The Birthday Buffets


As I’ve mentioned twice now, for my sister’s actual birthday we had a spot of Chinese food round our parents’ house. All Miss J asked for specifically was chicken wings; I’d made these before to general enjoyment so I was happy to do them again. Other than this, I wasn’t too sure what to do. A friend suggested I marinade and roast some pork for an easier option than making a few separate dishes. I loved this idea, but it didn’t stop me from making the separate dishes, too… None of it was very authentic, apart from maybe the pork, but it was all met with great approval and there was very little by way of leftovers, which says it all.

I’ll start with the chicken wings, they’re not difficult to make, though you do need to prepare them the night before you’re going to eat them.

Baked Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings – feeds five hungry people as a starter or side dish:

  • two packs of chicken wings, about fifteen or so wings
  • flour to coat
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • white pepper
  • Szechuan pepper
  • bell pepper, chili pepper and spring onion slices to serve

Take a large tupperware box, or two – you’ll need enough space for the chicken wings and also some shaking space, as will become clear. Into this box/these boxes, put enough plain flour to thoroughly coat the chicken wings. Just guess – you can add more later, it’s no big deal. Season the flour with generous amounts of salt and all three peppers (or whichever ones you can find). Don’t go too easy on any of them as some of the flour won’t stick to the meat and will get left behind, so that stuff that does stick has to count. Set the box/es aside for. Now, the only thing about this dish is that chicken wings are a real pain to prepare, so get ready for a long haul. To prepare them, you have to hack off the tips of the wings and I also choose to trim off a lot of the excess fat. You can just use kitchen scissors to let you get a good grip of them while you’re trimming, but remember to really, really, really and I mean it really wash your hands afterwards and pour boiling water over the scissors to sterilise them. Once the wings are trimmed (and that brief description of how to do it doesn’t do justice to the amount of time it will take), drop them into the seasoned flour, put the lid of the tupperware/s on and shake well – nay, vigorously – to coat the meat. Make sure the wings are well and truly coated; what happens when you leave these overnight is that the moisture from the meat combines with the flour to make a really sticky batter. The next day, when you’re ready to cook them, separate the wings and lay them out on a wire rack over a baking sheet or grill pan. Put them in a 200C oven for about twenty five minutes, turning once half-way through. When they’re done they’ll be golden and crispy, and you can put them all in a serving dish then sprinkle with the thinly sliced peppers, chili rings and spring onions. They taste just as good as the deep fried versions, I reckon, and while I wouldn’t make them every week, they’re worth the effort.

Something I hadn’t made before was sesame prawn toast, so I decided to have a go at it. This is one of those ‘totally not a recipe’ things, but it might give you an idea of how to begin, while you’re here. There are also plenty of legit recipe available out there, that will even give you amounts of ingredients and everything. FOr my part, I winged it. I have a diminishing packet of tiny dried shrimp in the cupboard, which I rehydrated in just-boiled water for 20 minutes. I then blended these into a paste with some sesame oil, chopped spring onions, garlic, ginger, light soy and a small pinch of mixed spice. I may have added other stuff too – I just kept blending, tasting and adding things that came to hand until I was fairly happy with the result. I think I thinned the paste down with some of the soaking water and maybe some groundnut oil, until it was of a spreading consistency. I then had a bit of a tragedy where, on the journey over to my mum and dad’s, the paste leaked and covered everything near it. Paint it however you like, prawns smell bad. Bad times. When I was ready to make the prawn toast, I put five slices of thick-cut white bread under the grill to brown. Once that was done, I turned them over and spread them with the shrimp paste, then sprinkled with sesame seeds and pressed down. This went back under the grill for a couple of minutes then came back out to be cut up and served. Simple, right? It turned out that the loss of liquid from the paste while it was still in my bag gave me some trouble in that the paste was no longer of a real spreading consistency, but I powered through with those good old-fashioned tools, brute force and ignorance. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt, if I do say so myself. Would probably be better with fresh prawns but I had to work with what the kitchen had to offer.

The star of the meal was probably the pork, but unfortunately I don’t really remember what I did with it, and don’t have a good picture, either. I’ll just give it my best guess and act confident… I marinated two pork tenderloin fillets overnight in a mix of dark soy, strategically placed smashed garlic cloves and sliced ginger, ground ginger, mixed spice and chili flakes. This cut of pork is inexpensive but nice and lean, and thin so cooked quickly. When I was ready to cook it, it went into the oven at 200C for half an hour, rested for five minutes wrapped in tinfoil and then was expertly sliced by my commis chef who I affectionately know as ‘mum’. You can see the pork in the blue bowl at the back right of this picture – all this shows is the lovely dark, caramelised colour the outside took on, but the inside of the meat was soft, moist and really flavourful. Shame I was too busy going red in the face in the intense kitchen heat to get a good photo – my photographer, whom I affectionately know as ‘dad’, took this one.

