Elsie Cheung; energizer bunny, Cantonese Godess and master of its cuisine
by Joanna Sable
August 25, 2016
Elsie Cheung exudes energy and personality. Both she and late husband Ed have a story that is quite something. It begins with his grandfather coming to Canada to work on the railroads and sending money back to the family in the province of Canton. Ed's father never came to Canada but he did send his son in care of his grandfather to go to school here. Elsie became pen pals with Ed through a good friend in Hamilton that went to school him. I think this is a very endearing way of starting a long distance relationship. The interesting part is that almost all Chinese people at this point in history wanted to come to Canada for a more prosperous life. It was not that these families were poor, far from it, but it was the stifling communist environment that drove them from their country. Many named Canada the ‘Golden Mountain’, and Elsie just knew this was where she would start her life.
Her soon to be husband sent her a plane ticket and thus Elsie’s love story with Canada began along with a classic love story between a man and a woman. Their love has endured for over 40 years. The rest is, as they say, history. Over the years through hard work and determination, they were able to bring their extended families, brothers and sisters alike; to the country they now called home, Canada.
Hamilton is where the Cheung’s began their Canadian life together. Ed owned a part in a restaurant and Elsie joined in. They stayed this way for a while but then sold their share and moved to Meaford. Why Meaford? Because now grown daughter Joanne had married a man whose family had a home there and it was time for a change. Elsie and Ed were both great cooks and both effortlessly handled the front and back of the house. However, where Ed truly shined was his in his pie making. Ed made the highest, fluffiest coconut cream pie around and people flocked from far and wide for a piece.
I asked Jo, their daughter and my dear friend, about growing up with Canadian Chinese food. She tells me that while Canadian’s ate Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls, Honey Garlic Ribs and such, her family was eating all sorts of true home cooked authentic Cantonese delicacies, the likes of what Elsie fed me on the day I went to visit.
Great Ethnic Home Cooks are notorious over achievers and over feeders, if that is a word. And Elsie is obviously no exception. She is also a cook who has never used a measure in her life and it was quite funny watching me try and grab her hand before she threw yet another ingredient in a pot or bowl. On my day spent with Elsie we made, or rather she made, 2 kinds of dumplings, pork bone broth, stuffed and crispy-butterflied shrimp and best of all Steamed crab.
Now lets get started on some of these recipes. I loved knowing that many are not nearly as difficult as I thought.
Both Tapioca and Glutinous Rice Dumplings have the same filling and take note that if you have extra of this filling it is just perfect stir-fried with added veggies, in a lettuce wrap or over rice or noodles.
- ½ cup dried shrimp
- ½ cup dried fungus
- ¼ cup fresh shrimp, chopped well
- ½ pound Chinese sausage, finely diced
- ¼ pound ground pork
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons green onions, finely sliced
- ¼ cup water chestnuts, canned and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
Heat a Teflon wok for approximately 10 minutes or until very hot. Add the ground pork and lower temperature to medium high, cook until it is no longer pink, add fresh shrimp and cook for just 3 minutes. Now add the rest of the ingredients, adding more canola oil to keep everything quite moist. Once cooked, spread out on a plate to cool.
- Glutinous Rice Wrapper
- 200 grams rice flour
- 6 ounces boiling water
Mix together with a fork. Once the dough starts to come together, and is cool enough to handle, mix with your hands until it forms a slightly sticky ball. When working with this dough have a bit of cornstarch on hand to dip your fingers into for ease of handling.
- Tapioca Wrapper
- 400 grams tapioca flour
- Water to cover
This is more a method than a recipe. Rinse tapioca well, soak for a few minutes and drain the water away. Place tapioca in a bowl, add a cup of water and leave it overnight. It should absorb all the water.
When you put your hands in the dough it should feel bouncy and moist. If not add a bit more water.
This dough needs a little oil in your hand verses the cornstarch of the other dough.
Both wrappers are formed in your hands not rolled. Take a large walnut sized piece of either dough in your hand. Form it into a round with a small hollow in your palm. Add approximately ½ teaspoon of filling and slowly close the dumpling making sure there are no tears or open spots.
Place dumplings in a steamer for 15 minutes and then serve with a mixture of sesame oil, fresh ginger, soy, and ground pepper.
At this time they can also be pan-fried. This recipe makes a lot of dumplings and they are happily frozen once cooked.
Next up was the crab. Please note the crab is not hard but it is work and time consuming. I can promise you that your friends and family will be addicted and ask for it often so be warned.
Steamed Dungeness Crab with Ginger, Egg and Scallions
Two large Dungeness crabs, Elsie chops these up herself but it is hard and messy. Any good fish shop will do it for you. Please make sure they clean the tops and give them to you for holding the egg mixture.
- ¼ cup soy
- ½ cup low sodium, preferably organic chicken broth
- 12 green onions, diced
- 4 eggs, mixed
- 1 pound ground pork, divided into ¼ pound and ¾ pounds
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups canola oil
In a very hot wok add 1 cup of oil, then the ginger, once tossed in the oil add the ¾ pounds of pork and cook until the pink is gone. Add the garlic and the crab to the pot but not the upper shells; reserve these for the egg mixture. Stir-fry on hot for 5 minutes then add broth and continue to stir-fry for 10 more minutes. Now, add soy and baste with all the lovely juices at the bottom of the wok. Cover with a lid and simmer on medium for 20 minutes.
While doing this in another pot outfitted with a steamer add the reserved shells. Fill the shells with scrambled eggs, the ¼ pound of pork and a handful of green onions. Mix this up well in the shell and if there is roe in the shells all the better. Let this steam for 15 minutes and when halfway done give it a little scramble with a fork and add a few tablespoons of canola to the top and continue to steam. When done this mixture should be quite soft and custard like.
There will be a bit of oil left. This is used to moisten the crab as it is cooking if needed.
At the last minute throw all the remaining green onions to the crab in the wok give a good toss and heap everything into a wide bowl. Place egg custard on another plate so everyone can scoop a bit.
I think this serves about four people with other dishes on the table it is rich, so eating it for two may be a bit much.
This dish needs a nice steamed jasmine rice dish along side to absorb all the insanely good juices.
Now, as I mentioned my friend Jo is Elsie’s daughter and she too is a very fine cook. Follow her on Instagram @hungry.jo. Together we will be happy to answer any questions you may have and as always please let me know if you have tried any of the recipes and your thoughts.
Cheers and eat well,