Flavors: Authentic Chinese Cooking at Hummingbird’s Kitchen
Linda Huang of Hummingbird’s Kitchen is serving authentic Chinese food at her pop-up dinners and cooking classes. In her studio located in a scalloped sided cottage near the MSU Bozeman campus, she shares the food from her childhood and cuisine from her native country.
Growing up in Shanghai, in a family with a line of professional cooks — great grandfather, grandfather and father — Huang learned to love food at an early age.
“My whole family really loves to eat,” Huang said. “It’s just like, it's almost in our DNA, so food and eating are always surrounded by laughter and happiness, and abundance, with cooking.”
Huang’s love of food inspired her to name her business Hummingbird’s Kitchen. She admitted to always wanting to be on the move.
“I need to eat every two hours," she said. "I have ADD.”
In the Chinese culture, friends and family always greet each other by asking, “Have you eaten?” or more literally, “Have you eaten rice?” The conversation usually leads to talking about food.
“I grew up in an interesting period of time,” Huang said of growing up in the late '70s when food was being rationed. “My family had to be very creative” in how they were cooking and preserving food. She also pointed out that they did not have refrigeration until the late 1980s.
It was also a culture that traditionally valued boys.
“After 1949, people changed their mindset," she said. "Girls were actually very equal with the boys.”
Her family valued and adored her.
“My mom became a good cook later in her life because my whole family was very competitive,” she said of a mother who did not get much of a chance to cook because of her grandmother's dominance in the kitchen. Huang grew up with the care of her grandmother during the Cultural Revolution because her parents were sent to the countryside to work.
Later when Huang's mother returned, the family lived in a communal situation. While the family lived in separate quarters from their neighbors, they shared cooking in a common kitchen. There, Huang had the opportunity to taste different dishes from the “aunties” who cooked alongside her family.
The atmosphere nurtured friendly competition and her mother was known for her smoked fish.
“Shanghainese use a lot of star anise and cinnamon to flavor their food,” Huang said of the marinated fish that was dried for half a day by her mother. The fish was then fried and then bathed in the sauce. Cooking fish in this way preserved the fish, allowing it to be kept at room temperature.
Huang met her husband, Matt Brailsford, at a club in Shanghai in 2001.
“Who said you can’t find a husband or wife at a club?” she said jokingly.
The idea to move to Bozeman "was mainly my husband’s idea," Huang said. He had grown up in Livingston and moved to China when he was 25.
"At the time he couldn’t wait to leave Montana. He wanted to go to the big city, and to see different things and people," Huang said, "but after almost 11, 12 years living in China, he started to have this idea he wanted to come back to Montana.”
With two kids, he did not want to raise them in the big city, so he slowly convinced Huang to learn to appreciate his home state by taking her home for visits in the summer.
“And who doesn’t love Montana in the summer?” she said with a laugh.
In February of 2012, Huang took residence in Bozeman. In her visits over the years, she became good friends with her mother-in-law, Susan. The couple eventually bought the home she was living in.
“She’s my best friend,” Huang said of Susan. “She’s always encouraged what I do. She’s my cheerleader.”
Unfortunately, they lost their mother to cancer.
“After she passed away, I was really sad," Huang said. "For a while I did not want to do anything with the house. I basically closed down this house, and the house was really dark."
The family left for a vacation and when they returned, the house had flooded. Huang saw the misfortune as a message.
“I realized I had to do something. I started renovating the house, and officially moved my studio here.”
Huang offers several pop-up dinners every month. At the dinner I attended, eight courses were offered. The number "eight" sounds like the word for good fortune and prosperity so serving eight different dishes guarantees good luck.
After each course was brought to the table, Huang visited each table to discuss the dish, offering explanations and health benefits for many dishes are served made with in season ingredients and locally grown products.
This dinner was attended by 30 guests with half seated downstairs by the open kitchen and the rest upstairs on the second floor.
The first two courses, wood ear mushroom salad” and spring pancakes were “based on the spring meals my mother would cook," Huang said. "The vegetables bring you young energy, detoxing from the winter."
The wood ears and cucumbers swaddled in savoriness exuded crunch and freshness, while the pancake with chrysanthemum and cucumber carried a lightness.
“This experience is not that just I serve the food, but to inspire people, and I feel this special experience,” Huang said.
The meal continued with pork and garlic chive dumplings, Shanghai scallion noodle” with homemade noodles dressed with scallions, onion, shrimp and dried scallops; followed with steamed chicken with mixed mushrooms.
The next course, Yan Duo Xian Soup, or salted pork soup, is a seasonal dish.
“We drink it in spring and early summer," Huan said. "It is deep in umami flavors.”
Before dessert of Chinese-style steamed cakes, Huang served a small plate of stir-fried green leafy vegetables highlighted with bok choy. The grand finale included a pea cake in brilliant green, flavored with coconut accompanied by a mango pudding.
To learn more about Huang’s childhood Chinese food, the Hummingbird’s Kitchen may be the place to go.
Oyster Sauce Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry
Recipe by Linda Huang of Hummingbird’s Kitchen
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
8 ounces beef tenderloin, flank steak or sirloin steak, sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
½ tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound asparagus
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or sherry
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Half egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cornstarch or potato starch
½ teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 cup water
In a small bowl, combine the sliced beef with the marinade sauce for velveting (see note). Marinate the beef for at least 15 minutes. Wash your asparagus, and cut about an inch off the bottom ends, Slice into 2-inch pieces on an angle. Combine the stir-fry sauce into a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Heat the wok over high heat. Once the wok is hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons oil then reduce the heat to medium low. Quickly spread the beef slices in an even layer. Let it sear for 15-30 seconds without stirring. Then give it a quick stir to sear the other side. Lastly, take the meat out of the pan and set aside. Don’t overcook the meat.
Keep the wok on high heat and add another Tbsp of oil into the wok. Stir in your garlic and asparagus. Stir for about 1 minute and add the beef back to the pan and stir for 30 seconds, add the stir-fry sauce mixture. Stir for a few seconds until the sauce gets thick, add a little water if needed. Plate and serve immediately!
Note: Velveting is a technique in Chinese cuisine for preserving the moisture of meat while cooking. Additionally, it provides a soft or "velvety" texture to the meat of any entrée. The technique is applied to raw meat before cooking either in oil or in water. It involves pre-coating the meat with a mixture of savory seasoning, sherry or rice wine, egg white, potato starch or cornstarch, and oil. The meat can then be sautéed, stir-fried, deep-fried, simmered, or boiled.
INSERT PHOTO: Oyster Sauce Beef Asparagus