters, started with a trio of appetizers that had vegetarian, meat and seafood elements: The two slices of eggplant glazed in a soy caramel further enhanced with a squeeze of calamansi were sweet and tangy at the same time. The octopus from northern China had been cooked sous vide, then layered in a salad with bits of pink pomelo and plum cherry tomato, drizzled with a sweet sesame dressing. There was also a hefty chunk of braised tender US beef with ginger and garlic crisps.
The soup was a poetic rendition of moon fish clams harvested in China only at night. The tiny clams were cooked in a chicken consommé that had been double-boiled with black chicken and herbs for one-and-a-half hours. (Asked how he managed to transport the clams to Manila, Leung quipped, “It came with my luggage.”) Served in a bamboo cup, the soup had a robust flavor that was the sum of all its exquisite parts.
Our main courses included live black garoupa served in a clay pot, infused with liquor, shallot, garlic and coriander. Leung urged us to eat it as soon as it was served. “Cantonese food must be eaten at the right temperature,” he told the group.
A sweet vinaigrette king prawn atop pumpkin sauce with pearls of egg whites and salted duck eggs preceded the rice dish with a generous slice of braised abalone, into which Leung poured flavorful abalone sauce.
Dessert was an unusual ice cream in a bluish-gray shade. It was made with roasted coconut meat, served over toasted bread and topped with a crispy cheese cracker.
Here, I’ve recreated Leung’s recipe for the milk custard fritters. Though usually cooked in China using buffalo milk, it can also be made with fresh cow’s milk.
Summer Harvest is available at China Blue, Conrad Hotel till end of April. Tel. 6833915
Milk Custard Fritters (from Chef Jereme Leung)
½ c almond powder
1 c fresh milk
1/3 c cornstarch
1/3 c water for the cornstarch
1/3 c water for the sugar
1/3 c + 1 tbsp sugar
Few drops almond essence
For frying the custard:
6-8 pieces white bread
2 tbsp egg wash (egg beaten with a little water)
2-3 egg yolks, beaten
1-2 c sesame seeds (may combine black and white sesame seeds)
6-10 strips seaweeds (optional)
2-3 c cooking oil
To serve (optional):
Strawberry sauce/vanilla sauce
Line a plastic container about 6 x 8 inches (or 5 x 7 inches) in size with plastic wrap. Set aside.
In a large bowl add almond powder to the milk. Make sure the milk is not hot so the powder does not clot and there will be no grains. Stir well to mix.
In a separate bowl, combine the cornstarch and the 1/3 cup water for the cornstarch to make a paste. Set aside.
Heat the one-third cup water for the sugar in a saucepan, then immediately add the sugar. Let the sugar dissolve over low to medium heat, while stirring the mixture. When the sugar dissolves, add the almond milk slowly, stirring constantly to make sure there will be no residue. Heat for a few minutes. Add a few drops of almond essence. At this point you should smell the almonds.
If the prepared cornstarch has settled under the water, stir to mix. When the almond milk begins to boil, slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture. (Make sure the milk is boiling so that the cornstarch cooks.) Stir well with a ladle until the milk is thickened. The mixture should be thick enough to coat the ladle.
Pour into the prepared container. Smooth the top. Let cool to room temperature then put in the refrigerator to chill for about four to five hours.
When the custard is firm, turn the container onto a clean plate to remove the custard. Slice the custard lengthwise into widths about the width of your thumb. Trim off any rough edges.
Fry the custard:
Trim the crusts from the bread and discard the crusts. Pass a rolling pin over each bread to flatten the surface. Place a sliced custard into each bread. Roll the bread until near the edge. Moisten the edge of the bread with egg wash then close and seal the bread to enclose the custard completely (the egg wash helps to seal the edge of the bread).
Dip the bread into the egg yolks until completely coated. If desired, roll the bread in a mixture of black and white sesame seeds. For variation, wrap some seaweeds over the other breads. You can also just leave some of the breads plain, without any coating of sesame seeds or seaweeds.
Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan until smoke bubbles appear. Gently put in the rolled breads. Cook until the rolled breads are evenly golden brown on all sides.
Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer them to a plate lined with absorbent paper.
If desired, serve with strawberry sauce and vanilla sauce.