Friday, 14 June 2013

Ep 12: Releves – Silkie soup

Consuming consommé:

Restorative rest or rant?


He offers you 

Clear broth 


Cloaked intentions.




A week in the life food styling for Hannibal:

Feb 15 - Preliminary draft, unnumbered

This script has not yet been broken into numbered scenes, so I mindfully ignore that page 35 has a two-page scene with Hannibal serving Abigail a lemony dish of what looks like veal. I’m still wrangling sheep’s gut for the previous episode and haven’t got time to sketch up a veal picatta.

However, while I sleep I dream of veal noisettes mingled with char-grilled lemon halves nestled in leafy lemon boughs woven like a laurel crown on the antlers of a black stag. 

I wake up and sketch. Mid-way through the script, Will is hospitalized. Hannibal brings him a steaming Tupperware container of a restorative breakfast.

Feb 16 – Preliminary sketch
Sketch for draft version of the script

Feb 20 - Preliminary Production Draft released 

Poor Will is in hospital – Hannibal brings him a Tupperware container of amaranth porridge garnished with cruciferous vegetables, legumes and grains. This does not mean he is too busy to make dinner – a guy’s gotta eat - but now his guest is Bedelia, not Abigail. And although the script is being totally rewritten and the Dining room scene is represented only with sluglines, I’m saddened because I know that now, Hannibal’s going to have to do the dishes himself. Madame duMaurier is not the kind of woman who helps you wash up.
Sketch for draft script

Feb 20- One-Liner issued with only Day One and Day Two bookable

Prop Master says “get the ball rolling” – meaning the conversations with Jose Andres and OKs from producers.  OK on the hospital scene. It will be a Chinese medicinal soup my father used to make. That was decided last night in a volley of late night emails between Bryan Fuller, Robyn Stern and myself. Which is a good thing because it is first up on Day Two.  Not so OK on the Dining Room Scene which is nowhere to be seen in the One-Liner – the day-by day shooting schedule.

Chinatown shopping - full of fun surprises 
I spend the morning gathering fresh black chickens from Chinatown. I need four and each shop I visit has zero to two. I guess black silkie chicken is not a really big item right now, unlike inverted pig rectums – which are everywhere.

Returning to my kitchen studio, I email Mike, the Prop Master. Script asks for steam on the soup I ask him if I should prepare for that or can steam be done in Post.  But I already know that post-production special effects are too costly. Not surprisingly, Mike says to give the director real steam options.

Back in the day, we used to blow cigarette smoke through straws onto the dish when we wanted steam. Nice! Smoke drifts up because heat rises. But pesky health nuts have driven cigarettes outdoors and now lighting up on set is unheard of.  I can but dream of the series of commercials I once shot for Rothmans cigarettes where daily, the suits brought cartons of their product to the studio and gently encouraged us to chainsmoke throughout the sessions.

Here's the Silkie chicken before I made him into broth. That's white fungus clumped around him.
                                                                                                                                       (Photo courtesy Brooke Palmer Sony/NBC)

Feb 22 - Day Two of Eight 

Late at night, I pack up my little car which fails to start. Give my battery a jump-start and cross my fingers. In the morning, it starts like a charm. Thank goodness because my food scene is first up:
Black Silkie Chicken broth with red dates, wolfberries, bok choy, ginseng and white fungus. That plate garnish is a Silkie chicken foot tied with pea shoots. 

About that steam...

Food styling photographs with steam is no problem. For stills, you can use any number of toxic chemical combos to great effect. But for steam in an eating scene, I regret to say the usual solution is tampons. (T28s in crew-talk). You camouflage them with food coloring, soak them in water, microwave them just before shooting and stuff them under the food. Voila, steam.

Tampons - nay; pompoms - yea!
trimming pompoms to put in mushrooms for steam effect
But I don’t like the potential for embarrassment or misogynistic snickering. Plus there’s nowhere in a clear broth to hide a honkin’ big tampon. 

So I make my own little steam-poms. Fat pompoms made out of several shades of brown cotton wool, soaked in water, stuffed into Chinese black mushroom caps that have had the stems and spore gills scooped out.  I give the wooly pompoms little brush-cuts so they resemble the excised spore gills. 

