Did you know that giant paperclips make great meat hooks?
I didn't either, but it truly does work. And no, I don't normally make my own char siu but when it's your turn to host the travelling dinner party gang (with high standards set so far) there's an element of self-imposed pressure to feed them well.
I spent days planning the menu - any excuse is a good one if it justifies reading cookbooks at bedtime, although it becomes a little dangerous if you're already feeling peckish! There were lists and shopping treks and prep work and then a big day of cooking, much of it almost ready so I was only in the kitchen briefly when the guests arrived.
The menu? We started with san choy bau, a help yourself arrangement of crisp lettuce cups and a huge bowl of stir-fried pork mince and diced waterchestnut seasoned with ginger, soy and rice wine. Instead of bean sprouts or fancy deep-fried vermicelli, I took the easy option and sprinkled in crushed Chang's fried noodles. So bad but oh so good.
A brief stint in the kitchen to cook the veggie and then it was on with the mains. I'd cooked the Hainan chicken in the early afternoon, allowing it to cool then having it ready chopped on the plate for serving. The chicken was incrediblymoist and succulent, sweet with the flavours of the ginger and eschallot broth in which it had slowly simmered.
The homemade char siu was probably the biggest hit. Although tempted to use a jar of marinade or sachet of flavouring, it felt much more rewarding to make the marinade from scratch. The result was worth it. The pork was so much tastier, more like roast pork that had been glazed, rather than the super tender and sweet pork from the shops that also seem to have lost their pork flavour by comparison. You could also really taste the red fermented tofu, the brandy and the hoisin sauce that made up the marinade.
A bit of seafood always makes a dinner feel special, so a mound of seared scallops was paired with crunchy stalks of bright green Chinese broccoli (gai lan). The veggie component was complemented by a dish of Chinese shiitake mushrooms stir-fried with baby bok choy leaves.
There was no hiding the dessert. As the drinks were loaded into the fridge, everybody noticed the giant cake stand dominating the top shelf. The dinner dishes were cleared with lightning speed and when I tried to protest that guests should be guests, M leaned in and said "the faster we clear the dishes the faster we can have dessert!"
Dessert was a simple green tea cake sandwiched with green tea cream and red bean paste, my new favourite combination that seems to have no shortage of fans.
Some of the recipes follow below, and whilst the char siu may seem like a lot of work (and your oven may get a little messy) I strongly recommend you try it at least once. It really is worth it.
Homemade char siu Chinese roast pork
1 tablespoon of rock (lump) sugar
1 tablespoon of groundbean (soybean) sauce
1 tablespoon hoi sin sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon red fermented tofu
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
750g pork neck
2 tablespoons of maltose or honey
Cut the pork neck into thick 20cm-long strips (the pork won't shrink much so cut to strips about the same size as you'd find in a Chinese barbecue shop). If your oven is small, you should check that the pork strips have enough room to hang.
Combine the marinade ingredients in a large freezer bag, then add the pork strips and knot the bag tightly. Mix the marinade through the bag and leave in the fridge overnight (or about 6-10 hours).
Preheat the oven to 220C (425F). Move one rack to the highest shelf and the other rack to the lowest. Place a baking dish on the bottom rack and fill with boiling water to a depth of about 2-5cm (or about an inch).
Thread the top of the pork strips on meat hooks or paper clips bent into an S-shape. Hang the pork from the top rack and cook for 10-15 minutes. Baste again with the marinade and then reduce the heat to 180C (350F) and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes whilst you mix the maltose or honey with a teaspoon of boiling water.
Transfer the pork to a flat tray lined with baking paper and brush liberally with the maltose. Place under a hot grill until caramelised, then turn over and brush the other side with maltose. Grill until caramelised. Mine spent about 15-20 minutes under the griller in total.
1 x 1.2kg chicken
8 slices fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
2 eschallots, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 green onion stalks (scallions) chopped into 10cm lengths
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Ginger dipping sauce
2 green onions (scallions) sliced finely
1 tablespoon ginger, sliced finely and then julienned
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, ensuring the pot is deep enough to submerge the entire chicken. The lid should also be tightly fitting.
Blitz four slices of ginger, the garlic and 1 eschallot in a food processor. Alternatively chop finely. Place mixture into the cavity of the chicken and pour in the rice wine and soy sauce. Rub the mixture around the cavity of the chicken.
When the water has boiled, remove the pot from the heat and place the chicken into the water, neck first. Add the remaining ginger slices, eschallots and green onion and put on the lid. Leave the chicken to stand for thirty minutes, then lift the chicken out of the water and let the water run out of the cavity before plunging it back in.
Return the pot to the heat and bring the water up to just below boiling (before large bubbles start to break on the surface). Remove the pot from the heat and allow the chicken to sit for another thirty minutes. The chicken should be cooked by now but you're unsure, use a meat thermometer or carefully insert a skewer into the thickest part of the chicken to check.
Transfer chicken to a large bowl and allow to cool before carving. Serve with the ginger dipping sauce.
Ginger dipping sauce: Combine the green onion, ginger and salt in a small metal bowl. Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok until smoking then pour over the green onion mixture. This will effectively fry the ginger and green onion. Be careful of spitting oil. Stir well and allow to cool.
Green tea and red bean cake
This one's really easy. I used Billy's recipe for a Victoria sandwich cake but you could use any sponge cake recipe you like (or source a ready-made one for extra ease). This recipe is very moist- with 25% butter it's denser and richer than most sponge cakes, but holds its freshness a lot better allowing you to make the cake the night before your dinner party!
3 eggs, weighed
self-raising flour (same weight as your three eggs)
caster sugar (same weight as your three eggs)
softened butter (same weight as your three eggs)
2 teaspoons matcha powder
375ml fresh cream
2 teaspoons matcha powder
250g red bean paste (preferably in a plastic packet)
80g toasted flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add one egg, 1/3 of the flour and the 2 teaspoons of matcha powder and mix until incorporated. Add the second egg and half of your remaining flour and mix until incorporated. Add the last egg and the remaining flour and mix until incorporated.
Divide mixture evently between two 20cm sandwich tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the edges of the cake start to pull away from the sides of the pan. As soon they are removed from the oven, transfer to cooling racks lined with baking paper.
Beat the matcha powder with the cream until you reach the soft peak stage. Spread a third of the cream on the top of one sponge cake. Snip a small corner off your red bean paste packet and pipe the red bean into spirals on the cake. If you are using tinned red bean paste you may have to thin the paste with a light vegetable oil and transfer to a piping bag. The red bean spirals should be reasonably even (either thin spirals all the way around or fatter spirals with gaps in-between) but don't have to be too neat.
Place the other sponge cake on top then slather the top and sides with the rest of the green tea cream. Press the flaked almonds around the edges of the cake.
Decorate the top of the cake with halved strawberries or white chocolate. I made squiggled hatches of white chocolate and matcha chocolate (melted white chocolate mixed with matcha powder).
Serve to the collective oohs and ahhs of easily impressed guests.
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11/19/2008 12:34:00 am