Monday, February 09, 2009

Chinese Cracker

The Chinese New Year Celebrations, which started at midnight on January, 25th, culminate in a lantern procession on the last of the 15 days. So we had a little feast with a Chinese theme last Sunday. As you can see, there aren't any crackers. I was going to make them myself (only as decorations!!) and kept all the loo rolls but in the end didn't get round to it. I was also going to make little lanterns... well, maybe I'll get round to those for St. Martin's in November (1).

Note to Self:
  • make decorations well in advance
  • buy ingredients on Friday, not Saturday
I had two red paper lanterns (love and peace, see below), but the cracker of the title refers to the soy braised chicken I decided to do.
I adapted it from: Taste of the East by Deh-Ta Hsiung, Rafi Fernandez & Steven Wheeler, a cookery book I've had for so long that its sleeve has developed a kind of cooking related patina (2), but haven't actually cooked from that much.
The main change was that I 'deep-fried' the chicken in what is essentially a stock pot because I threw out the wok before Christmas, and that I braised the chicken subsequently in the oven and not on the hob. I also added some Chinese 5 spice, because I had just made some (more about that some other time...), but the pepper in it, as well as in the rub, wasn't actually Sichuan (more about that also some other time...) but black and pink respectively.
The chicken does look rather spectacular when it's ready, unfortunately, I didn't take a picture, and even more annoyingly, I followed the cookery book's instructions to leave it to cool down and to cut it into 30 pieces...

First of all: 30??? Don't be ridiculous!
Secondly: all the great looking skin came off, it all looked messy, and in the end, the meat was nearly cold.

So, another note to self:
  • Arrange chicken on a plate with lettuce and present to guests, pour gravy into gravy boat, carve at the table.
Below is the complete menu, followed by the recipe.

Chinese New Year Menu

Pickled sweet and sour cucumber
Hot and Sour Soup (3)
Soy-Braised Chicken

Red Prawns (4)
Stir-fry Veg
Rice, Noodles, dipping sauces
Mango jelly
Mango, Pineapple, Lychees & Cherries
Spiced syrup
'Fish of plenty' rice pudding/sweet (5)
Fortune cookies (6)
Good luck sweets

Soy-Braised Chicken (Serves 4)

1 whole chicken

1 tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • mix and rub the chicken with the mixture, inside out
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp Chinese Rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • marinate chicken in this marinade for 3 hours, turning frequently
vegetable oil
  • fry the whole chicken in the hot oil until brown all over
575ml/1 pint/2 1/2 basic stock or water
2tsp salt
25g/1oz rock (crystal) sugar
some 5-spice seasoning (freshly made if possible)
  • put the chicken into an ovenproof dish with lid, add the marinade, stock and seasoning; cook at 190°C/375°F/5 for 35 - 40 minutes (Römertopf: 50 - 55); 5 - 10 minutes without lid

lettuce leaves
  • arrange whole chicken on lettuce leaves

I'm not sure what all my little ornaments mean, hopefully they're all lucky symbols.
RED, of course, is the lucky colour, and 8 the lucky number (8 = a homophone for wealth). Everything for the New Year has to be in even numbers, but not in 4s, four is a homophone for death. (I therefore laid two more sets, even though we were only 4 people at this dinner, and we also had 8 fortune cookies - which are not traditionally Chinese, by the way, but an American-Chinese addition.) It is also a custom to give red envelopes to juniors (containing money), to have hair-cuts before the New Year, and to wear new clothing (but you mustn't wear black and white). Wearing a new pair of slippers, bought just before the NY means you will step on the people who gossip about you.

As with festivities in other cultures, there has to be a thorough cleaning of the house, from top to bottom, before the festival and the a reunion dinner, and sweet goods are made/baked to bribe the Kitchen God. Talking about death is inappropriate for the first days of Chinese New Year.
It's important to have a bath the night before the New Year, and if you bathe in pomelo leaves, it assures health for the rest of the year.

In terms of decor, mandarins are always important, and so is bamboo - I was therefore particularly pleased to find knives with a bamboo pattern at the market. Peach blossom = luck; kumquats = prosperity; narcissi = prosperity; Chrysanthemums = longevity; sunflowers = to have a good year; fish icons = surplus, having additional savings.

Jade is supposed to be particularly lucky for the Year Of The OX.
was born in the year of the Ox (1961, also my brother's year), other famous Ox people are: Robert Redford, George Clooney, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, J.S. Bach, van Gogh, Hitler.

All in all, it's supposed to be a year for 'modest reaping' in spite of the Global meltdown. Hmm, maybe for the Chinese...
Love and Peace to you all, anyway!
(1) St. Martin is celebrated in Germany on November, 11th, with the St. Martin's goose, and a lantern procession for the children.
(2) Those of you who keep their cookery books in the kitchen, probably know what I mean...
(3) The soup was made with home-made stock but otherwise, it was a cheat. I saw the paste at the supermarket in Brum's Chinatown, and thought, why not. And I can only recommend it. Asian Home Gourmet, Special Paste for Soup, Szechuan Hot & Sour Soup, Suan La Tang.
I added a little bit of my own Chinese 5 Spice, thin strips of red pepper to look like chilli (it doesn't need any, it's hot enough!), bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms (tinned). It also required the addition of corn flour, and at the end, you gradually stir in an egg. I'd probably leave out the latter next time.
(4) These were based on another recipe from the aforementioned book, and they tasted very Chinese indeed, but I found it very messy, so I won't be making those again.
(5) I saw it at the supermarket, so I had to have it (more about it some other time...)
(6) One of mine announced an addition to the family, which has been worrying me ever since. No, no, I myself am past it, I'm more thinking: girl-friend No1? Girl-friend No3? -- Hopefully though it means that my brother has finally found himself a lady-friend!


Takeaways said...

Chinese crackers come in different colours but have long wanted to know what ingredients produce which colours. Any ideas?

Zabeena said...

I'm afraid I don't know - I thought they just produce a noise rather than a fire-work. Am I wrong?