Crispy Chinese duck with pancakes

Crispy Chinese Duck Pancakes3 web

It’s the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations tomorrow, so what better reason to have a go at making my favourite must-have dish whenever I find myself in a Chinese restaurant?

Crispy Chinese Duck Pancakes text

I absolutely adore Chinese crispy duck. It’s that irresistible combination of soft, succulent meat; crispy, spicy skin; crunchy vegetables (I added rocket to the usual mix of slivers of cucumber and spring onion); rich, sweet plum sauce; and the DIY joy of wrapping it all up in paper-thin pancakes. It’s why children love this dish so much too – anything they can make up themselves, putting them in control of what they put in their mouth as well as a great excuse to get all sticky and messy – it’s just such delicious fun. Continue reading “Crispy Chinese duck with pancakes”

Review: Amoy Special Selection Soy Sauce & Sticky Glazes

Amoy Collage

We consume rather a lot of soy sauce in our house. Perhaps it’s down to the Chinese Malaysian ancestry. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved the stuff and I could probably survive on a diet of boiled white rice smothered in soy sauce. Just the thought of it now is making me hungry.

I usually buy huge bottles from the Chinese supermarket because we get through so much of it. So when Amoy asked if I’d like a complimentary bottle of their new ‘Special Selection’ soy sauce to try out, of course I had to say yes.

It’s actually very good, and I’m not just saying that because I got it free. I fully intend to buy some when we finish this bottle, which won’t be long, and I’d certainly recommend it.

According to Amoy, their Special Selection soy sauce is made from the finest extracts of soya beans and blended with sea salt to provide an intense and full-bodied flavour. They’re absolutely right about the full-bodied flavour – it’s deliciously deep and rich and very, very moreish. We’ve tried it with rice, noodles and stir-fried vegetables and the whole family has given it a thumbs up every time.

Amoy also sent me some of their Sticky Glaze sauces to try: peanut satay, Chinese barbecue and sweet soy.

AmoyCollage2

While I don’t normally buy packet sauces, I was quite impressed with these, although they were all a little on the sweet side. That’s probably why they were so popular with the children. The glazes are an extremely speedy marinade for meat, fish and vegetables, so they’d be quite a useful ingredient to have in the cupboard when you’re short of time and need something quick and easy for dinner.

The children loved the peanut satay in particular, which we had with chicken, but they do usually love food of any description on a stick. It was supposed to have ‘a chilli twist’ but I couldn’t really detect any chilli in there. My favourite was the Chinese barbecue glaze, which I used on pork spare ribs. Sweet and sticky and finger-lickingly good, just as good ribs should be. I can see myself buying that one again in future. I wasn’t so taken with the sweet soy glaze though – I much prefer my own version I made at Chinese new year!

Disclosure: Amoy sent me a complimentary bottle of their new Special Selection Soy Sauce and the three Sticky Glazes  for review purposes. No money exchanged hands.

A Malaysian Chinese New Year Feast

I don’t know about you, but when I was little I wanted to be less like me and more like everyone else. More like my friends with their pale skin and mums who wore high-heeled shoes. Less like me with my Chinese eyes and mum who wore hand-painted baseball boots.

Growing up in Newcastle in the 1980s, I found myself being teased quite a bit, sometimes even bullied, for being part Chinese and being the daughter of artists. Both of which I’m fiercely proud of now, but back then I’d have given anything just to be normal.

Thankfully my daughters seem proud of their Chinese heritage, although the world does feel quite a different place now. In recent years we’ve started celebrating Chinese New Year and it’s becoming one of our family traditions, a chance to bring a taste of Chinese Malaysian cuisine to our little corner of rural Somerset.

Last year I cooked up quite an ambitious Chinese banquet for our New Year celebrations. It was delicious but a little stressful preparing so many dishes for one meal, so I decided to make things easier this year. So last weekend, I chose just a few recipes from a wonderful cookbook called Nonya Flavours, an excellent guide to the cuisine of the Straits Chinese community of Penang, the Malaysian island where my mother grew up.

We had a couple of chicken dishes – a sweet soy sauce chicken and a traditional chicken curry, served very simply with boiled rice and a nourishing vegetable soup. And it was perfect, proving that a fabulous feast doesn’t need to be complicated. The curry was fairly spicy and I was rather surprised that both my daughters could handle it. Must be their Chinese blood I suppose…

Vegetable soup

2 litres water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
3 slices ginger
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut into decorative shapes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and halved
300g pak choi, shredded
salt and sugar

In a large pan, bring the water to a boil and add the soy sauce, Shaoxing, ginger, peppercorns, carrot, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the pak choi. Cook for another 10 minutes and season to taste with a little salt and sugar. Serve hot. We like to pour the soup over our boiled rice.

