17 February 2016

Black is the color of my garlic's heart

A surprise ingredient can bring a lot of curiosity and excitement to the dining table, and make up a special experience. That's what happened a few days ago when I tried black garlic at Qi Chinese Restaurant, in The Ritz-Carlton Beijing Financial Street.

I've never seen or tasted black garlic before. That's why when the chef presented a plate of dried, light brown one-clove garlic on the table, I didn't have a clue.

Black is the color of my garlic's heart
A clove of garlic eriches the classic cold dish:cold mixed toon tree shoots and walnut.
After peeling off the dry skin, the garlic looks shiny and coal-black. The color resembles that of preserved black plum, a popular Chinese dried fruit. The taste is similar, too, slightly sour and sweet. The texture is also soft, jelly-like.

The garlic is still strong, but it doesn't really penetrate the senses until after the sweet and sour taste, when the garlic's odor has dwindled to a minimum. The sweetness lingers long in the mouth.

Hong Kong chef Jimmy Wong recently drafted a new menu for Qi featuring black garlic. He used pieces of black garlic in his Cantonese prawn dumpling, giving it a lovely garlic aroma. A clove of garlic also enriches the classic cold dish: cold mixed baby toon tree sprout and walnut.

While there are other healthy options on the menu, Wong can use black garlic to pair with a wide range of dishes. It can be used in soups of sea cucumber, or fish maw. It can be used to give flavor to sauteed diced Wagyu beef.

It can also be used when frying pork neck and fungus, or pumpkin with Chinese yam.

The black garlic comes from Yunnan. It is made from common fresh garlic, after fermentation in a special box for two or three months. Local producers in Yunnan have exported the product to Japan, but it is still rarely used inside China.

Black garlic is said to have much less water and fat than fresh garlic, but the content of microelements, protein, sugar and vitamins are at least doubled. It is said to be an antioxidant, and have anti-acidification effect.

Black garlic can also be made at home. According to an Internet post, one can wash garlic with skin on, dry it, and put it in an electric cooker. Put the cooker on "keep warm" mode, and leave it for 10-15 days before done.

This fermented garlic can be used when braising meat at home - or made into soups with fish maw. It can even be eaten alone as an appetizer.

Black is the color of my garlic's heart
Chef Wong's new menu has another rarely seen ingredient: North America wild rice. It contains rich protein and high fiber, but no cholesterol or fat. Said to enhance body immunity and delay aging.

Qi Chinese Restaurant also offers tasty Cantonese dim sum such as steamed dumpling with prawn, and baked sliced codfish, besides a lovely dessert of Cantonese mango on glutinous rice cake.

Apart from Cantonese foods, the restaurant offers dishes from Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and Zhejiang cuisines.

Chef Wong's black-garlic menu will be available in July.
But the restaurant is ready to serve guests who want to try the new ingredient on a reservation basis.