In Sydney, Claire and Mike have just celebrated their first Australia Day as Australian citizens. In Beijing Shane, Shan and Dermot are packing their bags to fly to Urumqi to celebrate Chinese New Year with the Gao clan. The year turns once more, the Year of the Horse is upon us. Thursday 30th January is both New Year’s Eve and Claire’s birthday.
Here in Dublin we are deciding how best to celebrate both these events in the absence of our offspring. We will certainly join in the fun of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival and I have enjoyed providing some of my favourite recipes for the last year for their Taste of China website. Watch that space for daily recipes from Eva Pau of Asia Market over the two weeks of the Festival. I look forward to trying them out.
Meanwhile Twitter friends and followers of the blog, including those with offspring studying in China, have been asking me for suggestions for recipes to serve at a dinner party to mark the occasion with friends. So here goes.
Tips for a Chinese dinner party
- Food should be served on dishes for sharing – give every guest a bowl and chopsticks (or a plate and fork if you must!) and let them help themselves.
- Typically there should be one dish for each person plus one or two to spare including rice. The concept of “starters”, “side” dishes or “plating up” food doesn’t really exist in China – each dish should be capable of serving 2 to 4 people and should be brought to the table as it is cooked to be passed around among guests.
- For example for six people you could serve three meat and poultry dishes, a fish dish, two or three vegetables and a large bowl of steamed rice. Pay attention to colour and texture to ensure there is a good variety – that will also help ensure a balance of nutrients in the meal.
- It’s a good idea to have two dishes that require slow-cooking, so that they can be prepared in advance, one dish that can be ready to be steamed in a few minutes and the remainder capable of being stir-fried quickly.
- The trick with the stir-fried and steamed dishes is to have all your ingredients prepared in advance and lined up by recipe in the order in which you will use them in the dish. That way you can cook and serve them and still not miss out on any of the fun.
In China the dinner served on New Year’s Eve is regarded as the most important of the year. On the table you would expect to see plenty of pork, chicken and a whole fish. In Chinese the word for “fish” – yu – is similar to the word for plenty or surplus so it symbolises a year of wealth and plenty.
For the first of the Twelve Days of Shananigans Christmas, I prepared a buffet for Shan’s family as they arrived off a plane from China. It went down a treat with the weary travellers. I’ve included most of the recipes I used that night in the sample menu below with links to the recipes on the blog. I’ve also included a steamed fish dish but I have adapted it to western tastes by using fish fillets instead of the whole fish.
Some menu suggestions
- Braised Pork Rib – a perennial favourite in our house that benefits from gentle cooking for an hour and a half. Don’t worry if you can’t get to an Asian Market to get Bai Jiu, use vodka!
- Beer Duck – the bones in the duck add texture and flavour. This dish will never look pretty but it sure tastes good. It also takes an hour and a half to cook and can be kept warm in the oven, along with the pork, once cooked.
- Hunan Steamed Fish – get yourself a bamboo steamer, prepare your fish according to the recipe and it will cook in minutes when your guests arrive.
- Gong Bao Chicken or if you prefer Crispy Chilli Beef. You can substitute chicken for the beef if you wish. Both of these recipes require cooking at the last minute but if you have all your ingredients prepared it won’t take long to get the dish to the table. Then wipe out your wok and quickly stir-fry a few vegetable dishes.
- Baby corn and peppers – simply dice the pepper and corn into similar sized pieces (about 1 to 2 cms square), toss quickly in hot oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Broccoli with garlic – break the broccoli into florets, blanch or steam them for about 3 minutes at most so that they retain their bright green colour. Thinly slice a few cloves of garlic. Heat some oil in the wok, toss the garlic briefly being careful not to burn it, add the broccoli and stir fry until heated through. Add in a splash of water if you wish to help the broccoli become tender without over-cooking.
- And don’t forget to have lots of steamed rice. You can use any leftovers for fried rice the next day.
There are lots more recipes on the blog that could be incorporated into a New Year’s Eve Banquet so just root around the site if the ones above are not to your taste.
And finally, a dessert – Steamed Milk Egg with Ginger – Jiang zhi niu nai zheng dan
Desserts rarely feature in Chinese banquets but I’ve adapted the one pudding recipe I learned at Hutong Cuisine for this special meal of the year. I tried it out on my Italian friend Solange and her Argentinian husband Agustin yesterday and they liked it’s light delicate flavour and texture.
- 250 g whole milk or a mix of milk and cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 large piece of ginger, peeled and smashed
- 4 tbs sugar
- Weigh the milk/ cream into a saucepan and add the sugar. Add the ginger. Bring slowly to just on boiling point and leave to cool for 30 minutes or so while the flavours infuse.
- Beat the eggs. Strain the milk through a sieve and add to the eggs, mixing well.
- Pour into four to six small pudding bowls and steam for 8 minutes until lightly set.
- Serve in their bowls or tip them out onto a plate and garnish with fresh berries, dark chocolate with orange or crystallised ginger and a dusting of icing sugar.
Xin Nian Hao – Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family wherever you all may be.