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Where The Cooking Process Heats Up

Columns Ono, You Know

December 7, 2015

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Though Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant's clay-pot creations usually are cooked in the kitchen, the editor was lucky enough to get a cooking lesson from executive chef Johnny Wong to see just how these age-old vessels work their magic on savory ingredients.

Though Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant’s clay-pot creations usually are cooked in the kitchen, the editor was lucky enough to get a cooking lesson from executive chef Johnny Wong to see just how these age-old vessels work their magic on savory ingredients.

Any gourmet chef, home cook or foodie would agree that the techniques that go into making our favorite dishes are just as important as the flavorful meals themselves. If it weren’t for an imu, kalua pig wouldn’t have its amazing smoky flavor, and if pizza stones didn’t exist, we’d never get those mouthwatering crispy crusts.

This week, Ono, You Know is tipping its hat to special cookware that gives a slew of traditional dishes the delicious qualities they’re known for. We’ll take a look at earthenware pots that keep ingredients nice and warm even, after the cooking process is complete — starting with clay pots used in Chinese cuisine that steam and slow cook moist meals to perfection. Then we’ll explore dolsot, or Korean stone bowls, that know how to make divine food sizzle.

ROYAL GARDEN CHINESE RESTAURANT

During winter months in China, families like to warm up over steamy hot clay pots filled with stew-like, heavenly meals. I recently got a taste of this tradition at Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant, where executive chef Johnny Wong showed me just how to bring these cozy dishes to fruition.

Braised Chicken Country Style ($16.95) and Kahuku Shrimp with Long Rice ($23.95)

Braised Chicken Country Style ($16.95) and Kahuku Shrimp with Long Rice ($23.95)

According to Wong, the petite casserole pots with lids enenclose all the flavors and aromas released from the ingredients inside the cooking vessel, rendering rich flavorings. As he started to prepare Braised Chicken Country Style ($16.95) right before my eyes, he first heated up the pot and poured in some peanut oil before adding in authentic bits of garlic, ginger, green onion, black fungus, mushrooms, dates and daylily buds (edible flowers). Before long, chicken broth, Chinese cooking wine and oyster sauce were thrown into the mix, then gently simmered down as the meal slowly cooked to completion.

The chef then shared the same process to create kamaaina-favorite Kahuku Shrimp with Long Rice ($23.95), this time combining green onions, shallots, garlic and a big knob of butter with broth and long rice — each strand absorbing flavor. The resulting dish is nothing short of garlic-filled seafood paradise.

These are a few of many clay-pot dishes on the menu, and general manager Ian Tam notes that the Cantonese Hong Kong-style eatery also offers larger clay-pot dishes for parties, such as a whole chicken cooked with wine sauce or Dungeness crab with curry and long rice.

Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant
Ala Moana Hotel, third floor,
410 Atkinson Drive, Honolulu 942-7788

MILLION RESTAURANT

When locals and tourists alike want a taste of authentic Korean fare, they head to Million Restaurant on Sheridan Street. So when I was in search of the real thing in regards to hot-stone-bowl entrees, I knew I could find a number of them at this family-run eatery.

From succulent beef to healthy vegetables, it’s all served up in Million’s piping-hot bibimbap-style mixed rice bowls. The restaurant even prepares rich soups inside these hefty, dark bowls. But the one dish you mustn’t leave without trying is Mixed Vegetable with Seafood in Hot Stone Pot ($16.95). Like many of the menu items, this one stems from a family recipe that the Park siblings continue to present in the restaurant their parents first started.

Mixed Vegetables with Seafood in Hot Stone Pot ($16.95)

Mixed Vegetables with Seafood in Hot Stone Pot ($16.95)

You won’t find this number anywhere else, and it presents an ocean’s worth of seafood in each serving with shrimp, squid, clams and mussels. A mingling of veggies adds sustenance to the dish, while a unique teriyaki-oyster sauce lends itself to classic sweet-and-savory goodness.

As manager Mike Lee explains, the real beauty of the dish is the crispy rice that gets the ideal crackling char from the hot edges of the bowl. When mixed with the other ingredients, these crunchy, semi-burnt morsels of rice give amazing texture and depth to the dish. And they’re undoubtedly one of the best things hot stone bowls have to offer the culinary world.

Million Restaurant
626 Sheridan St., Honolulu
596-0799