Sweet soy sauce chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
20g sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
salt and pepper
4 slices ginger
125ml water

Mix together the sugar, soy sauce and a little salt and pepper and pour over the chicken pieces. Make sure the chicken is well covered and leave to marinade for at least half an hour.

Pour the water into a wok over a medium heat and add ginger slices and the marinated chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through – around 20 minutes. Add more water if the liquid dries up before the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with rice.

Nonya chicken curry

For the spice paste

1 green chilli
100g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp dried turmeric
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
8 skinless chicken thighs
250g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
salt

First of all make the spice paste. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and mince well. Then grind using a pestle and mortar – you’ll probably need to do this in several batches – until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for a minute. Add the spice paste and stir fry well. Add a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and fry over a low heat until fragrant.

Throw in the chicken thighs and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and pour in the rest of the coconut milk. Simmer gently until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked through.

Pour in the coconut cream and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Continue to cook until the gravy is slightly thick.

Serve with boiled rice. This served two adults and two children, and there were plenty of leftovers for the freezer to provide us with an easy mid-week supper.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Spicy duck broth with Savoy cabbage and noodles

While duck isn’t the cheapest meat around, I’d happily eat meat-free for a few days to justify including it on my weekly meal plan. A deliciously succulent meat, it works wonderfully with strong, spicy flavours.

This broth is inspired by a Riverford recipe and features star anise, Chinese five spice, ginger and garlic, as well as that favourite of the veg box at this time of year, the Savoy cabbage. It is the perfect winter warmer, especially when you serve it with a little chilli sauce on the side.

I think the spicy broth would go very well with a glass of Isla Negra Merlot, a soft, easy drinking red wine I was lucky enough to sample the other night during #BoothsCheers,a special festive wine and beer tasting on Twitter organised by the British supermarket Booths. There will be more tastings on Wednesday nights between now and Christmas – maybe you’d like to take part next time? But anyway, enough about the drink and back to the food…

Spicy duck broth with  Savoy cabbage and noodles

Serves 4

2 duck breasts
2 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
dash sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
half a Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
2 litres hot chicken stock
2 star anise
150g dried egg noodles
chilli and soy sauces to serve

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / gas mark 6.

Score the duck skin and rub in the five spice. Place the duck breasts on a rack in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest somewhere warm.

In a large saucepan heat the vegetable and sesame oils and fry the garlic and ginger for a minute before adding the Savoy cabbage. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the  hot stock and star anise.

Bring to a simmer and gently cook the cabbage for a couple of minutes. Then add the noodles and cook for around three more minutes until the noodles are just soft.

Pour the broth into bowls, using tongs to serve the noodles and cabbage. Slice the duck breast and place on top. Serve with some soy and chilli sauces on the side. And enjoy!

Chinese sausage and noodle soup

This is not an authentic Chinese soup recipe by any stretch of the imagination. It’s something I concocted using ingredients from the store cupboard in an attempt to liven up another Savoy cabbage to arrive in the veg box.

It also features slices of Chinese sausage, which you should be able to get from an oriental supermarket, but if not feel free to substitute with any cured sausage that takes your fancy.

I made up the dish as I went along and was really rather surprised at just how tasty and moreish it ended up and have made it several times since. As it takes only half an hour or so to rustle up, it’s an excellent contender for a quick mid-week dinner when you don’t want to spend all evening in the kitchen.

Chinese sausage and noodle soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
½ onion, peeled and finely chopped
3cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Chinese sausage (I used a skinny one about 20cm long), thinly sliced
½ Savoy cabbage, shredded
1.5l hot chicken stock
50ml light soy sauce
50ml Chinese rice wine (Shaohsing) or dry sherry
25ml black rice vinegar
80g egg noodles (I use either medium or fine)

In a large pan heat the oil and gently fry the onion until golden. Add the ginger, garlic and sausage and fry together for a couple more minutes.

Throw in the cabbage and stir-fry for a minute.

Pour in the hot stock, soy sauce, rice wine and vinegar and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave to cook for 10 minutes.

Add the noodles and simmer for another three minutes or according to the packet instructions. Serve and enjoy.

I’m also sharing this soup at the Fantastic Foods Friday supper party over at Justa’s Kitchen.

A feast fit for a dragon

Photograph of embroidered Chinese dragon by Erin Calaway

This year I got it into my head that I was going to cook my family a proper feast to celebrate Chinese New Year and welcome in the year of the dragon.

I don’t normally celebrate Chinese New Year, despite being part Chinese. My mother grew up on the Malaysian island of Penang and is half Chinese and half Dutch. So you see I’m only a little bit Chinese. But mum has always talked about Penang as home, so I do feel a strong connection and I adore the food.

