'So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be'. (Tennyson)
Published February 1st 2014
With a little help from your friends
Cook up a Chinese Feast - The Easy Way
If it's your turn to cook a special meal, and you're short of time and inspiration, relax. There are plenty of shortcuts to save the day.
Here are three dishes you can make with a minimum of effort.to impress family, friends or that special someone. You'll need to visit a good Chinese grocer like Mariana Market, at 80 Grote Street, between Her Majesty's and the bus station. Plus a good Chinese takeaway.
Fresh produce plus everything for Chinese cooking at Mariana Market
The three dishes are: 1. Dim sum 2. Peking Duck pancakes 3. Chinese Hotpot
Dish 1 in your Chinese Feast: Dim Sum
Everyone loves the sort of Sunday yum cha where laden trolleys come around, you point at what you want, then you experience the challenge of dividing three pieces of yum between either two or four people. I get a bit shocked at how quickly you can eat at a yum cha restaurant and how quickly the bill mounts up.
The classic yum cha experience. Source: Wikimedia Commons,
Which is why yum cha at home is so great. You don't need to have dozens of steamers and multiple deep fryers. You can either serve a limited selection of dim sum as an entree, or stretch this course of your feast out like a mini-degustation.
No need to muck around making your own dim sum as large Chinese groceries will have dozens of styles to chose from, snap frozen and ready to steam or deep fry.
From Asian Grocery freezer to table. RH photos from Wikimedia Commons
As an alternative, I picked up a one kilogram pack of frozen prawn gyoza for around $18 at Cappo Seafoods. With around 40 pieces in the pack, that's good buying. Gyoza are great as you shallow fry them to start to get a bit of a crust on one side, then add a little water and pop the lid on so they stem through.Gyoza are Japanese rather than Chinese, but that's a technicality.
To look like an old hand at Chinese cooking, invest in a stack of bamboo steamers for a couple of dollars each. Steam a different dim sim type in each layer, bring the stack to the table with some dipping sauces, such as soy and chili, and watch your guests tuck in.
Chinese grocers will also sell frozen BBQ pork buns, which you can steam along with your yum cha dumplings.
What to drink with your dim sum? Chinese tea naturally. If you prefer, some bubbles will go down a treat. And a riesling will get you through all three courses.
Dish 2 in your Chinese Feast: Peking Duck Pancakes
Peking Duck is one of the most celebrated Chinese dishes going around. Traditionally if you order Peking Duck in Beijing, you'll get three or four courses: The best bit is the pancakes, and it is easy to make Aussie style Peking Duck Pancakes at home.
Peking Duck Pancake - Yum! Photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Joyosity
You have three choices with the duck itself. You can buy a whole duck, or duck fillets and do everything from scratch using a Peking Duck sauce recipe. You can buy Luv-a-duck pre-marinated duck pieces from most good supermarkets. Or the easy way, which still proves way cheaper that going out to eat Peking Duck: buy cooked duck from a good Chinese takeaway. It will probably still have bones in it, but who cares?
You have choices with the pancakes as well. The freezer section of your Chinese grocery store will have frozen Peking Duck pancakes, often made with spring onions in the batter. I'm generally happy to make my own pancakes even though they are Aussie style.
So ... duck and pancakes at the ready and you are almost good to go. I put some Hoi Sin sauce on the table (available from the Asian aisle of your local supermarket or the Chinese grocer), a well as some spring onion, chopped into fine matchsticks. Use the green part as well as the white for Chinese cooking. And there you have it. You and your guests can enjoy rolling your sleeves up and creating your own Peking Duck pancakes: that is three-quarters of the fun.
DIY Peking Duck pancakes. Image from Wikimedia Commons, Fotoos Van Robin
To mix things up. I will often buy some Chinese BBQ pork as well as duck, pre-sliced by the same takeaway store. It tastes delicious with exactly the same combination. Beware, it's more-ish.
If you don't want duck, try this Aussie variant, which I often serve as finger food. First cook a batch of small pancakes or pikelets. They can be hot, cold or lukewarm when you serve them. Mix some mint jelly in with some soft butter, enough so that the butter to have a definite minty flavour. Brown the outside of a couple lamb fillets. Remove and slice them thinly: they should still be very rare. Heat a couple of spoonfuls of mint jelly in the same frypan, then toss the lamb slices in briefly to finish them off.
I'll generally make my lamb pikelets up before serving them. A generous smear of minty butter, some lamb on the top and you are done. It isn't Chinese, but your guests won't complain.
What to drink with your duck pancakes? Stick with the riesling if you prefer whites. Otherwise try a pinot noir or a grenache.
Dish 3 in your Chinese Feast: Chinese Hotpot
The trickiest thing about cooking Chinese main courses is that they should be cooked fresh just before you eat them. That's why I go with a Chinese hot pot, which can be cooked at the table by your guests.
I bought an electric table top cooker and light weight hot pot pan on my last visit to Asia. You can improvise with a range of portable cooking devices, but it is ideal to have some sort of temperature control. Even an electric frypan would do the trick.
You can buy a hot pot base in the Chinese grocery, or make your own stock if you can be bothered. Heat it up on your kitchen stove, then transfer it to your hot pot. If your pan is smallish, keep some stock on a low simmer in the kitchen so you can top it up.
Next bring out plates of raw meat, vegetable and noodles that you have prepared earlier. To keep things simple, authentic and varied, shop for these ingredients at your Chinese grocer.
Hotpot ingredients Kong Kong style. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Sawthawkalocin
Mariana, for example, has frozen meats and seafoods specifically for hot pots, enough varieties to fill two supermarket style freezers. 400 gram packages of raw meat are sliced razor thin then frozen. There are baby clams, oyster meat, mussels and other delicacies to set your dish apart.
For vegetables, think baby bok choy, finely sliced carrot, snow peas, sugar peas, bean sprouts, broccoli florets, cabbage chunks, mushrooms of all shapes and styles. If you like it, give it a try. Choose a range of noodle styles too, perhaps white rice stick noodles and yellow egg noddles.
In Chengdu, the home of the hotpot, some people will suggest a particular order for cooking and enjoying your food: first fish, then meats, then vegetables, then tofu, and finally noodles. As with your dim sum, this is a way to stretch one course into a mini-degustation. Otherwise, you can just free-form.
Each guest selects the goodies they want, tosses them into the hot pot and pulls them out when they are cooked. The meat in particular will only take There might be a few territorial disputes, but that is part of the fun. Again, it is nice to have some dipping sauces on the table. Try some oyster sauce with some garlic, coriander and chillies on the side.
DIY cooking in a double hotpot Chengdu-style: with spicy and mild stocks. Photo by Evan Munro from Wikimedia Commons
Once everything has been cooked, the stock in the hot pot will have taken on the flavours of your ingredients. To finish your meal, dish up a bowl or cup of stock for each guest to round off the Chinese experience.
What to drink with your hotpot? White wine if it's seafood based, a light red if it is beef and lamb based, and beer if you're using a spicy soup base.
And there you have it. Three yummy but light courses. A bit of advance effort with your shopping and vegie prep. But at meal time, when it counts, it'll be a breeze.