This food memory and beautiful, imaginative egg-based recipe called Toon Cloud comes from chef/partner Jonathan Wu of Fung Tu in New York City. Fung Tu is a restaurant on the border of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. It features a creative and personal style of Chinese-American food that is complemented by a terroir-driven beverage program. The restaurant’s name comes from the words Fung = Wind and Tu = Soil and they pride themselves with serving “hometown flavor” – local food, conditions, tastes, customs, culture.
In cooking, and life generally, I value uniqueness and originality.
Toona sinesis [pdf] is a deciduous tree native to China. The Mandarin name is xian chun, but I refer to them by their English name: Toon. My Grandma planted toon trees in her yard in Yonkers and would harvest them in the early spring, when the tender leaves and shoots are most flavorful – they have a mineral, earthy, garlic-y flavor that is completely unique. Grandma would chop toon leaves and fold them into scrambled eggs.
Grandma’s combination of toon and egg was the inspiration for the Toon Cloud. Everything that I cook has a story behind it, most of the time relating to the personal: family recipes, stories and memories. For this recipe, I sought to retain the combination of toon and egg, but wanted to find a way to highlight the leaf, both visually and in terms of flavor. At the time, I was working as a private chef and happened to make the classic French dessert, Floating Islands, for my clients. And, there was the idea…I’d make a savory poached meringue. I chose to poach the meringues in a light smoked fish broth, infused with star anise, ginger, garlic and scallion. Before poaching, I infused the egg whites with the same aromatics for 6 – 8 hours. The completed dish is a “cloud” of poached meringue sitting in a pool of smoked fish broth and topped with raw toon leaves.
This dish is indicative of my style because it is personal, unique, original, seasonal, technical, delicate and subtle. I believe that the stories and personal connections behind dishes gives them soul – this is tremendously important to me.
Jonathan Wu’s Toon Cloud
Yield: 4 clouds
*Chef Wu notes that your local Chinatown is the best bet to find toon and that they can be found frozen or salted.
- Slice the garlic thinly
- Slice the scallion whites thinly
- Wash the ginger, slice thinly
- Separate the eggs
- Add half the garlic, ginger, scallion and 1 star anise to the egg whites – infuse for 6-8 hrs
- Combine the rest of the garlic, scallion, ginger, star anise with the kombu, bonito and water. Simmer very lightly for 1 hr. Strain.
- Season broth with white soy sauce
- Whip egg whites to stiff peak
- Use a table spoon to make ovular cloud shapes and poach in the barely simmering broth, about 1 minute per side
- Chill clouds and broth
- In a shallow bowl, place one cloud in the middle. Spoon 2 tablespoons of broth around. Place 5 leaves on the cloud and serve.