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December 29, 2011

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Lamb tonic builds yang energy

CHINESE traditionally eat lamb and mutton in winter because they are considered high in yang or "hot" energy. Lamb, mutton and goat are eaten as a general tonic and considered a sex tonic for men.

In winter, people may have cold hands and feet because of poor blood circulation and a yin ("cold" energy) constitution. Traditional Chinese medicine experts advise eating more "hot" foods like lamb or mutton to strengthen yang energy.

In the 16th century, famed herbalist Li Shizhen (1518-1593) wrote in his "Ben Cao Gang Mu" ("Compendium of Materia Medica") that lamb is a good tonic in winter, warms the stomach, invigorates the blood, fights invasive yin and supplies qi or energy flow.

Every year at this time, (mostly male) residents of Qibao, an ancient town in Minhang District, go on a lamb-eating spree, gathering at outdoor tables for a big breakfast of lamb, mutton or goat and swill warm rice wine.

"After finishing the hearty breakfast, even if we're wearing thin clothes, we don't feel cold the whole day," Feng Hua, a Qibao local, says. Of course, that might also have something to do with the wine.

In addition to its reputed medicinal value, lamb is definitely a favorite with chefs.

"Its texture is similar to beef but finer, tender and succulent. High-quality lamb with a mild, delicate flavor is versatile, presenting different tastes when being paired with different ingredients and seasonings," explains Wong Kam Chung, Chinese executive chef at New World Shanghai Hotel.

"Nice lamb has ideal proportions of fat and meat and if cooked carefully presents layers of texture, from firm to glutinous and melt-in-your-mouth," says Wilson Zhang, Chinese executive chef at Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel.

However, lamb has an intense aroma, considered heavenly by some and distastefully "gamey" by others, which presents a challenge to the chef.

Wong and Zhang share their tips to minimize the odor.

Choice of ingredients is important. Wong prefers grass-fed lamb less than one year old because it has a light smell and mild taste.

Before cutting and slicing the meat, roasting the whole lamb on the fire until its skin turns golden can remove the intense smell and give the fat a glutinous texture, says Chef Wilson, who recommends serving lamb with vegetables and spices.

"Chinese chefs often use spring union and ginger to cover the lamb smell," says Zhang. "Sweet yin vegetables such as Chinese cabbage and radish not only balance the yang lamb meat but also help bring out the rich meaty flavor of the lamb."

Lamb is popular worldwide. In classical Western cuisine, lamb is often roasted, grilled and served as chops. Many kinds of lamb curries and kebabs are popular in South Asia where many spices are used.

In South China, lamb is either boiled simply to preserve its tender texture, known as baiqie yangrou (sliced boiled lamb dipping with soybean sauce) or made into soup together with yang medical herbs such as cordyceps and astragalus (huangqi) while in the north, shuan yangrou (lamb hotpot) is essential in winter.

This week, we have identified three different lamb dishes, one in traditional Chinese style, one in Western style and one a combination of cuisines and techniques.

TCM experts warn against overindulging in lamb, saying it can disrupt the internal yin-yang balance, cause excessive dryness and "fire" in the lungs.

Grilled Australian lamb

The medium-grilled lamb (235 yuan) is golden brown outside and pink inside. The dish was launched this winter by Sergio Zanetti, executive chef at Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre.

The chef emphasized that the quality of lamb is essential to the taste of the entire dish.

"I choose the rack of the lamb with 80 percent meat and 20 fat from Australia where the sheep are fed a little salty grass due to the wind from the sea, which gives its meat more flavors and nice fat," says the chef.

To reduce the intensity of the lamb flavor and improve taste, the lamb is marinated for at least one day in advance with rosemary, mustard, garlic and other herbs.

Before serving, the lamb is spread with the lamb stock and sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt, which gives the meat more moisture and flavors.

It is served with either mashed potato or grilled vegetables. Shiraz with certain acidity and body is recommended.

Shanghai City Bistro

Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre

Tel: 2312-9888

Address: 3/F, 555 Xizang Rd M.

Yangrou bao

Yangrou bao (58 yuan, US$9.10, for 2-3 people) is a traditional winter dish popular throughout China. It's made with mutton, not lamb, and it's stewed with other ingredients and seasonings in a clay pot.

Zhang has launched two versions. One is in Cantonese style with mushrooms and bamboo shoots, which has a light flavor and natural fragrance, and one in Shanghai style with Chinese cabbage, rice noodles and crystal sugar, which has layers of textures and balanced sweet and spicy taste.

When the Cantonese dish is served, the waiter lifts the cover in front of diners and the room is suffused with hot steam and the intense aroma of lam and garlic.

The lamb meat has a translucent layer of fat that melts in the mouth but is not greasy, and a layer of lean, firm and juicy meat.

The mushrooms and bamboo shoot taste rich, a little salty with a hint of sweetness, absorbing flavors from the meat and a Cantonese sauce prepared with soy sauce, sugar, sesame and furu (preserved bean curd).

China Bistro

Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel

Tel: 2321-8977

Address: 3/F, 159 Henan Rd S.

Braised lamb chop with clams

Lamb chops (158 yuan, for 4 people) get new textures and more flavors since Wong combines Eastern and Western cooking.

Lamb, usually pan-fried, grilled or roasted in the West, has a tender meat texture and crispy crust. But moisture is easily lost during frying.

"I simmered the rare fried lamb with kitchen broth, hoping to lock the moisture inside," the chef explains.

The Cantonese chef also adds basil, traditionally a Western herb used with lamb. The lamb chops trimmed of fat are tender and juicy. The meat absorbs the broth flavor and tastes mild, without a strong smell of lamb.

The clams go well with lamb, imparting a savory flavor and rich aftertaste that does not overpower the original meat flavor. Chinese rice wine is recommended. The high sugar content and rice fragrance balance the smell of lamb and help the meat and lamb taste smooth.

YUE 1525

New World Shanghai Hotel

Tel: 6225-8665

Address: 2/F, 1525 Dingxi Rd

(All the prices mentioned do not include the 15-percent service charge.)


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