So what happens on Wednesday lunch time when you’re sitting in the office eating your From Scratch salad, perusing food websites and emails for inspiration, and you get an email telling you the best place to go for a Chinese New Year feast? – Dim Sum in particular….
Most people in my situation would either ignore it or plan to exploit the loop-hole in the rules and use Chinese as one of their occasional dinner trips to satisfy their dim sum fix. In my over excited state I did neither.
I spent the next 15 minutes searching for dim sum recipes to see if I could make them From Scratch and then planned an entire Chinese feast including dim sum, a platter of starters, three main dishes, vegetables, rice, and pudding… and then even worse, I invited people to it.
So in a few brief minutes of boredom I had gone from “ooh dim sum would be nice,” to “7.30pm, Saturday – Chinese New Year feast: be there or be square.”
Oddly enough, rather than feeling daunted by what I had just committed to I was actually quite excited and took a special trip to China Town in London to get a dim sum steamer so I could cook them properly.
However, on Saturday morning reality hit me like a gourmet chef tenderising a succulent steak!
It occurred to me I had no ingredients list, no recipes, no plan, and really no clue what I was doing at all. Not the best preparation for first three course dinner party From Scratch for ten people…. 🙂
Nonetheless the invites were sent and thus I embarked on an epic and frantic day of researching and cooking. After the obligatory trip to the supermarket, which included the highlights of choosing squid, finding bamboo shots, and the case of the disappearing five spice, by 11:30am I had a brief plan laid out and the ingredients I needed to put it into place.
Here’s the menu – just to get you’re mouth watering 🙂
Starters (the best part of a Chinese meal if you ask me)
Prawn and pork wontons
Salt and pepper squid
Kung Po Chicken
Sweet and sour chicken
Prawns with ginger and spring onion
Pak Choi in oyster sauce
Coconut Ice cream
So – I don’t know where to start really and to be honest I didn’t know on Saturday either, so I went with the bread for the prawn toast because I knew it would take a while and oddly now I find it a comforting and relatively easy thing to make.
So bread (for recipe see previous blog – ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’) then ice cream.
This was a real success as I love ice cream, have a massive sweet tooth, and was seriously concerned that I wouldn’t be able to recreate anything that would satisfy this.
I was wrong.
This recipe is a no churn ice cream
550ml double cream
400g tin of coconut milk
5 tbsp caster sugar
1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the cream until thick. Fold in the coconut milk, desiccated coconut, and sugar.
2. Pour the mixture into a container and freeze for at least eight hours, stirring every hour or so to keep it smooth ( I didn’t stir regularly enough so mine went into slight crystals- however after it melted a bit it was delicious!)
I couldn’t believe that with such a small amount of effort I could make something so tasty! I definitely recommend you give it a try, unless you don’t like coconut then maybe don’t 🙂
So after the bread and ice cream I cracked on with getting a few bits out of the way early that would keep nicely in the fridge.
I made the Sweet Thai Chilli dip ( not enough of it – so if you’re cooking for more than 4 people maybe double the amount)
75ml rice wine vinegar, or even water
½ red chilli deseeded and finely chopped
75g of sugar
Pinch of salt ( although I didn’t do this because I like my sauce sweet) ( it also occurred to me this would make an excellent drizzle over the coconut ice cream – maybe with a bit of lime as well!)
1. Chop and deseed the chilli and then throw all the ingredients in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes
2. Then set aside to cool in the fridge- then serve!
Then I prepped the prawn mixture for the prawn toast (I’ll give you the whole recipe now, although obviously best to fry and then eat immediately!)
Half a bag/ packet of prawns
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
A few bits of fresh coriander
Half a pack of sesame seeds
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Blend the prawns, flour, coriander, salt, and pepper in the food processor.
2. Spread the prawn mixture onto one side of the bread ( I cut mine into triangles) and sprinkle over the sesame seed, pressing down to ensure they are firmly attached.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the prawn toast for 1-2 minutes or until the toast is golden-brown and crisp on both sides.
