Help with our "Chinese" feast
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess up front that we are a bunch of white people serving Chinese food for a party. It's something we do more or less annually, and it started in an effort to recreate some of our favorite dishes from Jennie Lowe's in the Bay Area. It's a casual gathering, but served as a dinner, not as a cocktail party.
Anyway, I have part of a menu, but our list is up to probably 14, so I'm thinking that we'll need some additional items, and I'd love some inspiration/suggestions. All of my cookbooks (except my book by Jennie Lowe) are packed, so I'm feeling particularly challenged by this.
The menu so far:
homemade potstickers (tricky, since they have to be cooked at the last minute, but always impressive)
(anyone know any prepared items that are good that we could add to this? if not, we'll probably just add bowls of popcorn with 5-spice powder or something similar)
beef in oyster sauce
another pan-fried chicken dish
need a dedicated vegetable dish (although it's not usually eaten much)
usually do something with pork tenderloin that can be cooked in the oven - any suggestions
white and brown rice
I'm thinking about bite size nibbles (mini cupcakes & cheesecakes, marshmallows, lemon bars), or Nigella's clementine cake (maybe one plain, one chocolate?), or the LA Times lemon upside-down cake with Meyer lemons. I'm not sure why I'm leaning towards citrus - perhaps just seasonality, or some odd sense that it's more compatible with the menu?
Drinks are usually some vodka concoction (blood orange martinis, maybe) and Pimm's Cup (we have an English host), and whatever wine is brought/in the kitchen.
I'm definitely open to suggestions, especially for things we can add to the entree category - especially anything that can be done truly in advance or in the oven, since we've pretty much maxed out our burners already (I've been trying to remember how we fit the 2 rices and 3 entrees on 4 burners last year!). Would some sort of soba noodle dish work? Dessert, too. I'm usually a big pastry person, but the whole event is a bit overwhelming, so I'm trying to do something a bit simpler this year. We're obviously not worried about or even aiming for authenticity, just thematic consistency.
Thanks for your input!
Sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this. To go along with what you have planned, you could do whole cold platter appetizers with the barbecue pork--abalone, jelly fish, cold chicken w/ sesame oil and green onions, thousand year old eggs/salty eggs. Vegetable dish--stir fried pea sprout shoots if you can get them, if not spinach sauteed w/ garlic, or baby bok choy (w/ dried scallions if you can get them). I would not do soba noodles but maybe a lo mein for good luck. I'm not one that HAS to have everything match so your desserts would be fine for me but if you want something that fits the Chinese theme, an easy one would be to make or buy red bean paste in a bun. You could make your own, make a flakey one (the best), or as a shortcut, my mom would just use puff pastry. You could do individual round ones or one big long one and cut. These are one of those things where it tastes so much better than you think it will. Page down this for different ideas (quite a few as you go down):
Or, coconut tarts:
Agree with chowser: the cold appetizer platter would be great; I might add a steamed whole fish (topped at the end with cilantro, garlic, ginger, chili, chopped green onion, and molten soy and sesame oil), do napa with fermented black beans as a vegetable, and would also keep dessert simple.
Good start ... I've done Chinese New Year almost every year for the last 20 plus years (and like you, just a nice Caucasian girl who loves Chinese food and has visited Hong Kong a few times). A soba dish would be good, dressed with soy, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, chile oil, and green onions. Great at room temperature and if it sits for a bit, it's only better. Spring rolls are always a huge hit, and they can be made and cooked ahead and frozen, and then popped into the oven to heat through. You're right about the pot stickers, I make them ahead, store then on corn starch dusted baking sheets and covered with saran, and stashed in the other 'frig (if you have that option) and then making them at service time, well, for me, that's a fun part, even one gathers in the kitchen to watch and snag one fresh out of the pan! Another is is one called "ants climbing a tree" which is ground pork, cellophane noodles and red pepper sauce flakes in a light sauce, but that would take up a burner (and I've not made it ahead before). Maybe lettuce cups with your pork, finely diced, with a soy/sesame sauce? As for a veggie, maybe steamed bok choy and onion dish, or a broccoli dish?
It looks good and you have some good recs. May I recommend that you delete one chicken dish and replace it with a pork one - assuming pork is not an issue. It is the most popular Chinese meat. (The Chinese character for home is literally a pig under a house!) Also it adds symmetry to the meal having different meats.
Also a simple tofu soup perhaps? Just chicken stock with tofu and scallions and a sprinkle of sesame oil on top of each bowl.
I would try some dry-fried green beans for your vegetable side. You could make them ahead and (shh!) re-heat them in the microwave for serving. No one would know the difference. Everyone loves green beans, and they are simple to prepare and good. There are a ton of recipes out there. Broccoli could also work.
For an oven dish, maybe you could do a red-cooked dish with pork? You could have that going in the oven at a slow simmer. But that might be redundant with the roast pork.
As for soba, I may be wrong, but I thought that was Japanese?
