Jacky Wu, executive chef at Duddell’s, is a stickler for tradition. The art-filled dining room designed by Ilse Crawford may be the height of contemporary style, but his cooking philosophy is to “keep the classic taste of Cantonese cuisine.“
“Nowadays, we have a lot of requests from guests for food with less salt, less oil and less seasoning. But at the end of the day, we want to preserve the original flavours of a dish.”
Wu takes a strictly traditional approach to Duddell’s double-boiled soups, which earn rave reviews from diners. The base is made with local pork, chicken and Jinhua ham, though mushrooms, abalone, Chinese cabbage and other ingredients can be added.
It’s a complex dish that takes hours to cook, but the initial seconds are make or break. “The first step is blanching the pork and chicken in hot water, then washing the meat to clean it of impurities,” he says, a process that is repeated before the double-boiling begins.
Mess up the blanching and you should “throw out the whole thing and start again,” says Wu.
Get it right, and you have a thing of beauty, a broth that’s clear as a mountain stream, free of oil slicks and blood, yet packed with rich, umami-laden flavour.
Where he is happy to depart from tradition, though, is in his hunt for the best ingredients from around the world. Like using Basque pigs for his signature braised pork ribs. The breed, unlikely to be found in other kitchens in Hong Kong, tastes nuttier with a fuller, rounder flavour compared to local pork, thanks to its diet of acorns, chestnuts, ferns and grains.
The ribs are deep-fried for several minutes at medium heat to maintain its juiciness, before being flash-braised in a sauce of pickled plum, young ginger, cinnamon and Zhenjiang vinegar.
It’s sweet, sour, salty, slightly fruity and delightfully aromatic, with that all-important wok hei. The trick, says Wu, is in getting the temperature right — a skill a seasoned chef have.
Tradition also takes a subtle turn in a dish of scallop and egg-whites, which resembles scrambled eggs, but are actually quickly poached in 60-degree oil, with temperature once again critical. Too cool and the whites won’t cook; too hot and they will harden. But if it’s just right, the egg is silky smooth and creamy.
The dish stands out from other renditions around town with its use of pan-fried Australian scallops, which are placed whole on top of the egg, instead of being chopped and folded in. Ginger, spring onions and globules of truffle vinegar (another gentle twist) add acid and zing to an otherwise delicate dish.