Then, just before each take, we microwave them under plastic wrap and float them in the broth. 

Wow, did you see that steam billow off the soup!!!!! You didn’t? Really? No? On the cutting room floor, you say? C’est la vie...

Done like Dinner

By Day 4 of 8 it looks like the dinner in scene 26 is out. The dialogue has moved to Bedelia’s home. I can relax for the rest of the week. Except the sheep gut scene for the previous episode still has to be shot, along with some food scenes to reshoot for Episode 6 and the draft script for Episode 12 will be popping up in a few days. Other than that, I’m all resto-relaxo.

Time to stew up a restorative broth!

Here's a recipe for you so you can personally test the efficacy of a tasty broth with wolfberries - a herbal remedy that has been used in China for several millennia to increase virility. 

Wolfberries in Tomato-Beef Broth

Wolfberries aka Goji berries are small dried red berries that can be found in Asian grocery stores and health food stores. This recipe is beef-based but you can use regular chicken instead - or Silkie chicken if you can find it - it's tough so you must slow-cook it to tenderize it, and it tastes a bit gamey but makes a rich delicious broth. Substitute cubes of boneless chicken for beef and add strong chicken stock instead of water.

½ lb               beef round or sirloin, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp           butter
1 lg                onion, sliced
1 lg can          plum tomatoes, crushed.
½ oz               dried wolfberries
2 cups            water
1 lg                 carrot, cut in chunks
½ cup             fresh green peas
salt, pepper     to taste

1. In a heavy pot with lid, heat butter over medium-high heat and add beef cubes, stirring til brown. Add onions and stir til lightly browned. Add tomatoes, wolfberries and water. Bring to boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until beef is tender.

2. Add carrots and simmer for 20 minutes. Add peas and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Next week: Tete de Veau - Two sneaky shrinks dine on Rolled Head of Girl  Veal.


  1. I watch Hannibal get stressed out and excited then I read this blog and laugh. Thanks for the great posts!

    1. You cannot know how gratifying it is to get your feedback that I am scaring people then make them laugh. Thank you, blueberry pie.

  2. Next week: Tete de Veau - Two sneaky shrinks dine on Rolled Head of Girl Veal.

    Abigail! nnooOOooooo

    1. In spite of the evidence, I can't believe that Abigail is dead. She's in a vat of dry ice somewhere, or getting her hair done in a nice swoopy do that hides both her ear-stub and the ugly scar she got from her dad.

  3. I love the silky chicken soup dish! While I am familiar with the black chicken I never would have thought I'd see it in the show. Yet it fits perfectly for Hannibal and the scene in the hospital. The presentation, even in Tupperware, was well done. Photographically, the black skin can be alarming for those who are not familiar and yet it is true what Hannibal said, it valued for its restorative properties! I love that he has that knowledge ,which you gave him, and a character like him would know such a thing I'd imagine.

    I have always loved all the culinary creations on this show and it all is filmed with as much care as any other element to the show. I have immense respect for people who also allow the gastronomic side of Hannibal to shine on screen. I think it is a daring choice to include such things on a prime time show. Most would probably pass off on these details but for this great show, the devil is in the details! Please convey my appreciation to the rest of the cast and crew about the great work that they do!

    It's funny that a deceivingly simple dish like chicken soup inspired me to seek out this blog but it makes me happy as a Chinese American to see authentic Chinese cuisine in mainstream programming. Keep up the great work!

    1. It's so great to work on a show that actually provides an opportunity to showcase something like Silky chicken and I'm lucky to live in a city where fresh black chickens are available 24/7. I'm glad you agree that, with its health-giving properties and its sinister look, black chicken was perfect for the scene. Food is full of history and meaning and using this chicken wolfberry soup was significant for me too - it reminded me of my dad who, in his later years used to brew it for "special nights" with Mom.

  4. Kudos on getting the silkie broth to look so ominous! At first I laughed really hard that Hannibal would make such a dish (it wasn't people after all) but then I saw it and holy cow it was one menacing bowl of soup, even if it was in a tupperware container.

    I also wanted to take this opportunity to express how sorry I am that I won't be able to go to the PopUp dinner on June 18; a combination of scheduling conflicts and parental permission means I'll have to skip on such a great opportunity. It would have been wonderful to meet you in person!

