Dinner Parties @ Home – my first time cooking a Chinese meal!

What could possibly be better than sharing food, wine and conversation with good friends? Ok, maybe a great many things, but as far as dinner parties go, we and four friends have something pretty fantastic going on.

Auvergne, France

 

Chinese/Indonesian/English

The idea was sprung from a casual plan to have dinner together. I realised that we all come from different places and that trying each of our cuisines would be a great way to not only get to know each other better, but also each others cultures and backgrounds.

Martinique

Korea

Belgium
Alsace, France

Three couples.
Six Foodies.
Six different cuisines.
Lots of good food!

JCL volunteered to go first, brave man! He hails from Martinique, where food culture is characterised by a blend of French and Creole cooking. Much is prepared with seafood, such as salted cod, crab and langoustine, and the local markets supply tropical fruits and veggies.

I initially thought that we would just go to restaurants, and so JCL would be the most challenged to find a decent Caribbean restaurant in Hong Kong. And true enough, apparently he doesn’t think there are any, so he decided that he was going to cook it all, by himself! He set the bar high, and we had to follow.

And so our dinner party circuit started and evolved. I was Number Two, and was really nervous because I have never truly cooked a full Chinese or Indonesian dinner in my life. It turns out that in getting to know friends’ cultures better, I was actually learning more about my own! It was also my first time buying most of my ingredients at the wet market, it was smelly noisy, crowded, and downright fun! All in all, the meal  involved 3 hours at the Wan Chai wet market, 4 hours of cooking, and 2 hours of talking to my grandmother!

While I was cooking, PB set up the flat – he did a pretty darn good job, didn’t he?

We bought new table mats and new wine glasses for the evening (hey, we needed them anyway – and JCL had done such a great job of his dinner that we in turn had to get everything just right!)

At the market, we found little Chinese zodiac charms and thought they would be a nice alternative for place setting name tags, and they were nice souvenirs of the evening too.

I have always admired the pretty place settings in glossy magazines, and yet I am usually so busy and rushed (because more often than not, I start cooking too late), and the table is set in a very random manner, cutlery, glasses and napkins strewn haphazardly across the table. This time, with the help of a very able PB, everything was just perfect!

I decided to focus on my Indonesian Chinese heritage for this meal, and the only thing English about it was how much we were going to drink!

I had to raid my mother’s recipe book for most of these (secret) family recipes, and thus many of them cannot be divulged on this blog. However, if you are really interested in trying these recipes out, please email me and maybe we can sort something out 🙂

A Duo of Starters: Indonesian Perkedel & Chinese Spring Rolls

My Oma’s Perkedel

The recipe is one that I have put together after chasing my grandmother around the kitchen and trying to decipher her method of cooking. Like all grans who make exceptional food, her recipe book is in her head. It’s in her hands as she feels for consistency, and in her taste buds as she adjusts the seasoning. Hence, there is no rhyme or reason behind it, but I think I managed to get this one down correctly:

You’ll need (to make around 20 patties):

4 potatoes
3/4lb/340g minced beef
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
pepper
1/2 of a beef stock cube
3 heaped tbsp berambang goreng (fried shallots)
1 egg (whole yolk and half the white), plus 1 egg (beaten) for frying

 Peel and chop the potatoes in large pieces, then boil them until they are soft, but not disintegrating, about 15 minutes. Mash them and then continue to cook over low heat with the butter so it dries out a bit.

Note: if you boil the potatoes too long, they will absorb too much water and the patties will be soggy and fall apart)

Mix the minced beef with the rest of the ingredients, then shape into round, flat patties.

Note: As a little trick to keep these babies from falling apart when frying, my Oma then steams them or cooks them in the microwave first.

 Heat some oil in the frying pan, dip each patty in the beaten egg, the fry until crispy.

Berambang Goreng (fried shallot)
Kecap Manis

SAUCE: Finely sliced raw Chinese shallots mixed with kecap manis (sweet soya sauce) make a wicked dipping sauce.

My Mum’s Spring Rolls:

A photo of the spring roll filing – guess away!
This is one of those ‘secret’ recipes, but really you can put whatever the heck you want inside them. I almost considered making an egg white and Cumberland sausage spring roll (to try and represent the English half of me), but that idea was poo-pooed by PB!

The main seasoning elements are light/dark soya sauce, sesame oil, shao xing cooking wine, and that stuff that my helper very aptly calls “Magic Powder” (a.k.a chicken powder, a healthier substitution for MSG). A little bit goes a long way! Use white pepper rather than black, and less salt as there is a lot of sodium in soya sauce already.

For the spring rolls, fry each of the individual elements together, then mix them all up. It’s cooked, so all you have to do is a taste test, and if you feel it’s not flavorful enough, adjust the sauces until you think it tastes good! 🙂

Wrap your filling in wrappers – you’ll find them easier to roll if the wrappers are still cold (don’t defrost them completely), and they’ll hold better when frying. Serve with Thai sweet chili dipping sauce.

Spring roll wrapper
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
“Magic Powder”

2nd Course: Fried & Steamed Chinese Dummplings

(“Jiaozi”, or 饺子)

For special dates on the Chinese calendar, whether it’s Chinese New Year or mid-autumn festival, we make jiaozi! We all sit at the kitchen counter and wrap at least a few each. Usually my mum and I do most of them, but it’s a good chance for everyone to gather and have fun.

