Chinese Lunch Feast

9/28/2012 07:23:00 PM

So as I mentioned in my previous, long-winded, post about Sichuan cooking, I finally had the confidence to host a Chinese-themed lunch party last week. Apart from one Japanese lunch party three years ago, my entertaining efforts have usually been European in nature - big hunks of roast meat, crispy roast potatoes, that sort of thing - or even that Middle Eastern-inspired mezze-style of entertaining that was so modish at the start of this century. (It's making a comeback, thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi!)

Here is my Chinese-themed menu:

A Mod-Chinese Feast for Five

Pork Belly Mantou Buns

Silken Tofu with Century Egg
Stir-Fried Mixed Mushrooms
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings
Stir-Fried Gai Laan with Garlic

Salted Butter Caramel Ice-Cream with Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce and Salted Candied Peanuts

A bit of an expansion on my usual theme of dumplings, stir-fried mushrooms and stir-fried greens. Just a bit! I did a lot of the preparation in the evenings the week before (buying the ingredients, making the ice-cream, folding the dumplings, roasting the pork belly), and because I was organised, the actual cooking and prep on the day was unharried and relaxed. Funnily enough, I'd planned the whole menu out, using Sichuan Cookery and online resources, and it was the day before the party that my copy of Every Grain of Rice arrived. I managed to incorporate one recipe from the new book, which was the gai laan. Woohoo!

Here's the prep for the stir-fries, which I did on the morning of the party, all measured out in little bowls and ready to go:

Often cookbooks focus on quick meals for entertaining, which I think is a bit silly - "Friends are turning up unannounced, quick, here's a three-course meal you can make!" It makes me wonder why anyone would feel obliged to provide food for people who rock up unannounced, let alone cook something from scratch. However, I actually enjoy the planning and cooking process, and happily create complex menus to try out new techniques and recipes and share the results with my friends - for me, the longer, more involved process is the whole point of weekend entertaining. Basically I love cooking and any excuse will do! (And now that I have a dishwasher, it's all much, much easier!)

Pork Belly Mantou Buns
I used the Momofuku pork bun recipe, but bought mantou buns rather than making them myself. These mini-buns were $5 for a massive packet in Box Hill, and so adorable!
Mantou Buns steaming in a Luke Nguyen wok

Braised pork belly
My braised pork belly wasn't as pretty or tender as the ones in the actual Momofuku buns, but they still did the trick.

The condiments in question were: fresh coriander, sriracha chilli sauce, hoi sin sauce, sliced cucumber and finely sliced spring onions. Taking a tip from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals program, I set up all the condiments on a nice board, and let everyone assemble their own buns. Not only did it look pretty, but I also thought it was nice and convivial. (We also got my Vietnamese friend Thanhado to translate the writing on the Sriracha bottle! Apparently it means something like: "this special sauce will make your food taste good and special".)

Pork bun station
What can I say about these buns? Soft fluffy mantou, hot Sriracha, sweet hoisin, crunchy cucumber, spiky coriander, and soft fatty pork belly. Super amazing combination! We also have heaps of those mantou buns leftover... suggestions on what to do with them? We're thinking mini burgers, little nutella sandwiches...

But for now, let me show you each of the main dishes! When we were done with the pork belly buns, I got up and finished assembling and stir-frying the remaining dishes, which, thanks to my pre-prep, didn't take much time at all.

Silken Tofu with Century Egg
Silken tofu with century egg
This is a classic recipe, and there were loads of versions of it online. I adapted a few different sources to suit my tastes, and there it was. I'm going to blog it in more detail soon, with my full version of the recipe! It's so easy, literally open a packet of tofu, and top it with shallots, century egg, some different sauces and coriander. Ta-dah! I made this with my tofu-loving guest Anna in mind, and she said she loved it - success!!

Stir-Fried Mixed Mushrooms
Stir-fried mixed mushrooms
(Sichuan Cookery)
Same dealio as last time, but I used more shiitake and enoki mushrooms and less of the others because they are my favourite of all the exotic Asian mushrooms. They were stir-fried in a little pork fat (taken from the pork belly), and I also added a little spring onion for garnish / flavour - an idea I got from a different mushroom stir-fry recipe in Every Grain of Rice.

