Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chinese New Years IV

Chinese New Year
Part 1
Part II
Part III
In the late 90's I visited Uwajimaya's in Seattle (the old store) to re-supply for Chinese New Year's.In the produce section I saw a huddle of old woman turning over a pile of vegetables that looked like shallots crossed with a wrinkly mushroom. The sign overhead announced that these were "water potatoes." Inquiry informed me that these were the starchy roots of an aquatic plant which were a local delicacy in those parts of Guangdong where it grows in the streams and lakes. It is crunchier than a potato but more starchy than a water chestnut. We managed to sprout one and grow a handsome reedish plant. But mostly we ate them. Here is the menu for our Chinese New Year party in 2003.

Dum Luk's pot rack
Longevity Noodles
Cook a pound of noodles. Chop a quarter cup of scallions and slice several radishes. Sliver a third of a pound of salmon with a half pound of calamari. Place some of each in a bowl. Add heated Chicken stock.

These are a traditional wish for a long life. the bowl is supposed to be placed in the guest's hand as soon as they arrive -- get settled for the visit.A dozen or so people were invited so adjust the quantities accordingly. The bowl should be small. The noodles few, and the meat and vegetables less than the broth which would be about a half cup per serving. The hot stock cooks the fish or any other meat or fowl you prefer provided it is cut small and thin.
Spring Rolls
Bone a chicken breast and matchstick the meat. Thinly slice some bok choy , separating the leaves from the stalks. Matchstick three scallions. Peel and matchstick two water potatoes. Rinse a quarter cup each of sliced bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. Smash two or three ginger root slices with cleaver.
Heat oil in wok. Add ginger. Stir. Add chicken. Stir fry. Add garlic and a teaspoon of hoisin sauce. Stir. Set aside. Clean wok if needed. Heat more oil. Add vegetables. Mix all and thicken with a tablespoon of cornstarch or drain as you fill the wraps. Deep fry.
Deep frying does not require fancy equipment. If myou already have a wok put the oil in that and fry away. A modest cast iron stew pot is the preference of the French. Mainly you want a pan whose sides are tall enough to catch the majority of the spatters. A slotted spoon or long handled strainer is a great tool for removing food from the oil. A thermometer is a good idea. I set up two trays. One is lined with parchment and holds the food before frying. The second is large enough to contain a half sheet cookie rack. I line this with paper towels and set all in the oven at 'warm' or 'hold'. This receives the cooked food. Double frying is essential for French fries, but is also useful for do ahead cooking. Get your spring rolls all but done and set aside. Then a quick immersion makes them hot for guests. Spring rolls are around four inches long and so are usually served cut in three pieces. The cool dim sum way to do this is with a scissors.
Lamb Mai
Coarsely grind a pound of lamb with an onion. Finely dice two water potatoes, two tablespoons of red bell pepper. Strip and finely chop the leaves from a half dozen stalks of Chinese celery and Italian parsley. Finely slice the celery stalks.
Heat oil in a wok. Add the meat and onion mixture. Stir fry til meat is browned. Add a teaspoon of garlic and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Stir. Add a tablespoon each of curry powder and sesame seeds. Add celery seeds. Add the vegetables except the leaves. Mix two teaspoons of corn starch in a little water. Add to wok. Stir. Add leaves, stir and remove from heat.
Using round sui mai wrappers form open topped dumplings using a teaspoon of filling each and place in oiled bamboo steamer baskets.
Steam a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes.
If you do the steaming a day before, or the morning of your party there will be less fuss at the party. You can mix the steamed stuff so that each basket contains some of each and just set ovor boiling water for about fivwe minutes to heat through and serve in the baskets. If you don't have baskets, do the same with the serving plates. Use a round lid to seal in the steam and line it with a paper towel to keep from flooding the plate with condensate.