The day after Thanksgiving my husband and I host (and cook) a Chinese banquet for 30-40 people. I started when I had a 4 burner electric stove! I will post the recipes in separate segments. I have a great recipe for a braised chicken with chestnuts which is a good make ahead dish. I have a great recipe for steamed cold mussels served on their half shell with shredded lettuce and a five flavor sauce. All the components can be prepared ahead and just assemble it for service. Another suggestion is Bon Bon Chicken which is a cold shredded chicken served on a bed of cucumbers with a sesame paste sauce.
For my parties we have homemade ice cream for dessert. Why don't you consider a sorbet? Also I am a big fan of refrigerator cookies. I usually prepare the dough in advance-marking each cylinder with the width of the slice, the oven temp and length of time to bake.
Have a great time!
CASSEROLE OF CHICKEN WITH SMOKY CHESTNUTS
(Begin preparations for this dish 5 hours in advance)
½ brimming cup Chinese dried chestnuts
2 cups hot water
2-½ lb chicken
2 T rice wine
6 T soy sauce
1 T black soy sauce
2 T packed light brown sugar
9 quarter-size slices fresh ginger lightly smashed
3 cup vegetable oil for deep-frying
3 large scallions, green and white parts, cut into 2-3 inch lengths and lightly smashed
1. Put chestnuts in heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover bowl and soak chestnuts for 2 hours. Drain, and then pick the remaining pieces of red skin out from the folds of the chestnuts. They are hard so be sure to get them all; you may have to use a toothpick.
2. Using a heavy cleaver, cut the chicken into squares about 1-½ inch across. Begin by removing the wings, thighs, and legs, cutting them into segments. Then turn the chicken on its side and chop it into two below the rib cage. Chop the back and breast into squares.
3. In a large bowl, mix 4 T soy sauce with the ginger and scallions. Toss the chicken pieces in the mixture to coat them evenly; cover and set aside at room temperature to marinate at least an hour. Stir the chicken occasionally to redistribute the marinade.
4. Combine 3 T soy sauce, hot water, rice wine and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar
5. Drain the chicken or it marinade.
6. Heat a wok or deep heavy pot over high heat until hot. Add the oil and heat it to the point at which it gives off a dense haze, 350° on a frying thermometer. Fry the chicken pieces in 2 batches, allowing the oil to reheat between batches. Lower the pieces gently into the oil. If you are using a wire implement such as a Chinese mesh spoon or deep-frying basket, first dip it into the hot oil so that the wire will not stick to the chicken pieces during frying. As the chicken fries and foams, stir gently with a pair of cooking chopsticks or long- handled wooden spoon to separate pieces. When chicken is a deep golden brown, after l minute for the first batch and 30 seconds for the second, remove the pieces to paper towels to drain.
7. Put the chicken into an earthenware pot or a heavy heatproof casserole. Add the seasonings, liquid, and drained chestnuts. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer, and then cover the pot. Simmer 30-40 minute by which time the nuts will be tender and succulent. Lift the lid occasionally to check the simmer and stir the stew.
8. Carry the hot stew from the kitchen covered so that its full aroma is unleashed at the table. Serve with rice or pot-browned noodles.
FIVE FLAVOR MUSSELS
1 lb fresh mussels
½ head lettuce
2 T catsup
1 T black vinegar
1 T soy sauce
½ T sugar
1 t sesame oil
1 t minced scallion
1 t minced garlic
1 t minced ginger
1 t minced chili pepper (optional)
1 T dry sherry
2 stalks scallion, smashed
2 slices ginger, smashed
5 cups water
1. Clean and beard mussels. Rinse in cold water.
2. Place Mixture in pot and heat until boiling. Add mussels, cover, and simmer over low heat for l minute. Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute. Then remove mussels and refresh in cold water. Drain and open mussels. Remove the remaining beard. Place mussel on half shell.
3. Finely and shred the lettuce and arrange on a serving platter. Place the mussels on top of the lettuce.
4. Mix together the Seasoning Sauce and pour over each individual mussel.
BON BON CHICKEN
1 set boneless chicken breast
1 large or 2 small cucumber
1/3-cup sesame paste*
3 T soy sauce
3 T vinegar
2 T sugar
3 T hot water
1 T sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
1 T chili oil
1 t dried chili peppers, broken up
1. Poach the chicken until done, about 1/2 hours. Remove cooked meat and cool. When completely cool tear into shreds.
2. Peel cucumbers, split lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and cut into thin slices.
3. Place cucumber on bottom of serving platter. Spread out. Then add chicken strips in mound on top of them. Refrigerate.
4. In the jar of a blender, put the garlic and scallions. Blend until minced. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Be aware that the spiciness will increase somewhat.
5. Pour on top of chicken when ready to serve. At the table, thoroughly mix the sauce into the chicken and cucumber before serving.
*Sesame paste is available in Asian grocery stores. It is different from tahini in that the sesame seeds are toasted so that it is darker in color.
The recipe makes enough for 2 as an entrée by itself. As a course in a Chinese dinner it will serve 6. The sauce recipe is more than enough for the amount of chicken in this recipe and will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. If it is too thick when you go to use it again just add a little hot water to thin it.