This summer, spice up your meat dishes with a little bit of fruit

Li Anlan
This season, fruits are finding new ways into savory dishes.
Li Anlan

Chicken feet, passionfruit and lemon may seem an unlikely combo, but the summery recipe is now trending on Chinese social media as the perfect snack for movie nights.

Traditionally, fruits mostly remain in sweet dishes on Chinese dining tables, like the summer’s favorite snack of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sugar, or the winter treat of hawthorn fruits tossed in an osmanthus sugar glaze.

For people growing up eating classic Chinese dishes, especially those from northern regions, it’s hard to accept the idea of a savory stir-fry that pairs meat with soft fruit.

It’s also tricky to cook with fruits because of their delicate texture. Mushy chunks of fruit are never attractive in any dish, so they are often added at the last minute to avoid overcooking.

This season, fruits are finding new ways into savory dishes.

Citrus fruits are easy to incorporate in savory dishes because the extra sour flavor can remove greasiness without interrupting the original flavor of the main ingredients — lemon juice leaves a much lighter taste than vinegar does. And the sourness from acidic fruits works well with spicy flavors, too.

The passionfruit and lemon chicken feet recipe uses simple ingredients to maximize the original flavors.

This summer, spice up your meat dishes with a little bit of fruit
Li Anlan / SHINE

Passionfruit and lemon chicken feet is this summer’s trending snack. 

The fresh chicken feet, with the nails trimmed, are cut open and split to cook quickly and absorb the dressing better. The chicken feet are boiled in a pot seasoned with ginger, scallion, peppercorn and star anise to remove the meaty smell. They are removed as soon as they are thoroughly cooked, which is around 10 minutes.

The key to the dish is to maintain the bouncy and chewy texture of the feet and avoid breaking apart the meat and bone. The cooked feet are soaked in iced water to preserve the texture.

The second step is simply mixing a passionfruit, one sliced lemon, lemon juice, chopped pod pepper, pickled chili, minced garlic, onion, cilantro, sugar, salt, light soy sauce and oyster sauce, then toss the chicken feet in the mixing bowl and coat evenly and add a little bit of water to thin the dressing.

Seal the chicken feet and dressing in a container and chill overnight in the fridge. It can be eaten anytime in three days as a cold appetizer or snack in the evening.

Chicken feet are commonly stewed in heavily spiced broth. Pairing it with fruit is a fresh idea more appropriate for the season, and the flavor is not bland at all — the extra sourness, sweetness and spiciness all come together.

Passionfruit isn’t a must-have in making fruity chicken feet, but its flesh can add some fun texture and extra sweetness when nibbling on the feet.

The sweet and sour passionfruit can also be braised with rich meats like pork short ribs for a summer version of sweet and sour ribs.

For hotpot lovers, spicy Chongqing-style beef tallow or sumptuous chicken with pork tripe may be too heavy for the stomach in summer.

But there’s a perfect solution to the dilemma.

Coconut water and chicken hotpot has been popular for several years, it uses fresh coconut water, often cracked and poured tableside, as the base for the broth. The freshest chicken has little meaty smell, so they are good for light soups.

This summer, spice up your meat dishes with a little bit of fruit

The light coconut chicken hotpot is best served with a citrus dressing featuring calamansi. 

Before cooking, various ingredients are added to the broth, it’s best to enjoy a bowl of the chicken soup to savor the original flavor. Lighter ingredients such as leafy vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, taro and bamboo shoots are excellent ingredients to add to the simple, mild broth.

Like sesame paste sauce for Beijing-style lamb hotpot, sesame oil for Sichuan spicy hotpot and soy sauce for seafood hotpot, a preferred sauce for coconut chicken hotpot should include some citrus, like the juice of lemon or calamansi, some light soy sauce and hint of pot pepper.

Some restaurants crack open fresh coconuts by the table to show the guests the authenticity of the dish. When cooking coconut chicken hotpot at home, pure coconut water can be used instead.

The dish is inspired by the classic coconut chicken soup of Hainan Province, where coconut and famous Wenchang chicken are highly sought-after local specialties. The dish simply stews chunks of chicken with goji, ginger and jujube in fresh coconut water over low heat for about two hours, so there’s a hint of natural sweetness from the coconut against the richness of the chicken. A fancier version uses coconut shell to stew the meat in coconut water in the steamer.

The best time to enjoy durian is from June to July. The controversial fruit with its strong odor yet sweet and creamy flesh is becoming more popular every year, and it’s being incorporated in savory dishes as well.

Every part of the durian, from the soft flesh to the spiky shell and hard kernel, can be used to make soups. After removing the spikes from the hard shell, many people love to cook the white part with some flesh and a few kernels in chicken soup.

The dish only needs a minimum seasoning of ginger, jujube and salt to find the balance. A vegetarian version stews the shell with dried sea coconut and king oyster mushrooms.

Durian flesh can be added in the last minutes of making fried rice for a unique flavor, it’s completely different from the more traditional pineapple fried rice, and fans of the recipe describe the dish as naturally sweet and fun.

This summer, spice up your meat dishes with a little bit of fruit

Durian fried rice

Another favorite fruit of the season is lychee, known for its intense sweetness.

In southern China, there’s a special way of eating lychee — dipping the fresh fruit in soy sauce for a blend of sweetness and saltiness, which may seem bizarre to many people.

Lychee can be used in cooking because it replaces sugar to add a natural sweetness to dishes such as luffa gourd and lychee stir-fry and lychee with shrimp balls.

Some people stuff the lychee with seasoned minced meat (or shrimp paste)after removing the pits and steam them with a sauce.

Grilled fish is a popular dish in China. Freshwater fish is deep-fried, then grilled before being served in a large flat pan over heat. In Shanghai, the brand Yuku Grilled Fish is best known for its spicy lychee grilled fish, a strange dish that uses lychee fruit to balance the spiciness of Sichuan fermented bean sauce.

Lychee is a fruit easy to eat in large quantities because it’s easy to peel and utterly sweet and fresh. But it’s actually a fruit that should be eaten moderately. Overeating can cause hypoglycemic symptoms due to the sudden intake of sugar that stimulates insulin secretion. It’s also suggested to eat lychee after meals instead of on empty stomach.

This summer, spice up your meat dishes with a little bit of fruit

Spicy lychee grilled fish, a strange dish that uses lychee fruit to balance the spiciness of Sichuan fermented bean sauce. 

Special Reports