Gong Xi Fa Chai!!!
Happy Lunar New Year everyone, and hope you all had a great time celebrating the Year of the Ox, as we definitely started the new year with a great toss of fortune and prosperity. The good people at Foodbuzz also once again selected me for the 24,24,24 event, and I can’t think of anything else better than celebrating Chinese New Year and the Australia Day at the same time with a group of friends, over a massive traditional Chinese dinner banquet.
Chinese New Year (CNY) is just like Christmas – instead of turkey, leg ham and puddings, friends and families will gather around and celebrate the new year with a massive traditional 8-10 courses chinese dinner banquet. To keep up with the traditions, I’ve invited 9 friends around to our place and no surprise, a traditional 9-courses Chinese fusion dinner banquet is on the menu.
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I did get stressed out when I have to plan a meal for 11 people, it is a big task that I don’t anticipate often. Hence, I spent a whole week drafting out the menu, making sure everything is in order. And is not just that, I have to come up with a menu to celebrate Chinese New Year and Australia Day at the same time? Hence, I’ve decided to cook a traditional Chinese dinner banquet, by using Australian fresh produce like wagyu beef from Darling Downs. I am so glad that it works out like a treat.
Being a typical Chinese me, I also have to come up with prosperity and good fortune names for every single dishes. It is a very traditional Chinese thing to name the dishes, as it signifies everyone will have a good fair share of the fortune and luck. But it is also good fun to come up with those names for the dishes. “Happy Laughing Prawns” taste so much better than “fried butter milk prawns“, don’t you think?
As traditionally goes, the dinner banquet usually kick start with a meaningful Yee Sang salad. The Yee Sang is a refreshing appetiser originated from Malaysia and Singapore, it consists of strips of raw fish (most commonly salmon), mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients. Phonetically in Chinese, Yee Sang symbolises abundance, prosperity and vigor.
But the best part is you are also allow to play with the food and not get told off by the adults. How to eat the Yee Sang is usually friends and families will gather around the table, and, on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes like “Gong Xi Fai Chai” out loud to mark the start of a prosperous new year and it’s customary that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes and successful in career and study!
Friends who never had it before were surprised how tasty it is with just a few simple ingredients and how easy it is to prepare. Fresh raw fish is not always everyone cup of tea in this dish, so I’ve substituted with Tasmanian smoked salmon and definitely a crowd pleaser. The kids in our group absolutely love the tossing action, and we sure made a mess at the table. This Yee Sang dish is always a “WIN WIN” dish! (oh, I couldn’t resist with more prosperity pun!)
While the group gathering around the TV watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special with plates in hand picking the last bit of the Yee Sang salad, is time for me to prepare the next 2 dishes of assorted cold appetisers and assorted hot appetisers.
The appertisers are usually consisting of four different dishes using ingredients according to the four seasons. For the cold appetisers, I have prepared – Cold prawn & apple salad in wasabi mayonnaise dressing; gado gado – fried tofu with blanched bean sprout and french beans in peanut sauce; and vegetarian San Choy Bao – assorted vegetables wrapped in iceberg lettuce. I planned to have the soft shell crab as my 4th dish in the platter, I searched them high and low at all local markets the last few days, unfortunately to no avail. Hence, 3 dishes it is instead of 4 in the platter.
The San Choy Bau is always a popular and fun DIY dish. There will be lots of meats involved in other dishes, hence I decided to keep the San Choy Bau simple with just fresh and picked vegetables. The kids absolutely loved it, grabbing it with both hands and munching it down.
Surprisingly the cold apple and prawn salad is also a big hit. The crunchiness of the apple works extremely well with the tender juicy prawn meat. And for the dressing, I used the oh-so-thick Japanese Kewpie Mayo, with a dollop of wasabi for that little bit of kick. Whoever invented the Japanese Kewpie mayo deserves an award, it is seriously the best (and not so healthy) mayo I’ve ever tasted!
As for the hot appetisers, it consists of Wagyu Beef satay sticks; Vegetarian springrolls; Fried Chicken & Chives dumplings and Fried seven-spice tofu. Nothing can beat a good piping hot springroll or dumpling fresh out of the wok. They are perfect party finger food with super crunchy skin with the meat or vegetables inside still steamy hot.
