I don’t usually feel compelled to write two blog posts in one evening but a number of things came together over the last few days which have my mind whirring with the endless possibilities of Chinese cuisine.
Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure
The second episode of BBC2’s Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure with Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang plunged me back into the “feel” of the China I experienced – the passion for colour, texture and taste, the array of dishes, the attention to perfection in technique and authenticity, the extraordinary, numbing sensation of sichuan pepper on the tongue, the mothers and “nãinai” (grannies), especially the grannies, so devoted to preparing the meal for everyone else that they are usually the last to eat and often eat alone. Shan told me she never saw her beloved Granny sit down to eat with the family and yet this woman, with her bound feet, was the powerhouse of her family.
This 2nd episode of Exploring China was set in Chengdu the capital of Sichuan Province and the images of ever-expanding and developing China, while the old traditions linger, evoked my own experience of Urumqi in the far north-west in Xinjiang Province, a city which now has a population of over 4 million people.
Gok Wan’s Dim Sum
Meanwhile I set out yesterday to see if it was possible to create genuine dim sum at home using Gok Wan’s recipes from his Channel 4 Gok Cooks Chinese series. So I prepared:
- Prawn and Scallop Moneybag Dumplings
- Chilli and Salt Squid
- Pickled cucumber
- Steamed Rice Parcels with Chinese Mushrooms wrapped in lotus leaves
- Chicken and Leek Potsickers
- Pork and Prawn Potstickers
- Steamed Beef and Coriander Balls
- Steamed Pork Ribs
- Fried Rice
The short answer is that it IS possible, provided you don’t mind being on your feet from 11 am to 6 pm and enjoy the pleasure of playing around with endless small quantities of ingredients, making up tiny, delicious parcels of delights and have VERY patient friends who can tolerate their Sunday dinner coming at them in a haphazard way – but that’s what happens in China after all.
For me the real kick of yesterday was discovering the sensuous pleasure of cooking with a bamboo steamer, the speed with which pork ribs and minced beef meatballs cook and absorb flavours with no oil added, the scent of the steaming wood and the sizzle of water added to sticky dumplings, their bases already crisped, which turned out exactly like the real thing served at home by Shan’s family in Urumqi.
I loved making the prawn and money bag dumplings and tying them up with chive “lasoos”.
Once our guests arrived it was impossible to cook, serve, be hospitable and take photos at the same time but I can honestly say that the part-fried and part-steamed dumplings turned out just as I remembered them from Urumqi.
We finished the meal with chilled watermelon dipped in lime and raspberry coulis from the Exploring China cookbook – simple and palate-cleansing.
Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti
Then I woke this morning to a new recipe from Shan in my inbox. This time it was for Xinjiang spaghetti with lamb, one of my favourite recipes from Urumqi and another reminder of the common ground between Italian and Chinese cooking. As luck would have it I had 2 small lean side-loin lamb chops in the fridge and it was easy to pick up Chinese Celery and Hu Jiao Fen pepper in the Asia Market.
The white pepper seems slightly more aromatic than ordinary white pepper but I suspect the latter would be a good substitute.
The Chinese celery has a lovely crunchy texture and more flavour than ordinary Irish celery.
I notice I tend to use a bit more meat in her recipes than Shan recommends but it’s not really necessary and these stir-fry dishes are a great way of “stretching” meat for a quick family meal. I used spelt tagliatelle because that’s what was in the cupboard and it reminded me of the flat noodles in Urumqi. I would also love to try this dish with “Pici” pasta from Tuscany.
It took about 20 minutes, if even that, from the time I started slicing garlic to serving up the meal. It was filling and delicious but not heavy. Not a scrap was left at the end.
When I started out on this blog a few short weeks ago I said I had no idea where this journey would take me. Well tomorrow, on the strength of it, I get my first chance to be inside a Chinese restaurant kitchen in Ireland. This is how half-formed dreams take shape.
A word of acknowledgement
Over the weekend I visited various Twitter Foodie friends for ingredients so a special thanks to @brid_h2g for fresh produce at her Honest to Goodness Market. @pat_whelan for pork, lamb, beef and chicken from James Whelan Butchers at Avoca, @RobertsofDalkey for scallops, prawns and squid from Roberts of Dalkey and @AsiaMarketIrl for endless patience in meeting my requests for ingredients at the Asia Market, not to mention Enter the Panda @enterthepanda and @ClaireB_Oz for supporting their enthusiastic Ma in this new endeavour 🙂
If you’d like to try a hand at this dish yourself, have a look at Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti recipe. Please leave a comment too. I’d love to hear how you got on!