4. Drain on kitchen paper and then serve 🙂
These were so simple, tasted delicious and went in about 1 minute flat- I would definitely recommend them ( although not the healthiest option- so maybe not an everyday recipe :))
Then I made the biggest mistake of the day. I sat down and ate slightly warm freshly baked bread with butter. For around 30-40 mins I just sat and did nothing – I’m not going, to lie it was completely blissful and I definitely needed a break, however when cooking for ten people and it’s nearly 5pm (baring in mind people will be there at 7.30), don’t sit! My costly moment of relaxation meant I would have a manic mad rush to make three different types of dim sum, salt and pepper squid, three main dishes with sauces From Scratch, two vegetable dishes, and fried rice, all of which are the sort of dishes that need to be made and served piping hot. This left me with a Ready Steady Cook situation – Ainsley, eat your heart out!
For your sanity and mine I won’t narrate the panic that ensued over the next few hours, however suffice to say with some hard work and a very useful extra pair of hands (thank you Sous-Chef!) I managed to get everything out tasting pretty darn good (modesty aside, you wouldn’t find better… well maybe in China, but not made From Scratch without the much maligned MSG in the UK!)
SO here we go – I am just going to blitz the recipes and offer any feedback/ helpful suggestions.
Dim Sum – the bit I was most excited about. I love dim sum and now know I can make these little puffy white heavenly clouds of goodness for lunch, dinner, pudding, breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea, elevenses, midnight snacks… you get the picture!
I only tried pork this time – however I think vegetable, and even a sweet version e.g. chocolate or custard filling would work just as well.
Char Sui Buns – this recipe was based on one from a great blog ‘Cooking with Alison’ – Alison seems to have everything you need to know about making dim sum From Scratch – it’s definitely worth a read if you want to have a go.
8g instant dry yeast
160ml lukewarm water
280g self raising flour
90g icing sugar
30g vegetable oil
pinch of sugar
10g baking powder dissolved in 10ml cold water
½ tbsp oyster sauce
1tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1tbsp corn flour dissolved in 150ml water
1. Start by marinating the pork in oyster sauce, soy sauce and a bit of sugar and five spice – or if not From Scratch, barbeque sauce and five spice and put in fridge.
2. Dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar until the yeast becomes foamy.
3. Sift together flour and icing sugar and make a well in the middle. Fill the well with the yeast in water and gently mix everything together.
4. Add the oil and knead until a soft dough is formed (about 8 mins) it should be smooth on the surface. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise for 30mins.
5. Fry off the pork and other ingredients (except the corn flour), once the meat is sealed add the corn flour and simmer until the sauce is thickened.
6. Back to the dough – dissolve the baking powder in cold water and sprinkle over the dough and knead until well combined. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for 10 mins.
7. Divide the dough into 12 -16 parts, shape into balls and roll into flat circles. Then add the filling and gather at the top with a twist ( I found that despite my sauce being fairly thick and sticky I ended up with a bit too much liquid, so try and make sure the filling is dry and sauce very sticky when you do this).( Also don’t put them all on a plate next to each other as they stick together and meld into one – my advice is to make them and put them directly in a hot steamer.)
8. To cook place them in a steamer (I used the bamboo one I got from China Town, but electric or normal pan steamer will work fine) with some greaseproof paper on the bottom and steam for 12 minutes, remove from steamer and place on wire rack to cool to prevent them becoming soggy.
As I said these had a few teething problems but turned out pretty well and tasted almost as good as the ones you find in restaurants.
Salt and Pepper Squid
Not really much to say here – except if you are buying a whole squid from the fishmonger/ fish counter get them to de-bone and clean it for you – especially if its your first time or you’re squeamish as doing it yourself can be a gruesome and interesting experience 🙂
1 Squid or packet of small squid
Salt and pepper to season
Chopped Chilli, and coriander for garnish
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Clean your squid if it hasn’t been cleaned already and chop up into rings or chunks.
2. Get a smallish bowl of flour and season with salt and pepper then add squid rings to flour and completely coat.
3. Heat oil in a deep pan and chop up chilli and coriander for garnish
4. Test out heat of oil should fizz as soon as you drop a squid in (don’t get too close as the oil tends to jump out – and we all know that hot oil on your face = :()
5. Throw the squid into the pan until its crispy, drain onto kitchen towel and the serve with garnish.
Sweet and Sour chicken – an Anglo-Chinese classic
For the Sauce
125g pineapple chunks, canned or fresh
125ml pineapple Juice
1 tbsp lime juice
Light Soy Sauce
Splash of rice wine
Ground white pepper
(I added some more sugar as I thought it needed it, but taste yours and add as you think appropriate)
For the dish
4 Chicken breast
1 Red Onion
1 Red Pepper
1. Dice the chicken and fry off with onions and pepper.
2. For the sauce place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz, then pour into pan over the chicken and vegetables then cook for further 20 mins.