The beef satay sticks is a traditionally hawker food in Malaysia. The beef is definitely on the menu to celebrate the Year of the Ox, and I really can’t resist to thrown in some Darling Downs marbling wagyu beef for the satay sticks. I don’t have to do much with the beef as it is already full of flavour itself. I simply marinated the wagyu beef lightly, then grilled and served with satay dipping sauce. The wagyu beef is so tender and flavorsome, it simply tears off from the skewer stick between your teeth.
But the star of the hot platter is the deep fried seven-spice tofu. The tofu is marinated overnight, coated with seven spice then deep fry when ready to serve. “Oh wow, the tofu is very good!”, Ms Vegetarian confirms that my first time making this dish is not a failure. Funny thing is, no one touches the tofu except Ms Vegetarian until her announcement, suddenly everyone is holding a tofu finger and went ooh ahh’s like they can’t believe the bland tofu can be so delicious.
As I have way too many guests this evening for a proper sit-down Chinese dinner banquet, hence I’ve decided to serve up the rest of the dishes in buffet style. I wanted the dishes to be simple but also authentic Chinese dishes that usually served during Chinese New Year. The easiest yet delicious dishes to prepare are the traditional roast pork belly, and the Hainan Chicken.
The Hainan Chicken is another specialty among the Chinese from Singapore and Malaysia. This is another dish so simple to prepare yet so delicious. I’ve chosen two fresh free range chickens as they have more flavour and the meat is juicier. The early preparation of the chickens paid off with its slippery skin and juicy meat. Wingman nodding his head quietly while sucking the meat to the bone with approval.
The Chinese roast pork belly (aka Siu Yuk) is all about marination of the meat and the extra crunchy crackling on top. Roasting the pork belly is almost like a science project rubbing excessive of rock salt on the skin and let it roast until the skin full of bubbles with explosions of fat. Again, the best way to serve the roast pork belly is simply chopping it up into bite size, with cool refreshing cucumber slices on the side. Forget about the chopsticks and use fingers if you must! I could hear a lot of groans of satisfaction coming from the dining area while I was preparing the last few dishes in the kitchen. Ms K woke up with dehydration the next day from the excessive consumption of pork crackling. I guess is a good sign?
I’ve also prepared a vegetarian dish to counteract the excessive meat, meat and more meat. Lo Han Jai (Buddha’s Delight) is a popular vegetarian dish in Chinese cuisine. I named the dish Lo Han’s treasure as the way I preparing it is by braising the assortments of fresh and dried vegetables in XaoShing wine first and then wrapped them in a large bean curd sheet. Just like a treasure chest, you have to use your chopstick to split the bean curd sheet open to reveal all the wonderful braised vegetables inside.
As for the seafood dish, I’ve prepared yet another of my favorite dish – the Happy Laughing Prawns (AKA Butter Prawns). Butter Prawns are fried then topped with lots of delicious crunchy flakey egg york floss and curry leaves. Usually the prawns are fried with shells on, but after I learnt my lesson, I know damn well that my guests will not bothered to peel them. Hence, I peeled all of them with tails intact then butterflied before tossing them into the pan! And I was right, the Happy Laughing Prawns proves to be a hit with not a single prawn left on the plate!
To conclude the dinner, I let my friend Monkeyboy to in charge of the dessert. He is notorious with his deadly rich white chocolate cheesecake. But this time he even offered to make an extra dessert for the occasion. I retreated myself from the kitchen and let Monkeyboy to whisk up the most amazing meringue served with poached pear, then topped with this luscious ginger infused chocolate sauce. As the menu says, it is definitely “The Winning Pear“.
At this point, everyone seems rather quiet in contentment but somehow still able to crawl over to the dining table and grab a bowl and spoon, indulging themselves one last time with a slice of cheesecake or pear with meringue, drizzled an excessive amount of chocolate sauce all over.
By the time we finished the banquet, it is already close to midnight. The kids already gathered around the TV watching the Kung Fu Panda before bedtime, I grabbed the opportunity to have a quick shower to get rid of the smell of sweat and grease and finally have the time to sit down and relax, sipping the last drop of muscato out of the empty bottle. And the rest of the night was a blur…
(The next morning, Wingman said, “I think I have lost weight since last night dinner.”, everyone was confused. “I just been to toilet, and I had a big dump!” he answered….)
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Update: I have received a lot of requests for recipes, so I will post up all the recipes soon in the next few months. Keep checking, keep cooking!