Ah the full moon – hands up if you have ever gazed up at it wondering if someone you love is, at that very moment, watching the same moon somewhere.
The Full Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival – Zhongqiu – is an important event in the Chinese calendar, a lunar harvest festival with rituals of dancing and story-telling dating back 3,000 years. It reminds me of our own Irish harvest Festival of Lughnasa as described in a recent blog post by Felicity Hayes McCoy..
The festival is held on the fifteenth day of the eight month in the Chinese calendar, close to the Autumn equinox. It is a welcome break from work before the onset of a cold, hard winter and a time of family togetherness. Even if your family are not close by you can still think about them as you watch the moon rise and disappear and celebrate the occasion by cooking a special meal for your friends.
When Shan came to visit us in Ireland for the first time last Christmas, she arrived armed with Sichuan pepper and star anise and one night she kicked me out of the kitchen so that she could prepare her signature dish for us, a dish that is now set to become part of our family Christmas rituals. Since then I’ve been trying, with some difficulty, to extract the recipe for that delicious meal from her and here it is. I will let Shane take up the story from here…
Shan’s Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken – xin jiang da pan ji – 新疆大盘鸡
“In the glow of a full moon and enjoying one of the rare National Holidays in China, this Mid-Autumn Festival, we invited two of our good friends over for dinner.
Our friend Carl recently has had myself and Shan over to his house (more than once) for a Sunday roast chicken dinner. Being so far from home and without a sufficient oven in my apartment to attempt such a spread myself, his roast chicken, spuds, garlic and gravy are heaven on a plate. Although we recently raided our freezer and treated him and his girlfriend to an authentic Irish fry-up brunch, we felt it was only fair to man-up and try to repay the favour with a proper O’Neill-Gao Sunday dinner experience.
After much persuasion, Shan finally agreed to teach me her signature dish, but with the footnote that it’s only because hers “will always be better anyway.” She has since qualified that statement by explaining what she really meant…
Throughout all of our childhoods there was one dish that was a speciality of a Mum or a Granny, that although often copied could never be equalled. She promises that while her speciality will likely be reproduced by many members of our ever growing family, this will be the delicious plate that everyone agrees ‘Granny cooked best’ many years from now.
This was also the first meal Shan cooked for our family in Ireland on her Christmas visit, and the very first meal she cooked for me in our shared home in Beijing.
So, we went to our local markets and picked up some fresh meat and veg, then with notebook and pen in hand, I watched and learned (and chopped and stirred when ordered).
The result is my best attempt at the recipe for you all to try at home and enjoy… Continue reading Full Moon Dinner – Shan's Big Plate Chicken