The next event in our foodie calendars is Chinese New Year, which this year falls on Friday 31st January. Last year, we made an effort to head into Chinatown in London to soak up the party atmosphere, and I can recall endless rows of hanging red lanterns, banging drums, a playful Chinese dragon and a tasty meal in a simple and authentic Chinese restaurant in the thick of the action. This year, we’re being slightly less adventurous and staying at home to celebrate, but inspired by our experiences last year we’re looking forward to a Chinese-themed evening with plenty of great food and cheer to mark the year of the horse.
Part of the huge appeal of Chinese food around the world is the almost endless array of dishes and recipes to try, inspired by many regional variations, such as the Cantonese, Szechuan and Mongolian cuisines. Cleansing soups, bite-sized dumplings, sticky ribs, crispy duck, slow-braised casseroles, steamed fish, sizzling stir-fries, often accompanied by the staples of noodles and rice. Chinese food is almost always complimented with fresh vegetables and aromatics, delicious flavours of ginger, chilli, coriander, spring onions and garlic. It’s almost impossible to pick out a favourite dish, although for me, crispy Peking duck in pancakes is a must to start with, or perhaps some finger-licking salt and pepper spare ribs. I also love the fact that dim sum translates as “touch your heart,” denoting the individually handmade dumplings or buns, usually steamed or fried.
Possibly one of the easiest dishes and methods of cooking Chinese food is stir-frying. Almost any slithers of meat or seafood, such as king prawns, can be flash-fried in a wok using a dash of sesame oil, soy sauce or oyster sauce, and a good handful of vegetables. Remember to try to have everything prepared to hand and chopped to roughly the same size before cooking in a seasoned wok on a very high heat. Try not to overcrowd the pan – remember you can batch-cook your meat and then set some of it aside until it is all sealed. If you can marinade your meat in advance it will stay tender and moist. Why not try coating your meat in a little cornflour/cornstarch mixed with water and a dash of Chinese rice wine and soy? Or, watch Jamie making a classic chicken chow mein (chicken with noodles) for some more home-cooking tips. Don’t forget to use “half-decent” chicken!
Red is considered to be a lucky colour for Chinese New Year, so lay out some red napkins, small bowls, chopsticks and the all-important fortune cookies. To drink, serve green leaf or jasmine tea or even a cup of feel good chicken broth – since drinking soup with your meal is a common Chinese custom to aid digestion and boost energy levels.
Wishing you all a Happy Chinese New Year! Let me know what you’ll be doing to mark the occasion.