Pot-sticker Dumplings with Chicken Stock
These are the same dumplings as I mentioned in my previous post, but here I thought I'd show you them in more detail. I actually made them earlier in the week, and stashed them away in the freezer - they're fiddly to prepare, but very easy to cook from frozen.
Circle of dough

With filling
The filling has a little chicken stock added to it, which I think makes the final product juicier and more moist. (Like xiao long bao but not quite as saucy). If you've got a good jellied meat or chicken stock, this would be the time to use it.

I thought my folding technique was pretty good (and definitely improved from previous attempts), but the pics in Every Grain of Rice put me to shame! There are so many tiny, perfect little pleats on Fuchsia Dunlop's dumplings. I also can't seem to fit too much filling in each dumpling, and had about half the filling leftover by the time I'd gotten through the dough. More practice needed!

Despite that, these are my favourite dumplings right now. And I think Thanhado loved them too - he ate like three of them while they were still hot enough to burn his mouth! (A pain I know all too well...)
Pot-sticker Pork Dumplings
(Sichuan Cookery)

Stir-Fried Gai Laan with Garlic
I had originally intended to stir fry the gai laan in chilli and Sichuan pepper, which is my usual treatment for green veggies, but there was a gai laan recipe in Every Grain of Rice that looked too good to pass up - very restaurant style! It was the "Chinese broccoli in ginger sauce", but I replaced the ginger with the much tastier garlic. I felt it was the right treatment for such a beautiful bunch of gai laan.
Gorgeous gai-laan
I always used to struggle to cook Chinese greens at home, but there were a few tips in the recipe that made it extra tasty. First, you boil the gai laan for one-to-two minutes in water with lots of salt and oil - this bunch needed 2.5 litres of water, and a tablespoon each of oil and salt.
Cooking the gai laan
It made the boiled gai laan so bright and glossy!
Glossy gai laan

To be honest, I'd have been happy to eat the gai laan like that, just drizzled with a little oyster sauce, but the sauce in the recipe is pretty delicious too, and definitely worth the extra effort of stir-frying the gai laan in it. The glossy coat comes from thickening the sauce with a little potato flour. (Thanks to these Fuchsia Dunlop recipes, I've come to realise that potato flour is way better for thickening sauces than cornflour - you need much less and it thickens much faster).
Gai laan in garlic sauce
Adapted from the "Chinese Broccoli in ginger sauce" recipe in Every Grain of Rice

The table was very crowded that day!
The table

Salted Butter Caramel Ice-Cream, Salted Candied Peanuts, Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce
Not a very Chinese dessert (apart from the peanut brittle, I guess), but people seem to love salted caramel right now, and we always order the caramel chocolate and peanut parfait when we go to Spice Temple, so I associate this type of dessert with this type of food. Both the ice-cream and candied peanut recipes come from David Lebovitz' (available on his blog), and the peanut butter fudge sauce is none other than Nigella's (from Nigella Express).

We served it all in martini glasses for added cuteness (and because they were the only appropriately-sized vessels we had!)
Little sundae
...and here comes the sauce.
Peanut butter fudge sauce
Woah... it was a big creamy salted caramel overload! I think perhaps this would have been better with plain vanilla ice-cream, but that didn't stop me from polishing off my whole portion... and sneaking back for a little extra sauce!
More salted caramel!
I previously made David Lebovitz' (salted) caramel ice-cream (Ready for Dessert) at my ice-cream party, where it was the runaway hit, and I was keen to try his salted butter caramel ice-cream. The key difference is that the salted butter caramel version has a little salted butter added (duh), and an extra ribbon of caramel folded through it. I was happy to try it, but I actually prefer the plain caramel ice-cream - it has such a wonderful smooth texture, and I think that making the caramel ribbon is more trouble than it's worth. But in the interest of fairness, I should go reconfirm my opinion of the salted butter caramel ice-cream... I still have a tiny container left in my freezer...

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  1. Great job! It looks delicious :) :) looking forward to the next instalment!

  2. Pot sitcker dumplings - yum! The whole feast looks great. x

  3. oh. my. god.

    If dumplings and buns weren't enough, you go and tease us with that sundae.... *drool*

  4. googled mantou+pork belly. found this page. Hnnngh. awesome looking page.

  5. The thanhado approves this post



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