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Bird's Nests: An Expensive Tonic Food
Spring Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(1) pages: 23 to 24
Chinese believe this life-prolonging anti-aging tonic
food aids the pancreas and the lungs, and many
other body parts by nourishing and stimulating
cell growth. They believe it good for the eyes and the
lungs. and that it helps the elderly recover from many
an illnesses and the effects of aging.
Often served at feasts and to folks needing nutrition,
these nests are made from the saliva of a swallow, most
found in caves or houses where these birds are raised.
The former are more firm, the latter more smooth. They
are sold in oval shapes moistened and dried in forms to
make these shapes, reddish ones called ‘blood nests’.
Bird’s nests are a billion dollar industry with sales
centered in Hong Kong. The birds are mostly swiftlets
whose saliva makes the nests, and they are most often
raised in Indonesia, Borneo, or Thailand in concrete
houses constructed for them. Most are near the sea
where these gelatinous producing birds live in large
houses. The males of these Aerodramus fuciphagus are
a five billion dollar industry most used by Chinese who
love them in soups particularly for honorific occasions
such as weddings. A few are Aerodramus maximus
swiftlets, small and black, whose saliva produces white
nests popular with the Chinese.
This most expensive world food, a delicacy, the Chinese
call yan wo, can cost thousands of dollars a pound.
Some places require certification of their origin for
health reasons, such as harboring bird flu virus, others
just being assured they are legal and not fake. And not
with some other problem. Many places forbid their sale,
the reasons vary other than those already discussed.
The Chinese do believe they are nourishing, appetizing,
and delicate, and those made with small pieces of these
dried nests can be used for main dishes, desserts,
congees and rice dishes, as well as in soups and for dim
According to an ancient Compendium of Marteria
Medica, they are also used for nourishing the kidneys,
stomach, spleen, and the lungs. Cleaning those where the
birds were raised in caves, though more expensive, can
be priced at higher levels because they have more dirt
and feathers, and so cleaning them is time consuming.
Thin ones often get crushed in shipping and is one reason
though still called ‘superior’ these oval cakes can be less
costly. The highest quality are called ‘premium’ lower
classes called First Class, Superior, White, Yellow, and
Grade B Nests. The broken ones can be called balls or
strips, and their cooking times do vary. The bird’s nests
raised in houses can need more time when cooking them.
All bird’s nests need to be checked for cleanliness; not
soaked until they are cleaned of feathers, dirt, and any
other debris. Then, they need to be soaked for up to
three hours, then stewed for three or more hours longer.
The size of the nest, also called its ‘cake’ determines how
much longer will be needed. Some chefs tell us they
need to know the country of origin, and the type of nest,
its thickness, too, to determine that, but no chef could
tell us the time for a nest from a particular country; can
you? As these times do vary, experience seems to dictate
these time differences, but no chef could attach a time to
a country or bird’s nest type. Several chefs did tell us
that one oval cake can swell and be ten times heavier
when fully swollen, weight-wise.
|Bird's Nest, Melon, and Seafood|
1 soaked bird’s nest cake, excess water discarded
1/4 pound fresh shrimp, shells and veins discarded
1/4 pound crab meat, cartilage and shell discarded
1 cup chicken stock
1 egg white
1 pound winter melon, peel and sees discarded, then sliced into rounds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sesame oil, divided
dash of ground white pepper
1. Soak bird’s nest three hours or overnight, then drain
and discard excess water
2. Mince shrimp and crab meat, the bird’s nest, too.
3. Cut melon into half-inch thick circles and steam
then in half the stock and half the sesame oil for five
minutes, then drain them on paper towels, and dust
their tops with half the cornstarch.
4. Mix bird’s nest pieces with the shrimp and crab meat,
stir in the salt, and half the cornstarch and half the
sesame oil, then put bird’s nest and seafood mixture,
and half teaspoon in the center of each melon slice.
5. Heat the rest of the sesame oil in a wok or small fry
pan, add the seafood-egg white mixture, and stir-fry
it for one minute then pour it over the winter melon
circles, and steam them covered for three minutes,
|Birds's Nest Pudding|
1 soaked any kind of bird’s nest, soaked three hours
1 cup milk
1 cup stock
1 teaspoon ginger juice
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1. Drain bird’s nest, and then simmer it for fifteen minutes.
2. Beat eggs until light yellow, mix the milk, stock, ginger
juice, sugar, and a dash of sesame oil, and steam for
3. Cover, add the milk mixture, and steam for twelve
minutes more, uncover, and then serve.
|Shrimp and Bird's Nests|
3 Tablespoons bird’s nests, soaked for an hour, then drained, the water discarded
12 ounces fresh shrimp, shells and veins discarded
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 egg whites
dash of salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken stock (optional)
1. Dry shrimp with paper towels, mince them and the
soaked bird’s nests, then mix in the egg whites, sugar,
cornstarch, and salt.
2. Use a little of the oil, grease ten ceramic spoons, and
put some of the well-mixed shrimp mixture into each of
them and steam over boiling water for five minutes then
cool slightly and ease the shrimp