There’s been lots of talk about Chinese New Year amongst the foodie Twitter and blogging community, which really spurred me on. Trouble is I don’t have the first clue how to cook Chinese food.

And so I called in help from the Chinese members of my family who happen to be scattered around the world. Facebook is a fantastic tool for this kind of thing. I asked them what should I cook for a Malaysian Chinese feast and, more importantly, how do I do it?

Kian chai – I think!

The menu and recipes below come from my Aunty Lorene in the US, Aunty Kim in Canada, cousin Edhish in Sweden, cousin Jezalina in Australia and mother Cheryl in Spain.

All agreed I had to cook Kian Chai Teng, a soup made from Chinese salted vegetables, pork ribs and sour plums, served with chopped chilli and steamed white rice. I’m not 100% sure I got the right vegetables in the Chinese supermarket, although the lady who worked there insisted they were the thing to use.So I’m not sure if I made an authentic Kian Chai Teng, but it sure tasted good. The children gobbled it down enthusiastically and enjoyed picking the beautifully tender meat from the bones.

Penang Char Kway Teow

Next was Char Kway Teow, a Penang fried noodle dish. You should use shrimps and squid but as my husband can’t eat seafood I swapped these for chicken and Chinese sausage. Again not totally authentic but absolutely gorgeous nonetheless.

My mum suggested Chinese spare ribs and gave me her Aunty Seck’s recipe and I also came up with my own recipe for Chinese roast chicken drumsticks. Plus a big bowl of  pak choi steamed with ginger.

It was a fine, fine feast. As is my tendency, I cooked way too much food, so we ate the leftovers for Sunday lunch. The spare ribs in particular tasted even better second time around.

I have to say a heartfelt thank you to my relatives for their advice and supportive words. One day it would be wonderful if we could all get together to celebrate new year somehow. Oh, and of course, gung hay fat choy everyone!

Kian Chai Teng – soup with pork ribs and salted vegetables

Serves 6-8

Salted plums

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g pork spare ribs
4 cloves of garlic, crushed 3 slices of ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
2 potatoes
1 packet kian chai (Chinese salted vegetables)
3 salted plums

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil until golden.

Place the pork ribs, garlic and ginger into the pan and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then add the soy sauce and rice wine. Turn down the heat so that the soup is on a very low simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the meat is starting to fall off the bone.

Taste your salted vegetables. If they are very salty, you may need to give them a thorough rinse so they don’t make your soup too salty.

Add the potatoes and salted vegetables. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 30-40 minutes.

Serve the soup with a saucer of soy sauce and cut chilli and a plate of steamed white rice.

My Char Kway Teow

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp water
4 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage), cut diagonally into thin slices
500g flat rice noodles
2 eggs (duck eggs if you can get them – I used hen eggs)
4 large handfuls bean sprouts
salt and white pepper

In a small bowl, mix the dark and light soy sauces with the water, and put to one side.

Heat the oil in a wok on a high heat and stir fry the garlic for a few seconds before adding the chicken. Cook until the chicken turns white, then add the sausage and stir fry for another minute.

Add the noodles and sprinkle with the soy sauce mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir fry for three to four minutes.

Make a space in the middle of the work and break the eggs into the hole with a little pinch of salt. Roughly scramble the eggs and then combine with the noodles. Stir fry for another five minutes.

Finally add the bean sprouts, fry for another minute and then serve.

Spare ribs

Chinese spare ribs

Serves 4

550g pork spare ribs
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
½ tbsp sesame oil
½ tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tapioca flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

In a small bowl mix together the garlic, soy sauces, rice wine, salt and pepper. Pour over the spare ribs, make sure thorougly coated and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

Prepare the sauce. In another bowl, combine the tomato sauce, Worcester sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 3 tbsp water.

Coat the spare ribs in tapioca flour and fry in hot oil over a medium heat for around five minutes. You may need to do this in batches. Remove, drain on absorbent paper and place on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes.

Heat the sauce until it thickens. Take the ribs out of the oven, place in a serving dish and pour over the sauce.

My Chinese chicken

4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs

For the marinade:

2 tbsp runny honey
4cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp red currant jelly
1 tbsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Slash the drumsticks with a sharp knife and place in a bowl with the thighs.

Mix together all of the marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken, making sure they are well coated. Leave to marinade for at least two hours or overnight.

Put the chicken pieces on a roasting tray with a few spoonfuls of the marinade and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally and spooning over more marinade if it looks like it is drying out.

Also great served cold as part of a picnic or in a packed lunch.

Miss Mash tucks into the pork ribs in her soup
Miss Banger’s favourite was rice with soup spooned over