You can also see in this picture the two sauces I made to go with the pork; one sweet and spicy, and one sweet bean and bell peppers sauce. Both started with sliced onions, then the sweet and spicy one had pineapple chunks and juice, ginger, chili rings and flakes, light soy and mixed spice added, then some chicken stock to thicken. The sweet bean sauce is mainly from a jar available at a Chinese supermarket near you, mixed with a little chicken stock again and with sliced peppers added in the last minute. I recommend that you buy this if nothing else, it’s a lovely rich, thick sauce that’s great with pork or beef – in fact, I originally bought it to try a recipe in Sichuan Cookery (buy it immediately) for beef with bell peppers and sweet bean sauce. Top marks. As is my usual way I was making it up as I went along for the two sauces, so I can but recommend that you do the same, should you want to try to make something like them. Add stuff to the pot, hope for the best. Start over if you have to.

The noodles on the table were really simple – some mushrooms and onions sauteed in a little vegetable oil and dark soy, then added to some cooked bean strip noodles and mixed through with sesame oil and maybe some sesame seeds. The rice is similarly easy; I boiled up enough rice to feed three, and once it was cooked i tipped it into a colander and let sit there while I prepared the veg, so it would dry out a little. I chopped some spring onions and peppers, and defrosted some frozen peas (some of which became esca-peas, geddit? hard to write down, that joke. Not even one of mine, in fact I rolled my eyes when the G man said it at the time. Sorry G man). Then I beat two eggs and cooked in the bottom of a frying pan (no wok available), and seasoned with light soy. I kept stirring the egg all the time so it broke up into little pieces, and when it was cooked I added the veg, cooked for one minute then added the rice and stirred well. I tasted and added light soy and sesame oil as required, and that was that done – into a dish to keep warm.

FInally, the broccoli you can see on the table was boiled until just cooked (in theory, anyway) and then stir-fried with some hoi-sin sauce from a jar – OH THE SHAME!

Now I have covered everything that was on the table – it wasn’t on the table for long, I can tell you. It is thus time to move on to the party buffet, of which I provided only a very small amount apart from the mega cake previously described. I did cheese pretzel bites and cheddar jalapeno cornbread muffins, two of my favourite bite-sized, cheese-based snacks. They’re both recipes I’ve mentioned before, though I’ve put the links in there again in case you want to check them out – I recommend it. For the pretzels I followed the recipe in all but two respects: firstly, I rolled the dough into little balls instead of shaping into pretzels, much quicker, and baked for 10 – 15 minutes at the given temperature after glazing and salting – keep an eye on them, they colour really quickly. Secondly, I topped them with a sprinkling of smoked sea salt, my new favourite thing. Unfortunately I left it at my parents’ house so haven’t been able to start using it in everything I ever cook, but I’ll get it back tomorrow and the smoked salt revolution can begin. It gives a deeper, more savoury flavour to the pretzels without just making them saltier. Ace. The first picture here is of the dough after rising for an hour in a basin of hot water – the dough was sealed into the glass bowl with oiled clingfilm and placed in the basin, with the water coming about half way up the sides, to get the benefit of the heat without the sogginess of the water. It certainly does double in size – I love baking with yeast, it’s so satisfying. the second pic is the finished results – they take on a really great, dark colour in the oven withthe egg white glaze, they look so appetizing and have a great texture – not crisp, but bready and chewy.

The cheddar cornbread I made as suggested, only split into cake cases instead of baked in a skillet or tin and a whole loaf. I think they also took 10 – 15 minutes to be ready, and here is a picture of them in the oven, all lined up neatly. They were approved as tasting authentic by at least one American person.

Here ends my tale of buffet food, though I will now also include a photo of the marvellous cupcakes that Miss P brought – I had two. Half of one would really have been enough but I couldn’t help myself. The photo doesn’t at all do them justice. I am working on my perfect-cupcake envy, though it is a big struggle. I often accuse Miss P of sorcery because her cakes – and she bakes often – are always perfect, and beautiful and so delicious that you could die from it. I am alert for other signs of witchcraft, rest assured. It may come to me strapping a parsnip on her face and a pointy hat on her head so I can say ‘ah-HA!’ in a loud voice.

Not really Miss P! Promise. Probably.

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About Rock Salt

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

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