Happy Lunar New Year!
We value enthusiasm over authenticity here, every single time. So when I decided to participate in fellow food blogger Diana Kuan’s Chinese New Year virtual potluck, I rallied my kids to whip up a festival of decorations. Within a few hours, we had construction paper lanterns, swirls of gold repurposed-Mardi-Gras beads, Chinese New Year wands (because what’s Chinese New Year without a wand?) and random envelopes, decorated with red magic markers and awaiting cash. And a centerpiece of bamboo from the neighbor’s yard intertwined with a collection of stuffed pandas. Because we have vision at our house!
The food was a bit more traditional. I made the Cold Sesame Noodles and Chinese Barbecued Pork from Diana’s new book, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, along with whole fried fish (!), braised baby bok choy, and plain rice and plain fruit for the people in my family who like everything plain. And not touching.
What a feast! The Cold Sesame Noodles were an interesting deviation from my tried-and-true peanut noodles. I really liked the faint astringent note that the sesame paste added to the dish, balancing out some of the sauce’s richness. I loaded up my noodles with extra vegetables, because our 2013 mantra is EAT MORE PLANTS, and also because I love the crunch of a julienned snow pea in cold noodles. Its a thing with me. I used entirely non-authentic and probably-too-short-to-symbolize-long-life soba noodles, but they were a delicious choice. If you try this recipe, I’d add half the sauce, toss, and see if you need it all. Mine were a little overdressed, for my taste, but my mother always told me it was better to be overdressed than underdressed ; ).
The Chinese Barbecued Pork was delicious, too. I used a hunk of boneless pork shoulder, rather than the suggested pork belly, because I’m not a huge fan of pork belly (and also because said chunk of boneless pork shoulder was languishing in my freezer). I also borrowed a technique from another char sui recipe, suspending the pork on skewers over the roasting pan. I turned it often, brushing with honey each time, and was rewarded with succulent, flavorful pork. Next time, I’ll add a little more soy to the marinade, and cut my shoulder down into pork tenderloin sized pieces, so there is a greater crispy-sweet edge to tender pork ratio.
My fish didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked. At the asian market, the best looking whole fish were on the smaller side, so I bought two of them rather than the 2-3 pound fish suggested in most of the recipes I looked at. Maybe bigger fish mean longer cooking time, and accordingly, crispier skin? Or maybe I just need more practice. It was delicious, nevertheless, and happily devoured by 3 generations of bone-nibblers. And I felt smug, watching my 7 year old devouring head-on fish. My 5 year old was sitting at the other end of the table, eating only rice and grapes, but I love him too.
I have theory about food on the bone, another line in the sand dividing humankind: bone nibblers, and non-nibblers. Some people just love to work on their food, cleaning barbecued ribs down to pearly white curves, and reducing a roast chicken to a wishbone and a few leftovers. My mother and a lobster? Not much left for stock. Then there are people who really want their food in cubes, slices, or at least, cakes. My husband, for example, always wants to order a crab cake when we take out-of town friends to the bay for blue crabs and beer. He has no love for the gestalt of crab-eating. A non-nibbler, my husband. But a really hunky one.
We enjoyed our feast with cold, crisp Tsingtao beer, a wonderfully dry Grüner Veltliner, which was new to me, and pineapple juice with seltzer for the under-10 set. Happy New Year, indeed.
Disclosure: I will receive a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook in conjunction with participating in Diana Kuan’s virtual potluck. All opinions expressed are my own.