Top Chef Celebrity Shirley Chung, Steams Fish in Banana Leaves, Luscious and Simple

Chefs, Cooking, Recipes, Restaurants By Jan 31, 2015


Shirley Chung is gregarious and quick to laugh, but behind the cheery smile is a chef-restauranteur who is highly focused on her craft.


Now her high-energy personality is at work in a new restaurant in Irvine, Twenty Eight, where she is executive chef and co-owner. She dubs the restaurant’s cuisine “modern Chinese,” cooking that she says represents Chinese culture and cuisine around the world, with dishes that respect traditional flavors and utilize local seasonal ingredients. She says that it is interesting to see that in many restaurants in China, a younger generation of chefs are bringing back old techniques with modern approaches.

Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge is at 19530 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

 She joined me in my home kitchen to teach me how to prepare fish fillets steamed in banana leaves, a simple yet irresistible dish accompanied with fennel-citrus salad.


Using fresh leaves to wrap the fish brings alluring perfume, while a finishing drizzle of spicy aged soy adds a just-right burst of flavor.


COMING UP Benefiting No Kid Hungry:
TWENTY EIGHT Restaurant & Lounge will host its first exclusive Chef Dinner prepared by Top Chef New Orleans star contestants Chef Shirley Chung and Chef Nina Compton. This fierce female duo is coming together to present an incredible menu for two seatings per night on Wednesday, February 25th and Thursday, February 26th.

Chef Shirley and Chef Nina will present a seven-course collaborative menu. Each chef will present three courses inspired by their competition dishes on Top Chef Season 11. The dinner will culminate with Twenty Eight’s noted Black & White Dessert. The dinner will feature two seatings from 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. and again from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. each night on Wednesday, February 25th and Thursday, February 26thTickets for the Top Chef Duo Dinner are priced at $188 per guest ($68 for wine and cocktail pairings) and are available for purchase at

The Competition: Her favorite restaurant (not including Twenty Eight) is Raku in Las Vegas, a small Japanese restaurant with delicious yakitori and an inviting selection of sake. The eatery is open until 2 AM, making it a popular after-work hangout for culinary professionals. The restaurant has been a three-time semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Southwest category.

Veg Hero: Hands down her favorite vegetable is napa cabbage. She says that in China, every family cooks up hundreds of pound of the pale green wonder every year, often fermenting it, or stir-frying it with pork belly.


Shirley Surprise: She used to be a radio disc jockey for a Chinese language FM station in San Francisco. She had two shows; one was a pop culture music show, the other an interview show.


 Chef shows how to cut citrus into supremes (peeled sections).

Steamed Cod in Banana Leaf with Chili-Infused Aged Soy Sauce and Citrus-Fennel Salad
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup aged soy sauce, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons mirin, see cook’s notes
1 Serrano chili, thinly sliced crosswise, see cook’s notes
6 fresh banana leaves, cut into 7-by-7-inch square pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 (4 ounces each) fillets fresh local black cod, skin on
1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced
1 seedless orange, cut into supremes (peeled sections), see cook’s notes
1 seedless grapefruit, cut into supremes (peeled sections), see cook’s notes
2 Meyer lemons, one cut into supremes (peeled sections), other cut in half, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon Spanish olive oil
Cook’s notes: Chung prefers the Wan Ja Shan brand of aged soy sauce. She says that aging removes the sharpness, making it fruitier with rounder flavor. Mirin is a type of rice wine similar to sake, but with less alcohol and more sugar. Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash hands and work surface upon completion and do not touch eyes or face.
To cut citrus into supremes (peeled sections): Cut top and bottom off citrus, making those two cuts parallel to each other and cutting just below white pith. Place cut-side down on work surface. Cut off peel and pith in strips about 1-inch wide, starting at the top of the fruit and cutting down (following contour of shape). Working over bowl to collect juice, use a sharp small knife to cut parallel to one section’s membrane, cut to center; turn knife and cut along the membrane on the other side of that section to remove it. Repeat until all sections are removed and cut from their membranes.
1. Heat soy and mirin in a small saucepan on medium-high heat until mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add Serrano chili slices. Allow to rest overnight or 8 hours.
2. Toast the banana leaves over heat, so they become pliable and fragrant. Season fish with salt and pepper. Wrap each fillet skin-side down in middle of a banana leaf; fold leaf over lengthwise, then fold over sides. Add enough water to bottom of steamer so that it doesn’t touch the steamer basket. Bring to boil on high heat. Add banana-leaf packets to steamer basket; cover and boil over high heat for 6 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare salad: In a medium bowl, combine fennel, grapefruit supremes, orange supremes and lemon supremes from one lemon. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; gently toss.
4. When cod has finished cooking, place one on each of six plates. Open top of banana leaf and spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of unstrained soy mixture on top of fish. Serve salad next to fish. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice atop fish.
Source: Shirley Chung, chef-partner Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge, Irvine

Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge is at 19530 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

Many thanks to Curt Norris, master videographer-photographer.

…Tip from Melissa’s…

Roasting fresh asparagus is an easy way to cook it, a method that builds appealing texture and flavor.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 450 degrees. Remove the tough portion at the bottom of each asparagus stalk. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and rotate asparagus to lightly coat with oil (you can roll them around with your hand); sprinkle with coarse salt, such as kosher salt. Make sure asparagus is in a single layer. Roast 7 to 10 minutes depending on width of stalks.

One luscious way to serve it? Serve with burrata cheese and drizzle on a simple vinaigrette spiked with fresh minced tarragon. Grind on some black pepper.

Burrata is a fresh, soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream –  outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream.

Cheese shops sell it, some supermarkets as well as Trader Joe’s and Costco.

Ace videographer-photographer Curt Norris must have liked it.

Clean plate, happy man.

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