Our family first encountered mermaid’s tresses before we even were a family: it was served at our local Chinese restaurant while my now-husband and I were courting (now there’s an old-fashioned concept), and we loved it. You can use any leafy green, but the best results come from using bok choy.
A small kitchen fire saw the restaurant close, only to lose mermaid’s tresses from the menu when it re-opened in the next suburb a decade later! Now, if we ask nicely, and they’re not too busy, we can ask the cooks to prepare the dish especially for us. They’re not so accommodating for my other favourite, vegetarian steamed dumplings: they’re gone forever, but you can’t have everything.
Now I have to warn you: this is deep fried in vegetable oil. It won’t bother some of you, but we count it as terribly unhealthy. It’s probably the only thing we ever deep fry any more.
- bok choy
- oil for deep frying
- caster sugar
- dried shrimp, chopped cashews or peanuts (optional)
- Wash and dry the bok choy.
- Cut the white stem from the leaves. You can use them later for something else.
- Shred the leaves: stack them on top of each other, roll them together as tightly as you can and cut into 3-4 mm slices.
- Heat the oil in a deep pan and fry the shredded leaves for about 60 seconds. Don’t drop in more than you can easily remove with a slotted spoon. The timing is critical: too short and you’ll have oily, soggy leaves; too long and they’ll go brown. They’re ready when they turn a deep brilliant green. If you taste-test a sample, it will be crispy.
- Drain the fried leaves (now mermaid’s tresses) on some paper towel. If you want to top with dried shrimp, deep fry it in the same oil, drain it, and sprinkle it over the tresses.
- Sprinkle the tresses with some salt and caster sugar (and the shrimp or chopped nuts if you are using them) and serve immediately while the tresses are still crisp.
You can use any leafy green. We have tended to play it safe and use bok choy because we like the softer flavours. Young silverbeet (chard) would work just as well if you can’t find bok choy in the shops. Even kale works well.