Serving them is said to bring luck, as they resemble the yuanbao golden ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. The name also sounds like the word for the first paper money in China, the jiao 角.

I prepared this for our second course, and everyone had a go at wrapping. The boys lost patience with it quickly, whereas the girls saw it as a challenge to make the prettiest ones. They say the most beautiful jiaozi are those with 5 perfect pleats. JC got it pretty much the first time around, I think they were even better than mine!

I’ve found this recipe which is pretty darn close to my mum’s, you can click here to check it out.

Of course, as with the spring rolls, you can fill these little gems with whatever you want (the more popular fillings being pork/Chinese cabbage, pork/chive, mutton/spring onion etc.), but I like my jiaozi packed with veggies, so I used both chives and small white cabbage (小白菜).

If, like me, you had no idea what Chinese chives look like, here you go.

Boil ’em…
Or fry ’em up pot sticker/guotie/锅贴 style!

To fry your dumplings, heat a couple of tbsp of oil in the pan, just enough to lightly cover the bottom of the dumplings. Arrange them prettily in a fan, and fry on medium heat until the bottom of the dumplings are nicely browned. Now add a slurry of 1 cup of water mixed with a tbsp of corn starch, add that to the pan and cover to steam the dumplings until most of the water has gone. Lift the cover at the end to evaporate the remaining water, cover the pan with the serving plate and flip the pan.

Dumpling Sauce:
2 tbsp soya sauce
2 tbsp white vinegar or dumpling vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, finely minced
1 hot chili, sliced finely (optional)

One of the things that our friends liked about this meal was all the difference sauces for each of the dishes – they added character and flavour, and I tried to prepare them all in advance so I wasn’t rushing right before serving.

Caramelised Pork Belly

(similar to Hong Shao Rou, or 红烧肉)

You’ll need (to serve 6):

2 onions, peeled and sliced roughly
Vegetable oil
700g or 1 1/2 lb pork belly, cut in 2 inch cubes
6 tbls dark sweet soya sauce (Kecap Manis)
4 tbls brown sugar
4 tbls fish sauce
water
chinese lettuce, to serve

This dish is super simple and will impress the socks off of any guest. True, pork belly is not the healthiest cut of meat, but if you try to buy the imported Australian pork belly (from a Park ‘n Shop Taste or International that has a meat counter service), you can some find some more meaty cuts. Much of the fat melts away and reduces as you cook it.

 In a frying pan, saute the sliced onions in a little vegetable oil until softened but not browned, then transfer to a heavy saucepan.

 Wipe the frying pan, then use it to brown the pork bely pieces on each side over high heat, then transfer to the saucepan as well, draining the oil.

 Add kecap manis, sugar and fish sauce. Add water until it covers all the meat. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and let it simmer for at least an hour. Then remove the cover and simmer further until the pork is tender and the sauce is boiled down to a dark, flavourful glaze.

This was a great dish for me to serve, as I could prepare it in advance and then just heat it before serving.

If you are not going to serve this dish immediately, only simmer until there is still a good amount of sauce left in the pan (about 2-3 inches of it), this way the meat will stay moist. Once you are ready to serve it, cook it once more over low heat until the sauce reaches a sticky glaze, and serve on a bed of lettuce.

Caramelised pork belly
Bean Sprouts with Tofu Puffs and XO Sauce
Sweet and Sour Tiger Prawns
Whole Steamed Garoupa

Bubur Sago
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Dinner Parties @ Home – my first time cooking a Chinese meal!

  1. Damn! I think this is your best post to date!You can't have a secret recipe without a magic powder! ;)The Cumberland sausage and egg spring rolls sound fantastic and I think I might just have to give it a try. Now where can I buy the wrappers in Bath?….I've never tried perkedel before (can't say I have ever even heard of it) but I am salivating at the thought. Just a couple of questions, what is the quantity of beef? Have you ever tried with any other meat such as pork or lamb?Ah, jiaozi! The staple of my existence in China! That picture of the fried ones nearly brought a tear to my eye! I can almost taste it. YUM!One of my students gave me her family recipe for jiaozi before I left China, which was also of the taste and see variety, but slightly more worrying as she was tasting raw pork mince! She did say that you have to buy the freshest and best mince you can get! :-oI am going to have to see if I can find that recipe and get cooking.I don't want to comment on every dish, it would just torment me, but the belly pork one will possibly stop me sleeping tonight as my stomach demands sweet sticky pork food that I can't give it until the shops reopen tomorrow! This post could well be the thing that convinces me to finally go and buy some more ink for my printer so I can print it out and stick it in my recipe book!Your gran sounds like a treasure trove of recipes, get them down on paper for my, and everyone elses, reading pleasure! :pKeep up the good work, ang give me a shout next time you are in the UK.Rob x

  2. Hi Rob, wow thanks for the amazing comment :-)I realise that the perdekel recipe is incomplete – need to finish that off with my gran – just wanted to get this post out into the blogosphere!You should defo try to make jiao zi for your Bath friends, so impressive and they'll be like 'aaaaah, so that's why you were in China for so long!!!" haha…where you're going to find jiaozi wrappers I have no idea – there's gotta be a Chinese supermarket in Bath…?And the pork belly recipe is SUBERB! Super easy too!Thanks for reading xx

  3. Pingback: Cioppino – San Franciscan Fish Stew | LoveBites

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s