Cha Siu Bao
Filling: Dice a pound of Cha Siu (barbecued pork) fine. Dice leek tops very fine. Combine with a half cup of Chee Hou Sauce. (a spicy hoisin sauce)
Dough: Combine two and a half cups of warm water with a like amount of flour. Add sourdough starter. (Or yeast) Set sponge to rise.
Add three cups of flour, a quarter cup of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Mix and knead to a soft dough. Add more flour if needed. Let rise.
Cut the dough into twenty four pieces. Roll each piece out to a circle about 4" in diameter that is thicker in the middle than at the edges. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center and stretch the sides over it and pinch together to completely enclose the filling. Place this seam side down on a three inch square of parchment paper and place in steamer. Let rise a half hour. Steam for 15 minutes or until done. Pinch the dough lightly. If it relaxes it is not done. Fine cold, but easy to reheat just by steaming again for five minutes or so. You can bake these instead. I think steamed is much better. That possibly is another spring roll question, i.e.: how you had it first is the best way.
Pressed Duck
Quarter a duck. Steam two hours using the bowl in a pot method. When cool enough to handle, remove bones. Continue to cool duck under a weighted plank.
Place duck on top of a cup of water chestnut flour and steam thirty minutes.
Deep fry 'til golden. Reassemble quarters and chop into bite size diamonds.
Without disarranging, move the duck to a bed of chopped lettuce.
Soak a cup each of dried apricots and prunes in boiling water with two star anise overnight.
Drain. Matchstick a half cup of scallions. Lightly stir fry a half cup of almond slivers. Add the scallions and stir fry briefly. Set aside. In a sauce pan bring one half cup of rice vinegar, one half cup of sugar, and a cup of plum sauce to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add the fruit. Two tablespoons Dum Luk's sauce, a tablespoon of pickled ginger, and some celery seed. Simmer until thick. Add the scallions and nuts. Pour over duck.
This is not the recipe Kam Lan's used. There are many varieties of this dish. The easiest way to quarter the duck is to buy it frozen and ask the meat cutter to run it through his band saw twice.
Turnip Cake
Peel and grate one and a half pounds of daikon. Put in a sauce pan with a tablespoon of peanut oil, a tablespoon of sugar, pepper and two and a quarter cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for fifteen minutes or until the daikon is tender.
Dice two Chinese sausage (lap xuong), and a half cup of shrimp. Chop three scallions — about half a cup — and some Italian parsley. Mix a half cup of corn starch in water.
Stir fry the meat. Add scallions. Add a teaspoon of rice vinegar and sugar. Add some mirin and soy sauce.
Add the parsley and corn starch to the daikon. Stir into the meat. Mix well and pour into an oiled square cake pan. Cover with foil. Steam one hour.
Rhoda Yee's recipe calls for cake flour as a thickener which she says has no substitute. Maybe so. But cake flour was not a common ingredient in south China when this cake, or pudding, was developed. Nor was corn starch as in this recipe. This year I used rice flour with good results. The water chestnut flour used in the pressed duck is also possible though harder to find. Taro starch, tapioca starch, and arrowroot are also in the running, though I haven't tried them. The quantity required will vary according to the thickening power. Also this year I did not pre-cook the turnips. They were grated and quickly stir fried in oil for about two minutes. For Chinese sausage substitute ham. I have always used fresh shrimp rather than dried because it is easier to come by. Add a cup of reconstituted shitakes chopped fine.
Line a covered round casserole with parchment paper. Separate four eggs. Beat whites stiff. Beat yolks light. Add 1 cup of sugar.
Add 1 tablespoon water and a teaspoon vanilla. Add 1 cup flour and a half teaspoon baking powder. Fold in egg whites and pour into casserole. Cover. Steam 30 to 35 minutes.
In the 1600's the Portuguese began infiltrating South East Asia. Like all soldiers and sailors every where they longed for home and the comforts of familiar food. In particular they longed for sponge cake made with many eggs and baked to golden exquisiteness. But there were few bake ovens in the orient. There was little wood to waste heating ovens. Instead they steamed. A grand compromise was struck and Kasutera was the result. In Japan it is packaged in wooden boxes and sold as a gift in the railway stations.
Almond Cookies
Set oven to 350° f. Grind ten almonds fine. Cream 1 cup lard with 1 cup sugar. Add one egg and one teaspoon almond extract. Add two and a half cups flour, one and a half teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt. Form into a roll about two inches in diameter and cut into thirty six slices. Press a whole almond into the center of each cookie. Bake about fifteen minutes until golden. Var.: Brush tops with egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water.
These are the classics. Do use the lard as it gives them a light, crisp texture not to be found with other fats.

This series has not even brushed the surface of the possibilities for Chinese New Years. Once you try Dim Sum, you will find reason enough to make it throughout the year.
-- ml
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