Chinese Banquet for One

My first day of a week off work – priceless. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job, and the people I work with. I just don’t like having to go to work, in general. I’d be much happier baking all day long, which is simultaneously the reason that I think I should look into taking it up professionally and the reason that I think its best kept as a hobby. If I *had* to do it every day, it might not be as much fun, or as rewarding. And what if sales were poor and people didn’t like my cakes? I’d take it personally. It’s a terrible idea. There is still part of me clamouring to try it – I don’t think that part will ever win over my practical, fond of having money side, though.

Leaving that particular and usually internal debate aside, my first day off consisted of a bit of ingredient shopping, followed by some cooking and then some baking. In fact, the baking is ongoing as I type, and will form the subject of another post if it turns out OK. I didn’t acquire anything of great note on my travels to the shops, which is a shame but perhaps for the best, given that I have several ingredients waiting for their first use already. I did buy myself some char siu dumplings to have for dinner, and wanted to make something to go with them; I went with one of my favourite recipes from the Fuchsia Dunlop book that I’ve mentioned before – sweet and sour. This isn’t sweet and sour as we know it in the UK, with sauce that ranges from pink to orange and is sometimes found to be the murder scene for some innocent tomato half or pineapple ring. This is a light sauce which just coats whatever you put it over, leaving a sharp but sweet flavour with a kick of fresh ginger and lovely, garlicky depth. The Garlicky Depths – that’s got  to be a good name for something, be it restaurant, first novel or band… Anyway, the recipe in the book is dep fried pork strips with this delicious sauce poured over it but I like to make the sauce and add it to sliced peppers and onions, then mix it in with noodles. I often have this with salmon, but today I didn’t feel like fish and it occurred to me to try duck. I have only cooked duck once before, when I used a leg to make spring rolls. Its flavour was overwhelmed by the other ingredients by the time I’d cut it up small, and it may as well have been chicken, which was a waste of a more expensive ingredient. Today I decided to serve the leg whole, and to marinate it before I cooked it to add a depth of flavour. Here is a picture of the whole feast, which I positioned off to one side of the table for some reason:

I marinated the duck in sherry vinegar, dark soy, mace, star anise, mixed spice, ground ginger and crushed garlic. In hindsight, I should have left out the vinegar, as I left it marinating for four hours, and I think that the vinegar had started to cook the meat. I also seasoned the duck with a few turns of my salt, chili and garlic grinder. I think that this, too, was a mistake, as there is plenty of salt in soy sauce and I think that adding more contributed to the duck being dry in the end. So, to sum up, I’d either marinate for less time, or leave out the vinegar, and would leave out the salt, too. I would also reduce cooking time – I had the duck leg in the oven, uncovered, for 25 minutes at 180 C, and it was overcooked. I had based this on a chicken leg recipe that I have, but the duck leg was quite small and also duck doesn’t have to be cooked as thoroughly as chicken.Despite all this negative talk, though, the duck tasted great – really aromatic, and sweet, and flavoursome – it wa just a pity that it wasn’t more moist so that flavour could have been more intense The sweet and sour noodles complemented it, I thought. I also steamed some tenderstem brocolli, mainly because it had to be used up, if I’m honest. Still, one more towards my five a day is never bad. I didn’t moderate the broccoli in any way, I think that a lot of veg is good enough in itself, and I respect that, really I do. I’m pro-natural when it comes to broccoli. This didn’t stop me dipping a few bits in the red sauce that you can see in the picture…

That sauce is Lingham’s chili, garlic and ginger. It is outstandingly good. It comes in just chili, and chili and garlic, too, but you can get  variations on those from a lot of companies. The triple hit is where they really come into their own, I think. It’s delicious stuff  I could write paragraphs on it alone. Of course, those paragraphs would mainly consist of the letter m, but they’d be paragraphs all the same. The little bowl contains wasabi peas – they weren’t really part of dinner but it seemed only fair ton include them, as I had them for an after dinner snack. These ones aren’t the best I’ve tried – either that or I’ve got really used to wasabi, because these aren’t giving me the sinus melting, nose burning, face reddening hit that I’ve had from wasabi peas in the past. Still, they’re very enjoyable, and worryingly easy to eat a great deal of. I ate about two thirds of the bowl before calling it a night, and I can still hear them calling to me, asking me what they did wrong, why I left them behind. To paraphrase Neil Sedaka, breaking up with wasabi peas is hard to do.

The char siu buns – char siu bao, if we’re going to be proper – are better than the ones I make. I can’t get around it  – they’re not just different, they’re better. However, they are also far more processed and full of stuff you probably shouldn’t eat a lot of. For some reason that doesn’t comfort me. Trying these shop bought ones again has made me have a think about the recipe I’ve been using – I stick slavishly to the one in the Fuchsia Dunlop book, because it is a kind of booking that I am unfamiliar with, but now that I’ve made them a few times I think I’ll start to play around with the mix. I think the first thing I’ll do is switch to rice flour, which is whiter in colour than normal, plain flour, and I think I’ll change from yeast to bicarbonate of soda, or maybe cream of tartar. It’s one for me to play around with, anyway. In the meantime, I had three out of a pack of six, so now I have three in my fridge, which makes me happy.They are very tasty, even if they do taste of wrong and of unnecessary unhealthiness. Here is a picture of the delicious inside of one, and a bit of my hand. It is kind of like I am wearing a char siu bao mitten. Kind of.

After all today’s activity, and all that food, I am tired. I keep blogging too late at night to think of tunes and films, so I’ve just been leaving them out. I should start putting them back in – what is Rock Salt without the Rock? Not the wrestler, though to my mind he’d be a welcome visitor. Which brief pondering leaves me with suggestions for both music and movie – get involved.



Let’s finish on a close up:


About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

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