I REMEMBER mum making these nests when I was little.
She would julienne taro or yam and fry them between two slotted ladles.
Then she would fill them with a stir-fried dish that consisted of diced chicken and quail eggs.
We enjoyed eating them but never understood why she never made them again.
The reason came to light when I attempted to replicate the dish for this column.
I realised that it was quite a task because tubers need to be fried slowly to become crispy.
And we could only fry one nest at a time!
But when we have to stay at home, time is what we have.
In this recipe, I opted for potatoes which are more accessible.
Choose local potatoes (sometimes called Holland potatoes) that are firm and crispy instead of Russets which may get soft and fluffy.
You can fry the nests ahead of time and store them for up to three days in an airtight container at room temperature.
They don’t refrigerate well, but they can be frozen and made crisp again by popping them into the oven for 10 minutes at 150°C.
However, they are best when freshly made.
You may fill the nest with any saucy stir-fried dish but the usual fillings include hard-boiled quail eggs and colourful vegetables, seafood and meat.
The basic idea of this Cantonese recipe is to put together eight different ingredients so that the dish sparkles with different colours.
Having frozen mixed vegetables on hand makes preparation easier as this includes peas and corn as well as carrots which I don’t have to dice.
I also used a mix of red, yellow and green capsicum simply for the colours, but you may choose just one colour.
Traditionally, this dish would also include dried mushrooms or cloud ear fungus, but you can use fresh ones if these are not available.
There are a lot of options for substituting the eight treasures in the dish, such as snow peas, celery, bamboo shoots, chestnuts, ginkgo nuts and cashew nuts.
Just remember to dice the ingredients small so they look like little jewels among the quail eggs.
This dish needs to be cooked briefly; you should cook and assemble the dish just before serving to keep the crispy potato nests from getting soggy.
Potato nests with Chinese eight treasure stir-fry
3 medium potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
3 cups cooking oil for deep-frying
Slice potatoes in a mandoline with a julienne attachment.
Rinse potatoes in cold water until the water runs clear to remove excess starch.
Drain potatoes well and pat dry with a tea towel.
Add cornstarch to the shredded potatoes and toss well to combine.
Heat cooking oil in a wok over high heat, allowing the temperature to reach around 170°C.
Dip strainer into the hot oil, add potato evenly around the sides and base of the strainer to create a bird’s nest, about one centimetre thick.
Dip a ladle into the hot oil and push down into the strainer to create a well.
Fry the potatoes between the ladle and the strainer until firm, for about ten minutes.
When the nest has become firm, gently remove the top ladle.
Turn the strainer over and tap firmly on the handle to release the nest. If any potato is stuck, gently ease the nest off the strainer using the tip of a knife.
Continue frying until lightly golden and crispy.
Remove nest and drain excess oil on paper towel.
Lightly salt the potatoes while hot.
Cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Eight treasure stir-fry
1 chicken thigh, diced
100g shrimp, shelled
100g frozen mixed vegetable (carrots, peas and corn)
100g mushrooms, diced
75g capsicum, diced
20 quail eggs, boiled and shelled
2 tbsp cooking oil
3cm ginger, sliced
3 bulbs shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Seasoning1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp chicken stock concentrate
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch + 1 tbsp water
¼ tsp salt to taste
½ tsp white pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil, add quail eggs and simmer for five minutes until firm.
Plunge into cold water and remove shells.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil, add ginger, shallots and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Add diced chicken and sauté until lightly seared.
Add mixed vegetables and mushrooms and sauté until softened.
Add shrimps, capsicum and quail eggs and sauté until shrimp turns pink.
Combine seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.
Add seasoning mixture to the wok and sauté until sauce thickens.
Remove from heat and arrange in potato nest.
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