Kung Po Chicken – this was my absolute favourite dish when I went to China, especially in Szechuan region (oh the fond memories we will all cherish from Chengdu). I am yet to find one in England that even comes close to replicating the local experience so I was very excited to try my own version.
This worked well but was a bit shy on the sauce and, as everyone knows, it’s all about the sauce!
00g/1lb 5½oz chicken breast fillets, each fillet cut into 8 strips
50ml/2fl oz shaoxing rice wine
50ml/2fl oz vegetable oil
40ml/1½fl oz groundnut oil
10 dried red chillies, left whole
5cm/2in piece fresh ginger, in small chunks
50g/1¾oz soft brown sugar
75g/2¾oz peanuts, shells removed
50ml/2fl oz light soy sauce
50ml/2fl oz Chinese black vinegar
1. In a bowl mix chicken with soy sauce and rice wine, cover and chill in the fridge for one hour.
2. Heat half of the vegetable oil and half of the groundnut oil in a wok over a high heat. When the oil is smoking, add the dried chillies and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, then carefully remove the chillies from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Then chop into chunks.
3. Add the chicken to the wok the chillies were cooked in and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown.
4. Add the fried chillies, ginger, sugar, peanuts, light soy sauce and black vinegar to the wok with the chicken in it and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, or until the sugar has melted, the sauce is sticky and well combined and the chicken strips are cooked through.
Prawn with Ginger and Spring Onion – this is my staple order in a Chinese restaurant.
I think this turned out the best – I could have easily served it in a decent Chinese restaurant and no one would have batted an eye lid (honesty before modesty!)
1 pack of prawns
1 garlic clove
Ginger chopped finely
1 bunch of Spring onions chopped
light soy sauce
½ cup vegetable stock
1. Fry of the garlic in some oil, then add ginger, soy sauce, prawns, bamboo shoots and stir.
2. Once these are combined add the chopped spring onions and the stock and leave on the heat to simmer and reduce and then serve.
This was incredibly simple and was a very light yet pleasing dish, and was certainly my favourite.
And finally the carbs!!!
Vegetable Fried Rice – here I had a great amount of help from the master of fried rice, known only as ‘The Guru’, so I learnt a lot and can only pass on the gems of years of epic rice frying.
Rice ( I can’t give you measurements we did 1 washing powder cup worth per 2 people and then some!) – ( don’t worry, the washing powder cup was purely for rice, not washing!)
Salt and Pepper
1. First of all cook your rice, with a pinch of salt (tip for the rice is cook it until it is just al dente as it will cook the rest when you reheat it with everything else) (I know cooling rice then reheating sends off massive food poisoning alarm bells, but the Guru swears by it and if it’s good enough for the Guru, it’s good enough for everyone).
Try and cook it as early as possible, I did mine first thing in the morning and then left on a platter to cool with cling film over it.
2. Peel and chop carrots into cubes and chop green beans into small chunks, blanch in hot water and add to rice ( you could add them right at the end of the first step if you want – into the boiling water with rice before you put it on the platter) or do it later on in the day.
3. Finally just before you want to eat get a hot wok with oil in and throw in rice, light soy sauce and keep mixing until it all gets really hot – then serve (if you want egg fried rice, mix some eggs together and throw in a pan, scramble it so you end up with a mix between scrambled egg and an omelette – add this to the hot rice in the wok give it a final stir and then get it on to a plate and into your mouth!)
Well I’m exhausted… again… and that’s just from writing it all down, maybe we should go back and all take a break and devour some nice warm bread 🙂
Anyway I was thoroughly shattered, but at the same time very happy, all of the plates were empty, the guests had big smiles and big bellies and I now know I can make some of my favourite foods From Scratch (despite it nearly taking an entire day)!
It’s made me get even more excited about the next meal. I think that’s another thing I am starting to see, since I get such satisfaction out of cooking and such pleasure out of eating, I actually get excited at the prospect of what I can pull together to make the most mouth-watering treat ever.
It’s funny how the small things (or in this case a gigantic Chinese feast) are the things that really make you smile 🙂