Creating Faux Shark's-Fin Soup
Chef Corey Lee updates a classic soup for a new generation of conscientious eaters.
As an Asian chef, I appreciate the cultural value of shark's-fin soup, which has been revered in China since the Ming dynasty for its unique texture: simultaneously brittle, elastic and gelatinous. But the soup definitely presents some ecological and ethical concerns, because fishermen often cut off only the fins and throw the injured sharks back into the ocean. I wanted to create a soup that would pay homage to tradition without using the fin itself. Because the soup's flavor really comes from the stock, I began by making a traditional Cantonese broth with chicken, Chinese ham, truffle peelings and ginger. Through much trial and error, I discovered that by blending different hydrocolloids (thickeners such as agar and gelatin) and piping strands from a squeeze bottle into a water-and-calcium bath, I could truly capture the texture of shark fin. Now I serve the soup in bowls created for my restaurant by KwangJuYo, the Korean ceramics company. I bake a truffle custard in a depression in the middle of the bowl; once the custard has set, I add Dungeness crab, the faux shark fin and some of the braising aromatics and ham. Then a waiter finishes the dish tableside with the broth.
Video: Making the Soup
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