Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mum's the Bird

Behold the Chrysanthemum, or 'Mums' as your syllabic-lazy friends may call it. Most people are familiar with the dried flower of this perennial in its tea form or its fresh flowers as a decorative touch to a fancy artisan salad, or possibly even as, according to strawberryreef.com, the identifying ass-tat on the Australian release of My Little Pony, "Chrysanthemum Birthflower" but in my opinion the lesser known (at least in the West) green stems and leaves of this plant is where all the action is.

            My Little Chrysanthemum Birthflower Pony                                                                                Chrysanthemum Leaves


This slightly grassy flavored green can be found in almost any local Asian market but due to its unfamiliar leaf shape it's often passed up by the uninitiated for more familiar territory. Don't let this happen to you.

The taste of chrysanthemum is surprisingly fresh with a slightly nutty base (think of that top-of-the-palate nuttiness you get with a super-fresh carrot and not the 'pepper nuttiness' like you find in arugula) and has the same, light perfume quality as the tea you may already be familiar with. Depending on the market where you shop and more importantly whether or not they translate their produce signage to English, you may need to look for this vegetable labeled by its native name; Tong Hao (Chinese), Rau Tần Ô (Vietnamese) or Shungiku (Japanese). There won't be any other greens with the same leaf shape in the store so when in doubt just go with the visual and you're golden.

Traditionally this vegetable is steamed, boiled, added as a flavoring to soups or simply eaten raw. When eaten raw the thinner, young shoots are preferable as they impart less of the bitterness that, as with some people, comes with thickness and age. To cook them I could have prepped a traditional, miso based salad or just a simple saute with garlic and both would have been delicious. Because of the freshness of this particular bunch of chrysanthemum however, and the fact that it's been a stellar, sunny week in Seattle I was in the mood for, and really wanted to pair it with spice...so that's what I did.

chicken wing, nuoc mau, thai chili, chrysanthemum  

parboil chicken wings

Parboil wings
Parboil wings for 5-7 minutes and drain. If time permits, air-dry thoroughly on a rack in the refrigerator. This process removes some of the fat and helps separate the skin from the meat for an ultra-crispy finish.

dried chicken wings

Dried Wings

 Place wings on a rack, the rack over a sheet pan and bake at 425F (220C) for 45 minutes.  I know this sounds hot and long but trust me, this will be the most worthwhile hot and long thing you'll do all week.

thai chili, lemon

Diced Thai Chili, Lemon


nuoc mau 

Nuoc Mau
 Nuoc Mau is just a fancy (and by 'fancy' I mean Vietnamese) word for caramel sauce. For this dish I finished the sauce with a squeeze of lemon, thai chili and several hefty dashes of  fish sauce.

crispy caramel chicken wings with chrysanthemum

Plated Dish
Toss the crispy wings in spicy caramel sauce from above and add several handfuls of chopped (1/4") chrysanthemum leaves.  The small leaves will quickly wilt and the syrupy sauce will perma-bond them to the surface of the wing. Finish the dish with larger, rough-cut fresh chrysanthemum leaves and stems for added flavor and crunch.


  1. Hi Chris,

    It's Carol.
    I will be a big fan about your cooking website.
    Please keep writing your recepits for people.

    Thank you very much.

  2. That's awesome Carol! Let me know if you can think of any "unknown" Taiwanese ingredients I should do a blog post about?