Long before ‘sustainable cooking’ became a buzz term, the culinary practices of not wasting a single part of any ingredient were commonplace among the Cantonese in southern China.
The rule applies not only to animal innards and offcuts but less desirable parts of vegetable too, such as the spongy outer skin of a pomelo, which is often considered too bitter to be of any value in the kitchen.
Not for the Cantonese, however, who are known to braise their leftover pomelo peel to create dishes that are high in fibre and nutritional value and low in fat. The dish often makes an appearance during celebrations such as Chinese New Year or the Mooncake festival, when pomelos are favoured by households as a symbol of family unity, fertility and abundance.
Few Cantonese restaurants are keen to invest the same effort in preparing this seemingly simple dish, with many preferring to use ready-made frozen piths imported from Thailand, rather than go through the time-consuming task of preparing them from scratch from fresh fruit.
In recent years, however, Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau have given the humble dish a luxury spin, sprinkling it with XO sauce and shrimp roe to enhance both its taste and perceived value.
How is it made?
Braised pomelo pith is not difficult to prepare, but it requires plenty of time and patience. Typically the challenge is to rid the skin of its tartness and bitter flavour.
The spongy outer layer of a pomelo has to be soaked in water for at least three days in preparation. The water needs to be changed daily, and the peel has then to be squeezed thoroughly to make sure most of the trapped moisture is released.
After the soaking stage is complete, the pith is cubed and stir-fried with lard until it is dry. Except for a faint citrusy tinge, the pith itself is quite flavourless, but its gourd-like texture after cooking holds flavour well, so it is often braised with other ingredients – delicacies such as sea cucumbers and goose feet.
Where can you find it?
Cantonese dining institution Kin’s Kitchen in Hong Kong makes the dish (5/F W Square, 314 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. Tel: +852 62001649) serving their version with umami-rich dried shrimp roe in a casual, home-style atmosphere.
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