Updated: 2011-01-17 13:42
By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)
It seemed just a blink and a burp ago that we were feasting at the Christmas table. And now the countdown to the Spring Festival begins. Pauline D. Loh preps for the reunion dinner.
This year, we will be four generations gathered at the reunion dinner. My mother-in-law, the matriarch back at her ancestral hutong, will sit beaming across at her children, their spouses, her grandchildren and her first great-grand son.
It will be a happy, noisy occasion with rounds of feasting that will start mid-afternoon and probably last right through the night as the women gather after dinner to wrap the traditional dumplings or jiaozi. This will while away the time as we keep vigil with all the lights in the house blazing past midnight, a tradition we observe so our mother will live for many more years past her 88th birthday in 2011.
These little rituals and the happy greetings are all part of the festive spirit that makes the beginning of spring special. We live hopeful that the gentler Rabbit will usher in peace and productivity even as we heave a sigh of relief and wave goodbye to a rambunctious Tiger and a year of ups and downs.
Does it all sound like a page back in history? Why not? China's past is entrenched in agrarian traditions, and many of the "superstitions" we observe are nothing more than receptacles of hope for good harvest and an abundant life.
We need festivals like this to remind us to stop and remember family, and to appreciate what we have now and what will come.
Nothing shows you care better than a home-cooked meal. It does not have to be restaurant-perfect, but a few simple tricks can turn ordinary chicken and duck into party poultry. Cook with love, and the flavors will shine like a welcoming beacon for the family members come home.
The role of chief cook falls upon me this year, and the planning has to start early. For the reunion dinner, it's full steam ahead with a festive eight-treasures duck and drunken chicken for the family. These are classics that will appeal to my Jiangsu province mother-in-law.
And while I'm preparing this meal, I will also be working on an orange marmalade duck and putting an American-style southern fried chicken to marinate. These will be for the first day of the Spring Festival, when the grandchildren will head home with well wishes for their grandmother and another round of eating at the table.
Pick one or all of these recipes for your own reunion feast, they will bring on the smiles and compliments and the chef will definitely be applauded. They are showy dishes, and you really don't need to tell them how simple it all was.
Here are the eight treasures duck and drunken chicken. We'll do the duck l'orange and southern fried chicken next week. Enjoy!
Recipe | Eight Treasures Duck (Babao Ya)
1 duck, about 1.5 kg
1 tbsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp sea salt
1 cup cooked rice
4 dried Chinese or shiitake mushrooms, soaked and diced
6-8 walnuts, roughly chopped
10-12 fresh lotus nuts (or gingko nuts)
1 Chinese sausage, diced
2 tbsp minced Yunnan ham
1 cup green peas
1 cup diced carrots
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse and drain the duck, pat dry with kitchen towels. Place the duck on a large chopping board and press down hard with your hands, breaking the bones. This makes the bird easier to stuff and the broken bones also release their flavor as the duck cooks.
2. Rub the five-spice and salt generously inside and all over the duck. Leave to marinate while you prepare the filling.
3. Heat up a large frying pan and add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. When the oil is smoking add the diced mushroom, minced Yunnan ham and the Chinese sausage. Fry until the meats are fragrant.
4. Add the lotus/gingko nuts, peas, carrots and spring onions and toss with the mushroom meat mixture. Finally, add the cooked rice and walnuts and season with oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Toss well to mix. Set aside filling to cool.
5. Stuff the body cavity of the duck with the rice, taking care to close the neck flap of the bird shut with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Skewer the opening of the bottom cavity shut as well.
6. Place the bird on a rack and roast in a hot 220 C oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 180 C and roast another 20 minutes. Let rest five minutes for juices to settle before plating for the table.
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