January 14, 2020

As Vicky Cheng (VEA Restaurant and Lounge*, Hong Kong) cooks a sea cucumber at the Madrid Fusión Congress, he explains that “the Spanish only use the inside of it – “espardeñas” – whereas in general our Chinese culture focuses more on the outside, due to its collagen content”.

Asian chef Vicky Cheng (VEA Restaurant and Lounge*, Hong Kong) came to Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión 2020 to promote dry and dehydrated seafood, “such a common feature in Hong Kong and all Chinese culture”. To do this he demonstrated the preparation of his signature dish: sea cucumber. “In Spain you prefer the inside of the cucumber, which you know as “espardeñas”, whereas we like both the inside and the outside, but we tend to use the outside more, due to its collagen content”. And this is why Chang showcased the transformation of a sea cucumber, “to arouse gastronomic curiosity about a typically Chinese product”.

“Sea cucumber is a sustainable, slightly gelatinous product, and we eat it for its collagen, and its positive effect on our skin”, Chang began. He cut his culinary teeth in Canada and New York, exclusively at restaurants offering French cuisine (his greatest mentor was Daniel Boulud, who boasts three Michelin stars). Only a few centimetres in length, tapering off in a tip that sets the price – the more tips, the higher the price – Chang gave a demonstration of the cucumber’s “blooming” process he carries out at his restaurant to “begin” to work the product. This is a sequence whereby the cucumber is placed in water (tepid first of all, followed by hot water), and then set aside for twelve hours in each session.

This process, during which the cucumber is covered with film paper at all times, allows the product to shed its stiffness and hydrate, always with water and never with oil. “Dry fish do not bloom when oil is used”. Between hydration sessions, Chang cleaned mud off the product. After the “blooming”, he cut into the cucumber and took out the insides, the “espardeñas” you love so much, which we can sauté”.

This creates a “rubbery, cartilaginous” product, which is returned to the water to finish off the procedure. It is then filled with a carabinero scarlet prawn mousse (replacing the original “espardeñas”), and this is all wrapped up in film paper “like a sausage”. It is then steamed to allow it to solidify, and submerged in an oil bath “to make it crunchy outside and silky inside”. “One of our most typical products, an example of Chinese seafood (in addition to abalone or shark fin) we simply must show off”. And he did.