    All the best ~

    1. We had another Hannibal dinner at George Brown College and the culinary students cooked - I hope you made it to that one but if not, I hope perhaps I will meet you at one of my book signings when the cookbook comes out in Fall of 2016.

  5. The food on this show looks amazing; fresh and edible - not like something out of plastic, that the prop department had to dust off before shooting. The dinner and cooking scenes are my favorite part of that show.
    Mads Mikkelsen`s Hannibal is always so neat and perfectly dressed, even when he`s "working" in the kitchen.

    Do you know more about the kitchen equipment,especially the knives?
    Some of them look like they`re from the Porsche design 301 series.

    1. Mads has great kitchen skills and is very serious about how he approaches the cooking scenes. Pressing the lung by hand (script called for a mallet) was his idea and I think it's one of the most memorable.

      Yes, some of Hannibal's knives are from the Porsche, but he has wonderful Japanese and German knives too. We try not to show logos so we can't use knives like Global which are excellent but have a huge logo on the blade.

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  7. I love this blog and the show - the food always looks so fantastic, your work is incredible! I can't wait to see more of it in season 2.

    I tried out the wolfberry soup recipe, and it turned out great. Thank you for sharing it with us. :)

    1. Yay! I love it when people try my recipes. Thanks for participating in the Hannibal Food Revolution! Eat the Scary!

  8. I am sick and eating silkie chicken herbal soup with yam rice. I'm also sick with missing Hannibal and your gorgeous creations. No, *his* gorgeous creations (lest he thinks me rude)... Hurry back! And, if you could tell me where I can buy the thermos he has (used in his first meal with will and when he goes to visit Jack at his office), I'd really appreciate it!!

    1. A late answer - Two years later I am writing a cookbook for the show and since you asked for it, this soup will be in it. I hope you have watched and enjoyed the ensuing seasons of Hannibal - so much has happened! Will should have stayed in the hospital!

  9. Is there any chance of getting an exact recipe for this as shown in the show? I thought I saw some baby corns in there.

    1. Yes, I was actually answering you in the comment above (a bit bleary-eyed working late on my cookbook manuscript) So I have put the silkie chicken recipe in for you. Now as long as my editor doesn't take it out, you will be able to refer to it in my Hannibal Cookbook coming out October 2016! Thanks for asking!

  10. I would really like to purchase the thermos Hannibal used in episode one. Can you please tell me where to find it?

    1. It is a Brekveld design and discontinued as it seems.

  11. This is one of my favorite dishes. We've held Hannibal viewing parties with dishes from the show. Your contributions to the show have been invaluable.

  12. I'm so glad to hear that you have been cooking along with Hannibal. I love the way the Silkie chicken looks so ominous yet is so nutritious and healing and I love making it now because it reminds me of Hannibal. Who would have guessed that thoughts of a cannibal killer would be so soothing! Keep watching and keep cooking!

  13. I love soups and this one looks yummy! Perfect for the weather.chowringhee satya niketan menu

  14. I think an earlier commenter said this too, but I was so excited to see traditional Chinese cuisine presented in such a fashion. Very rarely in Western media do we see it as more than cheap takeout or hangover food. Especially as a Chinese-American who sometimes felt ashamed to eat home-cooked meals outside of home, it was great to see Hannibal present Will with this dish made out of ingredients that I had at home. Also, my parents used to make chicken soup like this for me (but not with Silkie chicken). I might try this recipe sometime!

  15. Just to say every food shot taken in the Hannibal tv series is a work of pure perfection in detail, plus makes one hungry seeing them. Is it true that both Mads and Lawrence Fishburne didn't like the Aspics that were made - the dish with the fish going around and around in it?

    I like the fact Mads enjoyed the meals and who wouldn't. I think you did a wonderful job in producing the dishes that were created.

  16. After all these years, I FINALLY found a black silkie to try and turn into soup tomorrow.

  17. It is important for students to develop the skill of cooking. This develops fine motor skills, the ability to work in groups, the ability to clean up after themselves, the ability to keep clean. If students are preparing something in a special lesson, then it's great. I think that such lessons are very popular with students, in contrast to humanitarian and technical subjects, for which they ask a lot of homework, which students buy from service in large volumes.